Students need tactics for when they encounter strange people or strange ideas. (Wilson, 2018) First-time online students are a perfect example of individuals who are encountering something new, strange, and often uncomfortable, for the first time. Welcoming that strange experience should include a little bit of information gathering. Look for positive and negatives in situations to help decide how you view it and, most of all, have an open mind.
To help potential online students make decisions, when they take their first online course, Marie Fetzner asked unsuccessful online students: “What advice would you give to students who are considering registering for an online course?”
Their top 13 responses:
Stay up with the course activities—don’t get behind
Use good time management skills
Use good organizational skills
Set aside specific times during each week for your online class
Know how to get technical help
A lot of online writing is required
There is a lot of reading in the textbook and in online discussions—be prepared
Regular online communications are needed
Ask the professor if you have questions
Carefully read the course syllabus
Be sure you understand the requirements of the online course discussions
Understand how much each online activity is worth toward your grade
Go to the online student orientation, if possible
These responses raise the question: how can we better help our students? From the advice above, we know students struggle with time management, expectations, communication, etc. So, what can we do to help foster their success?
Reach out to students who seem to be lagging behind. A quick email is sometimes all it takes to open up that line of communication between you and the student.
Provide approximate times for course materials and activities. Students can use this to better plan for the requirements that week.
Keep your course organized so students can spend more time with the content instead of search for the content.
Remind students about where to access help and support services.
Develop a Q&A discussion board for student questions about the course. Often, more than one student has the same question and often other students might already know the answer. Have this be something you check daily to answer questions quickly so students can continue with their learning.
Use rubrics for grading. By giving the students rubrics, they will know what is expected, you will get responses closer to your expectations, and it makes grading easier!
Welcome these ideas as you would a new experience. Give it a little try, jump right in, confer with colleagues, or chose your own path. Know that as an instructor or developer for an online course, you have the ability to help your students be successful!
Fetzner, Marie. (2013). What Do Unsuccessful Online Students Want Us to Know? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks,17(1), 13-27.
Wilson, J. (2018). “As a stranger give it welcome”: Shakespeare’s Advice for First-Year College Students. Change,50(5), 60.
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?
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.
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.
Oregon State University now has over 500 hybrid (“blended”) courses including the Ecampus hybrid degree and certificate programs offered through the new Portland Center.
What do OSU faculty say about blended learning? Since 2012, participants in the Hybrid Faculty Learning Community have been blogging about their approaches to blended course design and teaching. The resulting 200+ posts in the Hybrid Faculty Blog are a rich compendium of reflections on hybrid teaching and learning.
As they design hybrid courses, faculty from across OSU describe how they come to terms with a course format that has great potential to successfully engage today’s students, but that can be challenging to do well, especially the first time. Instructors celebrate the possibilities of a course mode that combines “the best of both worlds” of online and face-to-face teaching and learning. Here are selections from their writing about integration of online and face-to-face learning, flipped teaching and student-to-student interaction.
Integration of Online and Face-to-Face Learning Activities
Our face-to-face meetings will be used to integrate all that they have been learning online and will use open-ended questions to engage students in discussions intended to broaden and deepen their thinking about the module’s content. – Ted Paterson, Business
The key method we are using to link the online material and the classroom time is the weekly case study. Each case study will be tied to the learning objectives for that week, which in turn are mapped to course-level learning objectives…. This case study approach will both illustrate and reinforce the course concepts while also giving the students an opportunity to explore additional concepts. – Sue Carozza, Public Health
Flipped Teaching and Learning
Moving to a flipped approach provides an opportunity to really consider what types of learning materials and strategies deeply engage students in knowledge generation, while taking advantage of the expanding capabilities of electronic media. – John Bolte, Biological and Ecological Engineering (BEE)
Online and classroom experiences will be linked in a variety of ways. Specifically, the online activities will help students prepare for class by completing readings, video lectures, and quizzes prior to class meetings. Class time can then be used to focus on difficult concepts and to expand on current issues in nutrition. – Jennifer Jackson, Nutrition
The goal for the online content is that students arrive in class with a similar level of knowledge after reviewing and being quizzed on background materials. In-class content will then emphasize materials that are likely new to all students, emphasizing engineering design, example calculations, and content…. In this model, the online content will provide the theoretical foundation for diving deeper with in-class content on design. – Desiree Tullos, BEE
Integrating real-time discussion in class has been very fruitful in my hybrid course. I use a Just-In-Time approach where the students are asked a question prior to class, where they participate by posting in a discussion board and replying to each other. The discussion board closes a few minutes after the start of class. If there are points to discuss, I open a new discussion board and the students interact online for four minutes or so. I find that they have gotten to know each other very well in a short time by integrating their online presence with in-class discussions. In general, they are more open to verbally discussing material than previous classes I have taught. – Kathy Hadley, Astronomy
One of the great things that online courses provide is the opportunity to have more transparency throughout a project compared to a non-hybrid class, because the digital material is available all the time and the entire class can have access. In a typical non-hybrid course … the students rarely see the daily or weekly progress and process of how other teams are working. Allowing teams to see one another’s process, progress and being allowed to contribute to other team’s process and progress may create a richer and more transparent experience for students. My hope is that innovative online team experiences will expand students’ collaborative toolkit, [and] help them gain confidence in peer learning. – Andrea Marks, Design
Understanding and fostering students learning from one another is a method of also avoiding the “sage on the stage” problem…. In our field it is important for each future public health professional to internalize that they will need to learn from the communities they will be working in. I believe one way to foster that is to make certain that students are learning from their peers and that we are continually learning from them as well. – Karen Volmar, Public Health
When teaching face-to-face, you might break your lectures into weeks because you will only meet with students once or twice a week. You hope to give them all the information they need during your face-to-face sessions for them to successfully complete work independently between classes.
While a typical face-to-face lecture can span 50-90 minutes, there is evidence to suggest shortening the length for your online students may be a better practice. Your online students may be in and out of your course many more times than they would be face-to-face and this gives you the opportunity to think about designing your video lectures differently. Organizing your lectures topically, rather than weekly can be a powerful way to redesign your course.
Students can find what they need, when they need it
Imagine you are taking a course on humor and Week 1 covered the causes of laughter. Midterms are approaching and you realize you understood the causes exaggeration and anticipation, but can’t remember what protection was about. If there was one long lecture on the causes of humor, you would have to re-watch or scroll through the whole lecture to find this one piece of information. But, if your instructor had each of the lectures separated out and named by topic, you could easily review the one topic that was confusing to you. If you have a limited amount of time to study, you can place your focus on studying the content, rather than finding it.
The practice of topic-based videos also makes finding content later much easier for your learners. Consider how much harder it is to find information when you are looking through titles like “Week 2”. By Week 9, when students might be reviewing for their final, is it likely they will remember exactly what you covered in Week 2? However, they could quickly glance at topical titles to jog their memory when deciding what to study.
Speaking from experience, I reviewed videos from a course I had completed to prepare for a job interview. I remembered that the course had the lectures broken out by topic rather than week, so it was easy to refresh myself on concepts that I was sure would come up with the employer.
Students can digest smaller pieces
Topical lectures, perhaps several short ones per week, are easier to digestible than weekly lectures. And, shorter lectures are more likely to be viewed by students.
Imagine a course where the topics might be complex, intimidating or unfamiliar. For me, this could be German. If I bought a German book today, I know it would sit on my shelf collecting dust. But, I might use an app like Duolingo to learn a couple of words each day, which feels much more manageable. Consider that microlearning is advantageous, particularly for adult students that may benefit by breaking their studying into many small, achievable sessions.
It is faster and easier for you to make changes
If you are noticing that students are just “not getting” a certain topic, it is much easier to rerecord a small video on just this one topic than to rerecord a long video on several topics. This is particularly true if many of the topics covered are being understood – why make more work for yourself?
It is also easier to rearrange videos if they are topical. If you realize that one topic belongs in Week 2 and not in Week 7, you can simply move that one part without re-thinking the whole week two video.
Topical videos allow you to add value to other course materials
An effective use of short videos can be to add value to the topic through your experience or expertise as the instructor. You can discuss a case study or scenario that relates to a topic that helps students understand the topic in action. Rather than a long video that includes both the lecture and the example, break these into two parts. If you totally reiterate what students are learning in another part of their course, like a reading, they might wonder why they are doing both activities. But, your examples add a layer of meaning and depth to the other course materials.
People can find almost any information on the internet. Part of their motivation to take courses is to gain access to your knowledge as an expert in the field. Short videos that talk about real-life situations adds both instructor presence and meaning for students.
Short videos load more quickly
No one wants technology to be a barrier for students. Short videos load more quickly, which can be important to students that don’t have consistent access to high-speed internet. You don’t want the student to get frustrated and give up simply because a video is too long, when it can easily be divided into pieces.
Challenge yourself to be focused
By committing to create shorter content, you challenge yourself to be focused and refined in what you share. By setting a goal, like recording videos under 7 minutes per topic, the quality of the content must be top notch. This encourages you to review your content to cut out what is redundant, unclear, or off-topic, which can be very satisfying. And, if you model being on point, precise, and specific – your students will have a clear expectation on the quality of work they are expected to create as well.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Find some equipment (Hadvar) / Loot Gunjar’s body (Ralof).
Optional: Search a barrel for potions.
Optional: Pick the lock of a cage.
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.
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.
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.
Want to know more about the psychology of why these designs work? Start with these resources:
This book is another excellent introduction based around Deci & Ryan’s Self Determination Theory (SDT) and how the framework for SDT is observed in different games. For an illustrated video of Ryan explaining the basics of SDT, click here.
For some primary sources on SDT and intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, here are some additional articles by Deci & Ryan:
We often hear about new approaches in teaching, and some can take on near-mythical status. That might be the case for active learning. It’s been widely touted as the “most effective” pedagogical approach, but unless you have time to dig through the research, it may not be easy to determine if this trend is applicable – or beneficial – to your teaching and discipline.
So what does the research say about active learning? This article provides a brief summary of research results for active learning applied in STEM subjects.
Why Use Active Learning?
Before we discuss why active learning is beneficial, let’s clarify exactly what active learning is. As opposed to passive learning, such as listening to a traditional lecture, active learning requires students to do something and think about what they are doing (Bonwell & Eison, 1991).
Much research supports the power and benefits of active learning. Students have better retention and understanding when they are actively involved in the learning process (Chickering & Gamson, 1987). Active engagement promotes higher order thinking, since it often requires students to evaluate, synthesize, and analyze information. Research indicates that students develop strong connections, apply concepts to authentic scenarios, and dive deeply into the content, often discovering an unexpected level of engagement that is exciting and stimulating (Nelson, 2002).
Does Active Learning Produce Better Outcomes in STEM?
Research indicates the answer is “yes!” In an introductory physics course, Harvard professor Eric Mazur (2009) found that his students were not able to answer fundamental physics scenarios or grasp basic concepts from traditional lectures. As a result, he stopped lecturing and has become an outspoken champion for active learning.
An organic chemistry class adopted active learning, resulting in significantly higher grades for students in the active classroom than in the control group, with the greatest effect coming from low-achieving students (Cormier and Voisard, 2018). In an introductory undergraduate physics course, two large student groups were compared. The active learning section showed greater attendance, more engagement, and more than double the achievement on an exam (Deslauriers, Schelew and Weiman, 2011).
In 2004, a skeptical Michael Prince (2004) researched the then-current literature on active learning to determine whether it offered consideration for engineering. He found that many active learning recommendations directly conflicted with historical engineering teaching practices. Methods like breaking lectures into small, topic-specific segments, interspersing lecture with discussion, using problem-based scenarios, or grouping students for collaborative learning were uncommon. Ultimately, Prince reluctantly concluded that the bulk of research evidence indicated that these types of teaching methods might foster better retention and enhance critical thinking.
What About Non-STEM Classes?
Although these findings are from research in STEM disciplines, active learning contributes to better grades, more engagement, increased student satisfaction and better retention in any topic (Allen-Ramdial & Campbell, 2014). Active learning tends to increase involvement for all students, not just those already motivated to learn. Peer-to-peer collaboration helps students solve problems and better understand more complex content (Vaughan et al., 2014). Research indicates that students learn more when they actively participate in their education and are asked to think about and apply their learning (Chickering & Gamson, 1987).
Try It Yourself!
The articles cited in this post offer a number of easy-to-implement active learning suggestions that are effective in ether a face-to-face or online classroom. Give one or two a try and see if your students are more engaged in the learning process.
Offer opportunities for students to practice and examine concepts with peers, such as through debates.
Break lectures into small, granular topics and intersperse with questions or problem-solving activities based on real-world applications. Video technologies can easily accommodate this approach for online learning.
Structure quizzes or other activities to give immediate feedback. Answer keys and auto-graded assessments are available as a feature in virtually any learning management system.
Consider “flipping” the classroom by asking students to read or watch lecture videos before in-person class sessions.
Design activities that encourage students to work in small groups or collaborate with others.
Add a personal reflection component to help students uncover new ideas or insights.
Although no single definitive study has yet been published to unequivocally prove the efficacy of active learning, the body of evidence from many studies forms a compelling argument that it is does offer significant benefits (Weimer, 2012). Give it a try and see how active learning works in your discipline.
Susan Fein, Ecampus Instructional Designer | firstname.lastname@example.org
Allen-Ramdial, S.-A. A., & Campbell, A. G. (2014, July). Reimagining the Pipeline: Advancing STEM Diversity, Persistence, and Success. BioScience, 64(7), 612-618.
Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active Learning; Creating Excitement in the Classroom (Vol. Education Report No. 1). Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987, March). Seven Principles for Good Practice. AAHE Bulletin 39, 3-7.
Cormier, C., & Voisard, B. (2018, January). Flipped Classroom in Organic Chemistry Has Significant Effect on Students’ Grades. Frontiers in ICT, 4, 30. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fict.2017.00030
Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011, May). Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class. Science, 332, 862-864.
Mazur, E. (2009, January 2). Farewell, Lecture? Science, 323(5910), 50-51. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20177113
Nelson, G. D. (2002). Science for All Americans. New Directions for Higher Education, 119(Fall), 29-32.
Prince, M. (2004, July). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 223-231.
Vaughan, N., LeBlanc, A., Zimmer, J., Naested, I., Nickel, J., Sikora, S., . . . O’Connor, K. (2014). To Be or Not To Be. In A. G. Picciano, C. D. Dziuban, & C. R. Graham (Eds.), Blended Learning Research Perspectives (Vol. 2, pp. 127-144). Routledge.
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/
In part 1 of Debunking Neuromyths and Applications for Online Teaching and Learning, we reviewed the neuromyths and neuro-facts about learning styles, intelligence, and emotions, and their corresponding online teaching applications. Here is part 2, where we will review the neuromyths and neuro-facts about sleep, memory, attention and creativity, and their corresponding online teaching applications.
#4 About sleep: “When you sleep, your brain shuts down.” Is this statement a myth or fact?
It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding sleep: Sleep strengthens memory because the activity patterns, neurochemical and gene environments of sleep serve to clear noise and strengthen weakened networks of neural circuits for efficient subsequent cognitive processing demands. (Poe, Walsh and Bjorness, 2010)
Danger of this myth: It tempted students to procrastinate and skip sleep before important test to cram in missed study time.
Online learning applications from debunking sleep myth include:
Teach students the importance of sleep: sleep time brain activity enhances learning.
Teach students test preparation secret 1: spaced practice, retrieval practice, interleaving practices, way before the test day.
Teach students test preparation secret 2: review thoroughly (practice retrieval, teach others, explain it, etc. ) the night before test day.
Teach students test preparation secret 3: have plenty of sleep regularly, and especially the night before the test day.
Teach students test preparation secret 4: Eat balanced healthy food regularly, and on test day as well.
Teach students test preparation secret 5: Calm down and have a positive attitude. You are bound to perform at your best!
#5 About memory: “Memory is like a container, an assembly line, or a recording device.” Is this statement a myth or fact?
It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding memory: Memory is malleable. We use our memory to manage situations we know very well. When faced with a new problem, we try to modify and adapt known solutions from previous experiences. (Brandeis.edu, n.d.)
The danger of this myth lies in the assumption of its accuracy.
Why is it important to debunk this myth? It helps liberating both instructor and students to focus on improve the learning environment and malleability of memory.
Online learning application of debunking the idea of “fixed memory”:
Encourage instructors to provide multiple means of content presentation for strengthened memory connections.
#6 About attention: “The brain can multitask while learning, especially Gen Z”. Is this statement a myth or fact?
It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding attention: Learning requires focused attention. Multitasking works only for routine or simple tasks. (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2018)
The danger of this myth lies in wasting time and low productivity during study.
Online learning application from debunking the myth of multitasking:
Content presentation in online learning needs to be in modular format to avoid cognitive overload and increase focused attention.
Offer time management tips to students. For example, use physical or digital devices, such as Pomodoro Timer, to help students concentrate on a focused study session.
#7 About Creativity: “Creativity is primarily a personality trait and can’t be taught.” Is this statement a myth or fact?
It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding creativity: Creativity can be practiced and reinforced, just like other cognitive skills such as critical thinking (Miller, 2018). Koestler (1964) proposed a broader definition of creativity: the ability to make connections between two previously unrelated ideas or contexts.
The danger of this myth is the mission-impossible syndrome caused by self-denial of creativity, for both instructors and students. If instructors do not view themselves as creative, it is very unlikely for them to encourage creativity in their teaching. If the students do not view themselves as creative in the subject area, it is very unlikely that they will attempt to produce creative work.
Online learning application from debunking the myth of creativity:
As an instructor, openly share your original ideas with the class. Model what it looks like to be open to feedback and bounce ideas off of one another.
Encourage students to learn a variety of skills and subjects. The more unrelated the field, the better. “Learning different methods and practicing new skills not only engages different parts of the brain, but it inspires cross-pollination of ideas from one domain to the other. ” (Shah, 2018)
Catmull, E. and Wallace, A. (2014). Creativity, INC. Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration. London, UK: Townworld Publisher.
Johnson, Steven. (2011). Where Good Ideas Come From. New York, NY: Riverhead books.
Marsh, H. W., and Yeung, A. S. (1997). Causal effects of academic self-concept on academic achievement: structural equation models of longitudinal data. J. Educ. Psychol.89, 41–54. doi: 10.1037/0022-0622.214.171.124
For Ecampus students, online education offers accessibility, flexibility and asynchronous learning opportunities when attending courses on campus may not be possible. University-based distance education has experienced steady growth over the past 20 years. A 2018 study found that 31.6% of all students are taking at least one online course (Seaman, Allen, & Seaman, 2018). But, although the growth of online courses has improved access to education, it hasn’t necessarily coincided with a growth of relevant, engaging, and innovative learning experiences. While many educators and online course designers recognize the value of project-based learning, concerns over the skills and the time required to develop authentic projects limits their use in online classes. This blog post will look at ways Constructionism, the theory that learning is most effective when students make authentic artifacts to build knowledge, can be applied to online higher education.
Constructionism is a term first defined by Seymour Papert, an MIT scholar, educational theorist, and an early champion of using computers in education (MIT Media Lab, 2016). Papert built on the earlier work of philosopher Jean Piaget. Piaget’s similarly named Constructivist theory proposed that children learn not as information is transmitted to them or in response to stimulation, but through experiences in which they are given the opportunity to “construct meaning.” While Papert agreed, he expanded on these ideas and slightly modified the name. He believed that constructing knowledge was more effective when it was done “in the world.”
Papert’s Constructionism theory held that students learned best when given an opportunity to construct their own meaning by creating meaningful artifacts for an authentic audience. He felt that by creating something to share, something that “can be shown, discussed, examined, probed, and admired” student motivation to learn was increased (Papert, 1993, p. 143).
Papert illustrated this theory working with elementary school aged children to program Legos. His work in education inspired the development of the Lego Mindstorms line, that now has widespread use in K-12 STEM educational programs and robotic competitions. Papert developed a curriculum based on his Constructionism theory for elementary school children in classrooms. But how can these same principles, those of learning by doing, be applied to adults earning college degrees online?
Creating effective online learning requires new practices. Earning an undergraduate degree in Oregon represents roughly 5400 hours of schoolwork.1 But what does that look like? For an online student, this time is spent going through the learning materials online and completing the related activities and assessments. The majority of online instructional materials are designed for passive consumption. Slide-based presentations and PDF articles are being embedded into Learning Management Systems (LMS’s), and whiteboards and lectures are being videotaped and exported to YouTube. To demonstrate their understanding of the material, students are asked to post in discussion forums and to write papers. Imagine completing 5400 hours of these types of activities to earn a degree.
Face-to-face interaction with an instructor and classmates can inspire effort that is more difficult to motivate in virtual instruction. Research findings by Constructivist thinkers have found that in order to facilitate an active learning experience for students, they must be doing something besides passively reading or listening to lecture content. “Teachers can’t “pour” knowledge into the heads of students as they might pour lemonade into a glass; rather, students make their own lemonade” (Ormrod, 2016, pp. 158–159). Students are more engaged when they are presented with the challenge of analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, and presenting information. They retain more when they participate in their own learning.
There is now widespread availability of multimedia tools that can enable students to create content that reflects on what they are learning. These include podcasts, skits, videos, and narrated presentations. They can create timelines, online portfolios, or interactive maps. Assignments like these usually require higher order thinking skills – asking students to analyze or synthesize what they have learned and share it with an audience.
I had the opportunity to create multimodal projects several times while earning my master’s degree at Western Oregon. I created numerous digital stories. I used them to introduce myself to my online classmates, to create tutorials, and to share experiences raising my children after my husband passed away (see my first digital story, Suck it up Buttercup). In doing these projects, I realized that I had a story to tell – and one to which I needed to add my voice. They were powerful and engaging learning experiences for me. I became comfortable with the technology required to create the projects, I practiced writing, editing, speaking and presentation skills. In the process of sharing a bit of myself with my classmates and instructors I felt connected to them in a way that I had not before as a distance learner. I was proud of the projects I created. I put long hours into them and continued to edit them after they had been submitted and graded because I wanted to improve them and share them with a broader audience. I have never done this with a discussion forum post or research paper. One of my course presentations, in conjunction with an online portfolio I created for a different class, was used to interview for the job I now hold as an Instructional Designer at Oregon State University.
Technology-based assessment projects should only be introduced to curriculum intentionally. Assignments should be selected carefully to align with the learning outcomes of the course and should be appropriate for the level of the course. Projects should be challenging, but doable and relevant to the learner’s goals and outcomes developed at the beginning of course design.
While introducing Constructionism into online courses using technology-based tools may move away from traditional teaching methods, it does not mean students will not develop the same types of core skills expected from an undergraduate education. Judith V. Boettcher holds a Ph.D. in education and cognitive psychology and owns the website “Designing for Learning.” In a 2011 article on assessment alternatives to writing papers, Boettcher asserted that the skills required for written assignments: critical thinking, analysis, knowledge of the subject, assembly of ideas, and information processing were still exercised and developed when the output was a different type of product (Judith V. Boettcher, 2011). Her point is well taken.
Consider what it takes for a student to create a video documentary, script a podcast, or even develop a narrated presentation. Many of the skills required to write a research paper, essay or thoughtful discussion post are also present in assignments that leverage technology for creation. The student still has to enter the conversation about their subject area with thoughtful and well-developed contributions. But with the wealth of tools now available, there are many ways for them to share their work. Boettcher also noted that looking for ways to leverage technology in assessment strategies has the additional benefit of reducing the burden of reading “endless numbers of papers.”
Many instructors worry that learning curves associated with new tools will interfere with the ability to absorb the course content. However, when probing faculty, often it is their own unfamiliarity with technology that is at the root of this fear. It is worth experimenting before presupposing that learning how to build a website or create an animated presentation or video will be too hard.
Recent advances in technology have produced endless collections of websites and apps that have a very low barrier to creating visually stunning multimedia content. Many of them are free or low cost, particularly to educators. As an example, the new Google Sites released in 2018 makes it easy for those with no web development experience to create and publish a website including videos, pictures, documents and audio files. Users can apply themes, chose colors and change font styles to personalize the site. As users add content to templated page layouts, they are automatically aligned and sized based on best design practices. Google Sites has the added advantage for those concerned about privacy of allowing content to be restricted to users on a school’s domain or to invited individuals.
In contrast to many university faculty instructors who are new to multimedia content creation tools, this generation of students has grown up online. They use online tools for social interactions, at work, for school, and to pursue their personal interests. Their research projects start with an online search, so much so that looking for information has become synonymous with the name of the world’s most popular internet search engine. “Let me Google that.” If a student has questions about how to use a tool to create a presentation or edit a video, they will do just that. More likely however, they will just start trying to use it, building useful, employable skills as they do so.
In 2013, Google commissioned a study that reinforced the value of employees willing to think for themselves, experiment, and explore new ways of sharing information. Writing about this study in the Washington Post, Cathy Davidson (Cathy Davidson, 2017), author of “The New Education: How to revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux,” said that the study showed that workplace success is predicted largely by skills such as communication, critical thinking, problem solving, curiosity and making connections across complex ideas. In the New Media Consortium 2017 Horizon Report on Higher Education they reiterated the findings of the Google study: “Real-world skills are needed to bolster employability and workplace development. Students expect to graduate into gainful employment. Institutions have a responsibility to deliver deeper, active learning experiences and skills-based training that integrate technology in meaningful ways” (Becker et al., 2017). Both of these studies reflect the importance that today’s students leave school knowing how to collaborate, question, and engage – skills not necessarily developed through passive consumption of content in online courses. In other words, a willingness to experiment, the ability to think creatively, and communication and presentation skills – all of those traits exercised when learners are asked to create and share projects demonstrating new knowledge – are those that will help them during a job search. Not only that, but some of these artifacts can be used while applying for and interviewing for work. Presentations and online portfolios can be shared with prospective employers. Prospective job applicants cannot, however, take LMS discussion posts to an interview.
Building skills and creating artifacts that will help students at work or to find work is motivating for adult learners. Adult enrollment in online degree programs is primarily driven by their career aspirations (Jordan Friedman, 2017). Numerous studies find higher student satisfaction and retention in online higher education courses when there is a link to a professional application. Student are more motivated to learn when the relevancy and applicability of activities to their chosen field is obvious (Ke, 2010). This reflects both pedagogical best practices (Luna Scott, 2015), and the fact that the majority of online students are hoping to develop skills that will support their careers. These studies found that the ability to apply knowledge to real-world applications consistently contributed to a learner’s positive experience.
An increasing number of students are turning to online education to earn their degrees. As educational costs rise, many students are doing this out of necessity while juggling school, work, and family commitments. Educators need to look for ways to create relevant and engaging forms of assessment for these learners. There is an over-reliance on passive consumption of learning materials and text-based assignments. But students, when given the choice to develop projects of their own design and based on their own interests, are likely to retain more information and walk away with modern career skills.
The lessons Papert learned by allowing elementary school children to build and program Lego structures can and should be carried over to online higher education. Let students build something. Let them share it with an authentic audience. Leverage technology that enables students in online classes to use knowledge, rather than just store it. This type of assessment allows students to find their voice and excites them about their coursework. There are numerous options that instructors can include in an online course to foster this type of learning.
Undergraduate students attending Oregon universities must complete a minimum of 180 credit hours. Guidelines, like those offered by the Oregon State University Registrar’s office, suggest that students should expect three hours of work per week for each credit hour (Oregon State University, 2018). Over the course of a ten-week quarterly term, like those of Oregon’s public universities, 180 credits at 12 credits a term would require 36 hours of work a week and take 15 terms, or 150 weeks. 150 weeks X 36 hours of work/per week is 5400 hours.
As we have settled into the start of a new term, it is a good time to pause for a short moment and reflect: is there something new I can learn about teaching and learning and apply it in my teaching?
“Neuromyths: Debunking false ideas about the brain” (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2018) offers an easy read yet presents challenging ideas. Could our beliefs about teaching and learning be totally wrong as neuroscience develops and scientists unravel more and more understanding about how our brain functions? In this post, we will investigate three aspects of learning: learning styles, intelligence and emotions.
About learning styles: “Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning styles.” Is this statement a myth or fact?
It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding learning styles: Although learning style have been widely used, the above statement is not supported by the science. Individual variance in learning preferences do exist. Yet evidence suggests that it is unhelpful to assign learners to groups or categories on the basis of a supposed learning style. (Vaughan 2017)
The danger of this myth lies in its potential to mislead students to think: “The content is not presented in my preferred learning styles, so I can not learn it well. Therefore, I don’t even need to make an effort to try learn it.” Instead of focusing on positive attitude and efforts, students can blame on content or curriculum not delivered to meet their individual learning styles.
Why is it important to debunk this myth? It helps redirect teachers’ efforts into developing real learning, real progress and real success through universal design for learning, such as multiple means of representations, multiple means of interactions, and multiple means of expressions. (cast.org, n.d.)
Practical applications of online learning for debunking learning styles include:
Provide content in multiple formats if possible
Interact and engage students at all levels: student-to-content interactions, students-to-students, students-to-instructor interactions.
Provide opportunities for students to demonstrate and express their learning.
2.About intelligence: “Intelligence is fixed.” Is this statement a myth or fact?
It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding intelligence: Neuroplasticity is one of the main characteristics of adult human brains, where neurons and neural networks in the brain are capable of changing their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage or dysfunction (Encyclopedia Britannica). Cognitive psychology tells us that belief in one’s own abilities is highly relevant to successful learning (Marsh and Yeung, 1997).
The danger of this myth lies in its potential to lead both the instructor and students to think that because a student’s intelligence is fixed, there isn’t much to do about their learning success.
Why is it important to debunk this myth? It liberates both the instructor and students to believe that teaching and learning success is possible for everyone.
Online learning applications from debunking the idea of “fixed intelligence”:
Encourage and motivate students to to believe in malleable intelligence and the neuroscience evidences behind it.
Provide opportunities for students to reflect on past learning success
Provide opportunities for students to acknowledge their capability of learning well in the course.
3. About emotions: “The brain is for thinking, the heart is for feeling”. Is this statement a myth or fact?
It’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding emotion: Emotions amplify memory. And emotions influence decision making. (Miller, 2018; Immording-Yang, 2015).
Danger of this myth occurs when instructors don’t consider the impact of students’ emotions on learning and motivations. Have you heard such sayings like: “I am a chemistry/biology/physics/math teacher. I only need to focus on teaching the content”? As a matter of fact, teachers can exert great influence in motivating students to have a growth mindset and challenging students to put in their best effort for learning.
How is it important to debunk such myth? It points out to both the instructor and students that students’ self-perception and their learning success are closely related. (Marsh, 1997)
Online learning applications from debunking the idea of “The brain is for thinking, the heart is for feeling”:
Show that you are welcoming through a welcome message using announcement, post or email.
Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other through text, audio or video-based messages, such as a week 1 discussion forum that allows everyone to introduce themselves to the class, using voicethread (a video, audio, and/or text-based commenting tool) to introduce everyone, or record a short video for self-introduction.
Tell your students that they can be successful in learning the content even though it might be challenging. With confident self-perception, they will have the motivation to persist throughout the term.
Tell your students that the most effective way for learning is through spaced practices, retrieval practices, and interleaving practices.
Feel free to contact your Ecampus instructional designer if you would like more information on any of the above topics.
* This blog was inspired by Online Learning Consortium 2018 workshops on Neuro, Cognitive, and Learning Sciences, Bring Theory to Practice (Part I & Part II), facilitated by two amazing teachers: Dr. Kristen Betts and Dr. Michelle Miller. A big “thank you” to their passionate work in promoting the application of neuroscience in education!
Immordino-Yang, Mary Helen. (2015). Emotions, Learning, and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Marsh, H. W., and Yeung, A. S. (1997). Causal effects of academic self-concept on academic achievement: structural equation models of longitudinal data. J. Educ. Psychol.89, 41–54. doi: 10.1037/0022-06126.96.36.199
Miller, Michelle. (2018). Neuro, Cognitive and Learning Sciences, Part 1 & 2: Applying Theory to Practice. Online Learning Consortium online workshop, facilitated by two amazing teachers: Dr. Kristen Betts (Drexel University) and Dr. Michelle Miller (
Tokuhama-Espinosa, Tracey. (2018). Neuromyths: Debunking false ideas in education. New York, N.Y. : W.W Norton & Company, Inc.
Vaughan, Tanya. (2017). Tackling the ‘learning styles’ myth. Retrieved from https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/tackling-the-learning-styles-myth