Audio in Online Learning banner.

Audio is a term we all understand on some level. Commonly we think of audio as the transmission, reception, or reproduction of sound. Audible sound is what we hear. So, when we consider audio as an element of course design we are thinking about how sound can be used to communicate or support learning in an online course environment. Integrating audio in course delivery can be quite powerful if done well.

Perhaps the most common method of using sound in an asynchronous online course is via narrated lecture. The narrated lecture is typically a voice over a slide presentation or screencast. It can be an essential tool of instruction if designed effectively.

Another way the voice of an instructor can be incorporated into a course is via audio feedback on student assignments. These are short audio recordings that have been found to help build a sense of instructor presence in an online course.

Highly focused use of audio is also utilized in subjects where audio is, in essence, the topic at hand. Here we are considering language, music, and media arts courses as examples.

Other valued voices are often brought into the online learning experience via guest interviews in either audio or video format. Not to be left out, the voices of students are increasingly present in online course via tools such as VoiceThread and university provided video portals such as Kaltura Media Space. And with tools such as Zoom recording audio interviews and voice overs is easier than ever. With the availability of media platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon Prime, Audible, and Apple Music and Podcasts the ability to bring external audio resources into the online experience seems almost limitless.

Audio is also used as a supporting resource for text-based content in online courses. In this case screen readers may typically provide the audio support. When using audio as a primary learning resource it is necessary to provide text-based transcripts as accessibility options. A fuller description of making audio accessible can be found at the W3C website.

The examples listed above are common ways we integrate audio elements into online learning. Are there other perhaps different ways we might consider? In the next few paragraphs we will explore a few ideas of how we might use audio in specialized ways in course design.

Specialized Audio Use

Orientation & Review Audio

Audio is a great tool to use when smaller segments of media should be used to orient students to a part of an online course. Think about short, more ephemeral, voice messages that can be easily produced and updated from term to term as the course changes. These audio segments need not be highly produced but should be of good quality. This type of audio segment reconnects students with the instructor via voice.

Listen to the orientation audio sample below that was used in an online course: RE 270 – Outdoor Recreation Resources, Behavior and Values | Module III Orientation by Dr. Craig Rademacher; Northern Michigan University c. 2012. (00:02:56).  [download orientation audio transcript  from Temi.com]

Similar short segments of audio may be used to review sections of content. The review audio may be produced by instructors or students. These audio reviews may be used in preparation for an exam, major project, or collaborations within the course. The goal of such reviews may vary but certainly one goal would be to re-focus the listener to the task at hand while providing timely tips or learning objectives.

One of the things you may have noticed about the audio clip above is the integration of music to the orientation message. Purposeful music selections can support the emotional feel of a course or module being introduced. Music can also serve as an audio cue, or audio branding, for a course. So, selecting audio stingers, or music introductions, can highlight that a particular message or topic is coming or reinforce an emotional tone if carefully planned.

The primary benefit of using audio for orientation and review is that audio is less production intensive making it a quick way to provide feedback. Audio is also fairly easy to edit with a free cross-platform audio tool such as Audacity.

Narrative

The oral traditions of learning go back centuries. Prior to print, learning was interwoven in spoken traditions, legends, and cultural stories. Today story remains a potent vehicle for learning. As you might imagine audio is a great vehicle for story.

An example of this is an Oregon State University political science course titled Governing after the Zombie Apocalypse which was designed and taught by Dr. Rorie Solberg. The story that underpins this course is that a natural disaster has caused the breakdown of the U.S. government. In response citizens must create a new government including a bill of rights and constitution. Students become the citizens creating that new government taking into account marginal populations such as the surviving zombies which are called “blues”due to their virus-caused color.

Audio is used creatively in the course by periodically inserting radio broadcasts about odd happenings around the country. Although not the heart of the effort of the course, these audio presentations, really imagined radio newscasts, provide situational tenor and decision points as students go about creating a new government. Listen to a segment of a mock radio broadcast below.

Mock radio broadcast excerpt: Story by Dr. Rorie Solberg. Produced by Oregon State University Ecampus. Voice acting credit: Warren Blyth (00:02:04)

This segment highlights how audio can be used to shape and carry a narrative through an online course. You might imagine how different narrative audio presentations may support history, literature, or science courses.

Soundscapes & Nature Sounds

Experiencing authentic places or environments is believed to be a valuable form of learning. This idea is a driving force behind field-based learning and experiential learning. Audio soundscapes provide access to authentic acoustic environments that can support online learning about the context of an environment. The environment may be urban, rural, or perhaps in a wilderness-like setting. Soundscapes may also be used to create sense of cognitive and emotional world building that can be used in instruction. Soundscapes typically feature a molar perspective of the acoustic environment.

Listen to an example of such a soundscape titled Elk Rut and Rain Shower — Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado by Gayi immersions (00:28:03) at SoundCloud. (link will open in a new tab)

Other, more specific sounds of nature are potentially positive resources for online instruction. Below is a sound sample of the call of a common raven. Listen to the raven’s call.

Audio recorded in the Beaver Basin Wilderness at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan in 2010 | Craig Rademacher. (00:00:26)

Now imagine how this simple recording may be utilized in a course. It might be used to help identify ravens from crows in an ornithology course. Perhaps this audio clip could be used to help communicate a sense of isolation for listeners studying wilderness values. Or, perhaps it could be used to introduce the poem by Edgar Allen Poe titled The Raven. In each case the audio would be used intentionally to deepen the context or experience of the learner.

Fidelity Matters

Sound quality is an important factor when selecting and using audio in an online course. Audio files need to be of sufficient quality to clearly indicate what you are expecting students to hear. Poor audio, or a confusing sound recording, is experienced as distracting and student will likely tune out. Recording and editing audio does require some knowledge and practice. And there are many places where you can learn to produce audio. LinkedIn Learning offers courses in audio production, podcasting, and even how to select a microphone. So, if you are interested give it a try.

If you are not inclined to produce your own audio content there are resources available where you can find high quality audio for use in courses. Some of these resources are royalty free. Others may require licensing of audio for use.

Final Thoughts

We have reviewed how audio is commonly used in online courses and how we might think about new ways of integrating audio. As you explore the links to resources below start to think about your next course design. How can you augment the text and video you normally use with audio? How might you leverage voice, narrative, or soundscapes to connect online students to the context, authenticity, and humanity of learning? You might want to experiment with audio at first. Start small. If it works, then you will have truly found a sound idea for online course design.

Select Audio Resources

Royalty free online resources:

Podcast Resources
There are several ways to find audio podcasts to review for inclusion in a course. Apple Podcasts is a dominant resource in this area. Apple streams over 750,000 podcast shows with over 20 million episodes. Google Play Music is another good resource. Podcast feeds can also be found simply by browsing for podcasts online.

Audiobooks
Audiobooks are found in many online book seller sites such as Amazon (Audible.com). Additionally some more specific sites such as audiobooks.com also provide resources.

Soundscapes and Nature Sound Resources

 

**Special thank to Matt Djubasak and Chris Lindberg for their contributions to this post.

Lately I’ve heard from a number of faculty whose students have expressed stress or overwhelm at the workload in a course. Further, students as well as faculty have had to adjust to a new routine or pace in their lives in recent months. All of this change gives us a chance to examine the workload and pace of a course so that it is manageable for both students and instructors. To that end, I offer three simple things that faculty can do to make their workload more manageable:

  • Manage expectations
  • Post time estimates for each activity
  • Consider your own availability

Manage expectations

One of the most effective ways to help students understand how much they should plan to do each week in the course is to be explicit and specific about the workload, early in the course. Refer to the credit hour policy to help students understand expectations. At OSU, it is expected that students engage with course materials and activities for 3 hours per week for every credit hour. So for a 3-credit course, students should expect to work about 9 hours each week on reading, studying, assignments, discussion boards, and other activities. This information is generally listed in the syllabus, but it’s nice to highlight this in an announcement early in the course, or perhaps even in an intro video or weekly overview video. Being explicit early in the course sets expectations for everyone, builds trust, and cuts down on negative emotions from students who feel there is too much (or not enough) in a course.

Post time estimates for each activity

One complaint that students occasionally have is that there is an uneven workload from week to week. One way to address this is to post estimated times for each activity for the week. This could appear in a task list on a weekly overview page, for example. This helps in several ways. First, it helps students who struggle to manage their time effectively. If they know that the assignment takes about 2 hours to complete, they can plan for that chunk of time in their week. Moreover, perhaps there are six readings posted in one week, but each reading is only about 5-10 minutes long. Posting this helps students understand that there are a number of short readings this week. That way students don’t assume each reading takes too long and decide to skip some of them. Moreover, being explicit about time estimates helps students know that you are sticking with the credit hour policy as well, which is another way to build trust.
If you find that the tasks you’ve outlined exceed the credit hour policy, let your learning objectives for the course guide your decisions for what to keep and what to cut.

Consider your own availability

Lastly, consider your own availability. Be explicit with students about when you are available so that you can be sure to carve out time to recharge your batteries. For example, if you like to have a bit of time to relax on the weekends, you might have your weekly assignments due on Monday of the following week for each module, rather than Sunday. That way, if students have questions about an assignment that they are wrapping up over the weekend, you still have Monday morning to get back to them instead of scrambling to answer multiple emails on Sunday evening.

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/
I am writing this blog post on Monday morning, June 1st, 2020. Throughout this past weekend across the country, protests erupted following the death of George Floyd who died while pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer. Social media platforms and news outlets are flooded with tweets, videos, blog posts, hashtags, and images describing the chaos, anger, and destruction. (All of this has happened while the country is still reacting to and absorbing the economic, emotional, and physical health impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak).

What I most want this morning is the ability to turn to someone I trust with the education, perspective, and insight to help me think about the incredibly complex issues that erupted over the weekend:

  • While I’m troubled by the looting, vandalism, and destruction of property I have been watching on the news, I am more troubled by the fact that minorities fear their lives when interacting with law enforcement. Where can I read different perspectives on this issue?
  • What lessons can I teach my children about this moment and how to combat systemic racism?
  • What authors might I read to understand the experience of being black in America right now? How about the history in our country that led to this moment?
  • What needs to be done to make this a turning point for our country?

Fostering Information Literacy through Content Curation

The ability to research complex problems from multiple perspectives should be a fundamental goal of education. By guiding students through this process, we can help them become well-informed citizens, better parents, and more empathetic human beings. Developing these skills, however, depends on having access to the most relevant and informative resources.

College instructors, as experts in their fields, are in a unique position to provide learners with vetted collections of content. They can not only point students to resources they might not have discovered on their own, but can also provide context, share their point of view, and point out relationships between found materials. All of this will help make the content more meaningful for learners.

For the past several years, educators have started to recognize the value that they can provide to their students by sharing collections of reliably sourced content around a learning topic.

The keynote speaker at the Oregon State Ecampus Virtual Faculty Forum this year, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, spoke about the use of mini-libraries (which she calls “Bundles”) in her courses. Tracey is a neuroscientist and professor with Harvard University Extension School. The Bundles she uses are curated lists of hyperlinked articles, videos, podcasts for each topic that help ensure students are allowed entry points to the same subject from their individual starting point. Tracey uses analytics to see how much time students are spending on the bundles which informs the course and bundle design for future iterations. She also uses them to differentiate homework for cross-listed courses with both graduate and undergraduate students (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2020).

Online students, like most of us, are continuously dealing with information overload. My Google search for “systematic racism” returned 16,800,000 results in 0.34 seconds.  How am I supposed to process close to 17 million results, particularly without prior knowledge of thought leaders and reliable sources in this field? 

Students face these same research challenges. The time it takes to go through millions of returned search results looking for something useful and relevant. Time that could be better spent on an in-depth review and analysis of instructor vetted materials. 

By providing a narrowed list of references instructors are also helping contribute to students’ information literacy. It is possible to model, through the selection and provided context, what makes a particular source credible. Is it the author? The fact that it comes from a peer-reviewed publication? The way an author sites their sources or the citations this particular content has received? Use this opportunity to support student’s development of their own “crap detector.” (Rheingold, 2009)

What is the Process?

There is more to curation than sharing lists of articles and videos. As the curator, an instructor is adding value through the organization and maintenance of the collection along with the context provided to the collected materials. Here’s a suggested process for instructors gathering curated collections of content for learners:

  1. Identify Themes – Find a topic for which you wish to create a collection of materials. Name this collection and add it to your course in a way that is easy to modify.
  2. Select Sources – Consider where you are going to search for content. You may already have several saved resources around the topics you teach. Can you supplement with scholarly journals you read regularly or blogs you follow? Who are the thought leaders in your field? Who do they follow?
  3. Establish Filtering Criteria – What types of materials won’t you include? What is the learning objective that aligns with this particular collection and how should that inform what material you include?
  4. Organize the Content You Have Selected – Should material be accessed in a particular order? Is there guidance you can provide based on the starting point of your learners? Are there natural sub-topics or patterns?
  5. Provide Context – Why did you select a particular piece? Does it contradict the information in other sources? What key questions should learners be able to answer after consuming the content? How does this piece fit into this collection’s larger theme? Are there emerging patterns? How does it fit in a historical context?
  6. Build a Linked List to the Selected Materials and Provide Attribution – Curation, while benefiting from the organization, context, and insight of the curator is only achieved through the sharing of work from others whose efforts should be recognized.
  7. Create Learning Activities Around the Collected Content – Given the learning outcomes associated with this particular topic or theme, what do you want students to do with the information they acquire going through the content? Are they going to discuss it with their peers? Use it as a basis for a position paper or as research for a project? Maybe you want them to create their own curated collections based on this example, or contribute to yours.
  8. Regularly Update Your List – Review your collections for broken links, outdated content, and supplement with new content. Look for other ways to refine your collection around current news events or new research.

Through effective content curation and inclusion of topic-based “mini-libraries” within their courses, instructors can become a guide for their learners. Instructors will expose students to new ideas and help them quickly access information that has already been reviewed for credibility. By doing so, instructors have the opportunity to model – in an academic setting – what we so desperately need in our personal lives as well: how to grapple with difficult issues from multiple perspectives while sharpening our information literacy skills.

For further reading, you may wish to review the curated Anti-Racist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi published by the Chicago Public Library (Kendi, 2019)

Postscript: After writing the first draft of this blog post, I found a credible source on Twitter addressing the question, How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change (Obama, 2020).

References

Kendi, I. X. (2019, February 12). Anti-Racist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi—Chicago Public Library. BiblioCommons. https://chipublib.bibliocommons.com/list/share/204842963/1357692923

Obama, B. (2020, June 1). How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change. Medium. https://medium.com/@BarackObama/how-to-make-this-moment-the-turning-point-for-real-change-9fa209806067

Rheingold, H. (2009, June 30). Crap Detection 101. City Brights: Howard Rheingold. https://blog.sfgate.com/rheingold/2009/06/30/crap-detection-101/

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2020, May 5). Faculty Forum 2020—Keynote—Never a Better Time to Be an Educator! Ecampus Faculty Forum Special Virtual Event, Oregon State University Ecampus. https://ecampus.oregonstate.edu/faculty/forum/

Special thanks to OSU Ecampus Assistant Director of Instructional Design Laurie Kirkner for her insightful peer review comments and wording suggestions on this blog post.

 

Awe – A Shared Uncommon Human Experience

Can you recall the last time you experienced awe? It is likely you can because awe is an emotion that tends to be a positive memorable experience. What were you doing during your awe experience? Did you learn anything from it? Do you still think about it? This post will profile the nature of awe and will conceptualize how we may integrate awe in learning design for online instruction. We will begin with exploring what awe is and how it occurs. Then our focus will turn to how awe might impact cognition and therefore learning. Lastly some examples of how awe integration might be conceptualized for online instruction and remote experiential learning.

 

Photo of the North Shore of Lakes Superior by Lawren Harris.
Figure 1. North Shore of Lake Superior by Lawren Harris (1926). Paintings are examples of art that may elicit the awe response. Photographed in situ by Craig Rademacher.

It is understood that awe is a common feeling associated with experiencing art, music, panoramic views, and other beauty (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). Awe is considered a positive emotion with a prototypical facial display (Shiota, Campos, and Keltner, 2003). Awe is a state experience that is differentiated from other positive emotions such as amusement, interest, love, joy, contentment, and  pride (Campos et al., 2013). As an emotional state it is transient but may produce feelings of transformation, or openness, due to its impact on cognition (Danvers & Shiota, 2017). Course developers and instructional designers often value new ways of creating learning experiences in course design. The nature of awe suggests it may be useful in that regard. Before we can integrate awe into online course design we must have a better understanding of how it occurs.

 

What Makes Awe Happen?

The awe experience is elicited by two key features in a stimulus: perceptual vastness and need for acommodation (Shiota & Keltner, 2007). Although perceptual vastness is often experienced when viewing grand landscapes, vastness may also be found in any stimulus that expands a person’s accustomed frame of reference.

From this perspective vastness may be understood as a function of space, time, number, complexity, ability, or the mass of human experience. Shiota and Keltner (2007) further suggest vastness may be implied by a stimulus, making even a mathematic equation feel vast due to its ability to explain a large number of phenomena. Even people like Henry Ford, Rachel Carson, Queen Elizabeth II, Nelson Mandela, and Bill Gates might elicit a sense of vastness due to their understood expansive impact on the lives of others and society.

 

Panoramic photo of a lone person standing in the vast landscape of Bad Water Basin in Death Valley National Park in California.
Figure 2. A hiker stands alone in the vast landscape of  Death Valley. Encountering vast landscapes like those in Death Valley National Park have the potential to elicit awe in park visitors.   Image by Craig Rademacher.

When facing this sense of vastness that challenges personal understanding, we adapt. Cognitive accommodation is a process of changing our thinking patterns, or frames of reference, in the face of perceptually vast stimuli. This differs from assimilation which brings a new experience in line with existing schemas or experiences. In contrast, accommodation stimuli reshape or alter existing cognitive schema. This sense of a need for accommodation is the second key feature of the stimuli that elicit awe.

 

How Awe Impacts Us

From a cognitive perspective awe occurs during the engagement with novel, complex, patterned information that is accessible yet, as previously has been stated, is outside a normal understanding of the world (Keltner & Haidt, 1999). This cognitive challenge creates a feeling of wonder and astonishment and humans respond (Shiota et al., 2017). Rather than depend on default cognitive frames of references  or scripts, awe encourages cognitive accommodation, prompting the taking in of new information to update understanding.

The accommodation process fostered by awe focuses a more detailed analysis of the information-rich stimulus under consideration. In this process individuals in awe shift their awareness away from normal concerns. In a sense, awe changes our vantage point to something greater than ourselves and opens the mind to new information, perspectives, and understandings.

Awe not only leads to new ways of processing information it also changes how we see the world, making life a richer experience. Research has shown that awe elicits self- relevant thoughts and connectedness leading to an experience of a “small self” (Nelson-Coffey et al., 2019). These self-transcendent feelings are positive and contribute to awe being an emotion that is pleasant and calming and inspires an interest in social responsibility.

 

Integrating Awe in Online Instruction

After an awe experience it is likely we have changed our thinking, feeling, and perhaps behaivor. Isn’t this one of the great purposes of education and a goal of learning? How might we leverage this awe in online instruction?

A recent op-ed by Goldie Blumenstyk in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2020) addressed the topic of what kind of higher education is needed now and beyond the current pandemic. Blumenstyk  identified a number of issues. Two are salient to a discussion of integrating awe into online learning. In brief these were:

  • A need for more applied learning that can be evaluated through guided reflection and mentoring to prepare students for careers of purpose in society.
  • Customized education, leveraging the online environment and technology that is both values-based and experiential.

As we have seen in the research, awe theory addresses the needs identified by Blumenstyk. Awe is a positive emotional experience that fosters personal reflection. It is individualistic, or personally customized, and inspires consideration of ideas and actions outside the self and increases prosocial behavior (Piff et al, 2015). It is clearly experiential in nature. Awe as a goal and vehicle for learning seems worth exploring. How might we integrate awe into course design and development of online instruction. Let’s look at three different examples as a starting point.

Example #1: Referencing Awe Experiences in Learning

One of the most obvious and perhaps easiest way to bring awe into online instruction is to have learners reference past awe experiences as part of their course work. This may seem daunting to faculty who cannot identify or manage what experiences will be brought forward. However, that is part of the benefit. Referencing awe experiences is a personal application of learned experience to the online environment. As an example, an instructor may post a discussion prompt that might look like this.

Discussion Prompt – Topic: Poverty and the Social Safety Net
For this assignment I would like you to recall a time you experienced awe. Where were you? How did you feel in that moment of awe? Did it change your perspective in any way? Once you have thought about your awe experience post a response to the following questions:

What ideas or feelings about your role in society are related to your awe experience? Are your beliefs about poverty and the role of government in providing a social safety net informed by your perceived role in society? How is your perspective aligned with government policies concerning social aide?

Although not completely fleshed out in terms of response posts or a rubric this discussion prompt encourages individualized learning related to the course topic of poverty in the local community. It encourages reflection, analysis, and logical comparison. It brings awe into the discussion as an individualized reflective element.

Example #2: Stimulate Awe Experiences in Learning

Research on awe has used writing about awe and video viewing to stimulate awe in study subjects. Stimuli that creates a sense of perceptual vastness and accommodation shapes the awe emotional response. Can we create these opportunities for students? Below is an example to consider.

Interactive Timeline – Topic: Anthropology and Early Human Migration
At Oregon State University we often use a proprietary timeline tool in online courses. The scale of this timeline can be varied and it typically is media enriched with images, video, text, and links. Any timeline can be built entirely by the instructor or students can contribute to the timeline as part of an assignment.

In this example of a senior level Anthropology course the instructor provides a timeline chronicling physical appearance of the Bering Land Bridge and the migration of humans across the land bridge into North America. The assignment may read something like what is seen below:

 

Illustration of the Beringia gene flow map.
Figure 3. Map of Gene Flow in Beringia. Some concepts include vast ideas such as the scale of geologic time. This too can elicit awe in learners. Erika Tamm et al / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)

Paper Assignment Prompt

For this assignment review the contents of the Bering Land Bridge timeline that addresses the migration of humans in the Beringia region during the Ice Age. In your review pay close attention to the process of glaciation and how it impacts both the land bridge and human and animal migration patterns. Note the length of this time period.

Once your review is complete write a paper about Beringia and the scale of both the time period and human/animal migration. What impressed you about the history and geography of the migration? How does this migration inform your thinking about how species adapt to survive?

Although a cursory assignment, it illustrates an intent to engage students with the vastness of geology and geography and immense physical/cultural change over time. It also asks learners to reflect on new information and how it may inform current thinking about the human experience and nature. It is designed with an awe experience in mind. And it is presented and completed entirely online.

Example #3: Awe In Experiential Learning – Art Appreciation

In an earlier post on this site Rademacher (2019) described the process of experiential learning. That process is depicted in the experiential learning model below (Kolb & Kolb, 2018).

 

Model of the Experiential Learning Cycle.
Figure 4. Model of the Experiential Learning Cycle. Model depicts the four stages of the experiential learning cycle.

The starting point of the experiential learning process is the concrete experience. Incorporating awe into experiential learning is about designing learning that integrates an awe eliciting concrete experience. Once that is complete, then the experiential learning cycle can be completed. Interestingly, the four stages of the experiential learning cycle seem to parallel the awe experience process. In the table below, you can see the parallels that might be conceptualized. This teases the idea that awe may be an archetype of experiential learning.

 

Image showing the parallels between the Experiential Learning Cycle and the Awe Experience Process
Figure 5. Conceptual Parallels: The Experiential Learning Cycle and The Awe Experience Process.

So in this example the goal is to create a remote learning experience where students seek out a setting where they may, or have, experienced awe. As various forms of art elicit awe let’s use an art example.

Experiential Learning Assignment Description

The major assignment for this term is to examine the purpose of art in the human experience. Your assignment is to visit a local art gallery or museum of your choice. During your visit identify several art pieces that you feel inspired by. Spend focused time looking over and reading about your favorite piece of art. If permitted, take a photograph of that piece of art for future reference.

Compose a paper about your art experience. Before you write, reflect on how the artwork you photographed inspired you. With that in mind provide answers to the following questions:

  • Describe your thoughts and feelings about experiencing the artwork in person?
  • Did your understanding of art change from this experience? How?
  • How might you approach viewing art differently in the future?
  • How do you think your experience might be like that of other people viewing this art?
  • Describe how your art experience affirms or contrasts the purpose of art as defined by the authors of the course text.

Submit your paper via the learning management system by…

These three examples were provided as a way to begin thinking about how we might integrate awe as part of online instruction. Each example is incomplete and would need further details. Each does, however, provide a kernel of an idea of how awe integration might be pursued.

 

Final Thoughts

Awe is a common human emotion that has been shown to be important from the perspectives of spirituality, philosophy, health, wellness, and defining ourselves (Keltner, 2016; TED, 2016). This article posits that awe may also be valuable as a vehicle for online instruction and learning. As course designers we often look for ways to connect real life experience with the online learning environments. The conceptual parallels between awe and the experiential learning cycle highlighted earlier may be worth examining in greater depth.

In her 2016 TED Talk, awe researcher Lani Shiota defined awe:

Awe is an emotional response to physically or conceptually extraordinary stimuli that challenge our normal frame of reference and are not already integrated in our understanding of the world.

Shiota’s definition suggests that awe serves as a form of new learning originating from things we do not readily understand. Yet it is not simply taking in new knowledge, it is adapting to ideas and physical stimuli that we perceived as vastly bigger than our selves. It may prove valuable for course developers and designers to think about what awe opportunities might exist in the design of online instruction. We might begin that process by better understanding how awe shapes cognition and emotion. Integrating awe into online instruction could very well help online learners find the vastness and beauty of new subjects, new ideas, or new experiences.

 

References

Blumenstyk, G. (2020, April, 22). The higher ed we need now. Leadership & Governance | The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Higher-Ed-We-Need-Now/248591

Campos, B., Shiota, M.N., Keltner, D., Gonzaga, G.C., & Goetz, J.L. (2013) What is shared, what is different? Core relational themes and expressive displays of eight positive emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 27 (1), 37-52.

Danvers, A.F. & Shiota, M.N. (2017). Going off script: Effects of awe on memory for script-typical and irrelevant narrative detail. Emotion, 17 (6), 938-952.

Keltner, D. (2016, May 10). Why do we feel awe?. Greater Good Magazine.
Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_do_we_feel_awe

Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (1999). The social functions of emotions at four levels of analysis. Cognition and Emotion, 13, 505–522.

Keltner, D. & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17 (2), 297-314.

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

Nelson-Coffey, S.K., Ruberton, P.M., Chancellor, J. Cornick, J.E. & Lyubomirsky, J. (2019). The proximal experience of awe. Public Library of Science (PLoS One), 14 (5), p. e0216780.

Piff, P.K., Dietz, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D.M., & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(6), 883-889.

Rademacher, C. (2019, February 16). Experiential learning in online instruction. Ecampus Course Development & Training (Oregon State University). Retrieved from http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/inspire/2019/02/06/experiential-learning-in-online-instruction/

Shiota, M.N., Campos, B., and Keltner, D. (2003). The faces of positive emotion: Prototype displays of awe, amusement, and price. Annals New York Academy of Science, 1000, 296-299.

Shiota, M.N. & Keltner, D. (2007). The nature of awe: Elicitors, appraisals, and effects on self-concept. Cognition and Emotion 21 (5), 944-963.

Shiota, M.N., Thrash, T.M., Danvers, A.F., & Dombrowski, J.T. (2017). Transcending the self: Awe, elevation, and inspiration. In M. Tugade, M. N. Shiota & L. Kirby  (Eds.), Handbook of positive emotion (pp. 362–395). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

TED (2016). Why awe is such an important emotion | Dacher Keltner [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysAJQycTw-0

TED (2016). Why awe is such an important emotion | Lani Shiota [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uW8h3JIMmVQ

Flexibility is an inclusive practice. Structure is an inclusive practice. Both of these statements are true–yet, many people might wonder how to reconcile these seemingly opposite approaches in their course designs. How does one build a course that is both flexible enough to accommodate the diverse needs of their students, yet structured in a way that is clear and unambiguous? In a practical sense, what do these words really mean?

First, let’s define these terms and consider why each of these approaches are critical to student success. What do we mean by flexibility and structure and why are they both important features of course design and facilitation?

Flexibility

Flexibility is getting a lot of press right now, due to our global pandemic. We are all encouraged to be flexible and understanding of one another and to recognize that most of us, especially right now, are dealing with increased responsibilities. As a student myself, I recall how much relief it gave me to read in a note from my professor that this term is “all about flexibility” along with detail around what this means in the context of our course. 

For those of us familiar with online learning, accommodating students with full-time jobs and child or eldercare responsibilities, for example, is not new. However, even for our online students, these responsibilities are compounded by school closures and other distancing measures. Everyone needs additional flexibility, understanding, and support right now. Even you, reader! Let’s be explicit and honest about this in our communications with students and each other.

In the context of our online or remotely taught courses, how do we communicate this to students? Here are a few ideas and suggestions to get you started:

  1. Flexible policies: Saying you will be flexible is not enough. Build flexibility into your policies. For example, if students are required to do field observations for a report or lab, are the guidelines for these observations too restrictive? Might students with mobility challenges or high-risk health considerations be unable to spend extended periods of time outdoors? What alternatives can you provide to these students?
  2. Student choice: Providing your students options will increase their autonomy and engagement. Choice is especially important now because it will allow students to make decisions based, not only on their personal and professional interests, but also based on their individual circumstances, which may have drastically changed in recent months.
  3. Communication: Keeping the lines of communication open is essential. Frequent communication builds feelings of connection so that student needs are more likely to be articulated.

Structure

Building structure into your course means removing ambiguity and avoiding assumptions about your students. Structure does not mean being inflexible. You can be explicit and unambiguous without being rigid.

Two helpful tools for adding structure to your course are rubrics and models, or examples. Rubrics will help you to communicate with your students and will allow you to identify your expectations along with how each criterion will be evaluated. Model assignments will help students to interpret your expectations.

When you don’t have enough structure built into your course, when your expectations are ambiguous, your underrepresented students are disproportionately impacted. This level of ambiguity often results from assumptions about your students’ prior experiences. Assuming they know how to use an LMS or that they have reliable WiFi at home, for example, puts students who don’t have these resources at a disadvantage. 

When you don’t have enough structure built into your course, your students will be forced to make assumptions, correctly or incorrectly, about your expectations. Some students may ask questions, but others will do their work and hope for the best. This results in a clearly unequal playing field, exacerbating existing inequalities. 

Balance

Given that both flexibility and structure are needed in course design and teaching, whether online, remote, on-ground, or hybrid, how does one balance these competing elements?

Too much structure, and your students will lose agency and motivation. Too much flexibility, and your students may feel ungrounded and directionless.

Here are some tips for finding balance:

  • Give choice, but include clear parameters for evaluating student work.
  • Provide multiple lower stakes assessments and stage your course projects, so that students have multiple opportunities to get feedback, correct misconceptions, and earn course points.
  • Welcome student questions and concerns and share your feedback with the whole class. If one student is asking a question, many others are thinking about asking it and would benefit from the same communication. 
  • Don’t wait for students to request alternatives: odds are high that only your most privileged students will feel comfortable asking for accommodations such as more time or additional feedback. If one student requests an accommodation, others who need similar considerations, may not be asking for them. Why not proactively offer these options to all students?

As a final thought, both structure and flexibility are essential ingredients in the recipe for exemplary teaching. When you find the perfect blend of these elements, all your learners will benefit!

References

Parker, F., Novak, J, & Bartell, T. (2017). To engage students, give them meaningful choices in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan 99 (2), 37-41.

Sathy, V. & Hogan, K.A. (2019). Want to reach all of your students? Here’s how to make your teaching more inclusive: Advice guide. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20190719_inclusive_teaching

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/

Welcome to the Webcam and Video Tips guide by Oregon State University Ecampus
This brief series of tips is meant to be a beginner’s overview for DIY home recording on webcam, with some additional options suggested if you want to take your video production even further.
Since this document may not cover every issue you encounter while acclimating to DIY video recording, we recommend contacting your school tech person for additional troubleshooting.

WHERE TO START

  • Internet Connection
    • Wired connection via ethernet cable is best
    • If wired connection is not possible, having a clear line of sight to wifi router will give the best wireless connection
    • Disconnect any wifi devices that are not in use or needed.
  • Computer Check
    • Determine if your computer meets minimum system requirements for streaming software
    • Close all non-essential programs to free up more computer resources
    • Disconnect any external monitors if you are on a laptop and it is running slowly
  • Testing Your Tech
    • Does your computer have a built in webcam or do you have a 3rd party webcam?
    • Identify where your microphone is and talk towards it
    • Test the webcam and audio settings BEFORE your first recording. 
    • Practice practice practice
      • The last recording will be better than the first
  • Making sure your voice is clear and easy to understand
    • Having a microphone helps with this
    • Smart phone earbuds have a built-in microphone that can help you with voice clarity
    • Airpods would also work when recording to an iPhone

PRESENCE AND ENVIRONMENT

  • Be aware of your environment.
    • Limit any background noise as much as possible.
    • Clean up your space and be aware of what is in the background of the video.
    • Rooms with carpets and drapes are best for audio.
    • Turn off lights and close windows that are behind you when you are recording.
    • If possible, turn on a light behind the camera.
    • Keep experimenting with lighting until you have a set up that works for you.

  • Try not to bump the desk, computer, camera, or microphone while recording.
    • Typing should also be avoided.
  • Do a test lecture and watch it.
    • See what works and what doesn’t.
    • If possible, get feedback from others
  • Practice
    • The more you practice, the more natural it will feel.
    • Run through what you want to say before you start recording.
  • Relax and be natural! Hopefully you are sharing knowledge that you are passionate about and we want that to show. (Remember that we are always our own worst critic, and your teaching team will be there to help you with constructive feedback on how to help students best enjoy and learn from these videos.)
  • Have notes in front of you while you’re recording. 
    • It is easy to get distracted or off topic, especially when you are uncomfortable.
    • Having notes in front of you while you record can help you stay on track.
    • These notes can be as vague or as detailed as you want, but avoid reading off of them directly and not looking at the camera.

DIGITAL NOTATION

GOING FURTHER WITH VIDEO PRODUCTION

  • For DIY video production, there are many ways to go about this!
    • The lowest barrier to recording on your own would be to use a smart phone attached to a tripod or other mount.
    • If you have access to a camcorder or DSLR, get out there and use it!
  • For smart phone video
    • Avoid handheld and invest in a tripod or smart phone / camera mount
    • If you have a decent internet connection for uploads, consider recording 1080p at 30fps
    • Use an external microphone whenever possible

ACCESSORIES TO CONSIDER IF RECORDING WITH A PHONE

Apps:

  • Filmic Pro – $14.99
    • Allows manual control of exposure and white balance, audio monitoring, and other useful features.

Audio:

  • Lavalier microphone – $18.99 
    • Highly recommended. Audio recorded from your phone’s microphone can be difficult to hear if you aren’t standing near the phone or if the location is noisy. 
  • Double lavalier microphone – $25.99
    • For when you have two people on camera. Both mic cable feed into the same phone, removing need to sync two audio sources. 
  • Audio cable extension – 10 ft. $9.95 or 20 ft. $15.95
    • For when you need to stand farther away from the camera.

Stabilization:

  • Selfie stick w/built-in tripod and Bluetooth remote – $23.99 (heavy duty, 51″ extended), $14.99 (27.6″ extended)
    • Terrific for self-recording in the field.
  • Combination hand grip/small tripod/tripod adapter – $8.89
    • Can be used as a hand grip for filming on-the-go or as a desktop tripod. Phone mount can be removed from the hand grip/tripod legs section, allowing you to mount your phone on most standard tripods.
  • Gimbal stabilizer – $94.99
    • Pricey, but will greatly increase the quality of your footage if you’re filming something that requires camera movement, such as a walk-and-talk interview or a field trip video.
  • Creative ways to mount a smart phone with household items:

 

ADD-ONS / TIPS AND TRICKS

  • If you would like to have access to a teleprompter as you record video, consider one of the following:
  • Here are some sound improvements to consider to reduce echo in your recordings.
    • Add blankets or blinds on walls to reduce echo.
    • Record in the smallest room possible.
    • Avoid rooms with hardwood floors.

Lighting for video

  • Turn a window or glass door into a soft “Key Light” by hanging a cheap, frosted shower curtain over the window. 

 

Authors: Jason Jones, Drew Olson, and Sammi Lukas, with special thanks to Victor Yee for technical support with the images.

Facilitating Active Learning with Zoom

connected learners image
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Christine Scott, Instructional Design Specialist, Oregon State University Ecampus

So you managed to get your face-to-face courses up and running remotely in the midst of a global pandemic. You’ve secured your Zoom sessions to avoid unwanted disruptions, your students are in their virtual seats, and you’ve successfully delivered a few lectures. So what’s next?

Now that you have students’ attention, you may find that you’re ready to focus on transforming your synchronous session into a space for active learning to take place. It’s no secret that students learn better when they are actively engaged in the learning process. The question is how that translates to a remote Zoom session. Is it even possible to recreate the dynamic learning environment of your face-to-face class? 

To answer that question, we can look to best practices in online pedagogy. We know that students in online environments experience better outcomes and higher satisfaction when there are opportunities for active learning and engagement with the instructor, the course content, and each other. Fortunately, Zoom has several tools we can leverage to incorporate learner engagement in the remote setting.

Creating Opportunities for Active Learning

To set the stage for active learning, consider breaking your content delivery into shorter chunks, punctuated by periods of activity. Ask students to do something meaningful to help them engage with the content. This approach not only supports learning, but it also encourages accountability. If students understand they will be called upon to complete a task, they are more likely to be motivated to engage with the lecture.

During your synchronous session, you might ask students to: 

  • Respond to a question
  • Take notes to share
  • Create a list of examples or discussion questions to share afterward on the Canvas discussion board
  • Prepare a reflection to submit after the fact
  • Solve a problem

Breakout Rooms in Zoom

Breakout rooms are easy to set up and operate in Zoom. These small group spaces are useful as a means of incorporating peer-to-peer interaction and feedback into your remote course. They can also promote inclusion by providing an opportunity for low-stakes participation for learners who may be reluctant to chime in during large group sessions. Finally, breakout session activities can serve as a tool for formative assessment as the activities students complete can help instructors gauge achievement of the learning outcomes. 

Creating Breakout Room Tasks

Breakout room tasks can be carried out on-the-fly in the synchronous session, or they can form part of a more complex assignment. You might provide a prompt, file, or a link as a springboard for spontaneous discussion in small groups. Alternatively, you might flip your remote classroom by providing students with a pre-activity to complete before the live session. For further engagement, you might have students build on what they produce in their breakout rooms through an asynchronous submission in Canvas. 

When creating breakout room tasks: 

  • Set clear expectations. Any explanation of expectations should include a clear relationship to learning outcomes. Provide a code of conduct for interaction, performance expectations related to the task, etc.
  • Prepare instructions in advance. Provide students with a clear task and deliverable. Include any resources needed to complete the task. Outline the deliverable or provide a model so that students understand what is expected upon reconvening with the whole class. 
  • Guide students in how to self-organize. Assign roles or ask students to assign them (host facilitator, notetaker, timekeeper, and speaker who reports back to the class). 
  • Provide technical support. A tip sheet for the technology can be helpful in case they get stuck, for example. 
  • Monitor. Circulate as you would in your face-to-face class by joining breakout rooms to check in. 
  • Report back. Ask students to present a summary slide (groups might contribute a slide to a class google presentation), share group’s response, etc. Follow up with whole-group sharing in some form. 

Sample Breakout Room Activity Types

  • Small group discussion
  • Think – Pair – Share
  • Group project
  • Data analysis/text analysis
  • Debate preparation
  • Simulation practice – mock interview
  • Peer feedback
  • Jigsaw activity

Polling 

Another option for interactivity during lectures is the Zoom poll. Polls are easy to launch and are a handy tool for icebreakers at the beginning of sessions, to check for understanding, or to allow students to have input on lecture content. They can be created as anonymous surveys or as simple question responses. 

Fig. 1 This example demonstrates how polling could be used to pose a question and elicit an anonymous response from participants.

Non-verbal Feedback in Zoom 

Sample of Nonverbal feedback icons from Zoom
Nonverbal Feedback options in Zoom

If you miss the non-verbal feedback of a live audience in a face-to-face setting, you might consider encouraging students to use Zoom’s non-verbal feedback options available in the chat window. This tool allows students to input quick yes/no responses to questions, ask for the speaker to speed up or slow down, indicate that they need a break, and more. 

Sample of a music activity
Fig 2. Consider how the simplicity of non-verbal feedback indicators might be useful in a cognitive psychology course for student feedback while listening to audio clips. Students could be asked to use the thumbs up when they can name the familiar melody mixed with interfering tones, for example.

 

Facilitating Lab Experiences Remotely

Live lab activities provide another opportunity for interactive experiences in Zoom. The following examples of lab tasks that implement active learning principles are taken from existing online courses through Oregon State University Ecampus. Consider how similar field and lab experiences could be used to engage learners in your remote courses. 

Sample Experiences

image from science course

Science Education

In this example from a phenology course, students observe and record specific elements in a local natural area over the course of the term. After watching an instructor-led demonstration, learners record key elements based on Nature’s Notebook. They then share their data, photos, and drawings with the class to create a collective body of observations. Students then contribute their observations to a national phenology network. 

Public Health

pedometer walker
Image source: pixfuel.com, cc

Learners in this course collect and analyze authentic data through a public health topic: the human-built environment. Students wear a pedometer to track how many steps they take over a 48-hour period. They ask other members of their family or community to track the same information. Students gather, analyze, and compare their data to identify potential strategies their community could implement to improve its built environment to promote active transportation by walking, biking, or other means.

Tips for setting up remote lab demonstrations or tasks: 

  • Consider common household items to recreate a lab experience
  • Add or find components online
  • Use online videos or DIY recordings of a demonstration
  • Present simulations and provide an analysis or breakdown of what is happening
  • Connect students to virtual labs or simulations
  • Provide instructions and expected outcomes
  • Demonstrate or show the process for collecting data
  • Provide raw data for students to analyze
  • Offline – engage students with assignments or discussions related to the remote lab experience

Whether you opt to use breakout rooms to facilitate collaborative tasks, quick polls to gather student input on lecture content, or non-verbal feedback options to take the pulse of your audience, the features of Zoom offer a means of interaction that can help you to bring students to the center of your remote teaching sessions. 

Adapted from slide presentation by Cyndie McCarley, Assistant Director of Instructional Design, Oregon State University Ecampus

Beyond intentions: Contextualizing learning outcomes

“After completion of this module, you will be able to…” Does this sound familiar? Have you created statements like this before? If so, it is possible that you have come across Bloom’s taxonomy or the taxonomy for teaching, learning, and assessments (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). The taxonomy is a guide to identify the specific knowledge that students are expected to acquire and demonstrate at the end of an educational activity (i.e., a course, module, lesson). However, connecting the outcomes to the activities and assessments can be challenging. Before we look into a guide and examples of alignment, let’s take a brief refresher at outcomes.

Learning Outcomes Explained

Many of us have heard of several terms to refer to outcomes such as objectives, intended results, aims, and goals. I will use the term outcomes in this blog to avoid any confusion. Overall, educational outcomes are statements of what learners should achieve through their engagement in educational activities and processes that allow them to acquire or construct knowledge (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956). As disciplines differ, so do their outcomes. Instructors can make use of the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) to explicitly focus on the essential cognitive process and the knowledge required in each discipline. With the learning outcomes clearly stated, students know what is important to learn in a specific course or module within a timeframe. In addition, instructors can plan the curriculum and instruction more appropriately. 

Oftentimes, learning outcomes are confused with tasks. In other words, the means become the ends. In brief, outcomes refer to measurable intended results in the form of skills, knowledge, content that students are expected to demonstrate acquisition of. Whereas, tasks refer to class work that involves the students in completing, interacting, or producing something to achieve the outcomes. Anderson and Krathwohl proposed a formulaic phrase (explicit or implicit: [Verb phrase + verb phrase]) to convey the intention of a learning outcome and differentiate them from means:

“At the end of this blog post, you should be able to use the concept of alignment to contextualize learning outcomes.”

Learning Outcomes Alignment

The concept of “alignment” refers to connecting the outcomes to the learning activities and assessments. Therefore, alignment is an essential characteristic of high-quality online courses. Alignment ensures all course components work together and are mutually reinforced so that learners are able to accomplish the learning outcomes (Quality Matters Rubric, 2018). See the blog post Alignment by Karen Watte, out OSU Ecampus Director of Course Development and Training for more details.

Learning Outcomes in Action

In my meetings with instructors and faculty workshops, I often hear common concerns about student comments related to the lack of clarity in the activities and assignments. Instructors have realized that they need to make the course components more transparent, connected, or “aligned” to the learning outcomes. While the connection, or alignment, to learning outcomes is a fundamental piece to ensuring quality of the learning experience, this connection should be clearer. In addition, the visibility of learning outcomes can help learners be more intentional in their engagement and ways to integrate their knowledge in the course activities and personal life endeavors (LEAP National Leadership Council, 2007).

Oftentimes the learning outcomes are part of the course activities without making any connection (implicit or explicit) to the course activities. Making the learning outcomes more transparent can help students see why they need to complete the variety of course activities, which affects their motivation. Most importantly the learning outcomes play an anchor role that redefines the activities to engage learners in constructing meaning (Biggs, 2003). For example, Biggs (2003) posits that the learning outcomes refer to “sought-for qualities of performance, and it is these that need to be stated clearly” (p.3) throughout the course components. Above all, we should avoid mere completion of tasks in what Mintz (2020) refers to as “mechanical learning experience” when the task-based approach asks students to linearly complete tasks. In fact, understanding the purpose for learning helps motivate students to be more engaged and invested in the course. 

Rather than offering a set of formulaic steps to follow, I invite you to consider a practical strategy and examples as a guide to see the learning outcomes in action. Further, in this strategy learning outcomes are the compass to create learning activities and assessments where students see how the work they do matters beyond the grade it represents. Whether the learning activities you design require students to develop theoretical understandings or apply practical skills, the outcomes will help students see the meaning behind the activities.

Further, the alignment will help students understand the kinds of knowledge and processes involved that in many cases —as the instructors who have shared their concerns with me often note— are not sufficiently transparent. In fact, we learn best when we understand the reason for learning something new. Research supports this and our students understand this too. In what follows is the guide that suggests examining the learning outcomes more closely from the two-dimension approach proposed in the taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). This two dimensions are: 

  • Knowledge dimension: factual, conceptual, procedural, metacognitive 
  • Cognitive processes (measurable and observable actions): remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

By using this two-dimension approach, we can thread the learning outcomes in the purpose and/or instructions of the learning activities and assessments. If we understand that purpose, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, is “something set up as an object or end to be attained’, we can contextualize the outcomes in this “something”. Let’s take a look at the following examples that illustrate how instructors took the learning outcomes to action during the course design process.

Example 1 (Responsible Conduct of Research – GRAD 520)

In this example from a graduate-level class we can see the learning outcomes threaded from within the purpose statement of the Course Reflection Assignment to the instructions.  

Course learning outcomes:

  1. Analyze and defend positions related to responsible conduct of research.
  2. Apply a process for ethical decision-making and apply it to research situations where there are conflicting ethical values
  3. Identify and analyze the moral values and ethical principles, relevant facts, and affected stakeholders in scholarly research

Diagram that illustrates learning outcomes in the context of an assignment for course reflection that includes factual, procedural and metacognitive knowledge.
Learning outcomes treaded in the purpose and instructions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Example 2 (Business Spanish – SPAN 319)

This example from an undergraduate-level language class shows how both module outcomes become the essential part of the purpose statement in a discussion board.

Learning outcomes module 2 (translated):

  1. Describe the concept of enterprise and its components to a Spanish speaking audience
  2. Create dissemination material that facilitate promote an entrepreneurial project

Diagram illustrating how both learning outcomes were included in the purpose statement of a discussion board
Learning outcomes as essential part of the purpose statement

 

 

 

 

 

Example 3 (Human Development and Family Studies – HDFS 460)

This example from this undergraduate-level class shows the outcomes from multiple weeks aligned to a multi-stage assignment overview.

Weekly learning outcomes (multiple outcomes):

  1. Critically analyze who shapes policy (e.g. Who is excluded and why?) (week 3)
  2. Analyze different ways that families are marginalized in social policy (week 4)
  3. Compare differences in family policies in the US and other countries based on how they are formed through government and other social programs (week 5)
  4. Identify cultural, market economy, and social safety net factors that influence what families look like over time (week 6)

Diagram illustrating how multiple-week learning outcomes were threaded in the overview of a multi-stage assignment where factual and conceptual knowledge was essential
Multiple learning outcomes threaded in a multi-staged assignment overview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By contextualizing the outcomes we can help students understand better why they do what they do. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the learning outcomes guide the design of the course activities, while they also leave room for creativity and unintended learning to occur (Biggs & Tang, 2011). 

Special thanks to Sandi Phibbs, Ph.D., instructor of GRAD 520; Emily Malewitz-Davis, instructor of SPAN 319, and David Rothwell, Ph.D., and Kylee Probert, instructors of HDFS 460 who graciously agreed to share the examples from their online courses.  

References

Biggs, J. (2003). Aligning teaching for constructing learning. Higher Education Academy, 1(4).

Biggs, J., and Tang. C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does. Berkshire, UK: McGraw-Hill Education.

Krathwohl, D. R., & Anderson, L. W. (2009). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Longman.

National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise. (2007). College learning for the new global century. A Report from the National Leadership Council for the Lbetal Education and America’s Promise. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities

Mintz, S (February 13, 2020). Online Course Design [Webpost]. 

Quality Matters. (2018). Course Design Rubric Standards for Higher Ed Sixth Edition. Retrieved from https://www.qualitymatters.org/qa-resources/rubric-standards/higher-ed-rubric, March 2020

Roach, A. T., Elliot, S. N., & Webb, N. L. (2005). Alignment of an alternate assessment with state academic standards: Evidence for the content validity of the Wisconsin alternate assessment. The Journal of Special education, 38(4), 218-231.