Make it personal. Assignments that focus on individual growth and helping others

Online Course Design Pitfall #5: Ignore the ways students learn from each other. 

I try to avoid this pitfall by creating flexible assignments that focus on personalized learning outcomes rather than specific assignment instructions. For example, I create fairly open ended peer reviewed written (paper) assignments and ask students to be sure to demonstrate mastery of course concepts but from there to approach assignments in whatever way will befit them and other students the most. The focus should be on personal and professional growth and adding value to other students learning not getting it “right”. When I receive questions privately (unless it is personal) I ask students to post questions to the Module Q&A Discussion Board so that everyone has the same information. I then typically respond by asking students to do what they think their own and others’ learning the most.

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Avoiding pitfalls in online learning


Peer to peer learning is an important skill to develop.  Students spend most of their adult life learning from their peers.


Fostering peer based learning skills online is more challenging than in person learning.


In my hybrid course I will implement online peer-based learning activities to focus on developing life-long learners.  I will require the students to create instructional material (written and video) in small groups.  I will use discussion boards to discuss the material provided with the students.

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Adding an instructor’s blog

This post comments on how I plan to avoid one of Elizabeth St. Germain’s five pitfalls of online course design. St. Germain challenges instructors to not just upload the usual class handouts onto a website, but rather, to “Step back and take a fresh look at your content in the larger context of the world and the Web.”

One idea that I have is to add a regular instructor’s blog into my online content. My introductory environmental economics course has videos of traditional lecture content as well as the usual assigned readings and homework assignments. However, a terrific feature of the web that has become a mainstay for millions of people is the blog. To me, the best blogs have the following characteristics: i) they are much more informal than traditional journalism or textbook writing, ii) they are regularly and predictably updated, and iii) they engage readers on a consistent theme. In contrast, much of the material in traditional introductory economics courses is formal and focused on learning the ins-and-outs of setting up and applying economic models.

I aim to include a regular series of blogs into my course that will have the following objectives aimed at avoiding pitfall #1 of uploading course material and calling it a day. First, I want to write about content or current events that relates to what we cover in class, but I want to do this in a much less formal way than lecture. For example, I could write a post about today’s news that the U.S. EPA plans to drop the Clean Power Plan to regulate carbon emissions, and try to bring in some basic supply-and-demand ideas about energy markets and my thoughts on how energy markets might react to this policy news. Second, while I want to be more informal than class, I do want to maintain a scholarly discourse of reasoned inquiry. Many blogs are inflammatory and offer far too little evidence to back up assertions, and I think an instructor’s blog could offer an example of how to integrate scholarly discourse with a more informal blogging style. And finally, I want to write consistently about matters that complement the more formal lecture-oriented material in the class, rather than have blogging provide a substitute for lecture.

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Content Curator or Maestro?

Reflections of an aging quarterback

I was recently describing my current place in academia to a new faculty member. The analogy I used was the gracefully aging quarterback who is excited to be surrounded by talented and dynamic running backs. No longer able to make spectacular plays myself (hey I can be a legend in my own mind), I now call the play and hand the ball off  to the new stars and let them make the headlines.

So what does this have to do with hybrid teaching? Like an aging quarterback, teaching rarely receives the same acclaim that research does.  It doesn’t bring in the returned overhead, Nobel Prizes or valuable patents.  Indeed, one commenter remarked that as online instructors our “…role is now more of a content curator—the one who prunes and trains the branches that extend from your expertise out into the world.” So is it any wonder that teaching is often undervalued by the academy?  Why would early career faculty aspire to only be content curators?

Owning the Maestro in all of us

We are not just content curators and should roundly decry this description. We are the Maestro who conducts a symphony orchestra.  Meticulously adapted after years of experience and with an intimate knowledge of our subject matter, our teaching plan is the score.  As Maestro we aim to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.  Canvas, Kaltura, Youtube and TED talks are our woodwind, brass, string and percussion sections.  Our students are the orchestra members. They are first violin, second trumpet and the percussionist with the triangle who can never hit it at the right time, no matter how much we coach them during office hours. Each aspires to be successful so they can move on to the next level and challenge. As Maestro, we create a rich learning experience where individually and collectively we realize our potential as teachers and learners.

Come the end of term take a bow Maestro – you’ve earned the recognition.

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Avoiding Pitfall #5: Students learning from each other

For this assignment, I am considering how I can attempt to avoid pitfall #5 and promote effective peer-peer teaching among students.

I am somewhat skeptical of many attempts at students teaching students. There are many ways this can get off track – opinions expressed as facts, quiet students unengaged and/or falling behind, etc.  The other concern that I have is that it often isn’t mutually beneficial. Rather than a sharing of knowledge and ideas, it can become a one-way exchange of information from the more advanced student to the one being tutored.

However, I have also seen student-student teaching be very effective, most commonly as students are completing homework assignments together in the student lounge. The social dynamics of learning from each other is a non-trivial barrier. I am hoping that the hybrid course might provide some mechanisms for overcoming this barrier, but I don’t really have a clear sense of how to tackle this in the hybrid setting yet.

I did a quick literature search and there’s a number of sites out there, but I found the content to be a bit general. I didn’t really find specific ideas that I could implement in my class, so I drafted a couple. I would appreciate your feedback on these or suggestions of other ideas!

  1. Small group discussions: Small group discussion in class is one appraoch I’ve had some success with in my on-campus classes. I’d like to continue using those in the hybrid version, and would like to find an effective way to do this via the Discussion Board. My approach will be to pose a small calculation or process-oriented question to small teams (3-4 students) and have them work out a solution. The challenge with this is ensuring that each member offers a meaningful contribution to the analysis. My previous experience has convinced me that simply putting a point value on submissions makes it easy for some team members to add trivial text while the other members do all of the real thinking. I wonder if assigning a “leader” role for each discussion topic and then rotating that role through all members may be one way to overcome this? I can also see pitfalls of this in that students may only minimally engage on their assigned topic.
  2. Peer assessment: I would also like to explore an anonymous form of peer assessment. My thought on this is to have students submit their assignments by their student ID. I would then post the solution and a rubric on the day that the assignment is due. Then students would have one week to grade a randomly selected peer’s assignment as part of their online/out-of-class activities. This would force students to study the rubric and provide peers with feedback on what they missed.

Are there any practices that you think might be effective in supporting peer-to-peer learning in a hybrid format?


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Faculty Identify Effective Hybrid Teaching Practices

Weatherford Hall and autumn foliageIn Oct. 2016, the Center for Teaching and Learning surveyed OSU Corvallis and Cascades faculty to identify effective hybrid teaching practices from the instructor viewpoint. There was significant consensus among the 28 respondents from 7 OSU colleges. More than 3/4 of the instructors that used each of the following 11 practices rated these practices as “very effective” or “extremely effective”:

  1. Student-to-student interaction in both classroom and online environments
  2. Lectures of less than 15 minutes interspersed with other class activities
  3. Prompt and specific feedback given on assessments (e.g., quizzes, papers, projects)
  4. Real-world applications to connect theory to practice
  5. Active learning (e.g., think-pair-share, problem-solving exercises, group work)
  6. Group activities that have both an in-class and out-of-class component
  7. Learning activities outside of class prepare students to participate in class meetings
  8. Online content/learning activities referred to during face-to-face meetings to reinforce
  9. Student-to-instructor interaction in both the classroom and online environments
  10. Integration between classroom and online learning environments
  11. Classroom discussions

See Effective Hybrid Teaching Practices for a summary of the survey findings.

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Hybrid Milestone

Yellow SunflowerOregon State University now has 300 courses that officially carry the hybrid schedule type. These are blended courses that integrate regularly scheduled on-site classroom meetings with significant online learning activity that replaces regularly scheduled class meeting time.

Hybrid courses are offered by 11 OSU colleges and range from 360-student introductory-level courses to graduate courses. They are delivered on the Corvallis, OSU-Cascades and Hatfield Marine Science Center campuses as well as through Ecampus graduate hybrid programs that meet at other Oregon sites.

The majority of hybrid courses are on-campus courses in Corvallis, where the scale of hybrid teaching and learning is growing rapidly. The number of Corvallis hybrid course sections grew 36% to 154 sections during the past academic year. Since 2012 when OSU formally created the hybrid course type, 122 instructors have taught Corvallis hybrid courses enrolling a total of 24,650 students.

To learn more about hybrid teaching and learning at OSU, visit the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Hybrid Initiative webpage.

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Hybridizing BEE 320

BEE 320 is a 4-credit very hands-on introduction to modeling and analysis techniques, applied to biological and ecological analyses.  Students learn basic techniques and strategies in analyzing data and developing explanatory models from that data.  A variety of modeling approaches are discussed and applied, including statistical modeling, system dynamics, and stochastic modeling.

Much of this class has historically been very hands on, and as a result I anticipated it would be a good candidate for hybrid conversion.  That said, I have struggled abit with getting to the “right” approach for this class.  After examining several alternative approaches, I’ve decided on the following approach.  The course is divided into weekly modules.  Each week, students will be provided a reading assignment and a set of interactive notes, interspersed with informal quizzes, as the Monday assignment – this is fully online.  Wednesdays’ class will start with a short quiz on the assigned readings, and will then do a quick review of the material (including peer grading of quizzes), using a “red pen/green pen” grading approach. Next, the weeks homework assignment will be introduced and discussed.  Fridays session will focus on in-class problem solving related to the weeks topical area.  The problem-solving session will include a combination of individual and group work.  Towards the later part of the term, activities shift towards the development of two significant modeling projects, one individually based, on team-based. In-class and online activities will focus on these projects for the last three weeks of the term.  Online activities during this phase of the course will focus on team collaboration.

A  primary challenge include development of the interactive, online materials.  While based on part of prior iterations of course materials for this class, these are in need of a major revamp to bring in more interactivity and self assessment.  It’s looking like it will be a busy summer…

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ANS 445- Beef Production Systems

This senior level course will be taught next fall. This will actually be my second time of teaching this class as a hybrid. Late last spring term of 2016 I made the decision to change it to a hybrid for the fall of 2016. I talked to Cub about the steps involved and worked on self-teaching myself on how to do it. As fall term progressed, I was growing in frustration of how to teach in new and different manner. When I saw the announcement about this community, I was elated with excitement to get more direction and help in making this a successful adventure. After talking with my students at the end of the term and reading through evals, I knew I needed to change things. Students like what I did for the most part but they also were concerned with how it turned out (most of the students in this 60 person class have taken classes from me before) due to the way I delivered the material and it was abnormal compared to how I did in a traditional face-2-face class. This fall I cut the number of students down to 40 as it will allow me to try more items we’ve discussed. This was also done to help with required lab with the course to help make it more hands-on and informative for students.

ANS 445 is kind of a capstone course in a way as it brings the core subjects of animal nutrition, reproduction, genetics, physiology, health along with familiarity of marketing and other items that impact the success of the day to day interactions in the beef cattle industry. This course takes those subjects and has explains how they apply to the multiple aspects of the beef industry. We go into the management of different segments such as seedstock producers, commercial cow/calf, stocker cattle, back-grounding cattle, feedlots, packers, and all the way to the consumer. We discuss how making changes in the management can affect not just immediately but later down the road. An example of this is fetal programming (feeding the cows certain feeds while pregnant) and how it impacts calf health but also impacts their meat and can potentially affect human health (not as bad way but how it can actually maybe make it more nutritious with more minerals and vitamins in the meat we consume).

In delivering this fall, I’m going to re-capture all my lectures using Kalturra and look into using in-video quizzes. Also when we did tech tools, it got my creative juices flowing looking a some aspects of assignments and lecture delivery (really think I can use Tiki-Toki to explain some the history of the beef industry and mind maps for an animal health assignment).  I plan to make use of some guest speakers also but may look into using more video of industry leaders as part of course also to help students understand the importance of the topic. As for assessment, I already use Canvas with weekly quizzes but would like to include more discussion online and find a way to move that discussion into lecture. I’ve given thought about assigning as group project a weekly short video (2-4 minutes) that they create about a current issue in the beef industry. I would have a 2-3 videos to discuss each week and just rotate the groups. There is also a term long group project in which the groups design/build a year long management plan for a ranch of their choosing that encompasses everything discussed in class. In lecture we will always have a Q&A period but I need to start a Q&A and/or FAQ type section on Canvas. The lab will stay much of same as it is very hands-on.



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BA215 Hybrid Development

I am developing BA215, Fundamentals of Accounting, to be ready to deliver as a hybrid in the Fall of 2017.

This class is a survey course of accounting for non-business majors. It is required of Business minors, and required or is an elective for several other majors. Of course, I think that EVERYONE should take it as it gives a good overview of financial statements and techniques to use in managing a business. And, as I tell the students, you also won’t feel stupid at cocktail parties. 🙂 Average enrollment is ~650 per academic year, including summer and Ecampus sections.

Since I re-developed the Ecampus class last year, my plan for the hybrid is to adapt my recorded lectures for the hybrid class, making them shorter in overall time by eliminating working through exercises. I’ll then put the class into teams for classtime, working out problems with or without my help, and using clickers towards the end of class to test what they have learned, and so that I can see what I need to cover in more depth.

We use the Pearson My Accounting Lab (MAL)in this class. Each week students have homework that has all of the help features opened to help them learn. Then each week students also have quizzes with no help to assess what they learned. MAL also has an adaptive study guide to help students on problems that are incorrect on homework or quizzes. While I won’t require this yet, I will encourage it as students who do use it have given positive feedback about it.

This is the short version. I’m sure that next year will be a learning and adapting experience!!





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