Geo350: Population and Environment – in a nutshell…

Geo350 examines the impact of human population dynamics on individuals, societies and the earth’s physical and biological environment. Beginning with an analysis of some of the general issues associated with human population change over time, we will move toward a deeper analysis of the associated environmental consequences, and the social, economic and philosophical dimensions of a growing, and often more consumptive, human population.

This is a “Hybrid” version of Geo350, meaning it will be balanced between on-campus, traditional class sessions and intensive online activity and interaction. The hybrid model provides an opportunity to borrow the best from both traditional and more recent online learning strategies: classroom lectures and active-learning exercises will benefit from face-to-face discussions and interactions, while the online component provides flexibility and promotes the use of web-based tools for learning.

After the introductory classroom meeting, students will be responsible for reading and watching online lectures and videos, taking quizzes and conducting mini-research assignments, and bringing their research to our in-class sessions.

The nine classroom sessions will be built around an active-learning exercise associated with a specific weekly topic. Topics will be purposefully broad and abstract—things like “Culture,” “Health,” “Agriculture,” “Consumption,” “Environmental Change,” as examples. Classroom sessions will focused on three primary goals: 1) to assess the state of knowledge on a topic through student research, 2) to examine the spatial aspects (patterns, processes, changes, etc.) of the topic, and 3) to help students gain a sense of their individual values or ethics related to the topic. As a result, classroom and online learning will be linked through preparation for, participation in, and reflection about face-to-face exercises and activities.

This class is often a very diverse group: majors include chemists, physicists, engineers, public health, forestry, agricultural science, earth science, and nearly every other possible discipline at OSU. My framework is deliberately aimed at giving students from a wide variety of backgrounds and majors a chance to not only understand the trajectories of human population change and its impacts, but to gain research and critical thinking experience applied to basic but fundamental parts of life and society.

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Design of SED540 as a hybrid class

When people think about science they commonly conjure images of chemistry and physics. White-coated, white males, white lab walls. White. At least that was my imagery as a lad. Studies show that these impressions still persist today. Of course, it has changed and at least there are edges that now have some color. It is the space part, the white lab walls that I will attempt to break through with my hybrid class. And provide a great learning experience as well.

I have always loved being outdoors and, along with the strong sense of community that geology afforded me, was what drew me to the science of geology. And I think there is a huge deficit and advantage of getting kids outdoors and participating in more inductive scientific adventures. It is not all about hypothesis-ladened processes; sometimes there is observation, intuition, struggle before that most excellent hypothesis is determined. This non-linear scientific process lies at the core of field-based worked and is an experience that few K-12 students and teachers engage.

In my course I aim to provide a combination of distance-delivered learning experiences with a multi-day field project to build content and field-based scientific skills. My course will be aimed at teachers-to-be and classroom teachers. It will hover around the next science standards (called the Next Generation Science Standards), it will provide an authentic doing science opportunity and it will be fun. I hope to attract at least 12 teachers each summer although the more the merrier.

The content and field-work focus will be on earthquakes. Specifically earthquakes of the Pacific Northwest. Online learning experiences will include learning about: basics of earthquakes; geologic setting of the PNW, EQ mitigation and EQ preparation. There will be an abundance of hands-on experiences that can be modified for the K-12 (but probably more like the 6-12) classroom use but are also excellent learning experiences for adults. Learning will be assessed through discussion boards, small projects and a culminating group field-based project. Participants will also practice field skills such as data collection, organization, and presentation.

Fieldwork will be the face-to-face component of the hybrid and will be a combination of show-and-tell and data collection. What data will collect? In short, evidence for ancient earthquakes in the PNW shows itself by the presence of sunken and dead forests (called ghost forests) and layers of tsunami generated sands that cover organic-rich layers of former marshes. We will be investigating areas that are inland from estuaries that contain these features in order to evaluate the extent of tsunami run-up within the different river and estuary systems.

The link back to the online learning experience will be realized during the second half of the class where participants will further examine the data and produce a report on findings. This work may be publishable in regional and perhaps national journals! Additional learning experiences outside of analyzing and organizing data may be part of the second half of the online learning.

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Course Redesign – ART 446 – Documentary Photography

The course I am redesigning is ART 446 – Documentary Photography. This is a course that was previously taught using 35mm film, so I am in the midst of a complete redesign of the course (and I will also have to submit a Cat II proposal). As this is a studio class, the regular meeting schedule for the class is six in-class hours per week. As a hybrid course the students will meet for three hours in-class and therefore students will be able to dedicate an additional three hours to taking photographs in the field.

This course requires students to self-select a documentary photography subject and pursue that subject for the entire quarter. It is a 400 level course, so some self-sufficiency as well as previous photography experience is expected. Students have to pitch their project ideas at which time the other students give feedback. Following the ‘pitch’ discussions revolve around access, ethics and feasibility.

The plan is for the students to shoot and edit their images outside of class. In-class sessions are spent entirely on group critiques, discussions and some ‘how-to’ lectures. There are only twelve students in the class and the class meets in-class once a week for three hours. During the critiques, each student has to make, share and then defend their choices in making the work. My job is that of a discussion facilitator and to ensure that the discussion remains constructive and that each student gets equal time. The discussions can be very involved and discouraging at times. However, as each project develops, the discussions and results become increasingly rewarding. It is an intense experience – these are personally selected projects and the students become increasingly engaged.

Outside of class the students are expected to spend at least three to six hours in the field taking photographs and then editing these photographs. In addition they need to post weekly to the discussion board. This post reflects on that week’s online material which may consist of reading, watching videos, or self-directed research. Readings and responses cover topics such as aesthetics and beauty in documentary photography, ethical issues, and the use of text. In addition, the students blog their project progress – in this way I am kept up-to-date on project progress (or non-progress).

Towards the end of the quarter (around week 7) the focus turns to finalizing the project, editing and sequencing the photographic series. Finally, the students start working on their audio-slideshows – which will accompany the project.

The goal is that the students prepare their projects as if they were submitting an application to the Alexia Foundation – this is to encourage and to prepare students to apply for grants to support their work. In addition, they create an audio slide-show as another form of presenting the same material.

The hybrid formal works very well for this course as the students should be working with a great deal of self-sufficiency at this stage of their college career. Teaching in the hybrid format gives the students more time in the field. In addition, being able to read and respond individually to the weekly discussion board responses is very enriching as a teacher.

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Advanced Academic Listening and Speaking Hybrid Course

The course I am designing as a hybrid is ALS 161, an advanced Listening and Speaking course for international students in the INTO OSU Pathway programs.  This is currently an on-campus workshop style course offered every term for three credits, and normally it meets three times a week, for two hours for each class meeting.

The course is required for all Graduate Pathways students and two-term accelerated Undergraduate Pathways students and is the pre-requisite for these students to take COMM 111.

Enrollment in ALS 161 has grown as INTO OSU has grown. The course enrollment fluctuates throughout the year, mostly because of the limited start dates of the graduate programs. In the current fall term, more than 300 students are enrolled in the course (in sections of around 18 students), though the total number drops to about half of that in winter. The main objectives for the course are to improve comprehension skills and note-taking abilities for lectures in an academic format. Students are also building skills related to giving individual and group presentations. Additional instruction is given in cross-cultural communication styles, non-verbal communication, questioning techniques, and clarifying information.

I have chosen to make the course hybrid to make more efficient use of the students’ and teachers’ time. Language is learned through practice and time, and that’s where I believe a hybrid course will excel for my students.  In ALS 161, one of the main objectives is to improve students’ academic listening skills. This means listening to extended clips of academic lectures multiple times.  For students learning English as a second language, they often need more time to review the materials and form their responses. Also, because various academic majors are enrolled in the same section, the specific needs of each student vary greatly. Instead of spending valuable class time partaking of listening activities that have been generalized to suite every major, why not give students the tools to customize their learning and practice these very individual skills on their own via online technology?  This will also serve as an additional connection to what students are practicing in the face-to-face portion of this class and other classes at OSU.

A hybrid course would also serve the speaking needs of students in terms of practicing pronunciation and speaking skills through web-based recording apps and give the teacher more time for individualized feedback before students complete an in-class presentation.

Additionally, some self-directed learning is also expected of students at Level 6 (the highest INTO OSU level), especially since many of the courses they will be completing at OSU are now being hybridized. Thus, a hybrid course would encourage student autonomy and give students a push to continue enhancing their language skills outside of the classroom while also preparing them for the latest technology methods being utilized throughout the university.

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Pre-Internship Hybrid Course Design

The course I am designing as a hybrid is H407, the Pre-Internship Seminar in Public Health.  This is currently an on campus course offered every term for two credits, and it meets currently twice a week, 50 minutes for each class meeting.  The course is required for all undergraduate Public Health Majors, with options in either Health Management and Policy or Health Promotion and Health Behavior.  The course is also required for students minoring in Environmental Safety and Health.  The course enrollment is usually approximately 60 students, with the majority of them being seniors with most of their coursework completed.  The purpose of the course is to prepare students for their internship and includes internship sites as guest speakers, information on professional resumes and cover letter writing, interviewing skills and professionalism.

I chose to make the course hybrid to make it more beneficial to the students and make it more tailored for each student to really be involved, through more assignments offered online.  With the large range of internship interests, having each student actively participate online instead of listening to lecture, will provide students with the ability to explore their interests,  skills and develop professional documents to really be prepared for the internship.

The hybrid design of this course would consist of 50% of the time being in class meetings, which equates to one day a week and then the other 50% online which would also equate to one day a week.  The online content will consist of students developing cover letters, resumes, participating in peer review assignments, discussion boards, and an online exam at the end of the term.  The class meeting times will be used for guest speakers, who will be current internship sites.  The class meetings will also include activities  based on the online assignments and discussions, to blend the online learning with class time, and making the topics link  together to be cohesive.  For example, a lot of guest speakers who talk about their internships, discuss professionalism, and I can then create a  discussion board, to further explore professionalism as a topic and blending in the guest speakers points from class.  Another example would be resumes and cover letters, which would be covered in class and then the students would go online and complete peer reviews based on what was covered in class.  The online final exam will serve to cover both online content from the term and in class content to bring it all together.  My hope is this hybrid design will provide the students with a high degree of personalization, in which they end the course fully prepared for their internship.


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Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design #1: Upload your course materials, then call it a day

Wouldn’t that be great? Upload your materials, and simply let a Blackboard/Canvas robot monitor discussion, grade activities and assessments, and provide useful comments, and maybe even encouragement.  Is that where we’re headed?

Maybe so if we follow the trend of neo-reformers like Sugata Mitra, who suggests that teachers may not be necessary:

Build a School in the Cloud?

I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the ability of online courses to deliver the experience gained from traditional face-to-face courses, mostly because I really enjoy the dynamics of the classroom.  And although I generally agree with Mitra’s position, I think students need more than a “gran.”  In my limited experience, they need to be helped, guided, challenged, supported, encouraged and evaluated, among other things, which is much more than posting information and hoping that they learn it.  Sure, we have access to a staggering amount of information through the web, but as Mitra says, it’s essential that we be discerning about this information.  How do we make decisions about what’s important, then? How do students know what to search for, and how to use what they find?

In my classes, I try to give students an example of what a (somewhat) educated mind thinks about things–a lesson I saw repeatedly in graduate school,  reinforced in a Chronicle of Higher Ed. article called “In Praise of Passionate, Opinionated Teaching” (

In the last few years, I’ve come around to recognizing the ability to do this in an online or blended format.  It’s not enough, I believe, to use your skills/training/perspective to build innovative experiences, as the “Five Common Pitfalls” article suggests.  Instead, I think it’s important, necessary even, to be engaged with student learning in all aspects of the course: the challenges, frustrations, insights, a-ha moments, and so on.  Put differently, it’s not enough to “re-author” materials to so they leverage Web resources, etc.  That just adds the newest technological bells + whistles to what may be an otherwise stale approach to teaching/learning.  Instead, I feel we need to make the most of this dynamic technology to continue to challenge preconceptions and outdated mental models of reality.

So, yes, it’s a pitfall to believe one can upload outdated materials to a new format and “call it good.” But thinking that adding an video of what was once a lecture is potentially running into another pitfall: that technology alone makes learning happen.



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Going beyond the LMS

Pitfall 2 – going beyond the standard LMS. I like the LMS format. I find that it attends to my sense of organization and I find it exciting to make the folders connected and organized. OK – so I don’t have a lot to do on the weekends!

But the system is designed to be linear and that linearity is satisfying. To a point. There is nothing linear about my thinking and learning (and teaching?!), so I suspect the same may be true for many learners and teachers. But should this tendency to the chaotic and complex be part of decision or is the straight path the best for online/hybrid learning? What does it look like to develop something that may bring learners to a different place then they anticipated? Would this foster exploration or confusion? Or is exploration confusion?

OK – I am being a bit obtuse here and perhaps impractical. Can I be more concrete? So the idea is to go beyond the standard LMS and I am advocating for the potential of a non-linear path. But what does this look like? Well, in F2F learning there is the potential for emergence and digression that can be very valuable to the learning experience. Stories appear, new connections are made, conversations ramp up, significant learning may appear. But can this happen in an online setting? Can the LMS be an avenue for exploration rather than presentation? And how do you design this?

OK – so there are discussion groups, blogs, shared assignments. But can we think outside this framework; find a technology and process that fosters the emergence that can be so wonderful in learning and teaching?

OK – does any of this make sense? How do we use the efficiency of linearity in an LMS to foster the complexity of teaching and learning?

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Students learn from each other

In Elizabeth St. Germain’s article “Five Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design,” design pitfall #5 stood out to me for my ALS 161 Listening/Speaking class: Don’t ignore the ways students learn from each other. A vital part of learning a second language comes from using that language and making mistakes in that language. If students are always looking to the teacher to guide them in “perfect English” (which doesn’t exist, by the way), they will dramatically decrease their chances for authentic communication. After all, most speakers of English aren’t native anyways.

Additionally, English teachers talk a lot about the potential benefits and drawbacks of peer editing. ESL students hate it because they feel unequipped to correct other students’ English. So I’m always trying to boost students’ confidence in their own abilities, so they have more self-assuredness to critique their classmates’ work.

In the hybrid course, because there will be less face time with the teacher, building trust among students to learn from each other will be crucial. One way I plan to address this is by modeling regular, positive feedback online and in person and including activities that establish personal commonalities between students. Another way I plan to encourage group feedback and collaboration is by providing students multiple methods for interaction, including formal and informal ones. For instance, my students will sometimes need the scaffolding of a formal critique checklist of what to look for and comment on when it comes to assessing one another. They need basic examples of what to say and encouragement to do so.

For many reasons, I’m looking forward to a hybrid classroom because of its potential to allow students the time and space to contemplate their responses instead of always being asked for their ideas on the spot. And by setting the expectation early that students should provide feedback and comments on each other’s work – whether it’s a video, audio, blog, discussion board, wiki, etc. – will increase their own self-reliance and collaboration.

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Addressing Pitfall #4

In the article by Elizabeth St. Germain, Five Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design, all of the pitfalls really resonated with me and especially Pitfall #4, that I am going to really focus on avoiding in my redesign of my course as a hybrid.  Pitfall #4: “Expect your students to consume knowledge rather than create it” seems like a very easy pitfall to unknowingly adopt, with both online and hybrid designs, because of traditional learning.  It really struck me, because as I was thinking about components to develop in my Canvas classroom, I am really focusing on what students can do to create an understanding of the material, so they are not passive participants.

My course that I am redesigning, Pre-Internship Seminar for Public Health Students, is currently an on campus course that meets two days a week, and covers material to prepare students for their internship.  The course has become fairly large with anywhere from 50-80 students, and their option or course emphasis varies from environmental health and safety to health management and policy to health promotion and health behavior.  I initially wanted to convert the course into a hybrid design to tailor the information for each particular option, but as I was thinking about this pitfall, I am consciously working on assignments that allow the students to be actively involved.

As technology becomes more integrated into learning and education, I am reminding myself that it can become more  personal by really allowing the student to be accountable for their learning and include interactive engagement.  One assignment that I have tried out on Blackboard already with my on campus course has consisted of students creating their own professional letter to a prospective internship site.  I was elated with the quality of the letters and the positive feedback from students.  They stated how beneficial it was for them, and they were going to save the letter for not only future internship inquiries but for jobs as well.

The success of this particular assignment has me very motivated to avoid this pitfall by developing additional assignments, where the students are at the forefront of creating the outcome and not simply reading, responding or answering structured questions.

Additional assignments I am focusing on implementing include a mock interview video that students create and post, to practice interviewing skills, and a professional toolkit of resources that students develop to help prepare them to be successful for the transition into the working world.  Collectively, these assignments will engage the student and avoid this pitfall.

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Response to: Online Course Design Pitfall #3: Insist on being the “sage on the stage.”

I am responding to pitfall #3 – which asks that we move away from the model of being a ‘sage on the stage’. I teach photography and new media communications.

Before I read Elizabeth St. Germain’s column, I had already started to see myself as a curator of information with respect to organising and presenting the course material. The term ‘curator’ has already been co-opted by a number of fields from the art-context as a word to describe someone who assembles and presents already existing materials.

There are several techniques I already implement to involve students in active learning and to diminish my role as ‘Sage’

Google Image Search for Sage

Google Image Search for Sage

(Sage seems such a masculine trait – correct me if I am wrong).

First, I use discussion boards to ask students to respond to readings – using open-ended questions. I try and phrase my discussion board questions in such a way to elicit the type of response I would like. For example, in formulating the question I may cite part of the text, to demonstrate how text can be cited – thus encouraging more thoughtful responses that respond specifically to the text.

Second, every third reading or so, I ask the students to research one of the artists/photographers covered in the text in greater depth and share their findings with the class. In this way, the students have more control over their research, they can share information about an artist/photographer that they find inspiring and they can add to the rather limited information contained in the text. Typically, a chapter in a text will introduce ca. 20 artists/photographers but not in great depth – merely asking students to share information about a favourite photographer can lead to some rather dire examples so I prefer to use limited parameters as outlined above.

Third, in the classroom situation, I ask students to present information on a narrow topic to the class – using examples that they have found to illustrate the theme. In this way, I can ensure that the examples presented to class are always up-to-date and are relevant to the students’ interest. For example, I can teach about the use of color in film, TV, and photography but I have limited experience within video games. In this way, my bank of examples, has been kept up-to-date. I have yet to figure out how this ‘in-class presentation’ by students can be translated to the online world. So, finding a way for students to creatively present and share their own self-created information to the class online would be useful. This technique, however, can still be used in the hybrid system.

CONCERNS: Much of the curated information I use has excellent production values. I can tap into materials prepared by museums and galleries worldwide. However, when I ‘curate’ technical information the best web-videos are created by companies such as Adorama or Adobe – clearly these videos are designed to drive people to purchase items from that company. I do feel uncomfortable about promoting a vendor in this way (although we use Adobe software all the time – as an industry standard).

Like many, I am requiring responses to existing posts on discussion boards as part of the grade – however, I rarely see anything that meaningful in these responses at present – despite having a rubric statement that asks for responses that elicit additional discussion. Help on this matter would be appreciated.

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