This is the final segment in a three-part series summarizing conclusions and insights from research of active, blended, and adaptive learning strategies. Part one covered active learning, part two focused on blended learning, and today’s article discusses research assessing the value of adaptive learning.

Diverse Definitions

Five young people studying with laptop and tablet computers on white desk.

The University of Maryland writes that “Adaptive learning is an educational method which uses computers as interactive teaching devices” that allocate resources according to the needs of each learner. Educause Learning Initiative describes adaptive learning as systems that “use a data-driven…approach to instruction.” Wikipedia’s definition focuses on technology as the distinguishing characteristic.  Smart Sparrow, an adaptive learning platform vendor, emphasizes the learning experience, noting that adaptive learning “address the unique needs of an individual through just-in-time feedback, pathways, and resources (rather than providing a one-size-fits-all learning experience).” And though each of these is accurate and helpful, they fail to inspire a vision for the true value and benefits of adaptive learning.

What’s special about adaptive learning? Why should you consider using it? One answer is succinctly summarized by Dale Johnson, manager of the Adaptive General Education Program for EdPlus at Arizona State University, who said, “The traditional approach of presenting the same lesson to all students at the same time is being replaced by the adaptive model of delivering the right lesson to the right student at the right time.” Johnson cuts to the heart of the matter; focusing on the value and benefits of adaptive learning rather than describing the technologies that make it work. For today’s blog post, that’s the more relevant framework for our discussion.

Game Changer

Although adaptive learning can be successfully implemented in any discipline, this article cites research from STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. The classic, one-size-fits-all lecture model is commonly used in STEM courses. Historically, those classes tend to have the highest rates of attrition and failure. As a result, educators are looking for ways to increase student success and reduce failure and withdraw rates. Many have turned to adaptive learning as that solution.

Adaptive learning uses specialized computer programs to create a customized, student-centered learning path (Kerr, 2016). These systems establish a baseline of knowledge that estimates the student’s degree of mastery for a topic. As the student progresses and gives new information to the adaptive learning platform, it re-evaluates the student’s proficiency and knowledge (Scalise, Bernbaum, & Timms, 2007) and comes to “know” the student, customizing and adjusting the feedback, practice questions, and support materials to match that student’s skills. Although all students ultimately arrive at the same learning destination, the path traveled by an individual might differ from that of classmates, depending on prior knowledge, learning style, and other factors (Canfield, 2001).

Course Design and Instructor Approach

Effective use of adaptive learning requires a well-designed, pedagogically-sound course structure. Adaptive learning may fail if technology is simply added as an extra element or after-thought. To fulfill the promise of adaptive learning, it must be aligned with the learning outcomes, topics, activities, and organization of the course (Scalise, Bernbaum, & Timms, 2007).

When adaptive learning is used as part of a well-structured course design (or redesign), it harmonizes with the benefits of active and blended learning, to deliver powerful, personalized guidance and support.

Instructors will want to re-evaluate course design and activities from the ground up to ensure successful adoption of adaptive learning. This includes discipline-specific choices as well as non-academic influences such as motivation, time management, psychological and social aspects, emotions, learning abilities, and fostering an inclusive environment. These added elements play a key role in the successful implementation of adaptive learning (Martinez, 2001).

Does Adaptive Learning Work?

Yes! There is substantial evidence to conclude that adaptive learning improves student success.

A study in an introductory chemistry class compared post-test results of two student groups. The group using adaptive learning out-performed the control group by an average of nearly 21% (Scalise, Bernbaum, and Timms, 2007). Research from a basic algebra class noted higher final grade averages with adaptive technologies (Stillson & Alsup, 2003). And another study from college algebra showed that students using adaptive learning scored higher than the control group on pre- and post-test assessments (Hagerty and Smith, 2005).

Here at OSU, several undergraduate courses, including college algebra and introduction to statistics, have reported improved results after redesigning courses to include adaptive learning software.

Benefits to Students and Instructors

Students

Research indicates that under-achieving students gain the most from adaptive learning. But this customized approach improves study habits and attitudes for all learners (Walkington, 2013). Students report feeling like they could succeed in the topic, many for the first time, because of the added support provided through adaptive learning (Canfield, 2001). A research study reported that 61% of students said they learned more mathematics than in previous traditional math classes (Stillson and Alsup, 2003).

Students report benefits in exit surveys from courses using adaptive learning:

  • Able to work at their own pace, using adaptive content as an extension of course materials, concepts, and activities (Stillson & Alsup, 2003).
  • Learned more with adaptive learning (Canfield, 2001).
  • Liked the support of step-by-step explanations, immediate feedback, and customized practice problems (Canfield, 2001; Stillson & Alsup, 2003).
  • Motivated to strive for completion when viewing graphical charts showing progress (Canfield, 2001).
  • Developed better study skills and were willing to devote time to learn, recognizing that these investments brought the rewards of a deeper understanding of course content and, ultimately, a passing grade (Stillson & Alsup, 2003).
  • Less stress and worry because of the self-paced, just-in-time nature of adaptive learning, where new topics or practice problems are only presented when the student is ready for them (Canfield, 2001).

Most students said they would take another class using adaptive learning and would recommend the adaptive format to others (Canfield, 2001).

Instructors

Since adaptive learning uses sophisticated technology, most platforms generate reports and data that inform instructors about individual student performance, including details about the skills achieved, remaining progress to achieve mastery, problem areas, and other critical information. At a glance, instructors can use these vital metrics to monitor student performance and, as needed, intervene and provide additional guidance (Scalise, Bernbaum, & Timms, 2007).

If Adaptive Learning is so Great, Why Isn’t Everyone Using It?

As with any technology, adaptive learning is not a panacea. It has drawbacks and may not be well-suited for every student or every situation.

Those lacking adequate internet speed or easy access may be frustrated. Learners who do not own computers may have difficulty finding systems in campus labs or libraries. Students with minimal prior knowledge may spend more time reaching baseline skill levels than classmates. Those who are employed, have extensive family obligations, or juggle other responsibilities may have challenges effectively managing their time to complete the adaptive learning segments (Canfield, 2001; Stillson & Alsup, 2003).

Administrators and teachers uncertain about how to incorporate adaptive learning may have challenges. When not well-integrated into course design, adaptive learning can create confusion. Course instruction and activities must align with the learning materials delivered by the adaptive system. Since adaptive learning is personalized, students may be working in different sections or topics from peers. When lectures or topics don’t match the adaptive content, students perceive this as two classes, with double the work. When course structure lacks cohesion, students might ignore the adaptive support or conclude that it hinders, rather than helps, their ability to study (Stillson & Alsup, 2003).

Finally, adaptive learning is most often used in classes already known to be difficult. The introduction of a new technology could add a layer of confusion and frustration, especially if its been inserted as an add-on component. Courses that haphazardly integrate adaptive learning might even experience an increase in drops or failures due to poor design. Students less confident using technology might be worried about learning this way (Stillson & Alsup, 2003).

In Summary

Adaptive learning has the potential to increase learning, especially in STEM disciplines. The ability to customize material and content to fit the needs of individual learners is a powerful shift from the more common one-size-fits-all lectures. Although more research is needed to realize the full scope of benefits of adaptive learning, results indicate that adaptive learning may better support universal and inclusive learning goals (Scalise, Bernbaum, & Timms, 2007). Adaptive learning gives instructors valuable information about student performance, and these technologies help students more easily grasp complex concepts and content. The ability to closely match topics to a student’s readiness and knowledge may increase their willingness and motivation to learn (Canfield, 2001).

What’s Next?

If you are interested in learning more about adaptive learning and whether it might benefit your teaching and success of your students, check out these OSU Ecampus resources:

Susan Fein, Oregon State University Ecampus Instructional Designer

susan.fein@oregonstate.edu | 541-747-3364

References

  • Canfield, W. (2001). ALEKS: A Web-based intelligent tutoring system. Mathematics and Computer Education, 35(2), 152-158.
  • Hagerty, G., & Smith , S. (2005). Using the web-based interactive software ALEKS to enhance college algebra. Mathematics and Computer Education, 39(3), 183.
  • Kerr, P. (2016, January). Adaptive learning. ELT Journal, 70, 88-93.
  • Martinez, M. (2001). Key design considerations for personalized learning on the web. Educational Technology & Society, 4(1), 21.
  • Scalise, K., Bernbaum, D. J., & Timms, M. (2007). Adaptive technology for e-learning: Principles and case studies of an emerging field. Journal of the American Society for Informaton Science and Technology, 58(14), 2295–2309.
  • Stillson, H., & Alsup, J. (2003). Smart ALEKS… or not? Teaching basic algebra using an online interactive learning system. Mathematics and Computer Education, 37(3).
  • Walkington, C. A. (2013). Using adaptive learning technologies to personalize instruction to student interests: The impact of relevant contexts on performance and learning outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(4), 932–945.

The Ecampus multimedia team creates animations to bring your thoughts and words to life. In virtual reality, creating these 3D objects and animations has become incredibly easy and fast.

The old ways … of power tool juggling

Developing “multimedia” often means using small aspects of many different tools. “Media” being a means of communication and the plural of medium: a means of doing something. To create an animation for your class, we quickly run through a long list of media.

Here’s an exhaustive run through of how the process works at the moment (feel free to skip to the next section! This is detailed): You would typically type up and email over a script that I take into Google Drive to edit and comment upon. You’d record audio in one of our sound booths, and I’d take the resulting sound files into Adobe Audition to equalize levels and remove background noise(s). Then I’d grab a pencil and sketch out a quick storyboard for each sentence to suggest visuals that could emphasize your point(s). Photographs of these sketches are edited in Photoshop and injected into another file on Google Drive.

And that is just the easy preparation portion. Depending on the animation style we’re going after, I’d dive deep into obscure programs I’ve learned to use over the past few decades – like Autodesk Maya / Mudbox / MotionBuilder / Meshmixer, Adobe Illustrator / Animate / Character Animator / Fuse / Dimension, Unity3D, the Procreate iPad app, Agisoft Photoscan, MeshLab, Instant Meshes, Mixamo, etc. … Simply trying to list the most commonly used apps is exhausting (much less all the other emerging apps we investigate, or the ones we mastered that went away. I still love you HyperCard, Director, and Flash!). Phew.

However the pieces of animation are generated, we still end up spitting out thousands of images or video files that have to be lined up in Adobe After Effects / Premiere / Media Encoder to assemble the final video that we can upload to YouTube or Kaltura and send to you.

What I’m saying here is: this whole process usually takes weeks or months. Or… we can just do it all in VR in an afternoon.

 

The new reality… of easy bake dreams

Tvori is an amazing tool to easily puppet objects and characters around in VR. You can record audio in directly, and export 4K videos, 360 videos, or animation data for all those old programs i mentioned above. The main reason I set out to write this blog post: was to promote Tvori. It offers an all-in-one easy pathway to making your own animatons in mere minutes. This amazing program runs about 20 bucks, and unlike the other (free) VR tools I’ll mention below – Tvori isn’t backed by a major corporation (*yet). I expect to be generating much more animation work for instructors with it, and hope to be advising you all on how to use it yourselves as you step into VR through your own office computers.

I’d say Tvori offers a level of animation comparable to an “animatic” – a movie industry term for quick and dirty approximations of what the final multi-million dollar film could look like. There’s a good chance animatics will be good enough for the bulk of concepts we wish to impart to students at the university level, with the added bonus that we can generate many of them in a single term. That said, maybe you’re curious what other creative tools are emerging in VR these days?

1) Whiteboard animations are a common request at Ecampus. Oculus Quill lets us draw and animate in this cartoon style in 3D (so it’s like our current 2D drawing tools, but we can move the camera around freely at any time, zoom-in endlessly,). This free tool for Oculus Rift users was updated last month to add a ton of new useful tricks.

We’ve already made fly-bys of 3D drawings in Google Tiltbrush, but we couldn’t actually animate the drawings directly (we just started recording, and moved our head through space). But both these programs are free and worth looking into.

2) In Oculus Medium, anyone can sculpt objects in the air at high resolution with weightless clay. If you own the Oculus Rift, this is an free and amazing tool for creating 3D objects. Now we can make things extremely fast and bring them into those old programs we’ve used for years.

Google Blocks is a similar free tool to quickly make solid low-resolution objects (it’s like Google Sketchup with VR ease and benefits). Upload them to Google Poly to share with the world (a service very similar to SketchFab or Microsoft’s Remix 3D). With these sculpting tools, and repositories of free creations, it’s a snap to gather the building blocks needed to start complicated animation projects. For example, we can bring any of these sculpted objects right into Tvori…

3) Final thought: you can use Google Earth VR to walk around any location on earth, while scaling up to Godzilla height or even zooming in and out from space. The multimedia team can record what you’re seeing and pointing at, along with your narration. While this isn’t a feature of the software (yet), we have the magic means to do it for you. (And we can also go back into Google Earth Studio to make a more polished and precise version of the path you traveled).

I hope this inspires you to go get a VR headset, come by our offices and try it out, or let us don the gear for you. We look forward to making your imagination a reality for students worldwide!

Narrative and World-Building

For this post, I will focus on two simple strategies you can use to improve motivation and engagement in your online course, narrative and world building. These terms are used frequently in games, as well as in literature, film and other domains. They are a powerful tool, easily applied to your existing course material or as you develop new content.puzzle world

If you want some background about where my thinking is coming from, check out my last blog post, Games as a Model for Motivation and Engagement, Part 1, where I take a deeper dive into gaming and Self-Determination Theory. I would also recommend a post by Dr. Meghan Naxer, Self-Determination Theory and Online Education: A Primer.

There are two kinds of world building I’d like to talk about; instructor-created narrative and student-created narrative. To set the tone for our thinking about this, I’ll start with a quote from Designing for Motivation.

“… if you increase autonomy then engagement will improve, if you increase competence then motivation will increase, and if you increase relatedness then wellbeing will be enhanced–these needs become the controllers we tweak and adjust to iterate on and improve experience.”
(Peters, D., Calvo, R. A., & Ryan, R. M. (2018) Designing for Motivation, Engagement and Wellbeing in Digital Experience. Frontiers in Psychology, 28 May 2018. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00797)

So how can we use world building to ‘tweak’ these three controllers?

Instructor-Created Narrative

role-playing game diceInstructor-created narrative refers to the world or environment created by the course builder and determined by the story they are telling about that world. This world building can be for a particular course activity, but also keep in mind that your entire online course is a learning environment and you, as the course builder, have significant influence over how that world is curated. A colleague recently described how an instructor begins their course with the phrase, “Welcome scholars”. This sets a tone that is a competence-supportive environment with just two words. Tone is a commonly used tool for world building across many domains.

As a simple entry point for world building, I’ll start with a classic type of game, role-playing.

Brainstorm Exercise

Consider setting up a role-playing scenario for one of your existing activities or assignments. What is the outcome you expect students to achieve from this activity? Imagine a situation (or world) where that outcome exists or can be applied. What does that situation look like? Now, imagine you are a student in that situation, what does this world look like? (See what I did there? Role playing!) How will your student interact with that world to achieve your outcome? Take a minute or two to note your answers to these questions. This is a good way to begin sketching out your narrative. Once your sketch is complete, you can begin moving the parameters and rubrics of your existing activity into this world.

The world you create for your scenario can be the ‘real world’ in a particular time period, a hypothetical political situation, a business/client relationship regarding a product, or a hypothetical world to resolve a physics problem. Here are some ways you can frame your thinking as you practice the above exercise:

  • Take the tools you have provided in the course content (competence) and use them to analyze the following situation (world building). “How would you apply what you learned this week to the following situation?”
  • Even better, “How will the situation change as a result of your decisions?”

A small change in wording can provide big changes in thinking. In the second bullet point, we have moved from applying the week’s content to a given situation to a personalized critical analysis.

Student-Created Narrative

The other side of the coin is allowing students to build on your narrative, or create their own. This is where you significantly impact autonomy. This is your world, you create the rules. You set the parameters that will focus student thinking toward the outcomes you hope for them to reach. The rules you set will determine the level of autonomy the student experiences.

Brainstorm Exercise

For this exercise, you can continue with the role-playing scenario you built in the previous Brainstorm Exercise or choose another existing activity from a course. Let’s brainstorm some ways you can add autonomy to this activity.

A simple addition to the role-playing scenario we built previously would be to allow students to choose the role they will play. You have built a narrative, now let the student choose the character they will play to build on that narrative. If you need to keep things more focused, it is totally acceptable to restrict the roles to a list of options. Even with restrictions, is it possible for students to choose the gender, race or economic background of their character? What other characteristics can you think of that will help a student take ownership of the role?

For other kinds of activities, consider giving students the creative freedom to choose and build their own narrative. The instructor still defines the rules of the world and sets the outcome and rubrics for the activity. Can you open up the choices a student has to meet these outcomes? Allow students the autonomy to take ownership of how they get to your outcome, using your rubric as a guide.

For example, select a concept that was covered in the course. In your activity, allow students to choose where and how that concept can be applied. Let them build the narrative around the concept. Conversely, select a setting in the world, much like you would for the role-playing scenario. Allow students to choose the course concepts they want to apply in that setting and build a narrative around that. This strategy lends itself well to case studies. Rather than taking on a specific role, students become story creators, while still working with instructional concepts and within the rules defined by the instructor.

Group World Building

As I mentioned in my previous post, group work and community building (as modeled by gaming communities) are great ways to increase relatedness in a course. Community members are able to share their competence and, in turn, feel valued by that community. This is another great support of motivation.

All of the strategies discussed above can be applied to group work. You can set up the same role-playing scenarios, but this time multiple students will take on different roles and interact in those roles within their group community. Relatedness is impacted as decisions and actions taken by one student will affect the world that is being collaboratively built. Here are two examples from a media course I recently helped develop. They both reflect the range of complexity group world building can undertake.

Pitch Game (Group Discussion)

For your Initial Post in this discussion, pitch a new television show. Follow the parameters presented in class; including X+Y claims, audience description, sketch of the show’s audience and the ideal network for the show. For your Peer Response, you will take on the role of media buyer. Choose which network or streaming service you work for. Review all available show pitches. Decide which show you will purchase. Reply to the show you wish to purchase; identify the network you represent and write your reasoning why you want to make the purchase. Use course material to support your decision.

Trial Simulation (Group Project)

To better understand the ways in which civil law shapes the media ecosystem, we will enact a short trial simulation. The court of the Honorable Judge is an appeals court: this means that the FACTS of the case were decided by the TRIAL court. The question that will be litigated in class regards the law and the interpretation of those facts.

One student will take on the role of Plaintiff, another will be Defense and a third member of the group will be the Judge. Over the next two weeks, you will follow the posted schedule to present your arguments and answer questions from the Judge. Before proceeding, review the Debate Rules and Trial Facts documents. You will be expected to cite actual Supreme Courts cases to support your claims.

Hopefully, this blog has provided some simple entry points for using world building to increase autonomy, build competence, and improve relatedness in a course to improve motivation and engagement. I would love to hear what you come up with in the Brainstorm Exercises.

Dice Image: “DSCF5108” by joelogon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
World Building Image: puzzle-ball-1728990_1920 from Pixabay

Introduction

For those who work in higher education, it may not come as a surprise that the field of instructional design has grown in tandem with the expansion of online programs and courses. Evidence of this growth abounds. While the discipline of instructional design has expanded rapidly in recent years, the history of instructional design is not well known by those outside of the field.

This post will cover a brief history of instructional design with a particular emphasis on design: What influences design? How are design decisions made? How has the way we approached design changed over time? We’ll also consider how instructional designers actually design courses and the importance of course structure as an inclusive practice.

Instructional Design: Theory and History

Every instructional design curriculum teaches three general theories or theoretical frameworks for learning: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. While an instructional designer (ID) probably wouldn’t call herself a cognitivist or a behaviorist, for example, these theories influence instructional design and the way IDs approach the design process.

The field of instructional design is widely believed to have originated during World War II, when training videos like this one were created to prepare soldiers with the knowledge and skills they would need in battle. This form of audio-visual instruction, although embraced by the military, was not initially embraced by schools.

B.F. Skinner
“B.F. Skinner” Portrait Art Print
by Xiquid

In the 1950s, behaviorists, such as B.F. Skinner, dominated popular thought on how to teach and design instruction. For behaviorists, learning results in an observable change in behavior. The optimal design of a learning environment from a behaviorist perspective would be an environment that increases student motivation for learning, provides reinforcement for demonstrating learning, and removes distractions. Behaviorists are always designing for a specific response, and instruction is intended to teach discrete knowledge and skills. For behaviorists, motivation is critical, but only important to the extent that it elicits the desired behavior. 

Cognitivism was largely a response to behaviorism. Cognitivists emphasized the role of cognition and the mind; they acknowledged that, when designing learning environments, there is more to consider than the content to be learned. More than environmental factors and instructional components, the learners’ own readiness, or prior knowledge, along with their beliefs and attitudes, require consideration. Design, from a cognitivist approach, often emphasizes preparedness and self-awareness. Scaffolding learning and teaching study skills and time-management (metacognitive skills) are practices grounded in a cognitivist framework.

While cognitivists emphasize the learner experience, and in particular, acknowledge that learners’ existing knowledge and past histories influence their experience, the learner is still receiving information and acting on it–responding to carefully designed learning environments.

Constructivism, the most current of the three frameworks, on the other hand, emphasizes that the learner is constructing their own understanding of the world, not just responding to it. Learners are activity creating knowledge as they engage with the learning environment.

All–or nearly all–modern pedagogical approaches are influenced by these theoretical frameworks for learning.

Design Approaches

A single course can be seen as a microcosm of theoretical frameworks, historical models, and value-laden judgements of pedagogical approaches

Learning theories are important because they influence our design models, but by no means are learning theories the only factor guiding design decisions. In our daily work, IDs rely on many different tools and resources. Often, IDs will use multiple tools to make decisions and overcome design challenges. So, how do we accomplish this work in practice?

  1. We look to established learning outcomes. We talk about learning goals and activities with faculty. We ask questions to guide decision making about how to meet course learning outcomes through our course design.
  2. We look to research-based frameworks and pedagogical approaches such as universal design for learning (UDL), inclusive design, active learning, student-centered design, and many other models. These models may be influenced by learning theory, but they are more practical in nature.
  3. We look to human models. We often heed advice and follow the examples our more experienced peers.
  4. We look to our own past experiences and solutions that have worked in similar situations, and we apply what we learned to future situations.
  5. We make professional judgements; judgements rooted in our tacit knowledge of what we believe “good design” looks like. For better or for worse, we follow our intuition. Our gut.

Over time, one can see that instructional design has evolved from an emphasis on teaching discrete knowledge and skills that can be easily measured (behaviorism) to an emphasis on guiding unique learners to actively create their own understanding (constructivism). Design approaches, however, are not as straightforward as simply taking a theory and applying it to a learning situation or some course material. Instructional design is nuanced. It is art and science. A single course can be seen as a microcosm of theoretical frameworks, historical models, and value-laden judgements of pedagogical approaches–as well as value-laden judgements of disciplinary knowledge and its importance. But. That’s another blog post.

Design Structure to Meet Diverse Needs

Meeting diverse needs, however, does not necessitate complexity in course design

If learners are unique, if learning can’t be programmed, if learning environments must be adaptable, if learners are constructing their own knowledge, how is all of this accommodated in a course design?

Designing from a modern constructivist perspective, from the viewpoint that students have vastly different backgrounds, past experiences, and world-views, requires that many diverse needs be accommodated in a single course. Meeting diverse needs, however, does not necessitate complexity in course design. Meeting diverse needs means that we need to provide support, so that it is there for those who need it, but not distracting to those who don’t need it. Design needs to be intuitive and seamless for the user.

Recent research on inclusive practices in design and teaching identify structure as an inclusive practice. Design can be viewed as a way of applying, or ensuring, a course structure is present. In that way, working with an instructional designer will make your course more inclusive. But, I digress. Or, do I?

Sathy and Hogan contend, in their guide, that structure benefits all students, but some, particularly those from underrepresented groups, benefit disproportionately. Conversely, not enough structure, leaves too many students behind. Since many of the same students who benefit from additional course structure also succeed a lower rates, providing course structure may also help to close the achievement gap.

How are We Doing This?

The good news is that Ecampus is invested in creating courses that are designed–or structured–in a way that meets the needs of many different learners. Working with an Ecampus instructional designer will ensure that your course materials are clearly presented to your students. In fact, many of the resources we provide–course planning templates, rubrics, module outlines, consistent navigation in Canvas, course banners and other icons and visual cues–are intended to ensure that your students navigate your course materials and find what they need, when they need it.

References

Icons made by phatplus and Freepik from www.flaticon.com are licensed by CC 3.0 BY

Boling, E., Alangari, H., Hajdu, I. M., Guo, M., Gyabak, K., Khlaif, Z., . . . Techawitthayachinda, R. (2017). Core Judgments of Instructional Designers in Practice. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 30(3), 199-219. doi:10.1002/piq.21250

Eddy, S.L. and Hogan, K. A. (2017) “Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work?” CBE—Life Sciences Education. Retrieved from https://www.lifescied.org/doi/10.1187/cbe.14-03-0050

Sathy, V. and Hogan, K.A. (2019). “Want to Reach All of Your Students? Here’s How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive: Advice Guide. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20190719_inclusive_teaching

Tanner, K.D. (2013) “Structure Matters: Twenty-One Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity,” CBE—Life Sciences Education. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3762997/

If you’re in need of a few good reads to add to your end-of-summer list, Ecampus Course Development and Training has provided suggestions from our team, along with insights into how these texts have encouraged us to ponder the design of online learning experiences for students and support for our online faculty.

Educated by Tara Westover

reading a book

This book will get you thinking about some of the many obstacles that our students may face on their journey into higher education. This memoir is about a young woman who leaves her fundamentalist family to pursue an education, eventually earning her Ph.D. from Cambridge, and who has to emerge from deep familial assumptions about education-as-brainwashing to chart her own path. As I’ve listened to this book on my commute to and from work (yes, it’s a great audiobook, too!), it has given me an opportunity to think deeply about what it means for students to come from a family that does not place any value on formal education, and what courage and persistence would be required to leap into academia and then find a way to belong there. – Katherine McAlvage

Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang

A small change can go a long way. This book is full of examples and quick tips of how small adjustments in a course can lead to significant benefits. These small adjustments particularly help students who come to a course with misconceptions about how to study and learn. View the bibliographic entry (and get eBook access if you’re affiliated with OSU). – Elisabeth McBrien

An Urgency of Teachers by Morris & Stommel

An Urgency of Teachers is really thought-provoking and challenges many of the assumptions and changes in education. It is a wonderful introduction to critical pedagogy, and I return to it over and over for reminders, suggestions, and to help me to continue being a thoughtful and meaningful educator and designer. – Meghan Naxer

What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy by James P. Gee

While this book isn’t primarily intended for a higher ed audience, it helps introduce many of the connections between learning in a video game and learning in a classroom environment and how we can improve teaching by observing and adapting what video games do particularly well. – Meghan Naxer

Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies by Michelle Pacansky-Brock

The author, Michelle Pacansky-Brock, shared her tips for Humanizing Online Learning as the keynote speaker at Ecampus’ recent Faculty Forum event. Learning online can be an isolating experience, and, for many students, disconnection can contribute to feelings of self-doubt that undermine their success. Pacansky-Brock’s book features several technologies that increase students’ social connectedness. If you want some quick insights, review technologies highlighted by chapter at the book’s companion site. – Deborah Mundorf

We hope these titles give you some fresh perspectives as you finalize your fall courses. Happy reading!

Traveler items

Traveler itemsHave you ever taken a trip with a tour group? Or looked at an itinerary of places and activities to see if it meets your expectations and/or fits into your schedule? Most guided tours include an itinerary with a list of destinations, activities, and time allotted. This helps travelers manage their expectations and time.

Now, have you ever thought of an online course as a guided trip? The instructor is similar to a tour guide, leading student travelers to their destination. And, like travelers, students naturally want to know what to expect and how much time to commit to their learning. They could benefit from a detailed itinerary, or schedule of activities, that includes estimated time commitment for each week.

As an instructional designer for hybrid and online courses, I like to include a detailed schedule for each week to help students organize their time and stay on task. In order to determine what is on that schedule, I begin the design process with a draft of the course syllabus that outlines where the students are headed (learning outcomes) and how the instructor knows they arrived (assessments). This draft helps me understand the instructor’s plans for the course. Together, we look at the learning outcomes and assessments, as well as course requirements like credit hours to determine appropriate learning activities along the way. The course credit hours inform the workload requirements for students.  For example, Oregon State University is on the quarter system and their policy states that one credit hour is equivalent to 3-4 hours of course work each week. If a course is worth 3 credit hours, then students should expect to dedicate 9-12 hours each week to their course. I use a workload estimator created by The Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University to help with the estimates. This tool provides a reasonable estimation of the workload expectations for students and can be used to verify whether the course meets the university’s guidelines for the assigned credit hours. (For more information on how the estimates are made, see the Rice University CTE blog post.)

While all of this information is useful to instructors, I also encourage them to share a weekly list of activities along with the calculations with students. Tour guides provide detailed schedules informing travelers where they are going, the order of the activities, and the time allotted to each activity, why not do that for students? Below, I’ve included a sample for how I do this in my courses. I create a weekly table on an introduction page at the beginning of each module within our LMS. This table includes a suggested order of the activities, the estimated time commitment to complete the activities, along with the official due dates. Anecdotally, students appreciate the schedule and use it to manage their time. I encourage you to consider using a detailed schedule with your future courses.

Example of a weekly Detailed Schedule

References

Rice Blog: https://cte.rice.edu/blogarchive/2016/07/11/workload

Barre, E. (2016, July 11). How much should we assign? Estimating out of class workload [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://cte.rice.edu/blogarchive/2016/07/11/workload.

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

I am an avid gamer. For some time, I have been thinking about how engaging games are and whether this quality can be leveraged for other purposes; like instruction. Put more simply … What is it about games that makes them so engaging? Is there something about this that we can use as educators? Granted, these are not new questions.

Dr. Meghan Naxer recently posted a primer on Self-Determination Theory (SDT), Self-Determination Theory and Online Education: A Primer. I believe SDT does an excellent job describing much of what makes games so motivating and engaging. Indeed, games provide an excellent model of SDT and can inform us on how the three basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence and relatedness) might be met in learning environments. I hope to build on some of the concepts introduced in Meghan’s post.

This is the first in a series of posts on games as a model for SDT. In part 1, I look at the convergence of Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness in gaming and online learning in relation to building community and intrinsic motivation.

Autonomy: Open Worlds

Games are becoming increasingly complex, particularly in the arena of Open World games where players are allowed to choose their own paths (autonomy). Entire worlds, even universes, exist for you to immerse yourself in, each with their own history and internal logic. You are often thrown into a new world with few instructions.

For example, in the Open World game No Man’s Sky, millions of stars and planets are procedurally generated just for you, unique to your specific game. When this game begins, you appear on an alien planet next to a broken space ship. Your space suit is running out of oxygen. No instructions, just urgent messages from your onboard computer on toxicity and your decreasing oxygen levels.

The complexity of modern open world games is more than can be reasonably covered in a tutorial. Besides, a significant part of what makes the game engaging is the autonomous exploration and discovery. You decide how you will play the game, in what order you will do things and at what pace. Being told how to play the game is far less interesting.

Here is the internal logic of No Man’s Sky:

  • You’re in an alien environment.
  • It seems like you are alone.
  • There are problems to solve.
  • There is no instruction manual.
  • You must explore to solve these problems.

Think about that in comparison to your online students when they first enter your course. Online students do have instructions to help them get started. However, at first glance, it can seem like they are thrown in the deep end to figure things out for themselves. In a situation where intrinsic motivation is less clear, this can lead to frustration. That does not have to be the case. For gamers, there is one more bullet-point.

  • When you get stuck, you can turn to an online community.

If you were to talk to a gamer and describe your experience about how many times you ‘died’ trying to figure a game out, a common reaction would be something like, “Why would you do that? You know there’s a wiki, right?” Playing an online game today is not a solo venture, even if it is a solo game.

Relatedness: Gaming Communities

Online communities spring up around successful games to support players. A majority of large games have an accompanying Wiki, many of which are curated and updated by players. Various online communities exist to discuss specific games in forums and social media. Players discuss technical issues, the internal logic of a game, the lore and history of the game’s world, where to focus their efforts when starting, or the best order to do certain tasks for best success.

The point here is that given the resources, an intrinsically motivated group of people will figure out ways to help each other succeed. This speaks to Relatedness. In an environment where players are given maximum autonomy, they turn toward their community to support that autonomy and gain competence in that environment. Further, when given an opportunity to contribute to supportive communities, to share their competence, players feel valued as members of that community. So, can we create something like this environment in an online course?

Intrinsic Motivation: Sharing Competence

The challenge in my above summary is intrinsic motivation. There is something of an inherent motivation to play a game and get better at it. Though it can be less clear, online students also have intrinsic motivation beyond just ‘passing the course’. Community building can be a way to help students to discover and support these motivations.

Following the gaming example from above,

“Players discuss technical issues … where to focus their efforts when starting, or the best order to do certain tasks for best success.”

This is a good place to start building community. Simply encourage your students to share their success strategies in your course.

Formalize this by setting up a forum-style environment where students share their experiences, the process they used to solve a problem, the biggest stumbling block this week, or simply to ask each other for help. Much of this could also be accomplished through existing discussions or peer reviews by simply adjusting or adding language for students to draw from their own success strategies, “What did you discover this week that would benefit another student?”

Group work is another tool that can be used for helping students discover intrinsic motivation and build community. Challenge students to work together to apply this week’s content to something in their own lives, a subject of their choice. Trust them to find the problem that needs solving. This is similar to participation in a gaming community – sharing and building competence. But in this case, you are allowing students to build the narrative.

By giving students some autonomy in deciding the end product of their work, you are creating an opportunity for them to discover what drives them.

With all of these examples, it is perfectly reasonable to set the ‘internal logic’ of the environment; subject matter to be discussed, the completion goals, length of the project, rubrics for assessment purposes. The idea is to allow students more autonomy in determining how to get to these goals. All that you are really changing, compared to a typical assignment, is control of the narrative.

And that is a nice segue to the topic of my upcoming post, Part 2, Games as a Model for Motivation and Engagement – Narrative and World-Building

Oregon State University has more than 570 hybrid-designated courses. These hybrid (“blended”) courses integrate regularly scheduled on-site classroom meetings with significant online, out-of-classroom components that replace regularly scheduled class meeting time. In this blended learning format, face-to­ face meeting time is generally reduced by 30 to 80% compared to a traditional on-campus course.

Hybrid courses range from large-enrollment general education courses to seminar-style graduate courses. Since 2012 when OSU formally established the hybrid course schedule type, the total enrollment in hybrid courses has exceeded 42,000 students.

OSU Portland Center

Ecampus has recently expanded hybrid course offerings through the new OSU Portland Center, including undergraduate hybrid programs in business, psychology, cybersecurity and human development and family sciences. Portland-based graduate programs include the Master of Arts in Teaching, MBA and graduate certificate in business analytics.

As Susan Fein noted in the previous post, Blended Learning: What Dose the Research Show?, the literature provides a wealth of evidence for the efficacy of hybrid education. But what can instructors who design and teach hybrid courses tell us? Here are some valuable highlights from posts of the most recent Hybrid Faculty Learning Community cohort in the OSU Hybrid Faculty Blog. The members of this cohort were each engaged in the redesign of a more traditional on-campus course into a hybrid course that will be offered during the 2019-20 academic year.

Collaboration: Jillian St. Jacques – Applied Journalism: “Our students are thirsty to work with each other because it is stimulating, plain and simple. . . . They find their own interpersonal relationships incredibly exciting, as they agree, disagree, admire and/or square off with each other in the Arena of the Intellect.”

Creativity: Alina Padilla-Miller – New Media Communications: “Through activities, experiments and use of everyday media, there are a lot of opportunities to fold in the creation process. The process of creating is not only necessary to include in active learning but it’s also incredibly engaging and dare I say it, fun! Whether the class is face-to-face, online or hybrid, incorporating active learning will enrich the course and ultimately the student’s experience with the curriculum. Let the creating begin!”

Excitement: Susan Rodgers – Writing: “This is what’s exciting to me about the hybrid format: instead of simply assigning readings and hoping the students will come in prepared, they’ll do quizzes, discussions, and collaborations before they come to class . . . we can take the conversation very quickly to a deeper and more meaningful level during our f2f time.”

Students working together in class

Flexibility: Dennis Adams – Business: “Students can more easily sort out the variance in their individual ability in this format. Students who require more time and exposure can reread/re-watch the material on their own time.”

Ownership: Michelle Maller – Forestry – “One of the most effective ways for a student to really master a concept is to present/teach that topic to their peers. . . . Creating ways for the students to interact with the content in a way that builds ownership of it can affect the overall learning. A good example of this is to use a discussion board to have each student “teach” their peers about a specific topic covered in that module.”

Roles: Irene Rolston – Anthropology: “Rather than students relying on their ‘sage’ to inform them, we have the ability to transform the classroom from unidirectional communication into multilateral communications between instructor to student and student to student. Approaching this from a hybrid design perspective, using the initial collection and deciphering of data online prior to use in the classroom as, for example, small group discussions, moves the omnipotent sage into the role of facilitator, one who directs the flow of the classroom rather than dominating the stage.”

Skills: Inara Scott – Business : “In a blended classroom, we have a unique opportunity to rethink the structure and content of our courses. . . . Rather than delivering content, we should be thinking about what unique skills we are building in students, and how we can engage them in the process of finding, interpreting, and creating their own content.”

To summarize, intentional hybrid course design and delivery afford opportunities for faculty to create engaging learning experiences that effectively interweave the classroom and online learning environments. This may involve rethinking the roles of the instructors and students, redesigning learning activities and even reconsidering learning outcomes to optimize the teaching-and-learning experience!

What are your perspectives on blended learning? How does this teaching modality compare to fully online or traditional classroom approaches?

Thank you!

This post is the second in a three-part series that summarizes conclusions and insights from research of active, blended, and adaptive learning practices. Part one covered active learning, and today’s article focuses on the value of blended learning.

First Things First

What, exactly, is “blended” learning? Dictionary.com defines it as a “style of education in which students learn via electronic and online media as well as traditional face-to-face learning.” This is a fairly simplistic view, so Clifford Maxwell (2016), on the Blended Learning Universe website, offers a more detailed definition that clarifies three distinct parts:

  1. Any formal education program in which at least part of the learning is delivered online, wherein the student controls some element of time, place, path or pace.
  2. Some portion of the student’s learning occurs in a supervised physical location away from home, such as in a traditional on-campus classroom.
  3. The learning design is structured to ensure that both the online and in-person modalities are connected to provide a cohesive and integrated learning experience.

It’s important to note that a face-to-face class that simply uses an online component as a repository for course materials is not true blended learning. The first element in Maxwell’s definition, where the student independently controls some aspect of learning in the online environment, is key to distinguishing blended learning from the mere addition of technology.

You may also be familiar with other popular terms for blended learning, including hybrid or flipped classroom. Again, the common denominator is that the course design intentionally, and seamlessly, integrates both modalities to achieve the learning outcomes.

Let’s examine what the research says about the benefits of combining asynchronous, student-controlled learning with instructor-driven, face-to-face teaching.

Does Blended Learning Offer Benefits?

Blended Learning Icon

The short answer is yes.

The online component of blended learning can help “level the playing field.” In many face-to-face classes, students may be too shy or reluctant to speak up, ask questions, or offer an alternate idea. A blended environment combines the benefit of giving students time to compose thoughtful comments for an online discussion without the pressure and think-on-your-feet demand of live discourse, while maintaining direct peer engagement and social connections during in-classroom sessions (Hoxie, Stillman, & Chesal, 2014). Blended learning, through its asynchronous component, allows students to engage with materials at their own pace and reflect on their learning when applying new concepts and principles (Margulieux, McCracken, & Catrambone, 2015).

Since well-designed online learning produces equivalent outcomes to in-person classes, lecture and other passive information can be shifted to the online format, freeing up face-to-face class time for active learning, such as peer discussions, team projects, problem-based learning, supporting hands-on labs or walking through simulations (Bowen, Chingos, Lack, & Nygren, 2014). One research study found that combining online activities with in-person sessions also increased students’ motivation to succeed (Sithole, Chiyaka, & McCarthy, 2017).

What Makes Blended Learning So Effective?

Five young people studying with laptop and tablet computers on white desk. Beautiful girls and guys working together wearing casual clothes. Multi-ethnic group smiling.

Nearly all the research reviewed concluded that blended learning affords measurable advantages over exclusively face-to-face or fully online learning (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, 2009). The combination of technology with well-designed in-person interaction provides fertile ground for student learning. Important behaviors and interactions such as instructor feedback, assignment scaffolding, hands-on activities, reflection, repetition and practice were enhanced, and students also gained advantages in terms of flexibility, time management, and convenience (Margulieux, McCracken, & Catrambone, 2015).

Blended learning tends to benefit disadvantaged or academically underprepared students, groups that typically struggle in fully online courses (Chingosa, Griffiths, Mulhern, and Spies, 2017). Combining technology with in-person teaching helped to mitigate some challenges faced by many students in scientific disciplines, improving persistence and graduation rates. And since blended learning can be supportive for a broader range of students, it may increase retention and persistence for underrepresented groups, such as students of color (Bax, Campbell, Eabron, & Thomson, 2014–15).

Blended learning  benefits instructors, too. When asked about blended learning, most university faculty and instructors believe it to be more effective (Bernard, Borokhovski, Schmid, Tamim, & Abrami, 2014). The technologies used often capture and provide important data analytics, which help instructors more quickly identify under-performing students so they can provide extra support or guidance (McDonald, 2014). Many online tools are interactive, fun and engaging, which encourages student interaction and enhances collaboration (Hoxie, Stillman, & Chesal, 2014). Blended learning is growing in acceptance and often seen as a favorable approach because it synthesizes the advantages of traditional instruction with the flexibility and convenience of online learning (Liu, et al., 2016).

A Leap of Faith

Is blended learning right for your discipline or area of expertise? If you want to give it a try, there are many excellent internet resources available to support your transition.

Though faculty can choose to develop a blended class on their own, Oregon State instructors who develop a hybrid course through Ecampus receive full support and resources, including collaboration with an instructional designer, video creation and media development assistance. The OSU Center for Teaching and Learning offers workshops and guidance for blended, flipped, and hybrid classes. The Blended Learning Universe website, referenced earlier, also provides many resources, including a design guide, to support the transformation of a face-to-face class into a cohesive blended learning experience.

If you are ready to reap the benefits of both online and face-to-face teaching, I urge you to go for it! After all, the research shows that it’s a pretty safe leap.

For those of you already on board with blended learning, let us hear from you! Share your stories of success, lessons learned, do’s and don’ts, and anything else that would contribute to instructors still thinking about giving blended learning a try.

Susan Fein, Oregon State University Ecampus Instructional Designer
susan.fein@oregonstate.edu | 541-747-3364

References

  • Bax, P., Campbell, M., Eabron, T., & Thomson, D. (2014–15). Factors that Impede the Progress, Success, and Persistence to Pursue STEM Education for Henderson State University Students Who Are Enrolled in Honors College and in the McNair Scholars Program. Henderson State University. Arkadelphia: Academic Forum.
  • Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Schmid, R. F., Tamim, R. M., & Abrami, P. C. (2014). A meta-analysis of blended learning and technology use in higher education: From the general to the applied. J Comput High Educ, 26, 87–122.
  • Bowen, W. G., Chingos, M. M., Lack, K. A., & Nygren, T. I. (2014). Interactive learning online at public universities: Evidence from a six-campus randomized trial. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 33(1), 94–111.
  • Chingosa, M. M., Griffiths, R. J., Mulhern, C., & Spies, R. R. (2017). Interactive online learning on campus: Comparing students’ outcomes in hybrid and traditional courses in the university system of Maryland. The Journal of Higher Education, 88(2), 210-233.
  • Hoxie, A.-M., Stillman, J., & Chesal, K. (2014). Blended learning in New York City. In A. G. Picciano, & C. R. Graham (Eds.), Blended Learning Research Perspectives (Vol. 2, pp. 327-347). New York: Routledge.
  • Liu, Q., Peng, W., Zhang, F., Hu, R., Li, Y., & Yan, W. (2016). The effectiveness of blended learning in health professions: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 18(1). doi:10.2196/jmir.4807
  • Maxwell, C. (2016, March 4). What blended learning is – and isn’t. Blog post. Retrieved from Blended Learning Universe.
  • Margulieux, L. E., McCracken, W. M., & Catrambone, R. (2015). Mixing in-class and online learning: Content meta-analysis of outcomes for hybrid, blended, and flipped courses. In O. Lindwall, P. Hakkinen, T. Koschmann, & P. Tchoun (Ed.), Exploring the Material Conditions of Learning: Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) Conference (pp. 220-227). Gothenburg, Sweden: The International Society of the Learning Sciences.
  • McDonald, P. L. (2014). Variation in adult learners’ experience of blended learning in higher education. In Blended Learning Research Perspectives (Vol. 2, pp. 238-257). Routledge.
  • Sithole, A., Chiyaka, E. T., & McCarthy, P. (2017). Student attraction, persistence and retention in STEM programs: Successes and continuing challenges. Higher Education Studies, 7(1).
  • U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. (2009). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. Washington, D.C.

Image Credits

  • Blended Learning Icon: Innovation Co-Lab Duke Innovation Co-Lab [CC0]
  • Leap of Faith: Photo by Denny Luan on Unsplash
  • School photo created by javi_indy – www.freepik.com
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Are you interested in reading about research in the field of online teaching and learning? Could you use some help in reading and digesting the results of various research reports in the field? Would you like to be able to identify the strengths and weakness of the study reports that you read? If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions then you might be interested in the  Ecampus Research Unit’s new resource: the Report Reader Checklist.

The Report Reader Checklist includes a comprehensive set of criteria that offers you a guide to evaluate the quality and rigor of study reports. The checklist is intended to provide an overview of the foundational elements that should be included when reporting on the results of a study. You can apply each checklist criterion to a report to see whether that element has been included or not.

Here is an overview of the six areas of the checklist and the criterion in each area:

  1. Context: Does the report describe the larger purpose of the study? Does it explain the history or theoretical framework? Does the report include research goals and suggestions for further research?
  2. Methodology: Does the report have a methodology section? Is it clear how data were collected and analyzed? If the study used statistics, were they named? If coding was used, was the procedure described?
  3. Sample: Are the study participants described in detail? Is it clear how participants were recruited? Does the sample represent an appropriate level of diversity? Are subgroups appropriately identified?
  4. Reporting Results: Are all numbers in the report easy to comprehend? Is the “N” provided? Does the report identify missing data? Is it clear where study findings fit with the study’s purpose? Do data visualizations enhance your understanding of the results?
  5. Transparency: Are raw data included in the report? Are instruments or study protocols provided in the report? Are the authors clear about any conflicts of interest? Is the discussion rooted in data results?
  6. Reader Experience: Does the report use language that is easy to understand? Is the report ADA accessible? Does it include a summary or abstract? Is the study an appropriate length?

There are no “points” or “weighting” within the checklist, but if you find one area (e.g., “Context” or “Methodology”) that is missing several criteria within a report, that would indicate that a report is weaker in that particular area.

You can download a one-page PDF of the checklist or visit our supplementary website that provides more details on each of the criterion. Further, the site includes sample reports for each criterion so that you can learn more about areas that you are unfamiliar with.

We hope you find this resource useful for reading and evaluating reports in the field. We also hope it helps you make data-driven decisions for your work.

About the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit: The Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit makes research actionable through the creation of evidence-based resources related to effective online teaching, learning and program administration. The OSU Ecampus Research Unit is part of Oregon State Ecampus, the university’s top-ranked online education provider. Learn more at ecampus.oregonstate.edu/research.