When teaching face-to-face, you might break your lectures into weeks because you will only meet with students once or twice a week.  You hope to give them all the information they need during your face-to-face sessions for them to successfully complete work independently between classes.

While a typical face-to-face lecture can span 50-90 minutes, there is evidence to suggest shortening the length for your online students may be a better practice.  Your online students may be in and out of your course many more times than they would be face-to-face and this gives you the opportunity to think about designing your video lectures differently.  Organizing your lectures topically, rather than weekly can be a powerful way to redesign your course.

Students can find what they need, when they need it

Imagine you are taking a course on humor and Week 1 covered the causes of laughter.  Midterms are approaching and you realize you understood the causes exaggeration and anticipation, but can’t remember what protection was about.  If there was one long lecture on the causes of humor, you would have to re-watch or scroll through the whole lecture to find this one piece of information.  But, if your instructor had each of the lectures separated out and named by topic, you could easily review the one topic that was confusing to you.  If you have a limited amount of time to study, you can place your focus on studying the content, rather than finding it.

The practice of topic-based videos also makes finding content later much easier for your learners. Consider how much harder it is to find information when you are looking through titles like “Week 2”.  By Week 9, when students might be reviewing for their final, is it likely they will remember exactly what you covered in Week 2?  However, they could quickly glance at topical titles to jog their memory when deciding what to study.

Speaking from experience, I reviewed videos from a course I had completed to prepare for a job interview.  I remembered that the course had the lectures broken out by topic rather than week, so it was easy to refresh myself on concepts that I was sure would come up with the employer.

Students can digest smaller pieces

Topical lectures, perhaps several short ones per week, are easier to digestible than weekly lectures.  And, shorter lectures are more likely to be viewed by students.

Imagine a course where the topics might be complex, intimidating or unfamiliar.  For me, this could be German.  If I bought a German book today, I know it would sit on my shelf collecting dust.  But, I might use an app like Duolingo to learn a couple of words each day, which feels much more manageable.  Consider that microlearning is advantageous, particularly for adult students that may benefit by breaking their studying into many small, achievable sessions.

It is faster and easier for you to make changes

If you are noticing that students are just “not getting” a certain topic, it is much easier to rerecord a small video on just this one topic than to rerecord a long video on several topics.  This is particularly true if many of the topics covered are being understood – why make more work for yourself?

It is also easier to rearrange videos if they are topical.  If you realize that one topic belongs in Week 2 and not in Week 7, you can simply move that one part without re-thinking the whole week two video.

Topical videos allow you to add value to other course materials

An effective use of short videos can be to add value to the topic through your experience or expertise as the instructor.  You can discuss a case study or scenario that relates to a topic that helps students understand the topic in action.  Rather than a long video that includes both the lecture and the example, break these into two parts.  If you totally reiterate what students are learning in another part of their course, like a reading, they might wonder why they are doing both activities.  But, your examples add a layer of meaning and depth to the other course materials.

People can find almost any information on the internet.  Part of their motivation to take courses is to gain access to your knowledge as an expert in the field.  Short videos that talk about real-life situations adds both instructor presence and meaning for students.

Short videos load more quickly

No one wants technology to be a barrier for students.  Short videos load more quickly, which can be important to students that don’t have consistent access to high-speed internet.  You don’t want the student to get frustrated and give up simply because a video is too long, when it can easily be divided into pieces.

Challenge yourself to be focused

By committing to create shorter content, you challenge yourself to be focused and refined in what you share.  By setting a goal, like recording videos under 7 minutes per topic, the quality of the content must be top notch.  This encourages you to review your content to cut out what is redundant, unclear, or off-topic, which can be very satisfying.  And, if you model being on point, precise, and specific – your students will have a clear expectation on the quality of work they are expected to create as well.

Examples

Like some inspiration to get started?  Thanks Joanna Abbott for this example that comes in at 4 minutes and 41 seconds: ALS 114 decision making matrix

student response slide

In my last post, I described how Ecampus courses use synchronous study sessions to provide listening and speaking practice to students of world languages. Much of the Ecampus language learning experience is entirely asynchronous, however, to provide flexibility for our students. So how exactly do students converse asynchronously? This post will describe the design of asynchronous listening and speaking exercises in 300-level French conversation courses, executed by Ana-Maria M’Enesti, PhD, and facilitated via VoiceThread, a slide show within the LMS that displays course content about which participants comment via text, audio, or video.

Title slide and Intro slide
In these two slides, Ana-Maria intros the topic via video comment, contextualizes the resource via audio, and links out to the resource. The “i” icon indicates an “Instructions” comment and the numbered icons indicate links 1 and 2.

VoiceThread was an appealing platform because of the ease with which students can add audio or video comments, more streamlined than the protocol for uploading video to a discussion board, and because of its display of content in sequential slides. When Ana-Maria and I began exploring how to present her asynchronous conversational lessons within VoiceThread, we realized that we could chunk each stage of the activity into these individual slides. This made the cognitive load at each stage manageable, yet provided continuity across the activity, because the slides are contained in a single assignment; students navigate by advancing horizontally from slide to slide. VoiceThread allows each slide to link to external content, so students can maintain their place in the sequence of the assignment while engaging with linked resources in another window. Most importantly, since students encounter all the related learning activities from within a single context, it is clear to them why they are investing time in reading or watching a resource – they anticipate that, at the end of the assignment, they will complete a culminating speaking activity.

For the culminating speaking activity, we used VoiceThread to provide each student with a place to upload his or her initial post as a new, individual slide that occupies the entire horizontal pane. Replies from peers are then appended to each student’s initial slide post. Visually, this is easier to follow than a text-based discussion, with its long, vertical display of posts that uses nesting to establish the hierarchy of threaded replies. Within VoiceThread, as students advance through the slides, they are able to focus their attention on each student’s initial post and the associated peer replies, one at a time.

student response slide
A student’s initial slide post displays her individual environmental footprint gained from using the resource linked earlier. On the left, there is an audio explanation and comments between the student, “AC,” instructor, and peers, labeled by their initials or profile pic.

Now that I’ve discussed how we exploited the mechanics of VoiceThread, I’ll review the learning design. To progressively scaffold students’ conversational skills, Ana-Maria builds each assignment as a series of activities of increasing difficulty. On the first slide, students might be prompted to share opinions or personal experiences of a topic in order to activate prior knowledge of thematic vocabulary and associated grammatical structures. Then, on subsequent slides, students are challenged to read or watch related content that is comprehensible, but a bit beyond their current language competence, the “i+1” level, as Krashen coined it. Afterwards, to ensure they’ve grasped the resource, Ana-Maria typically poses factual comprehension questions and then asks students to re-read or re-watch so that they can grasp any meanings they may have missed on the initial encounter.

Finally, students are asked to speak critically on what they read or watched, express a solution to a problem, or place the topic within their own cultural context, using topic-specific vocabulary and associated grammatical structures that they’ve heard or read from the included resources. The instructor is present throughout, mediating the interaction between student and content, since Ana-Maria narrates each slide, reading the instructions aloud and adding additional context. There is also support for listening comprehension, as the most critical instructions are written on each slide.

For the feedback stage of the assignment, students learn from each other’s responses, listening and providing replies to at least two peers on two different days of the week. This requirement allows conversations to develop between students and provides the third type of interaction, learner-to-learner, so that the activity sequence facilitates all three of the interactions described by Moore (1989): learner to content, learner to instructor, and learner to learner.

As expressed by one of our own students, “I was uncertain how a conversation course online would really work,” but “VoiceThread proved to be a helpful tool.” It allowed us to solve the puzzle of providing asynchronous conversational activities for students, who reported in surveys that it helped:

  • to “humanize” them to each other, like being “in an actual classroom”
  • to connect them with their instructor
  • to provide “access to multiple tasks within one [assignment]”
  • to improve listening and speaking skills
  • to make “group projects flow better”

VoiceThread is quite a versatile tool and is being piloted for use with many other disciplines at Ecampus. I’m sure you can imagine other ways to adapt it to your own context and content!

game controller on work desk

What can instructional designers learn from video game design? This might seem like a silly question—what do video games have to do with learning? Why might we use video games as an inspiration in pedagogy? As instructional designers, faculty often come to us with a variety of problems to address in their course designs—a lack of student interaction, how to improve student application of a given topic, and many more. While there are many tools at our disposal, I’d like to propose an extra tool belt for our kit: what if we thought more like game designers?

Video games excel at creating engaging and motivating learning environments. Hold on a minute, I hear you saying, video games don’t teach anything! In order for games to onboard players, games teach players how to navigate the “physical” game world, use the game’s controls, identify the rules of what is and is not allowed, interpret the feedback the game communicates about those rules, identify the current outcome, form and execute strategies, and a large variety of other things depending on the game, and that’s usually just the tutorial level!

What is the experience like in a learning environment when students begin an online course? They learn how to navigate the course site, use the tools necessary for the course, identify the assessment directions and feedback, identify the short-term and long-term course outcomes, learn material at a variety of different learning levels, and large variety of other things depending on the class, and that’s usually just the first week or two! Sound familiar? What are some things that video games do well during this on-boarding/tutorial to setup players for success? And how might instructional designers and faculty use these elements as inspiration in their classes?

The following list includes nine tips on how game design tackles tutorial levels and how these designs could be implemented in a course design:

  1. Early tasks are very simple, have low stakes, and feedback for these tasks is often very limited—either “you got it” or “try again”. Consider having some low-stakes assignments early in the course that are pass/fail.
  2. If negative feedback is received (dying, losing a life, failing a level, etc.), it is often accompanied by a hint, never an answer. If you have a MCQ, do not allow students to see the correct answer, but consider adding comments to appear if a student selects an incorrect answer that offers hints.
  3. If negative feedback is received, the game does not move on until the current outcome is achieved. Allow multiple attempts on quizzes or assignments and/or setup prerequisite activities or modules.
  4. Game levels allow for flexible time—different players complete levels at different rates. Design tasks with flexible due dates. Many courses already allow some flexibility for students to complete activities and assessments within weekly modules—can that flexibility be extended beyond a weekly time frame?
  5. Tutorial quests usually have predetermined and clearly communicated outcomes. All objectives are observable by both the game and the player. Create outcomes and rubric conditions/language that are self-assessable, even if the instructor will complete the grading.
  6. Tasks and game levels are usually cumulative in nature and progress using scaffolded levels/activities. Consider breaking up large assignments or activities into smaller, more cumulative parts.
    • For example, the first quest in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a great example for Nos. 5 and 6 above. It consists of four required objectives and two optional objectives:
      • Make your way to the keep.
      • Enter the Keep with Hadvar or Ralof.
      • Escape Helgen.
      • Find some equipment (Hadvar) / Loot Gunjar’s body (Ralof).
        • Optional: Search a barrel for potions.
        • Optional: Pick the lock of a cage.
  7. There are varying degrees of assumed prior knowledge, but no matter what, everyone participates in the tutorial levels. They are not optional. Consider saving optional “side quests” for later in a course or having an introductory module for everyone, regardless of skill level.
  8. The “tutorial” process usually ends when all skills have been introduced, but some games continue to add new skills throughout, inserting mid-game tutorials when necessary. Return to some of the design ideas on this list if a course introduces new topics throughout.
  9. After a requisite number of skills are mastered and players are able to fully play the game, the only major changes in design are increases in difficulty. These changes in difficulty are usually inline with maintaining a flow state by balancing the amount of challenge to the skill level of the player. As course material and activities increase in difficulty, make sure there are ample opportunities for students to develop their abilities in tandem.

Games are a great model for designing engaging learning experiences, with significant research in psychology and education to back it up. By understanding how games are designed, we can apply this knowledge in our course designs to help make our courses more motivating and engaging for our students.

Additional Resources

Want to know more about the psychology of why these designs work? Start with these resources:

Active Learning: What Does the Research Show?

We often hear about new approaches in teaching, and some can take on near-mythical status. That might be the case for active learning. It’s been widely touted as the “most effective” pedagogical approach, but unless you have time to dig through the research, it may not be easy to determine if this trend is applicable – or beneficial – to your teaching and discipline.

So what does the research say about active learning? This article provides a brief summary of research results for active learning applied in STEM subjects.

Why Use Active Learning?

Before we discuss why active learning is beneficial, let’s clarify exactly what active learning is. As opposed to passive learning, such as listening to a traditional lecture, active learning requires students to do something and think about what they are doing (Bonwell & Eison, 1991).

Much research supports the power and benefits of active learning. Students have better retention and understanding when they are actively involved in the learning process (Chickering & Gamson, 1987). Active engagement promotes higher order thinking, since it often requires students to evaluate, synthesize, and analyze information. Research indicates that students develop strong connections, apply concepts to authentic scenarios, and dive deeply into the content, often discovering an unexpected level of engagement that is exciting and stimulating (Nelson, 2002).

Does Active Learning Produce Better Outcomes in STEM?

Research indicates the answer is “yes!” In an introductory physics course, Harvard professor Eric Mazur (2009) found that his students were not able to answer fundamental physics scenarios or grasp basic concepts from traditional lectures. As a result, he stopped lecturing and has become an outspoken champion for active learning.

An organic chemistry class adopted active learning, resulting in significantly higher grades for students in the active classroom than in the control group, with the greatest effect coming from low-achieving students (Cormier and Voisard, 2018). In an introductory undergraduate physics course, two large student groups were compared. The active learning section showed greater attendance, more engagement, and more than double the achievement on an exam (Deslauriers, Schelew and Weiman, 2011).

In 2004, a skeptical Michael Prince (2004) researched the then-current literature on active learning to determine whether it offered consideration for engineering. He found that many active learning recommendations directly conflicted with historical engineering teaching practices. Methods like breaking lectures into small, topic-specific segments, interspersing lecture with discussion, using problem-based scenarios, or grouping students for collaborative learning were uncommon. Ultimately, Prince reluctantly concluded that the bulk of research evidence indicated that these types of teaching methods might foster better retention and enhance critical thinking.

What About Non-STEM Classes?

Although these findings are from research in STEM disciplines, active learning contributes to better grades, more engagement, increased student satisfaction and better retention in any topic (Allen-Ramdial & Campbell, 2014). Active learning tends to increase involvement for all students, not just those already motivated to learn. Peer-to-peer collaboration helps students solve problems and better understand more complex content (Vaughan et al., 2014). Research indicates that students learn more when they actively participate in their education and are asked to think about and apply their learning (Chickering & Gamson, 1987).

Try It Yourself!

The articles cited in this post offer a number of easy-to-implement active learning suggestions that are effective in ether a face-to-face or online classroom. Give one or two a try and see if your students are more engaged in the learning  process.

  • Offer opportunities for students to practice and examine concepts with peers, such as through debates.
  • Break lectures into small, granular topics and intersperse with questions or problem-solving activities based on real-world applications. Video technologies can easily accommodate this approach for online learning.
  • Structure quizzes or other activities to give immediate feedback. Answer keys and auto-graded assessments are available as a feature in virtually any learning management system.
  • Consider “flipping” the classroom by asking students to read or watch lecture videos before in-person class sessions.
  • Design activities that encourage students to work in small groups or collaborate with others.
  • Add a personal reflection component to help students uncover new ideas or insights.

Although no single definitive study has yet been published to unequivocally prove the efficacy of active learning, the body of evidence from many studies forms a compelling argument that it is does offer significant benefits (Weimer, 2012). Give it a try and see how active learning works in your discipline.

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

References

  • Allen-Ramdial, S.-A. A., & Campbell, A. G. (2014, July). Reimagining the Pipeline: Advancing STEM Diversity, Persistence, and Success. BioScience, 64(7), 612-618.
  • Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active Learning; Creating Excitement in the Classroom (Vol. Education Report No. 1). Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
  • Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987, March). Seven Principles for Good Practice. AAHE Bulletin 39, 3-7.
  • Cormier, C., & Voisard, B. (2018, January). Flipped Classroom in Organic Chemistry Has Significant Effect on Students’ Grades. Frontiers in ICT, 4, 30. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fict.2017.00030
  • Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011, May). Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class. Science, 332, 862-864.
  • Mazur, E. (2009, January 2). Farewell, Lecture? Science, 323(5910), 50-51. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20177113
  • Nelson, G. D. (2002). Science for All Americans. New Directions for Higher Education, 119(Fall), 29-32.
  • Prince, M. (2004, July). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 223-231.
  • Vaughan, N., LeBlanc, A., Zimmer, J., Naested, I., Nickel, J., Sikora, S., . . . O’Connor, K. (2014). To Be or Not To Be. In A. G. Picciano, C. D. Dziuban, & C. R. Graham (Eds.), Blended Learning Research Perspectives (Vol. 2, pp. 127-144). Routledge.
  • Weimer, M. (2012, March 27). Five Key Principles of Active Learning. Retrieved from Faculty Focus: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/five-key-principles-of-active-learning/

Photo Credits

Auditorium – Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash
Engagement – Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Hands – Photo by Headway on Unsplash
Library – Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash
Contemplation – Photo by sean Kong on Unsplash

Neuromyths                                                                                                     made with wordart.com

In part 1 of Debunking Neuromyths and Applications for Online Teaching and Learning, we reviewed the neuromyths and neuro-facts about learning styles, intelligence, and emotions, and their corresponding online teaching applications. Here is part 2, where we will review the neuromyths and neuro-facts about sleep, memory, attention and creativity, and their corresponding online teaching applications.

neuromyth#4 About sleep:  “When you sleep, your brain shuts down.”  Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro fact It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding sleep: Sleep strengthens memory because the activity patterns, neurochemical and gene environments of sleep serve to clear noise and strengthen weakened networks of neural circuits for efficient subsequent cognitive processing demands. (Poe, Walsh and Bjorness, 2010)

danger of neuromythDanger of this myth: It tempted students to procrastinate and skip sleep before important test to cram in missed study time.

online learningOnline learning applications from debunking sleep myth include:

  • Teach students the importance of sleep: sleep time brain activity enhances learning.
  • Teach students test preparation secret 1: spaced practice, retrieval practice, interleaving practices, way before the test day.
  • Teach students test preparation secret 2: review thoroughly (practice retrieval, teach others, explain it, etc. ) the night before test day.
  • Teach students test preparation secret 3: have plenty of sleep regularly, and especially the night before the test day.
  • Teach students test preparation secret 4: Eat balanced healthy food regularly, and on test day as well.
  • Teach students test preparation secret 5: Calm down and have a positive attitude. You are bound to perform at your best!

neuromyth #5 About memory: “Memory is like a container, an assembly line, or a recording device.” Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro factIt’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding memory: Memory is malleable. We use our memory to manage situations we know very well. When faced with a new problem, we try to modify and adapt known solutions from previous experiences. (Brandeis.edu, n.d.)

danger of neuromythThe danger of this myth lies in the assumption of its accuracy.

Why is it important to debunk this myth? It helps liberating both instructor and students to focus on improve the learning environment and malleability of memory.

online learning Online learning application of debunking the idea of “fixed memory”:

  • Encourage/motivate students’ effort to enhance memory.
  • Encourage instructors to provide multiple means of content presentation for strengthened memory connections.

neuromyth #6 About attention: “The brain can multitask while learning, especially Gen Z”. Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro factIt’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding attention: Learning requires focused attention. Multitasking works only for routine or simple tasks. (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2018)

danger of neuromythThe danger of this myth lies in wasting time and low productivity during study.

online learning Online learning application from debunking the myth of multitasking:

  • Content presentation in online learning needs to be in modular format to avoid cognitive overload and increase focused attention.
  • Offer time management tips to students. For example, use physical or digital devices, such as Pomodoro Timer, to help students concentrate on a focused study session.

neuromyth #7 About Creativity: “Creativity is primarily a personality trait and can’t be taught.” Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro fact It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding creativity: Creativity can be practiced and reinforced, just like other cognitive skills such as critical thinking (Miller, 2018). Koestler (1964) proposed a broader definition of creativity: the ability to make connections between two previously unrelated ideas or contexts.

danger of neuromyth The danger of this myth is the mission-impossible syndrome caused by self-denial of creativity, for both instructors and students. If instructors do not view themselves as creative, it is very unlikely for them to encourage creativity in their teaching. If the students do not view themselves as creative in the subject area, it is very unlikely that they will attempt to produce creative work.

online learning Online learning application from debunking the myth of creativity:

  1. As an instructor, model creativity in your mindset and teaching practices. Need help? Read these eight steps to becoming a more creative teacher.
  2. Think of creativity as a skill.
  3. As an instructor, openly share your original ideas with the class. Model what it looks like to be open to feedback and bounce ideas off of one another.
  4. Encourage students to learn a variety of skills and subjects. The more unrelated the field, the better. “Learning different methods and practicing new skills not only engages different parts of the brain, but it inspires cross-pollination of ideas from one domain to the other. ” (Shah, 2018)
  5. Practice generating more ideas or read the 18 idea-generating techniques or read these 19 ideas to promote creativity in your class.
  6. Provide opportunities for both individual thinking and group thinking. (Shah, 2018; Johnson, 2011; Catmull and Wallace, 2014)

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

* This blog was inspired by Online Learning Consortium 2018 workshops on Neuro, Cognitive, and Learning Sciences,  Bring Theory to Practice (Part I  & Part II –new offering of part II coming again in March 11, 2019), facilitated by two amazing teachers: Dr. Kristen Betts and Dr. Michelle Miller. A big “thank you” to their passionate work in promoting the application of neuroscience in education!

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

References:

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

Catmull, E. and Wallace, A. (2014). Creativity, INC. Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration. London, UK: Townworld Publisher. 

Johnson, Steven. (2011). Where Good Ideas Come From. New York, NY: Riverhead books.

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

Memory Adaptation. Learning by Trial and Error. Retrieved from http://www.cs.brandeis.edu/~pablo/tron/t10.html

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

Poe, G.R., Walsh, C.M., & Bjorness, T.E. (2010). Cognitive Neuroscience of Sleep. Progress in Brain Research, Volume 185, 2010, pages 1-19. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53702-7.00001-4

Shah, Raj. (2018). 5 Ways for Teachers to Nurture the Creative Genius in Their Students. Retrieved from https://www.gettingsmart.com/2018/01/5-ways-for-teachers-to-nurture-the-creative-genius-in-their-students/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* This blog was inspired by Online Learning Consortium 2018 workshops on Neuro, Cognitive, and Learning Sciences,  Bring Theory to Practice (Part I  & Part II), facilitated by two amazing teachers: Dr. Kristen Betts and Dr. Michelle Miller. A big “thank you” to their passionate work in promoting the application of neuroscience in education!

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

References:

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

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

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

Miller, Michelle. (2018). Neuro, Cognitive and Learning Sciences, Part 1 & 2: Applying Theory to Practice. Online Learning Consortium online workshop, facilitated by two amazing teachers: Dr. Kristen Betts (Drexel University) and Dr. Michelle Miller (

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

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

Image of mountaineers with quote by John Dewey.

What is Experiential Learning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online Experiential Learning In Practice 

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

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

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

1. Concrete Experience

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

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

The objectives of the scavenger hunt were to:

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

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

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

2. Reflective Observation

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

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

3. Abstract Conceptualization

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

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

4. Active Experimentation

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

What Now?

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

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

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

 

References

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

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

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

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

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


Experiential Education Resources

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

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

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

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

Two cartoon men argue over a drawingDifficult Conversations

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

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

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

Change Advocate Hats

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

Go to the Neutral Zone

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

Phone-a-friend

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

 

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

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

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

What Is an E-portfolio?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Students Are Saying

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

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

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

Examples of Student E-portfolios & Platforms

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

E-portfolios in Your Course

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

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

Resources & References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: Pixabay (Creative Commons License)