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Hooking whales and whaling students

  November 7th, 2011

In terms of tools that have taught me the most in online classes (including this one!), I would say that narrated lectures, the opportunity to have peer-to-peer interactions, and independent reading were the most effective ways that I was engaged. I did like the use of quizzes and other content like this, but as a “Millenial” (and ugh, do I ever hate labels like that!), I find myself trying to “clock” the game in the shortest amount of time possible, instead of focusing on what lessons I should be learning from the exercise.

With the narrated lectures, as Sharon and Karen were saying, I can definitely see the advantage of keeping these shorter from a student standpoint (even if more total powerpoints were needed in order to encompass the material). It is actually quite challenging to find a fifteen minute block of time just to sit still and watch a lecture, so I imagine anything longer would be even more difficult for students to manage. However, it is amazing how much more engaging having a narrated powerpoint is over just reading a flat text file.

The peer-to-peer tools are excellent – I’ve learned a lot from our discussion board forum using the experiences of other instructors in the class. I prefer discussion board to the blog format, because it feels like you can see the interaction between different thread topics more easily…as clunky as the discussion board is when people get very active posting, it seems like it has more “flow” and interaction than the (reasonably) static blog format.

Reading, I think, has a similar purpose to on-campus classes. Allowing students to explore material on their own at their own pace seems like an effective learning tool. I guess the main thing here is that I need to check the material regularly to make sure nothing more relevant (or more readable) has come out for the topics of the course.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on what I found the most engaging tools in this course. As to how I will engage students? I’m hoping narrated lectures, using multimedia for labs, and “high-grading” for more interesting assigned literature will “hook” them into the subject of Whales and Whaling.


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Hunting for whales (in multimedia)

  October 22nd, 2011

I thought this webquest was a great way to start finding materials for the migration and foraging ecology aspects of  ‘The natural history of whales and whaling’ course. I focused on TED, Merlot, Youtube.edu, Wolfram Alpha, NPR, MoOM and Itunes U. The three least useful search engines  (for me – they work fine in other subject areas!) were TED (no content), Wolfram Alpha (which tends to interpret the search query much too narrowly for biology-related questions) and itunes U (full of movie trailers). I got a LOT of hits at youtube.edu and NPR using the search terms “whales OR whaling”. This is excellent, because I was hoping that multimedia would be available.

MoOM looks as though it may have had a few useful resources, but I found it hard to work out how to search this site. In the end, I went to the archives and used my web browser to search for the word “whale”. When I clicked on the links, nothing happened so I had to right click to open a new window which might not be as intuitive for less web-savvy people. I did find this:http://www.wdcs.co.uk/media/flash/whalebanner/content_pub_en.html which might be useful for highlighting some of the adaptations in the cetacean evolutionary lineage, such as really large sizes. Merlot also had a resource on whalers which I’ll be looking into more detail in after looking at all the other links I’ve turned up!

I’m beginning to have an idea that perhaps for the week where I was going to provide the students with multimedia of cetacean feeding strategies, that instead I could set up a webquest for them. This would allow the students to focus in on the species/feeding strategies of greatest interest to them (I’ll be giving an overview of the strategies in the “canned” lecture, so different kinds of strategies won’t be completely overlooked just because they aren’t the student’s favorite). Because I know that there is a fair bit of material out there from the searches I have just done, I feel like I wouldn’t be leading them down a complete dead-end, and I wonder if they might feel a little more engaged if they have to go out and search for examples themselves. This would also make the activity a little more accessible to students with disabilities, because they could select samples which were not necessarily multimedia.

This exercise also highlighted to me the importance of ongoing efforts to keep “an eye out” for resources e.g. I knew Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, had an excellent exhibit on whales, and searching this I found several multimedia items that should be really useful for my class, including this one: http://blog.tepapa.govt.nz/category/pygmy-right-whale/page/3/ . If you start at page 3 (the link given here), and work your way backwards, you can see the blog and photos associated with a pygmy right whale necropsy!

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On the Advantages of Following the Links

  October 17th, 2011

In today’s technological societies the Internet prevails.  Almost every email, website, or file contains links to the world wide web that may supply some extra information, clarify an issue, suggest an interesting sidebar on a topic you’re studying… or contaminate your computer with a virus. So one has to follow the links carefully.

I have been greatly pleased with following the links of the webquest activity assigned for our online development class.  Having done my grading for today, I decided that I could have a little fun checking out the potential help for creating my class content.  I dismissed many of the videos from Ted as a bit too socially conventional for my courses, lost patience with sociology.org, but was pleased beyond belief with what following the links allowed me to discover.

One of the websites, Merlot (I feel compelled to explain that the acronym stands for Media Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching), sported clear discipline categories, so I clicked on Sociology and dug in.  I looked at the couple of quizzes, and then a tutorial called Science and Race: Concept and Category peaked my interest since I was looking for a good presentation on racism for my Social Problems class.  I clicked…

…I have to admit, I did not finish this activity in one sitting. As I went through the tutorial, I was clicking on the signs on the slides – letter I for information that appeared on a slide, a little globe for a link outside the tutorial – and I clicked – and made it to this activity.

If you are interested in what I have found, try it out for yourself, and prepare for a challenge – this is an activity that is impossible to get right! At least, I think so.  I bet it could be pretty fun for the students to start from trying to assign a face to a census category and end up finding out about the social construction of race and the realities of racism.  I could not believe I found an activity that is so perfectly aligned with the content of my course – I even have a reading on the history of the census that my students read already. With this activity, I am sure, I will get responses for the topic that are much more alive. I can’t wait.

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  October 10th, 2011

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about engagement over the last few months… engaging distance students in learning, yes, and also engaging them in the greater learning community of Oregon State University.

I’ve got a lot rattling around in my head, and if you spend too much time with me, I’ll drag you into the conversation, too.  Lately, in meetings with Ecampus– from student support to course design to administrative folks – we’re discussing ‘what now?’ and ‘what’s next?’  Working with the Academic Success Center, I’ve been developing the success strategies and engagement goals for the orientation course I’m developing.  And anchored in Career Services, I am working to make our campus-based events and resources accessible online. You see, I’m pretty interested in how each of us has the opportunity to engage the distance learner at OSU. I am curious how others at OSU and other institutions are already meeting the need in innovative ways and where the potential exists to do more.

It used to be that the weight of taking online courses, whether for professional development or to complete a degree rested overwhelmingly on the student’s shoulders alone.  The student needed to muddle through the details and jump through the hoops without much support.  But technology and global sophistication offer us the chance to connect, to increase access, and to bring the campus to a larger population in engaging ways. What was once luxurious in education is now indispensable. Designing courses that encourage community building has become essential.  And to connect with our students, it is important to understand who they are.

What did The Voice say, “if you build it, they will come”?

We did and they have – and “they”, as it turns out, are an increasing and changing population.  Until recently we had a pretty clear picture of the distance learner: a non-traditional student, most likely female, most likely in her mid-30’s completing an unfinished degree or changing careers, and most likely juggling the responsibilities of a family and job.  But the numbers are shifting: last year at OSU:

  • nearly 100,000 credit hours were delivered online (that’s up 21% from the previous year which was up 28% from the year before that)…
  • nearly 10,000 students took at least one Ecampus course…
  • and nearly 60% of campus-bound students took online classes

The gender gap is closing.  The average age is lowering. “Traditional” on-site students are beginning take on less-traditional roles, and they are turning to online courses as a viable alternative.

In distance education, it seems the classroom continues to be the common denominator for the changing population.  As instructors we have to enlist the best practices of both pedagogy and technology to create an environment where best learning can occur.

But what about communication… can interaction between students / between teacher and student be any good online?  My experience says it can be better than in traditional classrooms.  Can technology help engage rather than add a layer of anonymity or frustration?  My experience so far, with toes just dipped in the water, says it can make all the difference.

And there is a lot to learn from the way we work with on campus students:  How can mentoring programs work with distance students? What about opportunities from a distance to participate in research and campus events?  Can student involvement extend to distance students?  Internships… how can we better support students who are seeking internships in their communities and help them unpack their experiences in a way that enhances their education?

Success in the classroom, whether on-site or online, depends on creating access, engaging the learner in meaningful ways, and connecting their learning to real meaning.  When our instruction is at its best, I expect the impact goes beyond the classroom.  We can begin to engage students in our classes, and then without even breathing too hard, I believe that very soon our students will demand more and we will demand more of ourselves.

I warned you about spending too much time with me, so if you got this far… thank you for hanging in there.

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