Online Blogucation

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Conference attendees sleeping

These people still clapped at the end of the session...

How low is your conference bar set these days?  What does it take to make your experience "worth it" anymore?  Is it 1 good keynote and 1 good session?  Is that enough?  Maybe it's a solid pre-conference workshop and two good sessions.  Or is it even less?

I go to 30-40 conferences (led by educators) each year.  Typically I present a keynote address, a few workshops, or possibly a pre-conference session, but I certainly have plenty of time to see and hear a lot of other presenters.  This also means that I end up eating lunch or an occasional dinner with dozens, if not hundreds of strangers.  So, I've been doing some research around the gambling that takes place at conferences. No, not dice in the back of the kitchen or inviting strangers back to a hotel room...(Those are the tech conferences.)  I'm talking about the conference session roulette that everyone takes part in.  Come on lucky session #4...daddy needs a new educational game!

Some conference attendees "double down" on their bets.  Good move.  I watch as more and more often, session participants sit in the back of the room.  They give the presenter(s) about 3 minutes to "hook" them.  If there is no "hook" then out the door and off to another session they go!  Two for one sessions - nice!  And, most conference presenters are making it hard too.  It seems that the "catchy title" is the order of the day, regardless of whether or not the session will actually provide value.  Sprinkle in Web 2.0, or YouTube, or Serious Game and you've got a session title that will make people do a double take!  Come on Serious Games for YouTube and Facebook via Web 2.0 in the Classroom...Daddy needs a new assessment idea!

In my extremely unscientific research, here is what I looked for.  Great sessions (regardless of the identified mode), meaning keynote addresses, workshops, pre-conference, poster, and panel sessions were all game.  I looked for a few simple indicators to determine a successful presentation.

  1. Great content - this is usually determined by the "buzz" after the session and often corresponds with the number of questioners who stick around to talk.  (My personal research seems to indicate that 3 people will stick around regardless of how good or bad a session is.)  This also includes "buzzing" conversations that follow the session to lunch.
  2. Great presenters - these are definitely harder to find, but my indicator here was pretty simple.  Who, or better, how many (in the audience) was paying attention to the presentation?
  3. Great interaction - this one is tough for me.  A lot of conferences are demanding audience "participation" these days.  My problem?  Often the audience members are not subject matter experts, they are simply professors who enjoy sharing their opinions (which is why we're professors, right?) or worse, they simply want to play devil's advocate throughout the session.  So, in both of those situations, other audience members come away feeling like the session was useless.  However, when interaction with multiple audience members takes place regularly (not simply because an audience member forced a question in), it should be noted.

So, after months of tallying on my iPad or iPhone -I love you Evernote - I have some informal numbers.  This is from 22 conferences, 103 sessions, and includes a lot of conference goers...I have no idea how many.  I should also mention that if I didn't go to the presentation, but simply heard about the presentation after the fact, it was not included here.  (I wonder sometimes if those conversations are's like the guy in high school who was always trying to convince you the swimsuit models showed up to every party JUST after you left...)  Anyway, here you go:

  • 92/103 sessions had poor content, which means 11 sessions had great content.
  • 99/103 sessions had poor presenters, which means 4 sessions had great presenters.
  • 99/103 sessions had no audience interaction, which means 4 session had great interaction.
  • 2 sessions had both a great presenter AND great content (although no interaction).

For those of you scoring at home, that does not even begin to approach an 'F'. Even in aggregate, less than 16% of the presentations I attended were...well, quite frankly they were pretty bad.

Conference attendees paying attention to everything but the speaker

At least I got all of my email answered during this session

Let me give you one fresh example from a conference I attended in December.  There were 75-100 people in the lecture style, tiered room.  I was in the very back, at the top, looking down on the presenters and audience members (I was preparing for my session in that same room, which was next.)  Let me describe for you the middle row of about 25 people.

  • 3 were visibly asleep
  • 4 were checking email on their laptops
  • 6 were checking sports sites - mostly fantasy football on their laptops
  • 10 were using their phones (texting for help perhaps?)
  • 1 was writing on a notepad
  • 2 were passing notes back and forth to each other

It doesn't seem to matter what the topic is, what kind of conference it is, or who the speaker / audience members are, these sessions don't seem to be very helpful.  When I attended my own discipline's Communication conference last year, with people who explain to college students how to effectively communicate a message, there was no difference. When I went to a K-12 conference with teachers who certainly need more energy and enthusiasm to reach younger people, it was no different.  When I went to International conferences, it was no different.  (In fact, it was often worse as many of those conferences are made up of "conference papers" - essentially a person sitting in front of the audience reading a research paper out loud...seriously.), enough of the agonizing landscape.  You get it.  In fact, many of you are probably starting to develop a twitch as I've reminded you of things you would prefer to forget.  But here is my big question.

Why is it a surprise that education is having such trouble reaching students?

Apparently, we (educators) have a difficult time communicating with each other.  How can we possibly expect to communicate effectively with our 1, 2, and sometimes 3 generations younger students?  Why don't we apply what we know to work?  Why don't we use what we know to be helpful?

Tell, Show, Do, Review, and Ask in a multi-modal, multi-nodal way and we'll reach a LOT of people.  Why don't we do that?  Use ethos, pathos, logos, and mythos (if you're dying to think about it old-school) and we'll reach a LOT of people.  Why don't we do that?  Incorporate serious games, focus shifts, multimedia, and interactive strategies and we'll reach a LOT of people.  Why don't we do that?

I truly believe that we are our own enemy here.  I KNOW that there are some really creative, innovative, strategic instructors out there who are doing great things...but when they get to a conference to share it, they get very uptight.  The idea of presenting to peers is quite intimidating for many, so those ideas never really get a chance to shine.

Then, there are the conference submission boards who miss out on great stuff.  They don't seem to read or review survey results from previous conferences, giving preference to people who get super positive comments, having thereby illustrated that they have great content, are a great presenter, or include interaction effectively.  I watched a professor at Online-Educa Berlin present a fantastic workshop on rubrics.  She was poised, dynamic, and her content was top notch.  When I told her that she should give that session at some conferences back in the USA, she explained that she tried over a dozen times and never got accepted.  Something about the presentation just wasn't "sexy" enough for the committees, even though I watched her knock it out of the park in Germany.

So let me finish with this.  Let's change the way conference presentations currently run.  Let's all take a pact.  When we're given the opportunity to share our clever, creative, innovative, effective, or useful ideas from our classes with our colleagues...let's not blow off the performance until the plane rideLet's not forget what goes into a good presentation - effective nonverbals, logical reasoning, and passionate verbals.  Let's include some of the "cool" factor when we can, to illustrate the concept.  Let's not forget the power of storyLet's agree to NEVER, EVER, under ANY circumstances READ our notes or (worse) READ our PowerPoint to the audience again!

We can do this.  It's not like we don't know how audiences respond most effectively.  We know that the lecture is one of the poorest ways we can communicate if we want our audience to retain, comprehend, and be engaged.  We KNOW what it takes.  So, let's just change it.  Yes, that simply, let's change our conference behavior.  Let us never again imply that what we say and what we do are not supposed to be joined at the hip.

Good luck and good teaching...and good conference-going!

(BTW - did anyone notice the ironic metaphor for education here?  Boring lectures, audience members not paying attention, little audience interaction, etc?  Hmmm...I guess that's another blog.)


The New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability ( recently released its report, Committing to Quality: Guidelines for Assessment and Accountability in Higher Education. The report suggests that higher education institutions can use the guidelines to help them answer the question, “Are our students Learning?” and contends this is the fundamental question underlying the work these institutions do to prepare students for success.
The guidelines in and of themselves are not really anything new to those of us involved in student learning outcomes assessment: 1. Set Ambitious Goals, 2. Gather Evidence of Student Learning, 3. Use Evidence to Improve Student Learning, and 4. Report Evidence and Results. Indeed, these guidelines form the foundation of most campus-level assessment activities.
What caught my attention in the report was the following statement included in the description of Guideline #2.
Evidence of how well students are achieving learning outcomes (i.e., “What is good enough?”) against externally informed or benchmarked assessments or against similar colleges and universities, where appropriate and possible, provides useful comparisons. At the same time, it is critical to keep in mind that the objective of comparison is not ranking but improvement.
This seems to be one of the biggest hurdles we face when trying to evaluate the results of assessment on our campuses. I imagine most of us would agree that being able to benchmark our assessment results with those of a group of peer institutions would be the ideal. With the exception of national normative data available to those institutions utilizing one of the several standardized tests such as the CLA, there seems to be very little comparative data available to achieve this benchmarking.
Many institutions now utilize various assessment management systems and/or learning management systems with assessment functions included. I wonder if consortia comprised of institutions similar in role and mission and other key characteristics would be willing to engage in assessment data sharing for purposes of benchmarking their assessment results. And I wonder if the process could be facilitated by the use of common learning and/or assessment management systems. Such organizations could provide an enhanced service to their client institutions by serving as a third-party to collect, aggregate, and then return assessment data to “member” organizations. By using the services of an impartial third-party, individual student data and identity of individual institutions could be kept confidential and thus help to ensure the data are not used for ranking institutions as suggested by the New Leadership Alliance in their report.
Given the increasing microscope post-secondary institutions are being viewed under, such an initiative could prove to be a giant leap in terms of demonstrating accountability and transparency to concerned citizens and other stakeholders. Perhaps more importantly, the availability of this type of benchmarking data would surely be vital to quality improvement processes among our colleges and universities with our students being the primary beneficiaries of such efforts.
Kimberly Thompson
Academic Trainer & Consultant - Assessment & Analytics
Pearson eCollege

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Philosophy of Teaching Twitter Challenge!

This post could have been titled “What’s Your Teaching Philosophy in 110 Characters or Less?” because we’re asking you to participate in a challenge related to developing and succinctly crafting a version of your philosophy of teaching!

The Challenge*

Please review this this post and the examples provided below about writing a brief teaching philosophy. Then, we challenge our readers here to try it for yourself! We would like to receive your submissions via our Twitter account using a hashtag and to mention our Twitter name in your post. So, how do you do it? When posting your 110 character philosophy of teaching to twitter, please include the following in your post so we can follow your responses: @atcecollege #teachphilosophy

What is a Philosophy of Teaching? Why Should I Write One?

Though many formal teaching philosophy statements run two or more pages, having even a brief framework of your philosophy can be beneficial. According to Chapnick (2009), “creating a philosophy of teaching and learning statement is ultimately both personally and professionally rewarding, and is therefore well worth the effort” (p. 4). Defining our philosophy of teaching helps to provide a framework for our practice as educators.

Do you believe timeliness and access are important, as Stevens III (2009) does in this example of his principles? “The principles I follow are simple: be accessible to students and treat them with respect. Accessibility means being available not just during class and office hours, but at any reasonable time. I encourage them to call me at home, and I promise them a response to email messages within 24 hours” (p. 11). If yes, for example, your philosophy would feature timeliness and access as important to you and in your practice you would work to achieve these principles.

What the philosophy includes might reflect a diverse set of information and depends on the audience. The Teaching Center (2007) offers these as guiding questions: (1) Why do you teach? (2) What do you teach? (3) How do you teach? and (4) How do you measure your effectiveness? Let’s apply that framework here in our challenge!

Can I See an Example?

Of Course! Following the model described above, here are some examples:

Inspiring humanity social science and education engaging and interactive
authentic experience designs @atcecollege #teachphilosophy

Learning experiencing sharing knowing doing frequent engagement
anywhere anytime @atcecollege #teachphilosophy

Lisa Marie Johnson, Ph.D.
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Pearson eCollege


  • Do you want to follow the tweets associated with @atcecollege or the tag #teachphilosophy? You can search without a twitter account by going to the Twitter Search page:
  • Hashtags on Twitter allow for “tagging” a post to twitter (tweet) that makes it easier to search for on twitter.  When you include the Twitter name preceded by the at-symbol - @ - it is a Mention of the account and your post shows up in a list of tweets that refer to that account.
  • If you do not have a Twitter account, but are on Facebook, you could instead post to our ATC eCollege Facebook account in response to the comment about this post:
  • Hashtags on Twitter allow for “tagging” a post to twitter (tweet) that makes it easier to search for on twitter.  When you include the Twitter name preceded by the at-symbol - @ - it is a Mention of the account and your post shows up in a list of tweets that refer to that account.
  • If you do not have a Twitter account, but are on Facebook, you could instead post to our ATC eCollege Facebook account in response to the comment about this post: MindShift.


Chapnick, A. (2009). How to write a philosophy of teaching and learning statement (pp. 4-5). Faculty Focus Special Report - Philosophy of Teaching Statements: Examples and Tips on How to Write a Teaching Philosophy Statement. Magna Publications. Available from

Stevens III, R. S. (2009). Education as becoming: A philosophy of teaching (pp. 11). Faculty Focus Special Report - Philosophy of Teaching Statements: Examples and Tips on How to Write a Teaching Philosophy Statement. Magna Publications. Available from

The Teaching Center (2007). Writing a teaching philosophy statement. Available from the Washington University in St. Louis:


Teaching With an iPad

When I first applied for my current position as an Academic Trainer and Consultant with Pearson eCollege, I considered doing the interview-presentation we require of all applicants on the iPad’s use in education. At the time, the first iPad was newly released, or fairly newly released, and it was being touted all over the Internet as a “game changer” for education. The primary idea was that it was supposed to replace textbooks and provide (college) students with one device that would serve as notebook, textbook, and laptop.  In exploratory fashion, I ventured into the Apple store and played a bit with a display iPad; one of the Apple “Geniuses” spoke with me about its uses in the classroom, including how easily students could go back and forth from textbook to taking notes.
“Can they do both simultaneously?” I asked. “Can they have the book and the notes app open at the same time?”

“No,” she replied. “But it’s so easy to get out of one app and into another, so it’s almost the same as doing both simultaneously.”

“So, they can annotate their textbooks? Write notes as they read in the text itself?” I asked.

“Uh, no, but there’s a notepad on every iPad, so they’d just have to close their textbook and open the notepad. The textbook will automatically be bookmarked so they don’t lose their place.”

“Hmm,” I replied. “Is there a wide variety of textbooks available in electronic form through iBooks?”

“Oh, yes,” she answered. “Tons. There’s really not a discipline in which we don’t have electronic textbooks already available through iBooks.”

I opened the iBooks app and did a few searches for textbooks in my discipline—I started first with literature anthologies. There were none. I decided that was perhaps not a fair test—maybe literature anthologies are not technically classified as textbooks?—and searched for some fairly common writing textbooks. Nothing.

“Well, thank you for your help,” I said, and walked out of the store.

I decided after this experience that the iPad was not quite a game-changer in education, at least not in terms of its ability to replace textbook, notebook, and computer, particularly for higher education. There were and still are too many things it doesn’t do—word processing being foremost among those. I know there are workarounds, but there’s not a way to get the most functional and common word processing program onto an iPad. An inability to view Flash content on the iPad is another commonly remarked limitation. However, after receiving an iPad for my birthday in November, I’ve revised my opinion. I think the iPad might be a game-changer for education, but in ways other than I imagined back in April of 2010.

Elementary Education

The iPad has become one of the most popular items in our house and is particularly beloved by my eight year-old daughter.  I downloaded a number of math and spelling apps for her, and she still—two months later, a long time for an eight year-old to play with anything—plays with these apps almost every night.  Her favorite, SplashMath, is really genius—it teaches math concepts rather than rote memorization, but it also rewards the kids with an aquarium, and once they pass a certain number of questions correctly, they earn animals to put in their aquarium. Crabs are the first level; you get quite a few crabs, and the children can go into the aquarium and make the crabs dance, learn about real crabs, and find out about their crabs’ personality (I think the crabs are generally happy—they definitely dance quite a bit). The next level is clown fish (they’re grumpy), then squid, and then, the Holy Grail of the aquarium, angel fish. The fish in the aquarium interact with each other—for instance, the squid’s ink will stun the angel fish, so you have to feed the angel fish to revive it, but you must get more math questions right to earn food. This is probably my daughter’s favorite app. The questions are not too basic or too hard, and they teach her actual concepts, so it’s been a really worthwhile download.

Around the same time that we got the iPad, my daughter’s third-grade teacher sent home a packet of information about various websites the elementary school now had accounts with. One, for example, is a website where the teacher had set up accounts for each student with their “word work” pre-loaded. The website will test each child on spelling and using the words in a sentence. The word work is unique for each child based on his or her language proficiency and fluency, so each student must login to the teacher’s account and find his or her name, which will then reveal the lists. There are quizzes/games that the students can play with their word lists as well. Another website, this time one devoted to reading, allows the teacher to create an account and then select e-books for each individual child based on that child’s reading level. This website required me to download the Photon browser app to the iPad so we could view the Flash content on the page, but it still works very well.  My daughter can choose whether or not to read the books on her own or, alternatively, select an option to have the computer read the book to her. If she reads it on her own, difficult or important words will be linked so she can click on them and hear them pronounced and defined. Finally, the instructor had created a Google account where the students can upload PowerPoint slides with notes on a current research project. My daughter uses the iPad to work with all of these websites.

The best part of using the iPad for elementary education is its lightness and ease of use for children. It is extremely simple to operate; the interactivity of the screen—the swiping, the pinching, and the tapping—all make it a really intuitive device for children. (Not that most children today find technology at all complicated—my daughter was Googling with no help on how to do so by the time she was 6.) I have less anxiety when she uses the iPad than I do when she picks up my laptop to use, which inevitably results in a sticky trackpad but also a panicky call for help—“Mommy! The screen is totally black and I can’t make it go back!” It’s also lighter than a laptop, so she’s usually snugged up on her beanbag chair with the iPad while she uses it.

On-Ground Teaching

My colleague, Rob Kadel, blogged in September about why the iPad didn’t work for his fully online teaching (you can read his blog here). I agree with his comments in that blog. For fully online teaching, there’s no practical way to use an iPad unless you collect no papers that have to be graded and returned and don’t need to actually build your online course (or make changes to your already-built online course). There’s no full integration with Microsoft Office, and, as I mentioned above, if the iPad is really going to be game-changing for higher ed students, there simply must be. However, I have found the iPad to be fun, if not wholly game-changing, in terms of how I teach in the face-to-face classroom.

I began teaching a writing course on-ground in January. Before the first class, I went to Best Buy and purchased an adaptor so that I could project what was on my iPad using an overhead projector (much to the consternation of the sales clerk, who could not for the life of him understand why you’d want to project from an iPad). I also took the entirely text-based notes I use for lecturing in that class and, from them, built a Prezi ( Then I downloaded the Prezi app for iPad, and voila—there were all my Prezis on the iPad. In the classroom, I was able to project my Prezi; I use it as a kind of visual aid, something to help those students who are visual learners rather than aural learners. It’s not really a “lecture” or a “presentation” of content in the strictest sense of the word—I just use the Prezi as a way to initiate a series of mini-discussions with the class about various topics. I’ve found that it works extremely well. The students really appreciate having the added cue of the words on the screen as I am talking (usually just two or three words at a time—keywords, in a sense), and they’ve asked me to make the Prezis available in our online course shell for them to revisit.

But bringing the iPad to class each time I teach has enabled me to offer my students more, to really enrich the course materials in a way that, if my experience can be described as representative, is still not common in many on-ground classrooms. Rather than writing URLs on the board when I want to point them towards a helpful resource, I can just browse to it on the iPad. Rather than telling them to Google something to find out about it, we can do it together as a class and discuss the accuracy and credibility of the results. If I want to talk about resources for conducting research on their papers, I can browse to the library’s website and show them the databases I’m talking about as well as how they work. I can use one student’s topic for the purposes of demonstration, and we can engage in a discussion about search strategies, Boolean logic, and keywords. Before using the iPad, I would usually just describe what I was talking about as fully as possible and then jot down, on the board, the steps they needed to take to do whatever it was. The iPad enables me to demonstrate and make the class more “active,” if that’s the right word. In that sense, it’s been a great addition to my on-ground teaching.

Jennifer Golightly, Ph.D.

Academic Trainer & Consultant

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3 Web Tool Ideas for In-course Formative Assessment

First, a little background.

Resounding evidence exists to note the tremendous power of assessment in the processes of teaching and learning. One of the most valuable applications of formative assessment is that it provides feedback for learning (versus feedback of learning).

Timely and explanatory feedback on how a student is doing and what they can do to improve their learning can support a student’s learning process by confirming progress and/or giving the opportunity to remediate while they have a chance. Think, for instance, that inasmuch as summative assessments such as an end of the unit exam or a final can offer students corrective feedback (letting them know which questions they answered correctly or incorrectly), there is limited opportunity for self-remediation. Developmental (formative) learning experiences designed to provide feedback on where a student is on their learning journey towards clearly defined goals as well as opportunities to make mistakes prior to high-stakes summative measures, can ultimately improve and enhance learning. And this end should be the chief priority of assessment.

"The use of both formative assessment, for the purpose of giving feedback and making improvement, and summative assessment, for the purpose of identifying levels of attainment" is an element of good assessment practice (Greater Expectations Project on Accreditation & Assessment, 2004).”

Let’s get practical.

While there are many ways that we can punctuate our courses with meaningful formative assessments, here are three tools I’ve come across that you can opt to incorporate in your online course:

1. allows for a voiced conversation to take place around a slide show of images, a document or a video. Users can post their comments to a collaborative space using voice (with a mic or telephone), text, audio file, or video (via webcam). Think of this as your Discussion Board on Steroids! Ideas: Post a small collection of images related to your course or a specific topic and ask your students to write a reflection, summary or story about what is being depicted the images. Review student’s comments to evaluate their conceptual understanding of the content.

2. enables users to create and explore timelines individually or collaboratively. Ideas: Ask students to build a biographical sketch of a person’s life from birth to death or create a timeline showing the history of an important invention or event in history, incorporating information they have gathered from their textbook, internet sources, lectures, etc.  Use the timeline to gauge your learner’s ability to synthesis information of the topic at hand.

3. allows learners to create a graphical representation of ideas and concepts. Students can also invite collaborators, add images, attach documents and export their mind map when completed. Ideas: Ask students to brainstorm (individually or in groups) about a topic, case study, or relevant problem related to their course or ask students to create a mindmap of their research findings and ideas for an upcoming research paper. This can provide you an excellent opportunity to ensure that your student’s focus on a particular paper theme is on the right track, and/or that they are exploring different dimensions of a particular topic.

What are some ways you would use web tools in your course to provide  learners opportunities for feedback on their learning?

Rachel Cubas
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Higher Education Assessment Specialist



Greater Expectations Project on Accreditation and Assessment. (2004). Taking Responsibility for the Quality of the Baccalaureate Degree. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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Try a Syllabus Quiz

I’ve been teaching online or in a hybrid format for about 12 years now. I’ve been teaching in the classroom for even longer. But when I teach online there’s always something that seems quite trivial that I actually miss. I like to refer to this as one-of-those-go-over-the-syllabus-days, and it’s usually the first day of class.

Of course, students find this pointless and boring, generally, but I’ve found that they do tend to pay attention. I don’t read the syllabus word-for-word, but I at least point out each section, what it means to them, and what they are required to know or do.

There’s a real purpose for this. By my way of thinking, a syllabus is like a contract. It’s a contract I make with students that says, “This is what I’m going to provide to you [knowledge and guidance] and in return, this is what you’re going to provide to me [effort, study, work products, etc.].” By doing this in class (in an on-ground course), I can ask if anyone has any questions. I can look for nodding heads or confusion on faces, and I can address any issues in class. And if I really want to be a stickler, I can have students sign a page stating that they have read and understand the syllabus.

Online, I don’t have that same kind of forum. I do use, for example, a Virtual Office. This is just a discussion forum that I’ve renamed, and I ask students to post any questions about the course there. They can then learn from each others’ questions without sending me the same question via email 20 times. (Although, if it’s a question about a grade or other individual work in the course, then I ask them to email me.) So, if students have questions about the syllabus, they can ask them there.

That isn’t good enough, I’ve found. I still have students come to me saying that they didn’t realize such-and-such and that it would affect so-and-so. So, I also like to include a syllabus quiz. I write up 10 or 15 questions based on the information provided in the syllabus. They are specific questions, e.g., “Which of the following are our course objectives?” and I throw some irrelevant answer choices in there to make sure that they’ve read the course objectives before they can answer that question correctly. And, if I have assignments of different point values, I add a matching question: “Match the assignment on the right to its respective point value on the left.” That way, students will realize that, yes, the final research paper does make up one-third of their grade, and therefore, it is important.

In effect, this is like asking the students to sign off that they have read and understand the syllabus. Heck, I could use a syllabus quiz in my on-ground courses, too. In online courses, it’s particularly important.

In Pearson Learning Studio, I can also enable the Path Builder tool (found under Course Admin --> Enable/Disable Tools), and then use the Course Scheduler link to access Path Builder. I can use Path Builder to “gate” the rest of the course content around the syllabus quiz. If students don’t pass the syllabus quiz, they can’t even move forward to the first Unit. No Christmas-treeing that quiz!

Consider using a syllabus quiz in your own course. It might just make the difference between a smooth-running course and a bunch of Hey-I-didn’t-know-that! excuses later.


Rob Kadel, Ph.D.
Supervisor, Academic Training & Consulting
Pearson eCollege


Personally, I’m Hopeful

It’s about as cliche as New Year’s resolutions, but the truth is at the beginning of each year, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful for what I, personally, may be able to do better, but more than that, I’m hopeful for the possibilities that a new year can bring. Specifically this year, I’m hopeful and excited about what the world of education can become. It seems to me that the past two years have been a crescendo leading to today in many respects: new touch and mobile technologies; rapid growth in access to high-speed Internet; pressure to increase the efficacy of education on a national and world stage from both government authorities and accreditation; difficult economic times that have led many back to further their education; advances in LMS technologies enabling education to be ever more available and increasingly interactive.

As I reflected on and reviewed the articles, conferences, seminars and videos I perused in 2011, a few pieces caught my attention again:

Sugata Mitra is a scientist in Newcaslte, UK who spoke at a TED conference in July of 2010 regarding his Hole in the Wall Project. You can still see the video via this link. Essentially what Sugata and his colleagues did was embed an Internet-connected computer in the wall of a slum in New Dehli with a hidden camera watching it. They did this because they believe that “There are places on Earth, in every country, where, for various reasons, good schools cannot be built and good teachers cannot or do not want to go ... “, so they brought the potential for learning to the children without teachers or schools or organization. What the cameras recorded were children from the slum playing with the computer, learning how to use it, getting online and then teaching each other.  From the results of the project, during his TED talk, Sugata asserts that “Children will learn to do what they want to learn to do” and that even in the absence from any direct input from a teacher, “If children have interest, education happens.” Now, while I don’t believe the most efficacious education occurs in a situation like this, I find it interesting that simple curiosity was enough of a driving force to begin education; no laws or rules or coercion required.

As the nearly six and a half million views of this video attest to, Sir Ken Robinson is an intelligent, dynamic, fun-to-listen-to man who has potentially-disruptive thoughts on the state of education as it stands today. In this RSA Animate version of Robinson’s talk called Changing Education Paradigms (which is well worth the 12 minutes by the way), he asserts that “The current system of education was designed, and conceived and structured for a different age”, and that it no longer applies to the world we find ourselves in. At the time when public education in America was first, truly being formed, “Public education, paid for by taxation, free to everybody and free at the point of delivery”, was revolutionary. But Robinson believes that “we [still] have a system of education that is modeled on the interests of industrialisation and in the image of it. Schools are still pretty much organized on factory lines.” To a degree I can understand why this is still the case. In a nation where we are trying to continually educate roughly 313,000,000 people, there needs to be an overarching organization. However, Robinson argues that we’ve increasingly made education about conformity. He puts it this way: “It’s about standardization; I believe we’ve got to go in the exact opposite direction. That’s what I mean about changing the paradigm.” And what is the exact opposite direction of standardization?

It seems that Finnish education has been in the news quite a bit lately. One article that I ran across recently which could be considered somewhat educationally-provocative, is from ‘The Atlantic’ and entitled What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success. The article is written by Anu Partenan, who is herself Finnish and currently a journalist in New York City. As many have identified, the article clearly contrasts competition and equity asserting “Finland's experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.” However, the underlying theme I found most interesting is one of a student-centric approach. The article also notes that the Finnish policy on education is that “every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location”. Schools in Finland are also focusing on more than just the brain or education of their students by offering free meals, access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

While these pieces are all interesting in their own right, I believe that the pertinent common thread is that we’re poising ourselves to individualize education. I think the next age of education is a personal one. Let me explain what I mean (and don’t mean) by “individualized” and “personal” by taking a step back in time. There was a time in history (think along the lines of 1400s, Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci) when many who wanted to have a skilled job apprenticed under a master who closely mentored their students by working side-by-side with them, sharing their  knowledge, giving them experience, and providing opportunity to try and try again. The take away from this type of learning environment is not a need to have learning be a one-on-one or one-on-few experience, but rather that the mentor would adjust their teaching to the abilities, personality and characteristics of the apprentice because they had the opportunity to know their student intimately.

What these mentors were able to do was personalize, or individualize the process by which their students learned. The skills required to perform the work (outcomes and standards) did not have to change or be sacrificed. Robinson’s view is that our education has become a factory where the process is always the same, regardless of variances in input (differing students) and yet expecting the resulting product to be the same (students who meet or exceed standards and outcomes). The truth is that every student will enter into each learning experience from a different place that is formed from both their innate characteristics and their life experiences. One might think of it using this simple analogy: Let’s say that three students enter a learning situation as a 2, 5 and 7. A standardized or constant learning process might be like adding a 5 to each student so that the 2 becomes a 7, the 5 a 10 and the 7 a 12. If the outcome of the learning situation is for the students to reach a learned level of 10, then we’ve wasted the time of the 7, not done right by the 2 and, perhaps luckily, been just right for the 5.

I believe that our change in educational paradigm can be a simple shift in what we hold constant and what we allow to vary. Simply put, the journey, the process, of learning need not be the same for any given learner; let it be flexible, be dynamic, be individualized and personal. Let’s hold constant (or conscientiously raise) our standards and outcomes. If an outcome of 10 is what is needed, then let’s take the time to give the 2 an 8, continue to give the 5 a 5 and provide the 7 a 3 and let them be on their way. But how? This is where the history in which we are living has brought us to a point in time where technology enables us to not only dynamically and intelligently adjust the learning process, but to do it for thousands and millions of learners.

I absolutely love this advice from Walter Gretsky, to his son, The Great One, Wayne Gretsky: “skate where the puck's going, not where it's been”. If we take the time to do similarly and look where our advances in technology are leading (wide-spread Internet access, html5, smart mobile devices, digital resources), we can see that education is going to change to become naturally personal. For each of us, the choice will be whether or not we will meet the puck where it’s going to be or if we'll have skated behind it.

Sugata shows us that learning is a natural thing; we don’t have to enforce it, we only need to give it the conditions in which it can flourish. Robinson shows us that one-size does not fit all; simply repeating a process does not produce (let alone guarantee) the same outcome. The Finns remind us to focus on the learner as a person more than a predetermined menu of what is to be learned in what ways and in what quantities.  The world that we’re living in is showing us that journeys of personal learning can be more than a hope, but are indeed possible.

Luke Cable
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Pearson eCollege

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Plagiarism and Research-When does the teaching and learning stop and the cheating begin?

When I start out to write these blog articles, more often than not, I do not have a topic in mind. I find it interesting how sometimes, it just all comes together. Monday, on our lunch break, one of my colleagues mentioned how her daughter, who is in third grade, is learning how to take notes. This evolved into a discussion about learning how to research, take notes, and academic writing.

I consider myself lucky in this respect because I distinctly remember learning how to take notes and research in 5th grade, 7th grade and 9th grade. In 7th grade, I was enrolled in a zero hour- type class that was scheduled for a 20 minutes a day break. We used that time to conduct a year-long research project. We used the Reader’s Guide to find current articles on our topics. We used note cards for note-taking with the bibliographic details at the top, a direct quote on the front and a paraphrase on the back. I remember struggling with the paraphrasing. The fact that we used the same process in 9th grade helped a little bit but I don’t think I got a follow-up or re-teaching of the concept until I was working on my master’s degree. I fear many of my paraphrases in the many papers I wrote in high school and undergraduate work were more quotes with a few words changed rather than true paraphrasing.

Even with that scenario, I feel lucky that I had such scaffolded teaching on that topic throughout my K-12 years. I seemed to be way ahead of my peers when it came to academic writing in college courses. My colleagues at the lunch on Monday confirmed that some experienced direct teaching of researching, note-taking and writing while others just sort of figured it out. That is probably why, early in my teaching career when I taught 7th grade geography, I made them do a research paper and I graded all 125 papers for content, grammar and citations. It is only with practice, feedback and more practice that individuals learn to write academically and learn to correctly cite all sources.

So this discussion at lunch was then followed by reading an article in the Cornell Daily Sun about professors at Cornell University and their different perspective on using a plagiarism tool such as TurnItIn as part of the process for academic paper submissions. Reading the article, you can see that some professors do not like such tools because it says to the students that you know they are cheating/plagiarizing and you are going to catch them. It creates a relationship founded on mistrust from the beginning.

I actually disagree with this point of view and tend to agree more with Professor Peter Katzenstein who is quoted in the article. He says: “I don’t regard Turnitin as a tool for detecting or monitoring student plagiarism. It is, rather, a tool of great use to professors, graduate students and undergraduates for verifying authenticity and originality of scholarship.” Just like we need to teach our students how to research and write throughout their K-12 learning, that teaching needs to continue through their higher ed years. Earning a liberal arts degree, I completed many research papers in my 7 years in higher ed. I would have loved to have a tool like TurnItIn to help me to check my citations to be sure I have done it correctly. It is nice to have the tool available for each professor to decide when and how to use it. From a student perspective, I would like to have the tool. I don’t think I would view it as catch me cheating software.

I’m guessing the colleague’s daughter in 3rd grade who is learning how to take notes will probably be a pretty good academic writer by the time she completes her schooling. The more tools she has and the more opportunities she has will allow her to hone those skills. Don’t we wish all students arrived their freshman year of college with a good foundation in research writing? It is nice that we don’t have to use note cards and Reader’s Guides any more. The software opportunities are endless. Let us hope that our institutions see the value is such programs and makes them available for use by faculty and students.

Pamela Kachka, M.A.Ed.
Academic Trainer & Consultant

Cited Sources:

Purdue online writing lab--paraphrase: Write it in your own words. (2011). Retrieved from

Rathore, M. (2011, November 16). Professors differ on effectiveness of plagiarism software. The cornell daily sun. Retrieved from

Readers' guide to periodical literature. (2011, October 29). Retrieved from'_Guide_to_Periodical_Literature

Turnitin--about us: Newsroom. (2011). Retrieved from

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Search and Rescue

Tree octopusI recently attended the Sloan C ALN Conference and watched an engaging plenary talk given by Howard Rheingold who discussed his idea that mastering “Crap Detection 101” is a necessary skill for students (or anyone) to have. This is always a relevant topic, but it was especially timely given that Howard was discussed in an article I read around the same time- a column titled “Why Johnny Can’t Search” from Wired Magazine (Thompson, 2011).

In addition to mentioning Crap Detection 101, Thompson mentions two interesting studies, including one by Professor Pan at the College of Charleston, where Pan measured how skilled students were at internet searching by using Google to answer a series of questions. Not surprisingly, Pan found that students relied on the top hits in Google, even when Pan had artificially changed the search results so lower results showed up first. Students were not verifying the quality of the search results they found, they were relying on Google to do this for them. Another study mentioned was conducted at Northwestern, where of the 102 undergraduates studied, none checked the authors’ credentials on internet sources they used (Thompson, 2011). My personal teaching experience aligns with these findings.

So why are researchers (and teachers like myself) finding these trends? Thompson suggests that schools aren’t teaching how to conduct intelligent internet searches, and more importantly, aren’t teaching students how to critically evaluate sources once they find them. It’s possible that a K-12 curriculum focused on prepping students for exams doesn’t include time for this type of instruction on information literacy, but then university instructors assume that students already know this information and so don’t focus on it in their classes. As Thompson comments, “this situation is surpassingly ironic, because not only is intelligent search a key to everyday problem-solving, it also offers a golden opportunity to train kids in critical thinking.”

Fortunately, there are plentiful online resources that help teach these skills (assuming you know how to find them in a search, ha ha), including lesson plans and sample activities. A useful method to use for website evaluation is the CRAAP test: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose (originally developed by Meriam Library CSU Chico). Another fun way to approach this is to use spoof websites to help students learn that simply finding something on a website doesn’t make it truthful or reliable; a list of sites, including the online pregnancy test and save the tree octopus, can be found here. And finally, another valuable website (not just for students!) is which helps you identify the truth behind urban legends and misinformation (such as those email chains that go around- no, if you forward this to 50 people in the next five minutes, you will not receive a free computer). So let’s get started teaching students how to search!

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –

Director of Academic Training & Consulting

Thompson, C. November 2011. Why Johnny Can’t Search. Wired Magazine. Available online at:


They’ve left us, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still students

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released a Snapshot Report on persistence last week with some interesting new data on student persistence. To obtain a copy of the report visit their website at According to the Research Center, "students were counted as having persisted if they: 1)remained enrolled in any postsecondary institution 60 days after the end of the term that included October 15, 2010 or 2) completed a degree within 60 days of the end of the term that included October 15, 2010.

The Research Center was able to identify students persisting in higher education regardless if the students remained at a single institution or moved among institutions. Accounting for this student movement, researchers found that overall, 84.7% of students persisted in higher education. Data were further broken down between full- and part-time status with 92.5% of full-time and 71.2% of part-time students identified as persisting. An examination of the persistence rates by type of institution attended revealed that the highest rate (91.4%) was found among students attending private, not-for-profit, 4-year institutions while the lowest rate (74.9%) was among students attending public, 2-year instititons.

These findings are encouraging as they show that while some students leave an institution before earning a degree or certificate, many continue their education at another institution. These "leavers" are typically viewed as drop-outs, an undesirable outcome from the institution's perspective. But, because of the data reported by the Research Center we can see that many of these students are, in fact, persisting but have just moved from one institution to another.

Institutions participating as data providers to the National Student Clearing House are able to use the data to help them determine how many of their former students are continuing at other institutions and can make adjustments to their own reports on persistence and completion. The data can also be useful to states and others who are interested in better understanding the enrollment patterns of today's college students.

The bottom line for those of us interested in seeing all students succeed is that the picture is not as bleak as our previous incomplete data on persistence would have us believe. And even more importantly, these findings suggest that students seem willing to continue their education even if, for whatever reasons, they have left one institution at some point during their education journey.
Kimberly Thompson