Online Blogucation
26Sep/120

Flipping The Mooc?

140,000 students in a single course?  C'mon...there's no way!  Or is there?  A LOT of people have taken notice of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in the past few months.  And when I say people, I mean highly positioned, well respected, very powerful people in the education sector.  People like Presidents, CEOs, Provosts, etc., of places like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and many more have at least publicly inquired about MOOCs if not actually starting programs to invest in their own.

A respected colleague of mine who talks almost exclusively to C-level educators put it simply but effectively, "...the genie is out of the bottle."

Of course, this is exciting.  Anything to further the discussion around eLearning is wonderful from my perspective.  The ridiculous, antiquated, fallacious arguments about leaving teaching and learning alone are growing tiresome.  So anything that promotes the use of technology to enhance and augment learning is a powerful thing.  But with that in mind, and as an "early-adopter" much of the time, my next statement might surprise you.

We need to blow up the MOOC.

No, not blow up as in destroy.  Blow up as in, let's get to v2 as fast as humanly possible because v1 is NOT a good poster child for online education.  Why?  Simple.  Today's MOOC takes many of the worst elements of teaching, instruction, assessment, etc., and simply presents them over the Internet.  For instance:

Lectures - A big name in both the MOOC world as well as his discipline (aka, the smartest guy in ANY room) was describing the process he used to create his MOOC.  He said, "I was shocked when I started researching ways to disseminate information to find that lecturing is actually a really bad way to present information.  I have been lecturing for over 40 years and didn't know that..."  And yet, this great scholar and innovator did exactly that in his MOOC.  He simply recorded himself lecturing, put it on YouTube, and tied it to his MOOC.  Eric Mazur talks about a fantastic study he did at Harvard where students had their brains continually monitored for a week.  EVERY single student had similar brain patterns with regard to class (lecture) time.  Their brain waves were almost completely flat.  That's right - no activity.  The only other time in the week their brains were that inactive?  When watching tv.  Even when sleeping, the human brain is more active than during a lecture.  And yet the lecture is still the predominant means of "teaching" students today.  So, if MOOCs are to "change the world" for the better...we have to figure out how to incorporate much better ways of teaching and learning through them.

Learning - What is learning, really?  Isn't it the acquisition of information and then the assimilation of that information?  If we agree that it is, at its core, those two things, then I would bet we could also agree which of the two things is harder.  Dissemination of information is easy.  It can be done through a book, a lecture, etc.  The HARD part is actually making sense of it in a contextual, meaningful, connected way.  Yet for decades (if not centuries) educators have performed the easy part, while leaving the hard part to students.  (Actually to students who are alone, at home, with only a book...)  The flipped classroom, which is a remixed way of talking about what educational psychologists have known for decades, is finally starting to shine a light on the notion that the hard conversations should take place in class, while the dissemination activities happen at home.  MOOCs, as they exist today, do not even approach this.

Assessment - We can create objective tests that are manually graded and start to identify what a student does or does not understand.  In fact, a few MOOCs in the past month have finally started to do just that.  (This is why the very first MOOCs were not taken seriously - they really had little to no meaningful assessment.)  However, even with such heavy reliance on standardized assessments in our Universities today, most professors still agree that much of the way we know if our students do "get it" is through interaction, conversation, dialogue, and transference of ideas.  This can happen in discussions (before, during, and after class), as well as through ideas presented in papers, etc.  However, the only real way to even approach this in a MOOC is through peer review and peer assessment.  And that is a tough one for a lot of people.  For example, I recently took a Udacity MOOC on statistics.  I had opportunity to join a discussion group that I found purely by happenstance, with others from the class.  It was a study group of sorts.  However, after asynchronous discussions with about 10 peers, I soon realized that I was likely the most knowledgeable person in our group when it came to statistics.  (My mother and father are giggling right now...)  In other words, nobody had anything of value to bring to the table.  Social learning is indeed a powerful thing, but without what Vygotsky would call the "More Knowledgeable Other" in the group, it starts to break down quickly.  MOOCs could rely solely on high stakes, standardized, auto-graded tests, but again, that would simply perpetuate a bad practice from face to face teaching in the online realm.

There are others here, but I think you get my point.  The MOOC as it exists today, with millions of dollars being poured into figuring out how, when, and where to use it, needs a quick overhaul.  I am hopeful that it will happen sooner rather than later as (hopefully) it hasn't become an "institution" to anyone yet.  Hopefully nobody is so tied to the notion of something that didn't really even exist until less than a year ago that they can retool, reconfigure, and rethink the MOOC.  Because a MOOC has tremendous possibility.  Delivering global education at scale with ties to real-world competencies...that could be a game changer.  So let's make sure we get it right.  Let's flip the MOOC.

Good luck and good teaching.

6Sep/120

Building a Community of Success

It is probably safe to say that all of us have taken a brick and mortar class that stood out above all others and exemplified a positive learning environment. The class likely stands out to us because we felt that we belonged to a learning community, shared similar goals and interests with our peers, and felt supported in our learning goals. Research suggests that this carries over to the online environment as well, with greater student satisfaction when students have a sense of community (Outz, 2006; Philips & Peters, 1999; Rovai, 2002a; Swan, 2002; & Woods, 2002). This feeling keeps students motivated to go to class and to share their interests with their peers.

Do you remember the student who went to class and only engaged in discussions if required? This assessment allows an instructor to gauge comprehension and guide the student through their learning experience. Whereas traditional classroom discussions can easily be dominated by vocal students, allowing the quieter students to stay disconnected, the online environment can easily require all students to engage through required threaded discussions. Technology enables easy measurement of involvement that would not be practical in the traditional classroom, meaning all students are engaged with an equal opportunity to share their voice and can be assessed for understanding earlier in the learning process. This is extremely important because learning and development is a social and collaborative experience that all students should benefit from.

"Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do."
-Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977

So, while the benefits of interactivity and fostering learning communities are clear, getting there can be a challenge in an online environment. The first week of class is extremely critical for establishing a sense of connection within the course. During this week, students should be encouraged to engage with their peers and professors via threaded discussions and other social tools, sharing their work and life experiences to make connections. Some of the first assignments for the course should promote interaction when possible. This engagement should be encouraged throughout the duration of the course so students have a desire to succeed each and every week, and share in their successes with their learning community. Leverage reporting to identify those students not engaging and reach out to them, and to identify strong classes to model your programs from. The data helps identify the anomalies sooner and to react to them appropriately.

If students gain a sense of community early and see it is going to play a major role within the course then they will most likely embrace it and become part of a learning community who takes greater ownership of their collective learning experience. Leverage the tools to identify those courses not meeting standards and bring them up to par. If students begin to feel this theme from course to course then you will have a much stronger, more persistent student community.

References:

Drouin, M. (2008, Fall). The relationship between students’ perceived sense of community and satisfaction, achievement, and retention in an online course. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9(3), 267-284.

Bandura A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall.

Ouzts, K. (2006). Sense of community in online courses. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 7(3), 285-296.

Phillips, M. R., & Peters, M. J. (1999). Targeting rural students with distance learning courses: A comparative study of determinant attributes and satisfaction levels. Journal of Education for Business, 74(6), 351-356.

Woods, R. H. (2002). How much communication is enough in online courses? Exploring the relationship between frequency of instructor-initiated personal email and learners’ perceptions of and participation in online learning. International Journal of Instructional Media, 29(4),377-394.

Deb Corso-Larson | Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege

12Jul/120

Do you teach your subject? Or do you teach people?

x-ray of a brain

This is what you are teaching...

I've just gotten back from a whirlwind tour of the world again. In the past 4 months I've been in 3 countries and presented at 9 conferences, in addition to dozens of other consulting opportunities. During that time I have met with no less than 350 educators, mostly professors or department heads and I have begun asking them a few important questions that stem from something Dr. John Medina challenged me with when he spoke at our CiTE conference last April.

Dr. Medina, a brilliant cognitive scientist who has done nothing but study how the brain works for his entire career (I hope you've already read "Brain Rules" by now...), challenged us in several ways during the conference.  My personal favorite quote?  "As I was writing Brain Rules, it hit me [that] if you wanted to design a learning environment that was directly opposed to what the brain is naturally good at doing, you would design something like a classroom."

However, there is another piece of information that I haven't been able to shake after reading it and then, after he said it to me personally before he went on stage... He explained, "I consistently read articles by educators who explain how the brain works in terms of learning, cognition, memory, focus, etc.  And every time I wonder how I possibly missed the research that proves it!  Then, after some digging, I realize that I missed nothing.  You see, cognitive scientists and educators never talk.  We don't have conferences together, we don't share journals, and we don't typically exist in the same buildings on campus.  So, what they observe behaviorally and we observe through experimentation never meet." (This is a pretty close quote - I wrote it down immediately after he said it, although it may not be 100% accurate.)

Does this bother anyone else?  I have to admit, I have read DOZENS of articles by education psychologists, seasoned veterans of the classroom, and even those from trusted educational think-tanks without really questioning the validity or science behind them.  So, as I have gone around the world talking with educators lately, I have simply asked them two questions:

  1. Do you read information about how the brain processes information, how the brain remembers, how the brain works, etc., in regard to learning?
  2. Does your school give you any kind of professional development around how people learn so as to enhance your teaching?

I'm sure you already see where I'm going...

With only a single exception, the answer has been "no" every time.  Typically, I hear that people are too busy keeping up with "their field" to worry about student learning.  However second place has to be that while everyone wants professional development, there are too few places giving it and nobody has the funds to pay for it.

So, for the past several months I have spent some time seeking out brain research.  No, I haven't gotten a subscription to Brain Science Quarterly.  But I have sought out some articles and interviews with some of the worlds leading thinkers and researchers with regard to how the brain works.  (It's also helped that I had 28 hours of on-demand documentaries while going to Australia.  Thank you United airlines...)

To that end, I wish to give you a few resources.  Why a few?  If you watch "Brain Games - Pay Attention" you will know exactly why.  This fantastic introduction to attention and the brain was created by National Geographic video.  It's only 1 hour long, but when you view "the brain" through a filter of the STUDENT brain, it becomes an even more fascinating study regarding how we teach.

What is great about the video is that they quote outstanding research scientists like Dan Simon and Daniel T. Levin who wrote, "Change Blindness."  This is a great article about just how little we can truly focus on and again, has some powerful implications for students of any age.

Then, I stumbled onto a BBC 5 show called, "Make Your Child Brilliant." And brilliant it was.  Even as a person who deals mostly with college students (although also with a 5 year old...) I could not help but be overwhelmed with excitement as Bernadette Tynan illustrated how to help students be creative, focused, and successful, regardless of the environment.  She shows how to take a normal, if not "weak" student and, using brain research and cognitive science applications turn them into a successful, "brilliant" student in an extremely short time.  It was also exciting to see how personalization, creativity, and curriculum integration were crucial to the strategies she employed.  (All things I speak about regularly...whew!)

So that's four great places to start.  (You didn't forget Medina's book yet, did you?  Again, the National Geographic video will help you understand why you might have.)  If you are looking for more, the cool thing is that every resource I just gave you should springboard into 5-20 more resources, etc., etc.

Just remember, you might know more than anyone else about 17th century poetry, the evolution of teeth, or business statistics, but you aren't teaching lit, science, or math.  You're teaching people.  You are teaching brains which have propensities, wants, needs, and abilities that we understand better than we ever have before.  So even if you can't afford the PD at your institution, try these.  They are pretty cheap and/or free.  All it will cost you is some brain power and a bit of time.

Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
VP of Instruction & Academic Strategy

23May/120

Proactive plagiarism prevention

goblin plagiarism gameMany of us don’t think about academic dishonesty until we are confronted with it. But why not be proactive and try to prevent academic dishonesty in the first place? Here are several proactive ways to prevent plagiarism or cheating, starting with when you’re planning your course, and then considering important communication to have with students.

Course Planning
To help reduce plagiarism or cheating, here are several avenues to think about when planning your course:

  • Plan for multiple small-stakes assignments, instead of one larger assignment worth a significant portion of the grade. This reduces the incentive to cheat and also makes it logistically harder for students to purchase papers or have someone else do the work for them.
  • Scaffold assignments to have multiple pieces of an assignment building throughout the semester. This helps you see the developing assignment and learn the student’s voice, so you are better able to determine a final product that doesn’t fit with the previous work.
  • Create new assignments each term. This reduces the chance that work can be resubmitted term after term.
  • Create unique assignments that students are less likely to be able to find directly on the internet. For example, Google your assignments- if you can find resources that directly address the topic, then your students can as well.
  • Finally, I won’t discuss exams in detail here, but this article is a good place to start for more information on how to prevent cheating in online exams.

Clearly communicate expectations to students
Another important way to set the stage is to proactively communicate your expectations to students. Here are some specific areas to focus on:

  • Make sure you have clearly written policies – AND penalties for what happens if those policies are not followed – in your course syllabus, and repeated other places in the class (such as announcements, introductory areas for the assignments or exams, etc.).
  • Educate your students on what plagiarism (or cheating) is, and what behaviors are or are not ok in your class. Some students don’t know when it’s ok to work with other students and when it’s not, and there may even be differences between their classes on this point. They may not know how to cite sources, or when to cite sources, why it’s not ok to cut and paste off the internet, etc. You could have an introductory discussion around plagiarism or academic integrity, or refer students to many relevant resources online. For example, a fun game to check out is the “Goblin Threat” plagiarism game by Lycoming College.
  • • Discuss your institution’s academic honesty policy with students. Here’s an interesting finding: “Students cheat. But they cheat less often at schools with an honor code and a peer culture that condemns dishonesty” (McCabe and Trevino). Other important aspects of this finding include the institution clearly communicating that academic integrity is a top institutional priority, and also students having a role in the judicial processes evaluating alleged infringements. You alone can’t change the institutional culture to make these things happen, but you can make sure to discuss any existing policy with your students and let them know that you expect it to be upheld. You could also do an assignment where students “sign” an academic integrity contract with you at the beginning of class.

Of course there is no guarantee that these efforts will prevent all attempts at academic dishonesty. However, they should help reduce the frequency. So try to work these items in the next time you revise your class, and post a comment on how it goes (or other thoughts on this topic)!

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Director of Academic Training & Consulting

Sources referenced:

Krovitz G. 2007. Ways to prevent cheating in online exams. Educator’s Voice 8(6). Accessed online at http://www.ecollege.com/Newsletter/EducatorsVoice/EducatorsVoice-Vol8Iss6.learn

Lycoming College. Goblin Threat Plagiarism Game. http://www.lycoming.edu/library/instruction/tutorials/plagiarismGame.aspx?goback=.gde_52119_member_106954972

McCabe D. and L.K. Trevino. 2002. Honesty and honor codes. Academe January-February. Accessed online at: http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2002/JF/Feat/mcca.htm

4Apr/120

Rinse Then Repeat: The Lost Secret to Preventing Plagiarism

Plagiarism.org defines plagiarism as an act of fraud. “It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.” As we read what is contained in this definition, it is evident why plagiarism is such a very huge issue. Acts of plagiarism can lead to expulsion, suspension and even job termination for some. These are very strong outcomes for something that can be committed by accident.

What else can be offered about plagiarism that has not already been said? How much more can instructors and administrators hold student’s feet to the fire of academic mandates that suggests, “Here are the rules, you must play by them lest we hammer thou into the ground.” This was the tone of my graduate school “writing workshop orientation;” a mandatory session that left me with the sense that I could potentially find myself in serious trouble for my writing without even knowing what I did wrong.

As I progressed through the ranks of student to higher education instructor (now since 2004) it became crystal clear that institutions come by their rigid posture against plagiarism honestly. From having to contend with the likes of paper millers such as Ed Dante (a pseudo name for The Shadow Scholar), to the department chair who orders faculty to leave their students alone when they are caught in the web of plagiarism and should rightfully be held to the school and department standards of conduct. Perhaps more can be done to actively assist students how not to plagiarize, innocently or otherwise.

At Pearson’s eTeaching Institute, we often hear faculty who take our Web-based courses on special topics related to designing and teaching online, express concerns about preventing cheating. In such cases, we advise a more proactive approach by asking future online instructors to consider, “how they can encourage honesty in coursework,” as a way to preempt academic dishonesty. We believe this and more is a good position to take. In addition, I propose that a shared sense of partnership between students, faculty and administration is a proactive step in the right direction to prevent plagiarism. After all, if we are going to maintain tight control with rigid anti-plagiarism mandates in place then, the least we can do is to move a bit closer in the direction of, “here are the rules, you must play by them AND I am going to help you.”

Plagiarism.org goes on to suggest that by giving proper authorship credit, we can avoid plagiarism. However, writing a good paper which avoids plagiarism involves much more than citing. If citing sources is all that is needed then why is the practice of plagiarism such a huge issue demanding large expenditures of academic energy and resources to prevent and detect and punish students for committing the act? Are students receiving enough “hands-on” resources and training to assist them with preventing plagiarism outside of doling out the building number, address or web site to the writing lab? Perhaps more of a sense of partnership with students is one way to help accomplish the goal.

Having evaluated many papers from undergraduate and graduate students over the past eight years; some replete with word-for-word transcripts from Wikipedia including links to the plagiarized content listed as the source, I decided to try tactics different from the usual, “don’t you dare.” The first task in all of this was to focus on that sense of partnership with my students, which I have hawked about previously. I decided to view plagiarism prevention as a shared responsibility that included some very positive and attainable steps students could take to prevent these acts. After all, if we are to hold them to the standards of our plagiarism deterrence tactics then, the least we can do is show them how not to plagiarize; and not necessarily in a one-time event or a syllabus policy or student handbook they may never read in the first place.

Could a more direct approach and (repeated) conversation be appropriate, followed by some very non-threatening steps on how to avoid plagiarism? Should we institutionalize methodologies that suggest to our charges that we recognize the temptation to take dishonest shortcuts then demonstrate that it is possible and relatively easy to avoid acts of plagiarism? After arriving at, “I need to do this without making a part-time job out of it,” I developed my mini-lecture, a cliff note of sorts, which included some very critical but important steps to avoiding plagiarism.

The first step in my brief tutorial to students is to make sure they understand what plagiarism is and its consequences. In our August 2010 Online Blogucation entry, my colleague, Dr. Jennifer Golightly noted that instructors should present clear and understandable statements about, “what plagiarism is, how it’s defined, and what the consequences for committing it are.” This is a first and critical step in the process of deterring plagiarism. I also believe that when delivered with a message of partnership, assistance and other measures that Jennifer discussed, we would likely assist more students from committing plagiarism. Next, I encourage students to:

Decide what their argument or premise of the paper will be. This may be assigned but sometimes not.
• Find time to read journal articles or other sources which supports the work. This is a requirement.
• Properly summarize and paraphrase sources. This does not mean changing a word here or there.
Quote sources sparingly using proper punctuation; another mandate.
• Deliberately cite sources within the body of the offering. This will give credibility to the work.
Reference sources by using a properly formatted works cited or reference page.
• Rinse then repeat. Perform these steps throughout the entire paper.

The session takes about fifteen minutes depending on Q & A and I wrap things up by reiterating my commitment to their academic success (as they should too) and that they should ask me for assistance when needed. Again, it takes much more than the steps above to write a good paper but it’s a start.

Practices to prevent plagiarism may seem harsh to students who find themselves caught in the snare of the deed. However, they are necessary and should be refined based on our experiences with the problem. Many institutions see the wisdom of ranking punishment based on the severity and number of offenses. Some schools employ student tutorials as a proactive measure. Others, keep a pile of lopped off heads in the back of the school. Not a first choice in my book.

Where needed, faculty and administrators should ramp-up their efforts to be partners in their students’ academic success to the extent that we present regular reminders and brief ‘how to sessions’ on avoiding plagiarism. Additionally, we should find creative and cost effective ways to assist students to make better decisions such as instilling a sense of partnership, more orientation and training aimed at preventing plagiarism before our students find themselves in really big trouble. The result could save valuable time for faculty and administrators then, schools can plant a nice flower bed where those heads are kept.

Do you have creative ideas about assisting students with preventing plagiarism? What do you think about an online student discussion forum with assignment endpoints addressing how not to plagiarize? What would be the benefit? Post your comments and suggestions in the space below.

Other Resources:
Best Practices to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Learning
Cheating

Ralph Kennedy, MSW
Academic Trainer & Consultant

23Feb/120

Creativity – why should a business care?

-

I’ve had creativity on my mind the past few weeks. Maybe because I’m currently offering my students an assignment to create a class content-related sign, inspired by a 2009 article in National Geographic that included the sign shown here. (Who knew that dung beetles have the right of way?) This is a fun assignment that brings out some creative and funny work from my students. Anyway, regardless of the cause, I’ve been thinking about the importance of creativity in education, and I recently watched an interesting version of Ken Robinson’s talk on Changing Educational Paradigms (embedded above; you can also check out his famous TED talk Do Schools Kill Creativity?).

As Ken Robinson discusses, there are many reasons to include creativity in education. But what I want to explore here are some of the “business” reasons that creativity is important. Specifically, I want to point out two interesting studies completed by IBM and the American Management Association (conducted in conjunction with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, or P21) that demonstrate the value that the executive workforce puts on creativity.

The IBM study included more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, and found that 60% of CEOs cited creativity as the most important leadership quality over the next five years (IBM, 2010: 24). They feel that “creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers” (p. 10).

In another example, a survey of managers and business executives conducted by the American Management Association found that 75.7% of respondents felt that critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity (the four Cs) “will become more important to their organizations in the next three to five years, particularly as the economy improves and organizations look to grow” (AMA 2010: 4). Those responding felt that the four Cs will be particularly important in keeping up with global competition and the pace of change.

When looking specifically at creativity and innovation, 61.3% said that this was among the most important skills in helping grow their organization, and 31.8% said it was an important skill (p. 5). In terms of their employees, 46.9% felt their employees had average skills and competencies in the area of creativity and innovation, 14.2% were below average, and 31.6% were above average (p. 5).

These studies should provide food for thought on how creativity benefits business, and that students who are encouraged with creative approaches in education may have an advantage in the future job market. So get creative with the ways that you can include creativity in your own teaching or course design!

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Director of Academic Training & Consulting

American Management Association and Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2010). AMA 2010 Critical Skills Survey. Accessed online at http://p21.org/storage/documents/Critical%20Skills%20Survey%20Executive%20Summary.pdf

IBM (2010). Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study. Accessed online at http://public.dhe.ibm.com/common/ssi/ecm/en/gbe03297usen/GBE03297USEN.PDF

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.)

11Jan/120

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

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

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.