Working to be the “World’s Best Hybrid Finance course”

My face-to-face FIN 340 course is structured as a combination of lecture via PowerPoint and problem solving. I usually achieve the latter by going through a few examples on the board or spreadsheet, depending on the topic, followed by providing students with an opportunity to try some problems themselves, either in groups or individually. My course is quantitative in nature and this format has worked well for students to achieve the course’s learning outcomes. The lecture component of the course consists primarily of a discussion of theory, topic background and foundation. I provide students with slides on Canvas prior to class. The slides provide students with theoretical points and formulas but no examples. I use class time to elaborate on the slides through examples, providing connection to current and historical events through videos, article discussions, etc.

To avoid pitfall #1, Upload your course material, then call it a day, I have to ensure that the examples that I discuss in class (non-quantitative) are captured in the material I provide to the students; and that the material connects the theory with what I think is relevant from the examples. This would include incorporating video and article links into material, and would require some advance preparation although some of the ‘color’ added is real-time. To address real-time issues, I may consider discussion boards in my course. I also expect to provide students with the opportunity to provide feedback (our College is considering software for this) on their understanding of the online materials, and adjust, to the extent that I can, the areas of emphasis in the face-to-face meetings.

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Don’t upload then leave, you know better!!

As I’ve listened too many of former students and advisee’s, there are instructors and professors that just assign readings, lectures, or articles in their classes and leave it up to the students to decide who to go about understanding the info. I’ve taught a couple classes online and find myself from time to time doing this. I need to be better about about making sure to explain how the material applies to class if perhaps through video or through an assignment or through an activity. This needs to be a goal for me every week about also to make sure that the in-class time is appropriate to the material online and thoroughly connected. I’ve taught hybrid before and this was my biggest issue. I felt as an instructor that I had a issue with the students not connecting enough with material and making sense of it. I need to find activities/assignments that can be started online but completed in class to make that connection. That ability to keep the material present and engaged will make better for me to connect the dots for the audience!! This is going to challenging at times but the payoff will be worth it at the end.

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From Pitfall to Springboard

I would like to avoid Pitfalls 4 & 5.

My experience with Pitfall 5 – In the Leadership Collaborative (LC), Learning Teams play a crucial role at the nexus of theory and praxis.  In the F2F sessions, Learning Teams are the primary means through which learners explore new concepts; experiment with applying those ideas to their work; discuss, debate and question; reflect on practice; and consult with each other.  In my first iteration of the hybrid, I endeavored to create this space for learners.  I created discussion boards for each Learning Team and asked Mentors to engage the teams in general conversation.  The effort was a bust.

My experience with Pitfall 4 – Another strategy deeply embedded in the LC is the use of time for individual work, whether that be experimenting with an idea, practicing with a tool or reflecting on previous efforts.  These moments of reflection provide the information from which the Learning Team work commences, from which new concepts can be presented, and from which on-the-job application can be considered.  The objective is that learners are consistently provided opportunities to explore the relationship between new information and what already exists in their cognitive maps.  In my first iteration of the hybrid, I did not experiment with the opportunities for replicating this experience online.

So, my idea…  In the classroom, I follow a rule – no more than 10 minutes of presentation before learners are actively engaged.  So, the general flow is 10 minutes presentation, individual work, team work, large group reflection.  It occurred to me that I can replicate that process – somewhat – as I create this hybrid.  What I’m thinking is that I’ll create 10 minutes videos, paired with quizzes-as-learning-aides.  I’ll then create an individual assignment and a discussion board.  Part of the assignment will be to reflect, in the discussion board, on what the person learned, struggled with, wondered about, as s/he completed her assignment.  Hopefully, this will initiate the same rich online sharing as occurs in the classroom.  When we gather for the F2F, our work will build on the individual work and teamwork that occurred online.

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Canvas: It’s not all that smart on its own.

Course management tools are useful–we can, I’m sure, all think of ways that they make a professor’s life easier.  No need to have course packets of readings ready to be copied a month before the term starts, no need to copy each and every assignment 100 times, simple and easy-to-use rubric tools for grading (no need to lug about those 100 papers once they’re turned back in, either!).

They also, sadly, have their drawbacks, as does any tool that’s designed to be used by a wide range of people. When you think about it, we ask Blackboard and Canvas and other similar systems to accommodate wildly different teaching and learning needs. Our campus, for instance, uses Canvas for everything. This includes introductory, 800-person, in-person required classes that are offered 3 times each term; online senior capstone courses; tiny, highly-specialized graduate discussion- and guest speaker-based seminars.  The needs for each of these courses are vastly different–is it any wonder, then, that Canvas cannot handle all of them absolutely perfectly (or even, ANY of them perfectly)?  No.  A middle ground is the only way, and the software developers have, I think, done a decent job at this.  I teach a variety of classes, and have no more trouble with any one of them than another, but rather a few minor troubles–not always the same–with each.  (Your mileage, obviously, may vary.)

One potential drawback of online courses stems from “letting Canvas drive the thinking/organization of the course.”  One example from my own classes is Canvas’s “module” feature. When our campus switched from BB to Canvas a few years back, there were faculty webinars, live demo/Q&A sessions, pdf handouts circulated by email, etc., to help faculty learn the new system. Each and every one of these learning tools emphasized the absolute importance of using MODULES to organize your Canvas course. Modules, these documents claimed, are what makes Canvas great.

However, while the idea of a module makes sense in some contexts, in others (here I’m thinking those highly-specialized graduate seminars, of which I teach 3) they really just…don’t. As I set up for my first term with Canvas–and I was an early adopter, so this would’ve been….Winter of 2015, I think…I realized that there was no way I could teach my undergraduate introductory epidemiology class (which is conveniently already organized into 4 discrete Units) *with* modules, but my graduate seminar (which is organized entirely based on guest speaker availability, student interests, and often changes last-minute as the group collectively decides to pursue some line of inquiry or another) without. Knowing myself, I had to find a way to have both my canvas sites set up in at least marginally-similar fashion, or I’d spend the whole term utterly confused.

My solution, which I intend to employ in the hybrid version of H425, is to run everything instead through the “syllabus” tab. So, I make an assignment for everything.  And I mean *everything*.  Readings, lecture slides, class handouts, and of course, genuine turn-something-in assignments. For things that are just informational (e.g., handouts), or an assignment with no explicit product (e.g., readings), Canvas conveniently has a “non-graded assignment” classification. Just give that handout a “due date” of the day I’m going to hand it out in class, et voila!  It pops up on the syllabus tab listed right there in order.

What do YOU do with canvas?

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Engaging students in knowledge production

One of the main benefits, in my mind, of rethinking delivery of a course is the all too rare chance to really evaluate what concepts, outcomes, and learning strategies you are trying to achieve with a course, and then working through the creative process of realizing those achievements.  In my own case, I have a course I have been teaching for years, with the requisite annual tweaks that improved the course, but I had rarely had the chance (or need) to do a complete rethink of the course.  As a result, I have fallen into pitfall #4 – putting plenty of “knowledge” in front of the students, but too rarely really engaging students in the development of that knowledge in their own selves.  Moving to a flipped approach provides an opportunity to really consider what types of learning materials and strategies deeply engage students in knowledge generation, while taking advantage of the expanding capabilities of electronic media.  My course focuses on modeling a range of biological and ecological phenomena, with goals that are both skills-based and concept-based; how to represent systems mathematically, how to understand and represent linkages between system components,  how to discover and anticipate general patterns of behaviors based on underlying systems structures.  This a rich domain for interactive learning, and software tools are perhaps getting close to useful for supporting interactive learning and engagement.  I’m just now started to delve in to some of these tools, and am looking forward to seeing where this goes.

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Helping to create creators of knowledge

As someone who consistently preaches the gospel of active learning to my students, I aim to overcome Pitfall #4, expect your students to consume knowledge rather than create it, as described in Five Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design (Links to an external site.). In fact, in my current syllabus I have a statement that says, “Knowledge is not something that can be simply given from one person to another. Therefore, simply showing up to class and passively listening is not sufficient to result in learning.” In order to help students in my hybrid course become creators of knowledge rather than just consumers of it, I have identified a few crucial aspects of the course, which I will outline below.

First, the core assignment of my Managing Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility course is the Personal Ethical Action Plan. This assignment is a very personal, action-oriented game plan that students are encouraged to take with them into the world of work. In it, students are tasked with identifying their core values, identifying and analyzing instances where they did and did not act on these values, crafting a professional purpose statement, drafting a self-story that shares the origins of their values, and then analyzing their strengths and weaknesses regarding speaking up when their values are challenged. Thus, the type of knowledge created in this assignment is primarily self-knowledge. Importantly, however, this self-knowledge is focused on changing behaviors such that they are more consistent with the values each student embraces.

Second, I utilize learning journals where students are encouraged to engage in two types of writing. The first type is reflective, unstructured writing that is intended to allow for reflection and assimilation of knowledge. The second type consists of responding to structured prompts that challenge students to go beyond what was provided in the text and/or other online resources in creating a deeper understanding of how the material fits with their pre-existing knowledge base. The combined impact of these writing types is that it allows students to “know what they think by seeing what they write” an adaptation of Karl Weick’s statement “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?”

I am still thinking of additional ways to foster an environment where creating knowledge, in the case of this course primarily self-knowledge, becomes a primary aim rather than simply consuming knowledge. I am interested to hear of ideas that others have with regards to this pitfall.

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Class Presentations- #4: Expect your students to consume knowledge rather than create it.

I thought that a few of the “pitfalls” mentioned in Five Common Pitfalls of Course Design were strongly tied to each other. For example, #3 about not being the “sage on the stage” and #5 about students learning from each other are flip-sides of #4, the idea that students can generate knowledge for themselves. I deeply agree with the principles behind all of these explanations of pitfalls, and I want to make sure that my course doesn’t fall into them (or falls into them as little as possible).

I think that giving students the opportunity to do presentations, bot individually and as a team, will give them the opportunity to move through Bloom’s Taxonomy past repetition of facts all the way up to creation of knowledge. Students can do mini-presentations in teams during class, meanwhile teaching other students and adding richness of diversity in perspectives that would not be possible with just one person or two people (me or my co-teacher) delivering all of the information. This set-up will allow them to leverage their experience and the experience of their classmates for mutual benefit.

In addition, I would like to give individual students opportunities to turn in online presentations of course materials to demonstrate understanding and then require the class to comment on these presentations and ask questions. I believe this scenario will help us to avoid pitfalls 3, 4, and 5 all at the same time, facilitating a more student-centered and engaging classroom community.

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But I LOVE being the “sage on the stage”!

I must admit, I love being the sage on the stage. I love sharing “war stories” from my old managerial life as much as I love sharing evidence-based insights from the latest research articles. It not only boosts my ego, but it is probably one of the only parts of my job that actually fits the image of a professor that I had when I decided to go down the scholarly path. And it doesn’t threaten me at all that students are googling during class and sometimes challenge me with that fingertip-based knowledge. I am not all-knowing, and they are aware of that, and so if they find a truthier truth out there, let’s discuss it in this open forum. Bring it on, Google!

However, the article states that in an online (or hybrid) course, “your 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.” As you can probably guess after reading my first paragraph, this threatens my identity more than a little bit. As I’ve thought about how I will design my course, though, I’ve come to realize that I can still inject plenty of my sage-ness into the course, albeit in different forms. I’m already thinking about the tone I’ll use in podcasts or webcasts. And I’m thinking about how, with some of the dryer aspects of the course delivered online (in as exciting of a format as possible), I will be able to distill my sage-ness into almost 100% pure Klotz-based wisdom during the in-class portions of the course.

I’m sounding a bit more egotistical than I’d like (those in COB are probably saying, “nah, this sounds like typical Anthony”), but I am glad that the article called my attention to this potential pitfall. It’s about student engagement and knowledge transfer, not you, Anthony. I need to challenge myself not to simply attempt to transfer the self-proclaimed “magic” of my lectures to a digital world, but to seek out new, different, and *gulp* better ways to connect my students to HR Management. Challenge accepted!

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Pitfall #4: Expect students to consume knowledge rather than consume…

I admit, I’m prone to the pitfall that undergraduate students want the least onerous possible path to graduation… I teach the capstone for undergraduates in the College of Business at my University. If they have taught me nothing, they have … Continue reading

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Recognizing that students learn from each other

I would like to comment on Pitfall #5 – Ignore the way students learn from each other. I plan to avoid this pitfall by stepping back and allowing conversations to progress to without intervention, up to a point.

I publish a discussion thread in the week preceding a midterm or final exam to encourage students to discuss their most challenging homework problems. Students are required to make a main post of their own and reply to at least two reply posts. They are instructed to delve into the reason why a question was challenging. No credit is given for posts like, “I really didn’t understand Problem 5 on Homework 2. Can someone tell me how to answer it?” Similarly, reply posts need to discuss underlying concepts.

Stepping back just the right amount is tricky. I have noticed that students tend to communicate more deeply with each other if I do not interfere. Having said that, rather often I see “bad science” happening where students are putting forth their previous misconceptions without learning the real concepts involved. Then there is damage control to be done. I read every post but only intervene when I see a question going unanswered too long, incorrect information propagating or frustration setting in.

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