Canvas Survey with Mud Card Questions

New online instructors often express concern about the loss of immediate student feedback they get by teaching in person. These educators count on in-class interaction to help shape their lesson plans in real-time. Student questions, lack of interaction, or even blank looks, help them understand what concepts are difficult for their learners. Others just feel more comfortable with the two-way nature of in-classroom communication.

But teaching in an online environment doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive from gauging student interest and comprehension.

Mud Cards

child in mud puddle in rain boots

I was first introduced to the concept of “Mud Cards” or “Muddiest Points” through an open course MIT offered in Active Learning in College-Level Science and Engineering Courses. The instructor described handing out index cards to each student at the end of class asking students to write down an answer to one or more of a few prompts (MIT OpenCourseWare, 2015).

In an online course, this could easily take the form of a weekly survey that looked something like this:

  • What concept from this week did you find confusing?
  • Is there anything you found particularly compelling?
  • What would you like to know more about?

Potential Benefits

The answers received have multiple potential benefits. First of all, instructors will get to look for trends in a particular class.

  • Are learners missing something central to a course learning outcome?
  • Is there a concept they need additional resources to master prior to an upcoming exam?
  • What excites them the most?

Getting this information weekly can provide information that is normally gathered during in-class interactions. It may even be more informative, as participation is likely to be higher (or can be incentivized through participation points). This feedback can be used to add content, perhaps through an announcement at the beginning of the next unit, addressing any common problems students reported. It can also help improve the content or activities for the next iteration of the online course.

The second benefit of an activity like this one is that it is an easy way to introduce active learning to your online course. Active learning, with origins in Constructivism, includes the idea that students build knowledge through “doing things and thinking about what they are doing.”

Rather than passively watching narrated slide-based lectures or videos, or completing assigned readings, they are asked to think about what is being taught to them. Each student, by reflecting on questions like the examples above, takes some responsibility for their own mastery of the content.

3-2-1 (a similar tool)

I recently attended the keynote at the Oregon state Ecampus Virtual Faculty Forum by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2020). At the beginning of her presentation, she told all of us we were going to be asked to email her our “3-2-1.” A 3-2-1, she defined as:

  • Three things that are new to me
  • Two things so interesting I will continue to research or share with someone else
  • One thing I will change about my practices based on the information shared today

Even though I was very familiar with the underlying pedagogical practice she was leveraging, I paid significantly more attention than I would have otherwise to an online presentation. I wanted to come up with something helpful to say. To be honest, suffering from COVID related ZOOM fatigue, it also made sense to ensure the hour of my time resulted in something actionable.

A Word of Caution

The use of a tool like the Mud Cards or 3-2-1 will be successful only if used consistently and students see the results of their efforts. If not introduced early and repeated regularly, students won’t develop the habit of consuming content through the lens of reflecting on their own learning. Similarly, students who never see a response to their input, through a summary or additional explanations, will get the message that their feedback is not important and lose the incentive to continue to provide it.

Conclusion

Introducing a reflection activity like those suggested is a simple, quick way to incorporate active learning into a course while simultaneously filling a void instructors sometimes miss through being able to ask questions of their students in a classroom.

Canvas allows for building anonymous graded or ungraded surveys in which a weekly activity like this would be easy to link to in a list of tasks for a unit of study. It is a low development effort on the part of the instructor, and participation from students shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

I will link below to some of the resources mentioned that discuss the use and benefits of Mud Cards and active learning in instruction. If you try it out in an online course, I would love to hear how it works for you.

Resources


Rainboots photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

In part one of Academic Success, we reviewed why it is important to help students develop time management skills and how to design courses that help students manage time. In this post, we will discuss the why, what and how about teaching students how to learn.

By this time, most public schools and higher education institutions are coming to a close for Spring 2020 teaching. Congratulations on overcoming so many challenges and finishing teaching during COVID-19! As we prepare for summer and/or fall teaching, I would like to invite instructors to consider teaching students how to learn in your next teaching adventure, in order to help students achieve academic success.

WhyWhy Teach Students How to Learn?

For teachers, teaching students how to learn enables them to facilitate dramatic improvements in student learning and success (McGuire & McGuire, 2015).

For students, metacognition helps them to become self-aware problem solvers and take control of their own learning, through taking stock of what they already know, what they need to work on, and how best to approach learning new material (The Learning Center at UNC Chapel Hill, n.d.).

Teaching students how to learn also aligns tightly with the neuroscience of how humans learn. Dr. Daniela Kaufer pointed out four key learning principles based on the neuroscience of how people learn: (1). Learning involves changing the brain; (2). Moderate stress is beneficial for learning, while mild and extreme stress are detrimental to learning; (3). Adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise encourage robust learning; and (4). Active learning takes advantage of processes that stimulate multiple connections in the brain and promote memory (Kaufer, 2011).

WhatWhat to Include in “Teach Students How to Learn”?

Now we have seen why it is important to teach students how to learn from the perspectives of teachers, students and neuroscience, it is time to look into the content of a “Teaching Students How to Learn” training module. Dr. Saundra McGuire suggests getting students’ buy-in as a first step, through early diagnostic assessment which can be used to find out what students already know and what they did not know.  Past examples of dramatic increase in assessment performance after receiving “Teaching Students How to Learn” training can also be an effective way to gain students’ buy-in. Secondly, Dr. McGuire suggests teaching students Bloom’s Taxonomy and study cycle to help students self-evaluate what they are learning and where to focus their learning at (the higher levels of learning, such as the applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating). The Study Cycle includes preview, attend, review, study and assess (Cook, Kennedy & McGuire, 2013). Thirdly, Dr. McGuire suggests sharing metacognitive learning strategies with students. The Learning Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill lists eleven specific strategies that students can use to enhance their learning: (1) use your syllabus as a roadmap; (2) summon your prior knowledge; (3)  think aloud; (4) ask yourself questions; (5) use writing; (6) organize your thoughts using concept maps or graphic organizers; (7) take notes from memory; (8) review your exams using test analyzer tool; (9) pause and ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing and how what you’re doing relates to the course as a whole and to the learning objectives that your professor has set; (10) test yourself; and (11) figure out how you learn and what learning strategies work best for you.

HowHow: Implementing “Teach Students How to Learn” in Online Course Design

There are many ways teachers and instructional designers can build activities and structures in course design to teach students how to learn. The following list is a starting point:

  • Provide specific, measurable, attainable, result-focused and time-focused objectives at both course level and module level, and ask students how these objectives connect to their own learning interests and objectives, for example, using an ungraded survey/poll/private check in at the start of the term.
  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect on prior knowledge they bring to the target topic/course
  • Provide a list of questions to guide students for targeted reading and better reading comprehension as an active reading strategy, when assigning required readings materials.
  • Provide questions in video lectures to help students check their understanding and keep students engaged;
  • Release answer sheet to homework assignments after submission expires and provide opportunity for students to compare what they did right or wrong and how to get it right if they did it wrong initially, to achieve mastery learning;
  • Provide opportunities for peer review and instructor feedback and make it possible for students to resubmit edited versions based on feedback received for mastery learning;
  • Allow multiple attempts for assignments and assessments for mastery learning;
  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect around midterm what learning strategies they use, whether they are effective or not, and how to adjust for better results in the reminding time of the course.
  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect near the end of the term on what they learned and how they have learned, and how they might use the learning in their lives. For example, using discussion forum, google form survey, quiz or assignment to collect students’ reflective feedback.

The list can go endless. The point is there are many opportunities for teachers and instructional designers to build elements in course design to teach students how to learn! Feel free to share your ideas or experience of teaching students how to learn with us.

References

Cook, E., Kennedy, E., and McGuire, S.Y. (2013). Effect of Teaching metacognitive learning strategies on performance in General Chemistry Courses. Journal of Chemical Education, 2013, 90, 961-967.

Kaufer, D. (2011). Neuroscience and how students learn. University of California Berkeley Graduate Student Instructor Teaching & Resource Center. Retrieved from https://gsi.berkeley.edu/gsi-guide-contents/learning-theory-research/neuroscience/

McGuire, S. Y., and McGuire, S. (2015). Teach Students How to Learn : Strategies You Can Incorporate into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation. First ed. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus, LLC.

The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (n.d.). Metacognitive Study Strategies. Retrieved from https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/metacognitive-study-strategies/

Resources on Neuroeducation

  • Adolphs, R. (2009). The social brain: neural basis of social knowledge. Annual Review Psychology. 2009; 60: 693-716.
  • Bransford, John., and National Research Council . Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning. How People Learn : Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Expanded ed. Washington, D.C.: National Academy, 2000. Print.
  • CAST (2018). UDL and the learning brain. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work/publications/2018/udl-learning-brain-neuroscience.html
  • Doyle, Terry, and Zakrajsek, Todd. The New Science of Learning How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain. Second ed. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus, LLC, 2019. Web.
  • Eyler, J. (2018). How humans learn : The science and stories behind effective college teaching(First ed.), Teaching and learning in higher education (West Virginia University Press)). Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.
  • Kaufer, D. (2011). Neuroscience and How Students Learn. Berkeley Graduate Student Instructor Center’s How Students Learn Series talk in Spring 2011. Retrieved from https://gsi.berkeley.edu/gsi-guide-contents/learning-theory-research/neuroscience/
  • McLagan, Pat. “Unleashing the Unstoppable Learner.” Talent Development7 (2017): 44-49. Web. https://www.td.org/newsletters/atd-links/being-a-lifelong-learner
  • Perkins, D. N.,  Goodrich, H. , Tishman, S. & Owen, J. M.(1994). Thinking Connections : Learning to Think and Thinking to Learn. Menlo Park, Calif.: Addison Wesley, 1994. Print.
  • Schwartz, Daniel L., Tsang, Jessica M., and Blair, Kristen P. The ABCs of How We Learn : 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them. First ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton &, 2016. Print. Norton Books in Education.
  • Südhof, T.C. (2013). Neurotransmitter release: the last millisecond in the life of a synaptic vesicle. Neuron. 2013 Oct 30;80(3):675-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.10.022.
  • Tokuhama-Espinosa, Tracey (2011). Mind, Brain, and Education Science: A Comprehensive Guide to the New Brain-Based Teaching.New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Ware, D. (2013). Neurons that fire together wire together. Retrieved from https://www.dailyshoring.com/neurons-that-fire-together-wire-together/
A student persona is a summary of a specific type of student. This persona represents archetypes NOT stereotypes of a broader student segment or group. A student persona summarizes who the student users are and why they are using the learning system, as well as what behaviors, assumptions, and expectations determine their view of the learning system.

Why Create Student Personas?

There are many reasons why instructors and instructional designers and developers create and use student personas, such as:

  • To represent the major needs of the key student user groups.
  • To provide a reliable and accurate representation of your targeted student audience.
  • To enable you to focus on a manageable and memorable group of students.
  • To help you create different designs for different kinds of students and to tailor the design to meet the needs of the most important student user groups.
  • To inform on the functionality of the learning system, uncover gaps in instructional design and development, or highlight new ways to deliver learning.

What Makes Up a Student Persona?

Like all personas, student personas generally include several key pieces of information, which are outlined on usability.gov

Here is an example of a student persona that I created for an online Intro to Permaculture MOOC that includes the essential elements of a persona.

Student Persona ExampleDescription of the user research conducted to create the student persona:

Student user research was conducted through an online Welcome survey that was embedded in the online course. As in all persona creations, user research should be conducted and the collected data should be used in order to ensure accurate representations of your users. Student user research can be conducted online or face-to-face through student surveys, interviews, or observations.

Student Persona Example (Enlarged View)

How Are Student Personas Used?

More than one student persona (3-5 student personas) should be used for an instructional development project from the analysis phase to the design, development, implementation and evaluation. As such, these student personas can be used in numerous ways.

Smashing Magazine, A Closer Look at Personas – What They Are and How They Work, discusses some of the general uses of personas:

  • Build empathy
  • Develop focus
  • Communicate and form consensus
  • Make and defend decisions
  • Measure effectiveness

Resources

While there is no one way to create and use a persona, there are plenty of examples, free templates, and instructional videos and readings available to help you get started to create personas of the students that you serve and to use them in your instructional developments. These resources are available through the following links.

Examples

Tobi Day
Rita

Templates

Fake Crow Free Persona Template
Persona Core Poster Template | PDF

Video

How to Create UX Personas (3:01)
(Note: This video talks about service design for customers, but for student personas, you will want to keep in mind that the students and learners are the customers)

Readings

Personas by usability.gov
A Closer Look at Personas – What They Are and How They Work by Smashing Magazine

 

This is a re-publish of a prior blog post that is quite popular and we wanted to bring it to the top of the blog again. Thank you to our original author: Rebecca Pietrowski

 

Connecting with our students is essential, but how do we do it? Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by connected. Zoom works to see one another on a screen, you can attend activities on campus and possibly see some of your students, or we can take a deeper look into what connected means. When I think of education, connecting could be students to each other, students to the material, the material to real life, you to the student, etc. I’ll focus on the last one here: You to the student.

Think back to a time when you were in school and you had a “favorite” teacher or professor. What was it about them that made them your favorite? Did they open up their classroom at lunch to play cards with students? Did they give you a “good luck” note for a sporting event? Maybe they came to your choir concert, attended a theater production you were in, or maybe they made themselves available in a time of need. Whatever it is, that’s what connects you. What made them your favorite is because of the connection that you formed.

Effective connection is:

  • Being available
  • Caring (and showing it)
  • Treating the student with respect
  • Being a trustworthy confidant
  • Showing belief in students
  • Acting warm and welcoming
  • Showing compassion
  • Being on the student’s side
  • Exuding love for teaching
  • Showing true interest in students
  • Being a great listener
  • Accepting every student

For me, there were lots of teachers I liked and many I’d say were “favorites” but looking back, one made that huge impression and connection. How? By giving me a cut up straw on a string. Yes, you read that correctly, a cut up straw on a string. That teacher listened to what I was saying when she asked a question about how a track meet went. If it was not so good of a meet, I’d reply “I sucked from a big straw.” When it came time for an important meet that year, I got a good luck card with a straw I couldn’t suck from. That was over 20 years ago and I still have that cut up straw. Now that’s a connection!

Connection Do’s and Don’ts. 

DO

  • Be available
  • Care (for real!)
  • Treat students with respect
  • Be a trustworthy confidant
  • Show belief in students
  • Be warm and welcoming
  • Show compassion
  • Be on the student’s side
  • Exude love for teaching
  • Show true interest in students
  • Be a great listener
  • Demonstrate acceptance

DON’T

  • Try too hard to be liked
  • Gossip about students
  • Fail to set boundaries
  • Fail to set high expectations
  • Be unable to say no
  • Be sarcastic
  • Pamper students
  • Fail to follow through
  • Pretend to care

 

 

Run through the lists and think of a way you can make the do’s happen and ways you can keep the don’ts from happening. Was there a specific example from your examples that really stood out? Use that to help guide you in the other examples. Perhaps you remember a time where you failed to set high expectations, what happened? Reflect on why you thought you had (or know you didn’t) and what you’d like to do differently next time.

Want to know more? Read “You’ve Gotta Connect: Building Relationships That Lead to Engaged Students, Productive Classrooms, and Higher Achievement” by James Alan Sturtevant, 2014

Do you ever get the sense that students posting in their online discussions haven’t really engaged with the reading materials for that week? One way to encourage active engagement with course readings is to have students annotate directly in the article or textbook chapter that they are assigned. While it is common to see students annotating in their paper copies of their textbooks or readings, these aren’t easily shared with their peers or instructor. Of course, students could snap a photo of their handwritten annotations and upload that as a reading assignment task, though that does require additional steps on the part of both the student and instructor, and there is no interaction with others in the course during that process. However, it is possible to have students annotate their readings completely online, directly in any article on the web or in their ebook textbook. With this process, the annotations can also be seen by others in the course, if desired, so that students can discuss the reading all together or in small groups as they are reading an article or book chapter online. The benefit to this type of annotation online includes components of active learning, increased student interaction, and accountability for students in engaging with the course materials.

Active Learning

The shift to active learning is a bit like going from watching a soccer game on TV to playing a soccer game. Likewise, reading passively and reading to learn are two different activities. One way to get students actively reading to learn is to ask them to make connections from the course materials to their own lives or society, for example, which they then make into annotations in their readings. Annotation tasks require students to take actions and articulate these connections, all without the pressure of a formal assessment. Furthermore, many students arrive at college not knowing how to annotate, so teaching basic annotation practices helps students become more active and effective learners (Wesley, 2012). 

Interaction

“Individuals are likely to learn more when they learn with others than when they learn alone” (Weimer, 2012). Discussion board activities are often where interaction with others in an online course takes place. However, rather than having students refer to a particular reading passage in their discussion board activity, they can simply highlight a passage and type their comments about it right there in the article, no discussion board assignment needed. Others in the course can also read participants’ annotations and reply. With some creative assignment design in Canvas, this can also be set up for small groups. Students may find this type of annotation discussion more authentic and efficient than using a discussion board tool to discuss a reading.

News article embedded in the assignment shows annotations made by specific students with a box to reply
Above, the online news article is embedded in the Canvas assignment. Students simply go to the assignment and can begin annotating. In the image above, a student highlights a passage to show what the annotation refers to. For a collaborative activity, students can reply to any peer’s comment. Alternatively, the instructor can set the annotations to be private, for more independent tasks.

Accountability

A popular way to ensure that students have done the reading is to give them a quiz. However, this is a solitary activity and is higher-stakes than asking students to make targeted annotations throughout a reading. It may make more sense to guide them through a reading with specific annotation tasks. Being explicit about what pieces of the reading students should focus on can help them understand what they need to retain from the reading assignment.

Possible Activities

  • Student-student interaction: Replace a discussion board activity with a collaborative annotation activity where students can annotate the article as they read. Then they can go back later in the week and reply to each other. 
  • Activate prior knowledge: Ask students to include one annotation related to what they already know about this topic.
  • Evaluate sources: Find a pop-science article in your discipline that includes weak support for arguments or claims, for example. Ask students to identify the sources of support in the arguments and challenge the validity of the support. Perhaps they could even be tasked with adding links to reliable sources of support for your discipline in their annotation comments. 

Nuts and Bolts

Two popular annotation tools are Hypothesis and Perusall. I would encourage you to test these out or ask your instructional designer about your needs and whether an annotation tool would be a good fit for your course learning outcomes. 

Resources:

Hypothesis

Perusall

Wesley, C. (2012). Mark It Up. Retrieved from The Chronicle of Higher Education: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Mark-It-Up/135166

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/

By Susan Fein, Instructional Designer, OSU Ecampus

I recently volunteered to lead a book club at my institution for staff participating in a professional development program focused on leadership. The book we are using is The 9 Types of Leadership by Dr. Beatrice Chestnut. Using principles from the enneagram personality typing system, the book assesses nine behavioral styles and assesses them in the context of leadership.

At the same time, a colleague asked me to review a book chapter draft she is co-authoring that summarizes contemporary learning pedagogical approaches. These theories are derived from every conceivable arena, including psychology, philosophy, epistemology, neuroscience, and so on. In both of these situations, I found myself immersed in far-reaching and seemingly unlimited perspectives, principles, beliefs and approaches to explain the constructs of human behavior.

Was the universe trying to tell me something?

Here’s What Happened

To prepare for the book club, I completed five or six free online tests designed to identify my predominant enneagram style. Imagine my surprise when my results were all different! A few trends emerged, but the tests failed to consistently identify me as the same enneagram type. Does that mean the tests were flawed? Certainly that may be a partial contribution. After all, these were not the full-length battery that would be used if I were paying for an assessment administered by a certified enneagram practitioner.

But frankly, I think the variation had more to do with me. My mood, the time of day, my frame of mind; was I hungry, was I tired and a myriad of other factors likely affected my responses. The questions were subjective, scenario-based choices, so depending on my perspective in that instant, my selection varied, producing significantly different results. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t the same person from moment to moment!

Does that sound absurdly obvious? Was this a “duh” moment? At one level, yes, but for me, it was also an “ah-ha” moment. As educators, do we expect students to respond or react in a predictable and consistent way? Is that practical or realistic? I don’t think so.

Now I was intrigued! How could my role as an instructional designer be enhanced and improved through recognition of this changeability? How might I apply this new insight to support the design and development of effective online learning?

I didn’t have a clear-cut answer but I recognized a strong desire to communicate this new-found awareness to others. My first thought was to find research articles. Google Scholar to the rescue! After a nearly fruitless search, I found two loosely-related articles. I realized I was grasping at straws trying to cull out a relevant quote. I had to stop myself; why did I feel the need to cite evidence to validate my incident? I was struggling with how to cohesively convey my thoughts and connect them in a practicable, actionable way to my job as an instructional designer. My insight felt important and worth sharing via this blog post, but what could I write that would be meaningful to others? I was stumped!

I decided I should talk it over with a colleague, and that opened up a new inquiry into design thinking. Rushing back to my computer, I pulled up images of the design thinking process, trying to incorporate the phases into my experience. Was my insight empathy? Did it fit with ideation? Once again, I had to force myself to stop and just allow my experience to live on its own, without support from theories, models, or research.

In desperation, I sought advice from another trusted co-worker, explaining my difficulty unearthing some significant conclusion. We had a pleasant conversation and she related my experience to parenting. She said that sometimes she lets stuff roll right off when her teenager acts out, but at other times, under nearly identical circumstances, she struggles to hold it together and not scream. Then she mentioned a favorite educational tool, the grading rubric, and I was immediately relieved. Yes, that’s the ticket! I can relate my situation to a rubric. Hurray! This made sense. I rewrote my blog post draft explaining how rubrics allow us to more fairly and consistently assess student work, despite changes in mood, time of day, energy level, and all the other tiny things that affect us. Done!

Satisfied, I asked a third colleague to review my draft and offer comments. Surely she would be approving. After all, there were no facts, tips, tools, research or actionable conclusions to correct. What could she possibly find to negatively critique? She felt that the ending was rushed and artificially trying to solve a problem. Oh, my, how on target she was! I realized that I had no idea how to elegantly extricate myself from this perilous journey I’d started. My blog posts are usually research-based summaries of the benefits of active learning, blended learning and the like. Safe and secure ground. What was I doing writing a personal reflection with absolutely no solid academic foundation? This was new and scary territory.

Who Cares? I Do

In the end, I had to let go of my need to cite valid research-based arguments. I gave up my desire to offer pithy words of wisdom or quotes from authorities. Ultimately, this was a personal reflection and, as my colleague gently reminded me, I had to be vulnerable.

So what, exactly, is my point? What is it about those chameleon-like outcomes that feels important to share? What do I want to say as a take-away? Honestly, I’m not sure. I only know that in recognizing the influence of human factors on my moment-to-moment reactions, I was unexpectedly expanded. I felt more empathy for the faculty I work with and the students they teach. (Maybe I can fit design thinking in here after all…kidding!) I sensed a stronger connection to my humanity. I deepened my compassion. But is any of this important? I mean, really, who cares?

I do. I care. I work with people and for people. I work to support student success. My job allows me to partner with instructors and bolster their confidence to have positive impact on their students’ futures. If I am more open, more inclusive, more humble, more willing to consider other people’s ideas or perspectives, that’s not such a bad thing. And I don’t need research to validate my experience. It’s okay for me to just be present to a new awareness. It’s okay for me to just be human.

Who are our students?

Is there such a thing as a “typical” college student? The evidence suggests that no, there is no such a thing as a typical college student. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 2015 Report, 74% of all undergraduates are “nontraditional” students. This means that they have at least one or more of the following characteristics: having one or more dependents, working full time, attending school part time, taking a gap between high school and college, and completing a GED instead of a high school diploma. It is simultaneously exciting and challenging that higher education has become more accessible to an increasingly diverse student body. The challenge for instructional designers and faculty, therefore, is to keep up with how to design courses that welcome and support all students.

Do we design for the majority or for the “extremes”?

If we design courses for the most common student situations, we end up serving students who already have advantages, who can already see, hear, and pay tuition with ease. When we design for the extreme situations, however, we support students who may have uncommon or specific strengths, as well as potential barriers such as disabilities or financial strain. Furthermore, when we design for the extremes, the outcome benefits all students, thus aligning our course with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The quintessential example of this is, of course, closed captioning: Closed captioning was designed to help people with hearing loss, but it was quickly discovered to be useful for all kinds of people for various reasons, including English language learners, for example. This same schema of the benefits of closed captioning can be applied to other solutions where we design for extreme situations. The result of designing for extremes is that the experiences for all users are enhanced.

Personas: What are they, and how are they used?

One approach to designing inclusive courses is to use personas in the course design stage. A persona is fictional representation of a user group and is intended to foster empathy for that particular user group whose needs resemble the fictional persona. A persona may include a photo of a fictional individual (provided by Unsplash, for example) as well as information related to the design challenge. In this case, my colleague Heather Garcia and I have developed a set of personas for use in designing online undergraduate and graduate courses. The student data that we included in each persona are based on quantitative and qualitative national and local demographic information. The personas that we created focus on students who may bring unique strengths to the course or find more barriers in their educational journey compared to “traditional” college students. With these diverse personas, we grow our empathy and can be efficiently guided into designing for nontraditional students who are based in reality.

Okay, I have a set of personas. What next?

Photo of fictional student and fictional bio
This persona is from “Personas for Course Design” CC BY NC SA, linked below, created by Elisabeth McBrien and Heather Garcia

Here is an exercise using personas for the purpose of designing inclusive courses:

  1. Choose a set of personas to work from:
  2. Select a few personas from the set. 
  3. Get to know your “students” represented in the personas.
  4. With your course in mind, ask yourself the following questions:
    • What strengths do these personas bring to the course?
    • What barriers do you anticipate these personas will face?
    • What design decisions would you make to support all personas as they work to meet the learning outcomes?
  5. The answers to the above questions can help you make design decisions that create an inclusive course, one in which all students are welcomed and supported.

How did it go?

One way to include this exercise in your design practice is to keep a deck of printed personas, like a deck of cards, nearby as part of your design toolbox. That way, instructional designers and instructional faculty can then do a personas design challenge during the design stage of each course. 

Have you used personas in your course design? Please leave a comment and let us know how it went!

References and resources:

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

Diverse Definitions

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

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

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

Game Changer

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

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

Course Design and Instructor Approach

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

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

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

Does Adaptive Learning Work?

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

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

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

Benefits to Students and Instructors

Students

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

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

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

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

Instructors

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

What’s Next?

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

Susan Fein, Oregon State University Ecampus Instructional Designer

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

References

  • Canfield, W. (2001). ALEKS: A Web-based intelligent tutoring system. Mathematics and Computer Education, 35(2), 152-158.
  • Hagerty, G., & Smith , S. (2005). Using the web-based interactive software ALEKS to enhance college algebra. Mathematics and Computer Education, 39(3), 183.
  • Kerr, P. (2016, January). Adaptive learning. ELT Journal, 70, 88-93.
  • Martinez, M. (2001). Key design considerations for personalized learning on the web. Educational Technology & Society, 4(1), 21.
  • Scalise, K., Bernbaum, D. J., & Timms, M. (2007). Adaptive technology for e-learning: Principles and case studies of an emerging field. Journal of the American Society for Informaton Science and Technology, 58(14), 2295–2309.
  • Stillson, H., & Alsup, J. (2003). Smart ALEKS… or not? Teaching basic algebra using an online interactive learning system. Mathematics and Computer Education, 37(3).
  • Walkington, C. A. (2013). Using adaptive learning technologies to personalize instruction to student interests: The impact of relevant contexts on performance and learning outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(4), 932–945.
One of the most common questions I get as an Instructional Designer is, “How do I prevent cheating in my online course?” Instructors are looking for detection strategies and often punitive measures to catch, report, and punish academic cheaters. Their concerns are understandable—searching Google for the phrase “take my test for me,” returns pages and pages of results from services with names like “Online Class Hero” and “Noneedtostudy.com” that promise to use “American Experts” to help pass your course with “flying grades.” 1 But by focusing only on what detection measures we can implement and the means and methods by which students are cheating, we are asking the wrong questions. Instead let’s consider what we can do to understand why students cheat, and how careful course and assessment design might reduce their motivation to do so.

A new study published in Computers & Education identified five specified themes in analyzing the reasons students provided when seeking help from contract cheating services (Amigud & Lancaster, 2019):

  • Academic Aptitude – “Please teach me how to write an essay.”
  • Perseverance – “I can’t look at it anymore.”
  • Personal Issues – “I have such a bad migraine.”
  • Competing Objectives – “I work so I don’t have time.”
  • Self-Discipline – “I procrastinated until today.”

Their results showed that students don’t begin a course with the intention of academic misconduct. Rather, they reach a point, often after initially attempting the work, when the perception of pressures, lack of skills, or lack of resources removes their will to complete the course themselves. Online students may be more likely to have external obligations and involvement in non-academic activities. According to a 2016 study, a significant majority of online students are often juggling other obligations, including raising children and working while earning their degrees (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2016).

While issues with cheating are never going to be completely eliminated, several strategies have emerged in recent research that focuses on reducing cheating from a lens of design rather than one of punishment. Here are ten of my favorite approaches that speak to the justifications identified by students that led to cheating:

  1. Make sure that students are aware of academic support services (Yu, Glanzer, Johnson, Sriram, & Moore, 2018). Oregon State, like many universities, offers writing help, subject-area tutors and for Ecampus students, a Student Success team that can help identify resources and provide coaching on academic skills. Encourage students, leading up to exams or big assessment projects, to reach out during online office hours or via email if they feel they need assistance.
  2. Have students create study guides as a precursor assignment to an exam—perhaps using online tools to create mindmaps or flashcards. Students who are better prepared for assessments have a reduced incentive to cheat. Study guides can be a nongraded activity, like a game or practice quiz, or provided as a learning resource.
  3. Ensure that students understand the benefits of producing their own work and that the assessment is designed to help them develop and demonstrate subject knowledge (Lancaster & Clarke, 2015). Clarify for students the relevance of a particular assessment and how it relates to the weekly and larger course learning outcomes.
  4. Provide examples of work that meets your expectations along with specific evaluation criteria. Students need to understand how they are being graded and be able to judge the quality of their own work. A student feeling in the dark about what is expected from them may be more likely to turn to outside help.
  5. Provide students with opportunities throughout the course to participate in activities, such as discussions and assignments, that will prepare them for summative assessments (Morris, 2018).
  6. Allow students to use external sources of information while taking tests. Assessments in which students are allowed to leverage the materials they have learned to construct a response do a better job of assessing higher order learning. Memorizing and repeating information is rarely what we hope students to achieve at the end of instruction.
  7. Introduce alternative forms of assessment. Creative instructors can design learning activities that require students to develop a deeper understanding and take on more challenging assignments. Examples of these include recorded presentations, debates, case studies, portfolios, and research projects.
  8. Rather than a large summative exam at the end of a course, focus on more frequent smaller, formative assessments (Lancaster & Clarke, 2015). Provide students with an ongoing opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge without the pressure introduced by a final exam that accounts for a substantial portion of their grade.
  9. Create a course environment that is safe to make and learn from mistakes. Build into a course non-graded activities in which students can practice the skills they will need to demonstrate during an exam.
  10. Build a relationship with students. When instructors are responsive to student questions, provide substantive feedback throughout a course and find other ways to interact with students — they are less likely to cheat. It matters if students believe an instructor cares about them (Bluestein, 2015).

No single strategy is guaranteed to immunize your course against the possibility that a student will use some form of cheating. Almost any type of assignment can be purchased quickly online. The goal of any assessment should be to ensure that students have met the learning outcomes—not to see if we can catch them cheating. Instead, focus on understanding pressures a student might face to succeed in a course, and the obstacles they could encounter in doing so. Work hard to connect with your students during course delivery and humanize the experience of learning online. Thoughtful design strategies, those that prioritize supporting student academic progress, can alleviate the conditions that lead to academic integrity issues.


1 This search was suggested by an article published in the New England Board of Higher Education on cheating in online programs. (Berkey & Halfond, 2015)

References

Amigud, A., & Lancaster, T. (2019). 246 reasons to cheat: An analysis of students’ reasons for seeking to outsource academic work. Computers & Education, 134, 98–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2019.01.017

Berkey, D., & Halfond, J. (2015). Cheating, student authentication and proctoring in online programs.

Bluestein, S. A. (2015). Connecting Student-Faculty Interaction to Academic Dishonesty. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 39(2), 179–191. https://doi.org/10.1080/10668926.2013.848176

Clinefelter, D. D. L., & Aslanian, C. B. (2016). Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences. 60.

Lancaster, T., & Clarke, R. (2015). Contract Cheating: The Outsourcing of Assessed Student Work. In T. A. Bretag (Ed.), Handbook of Academic Integrity (pp. 1–14). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-079-7_17-1

Morris, E. J. (2018). Academic integrity matters: five considerations for addressing contract cheating. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 14(1), 15. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-018-0038-5

Yu, H., Glanzer, P. L., Johnson, B. R., Sriram, R., & Moore, B. (2018). Why College Students Cheat: A Conceptual Model of Five Factors. The Review of Higher Education, 41(4), 549–576. https://doi.org/10.1353/rhe.2018.0025

“As a stranger give it welcome” – Shakespeare

Students need tactics for when they encounter strange people or strange ideas.(Wilson, 2018) If you think of a first time online student, this is very true as they are entering a new learning environment, likely extremely different from their previous educational experiences. Welcoming that strange experience should include a little bit of information gathering. Look for positive and negatives so that you can decide for yourself how you view it, most of all, have an open mind.

To help potential online students make decisions, and hopefully be more successful should they chose to take an online course, Marie Fetzner asked unsuccessful online students; “What advice would you give to students who are considering registering for an online course?”

Their top 13 responses:

  1. Stay up with the course activities—don’t get behind
  2. Use good time management skills
  3. Use good organizational skills
  4. Set aside specific times during each week for your online class
  5. Know how to get technical help
  6. A lot of online writing is required
  7. There is a lot of reading in the textbook and in online discussions—be prepared
  8. Regular online communications are needed
  9. Ask the professor if you have questions
  10. Carefully read the course syllabus
  11. Be sure you understand the requirements of the online course discussions
  12. Understand how much each online activity is worth toward your grade
  13. Go to the online student orientation, if possible

This needs to raise the question, how can we better help our students? There are obviously struggling students and we want our students to be successful. So, what can we do?

  1. Reach out to students who seem to be lagging behind. A quick email is sometimes all it takes to open up that line of communication between you and the student.
  2. Provide approximate times for course materials and activities. Students can use this to better plan for the requirements that week.
  3. Keep your course organized so students can spend more time with the content instead of search for the content.
  4. Remind students about where to access help and support services.
  5. Develop a Q&A discussion board for student questions about the course. Often, more than one student has the same question and often other students might already know the answer. Have this be something you check daily to answer questions quickly so students can continue with their learning.
  6. Use rubrics for grading. By giving the students rubrics, they will know what is expected, you will get responses closer to your expectations, and it makes grading easier!

Welcome these ideas as you would a new experience. Give it a little try, jump right in, confer with colleagues, or chose your own path. Know that as an instructor or developer for an online course, you have the ability to help your students be successful!

References

Fetzner, Marie. (2013). What Do Unsuccessful Online Students Want Us to Know? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), 13-27.

Wilson, J. (2018). “As a stranger give it welcome”: Shakespeare’s Advice for First-Year College Students. Change, 50(5), 60.