Would you like to save time grading, accurately assess student learning, provide timely feedback, track student progress, demonstrate teaching and learning excellence, foster communication, and much more? If you answered yes, then rubrics are for you! Let’s explore why the intentional use of rubrics can be a valuable tool for instructors and students.

Value for instructors

  • Time management: Have you ever found yourself drowning in a sea of student assignments that need to be graded ASAP (like last week)?  Grading with a rubric can quicken the process because each student is graded in the same way using the same criteria. Rubrics which are detailed, specific, organized and measurable clearly communicate expectations. As you become familiar with how students are commonly responding to an assessment, feedback can be easily personalized and readily deployed.
  • Timely and meaningful feedback: Research has shown that there are several factors that enhance student motivation. One factor is obtaining feedback that is shared often, detailed, timely, and useful. When students receive relevant, meaningful, and useful feedback quickly they have an opportunity to self-assess their progress, course correct (if necessary), and level up their performance.
  • Data! Data! Data! Not only can rubrics provide a panoramic view of student progress, but the tool can also help identify teaching and learning gaps. Instructors will be able to identify if students are improving, struggling, remaining consistent, or if they are missing the mark completely. The information gleaned from rubrics can be utilized to compare student performance within a course, between course sections, or even across time. As well as, the information can serve as feedback to the instructor regarding the effectiveness of the assessment.
  • Effectiveness: When a rubric is designed from the outset to measure the course learning outcomes the rubric can serve as a tool for effective, and accurate, assessment. Tip! Refrain from solely scoring gateway criteria (i.e. organization, mechanics, and grammar). Doing so is paramount because students will interpret meeting the criteria as a demonstration that they have met the learning outcomes even if they haven’t. If learning gaps are consistently identified consider evaluating the task and rubric to ensure instructions, expectations, and performance dimensions are clear and aligned.
  • Shareable: As academic programs begin to develop courses for various modalities (i.e. on campus, hybrid, online) consistently assessing student learning can be a challenge. The advantage of rubrics is they can be easily shared and applied between course sections and modalities. Doing so can be especially valuable when the same course is taught by multiple instructors and teaching assistants.
  • Fosters communication: Instructors can clearly articulate performance expectations and outcomes to key stakeholders such as teaching assistants, instructors, academic programs, and student service representatives (e.g. Ecampus Student Success Team, Writing Center). Rubrics provide additional context above and beyond what is outlined in the course syllabus. A rubric can communicate how students will be assessed, what students should attend to, and how institutional representatives can best help support students. Imagine a scenario where student contacts the Writing Center with the intent of reviewing a draft term paper, and the representative asks for the grading criteria or rubric. The grading criteria furnished by the instructor only outlines the requirements for word length, formatting, and citation conventions. None of the aforementioned criteria communicate the learning outcomes or make any reference to the quality of the work. In this example, the representative might find it challenging to effectively support the student without understanding the instructor’s implicit expectations.
  • Justification: Have you ever been tasked with justifying a contested grade? Rubrics can help you through the process! Rubrics which are detailed, specific, measurable, complete, and aligned can be used to explain why a grade was awarded. A rubric can quickly and accurately highlight where a student failed to meet specific performance dimensions and/ or the learning outcomes.
  • Evidence of teaching improvement: The values of continuous improvement, lifelong learning, and ongoing professional development are woven into the very fabric of academia. Curating effective assessment tools and methods can provide a means of demonstrating performance and providing evidence to support professional advancement.

Value for students

  • Equity: Using rubrics creates an opportunity for consistent and fair grading for all students. Each student is assessed on the same criteria and in the same way. If performance criteria are not clearly communicated from the outset then evaluations may be based on implicit expectations. Implicit expectations are not known or understood by students, and it can create an unfair assessment structure.
  • Clarity: Ambiguity is decreased by using student-centered language. Student composition is highly diverse, and many students speak different native languages. Therefore, students may have different interpretations as to what words mean (e.g. critical thinking). Using very clear and simplistic language can mitigate unintended barriers and decrease confusion.
  • Expectations: Students know exactly what they need to do to demonstrate learning, what instructors are looking for, how to meet the instructor’s expectations, and how to level up their performance. A challenge can be to ensure that all expectations (implicit and explicit) are clearly communicated to students. Tip! Consider explaining expectations in the description of the task as well.
  • Skill development: Rubrics can introduce new concepts/ terminology and help students develop authentic skills (e.g. critical thinking) which can be applied outside of their academic life.
  • Promotes metacognition and self-regulatory behavior: Guidance and feedback help students reflect on their thought processes, self-assess, and foster positive learning behaviors.

As an Ecampus course developer, you have a wide array of support services and experts available to you. Are you interested in learning more about rubric design, development, and implementation? Contact your Instructional Designer today to begin exploring best-fit options for your course. Stay tuned for Rubrics: Markers of Quality (Part 2) –Tips & Best Practices.

References:

  • Brookhart, S. M. (2013). How to create and use rubrics for formative assessment and grading. Alexandria, Va.: ASCD.
  • Richter, D., & Ehlers, Ulf-Daniel. (2013). Open Learning Cultures: A Guide to Quality, Evaluation, and Assessment for Future Learning. (1st ed.). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.
  • Stevens, D. D., & Levi, Antonia. (2013). Introduction to rubrics: an assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning (2nd ed.). Sterling, Va.: Stylus.
  • Walvoord, B. E. F., & Anderson, Virginia Johnson. (2010). Effective grading: a tool for learning and assessment in college (Second edition.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

 

 

Curious what an Ecampus Instructional Designer is looking for when they approve slides for narrated lectures?  It certainly depends on the course content.

Generally, the top three things I am looking at are copyright, accessibility, and aesthetics.

For this post, I am going to focus on copyright and I will return to the other topics in a future post.  A copy of the slides, which includes links to helpful materials, is available below the video as well as a list of resources.

Slides: Copyright Considerations for Narrated Slides

Resources:

What’s An Image’s Value?

Image of postcard with a picture is worth a thousand words written on it.

Have you ever created an online course without using images? No?

That is not surprising as images can convey emotions, ideas, and much more. Their value is often captured in an old adage: A picture is worth a thousand words.

This article will discuss the value of images in online course design and how using visuals to accompany instruction via text or narration might contribute to or detract from an online learning experience. Let’s begin.

Multimedia Learning: Images, Text, and More

Online learning is a modern form of multimedia learning. Richard Mayer (2009) described multimedia learning as that learning that integrates the use of words and pictures. In traditional classrooms these learning resources might be experienced as: 

  • Textbooks:  Text and illustrations.
  • Computer-based lessons: Narration w/animation
  • Face-to-face slide presentations: Graphics and audio.

In online learning multimedia may also include:

  • eBooks: Text and digital images 
  • Video: Text, images, animations, coupled with audio.
  • Interactives: Maps, images, and video.
  • Digital Visual Representations: Virtual worlds and 3D models.
  • Screencasts: Software demos, faculty video feedback, and more.
  • Audio: Enhanced podcasts or narrated lectures.

These two short lists, although not exhaustive, demonstrates the importance of visual elements to multimedia based learning in online courses. There are many reasons why we might include any one of these multimedia learning experiences in an online course. For our purposes we will explore a bit more the instructional value of visuals to online learning.

So, how do words and pictures work together to help shape learning? Given that this is perhaps the most common learning object used in an online course it would seem useful to understand what may be considered this simple interpretation of visual literacy for learning (Aisami, 2015).

Visual Engagement Of A Learning Object

In a recent study of how people acquire knowledge from an instructional web page Ludvik Eger (2018) used eye tracking technology to examine a simple learning object composed of a title (headline), a visual element (i.e., diagram), and a box of written text. With no audio support for the learning object in this study, participants engaged the content via visual engagement alone. Results indicated that the majority of students started their learning process at the headline or the headline and visual element. The box of information, in text form, was the third part of the learning object engaged.

Within this context eye movement analysis indicates a learning process that is dependent upon a consistent visual flow. Purposely connecting the title, visual element and information text of a learning object may best reinforce learning. By doing this the course designer/instructor becomes a sort of cognitive guide either focusing or not-focusing learning via the meaning structure of the various learning object elements. In our case we want to use visual elements to support performance and achievement of learning tasks.

Choosing Visual Elements

In order to explore the choice of visual elements in an online learning experience it is helpful to understand how we process that experience from a cognitive science perspective.

Clark and Mayer (2016) describe that cognitive science suggests knowledge construction is based upon three principles: Dual channels, limited capacity and active processing. Let’s briefly examine what these are.

Dual channels:

People have two channesl of cognitive processing 1) for processing visual/pictorial material and 2) one for auditory/verbal material. See Figure 1.  below.

 

Model of cognitive model of multimedia learning.
Figure 1.: Model of the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

Limited capacity:

Humans can only process a few bits of pieces of information in each channel at the same time.

Active processing:

Learning occurs as people engage in cognitive processing during learning. This may include attending to relevant material, organizing that material into a coherent structure, and integrating that material with prior knowledge.

Due to the limits on any learner’s processing capability it is paramount that we select visual images that help manage the learning process. Our goal is to limit excessive processing that clutters the learning experience, build visual support for representing the core learning process, and provide visual support that fosters deeper understanding of the learning at hand. What does this mean in practice?

Managing Processing Via Image Use

Making decisions about image selection and use is a key to managing this learning process. Understanding the meaning of images to select is also key and is really a function of literacy in one’s field and visual literacy in general (Kennedy, 2013).

In practice we can use the following guidelines to make decisions about image use in multimedia-based online learning. 

  • Control Visual Elements – Too many images on a web page or slide may force extraneous cognitive processing that does not support the instructional objective. 
  • Select Visual Elements Carefully – Images difficult to discern are likely to negatively impact learning. Think about good visual quality, emotional and intellectual message of the image, information value, and readability.
  • Use Focused Visual Elements – Target selection of visual support to those images that represent the core learning material and/or provide access to deeper understanding of that core content.

Other Image Tips

Emotional Tone: Emotional design elements (e.g., visuals) can play important roles in motivating learners and achievement of learning outcomes (Mayer, 2013).

Interest: Decorative images may boost learner interest but do not contribute to higher performance in testing (Mayer, 2013). Use decorative images prudently so they do not contribute to extraneous learning processing (Pettersson & Avgerinou, 2016).

Challenge: Making image selections that contribute to a degree of confusion may challenge learnings to dive more deeply into core learning. This is a tenuous decision in that challenge in sense making may prove to foster excessive processing.

Access: Images must be presented in a format that is viewable to users to be practical. This involves an understanding of technical features of image formats, download capability, mobile use, and universal design techniques.

Final Thoughts

It is valuable to remember that visuals communicate non verbally. They are most effectively used when carefully selected and paired with text or audio narration. Visuals appeal to the sense of sight. They have different classifications and could be pictures, symbols, signs, maps graphs, diagrams, charts, models, and photographs. Knowing their form, meaning, and application is part of being a visually literate course developer or instructional designer.

Web Resources

References

Aisami, R. S. (2015). Learning Styles and Visual Literacy for Learning and Performance. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 176, 538-545. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.01.508

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction : Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Eger, L. (2018). How people acquire knowledge from a web page: An eye tracking study. Knowledge Management & E-Learning: An International Journal 10(3), 350-366.

Kennedy, B. (2013, November 19). What is visual literacy?. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=O39niAzuapc

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. E. (2014). Incorporating motivation into multimedia learning. Learning and Instruction, 29, 171-173. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2013.04.003

Rune Pettersson & Maria D. Avgerinou (2016) Information design with teaching and learning in mind, Journal of Visual Literacy, 35:4, 253-267, DOI: 10.1080/1051144X.2016.1278341

 

Credit: Embedded image by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.com

“Diversity is our world’s greatest asset, and inclusion is our biggest challenge. And the way that we are going to address that challenge is by extending our empathy.” -Jutta Treviranus, Founder of the Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCAD University

Decorative image

Sure, you’ve been teaching online courses for a few terms or years now, but have you ever been an online student? Many current faculty members earned their degrees in traditional face-to-face settings and have learned how to migrate their courses to the online environment by using research-based best practices and support from instructional designers and media experts. However, are there benefits to experiencing this fledgling educational modality from the perspective of the online student? I argue that faculty who challenge themselves to take an online course experience both personal and professional benefits and become more empathic, inclusive, creative, and reflective.

Benefits for Faculty Members

Challenge yourself to try out something completely different than your specialization or discipline: Are you a STEM professor who has a screenplay idea? Perhaps you have a trip to the French Riviera on your bucket list, or your college Spanish is rusty. Try a foreign language course this summer. Are you a humanities professor who is curious about the composition of the soil in your garden? Find out about the dirt in your yard as a soil science student.

Here are some benefits to consider:

  • Taking an online course may give you ideas or inspiration for something that you want to try in your own course.
  • Continuing education may benefit brain health.
  • Stretching yourself may spur creativity and innovation.
  • You are modeling lifelong learning for your students and family.
  • Most importantly, it just might be fun!

Building Empathy

I’m consistently impressed with the care and concern OSU faculty have for their students, and taking an online course is one way to demonstrate that concern. By changing roles, such as by becoming an online student, faculty expand their perspectives, which results in the potential for even greater student support and understanding.

Yes, faculty members contend with heavy workloads and may feel that taking an online course on top of everything else would be overwhelming. However, your Ecampus students may also struggle with feeling maxed out.

Did you know that the average age of a student taking an Ecampus course is 31 years old? This means that it is likely your online students are responsible for full-time work as well as family obligations. Taking online courses helps faculty members build empathy for their students by giving themselves opportunities to experience the excitement, anxiety, and pride of successfully completing an online course.

Furthermore, by increasing empathy, faculty members may become more inclusive and reflective practitioners. For example, as an online student, you know how it feels to be welcomed (or not) by your instructor, or to receive feedback within a few days as opposed to a few weeks. As an adult learner, you also may desire to share your prior experience or professional background with the instructor or students. Does your course give you the opportunity to introduce yourself to the instructor and other students, to describe your background and some strengths that you bring to the course community, or are you left feeling invisible in the course, with your expertise unacknowledged?

Tuition Reduction for OSU Employees

As OSU employees, faculty and staff are now eligible to take Ecampus courses at the reduced tuition rate, according to the staff fee privileges.

  • Summer courses begin on June 24th, and fall courses begin on September 25th.

Share Your Experience!

Have you been an online student as well as an online instructor? How did being on online student inform your teaching practices? Reply in the comments section, below.

Resources:

I pledge that I have acted honorably in completing this assessment.

There are two sides to the story of security of online assessments. On the one side, cheating does exist in online assessments. Examity’s president Michael London summarized five common ways students cheat on online exams:

  1. The old-school try of notes;
  2. The screenshot;
  3. The water break;
  4. The cover-up; and
  5. The big listen through devices such as Bluetooth headset (London, 2017).

Newton (2015) even reported the disturbing fact that “cheating in online classes is now big business”. On the other side, academic dishonesty is a problem of long history, both on college campuses and in online courses. The rate of students who admit to cheating at least once in their college careers has held steady at somewhere around 75 percent since the first major survey on cheating in higher education in 1963 (Lang, 2013). Around 2000, Many faculty and students believed it was easier to cheat in online classes (Kennedy, 2000), and about a third of academic leaders perceived online outcomes to be inferior to traditional classes (Allen & Seaman, 2011). However, according to Watson and Sottile (2010) and other comparative studies (Pilgrim & Scanlon, 2018), there is no conclusive evidence that online students are more likely to cheat than face-to-face students. “Online learning is, itself, not necessarily a contributing factor to an increase in academic misconduct (Pilgrim & Scanlon, 2018)”.

Since there are so many ways for students to cheat in online assessments, how can we make online assessments more effective in evaluating students’ learning? Online proctoring is a solution that is easy for instructors but adds a burden of cost to students. Common online proctoring service providers include ProctorU, Examity, Proctorio, Honorlock, to name just a few (Bentley, 2017).

Fortunately, there are other ways to assess online learning without overly concerned with academic dishonesty. Vicky Phillips (n.d.) suggested that authentic assessment makes it extremely difficult to fake or copy one’s homework. The University of Maryland University College has consciously moving away from proctored exams and use scenario-based projects as assessments instead (Lieberman, 2018). James Lang (2013) suggested smaller class sizes will allow instructor to have more instructor-to-students interaction one-on-one and limit cheating to the minimum therefore; Pilgrim and Scanlon (2018) suggest changing assessments to reduce the likelihood of cheating (such as demonstrating problem solving in person or via video, using plagiarism detection software programs like TurnItIn, etc.) , promote and establish a culture of academic integrity (such as honor’s code, integrity pledge), and supporting academic integrity through appropriate policies and processes. Kohnheim-Kalkstein (2006) reports that the use of a classroom honor code has been shown to reduce cheating. Kohnheim-Kalkstein, Stellmack, and Shilkey (2008) report that use of classroom honor code improves rapport between faculty and students, and increases feelings of trust and respect among students. Gurung, Wilhelm and Fitz (2012) suggest that an honor pledge should include formal language, state the specific consequences for cheating, and require a signature. For the honor pledge to be most effective, Shu, Mazar, Gino, Ariely, and Bazerman (2012) suggests including the honor pledge on the first page of an online assessment or online assignment, before students take the assessment or work on the assignment.

Rochester Institute of Technology (2014) ’s Teaching Elements: Assessing Online Students offer a variety of ways to assess students, including discussions, low-stake quizzes, writing assignments (such as muddiest point paper), and individual activities (such as staged assignments for students to receive ongoing feedback), and many other activities.

In summary, there are plenty of ways to design effective formative or summative assessments online that encourage academic honesty, if instructors and course designers are willing to spend the time to try out suggested strategies from literature.

References

Bentley, Kevin. (2017). What to consider when selecting an online exam proctoring service. Inside HigherEd. (June 21, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2017/06/21/selecting-online-exam-proctoring-service on February 22, 2019.

Gurung, R. A. R., Wilhelm, T. M., & Filz, T. (2012). Optimizing honor codes for online exam administration. Ethics & Behavior, 22, 158–162.

Konheim-Kalkstein, Y. L. (2006). Use of a classroom honor code in higher education. Journal of Credibility Assessment and Witness Psychology, 7, 169–179.

Konheim-Kalkstein,Y. L., Stellmack, M. A., & Shilkey, M. L. (2008). Comparison of honor code and non-honor code classrooms at a non-honor code university. Journal of College & Character, 9, 1–13.

J.M. Lang. (2013). How college classes encourage cheating. Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/08/03/how-college-classes-encourage-cheating/3Q34x5ysYcplWNA3yO2eLK/story.html on February 21, 2019.

Lieberman, Mark. (2018). Exam proctoring for online students hasn’t yet transformed. Inside Higher Ed (October 10, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/10/10/online-students-experience-wide-range-proctoring-situations-tech, on February 22, 2019.

Michael London. (2017). 5 Ways to Cheat on Online Exams. Inside Higher Ed (09/20/2017). Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2017/09/20/creative-ways-students-try-cheat-online-exams on February 21, 2019.

Derek Newton. (2015). Cheating in Online Classes is now big business. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/11/cheating-through-online-courses/413770/ on February 21, 2019.

Vicky Phillips. (n.d.). Big Fat Online Education Myths – students cheat like weasels in Online Classes. GetEducated. Retrieved from https://www.geteducated.com/elearning-education-blog/big-fat-online-education-myths-students-cheat-like-weasels-in-online-classes/ on February 21, 2019.

Chris Pilgrim and Christopher Scanlon. (2018). Don’t assume online students are more likely to cheat. The evidence is murky. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2018-07-dont-assume-online-students-evidence.html on February 21, 2019.

Rochester Institute of Technology. (2014). Teaching Elements: Assessing Online Students. Retrieved from https://www.rit.edu/academicaffairs/tls/sites/rit.edu.academicaffairs.tls/files/docs/TE_Online%20Assessmt.pdf on February 21, 2019.

Shu, L. L., Mazar, N., Gino, F., Ariely, D., & Bazerman, M. H. (2012). Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end. PNAS, 109, 15197–15200.

George Watson. And James Sottile. (2010). Cheating in digital age: Do students cheat more in online courses? Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 13(1). Retrieved from https://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring131/watson131.html on February 21, 2019

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

sound waves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

Image by mtmmonline on Pixabay.

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

 

As a stranger give it welcome.” – Shakespeare

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:

  1. Stay up with the course activities—don’t get behind
  2. Use good time management skills
  3. Use good organizational skills
  4. Set aside specific times during each week for your online class
  5. Know how to get technical help
  6. A lot of online writing is required
  7. There is a lot of reading in the textbook and in online discussions—be prepared
  8. Regular online communications are needed
  9. Ask the professor if you have questions
  10. Carefully read the course syllabus
  11. Be sure you understand the requirements of the online course discussions
  12. Understand how much each online activity is worth toward your grade
  13. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. Provide approximate times for course materials and activities. Students can use this to better plan for the requirements that week.
  3. Keep your course organized so students can spend more time with the content instead of search for the content.
  4. Remind students about where to access help and support services.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

References

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.

 

student response slide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

game controller on work desk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

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

Neuromyths                                                                                                     made with wordart.com

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.

neuromyth#4 About sleep:  “When you sleep, your brain shuts down.”  Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro 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 neuromythDanger of this myth: It tempted students to procrastinate and skip sleep before important test to cram in missed study time.

online learningOnline 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!

neuromyth #5 About memory: “Memory is like a container, an assembly line, or a recording device.” Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro factIt’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.)

danger of neuromythThe 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 Online learning application of debunking the idea of “fixed memory”:

  • Encourage/motivate students’ effort to enhance memory.
  • Encourage instructors to provide multiple means of content presentation for strengthened memory connections.

neuromyth #6 About attention: “The brain can multitask while learning, especially Gen Z”. Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro factIt’s a myth. Neuro-fact regarding attention: Learning requires focused attention. Multitasking works only for routine or simple tasks. (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2018)

danger of neuromythThe danger of this myth lies in wasting time and low productivity during study.

online learning 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.

neuromyth #7 About Creativity: “Creativity is primarily a personality trait and can’t be taught.” Is this statement a myth or fact?

neuro 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.

danger of neuromyth 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 Online learning application from debunking the myth of creativity:

  1. As an instructor, model creativity in your mindset and teaching practices. Need help? Read these eight steps to becoming a more creative teacher.
  2. Think of creativity as a skill.
  3. 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.
  4. 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)
  5. Practice generating more ideas or read the 18 idea-generating techniques or read these 19 ideas to promote creativity in your class.
  6. Provide opportunities for both individual thinking and group thinking. (Shah, 2018; Johnson, 2011; Catmull and Wallace, 2014)

Feel free to contact your Ecampus instructional designer if you would like more information on any of the above topics. Enjoy your online teaching.

* This blog was inspired by Online Learning Consortium 2018 workshops on Neuro, Cognitive, and Learning Sciences,  Bring Theory to Practice (Part I  & Part II –new offering of part II coming again in March 11, 2019), 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!

* Icons used in this post comes from the Noun Project.

References:

Cast.org. (n.d.). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.XEc_189Kh24 

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: 10.1037/0022-0663.89.1.41

Memory Adaptation. Learning by Trial and Error. Retrieved from http://www.cs.brandeis.edu/~pablo/tron/t10.html

Miller, Michelle. (2018). Neuro, Cognitive and Learning Sciences, Part 1: Applying Theory to Practice. Online Learning Consortium online workshop.

Poe, G.R., Walsh, C.M., & Bjorness, T.E. (2010). Cognitive Neuroscience of Sleep. Progress in Brain Research, Volume 185, 2010, pages 1-19. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53702-7.00001-4

Shah, Raj. (2018). 5 Ways for Teachers to Nurture the Creative Genius in Their Students. Retrieved from https://www.gettingsmart.com/2018/01/5-ways-for-teachers-to-nurture-the-creative-genius-in-their-students/

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