For Ecampus students, online education offers accessibility, flexibility and asynchronous learning opportunities when attending courses on campus may not be possible. University-based distance education has experienced steady growth over the past 20 years. A 2018 study found that 31.6% of all students are taking at least one online course (Seaman, Allen, & Seaman, 2018). But, although the growth of online courses has improved access to education, it hasn’t necessarily coincided with a growth of relevant, engaging, and innovative learning experiences. While many educators and online course designers recognize the value of project-based learning, concerns over the skills and the time required to develop authentic projects limits their use in online classes. This blog post will look at ways Constructionism, the theory that learning is most effective when students make authentic artifacts to build knowledge, can be applied to online higher education.

Seymour Papert working with a children's turtle robot.
Seymour Papert” by Matematicamente.it, Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Constructionism is a term first defined by Seymour Papert, an MIT scholar, educational theorist, and an early champion of using computers in education (MIT Media Lab, 2016). Papert built on the earlier work of philosopher Jean Piaget. Piaget’s similarly named Constructivist theory proposed that children learn not as information is transmitted to them or in response to stimulation, but through experiences in which they are given the opportunity to “construct meaning.” While Papert agreed, he expanded on these ideas and slightly modified the name. He believed that constructing knowledge was more effective when it was done “in the world.”

Papert’s Constructionism theory held that students learned best when given an opportunity to construct their own meaning by creating meaningful artifacts for an authentic audience. He felt that by creating something to share, something that “can be shown, discussed, examined, probed, and admired” student motivation to learn was increased (Papert, 1993, p. 143).

Lego Mindstorms Robot
Lego Mindstorms” by Bernard Goldbach is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Papert illustrated this theory working with elementary school aged children to program Legos. His work in education inspired the development of the Lego Mindstorms line, that now has widespread use in K-12 STEM educational programs and robotic competitions. Papert developed a curriculum based on his Constructionism theory for elementary school children in classrooms. But how can these same principles, those of learning by doing, be applied to adults earning college degrees online?

Creating effective online learning requires new practices. Earning an undergraduate degree in Oregon represents roughly 5400 hours of schoolwork.1 But what does that look like? For an online student, this time is spent going through the learning materials online and completing the related activities and assessments. The majority of online instructional materials are designed for passive consumption. Slide-based presentations and PDF articles are being embedded into Learning Management Systems (LMS’s), and whiteboards and lectures are being videotaped and exported to YouTube. To demonstrate their understanding of the material, students are asked to post in discussion forums and to write papers. Imagine completing 5400 hours of these types of activities to earn a degree.

two glasses of lemonade
Tray of Lemonade by Charity Beth Long on Unsplash

Face-to-face interaction with an instructor and classmates can inspire effort that is more difficult to motivate in virtual instruction. Research findings by Constructivist thinkers have found that in order to facilitate an active learning experience for students, they must be doing something besides passively reading or listening to lecture content. “Teachers can’t “pour” knowledge into the heads of students as they might pour lemonade into a glass; rather, students make their own lemonade” (Ormrod, 2016, pp. 158–159). Students are more engaged when they are presented with the challenge of analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, and presenting information. They retain more when they participate in their own learning.

There is now widespread availability of multimedia tools that can enable students to create content that reflects on what they are learning. These include podcasts, skits, videos, and narrated presentations. They can create timelines, online portfolios, or interactive maps. Assignments like these usually require higher order thinking skills – asking students to analyze or synthesize what they have learned and share it with an audience.

I had the opportunity to create multimodal projects several times while earning my master’s degree at Western Oregon. I created numerous digital stories. I used them to introduce myself to my online classmates, to create tutorials, and to share experiences raising my children after my husband passed away (see my first digital story, Suck it up Buttercup). In doing these projects, I realized that I had a story to tell – and one to which I needed to add my voice. They were powerful and engaging learning experiences for me. I became comfortable with the technology required to create the projects, I practiced writing, editing, speaking and presentation skills. In the process of sharing a bit of myself with my classmates and instructors I felt connected to them in a way that I had not before as a distance learner. I was proud of the projects I created. I put long hours into them and continued to edit them after they had been submitted and graded because I wanted to improve them and share them with a broader audience. I have never done this with a discussion forum post or research paper. One of my course presentations, in conjunction with an online portfolio I created for a different class, was used to interview for the job I now hold as an Instructional Designer at Oregon State University.

Technology-based assessment projects should only be introduced to curriculum intentionally. Assignments should be selected carefully to align with the learning outcomes of the course and should be appropriate for the level of the course. Projects should be challenging, but doable and relevant to the learner’s goals and outcomes developed at the beginning of course design.

While introducing Constructionism into online courses using technology-based tools may move away from traditional teaching methods, it does not mean students will not develop the same types of core skills expected from an undergraduate education. Judith V. Boettcher holds a Ph.D. in education and cognitive psychology and owns the website “Designing for Learning.” In a 2011 article on assessment alternatives to writing papers, Boettcher asserted that the skills required for written assignments: critical thinking, analysis, knowledge of the subject, assembly of ideas, and information processing were still exercised and developed when the output was a different type of product (Judith V. Boettcher, 2011). Her point is well taken.

Consider what it takes for a student to create a video documentary, script a podcast, or even develop a narrated presentation. Many of the skills required to write a research paper, essay or thoughtful discussion post are also present in assignments that leverage technology for creation. The student still has to enter the conversation about their subject area with thoughtful and well-developed contributions. But with the wealth of tools now available, there are many ways for them to share their work. Boettcher also noted that looking for ways to leverage technology in assessment strategies has the additional benefit of reducing the burden of reading “endless numbers of papers.”

Many instructors worry that learning curves associated with new tools will interfere with the ability to absorb the course content. However, when probing faculty, often it is their own unfamiliarity with technology that is at the root of this fear. It is worth experimenting before presupposing that learning how to build a website or create an animated presentation or video will be too hard.

Student portfolio on the new google sitesRecent advances in technology have produced endless collections of websites and apps that have a very low barrier to creating visually stunning multimedia content. Many of them are free or low cost, particularly to educators. As an example, the new Google Sites released in 2018 makes it easy for those with no web development experience to create and publish a website including videos, pictures, documents and audio files. Users can apply themes, chose colors and change font styles to personalize the site. As users add content to templated page layouts, they are automatically aligned and sized based on best design practices. Google Sites has the added advantage for those concerned about privacy of allowing content to be restricted to users on a school’s domain or to invited individuals.

In contrast to many university faculty instructors who are new to multimedia content creation tools, this generation of students has grown up online. They use online tools for social interactions, at work, for school, and to pursue their personal interests. Their research projects start with an online search, so much so that looking for information has become synonymous with the name of the world’s most popular internet search engine. “Let me Google that.” If a student has questions about how to use a tool to create a presentation or edit a video, they will do just that. More likely however, they will just start trying to use it, building useful, employable skills as they do so.

In 2013, Google commissioned a study that reinforced the value of employees willing to think for themselves, experiment, and explore new ways of sharing information. Writing about this study in the Washington Post, Cathy Davidson (Cathy Davidson, 2017), author of “The New Education: How to revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux,” said that the study showed that workplace success is predicted largely by skills such as communication, critical thinking, problem solving, curiosity and making connections across complex ideas. In the New Media Consortium 2017 Horizon Report on Higher Education they reiterated the findings of the Google study: “Real-world skills are needed to bolster employability and workplace development. Students expect to graduate into gainful employment. Institutions have a responsibility to deliver deeper, active learning experiences and skills-based training that integrate technology in meaningful ways” (Becker et al., 2017). Both of these studies reflect the importance that today’s students leave school knowing how to collaborate, question, and engage – skills not necessarily developed through passive consumption of content in online courses. In other words, a willingness to experiment, the ability to think creatively, and communication and presentation skills – all of those traits exercised when learners are asked to create and share projects demonstrating new knowledge – are those that will help them during a job search. Not only that, but some of these artifacts can be used while applying for and interviewing for work. Presentations and online portfolios can be shared with prospective employers. Prospective job applicants cannot, however, take LMS discussion posts to an interview.

Building skills and creating artifacts that will help students at work or to find work is motivating for adult learners. Adult enrollment in online degree programs is primarily driven by their career aspirations (Jordan Friedman, 2017). Numerous studies find higher student satisfaction and retention in online higher education courses when there is a link to a professional application. Student are more motivated to learn when the relevancy and applicability of activities to their chosen field is obvious (Ke, 2010). This reflects both pedagogical best practices (Luna Scott, 2015), and the fact that the majority of online students are hoping to develop skills that will support their careers. These studies  found that the ability to apply knowledge to real-world applications consistently contributed to a learner’s positive experience.

Student hands on a laptop
OSU Ecampus image of an Online Learner

An increasing number of students are turning to online education to earn their degrees. As educational costs rise, many students are doing this out of necessity while juggling school, work, and family commitments. Educators need to look for ways to create relevant and engaging forms of assessment for these learners. There is an over-reliance on passive consumption of learning materials and text-based assignments. But students, when given the choice to develop projects of their own design and based on their own interests, are likely to retain more information and walk away with modern career skills.

The lessons Papert learned by allowing elementary school children to build and program Lego structures can and should be carried over to online higher education. Let students build something. Let them share it with an authentic audience. Leverage technology that enables students in online classes to use knowledge, rather than just store it. This type of assessment allows students to find their voice and excites them about their coursework. There are numerous options that instructors can include in an online course to foster this type of learning.

Footnote

  1. Undergraduate students attending Oregon universities must complete a minimum of 180 credit hours. Guidelines, like those offered by the Oregon State University Registrar’s office, suggest that students should expect three hours of work per week for each credit hour (Oregon State University, 2018). Over the course of a ten-week quarterly term, like those of Oregon’s public universities, 180 credits at 12 credits a term would require 36 hours of work a week and take 15 terms, or 150 weeks. 150 weeks X 36 hours of work/per week is 5400 hours.

References

neuromyths about emotions, fixed intelligence, learning styles(image generated at wordart.com)

As we have settled into the start of a new term, it is a good time to pause for a short moment and reflect: is there something new I can learn about teaching and learning and apply it in my teaching?

“Neuromyths: Debunking false ideas about the brain” (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2018) offers an easy read yet presents challenging ideas. Could our beliefs about teaching and learning be totally wrong as neuroscience develops and scientists unravel more and more understanding about how our brain functions? In this post, we will investigate three aspects of learning: learning styles, intelligence and emotions.

  1. neuromythAbout learning styles: “Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning styles.” Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro factIt’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding learning styles: Although learning style have been widely used, the above statement is not supported by the science.  Individual variance in learning preferences do exist.  Yet evidence suggests that it is unhelpful to assign learners to groups or categories on the basis of a supposed learning style. (Vaughan 2017)

danger of neuromythThe danger of this myth lies in its potential to mislead students to think: “The content is not presented in my preferred learning styles, so I can not learn it well. Therefore, I don’t even need to make an effort to try learn it.” Instead of focusing on positive attitude and efforts, students can blame on content or curriculum not delivered to meet their individual learning styles.

Why is it important to debunk this myth? It helps redirect teachers’ efforts into developing real learning, real progress and real success through universal design for learning, such as multiple means of representations, multiple means of interactions, and multiple means of expressions. (cast.org, n.d.)

online learningPractical applications of online learning for debunking learning styles include:

  • Provide content in multiple formats if possible
  • Interact and engage students at all levels: student-to-content interactions, students-to-students, students-to-instructor interactions.
  • Provide opportunities for students to  demonstrate and express their learning.

2.neuromythAbout intelligence: “Intelligence is fixed.” Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro factIt’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding intelligence: Neuroplasticity is one of the main characteristics of adult human brains, where neurons and neural networks in the brain are capable of changing their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage or dysfunction (Encyclopedia Britannica). Cognitive psychology tells us that belief in one’s own abilities is highly relevant to successful learning (Marsh and Yeung, 1997).

danger of neuromythThe danger of this myth lies in its potential to lead both the instructor and students to think that because a student’s intelligence is fixed, there isn’t much to do about their learning success.

Why is it important to debunk this myth? It liberates both the instructor and students to believe that teaching and learning success is possible for everyone.

online learningOnline learning applications from  debunking the idea of “fixed intelligence”:

  • Encourage and motivate students to to believe in malleable intelligence and the neuroscience evidences behind it.
  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect on past learning success
  • Provide opportunities for students to acknowledge their capability of learning well in the course.

3.neuromyth About emotions: “The brain is for thinking, the heart is for feeling”. Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro fact It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding emotion: Emotions amplify  memory. And emotions influence decision making. (Miller, 2018; Immording-Yang, 2015).

danger of neuromythDanger of this myth occurs when instructors don’t consider the impact of students’ emotions on learning and motivations. Have you heard such sayings like: “I am a chemistry/biology/physics/math teacher. I only need to focus on teaching the content”? As a matter of fact, teachers can exert great influence in motivating students to have a growth mindset and challenging students to put in their best effort for learning.

How is it important to debunk such myth? It points out to both the instructor and students that students’ self-perception and their learning success are closely related. (Marsh, 1997)

online learning Online learning applications from debunking the idea of “The brain is for thinking, the heart is for feeling”:

  • Show that you are welcoming through a welcome message using announcement, post or email.
  • Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other through text, audio or video-based messages, such as a week 1 discussion forum that allows everyone to introduce themselves to the class, using voicethread (a video, audio, and/or text-based commenting tool) to introduce everyone, or record a short video for self-introduction.
  • Tell your students that they can be successful in learning the content even though it might be challenging. With confident self-perception, they will have the motivation to persist throughout the term.
  • Tell your students that the most effective way for learning is through spaced practices, retrieval practices, and interleaving practices.

Feel free to contact your Ecampus instructional designer if you would like more information on any of the above topics.

 

* Icons used in this post comes from the Noun Project.

References:

Cast.org. (n.d.). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.XEc_189Kh24 

Immordino-Yang, Mary Helen. (2015). Emotions, Learning, and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Marsh, H. W., and Yeung, A. S. (1997). Causal effects of academic self-concept on academic achievement: structural equation models of longitudinal data. J. Educ. Psychol.89, 41–54. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.89.1.41

Miller, Michelle. (2018). Neuro, Cognitive and Learning Sciences, Part 1: Applying Theory to Practice. Online Learning Consortium online workshop.

Tokuhama-Espinosa, Tracey. (2018). Neuromyths: Debunking false ideas in education. New York, N.Y. : W.W Norton & Company, Inc.

Vaughan, Tanya. (2017). Tackling the ‘learning styles’ myth. Retrieved from https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/tackling-the-learning-styles-myth

Image of mountaineers with quote by John Dewey.

What is Experiential Learning?

You may have heard the terms experiential education and experiential learning. Both terms identify learning through experience as a foundational understanding. However, experiential learning is associated with individual learning.

Traditionally experience-based learning in higher education has been presented as educational opportunities complimentary to classroom instruction. These experiences might include clinical experiences, cooperative education experiences, apprenticeships, fellowships, field work, volunteerism, study abroad, practicum and internships, service learning, and student teaching experiences. These types of learning experiences are offered in and across many different disciplines (Giesen, 2012). These familiar experiential education programs demonstrate the value of individual experiential learning. But, the question remains: Is experiential learning a viable approach for online instruction?

Understanding the potential for experiential learning for online courses turns upon recognizing experiential learning as a process. The experiential learning process has been described as a cycle of learning (Kolb and Kolb, 2018). The model below illustrates The Experiential Learning Cycle.

Model of experiential learning showing sequence of Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation.

Experiential learning is understood as constructive pedagogy approach that is highly student centered. The Experience Learning Cycle begins with a concrete experience of some kind. Commonly we think of this as a real world event. That experience is followed by reflective observation of the experience, abstract conceptualization of what was learned, and the application of new learning via active experimentation. That experimentation is integrated as part of the next concrete experience.

The interactive and progressive nature of the experiential learning cycle is considered a driver of personal growth and development. The dialectics between concrete experience and abstract conceptualization as well as reflective observation and active experimentation are theorized to drive motivation for learning. 

Online Experiential Learning In Practice 

Problem-based learning, case-based learning, and  project-based learning are examples of design models that may include learning via experience in the real world (Bates, 2014). These models are often used as a way of bringing engagement into online instruction. So, if you have been incorporating these models of learning in an online course you are engaged at some level with experiential learning. But, what if you wanted to design an experiential learning assignment that does not fall within one of these models?  What might that look like?

Let’s examine the application of the experiential learning cycle to an online learning experience in a course recently offered through Ecampus at Oregon State University. The asynchronous course, Introduction to Organic Agriculture Systems, is a survey style course with an enrollment of students from Oregon and more distant.

Let’s step through The Cycle of Experiential Learning with an assignment from this course as our sample context. Hopefully it will reveal some insights into both the process of experiential learning and its practice.

1. Concrete Experience

The concrete experience for this course was an organic scavenger hunt assignment that was to be completed in the first week of the course. Although the overt activity of was a guided scavenger hunt the learning experience focus was to begin to learn systems thinking in organic agriculture. This is important to identify, as it is the authentic learning goal of the experiential learning.

As the professor framed this assignment: “This introductory activity will provide you the opportunity to explore organic availability, marketing, and farming in your community.”This concrete experience is the direct experience of organics in the student’s community.

The objectives of the scavenger hunt were to:

  • Identify organic products and marketing techniques that differentiate organic from conventional products
  • Conduct a survey of organic availability in your local store and region
  • Participate in hands-on exploration of different components of the organic system

Students were provided with a detail scavenger hunt instruction set and told to complete there first part of the assignment in a local store using an organic scavenger hunt questionnaire-work sheet. Time estimates for completion of the scavenger hunt was up to three hours at the store site. Completed work sheets were turned in to the instructor.

The key to this assignment is the real life exploration of the local organic system. Although this will be elaborated on in subsequent weeks of the course, this concrete experience will become a touchstone students can reference as they build new knowledge and skills in systems thinking in organic agriculture.

2. Reflective Observation

Part 2 of the scavenger hunt assignment includes independent student work guided by questions that ask about the presence of organic farms in the student’s area, type of organic farms, scale of the farms and evidence of their independent research work.

This element of the assignment encourages students to search for, identify, and reflect upon gaps in the local organic system in their own backyard. This work encourages students to reflect upon their own concrete experience, the quality of their work, and its linkage to understanding systems thinking.

3. Abstract Conceptualization

In week three of the course students were assigned a course discussion to share their findings from the scavenger hunt with peers. Here they compare and contrast their scavenger hunt findings and observations. In particular, students were asked to connect the social, environmental and economic dimensions of sustainability in organic agriculture to their observations taken from the scavenger hunt experience. Additionally students were asked to review other student work from different locals and explore common understandings about organic agriculture systems.

The value of this exercise from an experiential learning perspective is the application of concrete experience to more abstract concepts described by others or found in other agricultural regions. This provides opportunities for the re-conceptualizing of prior experiences with the goal of expanding on the process of organic agriculture systems thinking.

4. Active Experimentation

The Cycle of Experiential Learning rounds out with planning and applying new learning about organic agriculture systems thinking to a future concrete experience. Abstract conceptualization completed in the previous discussion will contribute to the formulation of new questions and ways of examining a local organic agriculture system. Students will likely apply these ideas to ongoing organic agriculture systems thinking in the course. In this way prior reflective observation becomes the root of new questions and predicted results for the next learning experience in organic agriculture systems thinking.
 

Final Thoughts

The final project of this course is the production of an organic systems map that explains the relationships between organic system stages (i.e., production, processing, distribution/marketing, consumption, and waste) and the dimensions of sustainability (ie. social, environmental, and economic).

In order to complete the final project students learn a great deal between their initial scavenger hunt and the final project. Their original concrete experience in systems thinking will likely inform decisions about how to re-apply new organic agriculture systems thinking.

The experiential learning assignment we just examined only works if students perceive that moving through the cycle of experiential learning addresses an authentic learning need. As the course is focused on introducing organic agriculture systems the idea of learning systems thinking makes sense. It captures the fundamental truth of what is expected to be learned (Jacobson, 2017) making the learning appropriate.

What Now?

As you explore the possibility of using experiential learning in your online course it is valuable for you to first consider formulating answers to a number of questions.

  • What is the authentic learning needed?
  • What concrete experience provides students with access to that learning? 
  • How will students carry that concrete experience through the cycle of experiential learning?
  • How will you provide the opportunity for concrete experiences for remote learners in a way that fosters individual learning and contributes to large scale learning in the course?

As you explore experiential learning for your online course revisit the model shared in this article. For help in this process contact your Ecampus instructional designer. They can help focus the key questions and suggest instructional strategies and tools to help you achieve your online experiential learning goals.

 

References

Bates, T. (2014). Can you do experiential learning online? Assessing design models for experiential learning. Retrieved from https://www.tonybates.ca/2014/12/01/can-you-do-experiential-learning-online-assessing-design-models-for-experiential-learning/

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Giesen, J. (2012). Experiential Learning. Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, Northern Illinois University. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/strategies/experiential_learning.pdf

Jacobson, J. (2017). Authenticity in Immersive Design for Education. In Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Realities (Ch 3). Singapore, Springer Nature.
Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-981-10-5490-7

Kolb, A. & Kolb, D. (2018). Eight important things to know about The Experience Learning Cycle. Australian Educational Leader, 40 (3), 8-14.


Experiential Education Resources

Association for Experiential Education
http://www.aee.org/ 

Journal of Experiential Education
http://www.aee.org/publications/jee 

Experience Based Learning Systems Inc.
https://learningfromexperience.com

Experiential Learning & Experiential Education
http://www.wilderdom.com/experiential/

Two cartoon men argue over a drawingDifficult Conversations

We all have conversations that are difficult from time to time. These are stressful, can make you (or the other person) feel bad, and they can take a lot of time to work through.

Frameworks for conversations allow the participants to approach these conversations with some tools to help those conversations stay productive and turn the temperature down at the same time. By using these frameworks, you’ll help make this conversation not personal, be able to calm the situation, and arrive at better solutions, sooner.

What are these difficult conversation frameworks? Let’s get started!

Change Advocate Hats

When working with someone, often we come in with our own hat on. We know what we are going to bring to the table and what we’d like the other person to contribute. Before you even come to this meeting, you should try on another hat. Try the hat of the person who you will be meeting with, what might they expect? Is there a third party affected by the decisions that you’ll be making? Try their hat on. Seeing things from another’s perspective helps us to have a better understanding of what they might bring to the table.

Go to the Neutral Zone

Action and re-action is part of who we are as human beings. These are two ends of a rope that can cause frustration when we don’t take a step back and view. When one person tugs at the end of the rope, the other end’s reaction is likely a huge step forward and then a quick tug back. The two people on the ends could keep tugging back and forth causing actions and re-actions but they might not get anywhere. If you can step away from those two ends and take a look at the whole picture, you can see that neutral zone where you can look at underlying issues that might be causing the tug-of-war. Even having one party step into this neutral zone takes away the constant back and forth and diffuses the difficult or possibly heated conversation allowing the parties to move forward.

Phone-a-friend

I’m sure this is familiar to those who’ve watched a popular T.V. show a “few” years ago. What we are talking about here is an outside source that can aide in the conversation. This could be a research article showing why a suggestion would be the right approach, a colleague that has had a similar experience and can talk to the success of an option, or bringing in facts and figures to support suggested approaches. Whatever it is, that “friend” can help provide support while deciding on a course of action with an outside opinion, not another tug on an end.

 

Personally, I’ve used each of these in conversations before and each one of them has helped multiple times. Do you have other frameworks or tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

Decorative image: laptop with a screen that shows a portfolio layout

“A well-executed e-portfolio program is an incredible tool for higher education. They provide institutions with authentic assessments of student learning and promote the deeper learning that we want for our students…” -Candyce Reynolds, associate professor, Post-Secondary, Adult, and Continuing Education, School of Education, Portland State University, from PeerReview: Emerging Trends and Key Debates in Undergraduate Education

What Is an E-portfolio?

There are now more ways than ever to showcase one’s work as a student or professional. Long gone are the days of lugging around an actual folder full of plastic sleeves containing paper prints. Today, students and professionals routinely choose electronic contexts to house their best works. This digital context for storing selected pieces is referred to as an electronic portfolio or e-portfolio, and the items in the portfolio are referred to as artifacts.

To best understand what we are talking about when we speak of e-portfolios, let’s start with a definition. As a former instructor of English to speakers of other languages, I find that word etymology opens my eyes to rich context. For example, in this case, “port” is Latin for haven or harbor. And the “folio” part of the word comes from the Latin word “folium,” which means leaf (foliage) or sheet. From these etymological roots, we can think of the word portfolio as translating to a harbor or haven for your sheets of paper, in a sense.

In order to contextualize this definition within a contemporary academic setting, I turn to a working definition of e-portfolios, such as this one from Lorenzo and Ittleson: “An e-portfolio is a digitized collection of artifacts, including demonstrations, resources, and accomplishments that represent an individual, group, community, organization, or institution.” In other words, for our purposes, an e-portfolio is a selection of a student’s best works, displayed in an electronic format.

The electronic portfolio may be used for assessment or to track progress in a course, for example. An e-portfolio may take the form of a number of electronic contexts, including a user-friendly web-based website design (such as Wix), within the modules of a learning management system (LMS) such as Canvas, in video, as docs within a Google Drive folder, or even within a simple pdf document (Lorenzo and Ittleson). In any case, there are two main elements in an e-portfolio: a digital context and a selection of works.

The Benefits: Here Are a Few Things That E-portfolios Can Do:

  • foster learning communities in online graduate programs. – Bolliger, D.U. (2010) Journal of Distance Education
  • encourage independence and self-directed learning (which is an element of Heutagogy, or taking responsibility for one’s own learning as an autonomous, lifelong learner)
  • prompt students (and faculty) to articulate connections among the products of their courses, the overall program or course curriculum, and larger life goals
  • prepare students for applying to graduate programs or employment, which can be highly motivating and engaging for students
  • give students the opportunity to use higher order thinking skills and metacognition when evaluating their own work (or the work of others, as with e-portfolio peer reviews)
  • provide faculty with a rich source of data, which they can use to evaluate the effectiveness of courses or programs

What Students Are Saying

Student voices from The Benefits of E-portfolios for Students and Faculty in Their Own Words:

“I didn’t realize the importance of the work I was doing… all the communication skills I was learning while doing research… When I had a chance to reflect on it and was asked to describe the experience to others in my e-portfolio, I realized that I had learned a lot more than I thought. I was so focused on getting into business school, that if I had not had the space to stop and reflect on my experiences, I would have never known how much I actually gained from everything I did my first year.” Second-year student, University of Michigan

“I feel that the process has enhanced my understanding of the overall higher education experience… I have always felt confused and irritated by the lack of connection between my general education requirements and my core department requirements. I think that the e-portfolio is a great way to link the two… It was encouraging to see that I was attending college for my own personal and professional growth.” Student, Portland State University

Examples of Student E-portfolios & Platforms

  • LaGuardia Community College: Student E-portfolios
  • Pathbrite: An e-portfolio platform
  • Digication: Explore e-portfolios
  • E-portfolios can be as complex as building a website, as in the above examples, or as simple as a group of final essays (or lab reports or other documents) in a digital file folder.

E-portfolios in Your Course

Would you like to include an e-portfolio element in your course but not sure where to start or what tools to use? Talk to your instructional designer to get some ideas about various kinds of e-portfolios and whether an e-portfolio would be a good fit for your course.

Have you used e-portfolios in a course before? How did it go? What tools did you use?

Resources & References

IJeP: International Journal of ePortfolio: http://www.theijep.com/index.html

Barrett, H. [TEDxTalks]. (2010, March 10). TEDxASB – Helen Barrett – 2/25/10 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/ckcSegrwjkA

Bolliger, D.U. (2010). Student perceptions of eportfolio integration in online courses. Retrieved from the Journal of Distance Education: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01587919.2010.513955

Bowman, J., Lowe, B., Sabourin, K. & Sweet, K. (2016). The use of eportfolios to support metacognitive practice in a first-year writing program. Retrieved from International Journal of ePortfolio: http://www.theijep.com/pdf/IJEP221.pdf

Getman-Eraso, J. & Culkin, K. (2017). Close reading: engaging and empowering history students through document analysis on eportfolio. Retrieved from International Journal of ePortfolio: http://www.theijep.com/pdf/IJEP242.pdf

Kelly-Riley, D., Elliot, N, & Rudniy, A. (2016). An empirical framework for eportfolio assessment. Retrieved from International Journal of ePortfolio: http://www.theijep.com/pdf/IJEP224.pdf

Lorenzo, G. & Ittelson, J. (2005). An overview of e-portfolios [Report]. Retrieved from EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) website: https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2005/1/eli3001-pdf.pdf

Lorenzo, G. & Ittelson, J. (2005). Demonstrating and assessing student learning with e-portfolios [Report]. Retrieved from EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) website: https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2005/1/eli3003-pdf.pdf

Miller, R. & Morgaine, W. (2009). The Benefits of E-portfolios for Students and Faculty in Their Own Words. Retrieved from PeerReview: Emerging Trends and Key Debates in Undergraduate Education: https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/peerreview/Peer_Review_Winter_2009.pdf

Song, B. & August, B. (2002). Using portfolios to assess the writing of ESL students: a powerful alternative? Retrieved from Journal of Second Language Writing: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S106037430200053X

Image Source: Pixabay (Creative Commons License)

So, you’re thinking about offering virtual office hours in your online class. Your instructional designer is thrilled! Virtual office hours are a great way to promote social connection and build community with your students.

But, you’re nervous. Maybe you’ve tried offering virtual office hours before. Maybe you’ve heard from colleagues that students aren’t going to show up to your office hours. Maybe one student will show up. Maybe five. Or three. Or none. Maybe you’re not sure how to prepare. You want your students to come with questions. Maybe your students will come with tons of questions. Maybe they won’t.

Just as you can’t–or shouldn’t–teach an online course in the same way that you would teach an on-campus course, you also shouldn’t structure your virtual office hours in the same way you structure your face-to-face office hours. On-campus students already have face time with you and their peers in class. If your on-campus students come to your office hour, it’s likely because they have a question for you. Online students may have other reasons for attending your office hour. Given, not just the different modality, but the different reasons online students choose to attend an office hour, virtual office hours implemented into a primarily asynchronous online course, require thoughtful planning.

The research article, “Live Synchronous Web Meetings in Asynchronous Online Courses: Reconceptualizing Virtual Office Hours” (Lowenthal, Dunlap, & Snelson, 2017) explores how to successfully conduct online office hours in primarily asynchronous online courses. The article focuses on group office hours, but synchronous student-student and instructor-student interactions are worth considering as well. While I would encourage you to read the entire paper, I’d like to summarize some of the “implications for practice” highlighted in the article. The paper includes 21 implications for practice. Here are a few to consider for your online course:

  1. Rebrand your office hours. For better or for worse, we all have preconceived notions about what an office hour entails. Be thoughtful about your goals for the virtual sessions, renaming them to reflect how the time will be used, the level of formality, or the structure. Examples from the research article include, “Happy Hours, Coffee Breaks, Afternoon Tea, Bat Cave…Around the Campfire….Consultations, Design Studio, Conference Room, Headquarters, and Open Space.” (188)
  2. Schedule them in advance–ideally at the beginning of the quarter–and vary the days and times to accommodate different schedules and timezones. Providing ample notice and opportunities on various days and times is especially important as online students are often juggling home, work, and school responsibilities.
  3. Provide reminders via email or announcements.
  4. Prompt students for questions prior to the live sessions.
  5. Then, record the live session. That way, students can still ask a question, have it answered, and watch later if they’re unable to attend the live session.
  6. Post the recording in an announcement, so that it is easy to find.
  7. Start the session with an ice-breaker.
  8. Consider offering some brief direct-instruction or inviting a guest speaker.
  9. Incentivize students to attend by making the experience engaging and relevant–and giving them an agenda before the session.

While virtual synchronous interaction isn’t usually required in Ecampus courses, it is an option that, when thoughtfully implemented, can enhance the teaching and learning experience. If this is an approach that you’re interested in exploring, reach out to your instructional designer, and they can help you implement it in a way that is equitable for all students.

References:

Lowenthal, P. R.; Dunlap, J. C. & Snelson, C. (2017). Live synchronous web meetings in asynchronous online courses: Reconceptualizing virtual office hours. Online Learning 21(4), 177-194. doi: 10.24059/olj.v21i4.1285

Image credit:

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Intake meetings, where I met instructors for the first time, is one of my favorite aspects of being an instructional designer because every meeting is so different.  I especially love having first meetings in the instructor’s office and getting a glance at the books adorning their shelves, the art displayed on their walls, their projects, research, and insights on whiteboards, napkins, and notepads.  Sometimes faculty come in with little to no online teaching experience and are not sure where to start; other times they have years of experience and crystal clear ideas on how they want to design their course.  I really feel fortunate to work with brilliant minds from a variety of backgrounds!

But, what makes for the very best of the best intake meetings?  When we really develop a relationship.

It is easy to dive right into the logistics at the intake, because instructors often have burning questions about their courses, particularly if there have been little hang ups that have been irking them.  How does grading this type of assignment work in the LMS?  When are the deadlines for working on the course development?  Do I have to follow the Ecampus syllabus template exactly?  These type of questions are important and I enjoy helping faculty get clarity, so I do, of course, make plenty of time to address them.  But, the best start comes from getting to know you first!

When I get to know you and your vision for your course, I learn about your teaching style.  I learn about the things that make you excited to teach and where your learners sometimes get stuck in your courses.  I learn about why you use certain sorts of assessments and not others, what “keeps you awake” when you think about your course and what would make you really proud of your work when we are finished with our development.

I also learn about ways of partnering that energize you and ways that drain you, which helps me to figure out how I can best use my skills to enrich your course design.  You are without a doubt the expert in your subject – frankly, intimidatingly so at times.  My goal is to find an approach to collaborating that taps deeply into your expertise, while leveraging my knowledge of students, andragogy, design, online tools, accessibility, and the like.

The knowledge I bring to the table sometimes requires me to challenge you, which can be uncomfortable.  I sometimes have to ask questions like, “is this an appropriate assessment for the learning outcome?  Would you consider structuring this activity in another way?”  I do this to advocate for students and their learning – not just to be a nuisance.  Having an authentic working relationship helps us to discuss these aspects of your course openly and genuinely.  There are times I need you to push back and let me know that the existing structure is important to you and why.  And, there are times that I need you to trust my skills as a designer and be open to exploring a new approach.

The sooner we can get comfortable with one another, the deeper we can dive into your course and the more time we can dedicate to the optimizations that makes your course easier and more enjoyable to deploy in the long run.  We are fortunate to use a two term development cycle so we have plenty of time to iron out and revisit snags that will lead to a lot less work during the actual facilitation of your course.  My strongest courses come from faculty that I have met with multiple times, developed a real partnership with, and now share cohesive and motivating goals.  I invite you to really “lean into” your relationship with your instructional designer – ask questions, get curious, be vulnerable, take time – your course design (and your ID) will thank you for it!

We schedule asynchronous coursework to provide flexibility for online students balancing multiple commitments. But asynchronous interaction is not ideal for achieving some learning outcomes. How can students learn to converse extemporaneously in another language, for example, through entirely asynchronous exchanges? If the outcome we want is the ability to engage in an unplanned spoken exchange between interlocutors engaged in social interaction, we can’t expect to achieve it by structuring learning experiences that are entirely self-paced, independent, and asynchronous. For this reason, many Ecampus world language courses require students to hold synchronous study sessions via videoconference software with other students who serve as conversation partners. This communicative approach to instruction provides for immersive experiences, frequent interaction in the target language, and improvisation.

The remainder of this post outlines how to structure this requirement for maximum flexibility and participation. While the focus is on application within world language courses, the general assignment protocol is applicable for facilitating synchronous study sessions in any course in which students would benefit from regular, live interaction.

Matching

During the first week, facilitate a sign-up process that matches students based on availability schedules and study habits. Allow the students to choose their own partners and to outline study session guidelines so that both parties feel respected. Provide suggested videoconference software along with alternatives, and encourage students to install and test the software in advance of their planned study sessions.

Planning

Once students have identified their study partners, require them to commit to a meeting schedule. Share the approximate dates by which their meetings should occur and give an estimate of how long students will need to meet in order to complete each assignment successfully.

As you plan a synchronous component, be cognizant of the competing demands on your students’ time. Depending on your student population, requiring even a weekly study session may be unrealistic. Also be aware that, like with any independent group activity, you will need to intervene in the case of student attrition, incompatibility, and conflict. For this reason, you might stage new partner matching twice in a term or require study groups of three students each so that no student is left without a partner or is consigned to a bad match for the entire term.

Monitoring

Before each synchronous assignment, prepare students to complete a clear task and then follow up to see how it went. For example, students might design a presentation on an assigned topic or play different sides of a conversation using assigned vocabulary and grammatical structures. If there is a deliverable, like the presentation, you’ll have some evidence of how well the study session went. If the deliverable is intangible, like conversation practice, consider asking students to record and submit a video of their meeting. Part of the assignment might require students to re-watch their conversation and identify several strengths and areas for improvement. This makes the recording beneficial for the student on top of its utility as a monitoring and assessment measure for the instructor. There is a limit, however, to the volume of recorded study sessions you’ll want to watch and grade, so you might also consider appealing to students’ academic honesty to ensure that the study sessions truly take place. For example, assign a periodic 1-question quiz that requires the student to attest to having met with their partner and then leave the study sessions otherwise ungraded.

Benefits and Extension to Assessment

Synchronous student study sessions allow you to capitalize on student-to-student learning. Although the language learners themselves will not be able to provide each other with entirely accurate target language input, nonetheless each partner will offer different skills and resources for resolving conversational challenges. On a practical level, the scheduling of student study sessions is usually more flexible than instructor-to-student meetings, because students can choose from a range of partners with varied schedules at the outset and then renegotiate meeting times as needed. You can then assess conversational skills developed through the study sessions using higher-stakes, synchronous social interactions that require more planning. For example, is the student able to converse synchronously in an oral exam with the instructor? What about speaking with interlocutors in their own community? Can the student talk with others online, outside the confines of the course?

At Ecampus, some instructors facilitate synchronous conversation with native speakers by connecting students to the online service TalkAbroad. The instructor provides TalkAbroad’s trained conversation partners with general instructions and then reviews the resultant conversation recordings on the TalkAbroad platform. Because students pay $10-$15 per conversation, instructors are mindful of the cost. For this reason, a TalkAbroad activity is usually a culminating assignment at the end of an Ecampus language course. The practice students have had in synchronous study sessions earlier in the term prepares them to get the most value out of the TalkAbroad assignment, and it reduces students’ anxiety about speaking with a more fluent interlocutor.

With this assignment protocol in mind, are you ready to try out synchronous student study sessions in your course? Ecampus world language instructors would be glad to discuss it with you further – asynchronously, of course! Synchronous discussion will require a bit more planning. But sometimes, that’s the only way to get the job done.

Resource

Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation | Group Work: How to Create & Manage Groups

So you’ve scheduled your first video shoot with Ecampus. Great! We can’t wait to work with you. Here are answers to a few questions we commonly receive from instructors.

How can I prepare for my video shoot?

Rehearse! And this doesn’t have to be a bunch of work, just run through your piece once or twice before the shoot.

If you’d like for the finished video to include any additional graphics, photos or video, please let a member of the video team or your instructional designer know in advance of the shoot so that we can plan accordingly.

Should I write a script?

Maaaaaaaybe. It’s up to you. Some people prefer to work from a teleprompter, others prefer to wing it. We always suggest going with your comfort zone. If you would like to work with a teleprompter, please send your script or bulleted list to ecampus.productions@oregonstate.edu at least one day before your shoot.What should I wear?

Wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good about yourself…that’s the priority. Feel free to show off your personality and have fun with it.

Here are a few guidelines:

  • Avoid wearing plain white. It’s distracting against a black background, and gets lost in a white background.
  • If you’ll be filming against a black background, you’ll want to avoid wearing black, lest you appear to be a floating head and arms in your video. Also, black or really dark clothing can sometimes cause more shadowing on the face, accentuating wrinkles and aging the subject.
  • Instead, you might consider a medium-dark blue or gray. Or even better, go for a rich, solid color.
  • Also, avoid tight lines and patterns. These types of patterns cause a distracting optical effect called moiré where the pattern appears to move. Larger patterns, like plaid, look fine.
  • Finally, please avoid noisy jewelry and accessories as the microphone may be able to pick up the noise.

Oh gosh! Now that I’m here and I’m on camera, I have no idea what to do with my hands.

Think of the camera as another person. How do you move when you’re talking to somebody? If you tend to gesture when you speak, then please do! The movement will add energy to the video and help to convey your excitement about the topic.

Another option is to hold a prop. Just be sure that your prop is relevant to the video so that you don’t confuse the viewer.

If you prefer to be more still, that’s also great. Just be sure to maintain open body language and avoid crossing your arms in front of you or behind you.

This terrific Wistia article talks about the science behind why your gestures look so awkward on camera and dives into the hand thing a bit more, explains why we feel so awkward on camera, and suggests some ways to feel more comfortable at your video shoot.

That’s A Wrap!

If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas to share, please contact the Ecampus video team at ecampus.productions@oregonstate.edu. Looking forward to working with you!

 

PowerPoint Template Use In Developing Course Content

In online course development the production of narrated lectures that serve as course content if common. Often faculty turn to presentation software, such as PowerPoint, as the foundation of their presentation.  Using PowerPoint for narrated lectures means faculty must consider developing presentation slides that are accessible, attractive, and visually focused. This is not an easy task without some guidance in these areas of presentation design. This is where PowerPoint template use comes in handy.

The Ecampus design team at Oregon State University has produced a series of PowerPoint templates to assist faculty produce effective, accessible, and visually attractive presentations. The templates are available via the PowerPoint Guidelines and Templates website that provide not just the templates but also best practices in template use.

 

How Does This Work?

On the site Ecampus faculty can find templates developed with seven different designs. Each has an application for a given area of the university or function. To illustrate this point I have placed an image of a template title slide for the College of Forestry design.

College of Forestry PowerPoint template title slide.

Using this template faculty can edit the text and background image to create their own custom PowerPoint design. Below is the entire College of Forestry design series. In it you can see that there is good variety of slide types and design layouts.

The slide series from the College of Forestry PowerPoint template. Produced by Ecampus.
The slide series from the College of Forestry PowerPoint template. Produced by Ecampus.

Adapting Templates

Adapting the template for other course uses if fairly straight forward. Simply collect the images you wish to insert into the template and add the pertinent text. Below is an example of an adapted series of slides turning what looks like a forestry presentation into an organic agriculture presentations.

Image of six slide showing an organic agriculture theme to a PowerPoint presentation.
New organic agriculture slides created from College of Foresty template. Images provided by Unsplash.

With seven different templates to choose from faculty have a wide range of design options for narrated lectures using PowerPoint. These designs are also accessible and are visually consistent. Slide types vary to allow faculty to focus presentation attention on the subject at hand. This can save faculty time and effort in narrated lecture production. If you are an Ecampus faculty and you would like to learn how to edit and utilize this templates resource, ask your instructional designer.

The Ecampus PowerPoint Guidelines and Templates website is another example of how faculty and students benefit from the dedicated team of designers and multimedia producers at the Oregon State University Ecampus.