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

red lightbulb

Photo by Terry Vlisidis on Unsplash

Last Time on SDT & Online Education…

This post is a continuation of my previous blog posts on Self-Determination Theory (SDT) and Online Education and a companion post to Chris Lindberg’s series of posts, Games as a Model for Motivation and Engagement.

In my last post, I posed some difficult questions to consider as you start thinking about how you use grades and motivation in your courses. In case you missed that post, here are the questions—I invite you to spend a few minutes, hours, or days with these questions before moving on with the rest of this blog post:

  • Do you use grades to create external regulation of behavior in your course?
    • Are you grading a behavior or the demonstration of a skill?
  • Do you want to emphasize performance goals or mastery goals?
  • Are there ways to help students identify and integrate the activities and assessments in your course?
  • Do you need to grade this activity/assessment/task?

Why are you grading?

“The troubling truth is that rewards and punishments are not opposites at all; they are two sides of the same coin. And it is a coin that does not buy very much.” (Kohn, 1993, p. 50)

When I first started teaching, I remember asking a colleague if they would review my syllabus draft. They read the attendance policy and asked me something along the lines of, “Why are you grading this? Does it have anything to do with the outcomes of your course?” I probably spewed the usual talking points that students do better in class when they attend, I wanted them to come to class, etc. The reply: “So, do you want to grade learning, or behavior?” That question rocked my world as a young teacher. And made me question everything.

Why do we use grades? Numerous studies have shown that grades and rewards, especially for intrinsically motivating activities such as learning, have detrimental effects. And what do these grades communicate? In terms of SDT, “grading in educational contexts has two functions. One is providing competence-relevant feedback to students, presumably as an aid to enhancing subsequent performance … A second is gatekeeping. Grades can be used to make sure that only students who have mastered material and are thus qualified are eligible for higher training…” (Ryan & Deci, 2017, p. 371). What does an A, B or F communicate to you? For Ryan & Deci, grades by themselves provide little in the way of relevant feedback. (For more on effective feedback, see Wiggins, 2012.)

So can a “grade” be useful? In the context of SDT, there needs to be important information communicated to students about how they’re doing and where they need to spend more attention and effort. In order for this to be autonomy-supportive, it should be informative for the learning process and not judgmental, pressure-inducing, or a social comparison, both in terms of being a reward or a punishment. For example, “Great work. You might consider adding an example in your third paragraph.” is not informative toward the learning process; “You do a great job of defining the problem in your third paragraph, which is an improvement from your first draft. Adding an example would do even more to help your readers relate to this problem.” is an example of feedback that informs a student about where they have come from and where they still need to go.

Performance vs. Mastery

“There do, indeed, seem to be few empirical or theoretical supports for the motivational or competence-building advantages of classical grading schemes. Yet, in most school settings, grades and evaluations are employed as if they were the key to motivation, when, in fact, especially for those who need competence supports, they are likely to be undermining influences.” (Ryan & Deci, 2017, p. 371)

Is it possible to see a letter grade of your work in a course outside the context of social comparison? How often is a B simply viewed as “better than average” or “in the top half of the class”? Focusing on performing a certain way relative to others is a performance goal, while focusing on increasing competence or learning is a mastery goal. (For more on this topic, see Elliot, 2005.) Additionally, each category of goal has an approach type (seeking to achieve something) and an avoidance type (seeking to avoid something). Multiple studies have found that the performance-avoidance combination has the most detrimental outcomes for both learning and student well being, and that this combination is adopted most when students have expectations of being graded (Ryan & Deci, 2017, p. 373).

Ungrading

“…the grading system that higher education in the United States has relied on for many decades has serious problems. It does not work in anyone’s interests, and it genuinely hurts those most directly associated with it: the faculty and the students. In fact, the system is broken.” (Nilson, 2015, p. 23)

At this point you might be asking, “what am I supposed to do?” There are numerous tools, resources, alternatives, and considerations when thinking about using or eliminating grades in a course, such as self-assessment, student-created rubrics, or specifications or criterion-based grading. (Several more are listed in the Reference & Resources section below). One option is to eliminate grading all together, which some institutions have done. If you aren’t ready to eliminate all your grades, try focusing on providing students with feedback in an autonomy-supportive way and empowering them to learn the valuable skill of self-assessment. Without rewards and punishments, students will feel a greater sense of competence; self-assessment and valuable and informative feedback will give students a greater sense of autonomy—that they’re in the driver’s seat for their own learning; with an increased focus on communication about learning, students will also gain a greater sense of relatedness.

There is much more to the topic of grading and ungrading than can be covered in a single blog post, so I’d like to invite you to check out the references and resources below, add your comments, suggestions, and experiences in the comments, contact your instructional designer, or keep an eye out for other opportunities to continue the discussion at various upcoming Ecampus events!

References & Resources

Center for Self-Determination Theory (CSDT). (2019).

  • This website is a treasure-trove of resources on SDT and its application in numerous fields, including education.

Elliot, A. J. (2005). A conceptual history of the achievement goal construct. In Elliot, A. J., & Dweck, C. S. (Eds.) Handbook of competence and motivation (52–72). New York: Guilford Press.

Flaherty, C. (2019). When grading less is more. Inside Higher Ed.

Kohn, A. (2018). Rewards are still bad news (25 years later). New York Times.

Kohn, A. (2011). The case against grades. Educational Leadership.

Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Nilson, L. (2015). Specifications grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time. Serling, VA: Stylus.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Press.

Stommel, J. (2018). How to ungrade.

Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership 70(1), 10–16.

About halfway through earning a master’s in education, I took a summer session class on digital storytelling. It ran over the course of three half-day sessions during which we were required to complete two digital stories. I had no great academic ambitions in my approach to these assignments. I was trying to satisfy a degree requirement in a way that worked with my schedule as a single mother of two teenagers working full time while earning a graduate degree.

My first story was a self-introduction. I loved this assignment. Even though I had one evening to complete it, I spent hours tweaking it. I enjoyed learning the tools. I enjoyed sharing my story with my classmates. Even after it was graded, I kept finding ways to improve it.

After completing the course, I began to study the use of digital stories in education. My personal experience had shown me that in completing my assignment I had to become comfortable with technology as well as practiced my writing, speaking and presentation skills. I also felt a stronger connection to my classmates after sharing my video and watching their videos.

Literature

The research on digital storytelling echoes my own experience. Dr. Bernard Robin, an Associate Professor of Learning, Design, & Technology at the University of Houston, discussed the pedagogical benefits of digital storytelling assignments in a 2016 article,  The Power of Digital Storytelling to Support Teaching and Learning. His research found that both student engagement and creativity increased in higher education courses when students were given the opportunity to use multimedia tools to communicate their ideas. Students “develop enhanced communication skills by learning to organize their ideas, ask questions, express opinions, and construct narratives” (Robin, 2016). Bernard’s experience also finds that by sharing their work with peers, students learn to give and accept critique, fostering social learning and emotional intelligence.

Digital Storytelling as Educators

Digital Storytelling in online education shouldn’t be thought of as only a means of creating an engaging student assignment. Educators who are adept at telling stories have a tremendous advantage in capturing their student’s attention. In the following short video, Sir Ian McKellen shares why stories have so much power. Illustrated in the form of a story, he shares that stories are powerful for four reasons. They are a vessel for information, create an emotional connection, display cultural identity, and gives us happiness.

The Power of Storytelling, with Sir Ian McKellen

McKellen is a compelling narrator with a great voice. This story is beautifully illustrated. It reminds me of how I want my learners to feel when they are consuming the content I create. Even if for a moment, so engrossed, that they forget that they are learning. Learning becomes effortless. As he points out, a good storyteller can make the listener feel as if they are also living the story.

Digital Storytelling Assignments

There are lots of ways to integrate digital stories across a broad set of academic subjects. Creating personal narratives, historical documentaries, informational and instructional videos or a combination of these styles all have educational benefits. One of the simplest ways to introduce this form of assessment to your course is to start with a single image digital story assignment.

Here’s an example I created using a trial version of one of many digital story making tools available online:

Single Image Digital Story Example

 

Digital Story Making Process

The process of creating a digital story lends itself well for staged student projects. Here’s an example of some story making stages:

  1. Select a topic
  2. Conduct research
  3. Find resources and content
  4. Create a storyboard
  5. Script the video
  6. Narrate the video
  7. Edit the final project

I created an animated digital story to illustrate the process of creating a digital story using another freely available tool online.

Digital Storytelling Process Movie link

Recommended Resources & Tools

You will find hundreds of tools available for recording media with a simple search. Any recommended tool should be considered for privacy policies, accessibility and cost to students.

Adobe Spark

Adobe offers a free online video editor which provides easy ways to add text, embed videos, add background music and narration. The resulting videos can be easily shared online via a link or by downloading and reposting somewhere else. While the tool doesn’t offer tremendous flexibility in design, the user interface is very friendly.

Canvas

Canvas has built-in tools to allow students to record and share media within a Canvas course. Instructions are documented in the OSU Ecampus student-facing quick reference guide.

Audacity

Audacity is a free, open-source cross-platform software for recording and editing audio. It has a steeper learning curve than some of the other tools used for multimedia content creation. It will allow you to export your audio file in a format that you can easily add to a digital story.

Padlet

Padlet allows you to create collaborative web pages. It supports lots of content types. It is a great place to have students submit their video stories. You have a lot of control during setup. You can keep a board private, you can enable comments, and you can choose to moderate content prior to posting. Padlet allows for embedding in other sites – and the free version at the time of writing allows users to create three padlets the site will retain.

Storyboarding Tools

A note first about storyboarding. Storyboarding is an essential step in creating a digital story. It is a visual blueprint of how a video will look and feel. It is time to think about mood, flow and gather feedback.
Students and teachers alike benefit from visualizing how they want a final project to look. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It is much easier to think about how you want a shot to look at this stage than while you are shooting and producing your video. A storyboard is also a good step in a staged, longer-term project in a course to gauge if students are on the right track.

Storyboard That

This is a storyboard creation tool. The free account allows for three and six frame stories. In each frame, you can choose from a wide selection of scenes, characters, and props. Each element allows you to customize color, position, and size. Here’s a sample I created:

The Boords

This site has several free to use templates in multiple formats to support this process. Here is one that I have used before:

A4-landscape-6-storyboard-template

Looking for Inspiration?

Start with Matthew Dicks. Dicks is the author of Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling. He is a teacher. He is a five-time winner of the Moth GrandSlam championship.
His book is wonderful, but to just get a taste, start with the podcast he cohosts with his wife. Each week they include a well-vetted and rehearsed story told during a competition. They then highlight the strengths and areas for improvement. You will walk away with ideas and the motivation to become a better storyteller. Here’s the first episode, and one of my favorites.

Conclusion

When pressed for time to develop course content, we tend to over-rely on text-based assignments such as essays and written discussion posts. Students, when working on Digital Storytelling assignments, get the opportunity to experiment, think creatively and practice communication and presentation skills.

For educators, moving away from presenting learning materials in narrated bulleted slides is likely to make classes more engaging and exciting for their students leading to better learning outcomes. Teachers work every day to connect with students and capture their attention. A good story can inspire your students and help them engage with the content.

I was uncomfortable when I received my first digital storytelling assignment. I didn’t really know how to use the tools, wasn’t confident I knew how or what to capture. I was sure it would feel awkward to narrate a video. But These assignments turned out to be engaging, meaningful, and the process is pretty straight forward. Introduce digital storytelling into your courses, even by starting small, and you are sure to feel the same way.

As online educators, we strive for a balance of learning activities that incorporate three types of engagement: learner-to-content, learner-to-instructor, and learner-to-learner.  The learner-to-learner component is often filled through discussion boards or group projects, but an underutilized and undervalued option is peer review.

The Rationale

There are many ways peer review benefits students, among them Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation lists:

  • Empower students to take responsibility for and manage their own learning.
  • Enable students to learn to assess and give others constructive feedback to develop lifelong assessment skills.
  • Enhance students’ learning through knowledge diffusion and exchange of ideas.
  • Motivate students to engage with course material more deeply.

More broadly, the authors of The Knowledge Illusion argue that our individual capacity for knowledge is often much more limited than we realize and that our true depth of knowledge is held collectively.  They remind us that, “when you put it all together, human thought is incredibly impressive.  But it is a product of a community, not of any individual alone” (page 5).  In our increasingly complex world, some evidence of a shift towards building knowledge collectively can be seen in research. For example, in the MEDLINE database, “the average number of authors per article has nearly quadrupled from about 1.5 in 1950 to 5.5 in 2014” (page 226).  This is just one of many examples the authors use to illustrate how essential collaboration and relationship skills have become.  In nearly every field, students need to be prepared to be more than individual achievers, but rather to contribute effectively to a group.  Peer review provides students an opportunity to give and receive feedback with the goal of creating a better end product, but it is also an opportunity for students to practice and build their teamwork skills.

Moreover, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 3b emphasizes the need for students to, “evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.”  Peer review is a great way for us to meet this standard and to combat against misinformation, by teaching students to evaluate and challenge claims.  In Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era author Daniel J. Levitin shares strategies for how we can think more critically and evaluate the trustworthiness of what we are being told.  He notes that, “sometimes the people giving you the facts are hoping you’ll draw the wrong conclusion; sometimes they don’t know the difference themselves” (page xx).  If your students are in either of these groups, it benefits them to have an attentive reader review their work and provide respectful suggestions for improvement prior to a final assignment submission.  This may help you as the instructor to avoid catching errors too late in the process when students cannot revise their work.

The Explanation

However, students may not see the value of peer review on their own.  The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis describes many reasons students may express uncertainty around peer review as, “Many students do not perceive feedback from peers as relevant to the process… students are likely to assume that it is only the instructor’s feedback that ‘counts.’”  Therefore, it is important that we explain to students why we are asking them to engage in peer review explicitly.

It can be helpful to explain specifically how this will relate to industry or field of study requirements as a student advances as a professional and scholar – it looks different for a researcher than it does for a project manager, so motivate students by sharing with them how they will engage in similar activities in the future as this gives them an opportunity to practice what Starting Point: Teaching Entry Level Geoscience describes as, “key skills such as abstracting, developing arguments, describing, assessing, criticizing, analyzing, and reviewing.”  As Faculty Focus advises, we can’t assume that students will implicitly understand the purpose of peer review.  When we craft a peer review assignment, we need to think carefully about how we will articulate the benefits of the process to students.  It can be helpful to answer questions like, “Why am I having students do this?” and “Why should students be excited about this process?”  Or, to take it a step further, we can anticipate the questions from our students’ perspective and proactively address the purpose and logistics in the assignment description, by answering questions like, “Why am I doing peer review?” and “How am I supposed to review my peer’s work?”  Make sure the technology needed and processes are clear and that resources are provided for students that need more guidance.

The Process

Remember, knowing why students are peer reviewing and being able to peer review are two totally different skills.  If you are an Ecampus instructor, talk with your instructional designer about strategies that can help your peer review process be more successful.  Some of the best practices suggested by Center for Instructional Technology & Training at the University of Florida include:

  • Clarify expectations in advance
  • Check your students have all the tools they will need
  • Provide enough time in the peer review process so that students can meaningfully engage – this may span more than one module
  • Model the type of feedback you want your students to use
  • Create a quality rubric as a guide

Your instructional designer can also talk to you about digital tools or strategies that can be used to introduce students to peer review. For example, you can discuss whether it makes more sense to use Canvas Peer Review or another tool, like Peerceptiv, which is research-validated peer assessment technology available for Ecampus courses.

Remember, students need opportunities to practice peer review, as they may never have done it before.  That means they have to get familiar with both the tools and the process.  It’s best if they can practice with the technology on a low stakes assignment before using it for a high stakes assignment, so that they can familiarize themselves with a peer review process without the added anxiety of a major grade on the line.  It will also take time for you as the instructor to get familiar with the process, but it is a completely worthwhile investment!

I invite you to consider some concluding thoughts from Levitin, “Information gathering and research that used to take anywhere from hours to weeks now takes just seconds… The implicit bargain that we all need to make explicit is that we will use just some of that time we saved in information acquisition to perform proper information verification” (page 253).  Let’s reinvest some of the time our students saved researching to engage them in verifying claims, evaluating evidence, offering commentary, and incorporating feedback – all of which support the development of a stronger student work and the building of a collective knowledge.

The Ecampus multimedia team creates animations to bring your thoughts and words to life. In virtual reality, creating these 3D objects and animations has become incredibly easy and fast.

The old ways … of power tool juggling

Developing “multimedia” often means using small aspects of many different tools. “Media” being a means of communication and the plural of medium: a means of doing something. To create an animation for your class, we quickly run through a long list of media.

Here’s an exhaustive run through of how the process works at the moment (feel free to skip to the next section! This is detailed): You would typically type up and email over a script that I take into Google Drive to edit and comment upon. You’d record audio in one of our sound booths, and I’d take the resulting sound files into Adobe Audition to equalize levels and remove background noise(s). Then I’d grab a pencil and sketch out a quick storyboard for each sentence to suggest visuals that could emphasize your point(s). Photographs of these sketches are edited in Photoshop and injected into another file on Google Drive.

And that is just the easy preparation portion. Depending on the animation style we’re going after, I’d dive deep into obscure programs I’ve learned to use over the past few decades – like Autodesk Maya / Mudbox / MotionBuilder / Meshmixer, Adobe Illustrator / Animate / Character Animator / Fuse / Dimension, Unity3D, the Procreate iPad app, Agisoft Photoscan, MeshLab, Instant Meshes, Mixamo, etc. … Simply trying to list the most commonly used apps is exhausting (much less all the other emerging apps we investigate, or the ones we mastered that went away. I still love you HyperCard, Director, and Flash!). Phew.

However the pieces of animation are generated, we still end up spitting out thousands of images or video files that have to be lined up in Adobe After Effects / Premiere / Media Encoder to assemble the final video that we can upload to YouTube or Kaltura and send to you.

What I’m saying here is: this whole process usually takes weeks or months. Or… we can just do it all in VR in an afternoon.

 

The new reality… of easy bake dreams

Tvori is an amazing tool to easily puppet objects and characters around in VR. You can record audio in directly, and export 4K videos, 360 videos, or animation data for all those old programs i mentioned above. The main reason I set out to write this blog post: was to promote Tvori. It offers an all-in-one easy pathway to making your own animatons in mere minutes. This amazing program runs about 20 bucks, and unlike the other (free) VR tools I’ll mention below – Tvori isn’t backed by a major corporation (*yet). I expect to be generating much more animation work for instructors with it, and hope to be advising you all on how to use it yourselves as you step into VR through your own office computers.

I’d say Tvori offers a level of animation comparable to an “animatic” – a movie industry term for quick and dirty approximations of what the final multi-million dollar film could look like. There’s a good chance animatics will be good enough for the bulk of concepts we wish to impart to students at the university level, with the added bonus that we can generate many of them in a single term. That said, maybe you’re curious what other creative tools are emerging in VR these days?

1) Whiteboard animations are a common request at Ecampus. Oculus Quill lets us draw and animate in this cartoon style in 3D (so it’s like our current 2D drawing tools, but we can move the camera around freely at any time, zoom-in endlessly,). This free tool for Oculus Rift users was updated last month to add a ton of new useful tricks.

We’ve already made fly-bys of 3D drawings in Google Tiltbrush, but we couldn’t actually animate the drawings directly (we just started recording, and moved our head through space). But both these programs are free and worth looking into.

2) In Oculus Medium, anyone can sculpt objects in the air at high resolution with weightless clay. If you own the Oculus Rift, this is an free and amazing tool for creating 3D objects. Now we can make things extremely fast and bring them into those old programs we’ve used for years.

Google Blocks is a similar free tool to quickly make solid low-resolution objects (it’s like Google Sketchup with VR ease and benefits). Upload them to Google Poly to share with the world (a service very similar to SketchFab or Microsoft’s Remix 3D). With these sculpting tools, and repositories of free creations, it’s a snap to gather the building blocks needed to start complicated animation projects. For example, we can bring any of these sculpted objects right into Tvori…

3) Final thought: you can use Google Earth VR to walk around any location on earth, while scaling up to Godzilla height or even zooming in and out from space. The multimedia team can record what you’re seeing and pointing at, along with your narration. While this isn’t a feature of the software (yet), we have the magic means to do it for you. (And we can also go back into Google Earth Studio to make a more polished and precise version of the path you traveled).

I hope this inspires you to go get a VR headset, come by our offices and try it out, or let us don the gear for you. We look forward to making your imagination a reality for students worldwide!

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Are you interested in reading about research in the field of online teaching and learning? Could you use some help in reading and digesting the results of various research reports in the field? Would you like to be able to identify the strengths and weakness of the study reports that you read? If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions then you might be interested in the  Ecampus Research Unit’s new resource: the Report Reader Checklist.

The Report Reader Checklist includes a comprehensive set of criteria that offers you a guide to evaluate the quality and rigor of study reports. The checklist is intended to provide an overview of the foundational elements that should be included when reporting on the results of a study. You can apply each checklist criterion to a report to see whether that element has been included or not.

Here is an overview of the six areas of the checklist and the criterion in each area:

  1. Context: Does the report describe the larger purpose of the study? Does it explain the history or theoretical framework? Does the report include research goals and suggestions for further research?
  2. Methodology: Does the report have a methodology section? Is it clear how data were collected and analyzed? If the study used statistics, were they named? If coding was used, was the procedure described?
  3. Sample: Are the study participants described in detail? Is it clear how participants were recruited? Does the sample represent an appropriate level of diversity? Are subgroups appropriately identified?
  4. Reporting Results: Are all numbers in the report easy to comprehend? Is the “N” provided? Does the report identify missing data? Is it clear where study findings fit with the study’s purpose? Do data visualizations enhance your understanding of the results?
  5. Transparency: Are raw data included in the report? Are instruments or study protocols provided in the report? Are the authors clear about any conflicts of interest? Is the discussion rooted in data results?
  6. Reader Experience: Does the report use language that is easy to understand? Is the report ADA accessible? Does it include a summary or abstract? Is the study an appropriate length?

There are no “points” or “weighting” within the checklist, but if you find one area (e.g., “Context” or “Methodology”) that is missing several criteria within a report, that would indicate that a report is weaker in that particular area.

You can download a one-page PDF of the checklist or visit our supplementary website that provides more details on each of the criterion. Further, the site includes sample reports for each criterion so that you can learn more about areas that you are unfamiliar with.

We hope you find this resource useful for reading and evaluating reports in the field. We also hope it helps you make data-driven decisions for your work.

About the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit: The Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit makes research actionable through the creation of evidence-based resources related to effective online teaching, learning and program administration. The OSU Ecampus Research Unit is part of Oregon State Ecampus, the university’s top-ranked online education provider. Learn more at ecampus.oregonstate.edu/research.

 

There are many benefits to using rubrics for both instructors and students, as discussed in Rubrics Markers of Quality Part 1 – Unlock the Benefits. Effective rubrics serve as a tool to foster excellence in teaching and learning, so let’s take a look at some best practices and tips to get you started.

Best Practices

Alignment

Rubrics should articulate a clear connection between how students demonstrate learning and the (CLO) Course Learning Outcomes. Solely scoring gateway criteria, the minimum expectations for a task, (e.g., word count, number of discussion responses) can be alluring. Consider a rubric design to move past minimum expectations and assess what students should be able to do after completing a task.

Detailed, Measurable, and Observable

Clear and specific rubrics have the potential to communicate to how to demonstrate learning, how performance evaluation measures, and markers of excellence. The details provide students with a tool to self-assess their progress and level up their performance autonomously.

Language Use

Rubrics create the opportunity to foster an inclusive learning environment. Application of clear and consistent language takes into consideration a diverse student composition. Online students hail from around the world and speak various native languages. Learners may interpret the meaning of different words differently. Use simple terms with specific and detailed descriptions. Doing so creates space for students to focus on learning instead of decoding expectations. Additionally, consider the application of parallel language consistently. The use of similar language (e.g. demonstrates, mostly demonstrates, and doesn’t demonstrate) across each criterion can be helpful to differentiate between each performance level.

Tips of the Trade!

Suitability

Consider the instructional aim, learning outcomes, and the purpose of a task when choosing the best rubric for your course.

  • Analytic Rubrics: The hallmark design of an analytic rubric evaluates performance criteria separately. Characteristically this rubric’s structure is a grid, and evaluation of performance scores are on a continuum of levels. Analytic rubrics are detailed, specific, measurable, and observable. Therefore, this rubric type is an excellent tool for formative feedback and assessment of learning outcomes.
  • Holistic Rubrics: Holistic rubrics evaluate criteria together in one general description for each performance level. Ideally, this rubric design evaluates the overall quality of a task.  Consider the application of a holistic rubric can when an exact answer isn’t needed, when deviation or errors are allowed, and for interpretive/exploratory activities.
  • General Rubrics: Generalized rubrics can be leveraged to assess multiple tasks that have the same learning outcomes (e.g., reflection paper, journal). Performance dimensions focus solely on outcomes versus discrete task features.

Explicit Expectations

Demystifying expectations can be challenging.  Consider articulating performance expectations in the task description before deploying a learning task. Refrain from using rubrics as a standalone vehicle to communicate expectations. Unfortunately, students may miss the rubric all together and fail to meet expectations. Secondly, make the implicit explicit! Be transparent. Provide students with all the information and tools they need to be successful from the outset.

Iterate

A continuous improvement process is a key to developing high-quality assessment rubrics. Consider multiple tests and revisions of the rubric. There are several strategies for testing a rubric. 1) Consider asking students, teaching assistants, or professional colleagues to score a range of work samples with a rubric. 2) Integrate opportunities for students to conduct self-assessments. 3) Consider assessing a task with the same rubric between course sections and academic terms. Reflect on how effectively and accurately the rubric performed, after testing is complete. Revise and redeploy as needed.

Customize

Save some time, and don’t reinvent the wheel. Leverage existing samples and templates. Keep in mind that existing resources weren’t designed with your course in mind. Customization will be needed to ensure the accuracy and effectiveness of the rubric.

Are you interested in learning more about rubrics and how they can enrich your course? Your Instructional Designer can help you craft effective rubrics that will be the best fit for your unique course.

References

Additional Resources

The Basics
Best Practices
Creating and Designing Rubrics