Are you passionate for what you do? I do. I enjoy, treasure, relish what I do as an instructional designer. But I also realize that not everyone is able to work on something they are passionate about. As an educator, I believe we ought to stir up passion and values in the learners we serve. So, I started searching for ways to motivate, to stir up and help people find their passion. And I found these resources: books and podcast by Todd Henry on passion, and book and podcast by Liz Forkin Bohannon.
Todd Henry shared his recipe for finding the power to keep your passion firing for a lifetime by starting with a few simple questions.
What is something that you are willing to suffer on behalf of it?
What makes you angry?
What moves you emotionally?
What gives you hope?
Quotes from Todd Henry, author and experts on creativity, productivity, and passion for work. Goal of life is not comfort, but conquest! The love of comfort is often the enemy of greatness. The seeds of tomorrow’s greatness is planted in today’s activities. If you are intentional, and if you live by design, not by default, someday, in the distant future, when you lay your head down for the last time you can point to a delta, a body of work and you can say “yes, that represents me.”
Beginner’s Pluck is a 2019 book by Liz Forkin Bohannon (Podcast host, and co-founder of Sseko Designs). In this book, Liz teaches us that passion is not discovered, as we were told for so long, but rather passion is built step by step! And the first step is to find an interesting problem. And to have a posture of curiosity over criticism. The good news is the world is full of interesting problems!
This is a totally new perspective to me: passion is built and the first step to build passion is to find interesting problems. And this new perspective leads me to think how I could and should plan my instructional design work to provide room and opportunities in any course for asking questions that guide learners to build their passion. It could be in the syllabus, in each module’s content page, before or after learners work on the readings and lecture videos, or at the end of the module as a self-assessment. There are many different ways and places we can incorporate the building of passion into course design!
Conclusion: Build your Passion starting with questions and interesting problems. My questions for you, dear educator, “is there room in your teaching to ask an inspiring question that points your learners towards building their passion for life?” Or if you are reading this for your own benefit, consider what problems are interesting to you and start working on solving the problems, little by little. If you need to someone to brainstorm design ideas for infusing questions into your teaching, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bohannon, L.F. (2019). Beginner’s Pluck. Baker books.
Henry, T. (2013). Die Empty. Penguin Publishing Group
Research and strategies for implementing gratitude interventions in higher-education.
Every November for the past few years, my family takes a small uncarved pumpkin (leftover from Halloween), and we use it as a canvas. Every night after dinner we each write a word or phrase naming something we are thankful for that day. We have only one rule; you cannot repeat something already on the list. On Thanksgiving, we go back and read aloud all the things we have been grateful for throughout November, making us laugh, reminisce, and feel full emotionally (on top of our full bellies). This practice of gratitude is simple, yet I find that as the list on the pumpkin grows each night, I feel a little happier and a little more content with my life. In reflecting on what we are grateful for, saying it out loud, and writing it down, we are allowing it to take up presence in our consciousness. By creating this space in our day for gratitude to flourish, we are exemplifying an important life practice. And as the word “practice” indicates, gratitude is a skill we can learn, hone, and grow. There is mounting scientific evidence that gratitude can serve as a major contributor to mental health, and there is a growing body of research related specifically to gratitude interventions in higher-ed.
Whether we are faculty, staff, students, administrators, or leaders in the world of higher-ed, we are pulled in many different directions, wear many different hats, and have many competing demands. It is no wonder we often forget to pause and take stock of all the manythings for which we are grateful. How can we bring the practice of gratitude into our classes (regardless of the modality)? And further, why does it matter? What does the research have to say about gratitude and our health? What place does gratitude have in higher-ed? Let’s dive in and explore this topic through an evidence-based lens and then end with some easy ways to embody and enact gratitude in our higher-ed courses.
It may be helpful to define gratitude scientifically. A recent meta-analysis of gratitude and health characterizes gratitude as both a state and a trait. A state of gratitude is an emotional experience where we find value in something and realize that it has a positive outcome from outside of ourselves. Gratitude as a trait can be seen as a broader worldview, where one is more likely to observe and appreciate the good things in life. People who display trait gratitude tend to feel more fulfilled and have a greater ability to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. In either case, those who exhibit and experience gratitude often are more likely to show pro-social behavior and act with reciprocity. Researchers theorize that these behaviors help explain why gratitude is beneficial to both our physical and mental health. While the evidence that gratitude changes physical health is sparse in the literature, many studies demonstrate that gratitude (and specifically gratitude interventions) are associated with improved emotional well-being. Not surprisingly and likely linked, higher gratitude practice also facilitates social well-being. (Jans-Beken et al.,2019)
For those who wonder why gratitude is such a powerful tool emotionally and socially, Algoe (2012) posits that gratitude promotes opportunities to (1) establish new interpersonal connections, (2) remember extant social ties, and (3) maintain existing social relationships. It is no surprise that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, learners are more likely to experience stress and anxiety at higher rates. The pandemic interrupted our lives and our ability to be regularly social. College students have expressed increased rates of stress, anxiety, and depression, even as we have moved out of isolation (Jiang et al. 2022). Thus, it is important to note that dozens of research studies from the past ten years have correlated gratitude interventions with positive effects on our emotions, specifically helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Gratitude interventions could be a game-changer in higher-ed, as it stands to reason that learners who are less anxious and stressed will likely experience better learning outcomes (Hysenbegasi et al., 2005).
Many of the studies specific to gratitude interventions in college classes have shown that learners not only perform better in the course but also leave the course with more positive emotions, which can spill over into other aspects of the learners’ lives (Datu & Bernardo, 2020; Datu et al., 2022; Gleason, 2022, Grier & Morris, 2022). So what does it mean to have a gratitude intervention? In most cases, it was as simple as the researchers/instructors offering a weekly gratitude journal assignment. These low-stakes opportunities allowed learners to reflect on their lives and simply list a few (usually five) things/events/people for which they were grateful. Other interventions included writing letters of gratitude or attending one-time gratitude workshops. While these kinds of assignments might not be a fit for every class, there can certainly be a place for such interventions on occasion. Student success teams could encourage these practices outside of class time, or provide gratitude workshops. Faculty could demonstrate and allow time for such practices in their high-stress courses. Online course designers could conclude modules or weeks with simple gratitude surveys. If we can help our learners to reflect on their lives with a gratitude lens, we might all benefit.
So, it turns out that my family’s little Thankful Pumpkin was onto something. My feelings of contentment after each night of adding gratitude to our gourd stems from something more profound. This little pumpkin is my family’s gratitude intervention, and now I want to figure out how to keep us all practicing and honing this skill all year long. So, if you have made it to the end of this blog post, I want to say thanks. Thanks for reading, and thanks for considering this blog post worthy of your precious time. I am grateful that you are here. I hope that you are grateful for this message and will consider how you can carry it forward in your life and your work.
Cownie, F. (2016) Gratitude: does it have a place within media-practice education?, Journal of Media Practice, 17(2-3), 168-185, DOI: 10.1080/14682753.2016.1248192
Datu, J. A. D., & Bernardo, A. B. I. (2020). The Blessings of Social-Oriented Virtues: Interpersonal Character Strengths Are Linked to Increased Life Satisfaction and Academic Success Among Filipino High School Students. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(7), 983–990. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550620906294
Datu, J. A. D., Valdez, J. P. M., McInerney, D. M., & Cayubit, R. F. (2022). The effects of gratitude and kindness on life satisfaction, positive emotions, negative emotions, and COVID-19 anxiety: An online pilot experimental study. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 14(2), 347– 361. https://doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12306
Ge, J. S., Berger, E. J., & Major, J. C., & Froiland, J. M. (2019, June), Teaching Undergraduate Engineering Students Gratitude, Meaning, and Mindfulness Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2—33358
Geier, M. T., & Morris, J. (2022). The impact of a gratitude intervention on mental well-being during COVID-19: A quasi-experimental study of university students. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 14(3), 937– 948. https://doi.org/10.1111/aphw.12359
Henry D. Mason (2019) Gratitude, well-being and psychological distress among South African university students, Journal of Psychology in Africa, 29(4), 354-360, DOI: 10.1080/14330237.2019.1647492
Hysenbegasi, A., Hass, S. L., & Rowland, C. R. (2005). The impact of depression on the academic productivity of university students. The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 8(3), 145–151.
Jans-Beken, L., Jacobs, N., Janssens, M., Peeters, S., Reijnders, J., Lechner, L., & Lataster, J. (2020) Gratitude and health: An updated review, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(6), 743-782, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2019.1651888
Jiang, Z., Jia, X., Tao, R., & Dördüncü, H. (2022). COVID-19: A Source of Stress and Depression Among University Students and Poor Academic Performance. Frontiers in public health, 10, 898556. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2022.898556
Nicole T. Gabana, Jesse Steinfeldt, Y. Joel Wong, Y. Barry Chung & Dubravka Svetina (2019) Attitude of Gratitude: Exploring the Implementation of a Gratitude Intervention with College Athletes, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 31:3, 273-284, DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2018.1498956
Yoshida, M.(2022) Network analysis of gratitude messages in the learning community. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 19(47). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-022-00352-8
If you design or teach online courses, and the term Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) is unfamiliar to you, not to worry. It’s likely that you’ve already implemented some degree of RSI in your online courses. RSI is the US Department of Education (DoE) requirement for institutions receiving federal funds to “ensure that there is regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors” in their online courses. It was intended as a quality assurance and consumer protection measure, but it is also a key component of high-quality online learning. Simply put, student-teacher interactions must be consistent and meaningful throughout the delivery of an online course. There is a mountain of research supporting this idea by now, and we have long known that this type of interaction is an essential component of learning and has a deep impact on student experience and satisfaction with online learning.
Characteristics of RSI
You may be thinking that you already have plenty of quality interaction in your course. If you’re familiar with the Ecampus Essentials standards for course development (based on the Quality Matters course design rubric) or the Ecampus Online Teaching Principles, you know that teacher-student interaction is a basic component of effective online course design and delivery. You may also be thinking that “interaction” is a vague term. After all, interactions can occur synchronously or asynchronously via many different platforms. They can occur in response to student progress in a particular course or be an intentional aspect of the instructor’s course delivery plan. So, what exactly does quality interaction in the context of RSI entail? The DOE guidelines outline the main characteristics of regular and substantive interaction as follows:
Instructor-student interaction should be an intentional component of the course design and delivery. While students should also be encouraged to reach out to the instructor as needed, interactions should be required and initiated by the instructor to be considered RSI. For example, ad hoc office hours and auto-graded objective quizzes would not be considered RSI, but requested office visits, individualized feedback on assignments or open-ended quizzes, and instructor-facilitated online discussion forums would qualify as regular and sustained interactions. Likewise, announcements tailored to the course content during the term of the delivery would also meet the guidelines for RSI.
Frequent and consistent
Simply put, frequent and consistent interaction means that you are present in your course in an intentional manner regularly throughout the term. Instructor presence in online courses deeply impacts student learning, satisfaction, and motivation, so this is probably not a new idea for those who have taught online. Many online instructors maintain instructor presence through regular announcements or videos providing updates on student progress or feedback, adding to ideas presented in student discussions or other submissions, offering clarifications to questions regarding content or assignments, etc. There are many ways for instructors to be present in a course so that students feel that they are part of a community of learners. To meet the standards for RSI, the instructor presence should also be planned and occur regularly throughout the term.
Focused on the course subject
Interactions should be related to the academic content and help students to achieve the course outcomes. Assignments should provide a space for instructors to assess student learning through substantive feedback. Non-specific feedback (Good job!) or a grade entered without comments related to work on the assignment at hand would not count as RSI. However, communications providing reading guidance, posting examples with explanations, sending an announcement clarifying concepts students may have missed in a discussion are all good examples of interactions focused on the course subject. That’s not to say that sending a message of encouragement or celebration to students (Go Beavs!) would not be an important component of social presence in a course.
Faculty member meets accreditation standards
This requirement presents a little bit of a murky area, and each institution will need to decide who would be considered a qualified subject matter expert based on their accrediting body standards. For example, Teaching Assistants (TAs) may or may not be considered qualified subject matter experts depending on where they are in their postgraduate journey. However, regardless of the level of expertise, the role of any TA or other course mentor can never be in lieu of the instructor interaction in a course.
Increasing RSI in your course
Meaningful interaction may already be an integral part of your course design and delivery, or you may have some work to do in that area. Whatever your current level of RSI, there are many ways to increase or vary the interaction in your course. Some practitioners note that what constitutes “meaningful interaction” for the purposes of RSI compliance can be difficult to measure. In response, the DoE updated their definition of Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in 2021 to further clarify the issue for practitioners. To be considered regular and substantive, interaction, “…must engage students in teaching, learning, and assessment, as well as two of these five actions:
providing direct instruction;
assessing or providing feedback on a student’s course work;
providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency;
facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency;
or other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.”
The good news is that the DoE definition is broad enough to include a huge range of activities giving course developers and instructors many options for choosing how and when interaction occurs in a course. While not an exhaustive list, a few recommendations to boost RSI in your course include:
Make your plan for interaction clear to students, and include them in setting expectations for both the instructor and the students. Your communication policy stating the response time students can expect from you on emails and assignment feedback should be stated in the syllabus and posted in the course. You should also tell learners how to communicate with you. Make participation expectations clear through discussion guidelines and rubrics for participation. You might also create an introductory activity in which students and the instructor make their expectations explicit through a negotiated process.
Provide timely and individualized feedback
There are many methods for delivering feedback (written, video, audio, conferences, etc). In fact, using a combination of methods is good practice for incorporating elements of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Regardless of how you deliver feedback, it should add to or extend students’ understanding, make concrete suggestions for improvement, highlight what they are doing well, or provide models.
Send regular announcements
Announcements are handy for sending reminders about due dates and other housekeeping items. As an RSI strategy, announcements present a useful vehicle for digging into course content and helping students to synthesize important information. You might use announcements to extend concepts from the previous week’s activities, contextualize content students will see in the coming week, or to identify sticky points or patterns seen in student work. While announcements can be used for on the fly reminders or clarifications, it is a good idea to establish a pattern for sending substantive announcements whether that be on Sunday evenings or at other intervals so that students know when to expect them.
Incorporate tools for meaningful interaction
VoiceThread, Padlet, and Perusall are just a few examples of platforms that instructors can use to facilitate interaction. While it may be tempting to incorporate several tools to boost engagement, a more effective approach would be to avoid using technology for the sake of using technology. Instead, try incorporating one or two tools and create meaningful tasks around them. Use each two or more times during the term so that students spend their time engaging with each other and the content via the tool rather than learning how to use it.
Conduct surveys and evaluations
Midterm surveys on students’ experience in the course are helpful for second-half tweaks to stay on track toward the goals you set out to accomplish. They can also be useful for making adjustments for the next time you deliver the course. Ask students how they feel about the interactions with other students and the instructor. Ask how they could be improved, and encourage them to reflect on their own contributions. If there is group work involved, solicit opinions about how it is going and how you can support their collaborations. In doing so, you give learners the opportunity to ask for help where they need it, and you gain information to give you ideas for how to structure interactions for the next iteration of the course. A trusted colleague or an instructor designer can also be helpful in evaluating the level of RSI in your course. When you feel you have reached your goals around interaction and other markers of high-quality course design, consider asking for a formal review of your course to become Quality Matters certified.
Hold regular office hours
In order to qualify as RSI, office hours must be predictable, scheduled, and required rather than an optional feature of the course. While synchronous sessions should be kept to a minimum to allow for student flexibility, you can also facilitate meaningful interaction via a virtual meetings. If you give mini-lectures or provide models for specific lessons, for example, you might consider recording your explanations so all students, including those who cannot attend a particular session, benefit from the extra guidance.
Poulin, R. (2016) Interpreting what is Required for “Regular and Substantive Interaction”. WCET Frontiers. Retrieved from https://wcet.wiche.edu/frontiers/2016/09/30/interpreting-regular-and-substantive-interaction/
Regular & Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online Learning. Chemeketa Center for Academic Innovation. Retrieved from https://facultyhub.chemeketa.edu/instruction/rsi/
How to Increase Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online and Distance Learning. OLC Webinar 2021. Retrieved from https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/webinar/how-to-increase-regular-and-substantive-interaction-rsi-in-online-and-distance-learning/
Quality Online Practices: Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI). University of Tennessee Knoxville. Retrieved from https://onlinelearning.utk.edu/online-teaching-learning-resources/quality-online-practices/rsi/
I was recently assigned to be the Instructional Designer for an introductory programming course here at OSU. While working with the instructor, I was happy to see his inventiveness in assessment design. As one example, the instructor created an assignment to introduce loops, a block of code in a computer program that repeats while a condition is true. Here’s how he described the assignment to the students:
Your assignment is to simulate the progression of a zombie epidemic as it spreads through Portland, Oregon, beginning in the year 2001 (which was about the time that zombies became unnervingly popular). This assignment will test whether you can use loops when translating from a problem to a computational solution.
I was excited about the design possibilities this introduced to a usually dry topic. Zombies! I built the page in our LMS, Canvas, and was excited to review it with him.
“Isn’t this fun?” I asked, showing him the assignment page I had created:
“I guess so,” he said, “is there any research to indicate that decorative graphics support learning?” he asked me. I guess that’s fair to ask, even if it was a bit of a buzzkill.
I had no idea if including cool pictures was a research-based best practice in online course design. While I really wanted it to be true and felt like it should be true, I could not immediately cite peer-reviewed studies that supported the use of zombie images to improve learner engagement; I had never seen such research. But, I was determined to look before our next meeting.
The instructor’s research challenge led me to discover Research Rabbit. Research Rabbit is a relatively new online platform that helps users find academic research. Research Rabbit has users organize found research into collections. As articles are added to a collection, Research Rabbit helps identify related research.
Without realizing how much time I was exploring, four hours quickly passed in which I was wholly engrossed in the search to justify including a zombie picture in one assignment for one instructor. Below, I will share a few of the features that enamored me with Research Rabbit and why I continue to use it regularly.
Why I love Research Rabbit
Visualization of Search Results
Rather than combing through reference lists at the bottom of a paper, you can quickly view any works cited by a paper you have selected or change views and get a list of articles that have cited the selected document. Those results are presented in a list view, a network view, or on a timeline.
A Tool for Discovery
Research Rabbit starts generating suggested additions as soon as you add a paper to a collection. The more papers you add, the more accurate these recommendations become. It works somewhat like personalized Netflix or Spotify recommendations (ResearchRabbit, n.d.), helping you discover research you may not have been aware of in this same area of study.
Using their discovery functionality, you can identify clusters of researchers (those that have published together or frequently cite each other’s work). You can also use the “Earlier Work” option to see when research on a particular topic may have started and identify foundational papers in the field. Looking for “Later Work” helps you find the latest research and stay current on your research topic.
The Research Rabbit founders explain their reasoning for keeping their tool Free Forever as follows:
Why? It’s simple, really.
Researchers commit years of time, energy, and more to advance human knowledge. Our job is to help you discover work that is relevant, not to sell your work back to you.
(Research Rabbit FAQ)
Research Rabbit Syncs Collections to Zotero
I would have lost a lot of enthusiasm for Research Rabbit if I had to manually add each new paper to my Zotero collection. But Research Rabbit integrates with Zotero, and automatically syncs any designated collections. If you use a different reference tool, you can also export Research Rabbit collections in common bibliographic formats.
A Tool for Sharing and Collaboration
Once you have created a collection, you can invite other researchers to view or edit a collection based on the permissions you set. Collaborators can also add comments to individual items. Research Rabbit also gives you an opportunity to create public collections that can be shared with a custom link.
How to Explore Research Rabbit on Your Own
The feature set of Research Rabbit is beautifully demoed on the Research Rabbit website. From there, you can explore how to visualize papers, discover author networks, and start building collections. There is also a growing list of introductory and instructional videos by the academic community online.
Deanna Grant-Smith, Timothy Donnet, James Macaulay, Renee Chapman, & Renee Anne Chapman. (2019). Principles and practices for enhanced visual design in virtual learning environments: Do looks matter in student engagement?https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-5769-2.ch005
When I hear the word presence, I’m reminded of a teacher taking attendance at the beginning of class. I picture the teacher calling out each student’s name, the students responding either “here!” or “present!” in turn. In this scenario, though, while the students each affirm their presence, the teacher’s presence is a given. The teacher doesn’t mark herself present in the attendance record. The teacher doesn’t need to prove they taught class or prove they exist to students. As one might suspect, this is an area where online asynchronous courses differ from traditional classrooms: one’s presence is not a given. Presence becomes even more important in online settings. Perhaps that’s why we hear so much about it. Online presence. Social presence. Instructor presence. But, what do these words really mean in virtual classrooms?
There are many ways to define presence. The first entry in Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines presence as “the fact or condition of being present.” This entry directs readers to present (adjective, entry 3 of 4), which defines present as “now existing or in progress.” There is an immediacy to these words, a temporal aspect, and a physicality: Presence. How do we reconcile the temporal and physical connotations of this term with online, asynchronous interactions?
In this digital age, I think most folks would agree that it’s possible to experience presence online, to feel that someone is real, even if they’re not standing in front of you. But, how do we define it within this context? How do we describe presence to someone who’s attempting to achieve it virtually? For myself and other instructional designers tasked with guiding faculty to design and prepare to facilitate an online course, where they’re told their ability to establish presence will directly impact student success, what advice do we offer? Simply put, how is presence communicated in an online, asynchronous course?
To begin answering these questions, I’ll provide an overview of Garrison et al.’s (2000) Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, which defines three presences for computer-mediated communication (i.e., the communication that occurs in online courses and other digital environments). Then, we’ll briefly consider how you might think about presence in your own online courses.
Overview of Community of Inquiry (COI)
We’ll start with a brief overview of Garrison et al.’s (2000) model of Community of Inquiry (CoI). CoI is a conceptual model that identifies three presences that are essential for online classrooms. It’s worth noting, too, that this model was created to provide a framework for presence mediated through the use of digital technologies. The three presences are 1) cognitive presence, 2) social presence, and 3) teaching presence.
Cognitive presence refers to the opportunities learners have “to construct meaning through sustained communication” (Garrison et al., 2000, p. 89). This is considered a foundational element of the model and might include, for example, an instructor providing feedback to students or students engaging in peer review.
Social presence includes opportunities the instructor and students have to share personal details within the classroom environment. Social presence supports cognitive presence and plays an important role in meeting course goals that are explicitly affective (Garrison et al., 2000).
Teaching presence is divided into two functions: structure and process. The structure can be thought of as the design of the educational environment and the process is often thought of as the facilitation of the environment (Garrison et al., 2000). Although different people may be involved in each function (e.g., an instructional designer and teacher might design a course, but a different instructor and a TA might be responsible for facilitating the course), both functions play a role in teaching presence.
Ultimately, you might find it hard to keep these presences straight, and that’s okay! Richardson and Lowenthal (2017) point out that academic publications don’t even use the same terms to describe various online presences. Acknowledging that there are different interpretations of presence in online contexts and different approaches for achieving presence online is the point of this post. In the future, you can always refer back here or save the resources listed below for reference later. In Ecampus, we try to emphasize instructor-student, student-student, and student-content interaction, an approach you might find easier to remember.
What I hope you take away from this post is that it’s not as important to remember the differences between each of these presences as much as it is important to include a variety of strategies in your course to communicate and establish presence. I’d also encourage you to occasionally try new approaches and to strive to communicate presence in multiple ways, without getting locked into a narrow view of presence and what it means in online classrooms.
Garrison, Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2), 87–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6
In Dr. Freeman Hrabowski’s TED Talk “4 Pillars of College Success in Science”, he told the story of Nobel laureate Isidor Isaac Rabi’s mother’s famous question: Did you ask a good question today? Let’s pause for a minute and reflect: What is a good question? What questions do you ask most frequently? What questions do your students or children ask most?
Types of Questions
Teachers usually encourage students to ask questions. Dr. Peter Liljedahl, author of “Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics” and professor of Mathematics Education at Simon Fraser University in Canada, however, points out that not all questions need and should be answered directly. According to Liljedahl, there are three types of questions and only one type of questions requires direct answers. Liljedahl categorizes questions in K-12 mathematics classrooms into the following three types:
Stop Thinking Questions
Keep Thinking Questions (Liljedahl, 2020)
Proximity questions refer to questions students ask when the teacher is close by, as the name suggests. Liljedahl’s research showed that the information gained from such proximity questions was not being used at all. Stop-Thinking Questions are questions students ask just to get the teacher to do the thinking for them, with the hope that the teacher will answer it and they can stop thinking, such as “Is this right?”, “Do we have to learn this?”, or “Is this going to be on the test?” Unlike the first two types of questions, keep-thinking questions are often clarification questions or about extensions the students want to pursue. According to to Liljedahl, if you have an authentic and level-appropriate task for students to work on, 90% of the questions being asked are proximity questions or stop-thinking questions and only 10% of questions students ask are keep-thinking questions. Liljedahl pointed out that answering proximity questions and stop-thinking questions are harmful to learning because it stops students from thinking.
Next, how could teachers differentiate the types of questions being asked? Liljedahl offers a simple solution to separate keep-thinking questions from the other two types of questions: Are they asking for more activity or less, more work or less, more thinking or less?
After differentiating the types of questions, what should teachers do with these proximity questions and stop-thinking question? Ignore them? No, not at all! Liljedahl emphasizes that there is a big difference between having students’ questions heard and not answered, and having their questions not heard. How should teachers answers these proximity questions and stop-thinking questions then?
Ten Things to Say to Proximity And Stop-Thinking Questions
Liljedahl provides the following list of ten responses to a proximity or stop-thinking question so that you are not giving away the answer and taking the thinking opportunity away from students. Basically, you turn the questions back to your students!
Isn’t that interesting?
Can you find something else?
Can you show me how you did that?
Is that always true?
Why do you think that is?
Are you sure?
Does that make sense?
Why don’t you try something else?
Why don’t you try another one?
Are you asking me or telling me? (Liljedahl, 2021, p. 90)
Cross-Discipline Nature of Good Questions
“Building Thinking Classrooms“ is recommended to me by some college biology teachers in the US. Biology teachers recommending math teaching book, isn’t that interesting? The reasoning behind this recommendation is that the techniques being taught in this book could be easily applied to any other teaching context to get your students engaged in thinking, whether it is K12 education or college education, math teaching or teaching of another subject.
Asking Good Questions for Management and Education Administration
If you are not directly involved in teaching and learning, but in administrative or management role in an organization, Dr. Amy Edmondson has some practical suggestions for asking good questions to keep organization growing healthily. Dr. Amy Edmondson, author of “The Fearless Organization”, Novartis professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, states that good questions focus on what matters, invite careful thought, and give people room to respond. Edmondson also suggests three strategies for framing good questions:
To broaden the discussion. For example: What do others think?
What are we missing? For example: What other options could we consider?
How would XXX (such as our role model, our mentor, or our competitor) approach this? For example: Who has a different perspective?
With the above tips for asking questions, are you ready to ask a good question today?
Edmondson, A. (2018). The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Are you searching for a way to increase student-to-student interaction in your teaching? Would you thrill at the idea of more creative online discussions? This post describes a well-tested approach that supports strong inter-student interaction and avoids the typically mundane discussion activity. Best of all, this approach works effectively in multiple STEM disciplines, including mathematics, engineering, coding, and other problem-solving orientated subjects.
Since I always look for ways to make online discussions more engaging and meaningful for students, I like to share instructors’ creative and fun approaches. Several years ago, I wrote a blog post explaining how a math instructor engaged students, asking them to find examples of parabolas they were studying that week in their local environment and post pictures on the discussion board. It was a huge success and had students enthusiastically sharing their discoveries.
I’m currently working with an engineering instructor to develop a series of graduate-level online courses. The challenge is how to approach a series of homework activities. The assigned problems are difficult, so solving in small groups is beneficial. However, the instructor also wants to make sure that all students independently develop a firm grasp of the principles and processes, but without worry about right answers.
Enter the two-step problem solving approach. Here’s how it works:
First, students review a complex scenario-based problem, which they attempt to resolve individually. Students are assessed on accurate application of the proper processes, formulas, or steps to solve the problem, not on whether they come up with the correct answer.
In the following week, students work in 3- or 4-person teams, uploading and sharing their individual responses on the group’s private discussion board. This leads to the second step, where students review the logic and processes taken by team members. To reach agreement on the correct answer, they collaborate and discuss all the proposed approaches, actively engaging with and educating each other, citing resources that support why their approach is correct. Ultimately, each small group must interact and debate until they reach a consensus, which is submitted and graded for a correct (or not) answer.
The engineering instructor has implemented this approach for several terms and finds it successful in several ways.
The individual first attempt minimizes the potential of a student shirking their duties or not giving their full effort to the group activity.
Being assessed on approach and application of appropriate principles eases the anxiety of getting the right answer, which minimizes the temptation to use shortcuts or unethical options.
The group discussion supports active learning and requires students to present their solution. When the student believes their answer is correct, they confidently cite evidence and reference applicable resources to explain their rationale.
Given today’s global business environment, the ability to succeed as part of a team is an essential skill to master, requiring effective communication, persuasion, and negotiation to arrive at a consensus.
Working as a team alleviates pressure and allows everyone to contribute, more or less evenly. Students must interact with peers and learn to respect and appreciate individual differences, skills, and perspectives.
Although most problems have a “right” answer, solutions often include a more nuanced response that highlights the need for some degree of subjective judgment.
Using this two-step approach has been valuable for students. It reinforces their efforts to grasp the formulas and processes related to the problem, while simultaneously providing the space to learn from their peers. And as noted earlier, this method is easily adaptable to many disciplines and subjects. If you are searching for a way to increase student-to-student interaction in your teaching, you may want to give this two-step approach a try.
We’d love to hear your feedback and comments, so please post if you want to share your experience with this or other creative approaches. Good luck!
Susan Fein, Ecampus Instructional Designer, email@example.com
This is a guest post by Ecampus Instructional Design Intern Chandler Gianattasio.
At DePaul School for Dyslexia, I teach 5th-8th graders conceptual mathematics, ranging from basic number sense to advanced topics in Algebra 1. Through this experience, I have discovered something I had never heard of before, a learning disability commonly seen coinciding with dyslexia, called dyscalculia. Many people describe dyscalculia as “dyslexia for math.” Dyscalculia affects one’s ability to take in mathematical information, connect with and build upon prior concepts learned, discern cues for application, and accurately retrieve information. DePaul provides an alternative education for students with learning disabilities, emphasizing explicit instruction to best support their students. In this post, I will discuss the common deficits that make up dyscalculia, where it falls in the realm of disabilities, and some ways we can accommodate students with dyscalculia in higher education.
Having dyscalculia can be debilitating, making it seem nearly impossible to keep up with neuro-typical classmates, especially when your class is on a fast-paced schedule, and when you are subliminally being told that asking for extra help will make you appear like you are lazy, unintelligent, unable to help yourself, and will just be one more problem that the instructor has to resolve. In Figure 1 (seen below), I have divided deficits of dyscalculia into five categories: executive functioning deficits1, auditory processing deficits2, nonverbal learning deficits3, language processing deficits4, and visual-spatial deficits5. Each category has a set of commonly experienced difficulties below them. However, these lists of difficulties are not exhaustive.
Figure 1. “Common Challenges Faced by Learners with Dyscalculia” By Chandler Gianattasio – CC BY-NC.
Looking at some of the common symptoms of dyscalculia, you may be thinking that many of these symptoms are also found in other disabilities, such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD, and more, and you would be correct. There is a large amount of overlap amongst developmental disabilities, and each disabled individual presents with their own unique combination of symptoms and, often, coexisting disabilities. To understand where dyscalculia falls within the world of developmental disabilities, I referred to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by the Department of Education. Through IDEA, 13 distinctions of disabilities were made:
Other Health Impairment (conditions that limit a child’s strength, energy or alertness)
ADHD, EFD, NVLD
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Personality Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, etc.
Speech or Language Impairment
Visual Impairment (including blindness)
Traumatic Brain Injury
From this list, you may notice that there are only three diagnoses recognized as LDs: dyslexia, a reading disability, dysgraphia, a writing disability, and dyscalculia, a mathematical disability. All three of these LDs, as well as the majority of the other disabilities, have very similar biological limitations, each with the potential for a visual-spatial deficit, language-processing deficit, nonverbal learning deficit, auditory processing deficit, and executive functioning deficit. Due to individuals within each diagnosis having their own unique combination of symptoms, some may not have deficits in each of these areas. Figure 2 represents the potential combination of deficits an individual with each of these LDs may have. For instance, if you were to draw a straight line from dyslexia to the outer edge of the figure, the various deficits intersected would be representative of the profile of one individual. This figure shows the fluidity between different diagnoses and how easily co-existing conditions occur, due to a very similar underlying makeup.
Figure 2. “Potential Combinations of Deficits Behind Each Learning Disability” By Chandler Gianattasio, CC BY-NC-SA.
Figure 3 is shown below to reiterate the significant overlap found between disabilities. Looking specifically at weaker listening skills in this study, a characteristic originally classified as an APD trait, is also a very prevalent trait in individuals with LPD, dyslexia, ADHD and other LDs.
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), Specific Language Impairment (SLI), Learning Disorders (LD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). [Colors shown in the charts do not correlate with Figures 1 & 2].
Students struggling with executive functioning become overwhelmed often due to either external or internal stimuli. They often struggle with rejection sensitivity dysphoria, emotional dysregulation and “time blindness”. The most significant way you can support these students is by creating a safe, non-judgemental space for them to communicate with you, and encourage them to always self-advocate, no matter what. You can further support students navigating executive functioning difficulties by doing the following:
Providing easily accessible reminders of important events and assignment due dates. Time management can be a major difficulty, especially with projects over an extended period of time.
Giving lots of positive reinforcement, checking in frequently, and having regularly scheduled meetings.
Pointing out any prior knowledge that is being built upon, and have them answer any questions based on prior knowledge that they’ve mastered in class to boost their confidence and increase their motivation.
Reducing extraneous stimuli and eliminating background noise as much as possible – whether that be in their environment, on a worksheet, in a presentation, in reference material, etc.
Supporting Visual-Spatial Deficits
Students with visual-spatial deficits often struggle with creating their own visual representations of concepts being discussed, especially abstract or microscopic concepts. When navigating directions, these students also struggle with orientation – both cardinal and left versus right. This often presents when they are performing calculations with negative numbers. Most students with dyscalculia learn adding and subtracting via number lines that they manually traverse to understand the connection between operations properly. To help your students who have visual-spatial difficulties, you could offer the following:
Providing tangible manipulatives that they can touch and physically move in order to see how parts function together
This could be provided when introducing a new concept as an addition to 2D drawings or descriptions
It’s always beneficial to have manipulatives available for your students whether that’s physical objects for in-person sessions or interactive virtual manipulatives for online sessions.
Providing graph paper, templates, and/or graphic organizers can be highly beneficial to your students to organize their thoughts and break up information.
Integrating as much UDL in as possible! Presenting information in multiple formats and allowing the students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways will allow these students to participate in class and showcase their knowledge confidently.
Supporting Auditory Processing Deficits
Students with an auditory processing deficit struggle to comprehend directions and content from listening. The most significant way you can help your students who struggle with auditory processing is by doing the following:
Trying your best not to explain things too quickly.
Being very consistent with the terminology you use (try not to use multiple names for one entity or idea).
Checking in with students often to see if they understand what is being taught or asked of them.
Always encouraging students to ask questions as they work.
Supporting Nonverbal Learning Deficits
Students with nonverbal learning deficits are very literal and struggle to see the overall picture, especially when it comes to abstract concepts. You can support students with an NVLD by doing the following:
Creating a lot of associations and parallels between content and what they already know (common, everyday nuances) could help these individuals a lot.
Teaching concepts alongside any procedural knowledge you want them to retain will help them significantly, as they understand the “why” behind the steps.
Making sure to provide a lot of concrete examples, especially when introducing a new topic.
Structuring classes, making them as consistent and repetitive as possible. If they know what to expect and they are confident that they know how to handle it, these students will thrive.
Supporting Language Processing Deficits
Language processing deficits very commonly occur alongside auditory processing deficits. Students with this difficulty struggle with comprehending directions and content both from listening and reading. To help support these students, try the following:
Keeping language used simple and consistent.
Ensuring adequate (and modifiable if possible) background to text contrast/color.
Using 1.5+ line spacing and increased spacing between letters or symbols.
Chunking content and utilizing bullet points when possible.
Using consistent color associations with certain topics can go a long way (i.e. red for negative and blue for positive).
Starting lessons off with a graphic organizer or outline, showing how ideas fit together.
Including simple diagrams to illustrate concepts or procedures.
Highlighting keywords, numbers in word problems, or other important information you want to make sure they see.
Providing access to pre-written notes, “cheat sheets” displaying steps and formulas needed and worked-out sample problems so students can see what they are to do.
Remember that improving the learning experiences of our learners with special needs almost never comes at a cost to the “typical” learner – improving access, accessibility, and support for one improves these areas for all.
This post is the second installment in the series that describe the main characteristics, major benefits, design considerations, and practices and challenges of implementing an ungrading approach. This second blog presents the types of ungrading practices, challenges to implementation, and main takeaways derived from the book chapters and discussion with my colleagues in the Ungrading book club.
Types of Ungrading Practices
To begin, it is important to recap that the underlying concept supporting ungrading is deep, extensive, and formative feedback. This means that instructors are expected to design low-stakes formative assessments and devote substantial time and effort to craft feedback that students can use to revise their work. This section summarizes several contributions the book chapters authors made in regards to pedagogical practices, strategies, tips, and resources to adopt ungrading. Instructors can combine the ungrading practices or use them as stand-alone activities.
Approaches to Assignments
Portfolios: Students can build their portfolios with different digital tools that allow them to create personal or professional materials that are useful beyond the class (e.g., website, content curation). The critical element in a portfolio assignment is that there needs to be space for critical thinking and metacognitive work that can be shared with others. An additional element can include portfolio conferences. For these conferences, students meet with their instructors to review their course work and make annotations about their learning journey (they can also discuss their final grade).
Project-based Learning, Problem-based Learning, Inquiry-based Learning: Students work on activities that relate to their own experiences, real-life applications, and ill-structured scenarios. These activities encourage students to work with others, find solutions, investigate deeper, and apply concepts studied in the course to realistic situations.
Staged Assignments: Students work on reviewing/redoing assignments to allow them to learn from the feedback they received from their peers and/or instructor.
Minimal Grading: Use of a holistic or simplified grading schema (e.g., pass/fail, strong/satisfactory/weak).
Process Letters: An activity where students describe their learning process and how they evolve in their work in the class. This can be multimodal (e.g., presentations, reflections that combine audio, video, and text) and/or accompany major assignments.
Student-made Rubrics: Students can develop their own rubrics, which can become a learning activity in itself.
Participatory Voices: Students can contribute to course content by creating content, adding items to the syllabus, selecting the type/format of feedback they want to receive, evaluating peers, and developing an intellectual voice. Through self-evaluation and peer evaluation, students can reflect on their learning, understand the process of evaluating others, and focus on excellence and building confidence. Students are given a set of guiding questions to engage in self-and peer evaluation. At the end of the project or term, they recommend a grade for themselves and their peers.
Declaration Quiz: A quiz that asks students to select a checklist of the assignment requirements that they have completed. This can be a low-stakes assignment that helps students reflect on how they accomplished the task. Instructors can create declaration quizzes for each assignment and associate the number of points to the letter-based system.
Peer Assessment: When students work in groups, they can evaluate each other. Students can write about their contributions to the group projects as well as their experiences with the team. This can give instructors a view of the team dynamics and activities that are not usually visible.
Grade-Free Zones: This involves reviewing major assignments and/or providing a sandbox space for students to experiment before they engage in completing formal assignments. Students can submit early assignments or portions of them for peer comments or the instructor’s early feedback.
Mastery Learning Artifacts: Students collect learning artifacts that they have developed to demonstrate their mastery of the learning concepts based on the exemplary work and expectations provided by the instructor. Students submit these artifacts at the end of the term. In addition, students describe the areas of growth based on the instructor’s feedback (e.g., revisions).
Single-point Rubrics: This type of rubric includes criteria and fixed binary points (done = 1; not done =0). Comments can be added to either point to note the improvements to be made (in case it is not done) and to highlight the aspects that go beyond expectations. A benefit of this type of rubric is that it encourages mastery of content and keeps students’ focus away from the grade itself.
Feedback Logs: Students collect feedback and identify the areas in which they received more feedback, work out strategies to improve those areas, and reflect on the ways they are learning.
Feedback and Revisions: Students work on a series of drafts, and the instructor provides comments that students are expected to incorporate in the next revised draft. A grade can be added to the final draft.
Self-Assessment: Consider metacognitive activities that engage students in their own evaluation of learning and in dialogue with the instructor. Encourage students to develop their own standards and self-scrutiny practices.
Student Individual Plan: Students articulate goals and values for themselves about a class or a project. The instructor can help students by providing reflection guidelines and templates for developing their own goals.
Challenges to Implementation
While ungrading encourages a shift from a focus on grades to a focus on feedback and metacognitive activities for student learning and success, its implementation is not without challenges. The challenges range from local critiques to structural and how-tos.
A second challenge is the structural system of grades that prioritizes performance over learning. If the focus continues to be on how students perform in a class rather than on their learning, Kohn and Stommel argue that using an ungrading system that gets rid of grades will not be sufficient to push toward a system that creates learning spaces for critical thinking, reflection, and metacognition.
A third challenge involves the redefinition of the curriculum, innovative pedagogy, and how to assess learning. If the idea of content coverage and memorization of facts prevails, learning is treated more as information transfer –from the instructor or textbook to the students. In this transfer, students may not necessarily own their learning. Along with this is the way assessments are designed to emphasize judgment of students’ performance. If the teaching method does not allow room for real learning, ungrading will not make a difference. Thus, the convergence of changes to the curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment methods is of utmost importance.
A fourth challenge is more systemic and structural. Kohn argues that control, in many educational cases, prevents students’ choice and voice in their learning journeys. If ungrading is to have a way in educational contexts, instructors, and even administrators, will be invited to relinquish some of the control they exert over students’ performance to welcome students’ decisions related to their learning needs and interests.
A fifth challenge is a deep and widespread belief that grades reflect learning and action. There is a great concern that if grades are to be eliminated, students will not complete their assignments, need to do more work, or even skip classes. Also, instructors will have to “grade” more and be overburdened.
A final challenge is the over-reliance on rubrics that, according to Khon (foreword, p.xvii), is a system for “judging students…They offer umpteen different axes along which to make students think about their performance— often at the cost of becoming less immersed in what they’re doing.” It is not that ungrading does not provide guidance but it is important to avoid overcontrol evaluation practices. Instructors will need to analyze when and how rubrics help students focus on the learning process (and not solely on the points they get).
The book offered clear rationales, experiences, and strategies that instructors could consider if they feel they want to move away from the grade-focused system. In addition, as a designer, I have a better understanding and collection of resources to use during my consultations with faculty who might be looking into authentic and alternative means for assessment and grading.
Ungrading requires a reconceptualization of the curriculum, pedagogical, and assessment practices. If an alternative means of assessing student learning is to be implemented, the content, activities, and assignments need to open opportunities for students to engage in their own process of learning, reflection, and feedback. If we don’t level the playing field for students, no grading (or ungrading) system would be worth trying.
Grades are considered to be problematic because they contribute to widening the educational equity gaps. Ungrading, as a student-centered approach, can help mitigate some of the inequalities that students experience for access to successful learning. Since not all students come with the same knowledge and skills, ungrading, as a system that personalizes learning and assessments, will orient each student to focus on the feedback that they need.
Ungrading does not mean that instructors do not grade or that students have a free pass. Ungrading requires a deeper understanding of what learning means and how to design learning activities and contexts in which it can be evidenced. There is no universal magic approach to do it. If you are seriously considering moving to ungrading practices, start small, one step at a time.
Have you ventured into ungrading? If so, how did it go? What works and what does not? If not, what are your thoughts about ungrading? I’d like to invite you to share comments or experiences.
Getting students to read the syllabus is often a challenge in online courses. It is not uncommon for students to ask faculty questions that have answers easily found in the document. Even if students do read the syllabus, they may only skim through it. Ways to encourage a thorough reading include strategies like “easter egg” hunts where students find particular items to pass a syllabus quiz. This article will explore another method that uses a software application called Perusall, which is designed to encourage close reading.
Perusall is used at the Oregon State University Ecampus as a learning technology integration with Canvas, the learning management system. Using Perusall, students can highlight, make comments, and ask questions on a document. There is a grading interface with Canvas and a variety of settings, including reminders for students to complete the assignment. It offers a useful way for students to engage with the syllabus together, which can lead to closer reading than if they had done so individually.
To test this idea, a professor used this approach with a 400/500 class that involved multiple assignments in Perusall throughout the term. If the syllabus assignment proved useful in Perusall, then it would also serve as an introduction to the platform for students. Here are some examples of student engagement that resulted from this activity:
Requests for additional background material to check for prerequisite knowledge.
Interest in the website of the professor (linked to in the syllabus).
Shoutouts to the course teaching assistant.
Concerns about the prerequisites for the class, which were addressed by the professor specifically.
Questions about technology used in the course based on students’ previous experiences in other courses.
Gratitude for ending the course week on Mondays instead of Sundays.
Confirmation by a student that the textbook is available as an electronic copy at the library.
Inquiries into the length and other logistics of Zoom office hours.
Excitement expressed by a student about a focus paper requirement.
Queries about how grade numbers are rounded and types of quiz questions.
Exchanges between a TA and a student looking forward to further discussions in Perusall.
Clarifications about the different work expected for undergraduates and graduates.
Ideas about how to communicate as a class.
Questions about the details of major assignments.
Appreciation of opportunities to participate in frequent knowledge checks.
Thanks for the late assignment policy and statements about flexibility.
Advice about how to check assignment due dates.
Students’ comments and conversations helped to initiate a feeling of community in the course. Many logistical issues were clarified for students by providing and encouraging a forum for discussion. There were highlights and comments by students on seven of ten pages of the syllabus. The three pages that were not discussed were university required policies. There were no negative comments about using Perusall as a syllabus activity. So this seems like a good method to engage students at the beginning of a course to prepare them for success. It may be especially helpful for classes using Perusall in other assignments because it provides a way to practice using the application.