Aristotle and Online Course Design
According to Aristotelian principles of rhetoric, there are three types of appeal that are necessary for a rhetorically balanced argument: logos, or logical appeal; pathos, or emotional appeal; and ethos, or ethical appeal. The ethical appeal is one that usually confuses my writing students. They often mistake its meaning by assuming that it means making an ethical, or moral, argument. This isn’t correct. Actually, in rhetoric, an ethical appeal is a type of evidence that establishes the credibility of the writer or speaker. In other words, it’s the way that you, the author, persuade your audience that you are worth listening to, that you’ve done your homework and know your business.
Skilled writers and speakers make ethical appeals in a variety of ways. Citing sources carefully is one important way; acknowledging ideas and language that are not your own tells your reader that you are a careful and conscientious researcher and thus helps add weight to your argument. Acknowledging your opposition is another important way to make an ethical appeal and establish your credibility: if your readers know that you are not ignoring the fact that there are legitimate counter-arguments to your own, then you have a much higher chance of winning their respect and maintaining their attention. One of the most important ways of establishing your ethos, according to Aristotelian notions of classical rhetoric, includes demonstrating an awareness of your audience and adapting your style and delivery for that audience.
It’s this last strategy that I have been thinking about lately. I’ve done a fair number of trainings over the past two or three weeks, and I’ve heard from more than one administrator that the faculty at his or her institution are difficult to persuade that course design matters. Many of these faculty, according to the administrators, seem to think that course design is akin to window dressing—it’s pretty if you have it, but the content of the course is what really matters, and if that content is strong, it doesn’t matter how it’s presented. I’m not sure how pervasive this notion is. I’ve conducted no formal studies, so most of my evidence is anecdotal and thus limited to my own personal experience. Based on the research I’ve conducted in online student retention and success, though, I know that lack of attention to course design can lead to disaster for both student and institution: the students end up frustrated, isolated, and unengaged; they withdraw from or fail the course. If the problem with course design is one that spans multiple courses across an institution, then the program itself is in jeopardy. Course design, in other words, is tied to the success of students in the online course environment. It has the potential to have a strong impact on both the success of the students and that of the institution.
Online course design should be approached like any other kind of presentation. The instructor is presenting content to the students, and thought must be give to how that presentation will be made. The first place instructors should begin when determining how they can most effectively present their content is the same that Aristotle tells rhetoricians to begin: audience. Consider your audience. Is the audience a group of traditional undergraduate students? If so, think for a moment about their expectations of online technology. These students are digital natives. They are extremely adept in using social networking tools and mobile technologies. Is the audience primarily non-traditional students—working adults with families and full-time jobs who are returning to school, possibly after a long hiatus? If so, your job may be harder; some of these students may be very comfortable technology, but others may not. (I teach non-traditional students, and I have some who have no difficulties at all with the technology required in an online classroom; other of my students still use their computers as you would a typewriter and create double-spaced papers manually by using a hard return at the end of each line of text.)
If you are working with the first audience, a group of traditional undergraduate students, you can be pretty creative about how you design your course—you’re probably fairly safe using a mixture of technologies and content presentation methods. You will, however, lose them completely if your courses are entirely text or if your course does not follow some fairly basic principles of web design. They will expect a polished, professional appearance to the course, and if they do not find it, they will judge your credibility accordingly. The second audience may be more intimidated by technologies that do not function seamlessly and intuitively. Think carefully about requiring them to download or install any special software (unless, of course, your institution provides really strong support for the students with such installation). These students may be more forgiving of a fairly basic content presentation, but they will still expect the course to be structured in a way that makes navigation effortless. They may become frustrated when things aren’t where they expect to find them—for example, if you refer in the syllabus to “assignments” but don’t explain what those assignments are, where and how they are to be submitted, and what the requirements are. Here, too, if the students do not find what they need, if you leave them with unanswered questions, if they have trouble simply navigating through the course and finding what they need, you will have lost all credibility with them. The bottom line: you must always anticipate your audience’s needs and questions as you design your online courses.
Jennifer Golightly, PhD
Academic Trainer & Consultant
I saw this blog recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education and want to share it with you. It’s short, so rather than trying to summarize, I’ve copied it in its entirety.
What’s Going Well?
March 21, 2012
By Natalie Houston
My training and experience as both a teacher of literature and as a personal productivity coach have shown me time and time again the value of asking simple questions. A good question doesn’t have to be long or complicated. A good question shouldn’t be an argument misleadingly packaged as a query. A good question often opens up other questions.
So here’s today’s question: what’s going well for you right now?
I like this question for several reasons:
Most people don’t spend enough time thinking or talking about what’s going well. At a deep neurological level, our brains are designed to pay more attention to potential danger than to neutral or beneficial things. Learning to pay more attention to the good stuff, even just with simple journaling exercises or breathwork, can help create new, more positive neural pathways.
Most people find it easier to focus on or complain about what’s not going well. I’ve written about this before, in relation to the social scripts that academics often engage in. (Have you heard anyone say, “oh, I didn’t get enough done over spring break” lately?) Rewriting those scripts has the power to shift your energy and that of people around you.
It’s also the case that our intellectual training tends to be organized around critique and competition. It’s much more challenging to sustain a conversation about what you liked and agree with in a text than about what you disagree with (try it with your next graduate seminar and you’ll see what I mean). There’s nothing wrong with intellectual critique – but it’s good to experience appreciation and celebration too, of yourself and others.
We can learn from what’s going well. By exploring what’s going well, you can discover core values and habits that you can extend from one area of your life to another. Do you prefer to be alone or with others? What do you find motivating? What helps you be persistent? Whether it’s writing, exercising, or cleaning the garage that you want to improve, you can apply strategies and ideas from some other area in which you feel more successful.
If we take this article to heart, and think about how we can apply this to our own work in an academic setting, what might be some questions we can pose to our students? I can think of a few examples.
Let’s imagine the beginning of the class period (for face-to-face) or a discussion item in an on-line course immediately following a lengthy reading assignment. We typically ask students if there was anything they found confusing or didn’t understand in the assignment. What if we turn that around and instead we ask our students to name one thing they really understood well and to give us a summary of their understanding of that one thing. This serves a similar purpose, in that we would be getting information about what our students learned from the assignment. It also provides a nice review and can help students who may not have understood the item.
I liked Natalie’s suggestion that using journaling could “help create new more positive neural pathways.” I wonder what the result might be for students if we asked them to keep a journal in which they must identify things that are going well in the course but with a focus on how they personally are doing well in the course. Perhaps by asking our students to focus on their own feelings about themselves as learners and by targeting what’s working and going well, students may come to see themselves in a more positive light and this might improve their confidence. It might also help students to better understand the important role they must play in their learning and thus, take more responsibility over their learning.
I’m sure you can think of many other ways to use this approach with your students. Please add your ideas or experiences with using this approach with your students (or coworkers). Tell us what is going well.
Academic Training & Consulting
This is Rob Kadel, your on-the-scene reporter, coming to you live from the site of Cite! This is the Pearson Cite 2012 Conference, being held at the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes in Orland, April 10-13. Distinguished lecturers and speakers, presenters from some 65 Pearson Education Partners, 500 attendees, and 200 Pearson employees have gathered together for four days of discussions and collaborations on online learning. And we’re loving it.
On Tuesday afternoon, Cite opened with a special, fun treat – an iBand composed of several Pearson employees (yours truly included) playing a medley of songs all from our iPhone and iPad instruments. Silly, yes, but we enjoyed getting the crowd revved up for the conference.
The highlight that afternoon, of course, was an excellent keynote presentation by Dr. Mark Milliron, and author and educational technology consultant currently working with Western Governors University. Dr. Milliron discussed technology as a solution toward increase college enrollments and matriculation, especially among those living in low-income households who need education to break out of the cycle of poverty. But he also challenged us to go further in our thinking, to recognize that simply fitting new technology into an old mold of education may not be the most effective way to deliver learning. We need new ideas about the actual structure of the educational experience to take advantage of technological tools and reach the students who need education the most.
With concurrent sessions focused on everything from mobile learning to assessment and analytics, there was no shortage of discussions around the trends in online higher education. Student want information not only when they need it, but also where they need it. And institutions are getting into a groove now recognizing the potential for data not only to describe their current students, but to prescribe new directions for future cohorts. Dr. Marilee Bresciani’s keynote address on Wednesday took such discussions further to show us how outcomes-based assessment can help to identify where true creativity and critical thinking are taking place.
On Thursday morning, Dr. John Medina treated us to a keynote presentation entitled Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Dr. Medina presented us with neurological research on how our brains actually process information as we learn and what the critical points are in instruction to ensure that students learn.
Overall, it’s been a great conference and a great experience. I’m already looking forward to Pearson Cite 2013 in Chicago! (Look for additional information here in the coming months.) I hope to see you there!
Rob Kadel, Ph.D.
Academic Training & Consulting Manager
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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.
Best Practices to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Learning
Ralph Kennedy, MSW
Academic Trainer & Consultant