Online Blogucation

Head in The Cloud

Recently, I was working with one of Pearson’s latest and greatest new products, OpenClass. Here are a couple of talking points about OpenClass for consideration:

  • In The Cloud — Our cloud-based architecture gives us the unique ability to evolve rapidly and incrementally – without the need for large-scale upgrades or major upheavals in user experience. New releases are instant, with no need to schedule downtime or interrupt your service. But we also recognize that control and customization are important, so we'll always announce when new features are available and provide you with the option to test-drive them before ultimately rolling them out to your institution.
  • On The Go — OpenClass is already extending the experience of learning to mobile phones and tablets, and mobile functionality is improving every day. Dedicated apps for Apple iOS and Google Android are in development and we'll be opening up our mobile API's for institutions to advance and customize as they choose.

Okay, so that’s the commercial for OpenClass. Let’s talk about these two concepts — the cloud and mobile technology — as they relate to building courses in OpenClass and indeed how it will relate to many mobile-based solutions going forward.

Flash back briefly to a blog post I wrote in September 2011, “Why the iPad Didn’t Work for Me.” One of the features (or lack thereof) that I didn’t like was that in trying to build content in my courses, I couldn’t browse to files, such as images, and upload them to my course. That is, I had no equivalent of the “Finder” on my Mac or “Libraries” on my Windows 7 computer. So, when I wanted to insert an image, I had no way to actually grab it and put it in my content page.

Now, flash forward to today and the rapid expansion of the use of tablets. Recently, eMarketer wrote an article estimating of tablet usage through 2014. Here’s a chart of their results:

Chart of Growth in Tablet Usage Through 2014

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that our nation’s population will grow to 321 million by 2014. That means that approximately 28% of all men, women, and children in the U.S. will be using a tablet within two years. Staggering!

Why should we care? Apple revolutionized the use of the tablet when it did not include a file manager system in the iPad. Google’s Android OS is similar. If you want to access a file, you need to have it already on the Web somewhere — in other words, in The Cloud. There are literally thousands (maybe millions?) of apps that already do this. I can take a photo on my Droid and upload it to Flickr. I can shoot a video on my iPad, edit it with iMovie, and upload it to YouTube. I can apply really neat effects to a photo with Instagram and share it on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and a bunch of other sites.

All of these services are in the cloud. In fact, if I wanted to have one of these files locally, I would first have to download it from the cloud. Very little of my mobile computing experience is actually transferred to my computer anymore, and I expect your experience is similar.

It is therefore appropriate that my learning management system would also be cloud-based, which brings me back to OpenClass. Recently I was writing a Share post in OpenClass. The Share tool is kind of a combination blog and twitter feed with lots of other bells and whistles that make it easy for students and instructors to share ideas with their class, across classes or other groups, or even across the entire institution. I noticed in the Visual Editor in Share I have the option to enter URLs for photos and videos. What’s the point of that?, I wondered. Why wouldn’t I just browse to the image on my hard drive?

Then it hit me: mobile…cloud… Ah, yes! I can create my Share post on my iPad, and I can use Share’s Visual Editor to paste in links to YouTube videos, images on Flickr, and so on. So, if I keep my content in the cloud, I can access it on my mobile device or my computer (or even on someone else’s computer), without any trouble. It’s in the cloud; it’s always there.

So, the more I move my learning materials to the cloud, the easier it will be for me to access them from mobile devices and share them with my students — more and more of whom will be accessing courses on their mobile devices. It’s an inevitable shift. How might you make the cloud work for you?

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


Who’s Got Game?

I’m usually pretty excited to get my hands on each year’s NMC Horizon Report. I love to see what people think may be the next big, new thing. In fact, if you ask my teammates, I’m sure they’d tell you that I’m the “new adopter” in the group; always willing to jump in and try things out, even those things might yet be half baked. In fact, I’m probably the ‘Mikey’ (remember Life cereal?) of the group. So when I downloaded my copy of the 2012 Higher Edition version of the report, I quickly turned to the contents page to see what the future of education holds. And, honestly, I wasn’t surprised. It seems that the list of things to change culture and education has stabilized. Nothing is quite brand-spakin’ new. Right now, the neonates on the scene are just growing. For instance, we’ve all seen and critiqued the iPad by now and the ‘new’ iPad is a simply the next version of a known quantity.

As I thought about this, I realized that what I really want to know is not what might be next in education, I want to know what new is being done now.

Let’s take one of this year’s emerging technologies that’s made a strong presence on the 2-to-3-year-out list for the last two years running: game-based learning. Many articles and blogs and research papers have been written over the last couple (ok, ten) years, including an interesting blog post by Justin Marquis on the merits of game-based learning in higher education. In the post, Justin summarizes and analyzes a TED talk by Jane McGonical where she asserts four ways gaming can help solve our world problems taking queues from World of Warcraft gamers. (Quick aside: Who are these World of Warcraft people anyway? I mean, who creates this world that is so engaging and thrilling that millions of hours are spent in it? Or, perhaps the better question is, what can we as educators learn from them?) Similarly, James Gee gives twelve ways games can teach. Ok, so we’ve heard a lot that game-based learning can be good teaching. But is it being done?

Yes, there are the ‘usual suspects’ (Evoke, Septris, 3D GameLab), but these all could fall into the ‘special cases’ or ‘special efforts ‘category. What I want to know is if game-based learning is making it into the regular flow of curriculum and course design. The Horizon report says “The average age of the American gamer is now 35-years-old” which means two things: 1) I’m older than I thought and 2) at 35 there have got to be a lot of gamers out there in education. I have to believe that at least some of the instructional designers and faculty working today fall into the range of 35 +/- 8 years or so.

Have you or a colleague played around (yes, pun intended) with applying game theory or any gaming elements to your course, curriculum, assessment or even program? What did you try? What was the response? Will game-based learning be a generational movement in education? Is there resistance to game-based learning at your institution? Why? Lack of time? Not convinced there are benefits? Join the conversation our our Pearson eCollege Academic Training & Consulting team Facebook page.

Luke Cable | Academic Trainer & Consultant


Should I Flip My Classroom?

As I prepare for my Educator’s Voice article coming up in April, I often try to tie my blog post into the article. This way, one feeds into the other or vice versa. April’s article will be about hybrid or blended teaching and learning. So today, I’m going to talk a little bit about the Flipped Classroom.  I first heard about the flipped classroom concept in June 2010 at the ISTE conference.  I attended the conference session by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. They seem to get most of the credit for developing and implementing this idea for teaching in a face-to-face course or in a hybrid course. Additionally, I saw Eric Mazur present a keynote at the Building Learning Communities conference last summer in 2011. His presentation was about blowing up classroom lectures. So his ideas tie in here as well.

If we think about the technology explosion in teaching in the first decade of this 21st century, those of us teaching throughout have seen ideas come and go. We heard about Podcasts or vodcasts as far back as 8 years ago. Many of us tried it and it was an easy idea to implement because it didn’t require advanced software or advanced technology skills. So I attended that session at ISTE in 2010 because my interest was piqued. Hadn’t we already seen all the uses of Podcast in a classroom? In fact, my presentation for that conference was on Podcasts and other not so obvious ways you can use them in your classroom. I have not done that session since. It is pretty much exhausted.

So what is it about the flipped classroom? While Bergmann and Sams are high school teachers, the concept fits universally throughout all levels of education. Regardless of the age of the students, if they have access to the Podcast/vodcasts, it can be a very effective technology teaching tool. In a nutshell, an instructor who uses flipped teaching or flipped classrooms create teaching videos to replace the lecture they would traditionally present in their course. These videos are assigned as homework or outside activities. Then, the instructors take advantage of the face time to problem solve, go through what would traditionally be homework problems, or work with hands on activities. It is all the really good learning that we all know about but always say—I wish I had more time to do that kind of stuff. However, we do have the time. We just need to flip our classroom.

Anyone working in the online learning realm has heard the phrases” sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” from J. W. Wesley back in 2000. Effective online content creators build courses where the role of the instructor is moved from the spotlight to the helpful assistant on the side. The flipped classroom instructor takes advantage of the same concept in his/her course where face-to-face time is precious and must be maximized to give the students the most bang for their buck.

This info-graphic created by does a great job of summarizing flipped classrooms as well and giving some ideas for getting started. It includes embed code as well. If you are just now warming to the idea of using Podcasts, there are many resources out there to assist and get you started. If you want to dip your toe in the proverbial flipped classroom water, check out some of the resources below. You may find that you can transform your class face time to much more enriching activities addressing higher order thinking skills without needing to be a technology genius.

Pamela Kachka | Academic Trainer & Consultant, Teaching & Learning Group | Pearson eCollege

Works Cited and Resources:
Flip teaching
. (2012, March 5). Retrieved from

The flipped classroom infographic. (2011). Retrieved from

Iste conference 2010. (n.d.). Retrieved from

The november learning blog the latest news and reflections from the nl team. (2011, October). Retrieved from

Overmyer, J. (n.d.). Vodcasting and the flipped classroom. Retrieved from

Podcast. (2012, March 3). Retrieved from

Westerberg, C.J. (2011, November 15). The flipped class: Myths vs. reality. Retrieved from


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

IBM (2010). Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study. Accessed online at


Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Conference attendees sleeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conference attendees paying attention to everything but the speaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Philosophy of Teaching Twitter Challenge!

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

The Challenge*

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

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

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

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

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

Can I See an Example?

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


Search and Rescue

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

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

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

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

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –

Director of Academic Training & Consulting

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


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


Design your own textbook? Sign me up!

It’s fall and my classes are starting again, and I’m getting the same emails I always get about the textbook… “Is it required?” (yes), “Do I need to buy it?” (yes), “Can I use an edition from seven years ago?” (no), and “Can I use my Astronomy textbook for this Anthropology class since someone at my school told me I could?” (um, really?) (and yes, that did really happen).

I frequently have mixed feelings about choosing a textbook. I primarily teach an introductory survey class, and there are several textbooks written to meet the needs of this class.  The first time I taught the course I agonized over the textbook choice- I liked chapters from one book to cover the first segment of the class, but then later chapters covering another topic were contrary to the way I teach the class. So that book went in the “no” pile. I finally picked one that gives reasonable coverage of all topics, and have been using it since then (because whenever I look to switch I have the same issue- there is no “best choice” for my class, so good enough is good enough).

I’ve been watching with excitement the development of the build your own textbook movement. I would love to be able to combine selected chapters from different textbooks. I could customize the selections to the different audiences I teach for (for example, community college versus state university), getting rid of the one size fits all approach to reading for my classes. This would also help alleviate the feeling that I need to assign ever chapter presented in a textbook, even if it’s something I wouldn’t normally cover in the class.  

This idea has been on the low end of my “to do” list, until this recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education inspired me to finally spend some time looking into it. I started with Pearson’s custom publishing page for Educators (well, of course!) and then launched the Book Build application. I don’t have a definitive result yet to share, but I’m hoping to come up with an arrangement that will work for my future semesters. So as I said earlier, sign me up!

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


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.