What Makes One Online Course Better than Another?

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” ~John Dewey

The world of online courses is peopled with both skeptics and believers, but whichever side you stand on, education has changed as a result. From my vantage point, I have seen some subjects taught dazzlingly well on video, better than they could have been in a classroom. And I have seen some courses that were so miserable and overpriced that calling them educational makes a mockery of the word.

Laptop with online courses   Earlier this week I was talking about this with Michael Kuzmenko, Manager of Academic Partnerships for Higher Education. He commented that “The market is flooded with online courses; it’s difficult to understand what makes one better than the other.” It’s a great point.

What does make one online course better than the other? Is it the teaching? The sheer availability? How well we learn? I have heard the argument that online teaching is weaker, and therefore so is online learning. In this paradigm, it is only availability that makes online courses worthwhile.

Improve Your Online Classes by Asking: Who Are Your Students?

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” ~Plutarch

Last August I drove across country with all my household goods in a 26-foot moving van. My inclination is to check the maps frequently, write out directions ahead of time, and triple-check with my GPS.

Maps open on table   My traveling companion, on the other hand, wanted as little discussion about the route as possible. “We just need to keep going west,” he said.

For him, the most information conveyed in the fewest words is ideal. He prefers “show” to “tell” when he’s learning something. I, on the other hand, learn best when I’ve written something down.

The Top 9 Attributes of a Great Teacher

I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” Robert Frost

Who was the first teacher to make you like a subject you really weren’t that interested in before or didn’t think you could understand?

Frog in a jar during Biology_Class  Mine was Mrs. Putnam, my ninth grade biology teacher. I was convinced that I hated science and that I wasn’t any good at it. I was wrong on both counts, but it took Mrs. Putnam to help me see through my biases. How did she do it? Through the #9 attribute of a great teacher. But let’s work our way up to that.

If You’re a Great Teacher…

Reverse Outlining: How to Save Your Butt when You’ve Screwed Up Your Content

A man of words and not of deeds/Is like a garden full of weeds.” Benjamin Franklin

Have you ever seen an overgrown garden? It’s a sad thing. You can sort of see the shapes of the beautiful peonies, coral bells, and unrecognizable maybe-flowers beneath the tangle of dockweed, pokeweed, and random weeds that have eradicated the shape and lines of the bed.

weedyGarden  To recover it, you have to weed ever so carefully. Your instinct is to save every plant and get back to the original design as best you can. You must first identify the good plants and then pull away everything around each one. Gradually, the shape and structure of the garden will emerge.

Then plants will need to be moved. Some will have grown too pathetic and will have to be dug out and replaced. Perhaps some need more water, others less, and they’ll have to be regrouped.

Today’s metaphor is about what happens when you’ve written like a maniac and then sat back to discover that you’ve got a mess on your hands. You’ve got words that don’t hang together, that have buried its best points, and that have no sense of pattern or shape.

Two Writing Tips for Effective Organization

I pulled out box after box, setting them haphazardly around the room. My organization lacked something — like, say, organization… .”

―Richelle Mead

Have you ever moved? Of course you have. You remember what it feels like to be overwhelmed by boxes and crates crowding every room, so jammed together that you can hardly wend your way from door to door.

movingboxes   I’m in the middle of that right now, having finally dragged all my junk from one side of the country to the other. I can hardly bear the disorder. I can’t find anything. I can’t clean properly. I can’t think.

In many ways, everything you ever write is like having a house packed with boxes of ideas. You know you’ve got all the essential points—somewhere. But they’re hidden in the cardboard of your brain and need to be organized. (Shudder.)

Organization is the framework underlying your writing, the backbone that determines the order and shape of your points, and the way the whole is held together.

How-To Basics of Video and Green Screen Editing for Online Courses

Editing feels almost like sculpting or a form of continuing the writing process.” ~Sydney Pollack

I recently asked Alison Michel, a Sr. Producer at National Geographic, for her best tips for green screen postproduction. She said her best advice was to hire a good editor. We both laughed at that. It’s a logical reply, especially if you’re working on a long or complicated project.

cutting-room-floor   On the other hand, if you only have a few green screen sequences and straightforward shooting otherwise, it’s worth doing the editing yourself. (Especially if you don’t have the money for a video editor—but if you do, hire one—they’re worth every penny!)

Today’s column is for those trying to tackle editing their own video and green screen. I’ll walk you through the basics and provide some professional tips to make the process of editing green screen easier.

How to Use a Teleprompter so You Don’t Look Like You’re Using a Teleprompter

The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.” –George Jessel

IMG_20150413_170021629_HDR  Years ago I worked with a brilliant science professor who was also a gifted writer, teacher, and storyteller.

The only problem was that he had heard that memorization was the only way to deliver fluidly before a camera. He decided, therefore, to memorize his entire course before we recorded it.

All 130,000 words.

The Joy of Rewriting: 5 Quick Style Boosters


Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

—Mark Twain

So, I can pretty much assume that if you’re like pretty much every other writer, you’re really likely to have very many stylistic tics that very often sneak into nearly everything you write.


Qualifiers, get lost. Let’s try that again, without the qualifiers.

You’re likely to have stylistic tics that sneak into your writing.

Elements_of_Style_cover  Eleven words instead of 33, just by eliminating qualifiers. I learned this rule when I was 16 and my father thrust Strunk & White: The Elements of Style into my hands. Read it ASAP. Buy a copy or read it online (https://goo.gl/ik5h66f). If you could only read one book about writing and rewriting, this is it.

Basically, the rules of style are: Cut the fat. Use the active voice. Get to the point.