Subject matter experts in many fields have embarked on authoring projects with the goal of replacing traditional published texts or customizing content for specific learners’ needs, yet large-scale creation of open textbooks or series designed for language learners has been slower to gain traction (Blyth and Thoms, 2021). Efforts in this area have largely been limited to adapting existing OER materials (5R activities) for specific learning contexts or piecemeal creation of online activities to provide reinforcement of isolated language skills. Part 1 in this series outlines the potential benefits, limitations, and challenges that programs and instructors face when undertaking large-scale authoring projects to address the needs of language learners. The purpose of this second post is to offer guidance for creating open source language texts and present a framework for getting started.

Language Acquisition as an OER Subject Matter

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of creating an OER for language learners, it is worth pointing out how this process differs from open authoring projects for other disciplines. While OER writing projects come with inherent challenges regardless of the field, authoring comprehensive language learning content presents a unique challenge. One reason for this is that language teaching and acquisition involves complex sequencing and scaffolding of skills, language items, and linguistic concepts unique to the field of language acquisition (Howard and Major, 2004). An effective resource must present language items not only in the established order of second language acquisition, but also at the correct level for the learners at hand. The “correct level” is fluid and influenced by many variables (first language interference, motivation, metacognitive skills related to the process of learning a language, fossilization of rules, literacy in the first language, prior knowledge and educational experiences, and so on). While, say, writing a history text also involves expert scaffolding to ensure that content builds on what came before, there are fewer moving parts to align, and presentation and sequencing can and will vary from one subject matter expert author to the next. Effective language learning materials, on the other hand, are more like a house of cards that relies on complex relationships between a variety of aspects of the target language, language input, learning context, and characteristics of the learners themselves. 

Language acquisition occurs when input is just beyond what students understand of a language (known as comprehensible input i + 1), so writing materials that consistently hit the sweet spot for learning is tricky even for the most seasoned language educator. In addition to presenting language in a specific sequence and at the appropriate level, authors must also consider how much new language content is enough at each stage and how to introduce, recycle, and reinforce this language through engaging and original texts as well as audios that present authentic and relevant contexts. All of this new content must then be aligned to learning outcomes related to both language form and function. Learners need not only the nuts and bolts of the language, but pragmatics are equally important—how is the language used in specific contexts and with a variety of interlocutors? What models will convey this information accurately in a way that is accessible at different levels of proficiency? 

Understanding the social aspect of language is as important as the grammar and structure. Language proficiency involves much more than speaking and listening in a new language. All of the linguistic aspects must be delivered via content that also serves as a vehicle for familiarizing learners with the cultural and social contexts where the language is spoken. This should be done in a thematic way, weaving in social justice issues in a timely and relevant manner, sensitive to the complexity of the issues at hand. The author(s) must also be able to write engaging texts that present level-appropriate target grammar, vocabulary, and cultural information in activities that build upon each other or recycle the language previously taught. In addition to being linguistically sound, these original texts and audios must also demonstrate awareness and care for representation, integrating cultural and social justice topics relevant to the diversity of cultures, communities, interests, and social issues of a variety of speakers of the target language. 

Creating language materials that incorporate all of these considerations requires a broad skillset beyond expertise in teaching the subject matter. Significant professional development and exploration may be necessary before embarking on expansive authoring projects for language learning. With careful coordination and planning, and an understanding of the process and support required, language programs, instructors, and learners stand to reap long-term benefits from creative, relevant, inclusive, and dynamic open resources. What follows is a suggested process and a sample framework for undertaking open source textbook production for language learning contexts.

Step 1: Survey of needs, resources, and intended uses

The first step in any authoring project is to identify the needs of a program and determine what kind of text will be used and how. This includes the extent of the textbook use within the department and also as a resource for the broader language learning community. A quality textbook resource can increase student autonomy and interest in language learning generally by providing accessible resources readily available to learners anywhere in the world (Godwin-Jones). At this stage, some questions to ask include: 

  • Who are your learners and what is their motivation for learning a new language? 
  • What kind of textbook needs to be replaced? What gaps do you seek to fill by replacing current text materials? 
  • How will the resource fit into the larger curriculum? 
  • Is the need for a single course text or a cohesive series to cover an entire level or multiple levels? 
  • Who is available to collaborate and what are their areas of expertise? 
  • What resources and support are available for the project?
  • How will time and resources be accounted for? 
  • What is the timeline for implementation?
  • Who will provide expert and outside peer review of the textbook materials? 
  • How will the textbook materials be maintained and updated over time to ensure long-term viability? 

Most language programs involve extensive faculty collaboration. Instructors teach multiple courses across various levels. As such, it is important to promote broad participation in the planning stage to encourage instructor input, address concerns, and determine the scope of the implementation (e.g., across courses, levels). Gathering input on content and soliciting expertise among colleagues increases faculty buy-in and ownership of new materials.

Step 2: Identify the scope of your project

Once the shape of the project has been determined, it is time to outline the specifics of the resource(s) to be created. Determining the scope involves identifying learning outcomes. These are often mandated by the program, but they might also need to be rewritten or revised by the authoring team. Both the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) provide guidance on proficiency standards for world languages. Beyond language outcomes, it is also important to identify what the content goals are. This may involve generating a master list of topics, social justice and cultural themes to be addressed, and so on. At this stage, identify subject matter experts and any professional development needs. Who will participate as part of the core authoring team? Who will be responsible for quality control and review? Keep in mind that creating, reviewing, building, piloting, and maintaining comprehensive open language materials requires a significant time commitment, even if the goal is to create a single course text.

See ACTFL World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages

Step 3: Collaborate on a framework scope and sequence

The importance of this stage cannot be understated, particularly when multiple authors and stakeholders are involved. Once the themes, topics, outcomes, and other aspects of the materials have been identified and divided up into learning segments (levels across a series, units of a text, etc.), it is time to write the scope and sequence, which is basically a detailed outline. This outline should clearly show how everything fits together and serves as a framework for authoring materials that weave together language function and form, grammar points, text genres, readings, audios, pronunciation, vocabulary, practice activities, interaction, cultural and social justice themes, topics, etc.—all with attention to a logical progression, order of acquisition, recycling of language items, and student engagement. 


Let’s take a language text for English language learners as an illustrative example. If the grammar point for a learning segment is the present perfect tense, what types of contextualized content elicits that structure naturally? Perhaps a short biography representative of one aspect of the culture can serve this purpose. Reading and audio texts might present a person’s life experience so far. This offers an opportunity to consider whose lived experience will be represented via this text. Which vocabulary items are crucial for using the language around this topic? How much vocabulary will be new and how much recycled? Using the present perfect form as an example, we might focus on a number of participial adjectives and the prepositions for/since (She has been interested insince…). Language teachers as subject matter experts should have no trouble identifying these items regardless of the target language—this is how SLA comes into play. They teach this content all the time. The challenge is in putting it all together across units. That is, in addition to the grammar, punctuation, pronunciation, and writing systems (depending on the writing system of the language at hand) authors need to consider how the language builds on what was previously taught, how much is enough to present in each segment, what the cultural and social topics to be woven into authentic texts are, etc. A good scope and sequence defines all of this. For this reason, settling on a solid scope and sequence will require extensive coordination across subject matter experts, departments (in many cases), and in all cases, several rounds of review and revision before any writing begins.

sample scope and sequence template
Fig. 1 presents a sample unit from a scope and sequence created for a text for learners of English (CEFR A1+ level). This structure is applicable regardless of the target language although there may be some differences depending on the characteristics of the language. For example, phonetic languages may require less focus on pronunciation while languages using non-roman script will need to build in instruction on writing systems. View an accessible version of this template.

Step 4: Write and build

Once a final scope and sequence is in place and an authoring team has been identified, it’s time to start creating materials. Some questions to guide this stage include: 

  • Who will write the text and audio scripts? 
  • Who will provide diverse voice talent for audio texts? 
  • Who will record and edit audio? 
  • Where will the content be hosted and who will create it? (If using a tool such as Pressbooks, consider training for materials developers.) 
  • What platforms will be used for any interactive content? (H5P, Quizlet, Playposit, etc.) and who will build these? 
  • Where will the interactive repository be stored? 
  • Who is responsible for acquiring Creative Commons images and maps?
  • How will accessibility be ensured? 
  • What learner analytics will be gathered and how?

Because most of the activities in a learning segment tend to spring from the reading and listening input, it may be helpful to start with writing all of the texts for a level or course before creating the rest of the content. Audio and written texts must expose learners to a wide range of genres and text types (Tomlinson, 2012), so it may be useful to start by generating a list of genres to be covered. The texts, whether they are original or curated from online sources, must be reviewed and revised or adapted to ensure they contain the necessary language at the appropriate level, generate interest, employ the intended tone and voice for the genre, follow identified themes, incorporate social justice and cultural topics, and are accurate (in the case of non-fiction texts). If the content is curated, it needs to be reviewed for copyright and accessibility. 

Throughout the authoring stage, frequent check-ins among authors and reviewers can help to ensure quality, authenticity, inclusivity, and adherence to the determined scope and sequence. 

Step 5: Review and revise

Just as at every other stage of the process, peer reviews and revisions should be coordinated so that there is continuity in the editing process. It is important to enlist the help of internal and external subject matter experts. Assign different review tasks (big picture reviews of content and continuity along with detailed reviews of the language presentation) and provide each with review rubrics or guidelines to streamline feedback. External reviewers outside of the organization can help provide neutral insight. Enlisting the help of those with expertise in social justice topics, regional cultural perspectives, and different varieties of the language can help ensure accuracy, representation, inclusivity, and engagement. Be sure to review feedback as a team to reach an agreement on how to approach revisions to draft materials. 

Here is a sample rubric for reviewing original course materials, but rubrics should be adapted according to the scope and sequence and goals of each project.

Step 6: Implement and iterate 

Finally, it is time to pilot your new OER, but you aren’t done yet! Deliver the content to learners and collect their feedback as well as input from your teaching team. Keep in mind that an OER can be a work in progress, and one advantage of an open textbook is that it can be an evolving resource. Each iteration should involve coordination and input from the team who will be using the materials. Share your new resource widely. A high-quality OER opens the door for resource sharing with a broad community of colleagues, building visibility for the language program and lending credibility among colleagues around the world for the subject matter expert creators (Blyth and Thoms, 2021). 

Step 7: Create a plan for long-term viability: updating materials, quality control, and access

While creating an open source textbook for language learners can be a continually iterative process, once the new materials reach a point of stability and all stakeholders are satisfied with the product, authors or departments need to create a plan for maintaining the materials. Unlike costly textbooks which quickly become outdated, open access resources are easier to update (once the initial investment in time and resources has been made), save students money, and expand access to learners everywhere. The key is to create a plan for longevity so that updates are systematic, incorporate learner and instructor input, and are reviewed for quality control. The beauty of an OER for language learning is that it offers the opportunity to democratize teaching and learning by being responsive to the changing landscape of social justice education, shifting cultural influences, evolving characteristics of language learners, and distinct learning contexts.

References 

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages – Companion Volume (2020)

Blyth, C. S., & Thoms, J. J. (Eds.). (2021). Open education and second language learning and teaching: The rise of a new knowledge ecology. Multilingual Matters. https://www.multilingual-matters.com/page/detail/?k=9781800411005

Godwin-Jones, Robert. “OER Use in Intermediate Language Instruction: A Case Study.” CALL in a Climate of Change: Adapting to Turbulent Global Conditions – Short Papers from EUROCALL 2017, 2017, pp. 128–134., https://doi.org/10.14705/rpnet.2017.eurocall2017.701. 

Howard, Jocelyn & Major, Jae. (2004). Guidelines for Designing Effective English Language Teaching Materials. 

Tomlinson, B. (2012). Materials development for language learning and teaching. Language Teaching, 45(2), 143–179. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261444811000528

The following is a guest blog post from Andrea De Lei. Andrea completed an Instructional Design internship with OSU Ecampus during Fall 2021.

WHY SELF-CARE IS IMPORTANT FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS

Stress is not a new concept to college students, faculty, or staff. By teaching and incorporating self-care and overall health into your curriculum and design, your students can better manage stress and the host of obligations they may have to balance: full course loads, employment, commitments to their family and friends, internship, and networking opportunities. The Covid-19 pandemic this past two years added additional stressors both in teaching and engaging with students -added isolation and global pandemic stressors. To say these past two years was challenging would be an understatement. One way to get students and ourselves to practice self-care is to incorporate it into our lessons. 

In a 2016 survey of Canadian university students, 

  • 90% of respondents reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do, 
  • over 40% reported stress as the number one impact on their academic performance, 
  • 71% wanted more information on stress reduction (Alberta Canada Reference Group, 2016). 

BURNOUT IS NOT NEW

College students are experiencing high rates of anxiety, depression, burnout, and unhealthy coping mechanisms to manage their stress. A study done by Ohio State University showed that in August 2020, student burnout was at 40%. When Ohio State conducted the survey again in April 2021, it was 71%, highlighting the continued struggles of student mental health and the need for higher education to create a holistic approach centered around student health and wellness. Teaching self-care can help instructors prevent student burnout, interact more effectively with students and create a culture more conducive to learning. Teaching and practicing self-care is necessary to balance and prevent burnout (Tan & Castillo, 2014). 

BENEFITS OF ADDING SELF-CARE INTO THE CURRICULUM

The past year was filled with unprecedented events; social injustices, global pandemic, and increased stress diminished our prioritization of self-care. Increased isolation and loneliness mixed with online learning have created a void in identifying when someone needs help. Traditional self-care checkpoints are not as prominent for distance online learners as students learning in-person. Instructors can play a crucial role in supporting student mental health and wellbeing by incorporating self-care into their curriculum. 

A visual graphic showing multiple layers within OSU that highlight how OSU at a university, Ecampus, and campus partners prioritizing student health within their mission and values.


Image 1:Wellness Embedded in a Culture of Student Health visual aid created by Andrea De Lei; content cited from Oregon State University (OSU), OSU Ecampus and OSU Student Affairs webpages.

HOW CAN YOU ADD SELF-CARE INTO THE CURRICULUM

Supporting university-wide mental health initiatives is critical to student success and wellbeing. But, how do I add self-care in my online math course? Understanding the values of your university, department, campus culture, and needs of the students can help align these values into the curriculum and add self-care into any online course. A key component is giving students opportunities to plan time to incorporate self-care into their busy and stressful lives.

“Self-care has an experiential component in that it includes reflection and action in conjunction with real-world encounters” (Hroch, 2013, p. 5). Consider one or multiple assignments focused on self-care and wellness. Adding self-care and wellness can look like a wellness self-assessment, engaging in self-care activities and reflecting on that experience, incorporating additional resources into the syllabus or providing a “get out of jail [assignment] card.”

Self-Care and wellness discussion Canvas module example
Image 2: Self-Care and Wellness Discussion Module online Canvas course created by Andrea De Lei, 2021.

O’Brien-Richardson (2019) recommends four self-care strategies to support students: making yourself available, pausing for mental breaks, allowing for moments of self-reflection, and equalizing class participation. Suggested self-care activities for students can include an array of possibilities. From physical, spiritual, emotional, social and many more. Self-care is personal to the individual and looks different for everyone. Some examples include:

  • Physical self-care activities
    • Go on a run
    • Practice yoga
    • Get some sleep
  • Spiritual/Mindfulness self-care activities
    • Read poetry
    • Meditate
    • Take a milk bath
  • Emotional self-care activities
    • Write your feelings down.
    • Cry and laugh
    • Practice self-compassion.
  • Social self-care activities
    • In-person or virtual coffee or lunch with a friends/family
    • Phone or virtual facetime 
    • Join a [insert interest] club
    • Watch a movie or show with friends/family

THERE’S ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

To sum it up, adding self-care and wellness into the online curriculum can help students take time for themselves, destress, self-reflect, and create healthy habits to become better involved and engaged students. Instructors can continue to support students in various ways: self-care assignments, making yourself available, pausing for mental breaks, and allowing for moments of self-reflection.

References

Alberta Canada Reference Group (2016). Executive summary. American college health association. National College Health Assessment.

Hroch, P. (2013). Encountering the “ecopolis” Foucault’s epimeleia heautou and environmental relations. ETopia online initiative of TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies. Retrieved from http://etopia.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/etopia/article/view/36563/33222

O’Brien-Richardson, P. (2019, October 14). 4 Self-care strategies to support students. Harvard Business Publishing Education. https://hbsp.harvard.edu/inspiring-minds/4-self-care-strategies-to-support-students 

Saken, P., & Gerad, D. (2021, July 26). Survey: Anxiety, depression and burnout on the rise as college students prepare to return to campus [Student Mental Health MMR news release]. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. http://osuwmc.multimedia-newsroom.com/index.php/2021/07/26/survey-anxiety-depression-and-burnout-on-the-rise-as-college-students-prepare-to-return-to-campus/ 

Tan, S. Y., & Castillo, M. (2014). Self-care and beyond: A brief literature review from a Christian perspective. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 33(1), 90-95.

This blog post is an Instructor Spotlight authored by Xiaohui Chang. Xiaohui is an Associate Professor of Business Analytics in the College of Business.


Introduction

Teaching an online course can feel like a solitary experience, and it can be isolating for students as well. Don’t we all wish we could get to know our students better? In this post, I’ll share some of my teaching practices that help me connect, support, and engage our online students. 

First, a little background about my teaching, especially online teaching. I have been heavily involved in undergraduate and graduate teaching since 2014 and have taught more than 2000 students (2047 to be exact) under a variety of teaching modalities including traditional face-to-face classes, online courses with Ecampus, synchronous class sessions due to COVID-19. The courses I teach are mostly quantitative, including business statistics and business analytics. Since my first online class in Summer 2017, I have delivered 8 online classes with 347 students in total. Besides my extensive online teaching experience, I have attended many workshops to improve my skills, had numerous productive conversations with colleagues and Ecampus instructional designers, and acquired knowledge in theory and practice from books and websites. Most importantly in the past several years after developing the tricks and practices described below, I have put them to the test in my online classes.

Most of my practices revolve around one key idea: provide proactive support to students, which is also advocated by Ecampus in their Online Teaching Principles. The two principles that touch on this type of proactive support are (1) Reach out and (2) Refer and Cultivate Inclusion.

What does this look like in action? In this post, I will share some examples of how I apply these principles to demonstrate care, connect with students, and proactively support those that may be struggling. My hope is that other instructors will find methods that resonate and work for your students as well. 

Employ Empathy Statements in Email and Other Communications

Empathetic emails and other communications are essential in establishing supportive interactions with students but they don’t get the amount of attention and effort that they truly deserve. First of all, emails are undoubtedly the most popular tool used by students to connect with faculty. On a 5-point Likert-type (1=never, 2=sometimes, 3=about half the time, 4=most of the time, 5=always), emails are rated 3.53 which is the highest among all tools used. Online instructors spend hours responding to student emails every day. I receive an email like the following anywhere between once a week to a few times each week.

“I am sorry for reaching you so late … I just realized this issue now with all of my classes. I might have been distracted by … at the moment, causing me to lose certain grades, but I am trying to be more attentive moving forward … Is there any way I could still get points for my missing assignments? Thank you for your understanding, and I’m sorry again for the trouble.”

Quote from student email

In face-to-face interactions, I try to be straightforward. My natural response to an email like this would simply be a description of the student’s missed assignments and a discussion of the late penalty policy in this course. After drafting a response email, I try to pause for a while, re-read the student’s email, and try to put myself in their shoes. 

After teaching at OSU for a few years, I noticed that many of our students are shouldering multiple roles and responsibilities while attending school full time. According to the 2020 OSU survey collected from a total of 1,190 students, close to 47% of the students are working full time, 20% are working part-time, and 29% are caregivers to a child or a family member. A few of my students have been serving in Afghanistan while taking my online classes. Students’ commitments outside of class increased even more during this unprecedented COVID era. I doubt I would do a better job than my students who are wearing multiple hats in staying focused in all of these courses and keeping track of tens of due dates every week. I strongly believe that getting into an empathetic mindset not only helps me relate to them, listen to their stories, and feel their frustration, but also makes students feel that they are not just another number. In my final response to the aforementioned email, I start my reply with a paragraph like the following and discuss the missed assignments and late penalties in the second paragraph.

“Sorry to hear that you’ve been distracted by …. I understand that it can get quite difficult to stay on top of everything at the moment. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or the Ecampus academic and student support services if we can be of any help to you. We are here to support all of our students to succeed.”

Instructor email response

This additional paragraph takes very little time to write but carries a long way to foster a supportive online learning environment. Some of my students shared this feedback in my teaching evaluations.

“For someone that is off-campus, this was a great feeling that I wasn’t just another student, I almost felt as if I was her only student, that’s what that little note meant.”

Quote from student evaluation

I highly recommend all online instructors to consider using empathy statements in their emails and other communications with their students. They mean more to your students than you believe. You can find more information about empathy in online instruction via Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s Humanizing Infographic and in the Humanizing Online Learning blog post by Tianhong Shi.

Restructure Office Hours – “Ask Me Anything Hours”

Research studies have shown that high-quality student-faculty interactions are linked with many benefits ranging from academic success to student retention (Kuh et al. 2010, Tinto 1997).

For online classes, besides email messages, virtual office hours are another useful way to engage student and faculty interactions. Nevertheless, in the 2020 OSU Survey, when asked which tools they use to communicate with faculty, the average score for emails was 3.53, compared to a mere 1.59 for virtual office hours. Smith et al. (2017) recommends that faculty and higher education institutions “make it explicit what students might get out of office hours”, “create nurturing classroom environments by promoting friendly and dedicate attitudes toward teaching among faculty,” and “openly and proactively promote office hours.” Because many online students are not aware of the purpose of office hours, following the suggestions from my colleague, Dr. Jason Stornelli, I have renamed all my office hours to “Ask Me Anything Hours” to make the sessions informative and inviting. I have also tried to proactively promote these sessions through Canvas announcements, groups emails, and one-on-one emails. The student attendance rate has gone up since then. This further cultivates a supportive and welcoming environment for the students, inciting responses such as the following:

I never got to take advantage of the office hours, but I’ve never had an online instructor who encouraged visiting them so much, which felt very inviting. I always felt like I had a voice and was cared about.

Quote from student evaluation

Provide Constructive and Personal Feedback for Students to Reflect and Improve Upon

Many of my students also appreciate the personal feedback they received after the exams and some important assignments. Modern technologies including grading rubric and speed graders in Canvas have expedited grading significantly, but may limit the personal and constructive feedback from the instructors. For online classes, personal feedback is particularly important because it provides learners with valuable feedback in which to inform, reflect, and adjust their learning. In my classes, I first organize all exam questions according to their modules. After students complete the exam, I go through every student’s exam and identify their individual points of weakness, i.e., the modules and the types of questions that they would need to improve upon. I also offer an extra credit assignment for students to make up some lost points from the exams; this will not change students’ grades substantially but offers an opportunity and an incentive for students to practice and learn from their mistakes.

I have never had a teacher email me personal feedback about one of my midterms. I went over the modules you said I should work on, and it really helped me on the final. The extra practice problems were very useful in not only raising my grades but also grasping the subject better.

Quote from student evaluation

Periodically Check in with Students Who Are Behind

Checking in with students who may be struggling in the class throughout the term plays a critical role in supporting our students. This has been made easier than ever by Canvas LMS. Under the Canvas gradebook, for each assignment, we can email those students who failed to submit an assignment or scored less than a specific score. For online classes with many assignments due every week, it becomes challenging to keep track of all the due dates even with the assistance of automatic to-do reminders from Canvas. In my emails, I also encourage students who are falling behind to seek assistance either from me, our Teaching Assistant, a private tutor, or TutorMe, which is an online tutoring platform for currently enrolled OSU Ecampus students, and connects them with live tutors in under 30 seconds and 24/7. Sometimes students are not aware or just forget about the many assistance and resources offered in this class. 

Online students often feel invisible and insignificant. They need to be seen and valued by instructors. Many of the practices outlined above can be easily done and are essential in fostering a supportive learning culture and ensuring the success of students. I hope you try out some of these practices in your online classes and find at least one of them helpful for you and your students.

Infographic created by Brittni Racek via Venngage

Feel free to contact me at Xiaohui.Chang@oregonstate.edu as I am always eager to hear your feedback and suggestions. Let us connect with and support each other in this online teaching journey as much as we do with our students.

Sources

A group of instructional designers at Ecampus participated in a book club reading “Ungrading” (Kohn & Blum, 2020). We learned many creative ways of designing assessments through participation in this book club. If you happen to be searching for ideas on designing or re-designing assessments in your teaching, we would highly recommend this book!

The idea of “Ungrading” may sound radical to many of us. Yet instructors at all types of educational institutions have tried ungrading in many different courses, ranging from humanity courses, to STEM courses, and from primary education to higher education. Starr Sackstein (author of Chapter 4 “Shifting the Grading Mindset” of the book) encourages educators to consider “ways to adjust small things in the classroom that will lead to important growth for students”. And this suggestion of starting small is coherent with what James Lang proposes in his book “Small Teaching” (Lang, 2016) and Thomas Tobin’s +1 strategy for implementing new teaching and learning strategies (Tobin & Behling, 2018). Sackstein provides a table comparing the grades vocabulary that focuses on judgement or criticism, with the non-grade vocabulary focusing on assessing and opportunity for improvement.

In chapter 5, Arthur Chiaravalli proposed a way for teaching without grades: Descriptive Grading Criteria, such as A for outstanding, B for Good, C for Satisfactory and I for Incomplete. Do you remember elementary school report cards that use E for Excellent, S for Satisfactory, and NI for Need Improvement type of categories? I think that is exactly what descriptive grading criteria represent. 

In chapter 7, Christina Katopodis and Cathy Davidson offer a new approach to start a new term/semester by asking students:” What is Success in this class for you? And How can I help you achieve it?” (p. 107) Katopodis and Davidson also remind us the importance of explaining why when you challenge your students to take their own learning seriously and give students opportunities for metacognitive reflections about the learning activities themselves. Katopodis and Davidson also offer a model of contract grading for Twenty-First Century Literacies and a model of collaborative peer evaluation. Students’ grades in the course come from self-and-peer evaluations using detailed evaluation forms. 

In chapter 8, Christopher Riesbeck described his critique-driven learning and assessment design of do-review-redo submission process for his intermediate-level programming course. I have used similar approach in my own teaching before and it works very well for any course with manageable number of students. The advantage for this approach is every one of your students can improve their first submissions based on feedback they receive from the instructor. The disadvantage for this approach is the potentially extended time instructors may spend on providing the feedback and reviewing the submissions and re-submissions. The key to this assessment method is making sure that the workload of providing feedback and reviewing revisions is manageable. In chapter 9, Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh provided her experience of using ungrading in her organic chemistry II course, giving students opportunities to practice evaluating their own work.

And that is only snippets of what I took away from a few chapters from this book. Many resources about ungrading outside the book were shared during our book club meetings, such as two-stage exams, group exams  and public exams. To answer a common question that ungrading practices may fit humanity courses more easily, Cyndie McCarley shared “Grading for Growth” blog written and maintained by two math instructors Robert Talbert and David Clark. To learn about all the creative assessment design methods introduced in this book, read it yourself either through library ebook or get a hard copy and enjoy reading, designing and experimenting! 

References

Kohn, A. and Blum, S. (2020). Ungrading. West Virginia University Press. 

Lang, J. (2016). Small Teaching. Jossey-Bass. 

Tobin, T.J. and Behling, K.T. (2018). Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone. West Virginia University Press. 


“Annotation provides information, making knowledge more accessible. Annotation shares commentary, making both expert opinion and everyday perspective more transparent. Annotation sparks conversation, making our dialogue – about art, religion, culture, politics, and research – more interactive. Annotation expresses power, making civic life more robust and participatory. And annotation aids learning, augmenting our intellect, cognition, and collaboration. This is why annotation matters.” 

                                          -Kalir and Garcia

Annotation 

When you think back to your early college years, you may remember your professor assigning a text to annotate. Annotating a text has long been a common task in higher education, one that ideally promotes deeper reading, interaction with, and comprehension of important texts. Annotation assignments vary widely but the traditional paper-based type of annotation asks readers to respond to a text as it is read, physically marking or highlighting the text itself and perhaps writing in the margins. This approach allows students to enter into a dialogue with the text by recording their responses to the text, adding reflections or critiques, and anchoring those reactions to a specific place in the text. When students annotate a text, they are working their way through skills that span the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, from remembering to predicting, connecting, analysing, and evaluating. Annotation, at its best, encourages active engagement with a text beyond the surface level, promoting deeper critical thinking and stronger retention of concepts. 

While this is, of course, fantastic individual practice, the nature of traditional annotation assignments is primarily solitary. Today’s classrooms place more of an emphasis on 21st century skills such as group and collaborative study, and new digital tools have been developed that have revolutionized what, how, and with whom we can annotate. So-called social annotation has picked up speed with the growing popularity of two major players, Perusall and Hypothes.is, bolstered by the sudden shift to remote learning in 2020. Online instructors seeking ways to replicate the back and forth, robust discussion of a face-to-face class have found these tools a fitting substitute, and the asynchronous format of the discussion means these tools have a place in all modalities. 

Equity, Inclusion, & Community

“As a teaching method, critical social annotation allows for equitable conversations to unfold in-line with the knowledge being presented in course texts. In this way, it can potentially subvert or even redress instances of inequity in course content.” 

                                                                                                         – Brown and Croft

Social annotation platforms increase equity and inclusion in a course in several ways. Digital annotation platforms offer students a variety of ways to connect with material, allowing students to post links, images, video, and more in response to the text, their peers, and other annotators. By putting students’ ideas front and center, social annotation can empower learners to take initiative and experience more feelings of control over their educational process. Unlike the fast paced back and forth of traditional face-to-face discussions, the nature of digital social annotation allows students more time to engage with the text and to take as long as they need to post and respond (within the assignment boundaries). Additionally, the major platforms discussed in this post feature easy-to-use controls that require little technical expertise to use. They also boast comprehensive accessibility features that combine to provide inclusivity to a wide range of student needs. 

Social Annotation as Collective Construction of Meaning

One major difference between today’s digital social annotation and traditional solitary practice is that when students in a particular class collectively annotate a text using one of the digital platforms available today, they are actively building knowledge and understanding as a group. By sharing the document for collective annotation, the act of annotating itself becomes a social activity and contributes to the interaction of individuals within the group.  Socially annotating a text is one of the best ways to encourage close and active reading skills, with many studies reporting higher levels of student comprehension of socially annotated materials. Students who collectively annotate a text are entering into an exchange of questions, opinions, perspectives, and reactions to a text, engaging in a discourse with their peers (and facilitator, usually) and by extension learning from and with them. The process of a social annotation assignment allows students to see knowledge creation in action and become co-creators. 

Use of social annotation in asynchronous online courses can also increase sociability within an otherwise geographically remote, disparate group of students. Asynchronous instructors sometimes struggle to provide opportunities for real social interaction and building of community given the limits of the modality. An often unstated goal of higher education is to socialize students to academic community norms, and social annotation allows students to experience and practice some of these. For example, students annotating collectively learn appropriate language for responding to peers’ ideas and criticisms, develop online academic social identities, and gain experience with navigating power dynamics within the higher education classroom. 

Ready to Try It Out?

Adding social annotation to a course involves matching the task to your learning outcomes, deciding which readings would be best suited to annotation, and choosing your online annotation platform. 

Assignments can be tailored to meet a variety of instructional purposes and goals:

  • Recognizing formatting of various documents
  • Providing background or contextual information 
  • Learning academic norms for responding to peers- supporting, agreeing, disagreeing
  • Drafting questions and responses that are rigorous and meaningful
  • Determining main points vs. supporting details
  • Distinguishing fact from opinion
  • Identifying themes, tone, biases, author’s purpose, rhetorical devices, etc.
  • Learning and practicing discipline-specific writing and reading conventions 
  • Connecting the material to the field of study, to their own practice, or to other course materials
  • Developing evaluative and analytical skills
  • Considering differing perspectives and viewpoints in constructing knowledge
  • Facilitating a deeper understanding of difficult passages

Some best practices to consider when using collective annotation online:

  • Remind students that they have already practiced annotation in their everyday lives (reading and making your own notes in your inherited cookbook, reading your teacher’s remarks on your essay, leaving comments on a colleague’s report)
  • Model annotation with a fun text first
  • Seed the reading with your own comments, questions, and notes to help guide students 
  • Situate the social annotation assignment within the context of the course and make clear the intentions you have for the activity
  • If the activity is to be graded, be sure students know the grading criteria, preferably by providing a rubric
  • Annotation assignments are ideal for small group activities, and some platforms automatically create groups
  • Be prepared to provide guidelines for behavior and etiquette among students and to need to enforce these guidelines if students step out of line
  • Monitor the discussion and provide nudges, likes, upvotes, or validations, and otherwise engage with the dialogue throughout the assignment
  • If the platform allows tagging, do so- students get notified when someone responds to their post or asks a question, a convenience which increases the likelihood of them returning to the assignment for further interaction 

Social Annotation Tools: The Major Players

Perusall (stand-alone site/integrated into various LMS, including canvas)

Perusall is a collective annotation platform developed by Harvard University following a major research initiative into online collective annotation. Perusall offers free accounts for teachers and students at the basic level with options for institutions to integrate the tool into their LMS. The platform allows educators to use Perusall directly for stand-alone courses and upload their own materials for annotation as well as partner with their textbook catalog to purchase and annotate textbooks directly. For integrated LMS users, Perusall offers seamless grade pass back and options for pass/no pass grading as well as a robust automatic AI grading system that saves time and effort. Some instructors have also used Perusall for peer review to great effect using student-uploaded documents. *recommended tool for Ecampus courses

Sample Perusall annotation assignment

Hypothes.is (Google Chrome browser extension)

Hypothes.is is a groundbreaking new tool that bypasses restrictions of the classroom and enables anyone anywhere to annotate any webpage via a unique delivery system- as a browser extension that creates a layer over any webpage. This open source, free tool can revolutionize how we view and interact with web pages as well as texts by allowing us to save our annotations privately as well as publicly, inviting the world at large to socially annotate with us. Hypothes.is is also available as an integrated tool in most LMSs. The company also hosts the AnnotatED community, a group of users that hosts events, studies, and conferences to learn best practices for the tool. *recommended tool for research with a wider audience.

Hypothes.is Introduction Video

Sources

Adapting to Disciplinary Literacy Conventions – Open English @ SLCC

Home : Hypothesis

Innovation | Cégep Vanier College

Kalir, Remi H., and Garcia, Antero. Annotation. United States, MIT Press, 2021.

https://www.google.com/books/edition/Annotation/ejoiEAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0

Pedagogy | ANNOTATION TOOLS

Perusall

Social Annotation | Center for Teaching Innovation

Social Annotation – Pedagogical Support and Innovation Pedagogical Support and 

Social Annotation and an Inclusive Praxis for Open Pedagogy in the College Classroom

Tools for Social Annotation in the Digital Age

Traditional learning materials such as textbooks can limit access to innovative teaching and learning practices. With Open Educational Resources (OERs), teachers and students are freed from the constraints of these materials and are empowered to adapt, use, and share learning materials created by others. This is a series of two blogs that will explore the importance of OERs and the resources needed for creating our own open resources for language learning?.  

First, let’s take a brief look at what makes OERs appealing, yet challenging to adapt and create in language education.

OER is sharing
Open educational resources. Source: Giulia Forsythe on Flickr, Public domain CC0 1.0

A Brief Overview

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are a key component of an approach to learning known as Open Pedagogy, which aims to leverage the use of shared resources to improve educational outcomes. Simply put, OERs include “any educational resources (including curriculum maps, course materials, textbooks, streaming videos, multimedia applications, podcasts, and any other materials that have been designed for use in teaching and learning) that are openly available for use by educators and students, without an accompanying need to pay royalties or license fees” (Butcher, 2015, p.5). OERs are usually shared under a Creative Commons license which allows users to revise, remix, retain, reuse and redistribute these materials without incurring any copyright infringement (The 5R activities).

“Going open is more a philosophy than a skill. But, obviously, it takes a handful of skills to be able to apply this philosophy in the classroom”

Małgorzata Kurek Anna Skowron

Language instructors and researchers have recognized the potentials that OERs bring to the language classroom. We call these potentials the ecology of OERs for the language classroom—the complex connections and relations that exist in the process of teaching and learning another language and its cultural foundations. In this ecology, we find benefits including adapting authentic materials, merging literacy and culture, and fostering multiliteracies (e.g., digital, information). Yet instructors and researchers also acknowledge the barriers to widely adopting open resources. 

Opportunities

OERs can engender creative and innovative practices for making language teaching and learning more meaningful, enjoyable, authentic, and democratic. Open resources can be game-changers that reshape the classroom ecology and its dynamics—fostering a hub for new social learning. These resources can challenge the social norms and behaviors expected in the language classroom, making instructors and students collaborators. Both students and instructors can become active producers of content, transforming the language class into more democratic and participatory. A participatory approach to making students content creators can promote opportunities for students to be exposed to authentic uses of the language and, thus, increase their motivation to learn and use the language in more meaningful and relatable ways (Blyth & Thoms, 2021).

OERs create opportunities for adapting and repurposing content to fit particular contexts and uses, levels of skills, student characteristics, instructors’ competencies, and available technologies. Both students and instructors can engage in higher-order cognitive processes as they retain, revise, remix, reuse, redistribute, and evaluate copyrightable works. OERs often come in different formats such as videos, interactive content, gamified practices, animated presentations, audio effects, etc. making the content and learning experience more engaging as well as connected to students’ language learning interests and needs. In addition, OERs are easily adapted, foster language and literacy skills for students, and are beneficial for the professional development of instructors. OERs can promote the development of digital multiliteracies for instructors (Mitsikopoulou, 2019), who could eventually integrate multiliteracies into their teaching practices organically. 

Commercial textbooks can become outdated quickly, and updating them can take a long time. In addition, instructors might find more challenges adapting or reusing these textbooks due to copyright laws. The open nature of OERs offers instructors the opportunity to adapt multiple resources to innovate their teaching practices and expose students to more realistic content that is current and relevant. Even further, using OERs in the language classroom may contribute to going beyond the goal of language education—from a communicative perspective where learners are expected to develop the language skills to communicate with other speakers of the target language to a learning experience that fosters literacy (Thoms & Thoms, 2014).

In broadening language teaching goals, instructors can become content-generators and create their own OERs. Instructor-generated OERs afford the opportunity for instructors to rethink their pedagogical content and practices in a way that can broaden their understanding and perspectives of the world. Instructors can integrate more content from the language and culture of diverse communities around the globe, decentering the language usage of a particular dominant group within the community of speakers. For instance, many Spanish textbooks in the U.S. focus on the Spanish language and culture from Spain, failing to embrace the multifaceted nature, complexity, and nuances of the language and culture in the other 20 Spanish-speaking countries in the world. 

Challenges

While interest in and implementation of OERs has grown across disciplines since the early days of the open education movement, adoption of these resources among foreign language educators has been slower and continues to present a number of challenges that may limit the efforts to integrate them into some educational contexts. Persisting barriers may include reluctance to reuse material created by others and share resources more broadly (Rolfe, 2012; Weller, 2011); lack of guidelines on the use and evaluation of OERs for quality and accuracy of the content (Adams et al., 2013); technical difficulties in access, development, and delivery of content; need for a sustainable team for development and authoring; and compliance with accessibility standards (Baker, 2012). It is notable that many of the challenges identified here represent a historical perspective of the OER movement. However, these potential obstacles, along with “a lack of research which investigates the benefits and challenges of FL learning and teaching in open environments” (Blyth and Thoms, 2021), continue to hinder the widespread use and creation of open resources among foreign language educators.

Supporting Efforts to Incorporate OERs in the Language Teaching and Learning

The benefits of OERs across disciplines has been by now well-documented. Language programs and educators weighing the barriers to creating OERs should not be discouraged. To the contrary, it is critical to support efforts to democratize education through the use of OERs and open education initiatives. These efforts include: (1) providing research-based and empirical evidence of the benefits and impact on language education, (2) grounding the development of OERs on theoretical and practical frameworks to ensure quality of learning experiences, (3) training users and developers of OERs on how to find, adopt, adapt, evaluate and create open resources, (4) supporting the use of technologies and Creative Commons licensing for OERs, and (5) creating clear guidelines for instructional practices (Zapata & Ribota, 2021). An important piece in adopting OERs and advocating for the open pedagogy movement is to support instructors who want to venture into creating their own OERs. How do we get started with our own OER project? What considerations are critical for this kind of project? What resources are needed and available? Who will be involved and how will their different areas of expertise be integrated? We believe it is necessary to discuss these questions (and possibly others). In Part 2 of this series, we outline a detailed process and structure for language programs to determine the appropriate scope and sequence within the larger curriculum, author rich thematic content, weave cultural and social justice topics into language skills content, promote multiliteracies, and produce media objects or search for existing media and images in the public domain.

References

Adams, A., Liyanagunawardena, T., Rassool, N., & Williams, S. (2013). Use of open educational resources in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44, 149– 150. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12014 

Baker, J. (2012). Introduction to open educational resources. Connexions. http://cnx.org/content/col10413/1.3

Blyth, C. S., & Thoms, J. J. (Eds.). (2021). Open education and second language learning and teaching: The rise of a new knowledge ecology. Multilingual Matters. https://www.multilingual-matters.com/page/detail/?k=9781800411005

Butcher, N. (2015). A basic guide to open educational resources (OER). Commonwealth of Learning (COL).

Wiley, D. (n.d.). Defining the “Open” in Open Content and Open Educational Resources. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license 

Lesko, I. (2013). The use and production of OER and OCW in teaching in South African higher education institutions. Open Praxis, 5(2), 103-121. https://www.openpraxis.org/articles/abstract/10.5944/openpraxis.5.2.52/

Mitsikopoulou, B. (2019). Multimodal and digital literacies in the English classroom: Interactive textbooks open educational resources and a social platform. In N. Vasta., & A. Baldry. (Eds.). Multiliteracy Advances and Multimodal Challenges in ELT Environments, (pp. 98-110). Udine.

Rolfe, V. (2012). Open educational resources: Staff attitudes and awareness. Research in Learning Technology, 20, 1–13.https://doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v20i0.14395 

Thoms, J. J., & Thoms, B. L. (2014). Open educational resources in the United States: Insights from university foreign language directors. Systems. http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume22/ej86/ej86a2/

Weller, M., De los Arcos, B., Farrow, R., Pitt, B., & McAndrew, P. (2015). The impact of OER on teaching and learning practice. Open Praxis, 7(4), 351-361.

Zapata, G., & Ribota. (2021). Open educational resources in heritage and L2 Spanish classrooms: Design, development and implementation. Open Education and Second, 25.

This post is a continuation of an earlier one, Boost Your Student Engagement with Qualtrics: Part 1. This post will describe the setup and use of a specific Qualtrics Survey used in a recent OSU Ecampus Course, Communications Security and Social Movements (Borradaile, 2021).

In the survey example, I am going to share, an instructor had an assignment in which each student was to select from a list of social movement groups they wished to research and prepare a recorded lightning talk. The instructor didn’t want any two students to be able to select the same group to research.

Social movement group selection survey.

What the survey needed to do was eliminate each choice once it had been selected by a student. As the students take the survey, one by one, and select their group, the next students taking the survey should not see the choices previously selected.

Qualtrics lets you add “Quotas” to a survey. Using quotas you can specify a number of actions that modify your survey’s behavior once a condition has been met. That is how this design challenge was solved. Each option in the survey was given a quota of 1. Once that quota had been reached, because a student selected that social movement group, and then submitted their survey, the item would disappear from the list.

This survey uses a combination of a Simple Logic Quota and Display logic. This is a bit more complex than setting up a normal survey, so let’s walk through the steps.

Design Your Survey

Do the following steps outside of Qualtrics.

  1. Identify a list of topics students can choose from.
  2. Determine how many students should be able to select an individual answer (this number would not have to be the same for each option).
  3. If the list is long, you will want to write out the list of choices in a text file. It will make the question creation a little faster, and if anything goes wrong, you can easily start over.

Implement Your Survey in Qualtrics

The following steps assume basic familiarity with creating surveys in Qualtrics. Where applicable, links to the Qualtrics documentation will be provided to go into more detail as needed.

Setup Your Survey and Survey Question

  1. Create a new survey project in Qualtrics
  2. Create a multiple-choice question to hold your list of choices.
    • Answer type: Allow one answer
  3. Add your answer choices to the multiple-choice question for your students to pick from.

Add a Quota to Each Answer Choice

During this step, you will be defining how many students (survey respondents) you would like to be able to select each choice.

  1. Navigate to the Survey Options by clicking on the Survey Options Icon on the left hand side of the screen.
  2. Select “Quotas” from the Advanced Section
  3. Select Add a Quota
  4. Choose “Simple Logic Quota”
  5. Make the following selections under “Increment the quota when a response is submitted that meets the following conditions:”
    • Question
    • MC question containing your list
    • Select the first option in the MC list
    • Choose “Is Selected”
  6. From Quota Options choose, Choose “None for Skip Logic or Survey Flow) from “When the quota has been met, then:” pull-down.
  7. On the left-hand side, give the item a name and set the number of students you would like to be able to choose the MC answer selected above. Once you have set how many you like, it should show 0/1. This says that zero people have selected the option out of the 1 you want for each choice.
  8. Click Save

See the steps to add quota logic to a question choice in action.

Once you set up the Quota for one of your MC answer choices, you can copy the quota logic and re-use it for the other choices. Additional information can be found in Qualtrics Creating Quotas Documentation.

When you have completed setting up your desired quota for each choice, move on to the Display Logic configuration.

Set the Display Logic for Each Answer Choice

During this step, you will be configuring your survey question to only display each answer until the quota has been reached.

  1. Activate the first option in your list.
  2. From the pull-down, select “Add Display Logic”
  3. Under “Display this Choice only if the following condition is met:” Select “Quota” in the first pull-down
  4. Select the first option in your MC list
  5. Select “Has Not Been Met” from the third pull down. In other words, only display this option if the quota has not been met.
  6. Select Save.

Again, repeat this for each item in your list.

Creating Surveys

Working with Large Lists

In the social justice example described above, there were close to 40 options in one MC question. The long list was copied from a text file and then pasted into the survey. This made it easier and quicker to create the long list. It also helped as we were experimenting with the survey and setting up samples ahead of the design. It is easy to paste by clicking on the first MC question where it says “Click to write Choice 1” and paste your list of options See this in action.

Additionally, to make it easier to navigate, the options were grouped by category using the Assign to Group feature.

Gotchas to Watch Out For

  • Survey responses do not increment quota numbers until the survey is submitted. If multiple students launch the survey at the same time, it is possible that they both could make the same choice, resulting in your set quota being exceeded.
  • If you are using this survey as an assignment (for instance giving completion points for participation), make sure that your assignment settings do not allow for multiple submissions.

References

Borradaile, G. (2021, March 29). CS 175 Communications Security and Social Movements.

Banner for Inviting Art into Online Course Design

How it Begins

As an instructional designer one of my most important tasks is to hold an initial meeting  with an instructor, or subject matter expert (SME). During that first opportunity to collaborate on an online course design project the conversation typically focuses on  key course design elements. Commonly we discuss the broad approach to the course, anticipated assignments, narrated lecture needs, assessment, video production and support, the mechanics of the development process and more. Rarely does art come up in the conversation. 

Chasing Images

Now, that may seem obvious why art is not outwardly discussed. However in the first meeting we do address the topic of look and feel for the course, and images for course banners and any special subject matter art that may need to be displayed. So, visual images are addressed as a way of supporting the learning focus for the course. Finding images that are copyright free and support the general course topic are fairly easy to find in the more obvious online image repositories like Unsplash.com, Pixabay.com, and Pexels.com. 

For courses with education, agriculture, forestry, medicine, and other more general themes finding usable images is pretty straight forward. If your institution also owns licensing for GettyImages.com, the largest stock image collection in the world, you have really nice access to images. Even so, sometimes we don’t have access to the right images for the right course.

In those cases I have found myself chasing down images or building visual metaphors using multiple images to create one image that communicates the theme, unique message, or topic of a given course. Scrambling to create images that support a course can be a challenge for instructional designers. We can do it, but it is not ideal.

For those courses where stock images are not helpful there is a need to re-imagine the image sourcing process. Key to this is recognizing two important factors that will influence your new thinking; 1)The need to find images that do not require copyright clearance or purchase and 2) the need to have images that reflect the unique theme required for the course. How might this be done?

Asking the Question

Sometimes the answer to finding the right image for a course is not about the image but the artist who made it. Every college community has dozens of artist who produce many pieces of art. Some might just be what you need for your course. If you found the right artist would you be willing to invite them to contribute their artistic creations to your course? Would you ask an artist to be part of your course design?

That question came up while working with a course instructor, Dr. Mark Edwards, on the development of his sociology course addressing welfare and social services in 2019. In addressing this issue we knew finding stock art for this topic would be difficult and perhaps inappropriate. During our discussion the instructor said he had seen some examples online of street art addressing homelessness that he though might fit the course. I asked him if he would be willing to reach out to the artist and ask him if we could get permission to use his art in the course. Dr. Edwards said yes.

To our surprise and delight the artist responded positively by granting written permission to use photographs of his art in the course (see Figure 1. below). The artist participated knowing the art would be used for this particular course and would be behind a password protected site in Canvas. We also agreed to credit his work and link back to his art source page.

Figure 1. Banner image from SOC 439/539 featuring art from Michael Aaron Williams.

Course Artist-in Residence

Asking an artist to share their work in this way may be a challenging ask on both ends of the question. We did not know what the outcome would be. Some artists vigorously and rightly protect their work. Some correctly want compensation. Some artists see their work differently and are willing to share their creative efforts in the right circumstance or to support the right cause. In this case, I felt it was best for the instructor to make the ask as he could best communicate how the art might dovetail with the outcomes of the course. So, in this sociology course example the ask worked.

In the summer of 2021 I collaborated again with Dr. Edwards. His new course was a graduate course on research methods in the public policy program. At our first meeting he shared that he had already been in discussion with a colleague in Equador who was a chef and artist. The instructor thought about using images from a series of bread baking images from the chef /photographer for the course. The course theme was organized around the analogy of baking bread as a way to explain the art and science of social research methods. We would use the images (see Figure 2. below) to spur and reinforce understanding about what students were learning.

Figure 2. Dropdown content featuring Course AIR photographs and instructor comments.
Figure 2. Dropdown content featuring Course AIR photographs and instructor comments.

With the development of this second course the concept of a course artist-in-residence became intentional. There are a number of benefits and also limits that come along with this approach to image sourcing and use (see Figure 3.).

Figure 3: Benefits and limitations of a Course AIR approach.
Figure 3: Benefits and limitations of a Course AIR approach.

Traditionally artist-in residence (AIR) programs are a way for artists to find a place and unfettered time to extend their creative efforts. There are hundreds of such art programs throughout the country and many can be found listed at the Artist Communities Alliance. A wide variety of artists are served by these program.

The Course AIR described here is quite different from traditional AIR programs. Where an AIR participant might create a piece of art as part of their AIR experience the Course AIR is intentionally sharing artistic creations within a course space to help foster the objectives of the course. Depending upon the level of integration of the art with the course activities the role of the Course AIR may vary from contributor to collaborator.

Final Thoughts

The role of an instructional designer in this process is to first assist the instructor in vetting art appropriate for the course. Secondly, the instructional designer helps shape the application or use of the art in the course then designs course pages to showcase and compliment the artist-course connection.

The Course AIR concept has been a happy accident that holds interesting potential. Art comes in various form and is experienced through various senses. What music, photographs, video, illustrations, or other types of art might be just right for your next online course? 

Would a Course Artis-in-Residence contribute to achieving the course learning outcomes for a course you are developing? If our experience is any type of guide you will never know unless you ask the question and invite art into the online course design.

Recognition

A special thanks to Dr. Mark Edwards for his work on the courses, willingness to make the ask, and support for this post. Thank you also to my colleague Chris Lindberg for his contributions to this post.

A trigger warning in a college course alerts students to the presence of material that may provoke a traumatic response. It might sound something like this:

As a reminder, this week’s reading contains an account of suicide. Please prepare accordingly and employ self‐care throughout the in‐class discussion. One self‐care option is to make use of the Monsour Counseling Center (Sample Syllabus Language, Claremont Colleges CTL).

The usage of trigger warnings has been debated by faculty, administration, students, and researchers, and after spending time reading the arguments and research, I am uncertain whether I would recommend them to an instructor who asked for my advice on the matter. So, rather than advocating for or against trigger warnings, this guide presents several resources for instructors exploring their usage.

Among my instructional design colleagues, trigger warnings have some obvious appeal, perhaps because they dovetail well with the UDL checkpoints that direct us to “facilitate personal coping skills and strategies” and “minimize threats and distractions” in our courses, but their utility is contested. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), in their report “On Trigger Warnings” outlines some of the issues. Trigger warnings might stifle free and open discussion of difficult topics, prejudice students against engaging with instructional materials critically or encourage avoidance, and interfere with academic freedom. However, in “Teaching with Trauma: Trigger Warnings, Feminism, and Disability Pedagogy,” Carter (2019) asserts that the AAUP misunderstands the goal of trigger warnings and who they’re for – they aren’t intended to protect students in general from adverse learning experiences but rather to provide students who experience trauma and anxiety with the means to engage – in other words, trigger warnings are a question of access and accommodation. Indeed, students themselves are requesting trigger warnings or complaining when they’re not used, as found by the National Coalition Against Censorship in its survey of 800 faculty.

This cartoon argues that trigger warnings challenge an aggressive, misogynist culture that expects victims to take responsibility for the harms it inflicts.
Excerpt from M. Slade’s cartoon at Everyday Feminism

What do we know from experimental research about the effects of trigger warnings? Jones et al. (2020) in their article “Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals With Trauma Histories” describe how they presented reading passages that either did or did not contain trigger warnings to over 400 non-students who self-reported trauma. The trigger warnings did not reduce anxiety and instead seemed to cause participants to view traumatic life experiences as even more central to their life stories. Because trauma survivors who ascribe more importance to their trauma are at greater risk for PTSD, this research would suggest that trigger warnings are harming the students we most want to help.

Bentley (2017) in her article “Trigger warnings and the student experience” investigates the reactions of about 60 undergraduates taking 2nd and 3rd year courses that included trigger warnings related to the topics of war and terrorism. Notably, students who didn’t self-report a mental health condition actually experienced more anxiety. The 3rd year students, perhaps because they were further along in their degree, were more likely to perceive trigger warnings as an affront to their self-competence as learners. On the other hand, some students found the warnings helped them explore difficult topics more freely, because they were given time to frame their thoughts and feelings within an academic, rather than a reactionary or personal, context. Other students found the warnings useful because, without them, the triggering nature of course topics would not have been immediately obvious.

For instructors looking for practical tips on how, when, and where to employ a trigger warning, the University of Michigan has prepared a comprehensive “Introduction to Content Warnings and Trigger Warnings”. While content featuring sexual assault may be an obvious trigger, this guide lists 20 other potential triggers that instructors might not have considered, such as classism or fat phobia, and for which students might appreciate a warning. The guide also suggests that, since what triggers others can be hard to predict, instructors should consider inviting students to request which specific types of content they’d like to be flagged. Rather than infantilizing students, the guide argues, trigger warnings empower students to prepare to engage with difficult topics, because with the knowledge of potential triggers, students can work with a therapist or schedule more time to engage with materials, thereby making them more responsible for their learning, not less. The guide also details options for implementation, like flagging individual learning materials in the course schedule by triggering topic, or by issuing blanket warnings in the course description for a course that is largely composed of potentially triggering material. This is a must-read for anyone who has decided to implement trigger warnings.

Each year, the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit funds projects, up to $20,000 each, to support the research, development and scholarship efforts of faculty and/or departments in the area of online education through the OSU Ecampus Research Fellows program.

This program aims to:

  • Fund research that is actionable and impacts student online learning
  • Provide resources and support for research leading to external grant applications
  • Promote effective assessment of online learning
  • Encourage the development of a robust research pipeline on online teaching and learning at Oregon State

Fellows program applications are due Nov. 1 each year. If you are interested in submitting an application, reach out to Naomi Aguiar, the OSU Ecampus assistant director of research. Research Unit staff are available to help you design a quality research project and maximize your potential for funding.

Many Oregon State colleagues have had transformative experiences in this program.  A Fellows study funded in 2020 highlights the ways in which these projects have advanced research in online/hybrid education, as well as Fellows’ programs of research.

Fellows program highlight

Funding recipients expand the inclusivity mindset of computer science students

Lara Letaw, an experienced online instructor and lead researcher from Oregon State’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, partnered with Heather Garcia, an OSU Ecampus inclusive instructional designer on a research study called “Impacting the Inclusivity Mindset of Online Computer Science Students.”

Together with their team, Letaw and Garcia implemented an intervention that was designed to improve feelings of gender inclusivity among online computer science students and to train these students to develop more gender-inclusive software applications.

In this intervention, online computer science students experienced new curriculum developed by Letaw and Garcia’s team. The curriculum was based on GenderMag, a software inspection method for identifying and correcting gender biases in software. Curriculum for teaching GenderMag concepts can be found on the GenderMag Teach website. Students completed a set of assignments and, if they chose to participate in the research study, questionnaires about inclusivity climate, both in the course and in the computer science major. Students’ software design work was also evaluated for the use of gender-inclusive principles.

The image below shows examples of the cognitive facet values people (e.g., Letaw and Garcia) bring to their use of software, shown across the spectra of GenderMag facets (information processing style, learning style, motivations, attitude toward risk, and computer self-efficacy).

examples of the cognitive facet values people (e.g., Letaw and Garcia) bring to their use of software, shown across the spectra of GenderMag facets (information processing style, learning style, motivations, attitude toward risk, and computer self-efficacy).

Computer science students in the Ecampus courses Letaw and Garcia modified learned about their own cognitive styles and those of their teammates. They also built software that supports the cognitive diversity of software users. One student reflected, “Identifying my facet values was tremendously helpful [for articulating what had] been abstract… I feel much more confident.”

The results of their study showed that, overall, students felt included by the GenderMag curriculum (nobody felt excluded by it), it increased their interest in computer science, and it had positive effects on their team dynamics and self-acceptance. Students who completed the GenderMag intervention were also more effective in developing gender-inclusive software designs, and they reported greater recognition and respect for the diversity of software users.

The image below highlights what students considered when designing a software user interface before (left) and after (right) learning GenderMag concepts. As one student put it, “Now when I think of users using a piece of software I don’t picture them … just jumping in and tinkering … I am more aware that there are [people whose] interests in using a software … might not align with mine.”

what students considered when designing a software user interface before (left) and after (right) learning GenderMag concepts

As a result of this project, Letaw and Garcia published a paper in the ACM’s International Computing Education Research conference proceedings in 2021. This project contributed to a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant awarded to Oregon State’s Margaret Burnett, Letaw, and Kean University. With this funding from the NSF, they will partner on a project entitled, “Embedding Equitable Design through Undergraduate Computing Curricula.”

This Fellows project has also provided research opportunities for two female Ecampus computer science students (Rosalinda Garcia and Aishwarya Vellanki), a group that is typically underrepresented in STEM fields. Rosalinda Garcia successfully defended her honors thesis with these data in the spring of 2021, and Vellanki is currently working on her own.

Join the Ecampus Research Fellows Program

Learn more about the Fellows Program and what materials are needed to prepare your proposal.