NCEA - Catholic Distance Learning Network

Instructional Designers

As part of our leadership initiative, Dr. Sebastian Mahfood posted a new thought on assisting the process of instructional design each day throughout the summer 2007 course.  The instructional design page for July 2007 has been created on a separate page.

Saturday, June 30, 2007 -- Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

"Hakuna Matata" - courtesy of
  Back in St. Louis and late with my post because of preparing most of the morning for an afternoon excursion with the family to see The Lion King at the Fox Theatre near the campus of Saint Louis University. If anyone hasn't seen the production, I'd highly recommend your going at your next opportunity. It's fantastically done on the stage. One caveat, of course, is that it runs about three hours with the intermission.
Today's thought concerns cutting images down to size - most of the photos we might use from the Web are already web-friendly, meaning that their file sizes are small enough to load quickly on a page. When we take photos on our own personal cameras, however, we might not be conscious of how large the file size is that we're trying to upload into our site. What makes us conscious of this is the first time we try to view the page in our browsers and find that what we thought we resized with our mouse icon to fit the area we wanted to fill on the page is actually the same file size as when we originally uploaded it. The reason for this is that resizing the file on the screen doesn't necessarily resize the file we loaded onto our hosting space.  To fix that problem, we have to resize the file prior to uploading it, and if you don't already have a photo editor up to that task, you can download a free one from PhotoPlus that works very similarly to Adobe Photoshop. Another thing you might do to speed up the loading of your pages is to thumbnail larger photos so that others can simply click on them to see full-size version.  An example of what that means can be demonstrated by this photo -

Alexander Mahfood
   - whereupon your clicking on it will cause a pop-up window to provide you with a larger version.  To thumbnail a photo, you can try one of two things - 1) see if the html editor you're using has a thumbnail image creator, in which case all you have to do is right-click on the image, select autothumbnail, and be done (like I did with this image using ExpressionWeb), or 2) save two versions of the photo - one small, like this one, and the other standard size. Then, simply make a link from the smaller photo to the larger one and set the link to open in a new page.

Friday, June 29, 2007 -- Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

Day 2 of Pittsburgh that will determine the shape of our national conference for instructional designers in theological studies to be held in June of 2008. It's occurred to me that the 250 or so members of the Association of Theological Schools are going to need to upgrade the profiles on who they're looking for when they hire IT people. As our own experience shows, only one of the eight schools participating in our Network this summer even has an educational designer on staff. Our faculty in the other seven schools will be without that kind of support come August, and that's a problem that needs to be brought up at the next faculty meeting each of those schools has.
Association of Theological Schools Educational Technology Group
Chris Meinzer, Sebastian Mahfood, George Kalantzis, Masego Kebaetse, Brent Graber, Lynn Nakamura, Alice Loddigs, Cam Howard, Louis Charles Willard, Kristin Anderson, Chris Olzstyn, A.K.M. Adam
Now for the thought for the day - at this point in our development, some of us are looking for illustrative metacontent to supplement our course content as we put together activities for our students. What we ought to be doing is compiling a resource list of places we might search to find images, audios, and videos on areas relevant to our fields.  Some of us are already doing this, posting resources to one another on the discussion board, and I can harvest these findings and create a general resource page at the end of the course. This will help not only us but also our counterparts in other seminaries. In a brief search, I found a monster database for video clips at the Online Video Guide, for instance. Searches within a site like this would yield things more specific to our learning communities. Once we locate a film (or other resource) appropriate to our needs, we ought to standardize the way we seek permission for its use (e.g., a short form letter that we can quickly send to property owners if their terms of use don't already give us permission) and a standard format for its dissemination throughout our course materials (e.g., always placing a linked citation in, say, 8 pt beneath it). By developing our own processes for this kind of work, we'll find that it becomes second nature to us to be responsible in our use of the intellectual property of others. We'll also find that our attention to the ethics of appropriating other people's materials will serve as a strong model for our students whom we can invite into this process.

Thursday, June 28, 2007 -- Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

I'm in Pittsburgh this morning about to attend an Association of Theological Schools meeting of educational technologists - only 9 of us at this meeting, but the idea is to plan a larger one for next year inclusive of educational technologists like us throughout the network of ATS-accredited schools. A friend of mine within this group sent me an intriguing (scary?) video of how Google will take over the Earth by 2050, something to which we might all unwittingly be contributing. Tough Cookie
The thought for the day concerns converting Word documents to html files. The process is basically this -- 1) Create your Word file with whatever text or images you want in there, 2) Click 'file' and select 'save as' - then click the 'save as type' drop down menu arrow and select 'web page', 3) Save the webpage on your desktop. What this process does is give you an easy way to convert a Word .doc to an .html file for universal view when uploaded to your webspace.  In a sense, then, you're merely using Word as your html editor.  I call this the poor man's editor because not only is it free, but it also doesn't require any technical expertise beyond knowledge of how to use Microsoft Word, and that makes it an ideal format to introduce your non-tech-savvy students to participating in the medium with you. One caveat, though -- when the .html file is uploaded (let's call it x.html) the file folder that was created with it (the one that contains all the images, etc., that you might have had on the page) also needs to be uploaded to the same directory on the hosting space - otherwise, your pictures won't appear on the uploaded version. What's better, of course, is the use of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (wysiwyg) editor like Google's discovered by the team of Eileen Crowley and Elizabeth Osika.  Google also has a docs editor available, discovered by Jim Rafferty.

 Wednesday, June 27, 2007 -- Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

Seminary of the Immaculate Conception - Huntington, NY As I prepare to conclude my face-to-face interaction with Michael Hoonhout, with whom I've had the honor to work these past several days at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception on Long Island, it occurs to me that the process we're establishing for his continued development of his course modules is likely useful for the rest of the group. The idea is for Michael to be able to record 20-minute lectures for each week and synch the recording to a PowerPoint slideshow that students will be able to pause occasionally in order to engage activities. The process is as follows:
1) Create the PowerPoint shell by posting the prepared text within the 'notes' section on a series of slides. 2) Bullet point the text within the main area of each slide, selecting images and links as appropriate.  Any links are to go to pages within his own website on which outside links and external audio and video are to be placed. (That way, if any outside links break, the slideshow doesn't have to be recreated as the problem can be fixed on the site.)  3) Create an audio file on a hand-held voice recorder and transfer the file to the desktop for editing.  Michael's audios come out as 192 kbps .wav files that are rather large - a minute is 4 mb - so they have to be compressed into 32 kbps .mp3 files using a free program called Switch. Switch turns 4 mb into a couple hundred kb without losing any sound quality. 4) Edit the .mp3 file using another free download called MP3 Direct Cut. Editing is key to ensure that any tangential lecture material can be saved as a discrete file and posted within the pages to which Michael is linking as a kind of audio footnote to the main lecture.
5) Insert the audio into each slide (this doesn't work with PowerPoint 2000) and set a timer so that the slideshow moves automatically. 6) Save the slideshow as an .html document, and upload the webpage and the accompanying file folder to the website. 7) Post a picture of the first slide - taken with a free screen capture program called ScreenHunter - and post it on the week 2 module with a link to the uploaded slideshow so that students can click on the image to access the lecture and embedded activities.  There you have it, then - seven easy steps to digitizing your lecture.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007 -- Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

When we think of activity-based learning, we're generally thinking in terms of the cooperation or collaboration model, which I'd distinguish further by their assessment structures in which the rubric of the first is created largely by the teacher and the rubric of the second is generated largely by the students. Viable activities, in either case, are things that are formed in some way to demonstrate the degree of student mastery of the learning goals expressed within the course materials.  The learning goals of a given course, moreover, reflect the institution's program goals, which themselves reflect the institution's mission statement.  
Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis
Kenrick-Glennon Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri
If every activity is only a handful of steps removed from the mission of the institution, then it's meaningful for us to develop our activities with that mission in mind. The formula looks like this working forwards: activity -> learning goal -> program goal -> mission statement or this working backwards: mission statement -> program goal -> learning goal -> activity. So, if Kenrick-Glennon Seminary "seeks to instill in its students an abiding priestly identity, founded on Christ Jesus and in his Church; a cooperative priestly ministry, comprised of teaching, sanctifying, and leading; and an integrated priestly spirituality, embracing celibacy, simplicity, obedience, and prayer," for instance, then the activities I envision should directly address in some way the ideas of identity, ministry, and/or spirituality. In the Islam through Catholic Eyes seminar I co-taught with Rev. Michael Witt and Rev. Andre Mhanna in the spring of 2007, our blog activity was explicitly designed to give students an opportunity to articulate the distinctions between their Catholic identity and the Islamic identity they were studying and to develop an understanding of how to minister to the people of St. Louis living in parishes heavily dominated by a Muslim population (we have around 65,000 Muslims in a city of 350,000 (which doesn't include the outlying county population of around a million persons)). The activity was implicitly designed to foster a sense of how a Catholic spirituality contrasts with that of an Islamic spirituality. We set aside about a third of our class time each week (35 minutes or so) to engage the student reflections so that the students were largely co-producing our discussion materials beyond what we had already planned. Our reaching out to the institutional mission ensured that our course on Islam remained an authentic Catholic experience.

Monday, June 25, 2007 -- Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

Universal Design and Distance Learning (10 min)
Click here for a Firefox-friendly video
  I think the issue of Universal Design is important enough to devote the space of an entire thought-of-the-day to it - especially now that we're beginning in earnest to create materials for posting in our course sites. The thing to note as we begin to discuss the designing of readings and activities involving text, images, audio, and video is that it carries with it under the Universal Design Standards of the American Disabilities Act of 1990 a legal responsibility to ensure "that people with disabilities [e.g., hearing impaired or deaf students, visually impaired or blind students] have equal access to public programs and services." 
Even though the principles of Universal Design are tied to public programs and services (i.e., those of us who teach in private seminaries and theological institutes are not bound by the federal law), our responsibly engaging the use of appropriate technologies as means by which to develop our teaching and learning environments is important to us as Catholic educators who seek to promote social justice. Even if we don't directly have students who will be affected by this, we are modeling for our future priests and lay ministers how they should approach their own use of technology in their parochial schools and parish websites.

Sunday, June 24, 2007 – Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

Inserting audio into one’s course site does more than simply break up the monotony of text – it provides an opportunity to express emotion, to stress relevance, to demonstrate enthusiasm, in short, to do all those things with voice and inflection that we do in face-to-face classes that may not translate as well into our printed materials. Because students may have hearing disabilities, it is important that every audio you post be accompanied by a text-only version (more on this above).


Speaker Icon

This suggestion is also useful for students who work late at night and don’t want to disturb their roommates or families, for students who use public access computers that may not have speakers attached to them, or for students who’ve simply lost their audio drivers in their most recent operating system upgrade. For reasons like these, it is also better to give your viewer a choice to start the audio rather than have it start automatically on page-load. An exception to this is on pages that are designed to open within programs where you can reasonably expect audio to have already been playing – like in presentations created on Microsoft Producer or in audio driven PowerPoints. To post an audio, use a voice recorder you may already have installed on your computer (I’m used to Microsoft Producer’s voice capture feature that creates .wma files) or search Google to find one that enables you to create .mp3 files (a better format for podcasting – link courtesy of Eileen Crowley). Once you have the file created on your desktop, you can either upload it to your web space and link to it (using html code like this or a text link like this) or import it into your course site as an attachment to one of your materials pages or discussion board postings. (Click here for the text version of this audio.)

Saturday, June 23, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

The Annunciation by Carravagio
The Annunciation by Carravagio


To add an image, use <img src="http://www.youraddress.jpg">

To add a link, use <a href="">Your Linked Text</a>

To make a picture a link, use
<a href=""><img src="http://www.youraddress.jpg"></a>

To change a color, use <font color="red">Your Colored Text</font>

To add an audio or video, use <embed src="http://www.yourmusicorvideosource.wmv">

I embedded Caravaggio with music using this code:
<a href=""><img src=""></a>

One thing we all have in common is the use of a course template like Blackboard, Moodle, Angel, or WebMentor. All course templates work alike as far as html codes are concerned.  If you want to embed a photo, audio, or video on any of the pages, you merely need to learn the html code for that feature. Not only can you embed pictures within your Blackboard site, you can link those pictures to music (click on this picture, for instance, for a sample mp3 of Ave Maria, linked from Juno Records). This process works within the discussion postings in the same way in which it works within the content pages that you access through the control panel of your template. In some cases, you'll have to select an 'html' button within the discussion board posting -- just preview before you post to make sure your codes are right.

Friday, June 22, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)
When I first began working with scripture scholars on the integration of appropriate technologies into their teaching and learning environments, I encountered a great deal of enthusiasm for the new ways in which students might be drawn into the text -- after all, textual studies appreciates tools geared towards demonstrating relationships between texts. The first problem we had to surmount involved fonts - Greek and Hebrew characters that appeared fine on a scripture professor's computer but appeared as gibberish on any other computer. This was due to the use of specialized fonts created by various Bible programs. We resolved this issue through the use of PDF creators like PrimoPDF (free) or PDF Creator Plus ($34.95) that enabled us to save files with non-Latin characters for upload to the scripture course sites.   PDF Icon
 A new application that I found and promulgated at the ATS online scripture conference of April, 2006, included the embedding of PDF's within frames pages with form fields that could make them interactive -- a process I call split-screening.  By scanning pages as PDFs on our institutional copier, moreover, I was able to create an integrated site for my diplomatic transcription of the New Chronicles of England (a history that begins with Albyna and her sisters and ends around the birth of Henry VI in 1421 and the death of his father, Henry V, in 1422). One problem with scanning to PDF on copiers lies in the enormous file sizes that usually result, but there's a process to fix that, too, which I've broken into three easy steps (a video for which can be found here): 1) Open the PDF, click "Tools," "Select & Zoom," and "Snapshot Tool." 2) Select the region to copy (all the text) and paste the copied portion into a Word document. 3) Re-'print' as a PDF. In short, PDF is not only a great font saver, it also enables us to digitalize print media for use online (an act that is subject to our obtaining the usual copyright permissions, of course, more on which can be found at IUPUI's Copyright Management Center).

Thursday, June 21, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

My iPod Shuffle
The iPod Shuffle
In the spring of 2003, a colleague of mine, Rev. Michael John Witt, began working with Theresa Holman of Covenant Network to design a general survey of Church history. In the past four years, the two have produced 80 hours of talks on modern Church history and 43 hours of talks on medieval Church history - simply by recording the discussions into a microphone for radio and web broadcasting. While I've been
facilitating the posting of these audios, I've never really had time to study them because doing so required my being stationary and attentive to only the audio for at least one hour at a time. A solution to my difficulty presented itself in the form of an advertisement that I glanced upon while making a book purchase. The new iPod shuffle, the size of my thumb, was on sale for only $75 and could contain 1 gb of audio. I quickly did the math in my head and realized that meant 75 hours of Church history were I to convert all Rev. Witt's talks to .mp3 format from the .wmv format in which they had originally been posted on his website. The conversion process took me about three hours, but I now have all 123 audios in .mp3 format. I plugged in my iPod, and - lo and behold - a few minutes later I was able to start bouncing around the past 1,500 years of Church doings while in the car, at the gym, on a plane, and so on. By the time Rev. Witt posts his next 60 hours on patristics, I'll already have had quite a series of courses on the medieval and modern.  This led me to another idea - the rapid proliferation of talk shows, lectures, and workshops in .mp3 format currently available on Catholic radio stations and other religious sites. The Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome is one such example. is another.  Because $75 is equivalent to a book charge, it is conceivable that this kind of an investment wouldn't be useful just for us as educators and researchers, but that it would also be useful for our students were we to comb the web for relevant audios within our various disciplines. With a desktop microphone, in fact, we can also create our own podcasts using the lecture materials we've already developed for our courses.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)
In 1996, when I returned from active service in the Peace Corps, I encountered a number of my friends re-introducing themselves by their email addresses.  It was like returning to a different world as there had been no popular use of the Internet or email in the spring of 1994 when I had left for Tunisia. Start up for me on learning the tools was slow and frustrating for my friends who were building websites and sending me emails that went unanswered. What I had to get my mind around was a paradigm shift in social communications - I was used to writing physical letters and talking from a landline while everyone I knew was on email and cell phones. By the summer of 98, I realized I could no longer try to ignore what was happening in society, and I also knew that I could not be an adequate consumer of a tool when I didn't understand the processes that went into its production. A really good friend of mine   Alexander Sebastian Mahfood
Alexander Sebastian Mahfood
taught me how to use Microsoft FrontPage (now Expression Web) and advised me that if I wanted to understand the tools that it would be helpful for me to build a webpage on something that interested me.  I built my first website (no longer online) to link all the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers from Tunisia and was hooked. I then built one for my sister, Valerie 'the Wolfe' Mahfood, who's a professional boxer and another for my mother, Suzanne Baldon, who's a cultural anthropologist and forensic artist. In 2004, when my son Alexander was born, I began building one for him in order to give my family, who live in diaspora across the country, regular access to his life and times. The idea behind this kind of work is that if you apply the tools to your personal life, you'll facilitate your efforts to apply them to your professional life.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)
Dr. Anne Marie Kitz - Professor of Sacred Scripture, O.T.
Dr. Anne Marie Kitz

Courtesy of and credit to Neely Kim for the find.
Because we at Kenrick began the educational use of websites immediately upon the inception of our educational technology program in 2000, we came into the use of PowerPoint relatively late with Dr. Anne Marie Kitz's fielding the
research in the fall of 2002 on what makes a meaningful classroom PowerPoint presentation. To translate this into the online teaching and learning environment, we began using Microsoft Producer to make interactive videos (see the online workshop), giving us the ability to control transitions between lecture and lab materials by talking students through our bullet points and having them pause the videos at regular intervals to interact with linked activities. Of course, one can also simply add explanatory audio to each slide and set a timer. The key is that PowerPoints are supplemental to lectures, which means they provide a visual for the vocal - they are not meant to stand alone without a voice (as your viewing of Dr. Kitz's PowerPoints without her interpretive voice will demonstrate).

Monday, June 18, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

Courtesy of and credit to Elizabeth Osika for the find.
Our modulation of course content is often facilitated by the integration of multimedia in the same way that our composition of research papers for publication in professional journals is facilitated by the inclusion of quotes from others writing within the discipline. In fact, if the analogy holds, then multimedia integration is essential for online postings.
The use of other people's materials to strengthen our own teaching and learning environments - to assist student ability to make sense of the ideas that are already so clear to us - comes with its own set of rules. These rules are listed under the general heading of copyright law and entail the myriad kinds of permissions available to us as we try not only to be legal but also ethical in our appropriation of other people's work. The law that defines our work is based on the Copyright Act of 1976 and is more relevantly expressed by two recent laws - the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 and the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002 (linked off Wikipedia for easier reading).

Sunday, June 17, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)
For my last morning in D.C., I plan to cross the street from Theological College where my family has been housed for the past five days and attend mass at the shrine. Those of you who would like to be included in the special Father's Day Novena can sign up any time today and list your specific prayer intentions. The shrine also has a virtual tour for those of you who would like to vicariously participate walking through the shrine with me. This is one way in which communities can gather in cyberspace - they take one another with them to prayer.  
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Washington, D.C.

For today's thought - one of the assignments this week was to assemble a page and make it transactive. In the fall of 2001, I worked with our academic dean, Rev. Lawrence Brennan, to make one of his reading assignments transactive. The problem he noticed was that he did not know what it was that students actually understood from any given article they read, so he always had to start at an introductory level in discussing assigned readings.  To address this, we took an article entitled "Prospects for Seminary Theology" from Seminary Journal written by Cardinal Avery Dulles and created a webpage that would periodically interrupt students in their reading by asking reflective questions. At the end of the reading, the student would simply click submit to email all his responses to the teacher. The teacher would then be able to tailor the lecture to the specific understandings of the students.  Brennan took it a step further, though, to ensure that not only did he know what the students were thinking when they entered the discussion on this topic but also that the students knew what each other were thinking - he posted on Blackboard four question fora based on implications from the reading and asked the students to respond to any one and then reply to another student in a different forum. In the two weeks he gave students for this assignment, they posted 128 times. Transactivity, then, came in the form of there being a reading with an integrated worksheet and an opportunity for collaborative discussion that affected the learning community's preparation for the class.

Saturday, June 16, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

Sistine Chapel - Michelangelo For the transactive teaching and learning environment to be effective, the teacher has to be a visible presence in the online community and lead the students to be likewise. In this way, we model the divine pedagogy of calling people to come together meaningfully in community within a particular rhetorical context. In a community whose only demonstrable strength lies in the frequency and depth of textual interchanges, it is vital for those involved to authentically engage one another.
This authenticity of engagement can occur during off-task, otherwise phatic, communion, but in any group that gathers for the purpose of learning, such engagement will be found necessarily in the direct responses and interactions group members will make to the tasks set for them by their instructor.  Because the teacher knows the direction and path mapped out by his or her intentional design, it is appropriate for him or her to be a vivifying inspiration to the community of which he or she is already a part. After all, we are not exactly a faith that promotes the Great Watchmaker theory of creation, so we should seek also not to promote it in our online courses.  Our being a presence in the lives of our students helps us achieve that very task given to every newly ordained deacon to believe what he reads, teach what he believes, and practice what he teaches. In this way, the negotiated reality between the teacher, the students, and the materials that forms the context and content of the community is nurtured and promoted by not only the teacher but also all the students who respond positively to the facilitation model, for they learn through our model how to involve themselves in the communities they will one day lead.

Friday, June 15, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)
Choice-making is a strong transactional strategy for those of us looking for specific methods to put the theory into practice. My postcolonial students had choices on presentation and research topics along with choices on the kinds of content we discussed during our face-to-face classes. Courtesy of Nasa  
In an entirely online class, entitled Technology, Ethics, and Society, I teach out of Webster University in St. Louis, the syllabus is structured exclusively on the idea of choice-making.  Based on a points system, the class gives the students the opportunity to respond to a diversity of activities during each week of study. The rationale behind this involves the fact that my graduate students are all teachers or trainers, and the course has to be structured in such a way as to address the teaching and learning environments of elementary, secondary, or higher education. For that reason, I created nine activities for each week, all aimed at different levels, and allow the students to participate in up to three of them for up to 10 points each (a couple of examples include the topic of E-Learning and the topic of Anonymity). They can also participate in the writing of a journal for up to 15 points and in responding to one another for up to 3 points for each response. If the students do not choose to respond during a given week, they can make up points the following week. A points board tracks their progress for them and is easily updated by me every Sunday night -- at the end of the semester, moreover, all my grades are already compiled. There is a mandatory semester project and final, synchronous presentation based on an ethical concern each student has -- the project is meant to teach students how to research any ethical issue on their own.

Thursday, June 14, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)
NCEA Distance Learning Group
National Catholic Educational Association
Distance Learning Group
Kathy Schmitt, Sebastian Mahfood, Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, Regina Haney, Br. Bernard Stratman, SM
This morning, I met with the NCEA Distance Learning Group at headquarters in Washington, D.C., discussing ways in which to more fully integrate our initiatives in Catholic education.  Sr. Angela Ann, in university education, and Regina, in parochial education, Matt Manion (not pictured, but attending virtually from Philadelphia along with Jim Rafferty from Minneapolis), in Catholic leadership, and I, in seminary education, feel that we have an opportunity for a more integrated approach to Catholic distance education.

Now for the thought for the day:

Being transactive means anticipating student co-production of a course from the time its structure is being formed. In the fall of 2006, I taught for Saint Louis University a face-to-face undergraduate seminar entitled Postcolonial Islamic Literature.
I had the handful of students interested in such a topic engage in three accountability exercises (one for each credit hour) as a means by which to take responsibility for the development of a course that, like all courses into which students register, had already been structured at the formation of its syllabus. The first involved reflection blogs that provided the students with a relational forum - a way to shape talking points - which is one of the keys to student co-production of content. The second involved each of the students actually taking over a class to give a coherent presentation and facilitate a dialogue on some aspect of the theoretical and literary themes inherent in the course.  The third involved the writing of two short research papers based on the presentation and on one other theme. These are activities, naturally, that could have been done just as effectively in a transmissive course designed on student submission of course assignments to the instructor. That I developed them transactively by planning that they would have an impact during course implementation was meaningful in the way they became transformative of the teaching and learning environment.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

Transactive methodology involves a student-oriented approach to teaching and learning, which means that the teacher who is exercising his or her role as content-expert is also exercising his or her role as facilitator of a negotiated reality involving him- or herself, the students, and the course materials. Professional skills (that is, those expressing competency within one's discipline such as raw knowledge, research, original promulgation, and the like) are thereby complemented by meta-professional skills (that is, those expressing ability to modulate content, design an instructional environment, manage a classroom, and the like). Now, it is often the case that we are hired on the basis of our professional skills but evaluated on the basis of our meta-professional skills, and this leads us sometimes to be wary of methods that take us too far outside our comfort zones or cause us to surrender control to our 'unlettered' student 'audiences'. The reality of student-oriented teaching, however, is that the teacher has not lost that very active leadership role; rather, he or she has expanded the capacity of that role through a recognition of the relationship that exists between the three primary entities in any given class - the teacher, the students, and the materials. When we embrace the idea of our relational role over and above that of our functional role, we start to see a whole new kind of reality opening up for us in our teaching and learning environments.   Face-to-Face in Cyberspace
Courtesy of
Online teaching and learning environments are inherently relational.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

  In the spring of 2005, I taught for Kenrick's residential community an online course on Dante's Divine Comedy based on transactive methodology (the students helped build the course) and andragogical principles. A website a day was built for each of the 100 cantos over the 100 days the course ran, and the students were encouraged to participate in the online materials designed to articulate for them in 21st century terms Dante's 14th-century imaginative journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The course requirements were to post short reflections in only twenty of the cantos (the collected responses culminating in a 406-page book) and develop a short online project in response to some aspect of the reading. Capuchian friar Earl Meyer, O.F.M., who successfully posted in 95 of the 100 cantos, still has his project online.
Dante preaching the Commedia in Florence,
Giovanni Batista Michelini, 17th Century

Monday, June 11, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

In the summer of 2004, I developed a course entitled "Adult Learning and Technology" for Webster University's educational technology program. In the six semesters I taught it before handing it off to a colleague in the department, I co-developed projects alongside the students as a way of encouraging them through the process.  (My favorite was the one on Gastrointestinal Problems in Neonates with the projects on Teething and on Nutrition running closely behind.) All students were responsible for moving through an 8-week process based the principles of andragogy, or adult learning theory. An emphasis should be placed on these last two words that define andragogy as a learning theory and not as a teaching theory -- we have the various pedagogical arts that are able to deal with that -- and on the core idea that it basically calls us educators to address in our curriculum design six primary dispositions of the adult learner:

Dr. Malcolm Knowles
Founder' of Andragogy

1) The learner's need to know --
the learner has a practical necessity
2) The learner's self-concept --
the learner has a sense of his or her own presence in the world
     and is very self-aware

3) The learner's prior experiences --
the learner brings to the learning environment a wealth of life
      experiences that may facilitate his or her learning

4) The learner's readiness to learn --
  the learner who approaches a subject on his or her own has a
      certain readiness to learn

5) The learner's orientation to learning --
  the learner has developed a particular proclivity towards learning
6) The learner's motivation --
  the learner has an intrinsic motivation
For this reason, there ought to be no conflict between our andragogical practices and our pedagogical practices as learning theory and teaching theory have a great deal of room in which to harmonize with one another. It so happens, however, that andragogy simply does not work with transmissive (i.e., transmission-based) teaching and learning environments. For that reason, those of us who desire to actively engage our students through an andragogical approach must take the initial step of moving in the direction of a transactive pedagogy.

Sunday, June 10, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

St. Paul the Apostle (Epistoler)
Apostle Paul, Rembrandt (1635)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

  As Christians in the tradition of St. Paul, we find that intertextual engagement -- the use of textuality to meaningfully engage others in Christ's Gospel message -- resonates with us.  We who are just beginning to evangelize in cyberspace, however, may not know how to articulate our purpose to those who have doubts about the efficacy of our vision for online teaching and learning. This is especially true of those who are the first in their departments or on their faculties to venture into the deep of cyberspace. It has, however, always been the case, as we have seen from Plato, that new communicative methods will be challenged by those who have founded their careers and identities within the old paradigm, whatever that might have been over the ages. The Apostle Paul, in responding to the difference in the way the Christian community in Corinth has received his physical and textual presences, interprets the phenomenon, "Let such a one think this, that such as we are in word by epistles when absent, such also we will be indeed when present" (2 Corinthians 10:11).
The text, we would argue, is the sign of the person, just as the body is the sign of the person, and the person becomes present not only through the text, but also through the intertextual relationships that the text (in whatever form it takes -- chirographic, photographic, audiographic, or videographic) evokes.  
Courtesy of

Saturday, June 9, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)
This short clip was posted by an English professor named Miguel from Caracas, Venezuela. The value of this message for us is that the work in which we are engaged is fun and rewarding. You'll notice as you play the video, of course, that there are a  
My Online Learning Community -- Courtesy of
lot of people featured herein who are engaged in fun and rewarding activities with no computer to assist them in their joie de vivre, and that's a strong reason why we are pursuing this vision of integrating appropriate technologies into our teaching and learning environments -- of why we are translating our teaching and learning environments into cyberspace. If, as McLuhan asserts, our technologies are truly extensions of ourselves in the world, and, as Ong asserts, they are transformative of human consciousness, then we not only use them to strengthen ties to our various communities, but we also internalize them, like literacy (an internalized technology), and carry them with us wherever we go. We're all part of a community right now, in fact, that is extended over most of the country, and we're connecting with one another every time we log into our course site even if some of us are riding on top of turtles as you read and view this.

Friday, June 8, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

In the spring of 2001, I presented a paper entitled "Being the Spider: Creating and Using One's Own Web-Based Instructional Pedagogy" at a Computers and Writing conference. I argued that web-based programs can facilitate the writing process of college-level students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Since entering theological education, I've put the idea into use for the culturally and technologically diverse first-year students to whom I teach a face-to-face graduate research and writing course. I structure my syllabus on a project-oriented pedagogy and invest part of the semester teaching web-building strategies. Last fall, for instance, the syllabus was entitled Technology, Formation, and the Priesthood, and each student group built a website around its idea and gave a 15-minute presentation on its topic.   Being the Spider - Building your Web
Zipper Spider in my Backyard
Spring 2004
Before we can move into this kind of project- or activity-based work with either our face-to-face or online students, we have to develop our own capacity for being spiders, for managing the content of what it is we are endeavoring to teach through the creation of some online materials accessible, preferably, outside a given course template. The reasons for this are that we want our students to have access to those materials both before and after the courses they take from us, and we want to be able to organize the content in ways that best enable our students to grasp it.  (International Catholic University, for instance, takes a stab at this with its posting of lecture materials as a way to attract students and give independent learners an outline of study.)  One's work as an online professor, then, is a paraphrase of Virginia Woolf -- one needs a 'web of one's own.'  Aside from free webhosting (see a video tutorial for, for instance), there is cheap webhosting at places like (see a text tutorial on getting the space and then on uploading to it).

Thursday, June 7, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

The Body as Text
Courtesy of NASA

  In the spring of 2003, I prepared for that year's WebCT conference an eight-and-a-half-minute Producer presentation entitled "Textual Intercourse: Using PowerPoint to Produce Interactive Movies for Effective Online and Web-Enhanced Instruction" (25 mb) in which my main argument was that  "[a]ll human interaction is a natural response to proximity, so increasing the perception of proximate relationships should increase the likelihood of human interaction." The idea is meaningful for online courses (in which the focus lies on facilitating student management of course content ) where the process of learning is demonstrated through student interaction with the professor, the course materials, and one another.  This film deals only with the theoretical basis of the communal body as text and was meant to spur discussion on the idea that a textual learning environment is necessarily intertextual and should be treated as such during syllabus formation.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)
In the spring of 2004, I prepared for the Midwestern Educational Technology Conference a 6-minute explanation of the impact of Walter Ong's idea of secondary orality.  Entitled "Secondary Orality: Synchronous Semblances in Asynchronous Environments" (29 mb), the presentation advances the idea that 'writing is a technology that restructures thought' by demonstrating that digital technologies, in bringing about a merger between the acoustic and visual consciousnesses articulated in Ong's book Orality and Literacy, do likewise.  The learning styles of today's generation are based on a tactile consciousness, which means that syllabi for online teaching and learning ought to be designed keeping in mind the dynamic that tactility creates.   Rev. Walter J. Ong, SJ
Rev. Walter J. Ong, SJ

Tuesday, June 5, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

Web 2.0 -- The Machine is Us/ing Us -- Courtesy of
Dr. Michael Wesch is assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University. The idea he draws from theorists like Marshall McLuhan, who writes that the medium is the message and that our technologies are extensions of ourselves in the world, is informative to our own vocation in the transformation of a syllabus from print space into cyberspace.  Cyberspace is highly participatory, highly interactive -- what McLuhan would call "cold" media whereas print space is highly non-participatory, highly non-interactive -- what McLuhan would call "hot" media.  Understanding the difference between hot and cold media in this way helps us understand the difference between a print syllabus meant for a face-to-face class and a digital syllabus meant for an online class. To listen to McLuhan explain the theory in his own words, see the CBC Archives, which has 9 audio clips on the man and his message.

Monday, June 4, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

For the past six years, I've been researching the issue of transaction-based teaching as a means by which to bridge the synchronous/asynchronous divide.  In 2003, I developed a 16-minute Producer presentation for the Society of Philosophy and History of Education conference in San Antonio that was presented in my absence by my Webster University colleague, Ralph Olliges.  Rather cumbersomely entitled "The Shifting Paradigm: Transmission- to Transaction-based Pedagogies as an Effect of the Appropriate Use of Educational Technologies in the Generation of Dialogic Teaching and Learning Environments" (32 mb), my focus was on the necessity of interactive methods in teaching and learning environments.  Transactive engagement, which is dialogically oriented, addresses part of the problem posed by Plato.   NASA Photo: Earthlights
NASA Earthlights - Nov. 27, 2000

Authentic engagement of an online teaching and learning community often requires some semblance of synchronicity in dialogue especially when classes are hosted around students who will never meet face-to-face.

Sunday, June 3, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)
Download Media Player for Macs  

Plato’s “Phaedrus” (written around 2,350 B.C.) is the first text that problematizes the idea of mediated communication technologies.  In it, Plato points to two reasons why writing is harmful – it destroys memory (indeed, when we want to remember something, we write it down so that we don’t have to remember it) and community (for it isolates the writer from active engagement during the process of writing and serves as a substitute for the human person during the process of reading). New advances in asynchronous methods of communication have ensured that the conversation Plato began (ironically, by writing it down) has never ended.

Hit the play button to start the video.  If you're on a Mac, you'll have to download a Windows Media Player or view the text only version.

Saturday, June 2, 2007 - Dr. Sebastian Mahfood (share your thoughts)

Medieval Help Desk -- Courtesy of
One of the things I like about this video is the reminder at the end that when we develop tutorials for the people we're training, doing so using the very tool on which we're training might not be the most efficacious means of going about it. When I was first hired at Kenrick Seminary, for instance, I was voice-mailed the instructions on how to access my voice mail.  Of course, there are meaningful ways to do it such as the first CDLN online workshop.  The point, though, is that sometimes face-to-face is needed.

Last Updated June 30, 2007.  © Catholic Distance Learning Network.