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by Theresa Noyes

I teach an online mapping course. Because mapping is rarely done in isolation, I’m committed to helping students learn how to work successfully in a hive. Our class structure hinges on weekly student interactions. Starting communication week one prevents inertia. Except for an extrovert or two, I’ve found classes are initially reserved while they acclimate.

Online classes are no exception. Online students have a tendency to lurk. They may stall before participating to gauge others or provide cover for minimal interaction. People have their reasons. Online, I’m hindered by my inability to look over in person and say “What do you think?” to ignite participation.

I wrote down a teaching objective: Prevent e-lurking, get students comfortable with Blackboard tools and communicating online. Do this the first week of the semester.

To jump start us I turned to a low-impact, fun assignment geared to map scale. Scale is a distinguishing characteristic of maps. Wrapping your head around it is essential to making great work. Students have innate knowledge of the concept and I want them to know it, apply it and start progressing.

The 1-point assignment requires a brief reading, taking a photo to demonstrate scale by manipulating foreground with background, and posting it to our class blog. It includes a link and photo to my own post. The immediate visual shows them they can do it too.

The results are fun. The spontaneity and focused creativity invites them into the material and loosens them up to use the BB tools. From there I springboard to “Module 2 Assignment will also use the Blog Tool, but this time you will….” and we are off and running. I’ve found this helps the collective creative momentum right away. The best part? They know they already understand a fundamental concept for our course.