Toolbox Talks

UM Online Faculty to Share Ideas During Toolbox Talks Event

March 21 program offers tips for connecting with online students

OXFORD, Miss. – A new faculty workshop being offered this month aims to attract DIYers from around campus who may want to try their hand at online course renovation to help shape the way University of Mississippi students learn in online courses.

The idea for the event came from online faculty who wanted to "see behind the curtain" of other online courses and learn what students were reacting to well within those courses, said April Thompson, director of the UM Office of Academic Outreach that houses Ole Miss Online, summer, winter and intersessions.

"Every instructor has an instructional toolbox, if you will, full of ideas, techniques and tools that they utilize to teach their classes," Thompson said. "Since this event is being offered to help faculty share these different teaching approaches, we came up with 'Toolbox Talks.'"

The event, being held at the UM Jackson Avenue Center from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday (March 21), features five-minute presentations from online instructors as well as the two recipients of the 2018 Paragon Award for Excellence in Distant Teaching.

Popular HGTV home renovation shows "Love It or List It," "Behind the Build" and "Smart House" were the inspiration behind the presentation titles.

Marc Watkins, an instructor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric, will lead the "Smart Course" portion of the event with his presentation, “Using Flipgrid to Visualize and Create Dynamic Discussions in Online Courses.”

"Flipgrid is part message board, part video chat room," Watkins explained. "Students create and post to different topics and grids to interact with one another."

Watkins said he liked when students used the program in his course because it encouraged them to interact with one another more authentically.

"Students don't have to worry about maintaining a formal tone on videos in Flipgrid, and most importantly, students get to interact with one another outside of their teacher prompting them and requiring a response," Watkins said. "I think that is truly crucial in creating engagement in an online community."

Watkins said he is already seeing a difference in student engagement since he started using the program.

"My two online sections in the fall recorded 80 hours of engagement, and my two spring online sections are on track to surpass that number," he said.

"Students really get a lot out of visually seeing one another and interacting with each other, and since the app is a lot like Snapchat, students tend to have some familiarity with the concept."

UM English instructor Max Hipp will present, “Leaner and Meaner: Streamling Blackboard Courses for Student Success” during the “Behind the Build” portion of the event.

And Danielle Ammeter, assistant dean in the UM School of Business Administration, will present “Communication and Creating Creativity” in online courses during her presentation in the "Love It or Drop It” category.

The goal of the event is to inspire and aid faculty members as they share their subject matter in new, exciting ways, said Mary Lea Moore, assistant director of academic outreach.

"We felt we could start more brainstorming conversations by setting aside an afternoon to give these instructors a few minutes to share more about what is working so well in their courses," Moore said.

For more information or to RSVP, contact Moore at or call 662-915-7089.

By Pamela Starling