Online Blogucation
26Oct/110

Universal design – it is worth the extra effort

I recently conducted research into the topic of universal design. I want to design content that is accessible by most people. That is what is so great about striving to design content with universal design in mind. The point of universal design in Web content creation is to add, adjust, and create content in a way that most people can access it rather than just the majority group accessing it. In Web content specifically, because the end user has the ability to further adjust the content to make it usable for him or her, we the designers of the content need to keep those potential adjustments in mind and design under the assumption that one or many tools might be used by each different end user. It is really actually pretty powerful to consider designing something so well that almost anyone can access the content, interpret the meaning and do so in a way most effective for that one user. As one research group stated:

People who could benefit from more universal designs include many both with and without disabilities. They include:

• People in a noisy shopping mall who cannot hear a kiosk
• People who are driving their car who must operate their radio or phone without looking at it
• People who left their glasses in their room
• People who are getting older
• People with disabilities
• Almost anyone (Trace Research & Development Center, 2010)

Below are just a few design suggestions to make your Web content universally accessible. Keep an eye out for the next Educator’s Voice article. A more complete look at universal design will be presented and explained.

Designer Mindset— Before designing the next page of content, it is worth bearing in mind at all times that every page designed might be read by someone using a screen reader. So while some design suggestions benefits different groups for different reasons, almost every suggestion will benefit someone using a screen reader.

Font Type—While the research is split on whether serif font such as Times New Roman is easier to read online or whether sans serif font such as Arial is easier to read online, the balance tips in the direction of sans serif font (thus this article is posted in a sans serif font). In my efforts to find the research backing up this statement, I found about 55% of the articles favored sans serif font and 45% of the articles favored a serif font for text online. However, considering all the content on the Web that is text, it is obvious that most others agree with using a sans serif font because that is the predominant font on the Web. Sans serif font or font without hooks is easier to read on screens.

Text—Text content is a necessary component in online learning. In the Webinar I referenced in the beginning, I heard the presenter provide the following guideline for writing for the Web. Write it out and then delete 60% of the words; delete connector words and put into bullet points (Hall, D., 2011). That may be a difficult goal to reach for many but 60% fewer words in any lecture content item is likely to be more effective.

Colored Text—Many users of the Web cannot see certain colors. Make sure when choosing color combinations that you use combinations that have high contrast. Also, bear in mind that those with visual color deficiencies will not be able to see certain colors. Lastly, do not change text color to blue for emphasis because it looks like a link and users wonder why the link does not work.

Bold/emphasis— Our team uses the term double coding when referring to emphasis in content. Some methods are better than others for emphasizing important details. Do not underline because it looks like a link. Color for emphasis helps but some users cannot see the color change. So in additional to a color change, it is recommended that you double code such as making the text bold as well. Even better is to add the word bold into the text just before the important detail or mark important details with asterisks.

Navigation Links
—Include as much detail to describe where the link leads as part of the hyperlink on the page. In the sentence--click here to navigate to the museum of science and nature Website, build the link on the words--navigate to the museum of science and nature Website--instead of just click here which removes the indications, for those using a screen reader, where the site leads.

Tables—As mentioned before, tables were the way that most of us using WYSIWYG editors instead of hard coding HTML built content online in an nicely formatted layout. Tables are a challenge for screen readers when used for content presentation. When used for data presentation (which admittedly is the primary purpose of tables) they cause fewer problems. The best rule around tables would be that if it is your only best option for design, the content presentation should make sense when reading it from left to right. Otherwise, if you can use HTML commands such as blockquote to create margins on the page around the text and content, that is preferable to a 1X1 table. This site provides more tips for universally designing a table.

Images/Graphics—include images and graphics to present content via different modalities. Only insert images and graphics that are relevant and further convey a concept. When adding alternate text, be very descriptive. Those viewing the image with a screen reader or as text only with images suppressed should be able to see in their mind what the image, table or chart looks like.

Cut & Paste—when pulling content from other resources and using cut/paste commands, paste the content as plain text and format it within the visual editor. Trying to copy formatting and links from a word processing document often creates a poorly designed replacement. It takes more effort but it will look better visually and screen readers will read the page more cleanly as well.

There are many sites available with universal design tips. A few sites are listed below.

-Pamela Kachka, MAEd-
Academic Trainer & Consultant

Suggested Resources:

Colblindor. Coblis – Color Blindness Simulator. (2006). Retrieved October 19, 2011 from http://www.colblindor.com/coblis-color-blindness-simulator/

Krovitz, G. (2010, November 10). Being disabled for a day [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://blog.ecollege.com/WordPress/?paged=5

The Trace Research & Development Center. (2010). General Concepts, Universal Design Principals and Guidelines. Retrieved October 17, 2011 from http://trace.wisc.edu/world/gen_ud.html

University of Central Florida Teaching Online. (2009). Accessibility Tips. Retrieved September 23, 2011 from http://teach.ucf.edu/resources/creating-accessible-course-content/accessibility-tips/

WebAIM. Creating Accessible Tables. (2011). Retrieved October 18, 2011 from http://webaim.org/techniques/tables/

19Oct/110

Data is the Foundation for Progress

Nearly all institutions today are using Learning Management Systems and digital Student Information Systems which provides us with endless sources of information on student and faculty behaviors. This data can then be mined for clues on in-course retention, program persistence, and admission demographics correlated to student success.

The emerging field of academic analytics is applying the same types of pattern-based strategies to education that Amazon.com has used in the retail industry to benefit consumers. For example, Amazon.com mines data on viewed content, purchase history, and wish lists and pairs that with demographic data to recommend products that similar users have purchased when looking at a product of interest. For example, I am considering the purchase of a navigation system for my car. When I typed Garmin into the search field it gave me a list of accessories that other users have purchased when buying the product I clicked on. While there is a clear profit motive, I would indeed need to buy an accessory to mount the product to my car which is helpful information for me to consider before making a purchase decision.

In a similar fashion, data scientists can mine LMS and SIS systems for information on student performance (both grades and learning outcome scores), activity by feature or by content object to come up with actionable at-risk dashboards for academic advisers. We have partnered with institutions to do this already today. In the near future, you can imagine a system that could advise students who struggled with a particular assignment of the ideal instructional sequence based on data mining from students who had similar learning style preferences and had achieved significantly increased results on subsequent outcome based assessments.

As alluded to in the previous paragraph, this process must provide actionable data to educators or there’s no reason to collect it. In addition, a six sigma style approach is recommended where you remedy the greatest weaknesses first and then continuously iterate through assessment cycles to fix the most serious issues. Eventually you’re fine tuning processes to the point where the problems become increasingly nominal.

When looking specifically at data’s impact on improving the student learning experience, educators essentially have two options. You can either drill down to look at individual student performance by outcome to find opportunities for improvement in formative assessments that support students with remediation options before they complete the current module or course. Alternatively you can look for more global curriculum improvement needs by evaluating program goals across time. This second approach means it’s usually too late for current students but the diagnosed changes can improve the curriculum for future students.

U.S. higher education has been under considerable pressure over the past twenty years to improve accountability for student learning. The next few years are going to increasingly offer educators the opportunity to make data informed decisions that positively impact teaching and learning.

Brian Epp, M.Ed. | Assessment & Analytics Group, Academic Training & Consulting| Pearson eCollege

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14Oct/110

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

5Oct/110

The On-Going Struggle For Acceptance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and good teaching.

28Sep/112

Being Open – Open Content and Information Literacy

As I reflect on Jen’s post about Virtual Bookshelves and Digital Textbooks and wonder what post might be appropriate to follow up with, I am reminded of a course I instruct. I am reminded of the shift in the course’s design toward multifaceted assessments and the ensuing journey to an open content design and increased information literacy. I am the first to admit that open content designs are not well suited for all subjects or instructors. Yet, with increasing high quality open content resources in production and online today, there is now more opportunity than ever before for a course to “go open” fully or as a supplement.

Thinking Open…

It was in 2003 that I first noticed a few learners each term were not purchasing the required textbook in a freshman online social science course. It was through their citations in assessments that I recognized a reliance on freely available resources, some of which were offered already as supplementary resources within the course. Starting that same year, the course design evolved from terminology and concept quizzing and high-stakes essay exams and term papers for assessment into asynchronous threaded discussions, journals, mini-essays, guided research papers, and media project-based assessments. No single assessment in the course can be completed at a desirable quality by solely referring to a single source, including a textbook.

Therefore, it was not a surprise that learners were able to do well in the course activities without the “textbook” and with, instead, the use of freely available resources online. The freely available resources range from online encyclopedias, knowledge base websites, open content journals, and tutorials all open to the public all with a few clicks and search online. When queried about the decision to use the open content resources, the learners noted the exorbitant cost of the text made it unattainable for them. Instead of working from a used older edition, as some chose to do, these learners were being highly resourceful with the open web.

Going Open…

In 2007, after relating this experience numerous times to colleagues, I was given the go ahead by administration to design a text-free course. I began that phase of the journey by figuring out which resources would be minimally necessary to excel in the course assessments and provide evidence of competency for the course objectives; it was a backwards design where the outcomes and assessments associated with the outcomes drove the decisions about formative activities and materials necessary.

Opportunely, because it is a freshman level survey course in a popular subject, a substantial number of resources were accessible, freely available, stable, and scholarly. I determined stability by the rather arbitrary measure that the resource had been consistently online for 3 or more years. I determined scholarly by the measure that the resource was funded by or otherwise created with research as its basis, had an author that could be easily identified and references, or specifically for the purpose of education as an open content resource. Over the course of two years, I collected and vetted with the assistance of colleagues numerous resources that could be used for the course that were available in ADA accessible formats and freely, with no charge beyond access to the web.

It was difficult to decide which resources to use because one of the design parameters I placed on the course was to keep each topic to a minimum of three resources. By limiting the number of resources to a manageable reading load, learners would, hypothetically, be more able to read and digest the materials. Additionally, the design plan included requiring learners to use at least one resource in addition to those provided with the course for the mini-essay assignments and discussions to receive the highest grade possible. The idea with this design element was to encourage learners to locate new resources online. Some learners struggled with finding scholarly sources even after tutorials about custom searching and evaluating sources.

Accordingly, a Google Custom Search Engine was created that searches websites deemed to have content of consistently stable and scholarly. The custom search engine provides an information literacy search tool that enables learners to see and learn about which types of materials are acceptable for scholarly work as compared to what they might find by their own devices with a basic or advanced search in any of the major online search engines.

Being Open…

In 2009, the open content of the course was offered. It was confusing for many learners at first that there was no book required. Some complained they “needed” a book because that was how they had been taught to learn and all this synthesizing and aggregation of sources and knowledge was just too much. The need to cite multiple sources caused some confusion as well. It was at that point I realized the open content design did require more synthesis across resources and a higher level of thinking to arrive at answers and products of learning otherwise for the assessments. It also necessitated more knowledge of citation techniques.

For me, this realization was satisfying as I argue this is exactly the kind of thinking we need in our freshman level courses. Nevertheless, in 2010, a recommended list of textbooks from leading authors was included in the course with the suggestion to learners who “needed” a book they purchase one of those listed. In 2011, the course currently runs with a majority of learners using the open content resources. Surveys for the course and reflections in the course show that learners come to appreciate the level of thinking required by using only open content resources. Most all report a satisfaction in being given a choice and choices in the resources from which they learn.

For some instructors, the course is difficult to teach because they are forced to read much more material than a single textbook and to be aware of ever changing resources available online. However, the merit of the design has kept the course running in its open content format, for now.

Questions I hope you will consider from what has been shared here include – Why wait until upper division courses or graduate school to teach learners to go beyond a single source of information (textbooks)? Why not instill in freshman level learners the ability to evaluate websites for scholarly merit by using open content? And, most of all, why not try open content design or supplements to your course?

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

Filed under: eLearning 2 Comments
21Sep/110

Virtual Bookshelves and Digital Books

The university where I teach and where I received my graduate degrees is renovating its library. This renovation, which is just in its beginning stages, is already creating havoc for researchers. The library building itself closed in June, just after the end of the spring term; the library, in the most theoretical sense, is now located in a ballroom in the student center. This relocated library contains no actual books; there is no room for stacks. All books must now be paged, meaning that as a researcher, I must know exactly which book I want, and when I do, I must click a button online that says “Request this Item.” The book will then be delivered to the ballroom library (the library says within a half an hour’s time), where I can pick it up. Critical to the location and delivery of these books is the library’s online catalog, which is nothing new, but the online library has been enhanced of late with a new feature: a virtual bookshelf. The virtual bookshelf is designed to assuage criticism surrounding plans for the renovated library to house only twenty percent of its book collection. The virtual bookshelf shows me which books occupy the same shelf as the book I have selected from the catalog.

Since the library’s closure and the departure of the books for some mysterious remote storage location, I’ve been wondering about how far it is possible to use a purely digital library. I work in a humanities field, so it is perhaps unsurprising that my people--my fellow humanists--have howled the loudest at the disappearance of our books and the plan to remove the vast majority of them permanently from our hands (literally). Among the fellow scholars I’ve spoken with at the school, there is widespread consensus that it just is not possible to do real research with a virtual bookshelf, that you must have the ability to sit down on the floor, pull books off the shelf, and actually touch them--or to find, on your way back from selecting one book, a title that has nothing to do with your topic but that offers a theoretical model for your own work. Serendipity, in other words, is an essential element of research, and as yet, there is no substitute for it in a purely virtual library.

At the same time that this debate has been going on at my university, I’ve had an opportunity to watch an opposing practice take even firmer hold. My former dissertation advisor has invited me to sit in on a graduate-level literature course she’s teaching. When she handed me a copy of the reading list and the students in the course began asking about the texts, it became clear that she’d ordered two of the texts in print for students to purchase at the school’s bookstore. The other dozen or so texts are all available through two online databases, Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) and Early English Books Online (EEBO). My former advisor, who is outspoken in her opposition to the library’s plans to remove most of its holdings in favor of an almost wholly digital library, was encouraging students to find the texts and use them online rather than purchasing the print texts (and these are not just any digital texts--they are usually scans of original seventeenth and eighteenth century editions, complete with blots, missing pages, illegible type, long s’s (they look like f’s)--all of it. Such texts provide an extremely thorough introduction to the vagaries of pre-modern publishing conventions, to be sure, and as such may be an excellent way to study the culture of the period. If, though, you’re concerned about basic comprehension of the words on the page, they may occasionally present some obstacles.

In some cases, to be fair, the print texts simply aren’t available. Some of the texts she wants the students to read have not been reprinted since the first decade of the 1700s. In other cases, though, she was encouraging students to use the digital versions because she felt that the print texts were unnecessary when the digital versions of original editions were available in a free and convenient format. What’s curious to me, though, is the movement between two positions that seem, if not diametrically opposed, at least somewhat contradictory. For teaching and basic reading, the digital texts will do. For research, however, we need to have our hands on the actual books and be moving around in the stacks. (For the record, I agree with both of these statements.) But it’s interesting to see how at ease we are moving between these positions; it indicates to me the complexity of the technology we are beginning to use more and more fully in the world of higher education, a world that has historically been resistant to change.

Jennifer Golightly, Ph.D.
Academic Trainer & Consultant

Filed under: eLearning No Comments
14Sep/110

Season of Change

I had to turn the heater on in my car this morning. The Colorado mornings are getting chilly: in the 40s and 50s. It’s almost like Fall had been hiding behind the Labor Day corner, just waiting to pounce. Despite the cold (and my cold), I love fall and all that comes with it. Change is definitely upon us. Football is back, the leaves are turning, and everyone’s back in school.

With the coming of school, homework is now running rampant in my house. This is the first year that all three of my kids are in school of some sort. It’s fun and it’s challenging trying to keep up with all the basics that I’ve almost forgotten and that they are learning anew. The other night I sat down with my 9 year old daughter who’s in fourth grade to try and help her with her sudoku math homework problem. Wait. What? Sudoku math homework? I can see the connection, practicing logic and problem solving, but I don’t remember doing this in fourth grade. Do you? I remember Ms. Daniel, her glasses and her reading of Where the Red Fern Grows to our class.  I remember multiplication tables, homonyms, workbooks and chase at recess. I remember Ms. Daniel weeping the day of the Challenger space shuttle tragedy and the first time I failed an assignment. But Sudoku for homework? I don’t remember that being a part of my fourth grade.

As I watched my daughter solve the puzzle, I realized that Sudoku for homework wasn’t odd for her. It’s simply part of her reality; part of the life she knows and the memories she’s making. Just like tablet computers and texting and video on demand and charter schools and doing homework on interactive websites. These things are new and fun and show how far we’ve come in the last 20 years for me, but they’re how it’s always been for her and every child after her.

As I mulled this thought over and considered the environment surrounding my daughter’s education compared to the world that surrounded my childhood education, this thought came to me: learning is always contextual. We cannot help but learn within the environment that we are inside. We start by learning the language(s) that are spoken around us, repeating the gestures and customs that we see modeled. We come to expect to see and have the inventions and conveniences that have always been around us. But the cultural context in which we learn doesn’t stand still for us. Just as the seasons, it’s ever changing. What Heraclitus said is indeed true: Change is the only constant. And as our world changes around us, so too does what we learn and how we learn; many times whether we like it or not, whether we notice it or not. (You may not like the device, but how many conversations have you had in the last year containing the new word ‘iPad’?)

However, while learning is innately contextual, education must choose to be contextual. Education, at its core, might be described as intentional learning; which means that it includes choice. The choice of what to learn and how and why and when and to what degree. We can choose to make education contextual, or not. We can choose to be relevant to the industries of today or only to those of yesterday. We can choose to be aware (and think critically about) changes in culture around us, or not. We can choose to intentionally keep education changing for good, or we can opt out.

The reality of our educational culture is that it has always been in a state of change. Accreditation regulations change, federal aid changes, industries come and go, discoveries and advancements are made in nearly all subjects. Technologies and government programs and even people come and go.

This time of year always reminds me that, as educators, we have the intentional choice ever before us to fight change, accept it begrudgingly, or to come along side it and leverage it for learning.

What is your view of change? Is it something that is feared or tolerated? Do you leverage it toward your learning goals? Is it addressed in your course, in your class, on your team or at your institution?

Luke Cable | Academic Trainer & Consultant

9Sep/111

Why the iPad didn’t work for me…

My friend and colleague, Luke Cable, posted about a year ago, "Thoughts on the iPad in Higher Education." And his post still rings true to me. The iPad and other tablet devices are great canvases for putting one's own thoughts into a particular application. Sketch, draw, brainstorm, create mind maps, videos (now on those tablets with cameras), and so on and so forth.

Recently, I decided to take the plunge and buy an iPad 2. For those of you not in-the-know, it is very similar to the original iPad except for having a faster processor and added video capabilities. Oh, and it comes in white as well as black. That's important.

In all seriousness, it's been a great tool. But I'm not (yet) convinced that it is the greatest tool for fully online education.

Now, full disclosure here: I am an Apple fanatic. I owned one of the first Macintosh computers and have been a Mac user ever since. In my small family of four, we have three Mac laptops as well as Apple TV, iPhones, iPod Touches, and so on, ad nauseum.

But as an online educator, I'm still not convinced of the iPad's usefulness in my work. I'm not talking about issues such as its lack of flash support, which by the way are being solved day-by-day by Web publishers either creating flash-free apps, switching to HTML 5 in Web site creation, or even using the newly announced Adobe Flash Media Server applications, which can deliver flash media across multiple platforms, including iOS.

What I have found are two areas where the iPad fails me in interacting with my students. First, support for locally stored files: I need to be able to download, for example, student papers directly to my tablet, edit them, and then upload them back to the learning management system I use for my teaching. The iPad's cloud-based solutions for document management include the MobileMe iDisk (soon to be replaced by iCloud) and WebDAV access to remote servers, a protocol that not all universities and colleges support.

Second on my wish list: full integration with Microsoft Office. Yes, as an Apple fan, I said the "M" word. But let's look at reality: Microsoft Office has become the de facto solution for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Maybe that will change someday; but until it does, I need more than just a conversion to Apple's Pages app to read my students' papers, track changes, add comments, and so on. (I have some attorney friends who have said the same thing. They find it impossible to adequately mark up drafts of contracts and briefs on any current tablet device.)

Why, you may ask, don't I just switch my loyalty from the iPad to an Android tablet or wait for a Windows 7 (or 8?) enabled tablet? My logic is simple, and similar to that in the above paragraph: the iPad has become the de facto solution for tablet devices. With thousands of quality-controlled apps in their app store, Apple has done what no other tablet maker has been able to accomplish: deliver quality experiences on superior hardware that people are willing to spend several hundred dollars to acquire. Even more so than the iPhone among smart phones, I contend that the iPad is the ubiquitous tablet of choice. No other tablet comes close to bringing so much to such a large market.

That said, for my online teaching, it still falls short. I'll stick with my trusty MacBook, thanks. At least for now, until the next iteration of tablet operating systems and apps can address my needs. Of course, at the rate that Apple releases these things, that might be next month! ;-)

Rob Kadel, Ph.D.

Academic Training & Consulting

Pearson eCollege

31Aug/110

Hallmark #9: Integrity / A Look Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke Cable
Academic Trainer & Consultant

25Aug/110

Hallmark #8 – Resources

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

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

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

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

Analysis/Evidence:

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

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

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

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

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –

Director of Academic Training & Consulting

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