Online Blogucation
14Feb/122

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 legitimate...it'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.)

OK...so, 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.)

1Feb/120

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


*Notes

  • 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: http://twitter.com/search/
  • 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: http://twitter.com/search/
  • 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.

References

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 http://www.facultyfocus.com/topic/free-reports/

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 http://www.facultyfocus.com/topic/free-reports/

The Teaching Center (2007). Writing a teaching philosophy statement. Available from the Washington University in St. Louis: http://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/writing-teaching-philosophy-statement

14Dec/110

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

7Dec/111

Up In Lights

I just got back from performing a keynote address in Berlin at Online Educa.  It was an amazing experience.  Not only was the conference packed with over 2000 people, but the city of Berlin was quite breathtaking this time of year.  Everywhere you look in Berlin there is some kind of Christmas decoration, tradition, or ornamentation.  People gather together at the Christmas markets to drink Gluehwein (a spiced, boiled wine drink that smelled delicious) and sales abound in the shopping areas.

So as I was walking through one of the markets with some friends, I thought back to the decorating of my own tree just a few weeks ago, which led to thoughts of…instructional design!  (Seriously, I need a break).  With a four year old, Christmas came early this year and we had our tree up on Thanksgiving day!

But the lights on the tree, specifically, were quite an ordeal.  Actually they still are.  See, last year we bought a new tree.  We took our daughter down to “St Nick’s” Christmas store (no joke) and asked for a guided tour of the new trees.  While the trees look amazingly real, they ALL – 100% - had a major flaw.  It was impossible to buy a tree without pre-decorated lights!  And not just pre-decorated, but all white lights.  Ugh.

Of course, I get why they do it.  Most people hate lighting the tree.  It’s time consuming, you end up missing spots, and the only thing worse than getting them on is taking them off.  But, I knew then what proved to be true this year.  Pre-lit trees are not what they appear to be.  See, this year, I had happen EXACTLY what I asked the sales-elf about last year:

ME: “What happens if a light goes out?”
ELF: “That hardly ever happens!”
ME: “Okay, but what if it does?”
ELF: “Well, the lights aren’t connected like they used to be.  If one goes out, it doesn’t affect the others, it just goes out.  You can replace it or leave it, but the rest of the lights will shine.”
ME: “Riiiiiiiight….”

You can probably see where I’m going with this.  This year, just as I suspected, we got the tree up, plugged it in, and yep, you guessed it – the entire middle of the tree was black.  So, I got to spend about an hour, finding, unplugging, and re-plugging new lights into the old sockets, hoping each one would light the strand back up.  (I never got more than 4 in a row to light up with any new bulb…)

Alright, enough about my holiday nightmare.  So what does this have to do with Instructional Design?  Well, as I stood there checking bulb after bulb, I realized that some schools are taking this approach to their online courses.  The premise is simple:  Most instructors don’t have any education around teaching.  Instructional designers know how to design quality courses.  So, create a course with a group of designers and let a dozen different faculty teach it.  Done and done!

But, of course the analogy then starts to take over.  What if you allow instructors to change the course?  Some of those new courses will be awesome – amazing even!  Others, will be like a darkened bulb bringing down the outcomes average for the department.  What if it’s a blinking strand kind of course?  In other words, what if it has all kinds of whiz bang media and social interaction?  The answer there is that most faculty would need a boat load of instruction just to teach it.  (This is why most standardized courses don’t have cool stuff…they just have text, pictures, and some videos.  It’s easier to deliver, even though it’s not nearly as engaging for students.)  This straight forward approach to design for mass clusters of courses would be the equivalent of an all-white tree.  Guess what?  I don’t WANT an all-white tree.  That’s why last year I spent about 3 hours going through and changing out 4 out of 5 bulbs to a color.  I want color.  I LIKE color.

Ok you say - so let’s not use instructional designers.  Let’s let faculty design all of their own courses!  Guess what you get then?  You’ll get some lights perched perfectly on the limbs.  They will be unobtrusive, casting a healthy glow from the inside of the tree, almost as if the tree itself is on fire.  But you’ll also get…well, you’ll get the Griswald tree too.  You’ll get lights that look as if they were flung on the tree by a four year old with a slingshot, appearing as if they may fall off at any minute.  You will get some bulbs that are significantly dimmer than others.  You’ll get 5 reds in a row.  You’ll get classes that have nothing but text and no interaction with the professor except for an occasional rant and the final, posted grades at the end of term.

See, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  There HAS to be a better way.  There has to be a healthy mix of instructional design, subject matter expertise, and personal touches that allow a class to be unique, engaging, and a quality experience in terms of assessment.  The school that figures out how to truly mix sound pedagogy with effective delivery and authentic assessment in a media rich, social environment will rule the world.

But until then, we’ll have to take it one light at a time.  We’ll have to create the best possible bulb section for our trees or try to create at least tri-color trees that are uniformed.  But one day…it will be different.

Oh, by the way, when I landed in Germany my daughter got on the phone.  She just HAD to tell me something.

ME: “Hey Peanut!”
ADDIE: “Hi Daddy.”
ME: “What’s going on sweet heart?”
ADDIE: “The middle of the tree is dark again Dad…”
ME: Guttural moaning...

Happy holidays and may your light shine brightly on whatever educational environment in which you teach.  Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Sr Director of Teaching & Learning

9Nov/110

Whaddya mean, it’s free!?

In case you missed it, Pearson made an announcement a few weeks ago followed by some serious marketing during EDUCAUSE about one of our newest products, OpenClass. OpenClass is “breaking down barriers and transforming the learning environment,” says Adrian Sannier, Pearson’s Senior V.P. of Learning Technologies. Why? Because, in short, it’s free. As in really free – it’s hosted in the cloud, so there are no hosting costs. There are no licensing costs. In fact, if you’re a school with Google Apps for Education you can start using it right now. Free. Just click here.

But my post today is not to talk about OpenClass directly. I’m not going to try to sell you on it or demonstrate it or talk about all of its amazing features. Instead, I want to talk about some of the reactions we’ve seen to OpenClass. It’s my contention here that we in the educational world (and in our consumer culture in general) have become so suspicious of the word “free” that we can’t possibly believe that something really could be free. Once bitten, twice shy, right?

The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed both wrote articles on OpenClass following Pearson’s press release. Fine articles – balanced points of view, a few questions that need to be answered, and so on. And kudos to them for taking on these national discussions on the idea of a free LMS.

The heart of the matter, though, comes down to the comments posted by many of those publications’ readers. I’m going to share a few of those comments here, not to poke fun at the authors or to say that they’re wrong or that there’s anything wrong with what they posted. I’m all for free speech and for potential end users to challenge Pearson to deliver on its promises. What I want to point out is the amount of cynicism we see in the world of Learning Management System adoption. Let’s start with a sample of comments (unedited):

  • free-hosting sounds great, ...but at what price? what sorts of idiosyncrasies and limitations will this cloud-based LMS have?
  • I can almost picture the pop-up ads in OpenClass--"wouldn't you love to be able to [insert Learning Studio feature not present in OpenClass] ?"
  • Nothing is free!
  • this may not be as “free” as it looks. For a campus to integrate an LMS into their academic mission, it takes time, money and cooperative relationships with faculty.
  • I question how free OpenClass really will be. Pearson is a for-profit publisher and, to use OpenClass, I suspect they will have customers to use their textbooks under the guise of an integrated learning platform…I sense there are many strings attached to this so-called free platform
  • Like other people, I’m also wondering how “free” this can really be. LMS adoption is a costly process -- in terms of time and money. Plus, a newer LMS is bound to have more problems than better-established LMS that have been evolving over a decade or more.
  • While it is nice that "free" (as in gratis) is referenced, it is certainly not Free (as in libre). Of course, one does have to wonder how long the "free" part will last...
  • Can we please define "free?" It seems very limited to think of costs only directly related to hosting the application(s) and maintaining the hardware. Is it free in the sense that open source software is free (e.g. free as in speech vs. free as in beer)?
  • Pearson could cancel OpenClass at any time, or not fix bugs or insert ads or just stop adding any features or upgrades, and there is nothing anyone can do about it - you're locked in.
  • Yeah..it's good.But would you mind if i ask you a question? well I am 31 years of age from Tanzania East Africa I am looking for a sponsor for  my master's degree any where can you help please..

Okay, maybe that last one’s not really on point. But I think you get the picture I’m painting here: people are surprised, suspicious, and even (at times) hostile toward the idea of a free LMS. Several readers/commenters act as if Pearson is a drug dealer, using OpenClass to give people a taste, getting them hooked, and then causing them to take out second mortgages on their universities just to stay in the LMS.

Not true! Look, I’m biased here. I see that. I work for the company that makes OpenClass. But I’m also an academic, have years of teaching experience at the university level, and have years of experience with a variety of LMSs. So I know where these readers are coming from. Nothing is ever as free as it seems, right? There are always hidden costs. We, as a consumer culture, have become desensitized to the word “free” because, as one commenter so astutely wrote above, “Nothing is free!”

For example, there are a lot of other LMS offerings out there that purport to be free, but limit you in terms of the number of courses you can create or the number of students you can enroll. OpenClass is not that. There are other LMSs that provide the backend code for free so that you can essentially create your own LMS using their code. Except that you have to pay for hosting – even if that means just a lousy few thousand dollars on some servers and routers. OpenClass is not that.

In short, these other “free” offerings have brought out the cynic in many of us, that anything that says it’s free can’t possibly really be free. We’ve been burned too many times before.

OpenClass is free. You can get it for free out of the Google Apps Marketplace, create a course, enroll students, and run with it. You can create ten thousand courses with 100 students in each. Let your imagination run wild. It’s free. If you still don’t believe me, try it out. Let me know what you think.

Rob Kadel, Ph.D.
Pedagogy & Training Group Supervisor
Academic Training & Consulting

2Nov/110

The Buzz on Assessment

I had the pleasure of attending the 2011 Assessment Institute in Indianapolis this week. The conference is the nation’s oldest and largest event focused exclusively on outcomes assessment in higher education. Administrators, Faculty and Student Affairs professionals convened this week to discuss techniques and approaches across outcomes assessment areas. This year, the event featured tracks on Capstone Experience, ePortfolios, and Faculty Development, among others.

I’d like to share with you a few of the recurring themes I heard and will take with me from the keynotes, workshops and best practice sessions. I will share specifically three themes and considerations. These few points may serve as a marker for some of the noteworthy issues and considerations in the higher education outcomes assessments landscape.

The first two themes are indeed linked in both process and practice, so I will identify both of them at this point. They are: 1) Faculty Engagement and 2) Using Results to Inform Improvement Processes. For those of us who have been doing outcomes assessment for any extended period of time, these themes may echo many of the questions and issues as well as the successes we have faced.

The engagement of faculty in the assessment process is certainly not a new issue in the practice of assessment. Notwithstanding, faculty engagement in the process of outcomes assessment is a reality many institutions are still desiring and even stretching to achieve. The corporate understanding among practitioners gathered at the event appears to reveal an arrival, or perhaps a standstill in some cases, at a place of resounding confirmation, one that points to faculty engagement in the assessment process as a critical component to successful assessment. In her 2010 paper entitled “Opening Doors to Faculty Involvement in Assessment”, Pat Hutchings wrote:

“As Peter Ewell (2009) points out in another NILOA paper, from its early days in higher education, assessment was “consciously separated from what went on in the classroom,” and especially from grading, as part of an effort to promote “objective” data gathering (p. 19). In response, many campuses felt they had no choice but to employ external tests and instruments that kept assessment distinct from the regular work of faculty as facilitators and judges of student learning. In fact, the real promise of assessment—and the area in which faculty involvement matters first and most—lies precisely in the questions that faculty, both individually and collectively, must ask about their students’ learning in their regular instructional work: what purposes and goals are most important, whether those goals are met, and how to do better. As one faculty member once told me, “assessment is asking whether my students are learning what I am teaching.”

Further, the notion was submitted that seeking faculty engagement should not be seen as a one-time achievement but as an ongoing and evolving effort that characterizes a campus assessment strategy. Inasmuch as the issue is not a new one for assessment, the corporate sentiment among conference participants is that garnering this engagement remains a key dynamic and often great challenge. Several presenters admonished institutions represented at the conference to engage in cross-institutional dialogue to share strategies on how to foster a deeper degree of faculty engagement.

The second recurring theme centers on a question of the value, strategy and purpose of assessment efforts, asking What’s it all for? Assessment is hard work. And the growing sentiment appears to be a desire to see campus assessment efforts translate into actual impact on student learning, beyond the collection of data and documentation for accreditation and/or certification. This pull for results that impact student learning is a call to move beyond data collection and planning of assessment to the informed and strategic improvement of teaching and learning based on the data. To make assessment more useful, we must include within our strategy an intentional approach to leverage data and documentation to help bridge the gaps between our current and improved realities. This process must be ongoing. And it undoubtedly must include faculty.

Finally, the third takeaway comes in the form of a resource. The National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) had a strong presence at the 2011 Assessment Institute. Several of the organization’s staff and associates were keynote presenters and include a notable group of internationally recognized experts on assessment. NILOA presenters pointed conference participants to what they called the ‘crown jewel’ of the organization’s efforts, a recently-enhanced and robust website featuring a collection of papers, articles, presentations, websites and survey results compiled in alignment with the organization’s vision for discovering and adopting promising practices in the assessment of college student learning outcomes. Reviewing the organization’s website will quickly reveal its valuable contribution to the field of assessment and current issues, including those I’ve highlighted from the conference. Take a moment to explore this great resource by visiting www.learningoutcomeassessment.org.

It was certainly a rich experience to attend the conference and have the opportunity to share with institutions and hear the collective voice of higher education assessment practitioners.

Rachel Cubas
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Assessment & Analytics Group | Academic Training & Consulting (ATC)

References

Hutchings, P. (2010) Opening Doors to Faculty Involvement in Assessment. National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

5Oct/110

The On-Going Struggle For Acceptance

In the 90′s Russell wrote the first and likely most well read defense of online education.  The piece, “No Significant Difference” was well written and well received.  But it was Twigg’s follow up, “Beyond No Significant Difference” that was an eye-opener for some.  Even back in 2001, Twigg discovered what many now know to be true.  Outcomes are more easily tracked and often achieved in online classes than they are in their on-ground counter parts. 

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Oh, the online guy is going to tell us how great online is…but hold on.  I know it’s still not the accepted, common-sense paradigm that many would hope it to be.  Just this week I read an article about how Ball State faculty are highly suspicious of online education.  While I feel that many faculty are simply uneducated about it and several predispositionary thoughts are actually faulty reasoning, it doesn’t change the fact that online education is still seen, by many traditionalists, as the ugly duckling of academia. 

So I get it.  Really, I do.  I hear it all the time.  I don’t agree with it and believe I can vigorously and credibly argue the points, but I get it.   So rather than my pushing my own biases about the importance and validity of online education, I wanted to share some other’s insights.

Two weeks ago, I attended our President’s Round Table.  It was in an extremely beautiful part of South Carolina – it was one of only 4 states I had never set foot in.  The conference itself was quite amazing.  Not just the food or setting (although Kiawah Island is quite impressive), but the ideas, innovations, and operational issues discussed were truly inspiring.  We had speakers from Harvard, Microsoft, and best selling authors talk about the trends in education, technology, and online learning which created wonderfully rich conversations that will shape the future of our business.

As well, the audience was not only ready to listen, but ready to share.  It was inspiring to watch Presidents, Directors of Online Learning, Provosts, and more brainstorm for, listen to, and constructively critique ideas in and around how to best serve students.  State institutions collaborated with for-profit schools who communicated with religious colleges who listened to community college leaders…it was fantastic!  Again, these leaders are ready to fight the good fight!

But what was actually most amazing to me, in the midst of all of the creativity and innovation, was a simple truth that was stated by several of these school leaders.  It started with one simple statement and then was reiterated several times throughout the week.  It started during a panel discussion where a Director of Online Learning simply said,

“We’ve found our online numbers to be well above our on-ground counterparts.  Not only have we found that the research about online courses producing and measuring better outcomes is true, but our retention and faculty survey numbers blow the face to face classes out of the water!  We’re double digit points above them…”

What?!?  Is that possible?  Someone from the crowd actually asked him to repeat the off-the-cuff remark.  But when he did, a few other Presidents expressed the same thing.  Online numbers for retention, satisfaction, and test scores were significantly higher than on-ground classes teaching the same materials. 

So, over the next two days, I asked people at our meals and during our breaks if they had similar experiences at their schools.  Many did.  Not all, but of the 30-40 leaders present, I heard at least 15 say that they had better numbers online than on-ground. 

So, while some are trying desperately to explain away the research of the past two years as poor studies with bad analysis or poorly constructed tests, there is something they cannot simply dismiss…online learning works better in some contexts, with some students, with some disciplines, with some programs, and with some content, than face to face learning.  Period.

Good luck and good teaching.

31Aug/110

Hallmark #9: Integrity / A Look Back

Well, here we are. Nearly to the end of our journey. Almost there. We’ve finally made it to Hallmark #9. It feels a bit like we’ve been climbing a Colorado 14ner and we’re nearly at the top. We have discussed the first eight Hallmarks of Quality from the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education (Online Learning) so we have only the final Hallmark to get through before our ascent to the peak is complete: Integrity.

When I first saw that integrity was the last hallmark my first thought was “Why list Integrity last?”. Was it an afterthought? Doubtful. Was it just part of a natural progression that landed it at the end? Maybe. Or was it specifically selected to be the end cap of what is seen as important, integral and paradigm shifting set of Hallmarks? This is where I place my bet. If for no other reason than this is the only Hallmark with both an asterisk to further information AND an emboldened note within the (already lengthy) first point of analysis/evidence.

While the official language of the hallmark is simply “The institution assures [ensures?] the integrity of its online learning offerings*”, let us make no mistake: this is not just about integrity in the general sense, meaning whole, undivided, unified, consistent or sound. This is about academic integrity.

So let’s take a look at what’s contained in Hallmark #9. First, the asterisk in the statement refers to the WCET paper Best Practice Strategies to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Education. This paper lists academic integrity best practice strategies in categories concerning the institution, curriculum and assessment as well as faculty and student support. It’s worth the quick read for high level tips that can be used to get you going or to validate what you may already be doing. Three of the hallmark’s analysis/evidence items are short and essentially mention that faculty, online orientations and institutional policies should emphasize and integrate academic integrity into their teachings and practices.

The first, most prominent and most impacting  analysis/evidence item is this one:

“The institution has in place effective procedures through which to ensure that the student who registers in a distance education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the course or program and receives the academic credit. The institution makes clear in writing that these processes protect student privacy and notifies students at the time of registration or enrollment of any projected additional costs associated with the verification procedures. (Note: This is a federal requirement. All institutions that offer distance education programs must demonstrate compliance with this requirement.);”

The statement is composed of two parts: a) verifying the student and b) making the verification process, procedures and costs known. In part a), the key words are “effective” and “ensure”. “Effective” is a word that is open to interpretation by that fact that it doesn’t imply perfection, but only a high level of efficacy. And this is appropriate; pretending perfection is attainable is a way to quickly not get anything done. In contrast, “ensure” does carry the weight of making certain without exception or with guarantee. While these two can seem to be in opposition what we can strive for here is when we believe we’ve determined that the student registered for learning is the student who performed the work, that this is indeed true. No false positives or false negatives. Part b) strikes me as an attempt to included students in the effort of keeping academic integrity. The phrase “makes clear in writing that these processes protect student privacy” implies to me that there is a specific effort to communicate to the students that academic integrity is not solely about catching the “bad” cheaters, but protecting the quality, original work that many students choose to do. And that many times protecting good things has a cost. Most importantly though, it needs to be shown and communicated (and be true) that academic integrity is not first a matter of punishment but rather a matter of having a posture of quality between the students and the institution.

This hallmark can be a tall order, potentially a costly order. (For information on types, costs and thoughts on some student authentication / verification systems, see Jennifer’s blog on the student-centric Hallmark #7.) But this hallmark has merit and it makes sense. If students are not who they say they are and their work is not what they say it is, then where’s the purpose in anything that we’re doing (be it on-ground or on-line or somewhere in between)?

Imagine for a moment that you had just been given mid-field season tickets to your favorite sports team. And there you sit, at the season opener, soaking in the atmosphere: 70,000 excited people coming together to cheer a common cause; an immense venue where little expense was spared; the long tradition of the team and sport displayed; players, coaches, owners, concession workers, and so many other people who have worked so hard in the preceding weeks and days to prepare for this moment in time: The Game.

But now imagine that as the teams take the field and the crowd is roaring, the players do only as they please. They ignore the rules and the referees. They high-jack the scoreboard, steal the ball and generally create helter-skelter. Wouldn’t that be maddening? You might think “What in the world was all the effort and preparation for?”. And, truly, it would make a mockery of the sport, the event and everyone involved.

So too it is when learners choose to (or inadvertently do) cheat; it makes a mockery of the class, their peers, the institution and most importantly, their own learning. Is it the truth that no matter what we do, students are still going to try to (and find ways to) cheat? Definitely. Will students compromise their academic integrity by ignoring what resources are made available to them? Probably some. Do either of these things mean that we should stop (or lessen our efforts in) striving for academic integrity? Absolutely not. I think this line from Martin Luther King Jr.’s book Strength to Love says it well: “The ultimate measure of a man[/woman] is not where he[/she] stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he[/she] stands at times of challenge and controversy.” If we were to stop furthering our efforts toward academic integrity, even as it becomes more difficult to do, then we risk making a mockery of it all. Hallmark #9 reminds us that we must continue to make purposeful efforts to do establish cultures of academic integrity on our campuses.

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Before we sign off from our ten week foray into The Nine Hallmarks of Quality, it seems only fitting that we should take a quick look back over where we have been and what the big picture looks like.

It was back at the end of June when Jeff first introduced the discussion of the Hallmarks and what they might mean for online education. Jeff talked about the consistency and transparency that these Hallmarks can bring. He asserted that these Hallmarks will give online educators another strong foundation to stand upon in the debate around efficacy of online vs. on-campus. But I think the most foretelling statement of Jeff’s was this: “They will illustrate what many of us have already researched and know: Online learning works when it is strategic, designed effectively, and measured evenly.” And as we’ve gone through the Hallmarks in detail I think we can see how they echo this underlying paradigm. One could say that the essential thought running through the Hallmarks is: Be purposeful and make it known.

When I look at the list of hallmarks as the pieces they are and how they come together as a whole, I see them fitting into four categories:

Integral
Hallmark 1, Hallmark 2 and Hallmark 3 fall into this category. Notice some of the words in the definitions of these Hallmarks: incorporated, appropriate, integrated. The theme here is for online education to be a part of who you are, for it to be infused in your character. It’s not an addition nor an appendage.

Do It Well
Hallmark 4 asks for rigor in creating the curriculum for online learning (why would we do it any other way?)  and Hallmark 5 asks for continual improvement of the curriculum. If you’ve made the decision to have online learning interwoven into the fabric of your institution, then you need to make the purposeful choice to do it well. Saint Francis de Sales said it succinctly: “Be who you are and be that well.”

Set Your Team Up for Success
Where faculty meets students is where the rubber hits the road of learning. To this end, Hallmark 6 and Hallmark 7 are directed toward the critical subject of supporting our faculty and students with resources, training and information. Give them the things they need; get rid of things that will get in their way.

Integrity
As we’ve mentioned in the first part of our Hallmark 9 blog today, if all the other Hallmarks are fulfilled (the set up for “game time” is done well), but learning doesn’t happen with integrity, then it can all be for naught.

These categories and these Hallmarks together form a cohesive picture of successful online learning that is strategic, designed effectively and evenly measured.

On behalf of the Academic Training and Consulting team, we hope that this blog series has been beneficial to you, give you some insights, and helped to frame the future of online education as education that will lead the future of learning. Next week we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled blogging, so look for some exciting topics in the world of education and technology in the coming weeks!

Luke Cable
Academic Trainer & Consultant

25Aug/110

Hallmark #8 – Resources

We are nearing the end of our series on the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education, and this week we will consider the 8th Hallmark, which concerns resourcing. These Guidelines can be found here as presented by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).  

Hallmark #8 reads: The institution provides sufficient resources to support and, if appropriate, expand its online learning offerings.

I think of this Hallmark as essentially saying: “put your money where your mouth is.” In our discussion of the previous Hallmarks, we’ve seen that online education must be integrated into an institution’s mission and operations, and must have strong student and faculty support. Hallmark #8 supports those previously discussed ideas by stipulating that the institution must actually provide the budget and resources to make their online goals happen. We know that resources are tight everywhere, but dedicating resources to a distance education program is an important way to show that the institution values that program, and also funds the training and services that help set it up for success.

An institution seeking accreditation (for example, by MSCHE), will be asked to include evidence documenting how they are meeting the 9 Hallmarks for their online education program. MSCHE provides two areas of evidence that would allow an institution to demonstrate that they are meeting Hallmark #8:

Analysis/Evidence:

  • The institution prepares a multi-year budget for online learning that includes resources for assessment of program demand, marketing, appropriate levels of faculty and staff, faculty and staff development, library and information resources, and technology infrastructure;

  • The institution provides evidence of a multi-year technology plan that addresses its goals for online learning and includes provision for a robust and scalable technical infrastructure.

These seem pretty straightforward, as essentially the institution needs to demonstrate that they have allocated sufficient resources to support their online educational goals. To truly support their online venture, they need strong plans for marketing, faculty and staff support (including items laid out in this blog earlier), student support (as discussed here), a robust online curriculum (see discussion here), etc.  The institution must also show commitment to the technological aspects of online course delivery, including the technical infrastructure and a great LMS, such as Pearson LearningStudio (not so subtle hint!).

Working through these items should help the success of an online program and allow the institution to truly “put their money where their mouth is.” Good luck and happy budgeting!

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –

Director of Academic Training & Consulting

MSCHE (2011) Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning). Retrieved online from: http://www.msche.org/publications/Guidelines-for-the-Evaluation-of-Distance-Education.pdf

10Aug/110

Hallmark #6: Qualified Faculty & Effective Faculty Support

Of the 9 Hallmarks that we’ve been discussing over the past few weeks, this one is perhaps one of the most obvious yet challenging. I am often reminded of a lesson I learned when working at a grocery store in my teenage years. I was asked to stack 20-lb. bags of potatoes on a lower shelf, and so I just started piling them on. Before I knew it, they were sliding and falling off the shelf. My supervisor came over to me to help. He said, “How do you build a house? Begin with a solid foundation.” He then proceeded to stack the bags of potatoes in long rows, side-by-side, packing them so that each additional bag supported the weight of previous bags. Problem solved. (This may seem obvious to us “grown-ups,” but hey, I was a teenager!)

The same concept rings true when building and maintaining an online program — build a solid foundation. And in this case, that solid foundation consists of quality faculty members who are sufficiently trained and supported to do what they need to deliver learning experiences that meet all students’ needs.

Now, a bit of background — Hallmark #6 reads as follows, from the The Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s (MSCHE) Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning):

Faculty responsible for delivering the online learning curricula and evaluating the students’ success in achieving the online learning goals are appropriately qualified and effectively supported.

MSCHE provides six points by which institutions can provide evidence that they are meeting this hallmark. Let’s break these down one at a time.

  • Online learning faculties are carefully selected, appropriately trained, frequently evaluated, and are marked by an acceptable level of turnover

Hopefully, this is already happening in any institution’s on-ground program, and so applying the same principles here should be relatively easy. However, one must also consider the “appropriately trained” part of the statement. (See below, also.) It is not enough simply to know how to teach, nor is it enough to know how to use a Learning Management System. Knowing how to teach online is the key here. There are different methods for engaging students in online courses than there are in on-ground courses. Take the lecture, for example. Many on-ground instructors still stick to the time-honored 45-minute lecture format. However, video recording that same 45-minute lecture and presenting it in a sit-n-get format in the LMS is a quick way to turn students into zombies who would rather do anything other than watch an instructor drone on. Even the most exuberant of instructors loses something in the conversion from live to video. It’s important to acknowledge that we must train our online instructors on not only the appropriate use of video but also the whole host of methods for engaging students in the online world.

  • The institution’s training program for online learning faculty is periodic, incorporates tested good practices in online learning pedagogy, and ensures competency with the range of software products used by the institution

Clearly, this point follows directly from that above. A good framework to bear in mind when developing training for faculty is Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) “TPACK” or Technological-Pedagogical Content Knowledge. The authors ground their research in Shulman’s (1986) Pedagogical Content Knowledge. Shulman argues that teaching teachers how to teach (pedagogy) should not be separated from the content that they are teaching. To use a trite example, teaching one group of instructors how to lead discussions in a history course is different from teaching another group of instructors how to lead discussions in a biology course. Mishra and Koehler add to this by saying that learning to teach with technology — and specifically, in this case, online — also should not be separated either from the pedagogy or the content. TPACK is at the center of the convergence of three circles: technology; pedagogy; and content. By covering all three bases, we can meet this second point.

  • Faculty are proficient and effectively supported in using the course management system

If we meet the above two points regarding training, we’ve won half of this battle. The key here is support. It is not enough just to give faculty one training on the LMS and say, “Go forth and conquer!” An effective training program will include ongoing support, not just for technical question (i.e., a Help Desk) but also for questions around instructional design and best practices. Technology is ever-changing; therefore knowledgeable support staff who are up-to-date with new technological tools and systems are required for maximum faculty effectiveness.

  • The office or persons responsible for online learning training programs are clearly identified and have the competencies to accomplish the tasks, including knowledge of the specialized resources and technical support available to support course development and delivery

This point is fairly straightforward, and I interpret this to mean that having a few go-to faculty super users is not enough to be considered a “training program.” Unfortunately, this happens often at smaller schools that do not have the budget to run their own training program. Fortunately, Pearson eCollege has the Academic Training & Consulting team, who can be engaged on an as-needed basis for training as well as the faculty instructional support discussed above.

  • Faculty members engaged in online learning share in the mission and goals of the institution and its programs and are provided the opportunities to contribute to the broader activities of the institution

While this point may sound a little too general to be implemented accurately, it is fairly straightforward: keep faculty in the loop. Too often, institutions with online programs — especially those that use a lot of adjunct instructors — simply put their faculty in front of computers and have them teach. But there is no broader context as to why they should teach for this institution, why they should teach online, what principles of the institution are important within all courses (online or otherwise), etc. Therefore, a structured communication system, be it via email distribution list, newsletter, or whatever, is required and indeed useful to make sure that all faculty are a part of the institution and serve to meet the institution’s mission and goals.

  • Students express satisfaction with the quality of the instruction provided by online learning faculty members.

Regarding this final point, the reader can probably see that it addresses the value of student evaluations of instructors and ensures that the data from these evaluations actually matter. Like Brian McKay Epp’s previous blog post about formative and summative evaluations of student work, it is important to have both formative and summative evaluation of instructors’ abilities to teach online. Insofar as formative data are used to reflect proficiencies and deficiencies in instruction, the information can be used to tailor training programs that meet individual instructors’ needs.

In sum, Hallmark #6 is a valuable and well-thought-out list of measures that ensures that faculty are ready to be the solid foundation of your online learning program. Pearson eCollege’s Academic Training & Consulting team is ready to help your institution meet this hallmark!

Works Cited

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). (2011, February). Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning). Retrieved Aug. 4, 2011 from http://www.msche.org/publications/Guidelines-for-the-Evaluation-of-Distance-Education.pdf

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record 108 (6), 1017-1054.

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4 - 14.

Rob Kadel, Ph.D. | Training & Pedagogy Group, Academic Training & Consulting | Pearson eCollege