Great places to find answers to this question are the Lilly Conferences on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning held annually at six sites from coast to coast. These conferences invite participants to engage in lively dialogue about the scholarship of teaching and learning, share best practices and hone teaching skills. Lilly Conferences are not specific to any course modality; they cover classroom, hybrid and online teaching. I found the three topics from August’s Lilly – Asheville Conference of particular interest: alternative approaches to traditional grading, faculty and student empathy, and strategies to enhance the effectiveness of lectures.

Alternative Grading Systems

Michael Palmer,  director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Teaching Excellence, challenged conference attendees to address the question “How does grading influence learning?” He then encouraged examination of alternative approaches to traditional grading practices, and explained specifications (“specs”) grading, which he personally uses. Briefly, specifications grading involves:

  • Grading assignments and assessments on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis, where mastery (passing) is set at a “B” level or better.
  • Bundling assignments and assessments together and allowing students to select these “bundles” based on the final course grade they are seeking. Bundles are aligned with specific course learning outcomes. Higher final grades require students to do more work and/or more challenging work.
  • Building in flexibility by giving students a few tokens at the outset that they can trade in for an extension on an assignment or an opportunity to revise/redo an unsatisfactory assignment.

Advocates of specs grading tout its effectiveness in motivating and engaging students while restoring rigor, providing actionable feedback (Palmer gives audio feedback) and supporting deep learning. To learn more, see Linda Nilson’s book Specifications Grading. Regarding ways to provide feedback that enhances learning in online courses, see Wanted: Effective Instructor Feedback.

Empathy and Student Success

Katherine Rowell of Ohio’s Sinclair Community College spoke eloquently about “The Importance of Teacher and Student Empathy in Student Success.”

  • She noted that positive faculty-student relationships are a principal factor predicting student success. In fact, the 2014 Gallup-Purdue survey found that college graduates were far more likely to be engaged in their work and thriving in key areas of well-being if they had one or more positive relationships with faculty.
  • Rowell encouraged the audience to learn more about the role that empathy plays in student success, and to look at how empathy—by both instructors and students—is manifest in the college classroom, including the online classroom.
  • She recommended Christopher Uhl and Dana Stuchul’s book Teaching as If Life Matters which encourages teachers to nurture students in ways that make learning beneficial for a more meaningful life. In this regard, OSU Business instructor Nikki Brown’s recent post in this blog on meeting students where they are is a excellent place to start.

Improving Lectures

Todd Zakrajsek of UNC-Chapel Hill presented evidence-based strategies to enhance lecture effectiveness. His message can be applied to asynchronous online learning as well as to on-campus courses:

  • Lectures and active learning are not mutually exclusive. Using lectures, including short online lectures, plus active learning can reach more learners better than using either technique in the absence of the other. Think of strategies to get learners to interact with the lecture content!
  • “We have to stop thinking there’s only one kind of lecture.” Just as there are many varieties of active learning, there are multiple kinds of lecturing!  The classic college lecture model is continuous expository lecturing, which can effectively stifle student engagement when delivered non-stop in one-hour doses! It’s useful to consider how other approaches such as case-study, discussion-framing, and problem-solving lectures can be used in online and hybrid courses.
  • We all benefit from examining the research on how learners learn, and applying this knowledge  to inform course development and teaching, including lecture design. For more on this, see The New Science of Learning, co-authored by Zakrajsek and Terry Doyle. Also consider meeting students where they are.

What are your experiences with these topics: Have you explored alternative grading systems? How do you use empathy in your teaching? What are some strategies you use to improve lecture effectiveness and incorporate active learning? Please share your ideas here.

 

Whether you are a new or seasoned online instructor, understanding how to establish and maintain instructor presence is a commonly shared challenge. What is known about online learners is they want to know their instructors are engaged and regularly interacting in the course. Students also express how important it is to know that their instructors care about them.

There is a natural distance inherent in online classrooms which necessitates purposeful actions and intentional structures to prevent isolation and to foster connection. There is great news… this distance can be overcome!  Moreover, research has indicated that instructor presence has a relationship with perceived student satisfaction and success. Being there for your students can make a difference!

Being present goes a step further beyond students perceiving that their instructors are there. By definition, instructor presence is “the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social process for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes.” This may sound like a significant undertaking, but rest assured that you can craft your presence over time and that you have ample support from the Ecampus team. We can help bring your ideas to life!

Keep in mind that curating instructor presence will be an evolution. Learning environments and experiences are dynamic. In addition, the composition of students will change each term, so learner needs and wants will continually shift. Strategies used within a specific context may not work for another, and that is okay.

Let’s get started!

Try starting out small by exploring different ideas. Don’t be afraid to change directions if one approach doesn’t work. With all that said, what are some strategies for establishing and maintaining presence which can be leveraged today?

Establishing presence

  • Welcome announcements
  • Instructor introduction video
  • About your instructor page
  • Course overview video
  • Virtual office hours or individualized virtual sessions to connect with students
  • Personalized language to humanize the learning experience

Maintaining presence

  • Non-graded community building spaces to connect around complex learning activities
  • Announcements to send regular updates, reminders, and check-ins
    • Tip! Announcements can also be leveraged to share and highlight valuable connections, expand upon those insights, and provide relevant resources for learners to explore.
  • Monitor learner progress
    • Regular and timely feedback which is clear and actionable
    • Outreach to learners who are struggling or engagement is lacking
  • Present content in diverse ways
    • Module overview videos
    • Audio recordings (e.g. podcast)
    • Screencast demonstrations
  • Engage in course discussions
  • Solicit student feedback
    • Tip! Consider adding a short anonymous survey in the middle of the course.

As ideas begin to percolate, please do share those with your Instructional Designer so that together you can explore different strategies and tools that will work best for you.

References

  • Budhai, S., & Williams, M. (2016). Teaching Presence in Online Courses: Practical Applications, Co-Facilitation, and Technology Integration. The Journal of Effective Teaching,16(3), 76-84.
  • Ekmekci, O. (2013). Being There: Establishing Instructor Presence in an Online Learning Environment. Higher Education Studies, 3(1), 29-38.
  • Jaggers, S., Edgecombe, N., & West-Stacey, G. (2013, April). Creating an Effective Online Instructor Presence. Retrieved from https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/media/k2/attachments/effective-online-instructor-presence.pdf
  • Ladyshewsky, R. K. (2013). Instructor Presence in Online Courses and Student Satisfaction. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(1). doi:10.20429/ijsotl.2013.070113
  • Sandercock, I. (2014, October 14). The Importance of Instructor Presence in Online Courses. Retrieved from https://teachonline.asu.edu/2014/10/important-instructor-presence-online-course/
  • Smith, T. (2014, September 30). Managing Instructor Presence Online. Retrieved from http://teachonline.asu.edu/2012/08/managing-instructor-presence-online/#more-1069

If you’ve ever needed an excessive amount of photographs or diagrams to accurately describe a physical object for your class, you may benefit from a 3D model.

Standard media types, including text, photographs, illustrations, audio, video, and animation, are crucial to the online learning experience. A 3D model is essentially another media type with a lot of unique qualities.

What is a 3D model?

3D models, in this case, are digital representations of physical objects. 3D models generally consist of a polygon mesh and a surface texture. The polygon mesh is a “shell” comprised of the different surfaces of a 3-dimensional object. There are three main components that make up this shell: vertices (points), edges (lines), and faces (planes). For what should be clear from the previous sentence, polygon meshes are often referred to as simply “geometry.” There are a lot of other technical terms associated with polygon meshes, but in practical application, you may never need to learn them.

The surface texture, at its most basic, is an image, mapped onto the surface of the polygon mesh.

A texture can be as simple as a solid color, or as complex as a high-resolution photograph. The texture will be wrapped onto the surface of the geometry with the help of a set of instructions called UVs. UVs are a complex topic in and of themselves, so it’s good enough that you just know they exist conceptually.

These textures can have physics-based properties that interact with light to produce effects such as transparency, reflection, shadows, etc.

You’re probably thinking to yourself now, that 3D models are too complicated to be of use in your courses, but that’s not necessarily true. The composition and inner workings of 3D models are complicated, for sure, but you don’t need to be an expert to benefit from them.

Where did they come from, and how are they used?

There probably isn’t a day that goes by where you don’t experience a 3D model in some way. They are everywhere.

3D models, in digital form, have been around for decades. They have been used in industrial applications extensively. 3D models are used to generate toolpaths for small and large machines to manufacture parts more consistently than a human could ever hope to. 3D models are also used to generate toolpaths for 3D printers.

3D models are used in movies, animations, and video games. Sometimes entire worlds are created with 3D models for use in virtual and augmented reality.

Modern interfaces for computers and smartphones are awash in 3D graphics. Those graphics are rendered on the screen from 3D models!

How can they help me as an educator?

If you’re still not convinced that 3D models hold any benefit to you, I’ll explain a few ways in which they can enrich your course materials.

  1. 3D models are easily examined and manipulated without damage to physical specimen.
    • If you are involved in teaching a course with physical specimens, you are no doubt familiar with the concept of a “teaching collection.” A teaching collection is a high-turnover collection that gets handled and examined during class. Normally these collections break down quickly, so instructors are hesitant to include rare and fragile specimens. Having digital proxies for these rare and fragile specimens will allow students access to otherwise unknown information. This has even bigger benefits to distance students, as they don’t have to be anywhere near the collection to examine its contents.
  2. 3D models give students unlimited time with a specimen
    • If you have a biology lab, and the students are looking at skull morphology, there’s a distinct possibility that you would have a skull on hand to examine. If there are 30 students in the course, each student will have only a short amount of time to examine the specimen. If that same skull was scanned and made into a 3D model, each student could examine it simultaneously, for as long as they need.
  3. 3D models are easily shared
    • Many schools and universities around the world are digitizing their collections and sharing them. There is a fair amount of overlap in the models being created, but the ability to add regionally exclusive content to a global repository would be an amazing benefit to science at large. Smaller schools can have access to a greater pool of materials, and that is good for everyone.
  4. 3D models have presence
    • A 3D model is a media object. That means it can be examined, but it’s special in the way that it can be interacted with. Functionality can be built on and around a 3D model. Models can be manipulated, animated, and scaled. A photograph captures the light bouncing off of an object, that is closer to a description of the object.  A 3D model is a representation of the actual physical properties of the object, and that strikes at the nature of the object itself. This means that a 3D model can “stand in” for a real object in simulations, and the laws of physics can be applied accurately. This realistic depth and spatial presence can be very impactful to students. Much more so than a simple photograph.
  5. 3D models can be analyzed
    • Because 3D models are accurate, and because they occupy no physical space, they lend themselves to analysis techniques unavailable to the physical world. Two models can be literally laid on top of one another to highlight any differences. Measurements of structures can be taken with a few clicks. In the case of a machined part, material stress tests can be run over and over without the need to replace the part.

These are only a few of the ways that an educator could leverage 3D models. There are many more. So, if you still find 3D models interesting, you’re probably wondering how to get them, or where to look. There are a lot of places to find them, and a lot of techniques to build them yourself. I’ll outline a few.

Where do I get them?

3D models are available all over the internet, but there are a few reputable sources that you should definitely try first. Some will allow you to download models, and some will allow you to link to models on their site. Some will allow you to use the models for free, while others will require a fee. Some will have options for all of the aforementioned things.

How do I create them?

The two main ways to create 3D models are scanning and modeling.

Scanning can be prohibitively expensive, as the hardware can run from a few hundred dollars, to many thousands of dollars. But, like anything else technological, you get what you pay for. The quality is substantially better with higher-end scanners.

For something a little more consumer-grade, a technique called photogrammetry can be employed. This is a software solution that only requires you to take a large series of photographs. There is some nuance to the technique, but it can work well for those unable to spend thousands of dollars on a 3D scanner. Some examples of photogrammetry software include PhotoScan and COLMAP.

Modeling has a steep learning curve. There are many different software packages that allow you to create 3D models, and depending on your application, some will be better suited than others. If you are looking to create industrial schematics or architectural models, something likeFusion 360, AutoCad, or Solidworks might be a good choice. If you’re trying to sculpt an artistic vision, where the precise dimensions are less important, Maya, Blender, Mudbox or Zbrush may be your choice.

How to use them in your class:

There are a number of ways to use 3D models in your class. The simplest way is to link to the object on the website in which it resides. At OSU Ecampus, we use the site, SketchFab, to house our 3D scans. The source files stay with us as we create them, but we can easily upload them to SketchFab, brand them, and direct students to view them. SketchFab also allows us to add data to the model by way of written descriptions andannotations anchored to specific structures in the model.

The models hosted on SketchFab behave similarly to YouTube videos. You can embed them in your own site, and they are cross-platform compatible. They are even mobile-friendly.

As you can see, there is a lot to learn about 3D models and their application. Hopefully, I’ve broken it down into some smaller pieces that you can reasonably pursue on your own. At the very least, I hope that you have a better understanding of how powerful 3D models can be.

A big THANK YOU to Nick Harper, Multimedia Developer, Oregon State University Ecampus

One of the common ideas instructors have to bolster student-content engagement in a course is to add media. Podcasts are a type of media element that can support learning in a number of ways. It is relatively easy to link to an established podcast. Planning and producing your own podcast is more involved. This post explores the idea of producing a podcast for your online course. Is it something you should consider?

Prior to diving into the value and purpose of podcasts it is useful to understand what a podcast is…and what it isn’t.

The term podcast is a portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcast”. This blended word says a lot because a podcast is a digital recording that is produced for distribution to a computer or mobile device (e.g., the iPod in 2005). Podcasts are distributed via RSS feeds that users subscribe to. Podcast directories, like iTunes®, allow users to find and subscribe to a podcast. Generally podcasts are episodic and often serial in nature with new episodes delivered automatically to subscribed users as the new content becomes available.

So, you can see a course podcast is more than an audio or video file embedded in an online course that students click on to engage with. In its ideal form, a podcast is a method of delivering course content to a learner’s mobile device via the podcast subscription process. Learners can engage with that content at any time and any place they have their mobile device.

Banner showing cover art from four OSU podcasts
Sample cover art from select Oregon State University podcasts.

Audio, Video, or Enhanced Podcasts

There a three primary formats of podcasts. Links to examples of each type of podcast are provide at the end of this article.

  • Audio: This type of podcast distributes digital audio files to listeners
  • Video (vodcast): This podcast type distributes a digital video file to podcast watchers.
  • Enhanced: The enhanced podcasts distributes a media file that displays images synchronized with audio. 

Instructional Use & Value
With mobile devices pervasive in college audiences, being able to distribute educational content to those devices is very attractive. The use of podcasts in online learning environments is common and spans many disciplines (Supanakor-Davila & Bollinger, 2014). Podcasting has also been applied in traditional college courses (McGarr, 2009) and in graduate teaching (Luna & Cullen, 2011). Fernandez, Sallan and Simo (2015) recognized podcasting as a major phenomenon in education with the primary purpose being the distribution of course content.

The purpose of podcasts in instruction varies by podcast type and author. Podcasts can be used to inform, provide analysis, develop skills and knowledge, motivate, mediate and more (Carvalho et al., 2009). Common types of podcasts produced for educational use include:

  • Informative: Description fo concepts, analysis, synthesis, readings etc.
  • Feedback: Audio or video feed back for student work or group work.
  • Guides: Helpful media content addressing field or practical work, studying, group dynamics and reflective or experiential learning.
  • Authentic: Original media contend such as news, interviews, radio programming and others.

The production of podcasts can be faculty, student, or outside expert driven. Like any good media production it should have excellent production value and a structure to hold attention and enhance learning. Since podcasts are serial in nature shorter media segments are encouraged. Episodes of 15 minutes or less will likely promote better engagement with podcast content. Although a very engaging podcast can be longer.

The benefits of podcasts in online courses are tied to the nature of the media and distribution process. Audio podcast are popular because they can be listened to while doing other tasks. Additionally the speed of media playback can be controlled by the listener. Video podcasts are ideal when visual support is necessary to foster understanding of the course content. As mobile media podcasts may be used to facilitate and support remote field work by students or even tours of remote places. The ability to watch or listen to podcasts via WiFi or downloaded and used on-demand makes podcast a convenient asynchronous media adjunct to an online course.

So, as a course content delivery mechanism podcasts are a unique tool if applied thoughtfully. Understanding podcast types, formats, and their delivery mechanism helps you make better decisions about podcast application.

Research in Action sound wave image.
Visit the Research in Action podcast website at Oregon State University to listen to this episode and see how transcripts are shared.

Accessibility
Making content accessible when using podcast requires some planning and also reflects the nature of the podcast media you plan to use. For audio podcasts it is important to provide transcripts to support all learners. 

Video podcasts are best paired with well synchronized captions. When planning video podcast you may also want to think about providing audio descriptions of content that provides important information that is shown as a visual in the video.

Podcast Consumers: Is This Your Audience?
This is an important question. If you produce a podcast are learners likely to engage with it? Is podcasting on the radar of potential learners?  The Edison Research survey on The Podcast Consumer (2018) indicates that 26% of those surveyed listen to podcasts monthly. The podcasting audience by age shows that  30% of  12-24 year olds, 32% of 25-54 year olds, and 13% of 55 + year olds have listened to a podcast in the last month. Male and female listeners are about evenly split in podcast engagement. Smartphone and other mobile devices make up 76% of podcast listening devices with computers making up 24% of podcast engagement. The top three locations of podcast engagement are at home (82%), followed by in a car/truck (54%), and walking or on foot (41%). Podcasting seems well suited to reach audiences that are remote, mobile, and consume media in an asynchronous fashion. These are also common descriptors of online learning audiences.

A Podcast For Your Course?
If a podcast sounds interesting to you contact your instructional designer at Ecampus. They can help you understand more about this mobile media opportunity and help think through strategies for effective podcast use. They will also work with Ecampus multimedia developers to help facilitate the production and distribution of your podcast. 

So, what do you think? Can you imagine your students engaging with course content as a podcast? Could a podcast work in your online course?

Links to sample podcasts in iTunes

Notes: 

  1. Enhanced podcasts are best viewed on a mobile device although they can be viewed in iTunes once downloaded.
  2. Prior to 2017 educational podcasts were distributed by Apple via iTunes U. With changes in iTunes educational podcasts now appear in the podcast section of iTunes and iTunes U was discontinued.


References

Carvalho, A. A., Aguiar, C., Santos, H., Oliveira, L., Marques, A., & Maciel, R. (2009). Podcasts in higher education: Students’ and lecturers’ perspectives. In A. Tatnall & A. Jones (Eds.), Education and technology for a better world (pp. 417-426). Boston: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. doi:10.1007/978-3- 642-03115-1_44.

Fernandez, V.; Sallan, J.; Simo, Pep. Past, present, and future of podcasting in higher education. In L., Many & Y. Zhao (Eds.). Exploring learning & teaching in higher education pp. 305-330. Berlin: Springer, 2015,.

Luna, Gaye, & Cullen, Deborah. (2011). Podcasting as Complement to Graduate Teaching: Does It Accommodate Adult Learning Theories? International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23(1), 40-47.

McGarr, Oliver. (2009). A Review of Podcasting in Higher Education: Its Influence on the Traditional Lecture. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(3), 309-321.

Supanakorn-Davila, S., & Bolliger, D. (2014). Instructor Utilization Of Podcasts In The Online Learning Environment. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(3), N/a.

Webster, T. (2018). The Podcast Consumer. Retrieved from http://www.edisonresearch.com/podcast-consumer-2018/

 

Many educators have contemplated the use of games as way to engage learners, or maybe thought about using some elements found in games to engage learners. A big hurdle for integrating games into a course is the amount of work it takes to build them to use in a course, even if you have the skill-set. Of course, you could always take the easier route and try to integrate an existing game into a course. The hurdles there involve cost and finding a game that supports the content specific to your course. There is another approach to bring game concepts into the learning environment that does not necessitate a huge investment of time, combining game design with problem-based learning.

Create activities in your course that have learners design and contextualize the content of a game. You set the rules and mechanics of how the game will work, your students design how the content fits into that game. No one has to actually program or build a game. The idea is to use game mechanics as a tool to get learners to think about instructional material and how concepts inter-relate.

So where do you begin? Start with what you know. What are your favorite games? These don’t have to be a computer or video game. Think about puzzles, board games, or card games that you have enjoyed. Are there elements of how the game works (mechanics) that can be applied to your course content? Do some ‘research’ (this is the fun part). There is something of a board game renaissance going on right now offering a boggling variety of board and card games. These cover a range of concepts, from pandemics to book collecting. The board game Chronology offers a simple mechanic that can lend itself to a variety of topics. The game works as the name implies.

Remember, you don’t have to provide the rules for an entire game. Keep the activity focused on one element of a game that you can apply to content appropriate for your course and that supports the given learning objectives. Keep the rules simple.

One of my favorite games is Sid Meier’s Civilization V. The purpose of the game is to build a ‘historical’ civilization from the ground up. A key element of the game is researching and building technology. In order to be successful at building technology and move your civilization forward, you have to understand how technologies are inter-related and build on each other. You can’t just research gun powder, for example, but have to first research and develop all of the underlying technologies to get there.

Sample of the technology tree from the game Civiliztion V
You can’t research Horseback Riding before you develop Trapping and Animal Husbandry. (Image from STEAM community workshop)

The above image should be familiar to anyone who has used timelines, production trees or flowcharts. You may already be using something like this in your course. Game design can simply be a way to engage learners in developing these tools.

A big strength of using Project-Based Learning in this way is that it doesn’t require a lot of time to set up and the project can easily be managed with tools that already exist in your LMS, using student Groups, or something as simple as shared Google docs. How far you want to push learner creativity in the design is up to you and the needs of your course.

Here at Ecampus, we are lucky to have a marvelously creative Media Development Team who would be able to help build supporting material for your ideas. Depending on the complexity of the game you propose, it may even be possible to put your learners’ work into a game ‘shell’ that would result in a working version of the game. This, in turn, could be used as a study tool.

Becoming a Student Again

With excitement and a bit of apprehension I logged in to my first ever online class. Sure, I’ve taught online classes for years, but this was my first time as a student in an online class that I had paid to take and where grades were given.

I reviewed the “Start Here” module and familiarized myself with the structure of the class before I opened the first lecture from my new instructor. The instructor’s voice came through my speakers and as she began to speak I noted the length of the lecture: 44 minutes. “What?!? I don’t have time for this,” I thought as I slammed my laptop shut. It suddenly and powerfully occurred to me that I did not have control over this classroom and my expectations as a student might be vastly different from my instructor’s.

Eventually, I settled in to the rhythm of the class and my instructor’s expectations. As it turns out, that 44 minute lecture was an outlier (the rest were closer to 15 minutes), and I figured out a way to incorporate the lectures into my schedule (I watched them while on the spin bike).

The Needs of the Online Student

As a working parent, trying to balance family, work, and school obligations, I am the target customer for online education, and I certainly felt the “squeeze” of all these obligations competing for my time. Like many of my students, my days are jam-packed and most of the time, I am scheduled to the minute. Uncertainties can throw my well-planned schedule into turmoil… “Wow, that reading took longer than I expected. No, I can’t participate in a live webinar or meet for a group project at 3pm. I have to pick up kids from school. Darn, this link is broken and the instructor hasn’t responded to my questions about it…now I’ve lost my window for working on this project. My dog died today, and while I had to go to work and had to make dinner, I just don’t have it in me to watch a class lecture and take a quiz. I’m too sad…can I have an extension?”

Meeting Our Students Where They Are

I ended up taking several classes from several instructors over the course of a year. Being a student in these classes exposed me to a number of different teaching styles and techniques and strategies, and I was able to experience these things from a student point of view. Based on my experience, here are 4 strategies for instructors that your students might find helpful:

  1. Provide time estimates for weekly activities. Estimated read times and watch times for learning materials are very helpful for a busy student trying to plan the week.
  2. Chunk the material. As an online student, I rarely had long chunks of time to work on my classes, but I could squeeze in smaller chunks of time here and there. And while students can start and stop a task as needed in the online classroom, it’s rewarding to actually finish a task in one sitting.
  3. Make it easy to find class resources. In the online classroom there are many wonderful learning materials we can easily incorporate (e.g., links to blogs, videos, calculators); but when these resources are scattered throughout 10 learning modules, they can be difficult for the student to find. Provide a works cited page (with hyperlinks) or a glossary of key terms to help students locate material, especially when studying for exams.
  4. Anticipate Questions. This might be tough the first time you teach a course, but over time we often see the same questions arising from our students. We can reduce the delay in response time, by anticipating these questions and providing answers and support ahead of time. This could be a Q&A sheet for complex assignments or a guided worksheet with comments from the instructor to help students get through well-known tricky spots.

The flexibility of the online classroom gives busy students around the world access to educational opportunities that have not been available in the past. These students are working hard in every aspect of their lives and with a little support from us, their online instructors, we can help them make the most of the time they have in order to learn and grow.

-Nikki Brown, Instructor, College of Business

I recently attended one of Bryan Alexander’s Future Trend’s Forum webinar session (recording on youtube) on apps educators use in their work and in their life and learned about some very interesting apps.

Anti-app App:

  • 🌲Forest: an app to monitor time off phone (for personal use or group use, family use, etc.).
  • 🌺 Flora: (free app) helps you and your friends stay focused on the task together (recommended by my wonderful co-worker Dorothy Loftin)

Apps for teaching and learning:

  • 📈 Desmos: Graph functions, plot data, evaluate equations, explore transformations, and much more – for free!
  • ➗Algebrabyhand: The most advanced drag and drop algebra tool for the web.
  • 🏃‍♂️Fabulous is a science-based app, incubated in Duke’s Behavioral Economics Lab, that will help you build healthy rituals into your life, just like an elite athlete.
  • 🧘Calm: App for meditation and sleep.
  • 📚Meet Libby: a ground-breaking ebook reader and a beautiful audiobook player to read any book from your local library.
  • 👨‍💻Vuforia Chalk: Vuforia Chalk makes it easy when troubleshooting or expert guidance is needed for situations not covered in training or service manuals.
  • 🈵Lingrotogo: language learning app. LingroToGo is designed to make time devoted to language learning as productive and enjoyable as possible. (The difference between this app and other language learning app is that it is based on educational theory, the developers claim.)
  • 📰Newsmeister: stay current with news challenge quizzes.
  • 👩🏻‍🏫Studytree: StudyTree analyzes students’ grades and behavioral patterns to construct customized recommendations to improve their academic performance. Additionally, StudyTree serves advisors and administrators by providing them managerial access to the application, which enables insight to useful statistics and an overview of each student’s individual progress.
  • 💻Nearpod: Synchronize and control lessons across all student devices
  • Flipgrid: video for student engagement (recently purchased by Microsoft, not sure if any feature will change soon).

Fun Games:

  • Marcopolo: face-to-face messaging app for one-to-one and group conversations—bringing family and friends closer than ever with genuine conversations and moments shared. It could be used for student mock interviews and direct messaging within a group.
  • goosechase: scavenger hunts for the masses.

Productivity:

  • 🎫Tripit: find all your travel plans in one place.
  • 🛍rememberthemilk: the smart to-do app for busy people.
  • wunderlist: the easiest way to get stuff done.
  • 🎧Stitcher: Podcast aggregator allows you to get the latest episodes of your favorite podcasts wherever and whenever you want.
  • 🌐inoreader: The content reader for power users who want to save time.
  • 🎧Overcast: A powerful yet simple podcast player for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, which dynamically shortens silences in talk shows.

Where to keep up with all the new tools and apps?

 

P.S. Icons come from emojipedia.org

If you have handy apps that make your life easier, feel free to share with us. We’d love to hear from you.

Along with the vast growth of fully online education, a corresponding trend is the growing popularity of hybrid (or blended) courses and programs. OSU defines a hybrid course as one that includes both regularly scheduled on-site classroom meetings and significant online out-of-classroom components that replace regularly scheduled class meeting time.

The blended learning mix map from the Blended Learning Toolkit is a widely used tool to visualize a hybrid course under design or redesign. This simple template of two overlapping circles provides space to list online learning activities, face-to-face learning activities and possibly activities that occur in both learning environments. For example, discussions may be a regular course activity online, in class, or in both environments.

 

Blended Learning Mix Map

Much of the real value of developing a mix map is gained from drawing arrows to connect each element of the course to one or more other elements. For example, an arrow may show that course videos are linked to weekly quizzes that assess student mastery of the video content. Arrows can also be used to add information about the the pedagogical purpose behind the connection of elements as in a sample mix map from Univ. of Central Florida’s Kathie Holland.

Anthony Klotz, OSU assistant professor of business, illustrates 10 weeks of teaching-and-learning progression with his sample MGMT 453 mix map. He shows that discussion, review and Q&A take place throughout MGMT 453 both online and face-to-face. OSU’s Hybrid Learning website provides downloadable mix map templates and more sample mix maps.

If sketching out a mix map for a whole course seems daunting, then beginning with a mix map of a typical week of the course may be the place to start. A weekly mix map, as a representative chunk of the course may provide a conceptual template for many of the other weeks of the same course.

The mix map serves multiple purposes:

  • It gives a snapshot of the balance between online and face-to-face components. For example, does the proposed mix map for your course seem to show a classroom course with some online supplements? Or does it show an online course with an occasional face-to-face check-in?
  • The mix map is valuable to diagnose whether a hybrid course under design is actually a course and a half. Has a 4-credit course taken on the appearance and corresponding student workload of a 6-credit course? If you add a time estimate to each course element on the mix map (for instance, 2 hours to complete the weekly reading), what do all the activities in a week add up to?
  • The connecting arrows are useful to assess whether the course elements are well integrated. Are the online and face-to-face learning activities deeply interwoven or will students perceive the hybrid course as two separate courses, one online and one in-class, running on parallel tracks?
  • The mix map can be used as well to check alignment of learning activities with course learning outcomes or with more granular weekly learning objectives. Ask yourself, how do specific activities and the forms of assessment connected to them on the mix map align with your learning outcomes?

Consider using a mix map! Faculty developing blended courses frequently find that spending even 10-15 minutes sketching out their planned hybrid courses on these “magic circles” can lead to significant insights about course design.

Open Text BooksRecently, I attended an open textbook network workshop, hosted by Oregon State University and sponsored by Open Oregon Educational Resources and OSU’s Affordable Learning Initiative. If you are an instructor or a faculty administrator who cares about the impact of textbook costs on our students and want to learn what you can do about it, I would highly recommend to continue reading.

Key Takeaways

The Concept of Open Textbooks:

  • Open textbooks are textbooks that are free and can be used either in whole or in part at no cost.
  • They are often written by experts, scholars, and professors in their respective fields and are edited and published in the same matter as commercial textbooks.
  • Open textbooks are licensed with an open license giving users permission to access, reuse, share, and adapt materials with few or no restrictions and at no cost.

The Benefits of Open Textbooks:

  • For students it makes college more accessible, as all students have access to the course materials on the first day of the course, as well as being more affordable by eliminating the costs incurred from purchasing textbooks.
  • For instructors it provides more course materials options, as well as gives instructors the permission to freely customize and adapt the content to meet their students’ needs.

Locating Open Textbooks:

The workshop provides the following list of search sites to locate open textbooks:

Networks & Opportunities:

The workshop also provides a list of networks and opportunities to get involved in reviewing, researching, adopting, or authoring open textbooks and educational resources.

  • Open Textbook Network – In addition to providing a list of peer reviewed open textbooks on the Open Textbook Library site, this network invites participants of this workshop to write and submit a review of an open textbook for a $200 stipend.
  • OpenEdGroup.org – This network provides access to research studies and an OER Adoption Research Toolkit. They also invite anyone interested in designing with open educational resources to apply and join the Designing with OER (DOER) Fellows Program.
  • OSU Ecampus Research Unit – This OSU unit provides access to research projects as well as provides internal funding opportunities for OSU faculty to research how online education (including open education) impacts teaching and learning.
  • OpenOregon.org – This network provides access to open educational resources as well as provides opportunities to apply for grant funding to develop OERs.
  • OSU Open Oregon State – This OSU unit provides access to open educational resources as well as provides internal funding opportunities for OSU faculty to adopt, adapt, or write an open textbook as well as design and develop other OERs.

Active Learning Online – Part 2

The first post about active learning looked at how to include active learning in an online course. You heard about how a history professor used an interactive timeline. Each student added images, facts, and descriptions to the timeline, and the result was a visually-rich historical review. Students had fun while learning about facts and events. This is an example of collaboration and active learning at its best. The second example focused on interactive textbooks as an alternative to printed books. The Top Hat product combined words, images, video, and engaging activities to improve learning and make it more active.

In today’s post we look at two new active learning ideas: mind mapping and annotated reading. Although these two technologies are different from each other, they offer similar benefits. Mind mapping requires the student to visually depict a concept, process, or system. Students label relevant parts or steps, show how these are connected, and identify key relationships. Annotated reading, on the other hand, allows students to enter short comments to passages of text, which encourages peer-to-peer interaction and sharing. While reading, students identify confusing sections, ask (or answer) questions, and interact with others. Both methods actively engage students in the learning process and support them to apply and analyze course concepts.

A Picture is Worth…

You know the famous quip about pictures, so let’s consider how using a visually-based tool for active-learning can support online learners. Wikipedia defines mind mapping as “a diagram used to visually organize information.” Similar tools are concept maps and information maps.

Why are images important for learning? Mind maps help students understand concepts, ideas, and relationships. According to Wikipedia, a meta-study found that “concept mapping is more effective than ‘reading text passages, attending lectures, and participating in class discussions.'” One reason is because mind maps mimic how our brain works. They help us see the “big picture” and make important connections. Not only are mind maps visually appealing, they are also fun to create! Students can work alone or in teams.  This mind map about tennis is colorful and stimulating.

If you want to try mind mapping yourself, here’s a free tool called MindMup. There are many others available, some free and others with modest fees. The Ecampus team created an active learning resources mind map, made with MindMeister. Take a look. There are a lot of great ideas listed. Try a few!

Close Encounters

College student with an open textbookMost classes assign reading to students. Yet reading is a solo activity, so it offers a lower level of active learning. But there are ways to raise reading’s active learning value, with or without technology.

Using a technique called close reading, students get more active learning benefits. Close reading is a unique way to read, usually done with short sections of text. With careful focus, close reading helps students reach a deeper understanding of the author’s ideas, meaning and message.

Three students pointing to laptop screenIf you want to add technology, you can make reading even more active! Using an app called Perusall, reading becomes a collaborative activity. Perusall lets students add comments to the reading and see what others are saying. Students can post questions or respond. Instructors set guidelines for the number of entries and discover which content is most confusing. Originally built for the face-to-face classroom, Perusall is also an effective tool for online learning. Perusall is like social networking in the textbook. It helps students engage with materials and be more prepared to apply the concepts and principles to later assignments. Perusall can be used with or without the close reading technique. 

Want to Try?

Let us know if you have questions or want to try an idea. We are here to help! If you are already working with an Ecampus instructional designer, contact them to ask about these active learning technologies. Or send an email to me, susan.fein@oregonstate.edu, and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

References

Images

Susan Fein, Ecampus Instructional Designer, susan.fein@oregonstate.edu