When I start out to write these blog articles, more often than not, I do not have a topic in mind. I find it interesting how sometimes, it just all comes together. Monday, on our lunch break, one of my colleagues mentioned how her daughter, who is in third grade, is learning how to take notes. This evolved into a discussion about learning how to research, take notes, and academic writing.
I consider myself lucky in this respect because I distinctly remember learning how to take notes and research in 5th grade, 7th grade and 9th grade. In 7th grade, I was enrolled in a zero hour- type class that was scheduled for a 20 minutes a day break. We used that time to conduct a year-long research project. We used the Reader’s Guide to find current articles on our topics. We used note cards for note-taking with the bibliographic details at the top, a direct quote on the front and a paraphrase on the back. I remember struggling with the paraphrasing. The fact that we used the same process in 9th grade helped a little bit but I don’t think I got a follow-up or re-teaching of the concept until I was working on my master’s degree. I fear many of my paraphrases in the many papers I wrote in high school and undergraduate work were more quotes with a few words changed rather than true paraphrasing.
Even with that scenario, I feel lucky that I had such scaffolded teaching on that topic throughout my K-12 years. I seemed to be way ahead of my peers when it came to academic writing in college courses. My colleagues at the lunch on Monday confirmed that some experienced direct teaching of researching, note-taking and writing while others just sort of figured it out. That is probably why, early in my teaching career when I taught 7th grade geography, I made them do a research paper and I graded all 125 papers for content, grammar and citations. It is only with practice, feedback and more practice that individuals learn to write academically and learn to correctly cite all sources.
So this discussion at lunch was then followed by reading an article in the Cornell Daily Sun about professors at Cornell University and their different perspective on using a plagiarism tool such as TurnItIn as part of the process for academic paper submissions. Reading the article, you can see that some professors do not like such tools because it says to the students that you know they are cheating/plagiarizing and you are going to catch them. It creates a relationship founded on mistrust from the beginning.
I actually disagree with this point of view and tend to agree more with Professor Peter Katzenstein who is quoted in the article. He says: “I don’t regard Turnitin as a tool for detecting or monitoring student plagiarism. It is, rather, a tool of great use to professors, graduate students and undergraduates for verifying authenticity and originality of scholarship.” Just like we need to teach our students how to research and write throughout their K-12 learning, that teaching needs to continue through their higher ed years. Earning a liberal arts degree, I completed many research papers in my 7 years in higher ed. I would have loved to have a tool like TurnItIn to help me to check my citations to be sure I have done it correctly. It is nice to have the tool available for each professor to decide when and how to use it. From a student perspective, I would like to have the tool. I don’t think I would view it as catch me cheating software.
I’m guessing the colleague’s daughter in 3rd grade who is learning how to take notes will probably be a pretty good academic writer by the time she completes her schooling. The more tools she has and the more opportunities she has will allow her to hone those skills. Don’t we wish all students arrived their freshman year of college with a good foundation in research writing? It is nice that we don’t have to use note cards and Reader’s Guides any more. The software opportunities are endless. Let us hope that our institutions see the value is such programs and makes them available for use by faculty and students.
Pamela Kachka, M.A.Ed.
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Purdue online writing lab--paraphrase: Write it in your own words. (2011). Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/619/01/
Rathore, M. (2011, November 16). Professors differ on effectiveness of plagiarism software. The cornell daily sun. Retrieved from http://www.cornellsun.com/section/news/content/2011/11/16/professors-differ-effectiveness-plagiarism-software?mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRonvKTNZKXonjHpfsX56OwoXaKylMI/0ER3fOvrPUfGjI4ARcdiI/qLAzICFpZo2FFRCuGHfYRJ/fhO
Readers' guide to periodical literature. (2011, October 29). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Readers'_Guide_to_Periodical_Literature
Turnitin--about us: Newsroom. (2011). Retrieved from https://www.turnitin.com/static/aboutus/newsroom.php
I 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 Snopes.com 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: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/11/st_thompson_searchresults/
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released a Snapshot Report on persistence last week with some interesting new data on student persistence. To obtain a copy of the report visit their website at http://research.studentclearinghouse.org. According to the Research Center, "students were counted as having persisted if they: 1)remained enrolled in any postsecondary institution 60 days after the end of the term that included October 15, 2010 or 2) completed a degree within 60 days of the end of the term that included October 15, 2010.
The Research Center was able to identify students persisting in higher education regardless if the students remained at a single institution or moved among institutions. Accounting for this student movement, researchers found that overall, 84.7% of students persisted in higher education. Data were further broken down between full- and part-time status with 92.5% of full-time and 71.2% of part-time students identified as persisting. An examination of the persistence rates by type of institution attended revealed that the highest rate (91.4%) was found among students attending private, not-for-profit, 4-year institutions while the lowest rate (74.9%) was among students attending public, 2-year instititons.
These findings are encouraging as they show that while some students leave an institution before earning a degree or certificate, many continue their education at another institution. These "leavers" are typically viewed as drop-outs, an undesirable outcome from the institution's perspective. But, because of the data reported by the Research Center we can see that many of these students are, in fact, persisting but have just moved from one institution to another.
Institutions participating as data providers to the National Student Clearing House are able to use the data to help them determine how many of their former students are continuing at other institutions and can make adjustments to their own reports on persistence and completion. The data can also be useful to states and others who are interested in better understanding the enrollment patterns of today's college students.
The bottom line for those of us interested in seeing all students succeed is that the picture is not as bleak as our previous incomplete data on persistence would have us believe. And even more importantly, these findings suggest that students seem willing to continue their education even if, for whatever reasons, they have left one institution at some point during their education journey.
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.”
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