Humanizing Online Learning at the ETOM Fall Conference

On November 2, 2018, Matt Roberts, Vince St. Germain, Justin Melick, Hunter Bridwell, and Eric Kunnen from eLearning along with faculty member Kerry Mohney attended the ETOM Fall Conference. The conference brought together over 80 faculty, staff, instructional designers, and distance learning administrators to focus on enhancing online learning. In addition to the keynote, there were 3 breakout sessions with 15 presentations on topics such as: OER, using video in learning, badging in professional development, tips for effective online discussions, interactive and engaging learning, critical thinking, and crafting collaborative classrooms.

Humanizing Online Learning Experiences


The conference was kicked off by Michelle Pacansky-Brock who delivered a session entitled: “Humanizing Online Learning”.  Dr. Michelle Pacansky-Brock is a noted leader in higher education with expertise in online teaching, course design, and faculty development. Michelle’s work has helped online instructors across the nation and beyond understand how to craft relevant, humanized online learning experiences that support the diverse needs of college students.

Michelle is the author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies (2nd edition, Routledge), has received national recognition for her excellence in teaching, and has held various leadership roles with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI).

Currently, Michelle is Faculty Mentor, Digital Innovation with the California Community College system. She coordinates professional development efforts related to emerging technologies in online teaching and learning for @ONE (Online Network of Educators) and the CCC Online Education Initiative. The California Community College system includes 114 colleges in 72 districts, serves 2.1 million students per year, and has roughly 60,000  faculty members. Learn more about Michelle at and connect with her on Twitter @brocansky.

  • When trying a new #edtech, tell students – so they lean in and become part of the feedback – that vulnerability is part of the core of meaningful human experience.
  • Brene Brown TED Talk – Dare to Lead

When teaching online, there can be a boundary in getting to know students and inviting them into the learning experience. When there is limited teaching presence, students can feel isolated. Students strive for a sense of connection, a safe place, an environment where relationships matter.

  • Clips Apple Video App – Clips help faculty record videos and easily share on Twitter and instagram posts. Denise Maduli-Williams, San Diego Miramar College, uses Clips to engage with students and to be very present, very in the moment…

You can’t get to empathy without vulnerability…

  • TIP: As a faculty member start a week with a video engagement technique, as a way to increase instructor presence.
  • Presentation Slides:


At the conference, the eLearning staff presented at the conference in 2 sessions:

Digital Badges for Faculty: A Primer


Matthew Roberts, Instructional Designer, and Eric Kunnen, Associate Director or eLearning and Emerging Technologies

GVSU In this session we will detail the history of Grand Valley State University’s Faculty Badges Initiative (, an effort to improve the recognition of faculty professional development. The discussion will include how GVSU came to develop a campus badging initiative, the considerations involved in establishing a badging curriculum, and the personnel and technical questions that need to be answered to create a functional badging process.



Promoting the creation of efficient and effective instructional media

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Justin Melick, Digital Media Developer, GVSU

GVSU This session will explore the ways in which Grand Valley State University has created a positive culture around the production of educational media by their faculty members. By providing faculty with the resources to create their own content GVSU has been able to expand the use of asynchronous media to help meet the needs of it’s students. Specifically, this session will cover how GVSU has promoted the creation of screencasts, more highly produced lightboard videos and other more complex educational resources as well as an overview of the training that is available to faculty members in regards to the various forms of media they could produce for their courses.



Session Notes by Vince St. Germain

Vince St. Germain, eLearning and Instructional Technology Specialist, captured the following notes from the conference:

Keynote: Humanizing Online Learning Experience

Dr. Michelle Pacansky-Brock

  • Relationships matter…face-to-face and online
  • Be vulnerable
  • Be present
  • Humanize your course and its contents
  • 96% of undergraduates own a smartphone
  • More 18-24 year olds have smartphones than computers
  • What if educators designed mobile environments that embraced phones as a learning tool?
  • Relevant Connections – deeper learning
  • Untethered Learning – learning woven into life
  • Multisensory learning – supports unique needs of all learners
  • Take learners from passive consumers to active creators of content
  • Storytelling builds empathy
  • Most importantly:
    • Be Human
    • Tell Stories
    • Reduce Disposable Assignments

Creating Accessible, Mobile Videos

Dr. Michelle Pacansky-Brock

Tips for creating mobile content:

  • Turn your phone. You want to record in landscape mode (rather than portrait mode) so your video fills the video/YouTube player.
  • Keep it short. The longer your video, the larger the file size. Uploading large files can be a problem if you are using a purely mobile workflow.  For videos longer than a few minutes, it is best to transfer them to your computer and then upload them to YouTube.
  • Light your face. That’s right, we won’t be able to see you if you are backlit. Be mindful of where your light source is before you record.
  • Look at the camera. I know it feels weird, but it feels even more weird to watch a video of a person who isn’t looking at you.
  • Find a quiet spot. Background noise can be especially problematic in mobile recordings. If you are recording somewhere noisy, do a quick recording test and play it back. Use a simple pair of earbuds with a built-in mic to improve your audio quality.

Critical Thinking in the Age of Google

Brad Stetson – Schoolcraft College

  • What is critical thinking?
  • Students can typically master the first three levels:
  • Remembering – Find or remember information
  • Understanding – Understanding and making sense out of information
  • Applying – Use information in a new way (but similar) situation
  • …but have difficulty with higher levels of learning
  • Creating – Use information to create something new
  • Evaluating – Critically examine info and make judgements
  • Analyzing – Take info apart and explore relationships
  • Build confidence in critical thinking through your course structure (decrease the discomfort level)
  • Critical Thinking in the Age of Google – continued

Problems to overcome:

  • Discomfort with higher level learning
  • Students – Google
    • Used semester-to-semester (increased exposure)
    • Available online answer resources (Chegg, CourseHero)
    • Publisher resources
  • Student-Student
    • Copying
    • Sharing feedback/correct answers (previous semesters)

What has worked:

  • Pooled questions (prevents student-student)
  • Randomizing questions semester to semester (curbs some Student-Google)
  • Allow audio and video answers
  • Pre-submission feedback (curbs discomfort)
  • Not everybody has to solve the same problem or get the same answer as long as the students are learning the appropriate concepts.

Surprising Impact of Synchronous Sessions in Nonsynchronous OL Classes

Deirdre Hennebury and Lynn Wietecha – Lawrence Technological University

  • The use of synchronous sessions in an online class can increase a student’s perception of faculty presence in the course and a greater sense of learning community.
  • Synchronous sessions can be both connecting and humanizing for students and faculty.
  • Tips for online synchronous sessions:
    • Break class into smaller groups and schedule multiple, shorter live sessions
    • Set expectations for participation in syllabus and make clear in course introduction
    • Make them required and relevant


GVSU eLearning team with Vince St. Germain, Matt Roberts, Justin Melick, Hunter Bridwell and Faculty Member, Kerry Mohney