The Challenge of Creating Art

January 30, 2013 in Distance Learning, Faculty, Inspire

An artist created a facsimile of the Mona Lisa by stacking thousands of thread spools and combined them with a glass ball for viewing. (Photo taken by me at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, VA)

My radical thought of the day is:

“We are all ARTISTS and our duty is to share our ART and to improve our ART.”

As educators, we should bring our passion and unique talents to our teaching everyday in both face-2-face and online classes. This is our ART and to not deliver, ship, or share our art with others is to fail at our highest calling. If you never share your ART openly with others… you are not an ARTIST.

How are you improving and sharing your ART?

What kind of ART will you CREATE today?

The Best YouTube Channels for Education

March 29, 2012 in Discovery Fridays, Distance Learning, Inspire

Boy with 1950's TelevisionPhoto Credit: John Atherton

This is a guest post from Nick Narodny and Tom Samph of, a field guide to the Internet where users can learn everything from Facebook Pages to how to use Twitter.

When a new website is born, it goes through growing pains and changes just like any other living thing.

YouTube, still a fresh 6 years old, has already been through a number of image changes and has grown to become not only a place to watch viral homemade music videos and cute puppies, but an massive library of educational resources as well.

While distance learning is no new concept, the multimedia content and educational resources we use to supplement distance learning is constantly improving: YouTube channels are an ever-evolving resource for distance learners.

So take a break from Double Rainbow sing-alongs and save Rebecca Black for Fridays, and check out some of the ways you can use YouTube channels for education and learning.

Best for Current Events:
The Associated Press (AP) News Channel is a great way to stay up on your current events. AP posts one minute-long ‘Top Stories’ videos of the current headlines, daily feature reports and its raw video series of other current events around the world.

Best for Philosophy:
Justice with Michael Sandel began as a hugely popular introductory course at Harvard. Since then, Sandel and Harvard decided to put the course online to open it to all Internet users. Using YouTube to distribute the videos, Justice became Harvard’s first free online program. Now, you can take the class alongside Harvard students and participate in the conversation.

Best for Science Experiments
The tagline of NurdRage videos, which are hosted by an intimidatingly anonymous voice, is A Channel Run by Science Nerds for Science Nerds. Don’t let it fool you; the content is an incredible resource for questions about science and the place to go to watch exploding, melting, fiery science experiments.

Best for Mind-Blowing Concepts and Self-Improvement
TED was originally founded in 1984, but didn’t take its current form until 2006 when videos were made available to watch online. Since then, it’s been a common feat for TED videos to get millions of online views, and last year it was estimated that TED rounded up about 500 million video views. With a tagline of Ideas Worth Sharing, TED continues to be a destination for online enlightenment.

Learn from the Experts is the best place to watch unedited interviews, debates and live events. Compelling and intelligent videos from a variety of sources that speak to a wide range of topics, is the best source of raw content from experts.


Disrupting Education: The Collision of Emerging Technology, Education and Economy

March 12, 2012 in Discovery Fridays, Distance Learning, Inspire, Uncategorized

Photo credit: José Manuel Suárez

Distance learning, cloud computing, social networking, desktop virtualization, augmented reality, smartphones, tablets and the arrival of the post PC era… this all sounds a little scary, huh? Welcome to the world we live in. A world impossible to predict. A world characterized by disruptive technological, social and economic change. How do we prepare ourselves, our employees and children for the future?

The answer is…

This is part of a guest blogpost I recently wrote for a company specializing in personal branding and social media. To read the rest of this post please visit the Marketing Mel site:

Discovery Fridays: Grovo

March 2, 2012 in Discovery Fridays, Distance Learning, Faculty, Inspire, Uncategorized

Have you ever asked or been asked “What is Twitter?” Or Pinterest? Or Dropbox? Or Evernote? Or Prezi? This list could continue for days! My point is there will always be some new tool or social media site on the Internet for us to learn about.

Now, there is a site called  Grovo that can actually teach us about the latest Web 2.0 technologies. Grovo is a free membership site that features short video tutorials on how to use applications like Twitter, Pinterest, Dropbox, Evernote, Prezi and many more. Grovo gets it’s name from its mission to help people grow their vocations online.

I have watched several of the video tutorials and they are fantastic. Each tutorial also includes .pdf downloads and short quizzes to help you master the latest social media darling. The site also offers certificate tracks, so you can document your training.

Check Grovo out and learn about a new technology tool. Then, you can share it with the rest of us!


Ken Fairbanks
Director of Distance Learning
Wytheville Community College

Consistency + Predictability = Improved Student Engagement

February 17, 2012 in Discovery Fridays, Distance Learning, Faculty

Each semester, I conduct Blackboard orientation sessions with hundreds of new students. These students are often new to WCC, new to distance learning, maybe even new to computers and anxious about EVERYTHING! Then, here I come to tell them that Blackboard is a web application and has nothing to do with chalk or banging erasers. It’s often amazing to me how these students brave so much of the unknown and perservere to the first day of classes.

One of the most popular questions during Bb orientation is “What will my distance learning course look like?” or “How do I get started in my distance learning course?” These are tough questions to answer because our distance learning courses all look different and each instructor approaches their Bb course shell design based on different pedagogy and personal preferences. I typically provide students some general advice about finding the course syllabus, searching for directions and contacting the instructor. I also give examples of how different courses may be set up.

The solution to this problem, is to create some consistency and predictability in our distance learning courses. At the same time… we want to preserve the academic freedom and individuality that makes our courses and faculty stand out.

There are three things we can do in Bb to easily create consistency and predictability… while helping students engage in our distance learning courses more easily:

An image of buttons in Blackboard

  1. Create a “Start Here” section
    The “Start Here” section would provide a course introduction from the instructor, course tour and step-by-step instructions for starting the class and completing the first assignment.
  2. Create a “Syllabus” section
    The syllabus section would hold the syllabus and possibly an assignment schedule with all the course due dates.
  3. Create a “Faculty Information” section
    The “Faculty Information” section would provide all of the faculty member’s contact information, office hours, bio and maybe even a photo.

Many of you are providing this information already throughout different areas of your Bb course. However, the key is for all of us to set these sections up as the first three links/buttons in our Bb course, following the “Announcement” link.

Using this standard format, students would quickly and intuitively learn how to proceed as easy as 1-2-3.

Plans are now in place, to require this format in all distance learning courses, beginning with the Summer Semester 2012.

Here are a couple of tutorials to help you get started:

If you have any questions about how to create an effective Start Here, Syllabus, or Faculty Information section in your Bb courses… contact us in the distance learning department.

We are are here to help.


Ken Fairbanks
Director of Distance & Distributed Learning
Wytheville Community College