About Cub Kahn

I coordinate the Hybrid Initiative for OSU Extended Campus.

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.

 

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.

Books about teaching and learningThe New Science of Learning is a slim but instructive volume designed to guide college students to better attune their learning efforts with how their brains function. Authors Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek apply the findings of neuroscience to the daily learning that takes place in higher education. Though the book is written for students, it’s a valuable quick-read for everyone involved in blended and online teaching and student success efforts.

As you look ahead to spring term, let’s consider two ways you can employ Doyle and Zakrajsek’s advice in online and hybrid teaching environments:

Tip 1 – Learning is significantly strengthened by encountering the content in multiple formats or modalities.

  • Problem: Much of the information we encounter online is still largely presented in the form of text. This is unfortunately true even in some poorly designed lecture videos, which are principally a narration of wordy PowerPoint slides, bullet point by boring bullet point.
  • Online teaching strategy: Quality online learning has moved well beyond “text under glass.” Your students will benefit when they are guided beyond text to view visually rich videos, listen to podcasts and other audio, to talk, write, think, reflect, respond and explore content in tactile or kinesthetic ways. Learning is enhanced in  a multimodal environment that helps students build connections by experiencing subject matter in diverse forms. The learner may not initially comprehend a difficult concept from reading it in a text, but may “get it” by interacting with peers in an online discussion or by watching an instructor-created video. Engage your students in online interaction–with the content, with each other and with you–to ensure that they are not merely passive consumers of course materials.

Tip 2 – The distributed practice effect (or “spacing effect”) refers to learning through study of content multiple times, with time gaps between these learning episodes. Extended periods of time with repeated exposure to the content helps form stronger memories. What duration of distributed practice is optimal? See the research on Optimizing Distributed Practice.

  • Problem: In a traditional college course, a student sometimes encounters a particular piece of content only once or twice, say in a lecture and then perhaps a brief mention in a textbook. There can be a tendency for both instructors and students to move through topics rapidly and superficially to get everything on the syllabus covered before the term ends. And, worse yet, study may be compressed into harried late-night sessions before a big exam. Cramming is not a pathway to true learning that endures over time.
  • Online teaching strategy: Facilitate distributed practice by designing assignments and pacing learning activities that encourage repeated engagement with course material over a period of many weeks. By skillfully staging assignments, for example, a term-long group project to develop a collaborative presentation, you guide students to interact with the content many times over a substantial time period. Interim deliverables, such as an annotated bibliography or lit review, an outline or storyboard, and a rough draft, will foster distributed practice. Clear rubrics and ample timely feedback on these various stages increases the probability of more students achieving the course learning outcomes.

Do you use these or similar techniques in your hybrid or fully online teaching? How does the science of learning inform your teaching strategies?

References

Cepeda, N. J., Coburn, N., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J. T., Mozer, M. C., & Pashler, H. (2009). Optimizing distributed practice: Theoretical analysis and practical implications. Experimental Psychology, 56(4), 236.

Doyle, T., & Zakrajsek, T. (2013). The new science of learning: How to learn in harmony with your brain. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Eberly Center – Carnegie Mellon University. (n.d.). What are best practices for designing group projects? Retrieved from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/design.html.

Colorful pie chart illustrates student's mastery of various math topics.
The dashboard in McGraw-Hill’s ALEKS courseware shows a math student’s progress on a learning path.

The just-released 2017 Horizon Report from the New Media Consortium identifies adaptive learning technologies as one of the most important developments in technology for higher education. The report notes that adaptive learning technologies “can adapt to a student in real time, providing both instructors and students with actionable data. The goal is to accurately and logically move students through a learning path, empowering active learning, targeting at-risk student populations, and assessing factors affecting completion and student success.”

To raise campus awareness of adaptive learning technologies and their potentials, last spring OSU held an Adaptive and Personalized Learning (APL) Open House featuring 12 adaptive software providers and hosted an Adaptive Learning Systems Workshop with Arizona State University adaptive learning expert Dale Johnson. OSU is now in the first year of a multiyear grant from the Assoc. of Public and Land-Grant Universities to accelerate the adoption of adaptive learning technology.

Are you interested in finding out more about the possibilities for adaptive learning in your online and hybrid teaching? Suggested resources:

What sorts of potential do you see for adaptive learning technologies in your teaching?

Bright red and orange maple leaves against a blue skyResearch supports the value of online student-to-student interaction and building community among learners. Week 1 intro discussions—Let’s get acquainted. Tell us about yourself!—are a staple of interaction among students in online and hybrid courses. Can a Week 1 intro discussion that introduces students to one another also actively engage them in learning course content while building community with peers?

Karen Holmberg, Assoc. Prof. of Creative Writing, uses an “Interview Haiku” exercise in her hybrid WR 241 Introduction to Poetry Writing course that combines students introducing themselves and introducing peers while practicing the popular three-line poetry form.

After being introduced to haiku, syllable counting and marking stresses in the first week, Prof. Holmberg’s students interview partners during an in-class session. (In a fully online course, this step could be done through other means, for instance, in a Google doc or by text or email.) For these intro interviews, she provides a set of six questions such as “Describe your preferred environment: urban, woodland, seaside, desert, etc.?” and “What is your favorite animal and why?”

Text showing portions of interview questionsFollowing the interviews, students write haikus to introduce their interview partners to the class as well as haikus to introduce themselves. Imagine the challenge of introducing someone else, or yourself, in three brief lines!

Each student posts these two intro haikus in an online discussion. Then each student replies to another student by copying and pasting the other student’s two haikus in the reply box and counting and marking the syllables and noting the stressed syllables in the haiku. The instructor can follow up with her students by offering timely feedback individually and collectively through the discussion forum, through comments in the grade book, and in subsequent in-class discussions.

Looking for ideas and effective practices for online discussions that enable learners to share, comprehend, critique and construct knowledge?  Try The Art and Science of Successful Online Discussions.

Do you have an intro discussion assignment that engages learners in course content?

References:

Al-Shalchi, O. N. (2009). The effectiveness and development of online discussions. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(1). Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol5no1/al-shalchi_0309.htm

Palenque, S.M., & DeCosta, M. (2014, August 11). The art and science of successful online discussions. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/art-science-successful-online-discussions/

Rubin, B., & Fernandes, R. (2013). Measuring the community in online classes. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(3), 115—136. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1018304.pdf

Looking for a simple way to evaluate whether your teaching practice is staying on track or jumping the rails?

Mark Francek, a Central Michigan Univ. geography professor, has devised a simple mnemonic to look at his teaching: CAR. Try it out; see if it works for you! There are three elements:

word cloud: community, accountability, relevance, CAR1 – Community: Building community within your class can pay dividends in terms of learner engagement, positive collaboration, and a supportive environment in which to work toward shared learning goals. Francek says, “promoting camaraderie and mutual respect in the classroom should be a teaching priority,” and that it’s incumbent on instructors to foster community. He also encourages instructors to consider how student learning can be applied to the broader community through service learning projects and activities.

2 – Accountability: The use of formative assessment throughout a course can aid in student accountability for learning. Frequent low-stakes assignments, such as weekly quizzes or brief reflective writings, not only help motivate students to move forward through the course content, but also give you significant feedback on student learning. This continual feedback gauges student learning is valuable information for a nimble instructor who can make course adjustments and intervene as needed to support learning.

3 – Relevance: It’s natural for learners to be drawn to subject matter and learning activities that appear relevant to their lives, their interests and their future careers. And course content can be more engaging to your learners if you take the extra step of showing them or, better yet, challenging them to show you, how the subject matter relates to their prior learning.

Although Francek’s CAR model is oriented primarily toward classroom teaching, it is every bit as meaningful in online and hybrid courses. Explore the ways that other recent posts here in the Ecampus CDT blog illustrate this by considering how each of these learning activities can build community, increase accountability for learning and/or make a course relevant to students:

Community, accountability, relevance. These three elements can benefit your teaching practice and your learners.

Reference: Francek, M. Let CAR drive our instruction. Tomorrow’s Professor eNewletter, 1449. Retrieved Dec. 15, 2015, from https://tomprof.stanford.edu/mail/1449

Half a century has passed since educational psychologist Robert Gagné published his influential book, The Conditions of Learning, but his ideas are relevant to online and hybrid learning even today. He presciently wrote, “The real point to be made is that use of a variety of instructional modes is both feasible and potentially effective. . . . What is needed in each case is thoughtful design and management of the learning environment.”

chalkboard, apple, eraser, iPad that says "nine events"Gagné popularized the concept of nine “instructional events.” Each represents a step in the teaching and learning process:

  1. Gain learners’ attention
  2. Inform students of learning objective
  3. Stimulate recall of prior knowledge
  4. Present stimulus material (content)
  5. Provide learning guidance
  6. Elicit performance (practice)
  7. Provide feedback
  8. Assess performance
  9. Enhance retention and transfer

Do you regularly use these steps in your courses? To address this question, you might consider what your students experience as they work through a typical weekly module in one of your Canvas course sites:

     Are they aware of weekly learning outcomes? If not, state them in a weekly overview that serves as the first page in each Canvas module!

     How do you gain their attention? Through video, audio, images, interactivity?

     Do you use your students’ prior knowledge as a scaffold for the learning in your course? In fact, do you make it a point to assess what they know at the outset your course?

     Beyond simply presenting content, how do you provide substantial learning guidance? Do you foster active learning through online interaction student-to-student, student-to-content and student-to-instructor?

     Do you frequently assess performance and provide feedback? Do you use weekly quizzes and/or low-stakes writing or problem-solving exercises?

Ultimately, over the course of a term, have you blazed a trail that fully supports your students’ retention and transfer? If so, bravo!

Additional Resources:

  1. Gagné’s 9 Events Applied to All Courses
  2. Instructional Strategies for Online Classes

And, for a light-hearted view of teaching and learning, here’s a 3-minute video that will definitely gain your attention and may well enhance your retention of this post: Gagné’s 9 Events Featuring Cats

boardwalk2“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” –Ron Mace, NCSU Center for Universal Design

A fundamental of online instructional design is that learning materials should be accessible to all students. Ecampus works closely with faculty to ensure accessibility of course content for everyone. For example, since some students cannot hear an audio track on a lecture video, it’s essential that a transcript of the narration or closed captioning is provided.

Martha Smith and Gabe Merrell are OSU campus leaders in universal design and accessibility, and frequently discuss universal design for instruction with OSU faculty and staff. Martha is Director of Disability Access Services, and Gabe is Senior Accessibility Associate and Deputy ADA Coordinator in the Office of Equity and Inclusion. They note that the principles of universal design offer guidance for the design of every element of an instructor’s “toolkit,” from syllabi to presentation of content, course activities and assessments.  They point out that universal design benefits all learners. For instance, some students who can hear the audio track on a lecture video find that they learn more if they take a few extra minutes to read the companion transcript.

Gabe and Martha emphasize the importance of considering universal design up front in the development of teaching materials, instructional methods and means of assessing student learning. This is the approach the Ecampus Course Development and Training team takes with online and hybrid course development. As Ecampus serves an increasingly diverse student population, universal design enhances learning in the online classroom.

Ecampus instructional designer Melanie Kroening has created a great guide called 5 Accessibility Tips for “DIY” Course Designers that provides practical techniques for instructors to enhance the accessibility of course content.

To find out more about universal design, speak to any Ecampus instructional designer, contact Martha Smith or Gabe Merrell or visit the Center for Universal Design in Education.

P1090191 - Version 3The 2013 Survey of Online Learning Report was released last week on the Sloan Consortium website.  This annual series tracks trends in online higher ed in the U.S. through use of institutional data and responses from chief academic officers at colleges and universities nationally.  Among key findings of the 2013 survey, three-fourths of chief academic officers think the learning outcomes in online education are the same or better than with face-to-face instruction, but more than 40% of them say that retaining students in online courses is more difficult than in face-to-face courses.

Fortunately, Blackboard has built-in tools to help you monitor student progress.  In addition to the Grade Center, check out the Performance Dashboard and Retention Center in the Evaluation section of your Blackboard course Control Panel.  These tools can be used with no set up, though you do have the option to customize the Retention Center.  The Performance Dashboard gives you a quick overview of each student’s online course activity (for example, days since last Blackboard course access, and level of discussion board participation).  The Retention Center provides a more detailed picture of which students may be struggling or at risk in your course.  A glance at the Performance Dashboard and Retention Center can give you a heads-up at any point in the term about student engagement and success, so that you can take steps to communicate with students about your concerns and offer strategies for improvement.

Beyond this, make sure your students know about the Ecampus Student Success links, which direct students to Ecampus Success Counselors, online tutoring support, Academic Success (ALS) courses, personalized coaching services from InsideTrack, and other services available to OSU online students.

What strategies do you find most successful in retaining online students in your courses?

outcomeswordleOSU’s Curricular Policies and Procedures specify that every course syllabus should include measurable student learning outcomes.  The outcomes are defined as “learner-focused statements reflecting what a student will be able to do as a result of an instructional activity. Each outcome statement should start with a measurable action verb that indicates the level of learning, followed by a precise description of the learned behavior, knowledge, or attitude.”

For guidance in developing learning outcomes, educators have long turned to Bloom’s Taxonomy, with its pyramid of cognitive levels.  Two much newer tools can help you refine learning outcomes for a course or find learning activities and associated tech tools that will align with your course outcomes.

1 – On the Ecampus website, the interactive Objectives Builder, created by James Basore, is a wonderful tool to assist in writing learning outcomes.  It’s easy to use and can do wonders if you’re grappling with learning-outcome-writer’s block!

2 – Allen Carrington’s Padagogy Wheel has hot links to 63 iPad apps, many of which exist in forms for other mobile platforms as well.  Each app is arranged on a wheel to align with learning activities that could be done with the particular app, related action verbs, and the corresponding cognitive domains from Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Brilliant . . . give it a try!