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

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

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

Narrative and World-Building

For this post, I will focus on two simple strategies you can use to improve motivation and engagement in your online course, narrative and world building. These terms are used frequently in games, as well as in literature, film and other domains. They are a powerful tool, easily applied to your existing course material or as you develop new content.puzzle world

If you want some background about where my thinking is coming from, check out my last blog post, Games as a Model for Motivation and Engagement, Part 1, where I take a deeper dive into gaming and Self-Determination Theory. I would also recommend a post by Dr. Meghan Naxer, Self-Determination Theory and Online Education: A Primer.

There are two kinds of world building I’d like to talk about; instructor-created narrative and student-created narrative. To set the tone for our thinking about this, I’ll start with a quote from Designing for Motivation.

“… if you increase autonomy then engagement will improve, if you increase competence then motivation will increase, and if you increase relatedness then wellbeing will be enhanced–these needs become the controllers we tweak and adjust to iterate on and improve experience.”
(Peters, D., Calvo, R. A., & Ryan, R. M. (2018) Designing for Motivation, Engagement and Wellbeing in Digital Experience. Frontiers in Psychology, 28 May 2018. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00797)

So how can we use world building to ‘tweak’ these three controllers?

Instructor-Created Narrative

role-playing game diceInstructor-created narrative refers to the world or environment created by the course builder and determined by the story they are telling about that world. This world building can be for a particular course activity, but also keep in mind that your entire online course is a learning environment and you, as the course builder, have significant influence over how that world is curated. A colleague recently described how an instructor begins their course with the phrase, “Welcome scholars”. This sets a tone that is a competence-supportive environment with just two words. Tone is a commonly used tool for world building across many domains.

As a simple entry point for world building, I’ll start with a classic type of game, role-playing.

Brainstorm Exercise

Consider setting up a role-playing scenario for one of your existing activities or assignments. What is the outcome you expect students to achieve from this activity? Imagine a situation (or world) where that outcome exists or can be applied. What does that situation look like? Now, imagine you are a student in that situation, what does this world look like? (See what I did there? Role playing!) How will your student interact with that world to achieve your outcome? Take a minute or two to note your answers to these questions. This is a good way to begin sketching out your narrative. Once your sketch is complete, you can begin moving the parameters and rubrics of your existing activity into this world.

The world you create for your scenario can be the ‘real world’ in a particular time period, a hypothetical political situation, a business/client relationship regarding a product, or a hypothetical world to resolve a physics problem. Here are some ways you can frame your thinking as you practice the above exercise:

  • Take the tools you have provided in the course content (competence) and use them to analyze the following situation (world building). “How would you apply what you learned this week to the following situation?”
  • Even better, “How will the situation change as a result of your decisions?”

A small change in wording can provide big changes in thinking. In the second bullet point, we have moved from applying the week’s content to a given situation to a personalized critical analysis.

Student-Created Narrative

The other side of the coin is allowing students to build on your narrative, or create their own. This is where you significantly impact autonomy. This is your world, you create the rules. You set the parameters that will focus student thinking toward the outcomes you hope for them to reach. The rules you set will determine the level of autonomy the student experiences.

Brainstorm Exercise

For this exercise, you can continue with the role-playing scenario you built in the previous Brainstorm Exercise or choose another existing activity from a course. Let’s brainstorm some ways you can add autonomy to this activity.

A simple addition to the role-playing scenario we built previously would be to allow students to choose the role they will play. You have built a narrative, now let the student choose the character they will play to build on that narrative. If you need to keep things more focused, it is totally acceptable to restrict the roles to a list of options. Even with restrictions, is it possible for students to choose the gender, race or economic background of their character? What other characteristics can you think of that will help a student take ownership of the role?

For other kinds of activities, consider giving students the creative freedom to choose and build their own narrative. The instructor still defines the rules of the world and sets the outcome and rubrics for the activity. Can you open up the choices a student has to meet these outcomes? Allow students the autonomy to take ownership of how they get to your outcome, using your rubric as a guide.

For example, select a concept that was covered in the course. In your activity, allow students to choose where and how that concept can be applied. Let them build the narrative around the concept. Conversely, select a setting in the world, much like you would for the role-playing scenario. Allow students to choose the course concepts they want to apply in that setting and build a narrative around that. This strategy lends itself well to case studies. Rather than taking on a specific role, students become story creators, while still working with instructional concepts and within the rules defined by the instructor.

Group World Building

As I mentioned in my previous post, group work and community building (as modeled by gaming communities) are great ways to increase relatedness in a course. Community members are able to share their competence and, in turn, feel valued by that community. This is another great support of motivation.

All of the strategies discussed above can be applied to group work. You can set up the same role-playing scenarios, but this time multiple students will take on different roles and interact in those roles within their group community. Relatedness is impacted as decisions and actions taken by one student will affect the world that is being collaboratively built. Here are two examples from a media course I recently helped develop. They both reflect the range of complexity group world building can undertake.

Pitch Game (Group Discussion)

For your Initial Post in this discussion, pitch a new television show. Follow the parameters presented in class; including X+Y claims, audience description, sketch of the show’s audience and the ideal network for the show. For your Peer Response, you will take on the role of media buyer. Choose which network or streaming service you work for. Review all available show pitches. Decide which show you will purchase. Reply to the show you wish to purchase; identify the network you represent and write your reasoning why you want to make the purchase. Use course material to support your decision.

Trial Simulation (Group Project)

To better understand the ways in which civil law shapes the media ecosystem, we will enact a short trial simulation. The court of the Honorable Judge is an appeals court: this means that the FACTS of the case were decided by the TRIAL court. The question that will be litigated in class regards the law and the interpretation of those facts.

One student will take on the role of Plaintiff, another will be Defense and a third member of the group will be the Judge. Over the next two weeks, you will follow the posted schedule to present your arguments and answer questions from the Judge. Before proceeding, review the Debate Rules and Trial Facts documents. You will be expected to cite actual Supreme Courts cases to support your claims.

Hopefully, this blog has provided some simple entry points for using world building to increase autonomy, build competence, and improve relatedness in a course to improve motivation and engagement. I would love to hear what you come up with in the Brainstorm Exercises.

Dice Image: “DSCF5108” by joelogon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
World Building Image: puzzle-ball-1728990_1920 from Pixabay

I am an avid gamer. For some time, I have been thinking about how engaging games are and whether this quality can be leveraged for other purposes; like instruction. Put more simply … What is it about games that makes them so engaging? Is there something about this that we can use as educators? Granted, these are not new questions.

Dr. Meghan Naxer recently posted a primer on Self-Determination Theory (SDT), Self-Determination Theory and Online Education: A Primer. I believe SDT does an excellent job describing much of what makes games so motivating and engaging. Indeed, games provide an excellent model of SDT and can inform us on how the three basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence and relatedness) might be met in learning environments. I hope to build on some of the concepts introduced in Meghan’s post.

This is the first in a series of posts on games as a model for SDT. In part 1, I look at the convergence of Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness in gaming and online learning in relation to building community and intrinsic motivation.

Autonomy: Open Worlds

Games are becoming increasingly complex, particularly in the arena of Open World games where players are allowed to choose their own paths (autonomy). Entire worlds, even universes, exist for you to immerse yourself in, each with their own history and internal logic. You are often thrown into a new world with few instructions.

For example, in the Open World game No Man’s Sky, millions of stars and planets are procedurally generated just for you, unique to your specific game. When this game begins, you appear on an alien planet next to a broken space ship. Your space suit is running out of oxygen. No instructions, just urgent messages from your onboard computer on toxicity and your decreasing oxygen levels.

The complexity of modern open world games is more than can be reasonably covered in a tutorial. Besides, a significant part of what makes the game engaging is the autonomous exploration and discovery. You decide how you will play the game, in what order you will do things and at what pace. Being told how to play the game is far less interesting.

Here is the internal logic of No Man’s Sky:

  • You’re in an alien environment.
  • It seems like you are alone.
  • There are problems to solve.
  • There is no instruction manual.
  • You must explore to solve these problems.

Think about that in comparison to your online students when they first enter your course. Online students do have instructions to help them get started. However, at first glance, it can seem like they are thrown in the deep end to figure things out for themselves. In a situation where intrinsic motivation is less clear, this can lead to frustration. That does not have to be the case. For gamers, there is one more bullet-point.

  • When you get stuck, you can turn to an online community.

If you were to talk to a gamer and describe your experience about how many times you ‘died’ trying to figure a game out, a common reaction would be something like, “Why would you do that? You know there’s a wiki, right?” Playing an online game today is not a solo venture, even if it is a solo game.

Relatedness: Gaming Communities

Online communities spring up around successful games to support players. A majority of large games have an accompanying Wiki, many of which are curated and updated by players. Various online communities exist to discuss specific games in forums and social media. Players discuss technical issues, the internal logic of a game, the lore and history of the game’s world, where to focus their efforts when starting, or the best order to do certain tasks for best success.

The point here is that given the resources, an intrinsically motivated group of people will figure out ways to help each other succeed. This speaks to Relatedness. In an environment where players are given maximum autonomy, they turn toward their community to support that autonomy and gain competence in that environment. Further, when given an opportunity to contribute to supportive communities, to share their competence, players feel valued as members of that community. So, can we create something like this environment in an online course?

Intrinsic Motivation: Sharing Competence

The challenge in my above summary is intrinsic motivation. There is something of an inherent motivation to play a game and get better at it. Though it can be less clear, online students also have intrinsic motivation beyond just ‘passing the course’. Community building can be a way to help students to discover and support these motivations.

Following the gaming example from above,

“Players discuss technical issues … where to focus their efforts when starting, or the best order to do certain tasks for best success.”

This is a good place to start building community. Simply encourage your students to share their success strategies in your course.

Formalize this by setting up a forum-style environment where students share their experiences, the process they used to solve a problem, the biggest stumbling block this week, or simply to ask each other for help. Much of this could also be accomplished through existing discussions or peer reviews by simply adjusting or adding language for students to draw from their own success strategies, “What did you discover this week that would benefit another student?”

Group work is another tool that can be used for helping students discover intrinsic motivation and build community. Challenge students to work together to apply this week’s content to something in their own lives, a subject of their choice. Trust them to find the problem that needs solving. This is similar to participation in a gaming community – sharing and building competence. But in this case, you are allowing students to build the narrative.

By giving students some autonomy in deciding the end product of their work, you are creating an opportunity for them to discover what drives them.

With all of these examples, it is perfectly reasonable to set the ‘internal logic’ of the environment; subject matter to be discussed, the completion goals, length of the project, rubrics for assessment purposes. The idea is to allow students more autonomy in determining how to get to these goals. All that you are really changing, compared to a typical assignment, is control of the narrative.

And that is a nice segue to the topic of my upcoming post, Part 2, Games as a Model for Motivation and Engagement – Narrative and World-Building

Could your online course use a boost? Is it lacking the secret spice that could be the difference between students coming away feeling satisfied rather than feeling like something was missing? Maybe there is a complex topic that students are consistently having a difficult time understanding or perhaps a particular concept that begs for more than a Power Point with some bland images collected from the internet. Well, perhaps the missing ingredient is an animation!

A brief history of animation…

In 1914, cartoonist Windsor McCay wowed audiences with his short animated film. Although not the first animation ever produced, Gertie the Dinosaur broke ground by employing new techniques, such as keyframes, loops, and the use of an appealing character, all of which would become standard practice in the creation of future animations. Interestingly, Gertie the Dinosaur also featured an interactive element where McCay would appear to give commands to Gertie which she would then carry out on screen.

Fast forward to 1928 where upstart Walt Disney Studios released the animated short Steamboat Willy and introduced the world to Mickey Mouse. Steamboat Willy also marked the first use of sound integrated onto film in an animation.

The 1930’s saw a boom in animation with Warner Brothers creating  its Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons which featured a cast of outrageous characters including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and arguably some of the most enduring pop-culture references ever. I admit, the Looney Tunes were an invaluable supplement to my formal elementary school education!

Disney upped the ante in 1937 with the release of the first feature length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. With Snow White, the Disney animators ventured into uncharted territory and proved that an animated film could be both visually stunning and a legitimate medium for storytelling. It was also around this time that the Disney animators planted the seeds of what would become the 12 principles of animation, a system of principles and techniques which have endured to this day and serve as the foundation in the creation of animation and motion graphics.

In the 1940’s and 50’s Disney continued to produce classics with films like Bambi and Fantasia while  another animator, Ray Harryhausen, perfected his “Dynamation” stop motion technique and brought fantastic monsters to life alongside live actors in films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. Meanwhile, across the Pacific Ocean the Japanese were busy developing their own unique style of animation known as anime.

In 1960, The Flintstones became the first animated prime time television series and paved the way for animated programs like The Simpsons, the longest running series of all time.

In the 1970’s, animated cartoons dominated Saturday morning television. Although the content was mostly aimed at keeping kids engaged while mom and dad slept in, the power of animation’s potential as a learning tool was being explored in the form of short interludes during the commercial breaks. Most notable, Schoolhouse Rock combined animation and music in a powerfully memorable format to teach kids topics like grammar, history, math, and science. Meanwhile, Sesame Street  featured groundbreaking animations aimed at teaching through entertainment.

In the 1980’s, the computer arrived and ultimately revolutionized the way that animation was created as well as the way it looked. It was a clunky start but by 1995, Pixar studios released the first entirely computer animated feature Toy Story and there was no looking back. The omnipresence of the internet added fuel to the fire and allowed anyone with a laptop and a story to tell to publish their ideas to the world.

So, what does all of this have to do with online learning? Well, before the pedagogical red flag goes up and you think that animation is just for kids or that it’s too frivolous to occupy space in the world of higher education, read on.

We need look no further than the media that we consume on a daily basis to see how ubiquitous animation is. From television commercials, to the prevalence of the online “explainer” video, to online apps such as Headspace, which utilizes  animations to demystify the practice of mindfulness and meditation, animation is proving to be an effective medium to deliver information and get it to stick. Why wouldn’t we want to implement this powerful and available tool in online learning?

A well-crafted animation is a multi-sensory experience that can take a complex or abstract concept and explain it in a way that is concise, understandable, and engaging to the learner. Combining audio/verbal and visual information to illustrate difficult topics allows learners to associate images with concepts and has been proven to actually increase learner understanding and retention.

Additionally, animation can be used to visualize things that would otherwise be impossible or too cost prohibitive to depict with film, text, or still images. Things such as a biological or chemical processes that are invisible to the naked eye, or the ability to look beneath the earth to witness how a plants’ roots grow and utilize nutrients, can effectively be illustrated with animation. Larger scale events like planetary orbits, the hydrologic cycle, earthquake science, or the Russian Revolution can be represented in ways that are much more effective than using still pictures with arrows and text. Does the topic require a horse, a bug, a whale, a tractor, a piece of DNA? There’s no need to worry about the exorbitant costs and time required to train, catch, dive, drive, or dissect…simply animate it!  Animated characters, human, abstract, or animals can also add visual appeal and inject humor into a lesson. Finally, and arguably most important: animations are entertaining! If the student is entertained, they are more likely to be engaged in the subject matter and if they are engaged, they are more likely to retain information.

So what’s the next step? The Ecampus Custom Team is here to help you develop your animation. We’ll start by meeting with you to determine a learning objective and to brainstorm ideas for the project. You can view examples of our work to see if a particular style sparks your interest or, if you have a specific aesthetic in mind, we will work with you to refine it. Once we have pinned down a solid direction for the project, we’ll work with you to create a script. The script will serve as the narration for the animated video and is vital as it is an opportunity to distill the content down to its most potent elements. We prefer to keep the maximum length of the animation under 5 minutes and have found this to be most effective for the learner. When the script is finalized, you will come in to one of our studios to record the voice over narration. At this point, it’s full steam ahead and our team begins production on the animation! We’ll check in with you regularly with samples and progress reports to ensure an amazing final product.

-James Roberts, media team, Oregon State University Ecampus

References:

First, let’s start by considering the characteristics of effective feedback in general. What comes to mind?

sound waves

Perhaps you hear in your head (in the authentically authoritative voice of a past professor) the words timely, frequent, regular, balanced, specific. Perhaps you recall the feedback sandwich–corrective feedback sandwiched between positive feedback. Perhaps you consider rubrics or ample formative feedback to be critical components of effective feedback. You wouldn’t be wrong.

As educators, we understand the main characteristics of effective feedback. But despite this fact, students are often disappointed by the feedback they receive and faculty find the feedback process time consuming, often wondering if the time commitment is worth it. As an instructional designer, I hear from faculty who struggle to get students to pay attention to feedback and make appropriate changes based on feedback. I hear from faculty who struggle to find the time to provide quality feedback, especially in large classes. The struggle is real. I know this because I hear about it all the time.

I’m glad I hear about these concerns. I always want faculty to share their thoughts about what’s working and what’s not working in their classes. About a year or two ago, I also started hearing rave reviews from faculty who decided to try audio feedback in their online courses. They loved it and reported that their students loved it. Naturally, I wanted to know if these reports were outliers or if there’s evidence supporting audio feedback as an effective pedagogical practice.

I started by looking for research on how audio feedback influences student performance, but what I found was research on how students and faculty perceive and experience audio feedback.

What I learned was that, overall, students tend to prefer audio feedback. Faculty perceptions, however, are mixed, especially in terms of the potential for audio feedback to save them time.

While the research was limited and the studies often had contradictory results, there was one consistent takeaway from multiple studies: audio feedback supports social presence, student-faculty connections, and engagement.

While research supports the value of social presence online, audio feedback is not always considered for this purpose. Yet, audio feedback is an excellent opportunity to focus on teaching presence by connecting one-to-one with students.

If you haven’t tried audio feedback in your classes, and you want to, here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Use the Canvas audio tool in Speedgrader. See the “add media comment” section of the Canvas guide to leaving feedback comments. Since this tool is integrated with Canvas, you won’t have to worry about upload and download times for you or your students.
  2. Start slow. You don’t have to jump into the deep end and provide audio comments on all of your students’ assignments. Choose one or two to get started.
  3. Ask your students what they think. Any time you try something new, it’s a good idea to hear from your students. Creating a short survey in your course to solicit student feedback is an excellent way to get informal feedback.
  4. Be flexible. If you have a student with a hearing impairment or another barrier that makes audio feedback a less than optimal option for them, be prepared to provide them with written feedback or another alternative.

Are you ready to try something new? Have you tried using audio feedback in your course? Tell us how it went!

References:

Image by mtmmonline on Pixabay.

Note: This post was based on a presentation given at the STAR Symposium in February 2019. For more information and a full list of references, see the presentation slide deck.

 

What is it?

Image of animator’s face in Character Animator program showing the facial data points used for animation creation.

Facial motion capture (Mo-Cap) is a process that uses a camera to map and track points on the user’s face. Software such as Adobe’sCharacter Animator derive data from the camera to animate cartoon characters in real time. This can greatly reduce the amount of time needed to create an animation and breathes subtle life into the character that would be otherwise difficult to achieve. Character Animator harnesses the power of the webcam to map several parts of the face to the respective parts of the character allowing it to record in real time. This includes your eyebrows, eyes, mouth, and head position. It also intakes audio to change mouth shapes to match what the user is speaking. In addition to the webcam, the user can operate their keyboard to trigger additional movements, effects, and walk motions. All these different aspects combine and give the character a personalized feel.

How does it help?

Image of character being rigged into a puppet showing the mesh and body tags.

Cartoon animations currently do not have a large presence in online learning. This is mostly because they take a long time to create and not everyone has had the resources to create them. Normally, character animation for cartoons requires drawing each frame or using a pose-to-pose process called key framing. With innovative technology such as Character Animator, it greatly reduces the barrier to create cartoon animations for online learning. Each motion of the face records instantly and gives the character life by adding subtle movements to the face and head. The bulk of the work is completed early on to draw, rig, and add triggers to the character, or in this case, the puppet. Once the puppet is set up to record, it is smooth sailing from there. All movements, audio, and facial expressions are recorded in one take; greatly reducing the amount of time for development. However, Character Animator allows you to choose which aspects you want to record, so you can record the eye movements one time, then the eyebrows another time. This is helpful for the perfectionists out there who cannot seem capture it all at once.

How does it work?

To create an animation using Character Animator, there are a handful of stages to complete. The first step is to draw the character in either Photoshop or Illustrator. Next, Character Animator imports the graphics and they are rigged into puppets to prepare for recording. This means the eyes, nose, mouth, etc. are tagged with their respective labels. Also during this time, you can create keyboard triggers. These are animations such as arm movements, walk motions, and more, that the pressing of certain keys on the keyboard triggers the character to perform. After the puppets are prepared, it is time to record. It does not have to be shot perfectly all at once; you can blend the best bits from different recordings into one masterpiece. The last step is to export the character’s recording and composite it into a story using video software such as Premiere Pro or After Effects. Once you achieve the flow of facial Mo-Cap, you can start cranking out animations faster than ever before.

Click Image to View Video

Below is a quick rundown of what it takes to set up a character and how to record it. At the end of the video, there is a sample of multiple characters in one scene.

What does the process look like?

 

Author: Zach Van Stone, Oregon State University Ecampus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

game controller on work desk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

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