As a follow-up to discussing equity in grading and group work, Feldman (2019) offers a compelling case against the use of extra credit. “But wait a minute,” I can hear you saying, “Extra credit is optional—students have to opt-in if they want to do it! And it can be fun! What’s wrong with that?” Many instructors may think of extra credit as a way to benefit students and give them extra opportunities in a course, especially at the end of a term, to improve their grade, take on additional challenges, and demonstrate additional skills they have learned. (I know I thought about extra credit that way at one time!) However, there is more at play with extra credit than you might think. Let’s return to Feldman’s three pillars of equitable grades:
“They are mathematically accurate, validly reflecting a student’s academic performance.
They are bias-resistant, preventing biased subjectivity from infecting our grades.
They motivate students to strive for academic success, persevere, accept struggles and setbacks, and to gain critical lifelong skills” (Feldman, p. 71).
With these three pillars in mind, let’s examine some potential issues with extra credit:
Accuracy: There are many ways extra credit can obscure what information a grade includes. First, it can be used to incentivize certain behaviors, which obscures a grade by not assessing academic performance or learning. (For example, extra credit for turning things in on time.) Second, it can obscure whether a grade reflects what students know by turning grades into a commodity (more about this below). In this way, grades are a reflection of how many points students are able to accumulate, not necessarily how much they have learned or whether they have met all of a course’s learning outcomes.This kind of extra credit can unintentionally signal to students that their behavior and non-academic performance in a course is more important than their learning.
Bias: Sometimes extra credit is awarded to incentivize students to participate in extra events or opportunities, like attending a webinar, guest lecture, local event, etc. However, in addition to treating grades like a commodity, this kind of incentive also makes it difficult for students without outside resources or help to engage. What about students without the money for event tickets, transportation, child or family care, and/or without the time away from work, family, etc.? They are unable to participate, even if they want to, due to external factors outside of their control. And often these are the students who could potentially benefit the most from additional points if they are already struggling because of these exact conditions. For extra credit that provides extra challenges beyond the course materials, only the students already doing well will be able to participate and benefit from the opportunity, additionally shutting out students who are already behind.
Motivation: Having extra credit, especially at the end of the course, can also be damaging to student motivation, as it places an emphasis on grades and points instead of learning. For example, some students may prioritize obtaining a desired grade above learning important content, while other students may use extra credit to bolster a weak area they were unable to fully grasp, thereby giving up on learning that material entirely. Both of these potential mindsets set students up to focus on a product (grade) more than learning and any future perspectives they might have about their learning.
One additional issue of extra credit to consider is the additional work and time on instructors for both designing additional assignments and grading the extra work, especially at the end of a term when there is usually a plethora of assignments, exams, and projects to grade.
“If the work is important, require it; if it’s not, don’t include it in the grade.”
Feldman, p. 122.
So, what options can we give students that are more equitable as an alternative to extra credit? Instead of creating additional assignments, allow students to revise and resubmit work. This shift can help support students by encouraging them to learn from past mistakes, build on their learning, and see their growth over time. Revisions and resubmissions don’t have to only happen at the end of the term, so instructors can also consider timing of revisions based on course design, formative and summative assessment timing, and their own workloads. It also helps students who may be struggling with outside barriers to have additional attempts to complete work they may have missed. It also means that students cannot opt-out of important work or concepts because they cannot substitute those points from other areas of the course. Lastly, it saves the instructor time from designing and implementing additional assignments and complicated grading setups at the end of a term when instructors are often the busiest. While the use of extra credit is often from a place of good intentions, I hope this brief outline helps recontextualize how it may have a larger, negative impact in your course than you may have initially thought, as well as a strategy for replacing it in your course designs.
“Belonging is a universal human need that is fundamentally linked to learning and well-being. It describes an individual’s experience of feeling that they are, or are likely to be, accepted and respected as a valued contributor in a specific environment.”
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a helpful framework when discussing belonging, which falls in the middle, at level three, just above the basics for survival (level one: air, water, food, shelter) and safety (level 2: health, employment, family, security).
Have you heard the word belonging recently in reference to students and employees? At OSU, it seems to be popping up frequently in conversations and discussions, onboardings and trainings, online and off, becoming a buzzword for those concerned with teaching and learning, recruitment and outreach, employee satisfaction, and student success, and has become a focal point of our ongoing efforts towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. This increased focus on the concept of belonging at OSU is reflected in the university’s 2018 Innovate & Integrate: Plan for Inclusive Excellence, and is echoed by the 2021 Oregon Department of Education’s passing of the Every Student Belongs rule, which states, “It is the policy of the State Board of Education that all students, employees, and visitors in public schools are entitled to learn, work, and participate in an environment that is safe and free from discrimination, harassment, and intimidation.” These initiatives reflect a growing understanding that traditionally prevailing systems of power have historically marginalized certain groups and excluded them from many realms of life, including education, and prioritize a commitment to changing the status quo explicitly and with intention.
At Ecampus, belonging is an area of active study, and our effort to extend the feeling of belonging to our online students is an important part of our mission, vision, & values and our own Inclusive Excellence Strategic Plan’s goals. We realize that our Ecampus students come from a wide range of backgrounds, seek online learning for a variety of reasons, and comprise higher numbers of students from historically marginalized backgrounds, and thus, combined with the nature of online learning, can feel increased isolation and less of a sense of belonging than their on-campus peers.
What is belonging and why is it important?
Belonging is a complex, multi-layered, and changeable quality that is nonetheless very important for student success. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs places belonging in the category of psychological needs, just above the basic needs including food, water, air, safety, and shelter. While there are many definitions, the concept of belonging generally encompasses feeling safe, appreciated, welcomed, valued, and respected in a given situation. Humans learn to search for and interpret signals that they belong or do not belong when entering into new situations or contexts. Marginalized groups have had to learn to be cognizant of where and when they could expect to be excluded and on the alert for cues signaling such. Traditionally, educational institutions have been places of exclusionary practices, often closed to large groups in both policy and practice. Students from marginalized populations, facing this problematic history of exclusion, may be looking for signals and signs that indicate the extent to which they are valued and respected as members of the school community. Students may not be sure they will be accepted in institutions, departments, courses, and other school environments and may be consciously or unconsciously searching for such clues as reassurance that they do, in fact, belong.
Belonging is important for student success because it conveys a host of positive benefits and is a crucial aspect of educational accomplishment. When students find welcoming, inclusive attitudes, see others like themselves being accepted and thriving, and are made to feel safe, protected, supported, and valued, their sense of belonging increases, which in turn allows them to relax and be confident sharing more of their full selves. Students who have a strong sense of belonging show increased academic performance, better attendance, persistence, retention, and motivation, and less likelihood of dropping out. Dr. Terrill Strayhorn, Professor of Urban Education and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs at LeMoyne-Owen College, in his book College Student’s Sense of Belonging, concludes that “deprivation of belonging in college prevents achievement and wellbeing, while satisfaction of college students’ sense of belonging is a key to educational success for all students.”
In education, as in our society at large, belonging is often related to larger systems that privilege and prefer certain groups and their ideas, beliefs, and ways of being. Those whose race, ethnicity, sexual identity, gender, class, indigeneity, language, or ability are not of the majority are especially likely to be anxious and “on alert” to othering, exclusion, bullying, and stereotyping. This can have dramatic negative short and long term effects, including lowered cognitive capacity, increased stress, and reduced persistence and achievement. Students who lack a sense of belonging may feel uncomfortable in class or group work, unable to concentrate, and may experience self-consciousness and worry, which makes it that much more difficult to attain higher-level needs such as self-confidence, recognition, respect, fulfillment, and achievement. When students face active discrimination, bullying, or other forms of harassment, they may become depressed, choose to disengage, drop courses, or discontinue studying. With such dire consequences, taking the time to understand and assist in ensuring all OSU students are made to feel welcomed and accepted is well worth the effort.
Why do online students sometimes feel less of a sense of belonging?
There are many contributing factors to the disparity between online and traditional students’ development of a sense of belonging, starting with the very nature of the modality in which they study. Students living and studying on campus often have more frequent contact with instructors, campus staff, and other students, both structured and impromptu, providing opportunities to build relationships that can enhance their sense of community and belonging. The pacing of on-campus courses tends to be predictable, with regular meetings during which students often have the chance to ask questions (and receive answers quickly) and get to know fellow students and instructors. Instructors have dedicated class time to review important concepts, check understanding, and provide opportunities for students to get to know them and their fellow students. The traditional on-campus experience is geared towards taking a diverse group of students and building a cohesive community in many ways- students have a wide array of support services available to them, many activities, sports, and clubs they can join, and have a host of opportunities to participate in the rich culture of OSU and in academic and social communities, most of which are easily accessible on campus. Indeed, the very nature of on-campus learning seeks to provide a community for traditional students, many of whom are young and leaving their own homes and communities for the first time.
In contrast, Ecampus courses are asynchronous, featuring no scheduled meeting times, as our students live around the USA and the world. While this format allows for increased access for students who cannot attend in person, the lack of face-to-face interaction can make it difficult for both students and instructors to make personal connections. Unless their courses are carefully designed to provide chances for interaction, conversation, collaboration, and community building, online students may not often interact with their instructors or peers. Online students can experience feelings of isolation, loneliness, and disengagement, which can greatly affect their sense of belonging as an OSU student as well as their success and performance.
Complicating things even further is the tendency to experience digital miscommunication, the concept that humans are less able to infer tone, underlying sentiment, and in general not understand nuance when communicating by text and online, to some extent due to the lack of context and/or visual clues one gets when interacting face to face. A 2016 literature review on the topic of establishing community in online courses found digital communication to be a consistent issue, noting “…the absence of visual meaning-making cues such as gesture, voice tone, and immediate interaction can frustrate students and lead to feelings of isolation and disconnectedness in an online classroom” and recommended that instructors who teach online learn the nuances of these different communication needs.
It must be noted that some online students, who may be older, working full or part time, caring for family, or otherwise already leading (sometimes overly) full lives do not particularly want or need the sense of community that younger traditional students may seek out from their university. They may have little time to devote to community building and little interest in superfluous interaction, shying away from an increased social burden they may not have time and energy to fully commit to. Since we cannot know in advance the detailed makeup of our student body, planning with an assumption that creating belonging is an important aspect of our approach serves online students best.
Stay tuned for Part 2: What can we do to help? for research-based strategies you can use to improve belonging and inclusion.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” ~ Will Rogers
As Winter Break has begun it’s rapid decent into the start of a new term, it’s time to take a look at how we will welcome our students back to school in the new year. Winter term brings new beginnings for students as their papers now contain the date 2024. Maybe they’ve made resolutions to do homework on time, or read every last page you request, or just be more present, whatever it is, that first message or impression from you in the new term sets the tone for the class. I’m sure that everyone wants to start a class off on a positive note, so let’s look at 5 ways you can create an informational, welcoming, and inclusive message to start the term/semester off right.
Talk about your class
Offer support (and remind them to review the syllabus!)
How to get started
Create a Welcoming Tone
I don’t know about you but when I think back to the professors and teachers that I enjoyed learning from, I remember who they were and how they communicated with the class. They weren’t just an educated, knowledgable, and smart person, they were personable too. Empathy for their students, calling out the fact that we all have a bad day from time to time or might have just missed a deadline made it not seem daunting if we had to come “begging” for an extension. It didn’t seem like begging, it was known and called out that it could happen. Give your students the ease as you recognize them as people and not just a name on a roster.
Talk About the Class
Just think, a brand new set of classes, so many new syllabi to read and materials to devour. Hype your class up by talking about exciting topics, real world applications, and maybe mention an assignment or two that they’ll be working on.
We know that each of our students begins our class with a different set of circumstances on the other side of that screen. With that in mind, including a reference to support for these students can be helpful in letting them know the resources are there and it’s ok to use them. Mention your syllabus, the getting started or introduction module, and make sure they know resources are listed and available in all of those places and not only for your class but for all those other things that life tosses their way.
How to Get Started
So much information is available at the start of a new term. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start! Wait, what happens when it’s before the term starts? Can we help our students prepare for their classes ahead of time and maybe ease their mind a little bit? How about a Canvas email to your students that introduces them before the term starts to their upcoming class. You could include information about if the class is published already, even if it’s just the welcome page and what OSU Ecampus calls the “Start Here” module that includes information about the class (syllabus) and resources that they have access to as Ecampus students. In that same email, you can help them to figure out where they should start. By telling them directly, and maybe even providing a link, you can give them the information to get started with less anxiety as they know they’re starting where you think they should.
Your excitement about working with them often evokes excitement and positive anticipation of a great class. Share with them a quote or why you love this topic and maybe give them an interesting fact that can pique their curiosity. The point here is to get them inspired and excited to learn.
Welcome to QLT 123: Introduction to Quilting! My name is Professor Seam and I’ll be your instructor for this online course. We are going to learn so much this term, the first three months of quilting are simply mind-blowing as you move from not knowing how to start to drafting a mockup of one you’d like to make, and finishing your first quilt! We’ll explore the basics, you’ll have opportunities to show off your success and funny failures (because guess what, they happen!) and in the end, you’ll get to showcase all of your hard work in your finished quilt. Guess what? There are no textbooks for this class! Instead, you get order in some fun fabric (but not yet!) Hop into our Canvas site and take a look at the syllabus, find resources for support if you are in need, introduce yourself in the first discussion board and take a look at what’s in the first module. We’ll start next week when the term begins so get ready to sew the seams of creativity because you’ve just started the most sew-perb quilting class and I can’t wait to embark on this journey with you. -Professor Seam
Got a great welcome message? Share with us in the comments!
By: Julie Jacobs, Jana King, Dana Simionescu, Tianhong Shi
A recent scenario with our course development team challenged our existing practices with lecture media. Formerly, we had encouraged faculty to include only slides with narration in their lecture videos due to concerns about increasing learners’ cognitive load. Students voiced their hope for more instructor presence in courses, and some instructors started asking about including video of themselves inserted into their lectures. This prompted us to begin thinking about instructor presence in lecture videos more deeply: why were we discouraging faculty from including their faces in lecture videos? While our practices were informed by research-based media theory, we also recognized those theories might be outdated.
We began to explore the latest research with the following question in mind: does visual instructor presence in lecturesincreaseextraneous cognitive load in learners? We use the phrase “visual instructor presence” to refer to lecture videos where an instructor’s moving image is seen giving the lecture, composited together with their slides. This technique is also commonly referred to as “picture-in-picture”, as seen in the image below.
Image 1: Adam Vester, instructor in College of Business, in his lecture design for BA 375 Applied Quantitative Methods.
A task force was created to review recent research on visual instructor presence and cognitive load, specifically in lecture-type videos. Our literature review included a look at leading multimedia learning scholar Richard E. Mayer’s newest group of principles. We also reviewed more than 20 other scholarly articles, many of which were focused on learner perception, motivation & engagement, and emotion.
According to recent work in multimedia learning, research in this area should focus on three areas, namely learning outcomes (“what works/ what does not work?”), learning characteristics (“when does it work?”), and learning process (“how does it work?”) (Mayer, 2020). Below are our conclusions from the 23 research articles we reviewed regarding instructional videos, attempting to answer the above questions of “what works”, “when does it work”, and “how does it work”.
This review of recent literature shows no evidence that visual instructor presence increases extraneous cognitive load.
Students tend to prefer lectures with visual instructor presence – they report increased satisfaction and better perceived learning, which can boost motivation and engagement.
While some studies find no difference in performance outcomes when visual instructor presence is utilized, others found increased performance outcomes with visual instructor presence. Proposed explanations: embodiment techniques such as gestures, eye contact, and body movement which fosters generative processing (the cognitive processes required for making sense of the material); social cues can help direct the learners’ attention; increased motivation (as per point 2 above) contributes to better learning.
The effects may depend on the specific type of visual instructor presence (e.g., small picture-in-picture, green-screen, or lightboard) and the characteristics of the content (complex/difficult vs simpler/easier).
Based on these findings, our team has decided to remove the default discouragement of instructors wishing to use picture-in-picture in lectures. If an instructor is interested in having their visual presence in the lectures, we encourage them to discuss this option with their Instructional Designer and Lecture Media Coordinator to determine if this style is a good fit for them and their content.
Image 2: Bryony DuPont, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering, utilizing visual instructor presence in her lecture design for ME 382 Introduction to Design.
We recommend considering the following points:
What is their presentation style? Do they tend to spend a lot of time talking over a slide or is there a lot of text or other action (e.g. software demo) happening in the video? If there’s a lot happening on the screen, perhaps it’s better to not put their video on top of it (the instructor video could be placed only at the beginning and/or end instead).
What type of content? Is it simple or more complex? For more visually complex content, a lightboard or digital notation without picture-in-picture may work better, to take advantage of the dynamic drawing principle and the gaze guidance principle.
Is it a foreign language course? If so, it’s likely helpful for the learners to see the instructor’s mouth and body language.
Is the instructor comfortable with being on video? If they’re not comfortable with it, it may not add value. This being said, our multimedia professionals can help make instructors more comfortable in front of the camera and coach them on a high-embodied style of lecturing.
Since implementing these guidelines and working with an increased number of lectures with visual instructor presence, we also noticed that it works best when the instructor does not look and sound like they’re reading. Therefore, for people who like working with a script, we recommend practicing in advance so they can sound more natural and are able to enhance their presentation with embodiment techniques.
We would love to hear about your opinions or experiences with this type of video. Share them in the comments!
The idea that students learn best when they have the opportunity to apply what they are learning to real-world contexts is the basis of Experiential Learning Theory (ELT). Learning by doing is at its core, and as a high-impact practice, there is increasingly more emphasis on experiential learning in higher education. There is plenty of evidence that supports the benefits of this type of learning. It affords students an opportunity to connect knowledge to authentic situations and increases learner autonomy, motivation, and overall satisfaction (Kolb and Kolb, 2018). Many OSU Ecampus Courses feature such experiences. In fact, OSU’s Honors College requires all courses to include experiential learning components, and this is increasingly the case across disciplines at OSU.
What does experiential learning look like?
Many of us may think of community engagement, project-based learning, or practicums when we consider what constitutes an experiential learning experience. While these are solid examples of ELT in practice, experiential learning can take many forms across learning environments. David Kolb describes experiential learning as a four-stage process in his cycle of learning (Kolb and Kolb, 2018). According to Kolb, learning is a process where knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Students can engage with the cycle at any point in the experience as long as they engage with all four stages. The flexibility of hybrid and online learning presents rich possibilities for incorporating this process. The four stages of Kolb’s experiential learning process include:
Concrete learning: engage in a new experience or critically interpret a past experience.
Reflective observation: use experience and background knowledge to understand the relevance or meaning of the experience.
Abstract conceptualization: gain a new understanding of the experience by adjusting thinking based on reflection.
Active experimentation: engage experimentally by applying new insights to the situation in a practical way.
Kolb’s theory is not without limitations in that it does not provide clear answers about how collaboration between learners affects reflection, and it doesn’t account for learning that occurs without reflection (Psychology, 2022). While his model isn’t the final word on all of the ways learners make sense of the world, it does provide a good starting point for understanding and designing effective real-world learning opportunities.
What makes a good experiential learning experience?
Regardless of the activity, both the experience and the learning are fundamental in experiential learning scenarios, and the ongoing engagement of both the instructor and the student is critical. In experiential environments, students take ownership of their learning process by taking a more active role such as in posing questions, experimenting, and constructing meaning through their persistent participation in the experience. The role of the instructor, on the other hand, is to ensure that the experience is of high quality and in alignment with the stated learning outcomes while also supporting the learner to develop autonomy in using the principles of experiential learning as defined by The National Society of Experiential Education (NSEE).
Eight Principles of Good Practice for All Experiential Learning Activities
Intention: the activity is structured around a formal process and the purpose and rationale for why the activity was chosen is transparent and clear to students.
Preparedness and planning: students understand expectations for engaging in the learning experience and have the necessary background knowledge and preparation to participate in the planned learning with support throughout the process.
Authenticity: the learning experience is relevant and designed in response to an authentic context or situation in collaboration with those affected by it.
Reflection: the experience is transformative and allows for knowledge discovery through a process of making and testing decisions around expected or observed outcomes and through consideration of assumptions and implications related to prior and present learning.
Orientation and training: learner support and guidance include sufficient background preparation needed for successful achievement of learning outcomes.
Monitoring and continuous improvement: students receive continuous feedback and support to enhance the learning experience and ensure achievement of learning outcomes.
Assessment and evaluation: students receive helpful and timely feedback from the instructor and any external facilitators, and monitoring and adjustments to process are made as appropriate to ensure achievement of outcomes.
Acknowledgement: All students and external stakeholders or facilitators are recognized for their work, progress, and contribution to the experience.
Experiential Learning in OSU Ecampus Courses
The following examples illustrate a small selection of the many creative experiential learning opportunities OSU faculty developers have incorporated into their online and hybrid courses in collaboration with Ecampus instructional designers.
Build a community of writers online. Students read, critique, write, edit, revise, and share original pieces of creative writing. An activity modeled after the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and implemented in a creative writing course.
Discover and Promote well-being in an Online Community. Students in a philosophy class engage in activities in their local community and online to talk about topics around well-being. They then reflect on those experiences and dialogue before compiling a “happiness toolkit” and sharing it with peers.
Explore health and fitness assessment techniques used to measure cardiovascular health. Through a series of hands-on labs, students monitor volunteers’ exercise regimes and calculate cardiovascular fitness values to make recommendations based on the data collected.
Collaborate in a team to study and analyze management case studies. Students work through complex and ambiguous problems to solve a workplace challenge and find solutions before participating in an authentic human resources simulation.
Write and perform music. Students in a performance-based music course write and perform original pieces of music.
Examine poverty and its effect on students’ local communities. Students complete a public health scavenger hunt guided by specific questions, reflection, and peer collaboration. They then create a guide describing public health issues and potential solutions.
Investigate the necessary conditions for designing effective teams and work groups, including best practices and processes needed for maximum productivity, strategies to resolve common issues in teams, and methods to evaluate team performance. Students then apply their learning by leading a team in real life.
Analyze and conduct research on a local public health issue. Students partner with community organizations in their area to identify needs and apply principles of public health to authentic contexts.
The list is far from exhaustive. New courses featuring experiential learning are currently in development across disciplines. Faculty interested in learning more about how to get started learning by doing in hybrid and online courses can learn more by checking out the Ecampus experiential learning resources page.
As a new term begins, we are often thinking about the logistics of our courses, the Syllabus and course schedule, and ensuring everything is working properly. For our students, these early weeks set the tone for what they might expect from their courses and from their instructors. Your first announcement, the language and tone in the Syllabus, how you greet incoming students – these small actions all help to create a welcoming environment for your course. When students feel included in a positive course climate, they are more motivated and engaged in learning.
In the weeks ahead, some students will likely reach out to you with concerns or information about major events going on in their lives. Faculty are often the first to hear of health issues, death in the family, deployment, financial matters, and a variety of mental health concerns and needs. In prior surveys, Ecampus students have shared that the most important relationship in their college career is with their instructor(s), rated higher than their advisors or other student support professionals around campus. When life happens, you are often the first person a student thinks to reach out to for support and direction. Last year, Ecampus put forth the Online Teaching Principles, derived from research-based best practices. The principle “Reach Out and Refer” directly relates to what we can do when our students need some additional support.
When students reach out, your care, concern for their well-being, and support is sometimes enough to help the student. That may look like an assignment extension, acknowledgement of their circumstances, setting up a time to speak, or a variety of other measures. At other times, there are situations when making a referral to the appropriate resource or department is the best course of action. In these instances, it is important to remain calm and formulate a plan.
There are situations when making a referral is the best option for both you and the student. For example:
You know that you can’t handle the request or the behavior. There are limits to the kinds of help a faculty or staff member can provide.
You believe that personality differences will interfere with your ability to help.
You know the student personally and believe that you could not be objective.
You feel overwhelmed, pressed for time, or stressed.
The student acknowledges a problem but is reluctant to discuss it with you.
After working with the student for some time, you realize that you don’t know how to proceed.
The student’s problems are better handled through services such as CAPS, Financial Aid, the Registrar’s Office, Affirmative Action, or Legal Advising.
How to Make a Referral
Some people accept a referral for professional help more easily than others do. Here are some tips for making a successful referral.
Let the student know that it is not necessary to know exactly what is wrong in order to seek assistance.
Assure the student that seeking help does not necessarily mean that their problems are unusual or extremely serious.
Be frank with students about your own limits of time, energy, training, objectivity, and willingness to help.
If appropriate, suggest that the student consider talking with family members, friends, clergy, community agencies, and campus offices.
CAPS provides consultations to faculty and staff who have urgent concerns about a student. If you have an immediate need, please call 541-737-2131. Phone counselors are available after hours. If you or a person of concern are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 off campus or 541-737-7000 on campus.
The Student Care Team has compiled a chart (pictured below) of Resources For Consultation and Referral for AY 22 that can be referenced via their Box folder.
Resources for instructors
There are a wide variety of concerns that a student may bring to you. It can be time-consuming to identify the available resources and get students to the right area. There are a few main webpages you can bookmark that outline the resources available to our Ecampus students.
Student Resources For Ecampus Students – This page on the Ecampus website maintains a comprehensive list of all resources available to Ecampus students. It includes academic resources, emergency food and housing, disability access services, mental health, technical support, and more. This is a great page to bookmark and/or print the PDF version that is linked at the bottom of the webpage.
Student Care Team – This Box folder contains resources for faculty including a referral and consultation chart and tips for working with distressed students.
In Crisis Support For Students (CAPS) – 24/7 support for students in crisis. Includes contact information for CAPS, Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, and more.
Ecampus Student Services – If your student is not in crisis, but you are unsure where to start, directing them to our student services representatives is a great option. They assist students with navigating OSU resources and are the first point of contact for student inquiries. Phone:800-667-1465 (select option 1) or Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ecampus Student Success Coaching – If you feel that your student(s) could benefit from individualized, strengths-based academic counseling, you can refer them to the success coaching team. This group works with all undergraduate Ecampus students.
If you design or teach online courses, and the term Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) is unfamiliar to you, not to worry. It’s likely that you’ve already implemented some degree of RSI in your online courses. RSI is the US Department of Education (DoE) requirement for institutions receiving federal funds to “ensure that there is regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors” in their online courses. It was intended as a quality assurance and consumer protection measure, but it is also a key component of high-quality online learning. Simply put, student-teacher interactions must be consistent and meaningful throughout the delivery of an online course. There is a mountain of research supporting this idea by now, and we have long known that this type of interaction is an essential component of learning and has a deep impact on student experience and satisfaction with online learning.
Characteristics of RSI
You may be thinking that you already have plenty of quality interaction in your course. If you’re familiar with the Ecampus Essentials standards for course development (based on the Quality Matters course design rubric) or the Ecampus Online Teaching Principles, you know that teacher-student interaction is a basic component of effective online course design and delivery. You may also be thinking that “interaction” is a vague term. After all, interactions can occur synchronously or asynchronously via many different platforms. They can occur in response to student progress in a particular course or be an intentional aspect of the instructor’s course delivery plan. So, what exactly does quality interaction in the context of RSI entail? The DOE guidelines outline the main characteristics of regular and substantive interaction as follows:
Instructor-student interaction should be an intentional component of the course design and delivery. While students should also be encouraged to reach out to the instructor as needed, interactions should be required and initiated by the instructor to be considered RSI. For example, ad hoc office hours and auto-graded objective quizzes would not be considered RSI, but requested office visits, individualized feedback on assignments or open-ended quizzes, and instructor-facilitated online discussion forums would qualify as regular and sustained interactions. Likewise, announcements tailored to the course content during the term of the delivery would also meet the guidelines for RSI.
Frequent and consistent
Simply put, frequent and consistent interaction means that you are present in your course in an intentional manner regularly throughout the term. Instructor presence in online courses deeply impacts student learning, satisfaction, and motivation, so this is probably not a new idea for those who have taught online. Many online instructors maintain instructor presence through regular announcements or videos providing updates on student progress or feedback, adding to ideas presented in student discussions or other submissions, offering clarifications to questions regarding content or assignments, etc. There are many ways for instructors to be present in a course so that students feel that they are part of a community of learners. To meet the standards for RSI, the instructor presence should also be planned and occur regularly throughout the term.
Focused on the course subject
Interactions should be related to the academic content and help students to achieve the course outcomes. Assignments should provide a space for instructors to assess student learning through substantive feedback. Non-specific feedback (Good job!) or a grade entered without comments related to work on the assignment at hand would not count as RSI. However, communications providing reading guidance, posting examples with explanations, sending an announcement clarifying concepts students may have missed in a discussion are all good examples of interactions focused on the course subject. That’s not to say that sending a message of encouragement or celebration to students (Go Beavs!) would not be an important component of social presence in a course.
Faculty member meets accreditation standards
This requirement presents a little bit of a murky area, and each institution will need to decide who would be considered a qualified subject matter expert based on their accrediting body standards. For example, Teaching Assistants (TAs) may or may not be considered qualified subject matter experts depending on where they are in their postgraduate journey. However, regardless of the level of expertise, the role of any TA or other course mentor can never be in lieu of the instructor interaction in a course.
Increasing RSI in your course
Meaningful interaction may already be an integral part of your course design and delivery, or you may have some work to do in that area. Whatever your current level of RSI, there are many ways to increase or vary the interaction in your course. Some practitioners note that what constitutes “meaningful interaction” for the purposes of RSI compliance can be difficult to measure. In response, the DoE updated their definition of Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in 2021 to further clarify the issue for practitioners. To be considered regular and substantive, interaction, “…must engage students in teaching, learning, and assessment, as well as two of these five actions:
providing direct instruction;
assessing or providing feedback on a student’s course work;
providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency;
facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency;
or other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.”
The good news is that the DoE definition is broad enough to include a huge range of activities giving course developers and instructors many options for choosing how and when interaction occurs in a course. While not an exhaustive list, a few recommendations to boost RSI in your course include:
Make your plan for interaction clear to students, and include them in setting expectations for both the instructor and the students. Your communication policy stating the response time students can expect from you on emails and assignment feedback should be stated in the syllabus and posted in the course. You should also tell learners how to communicate with you. Make participation expectations clear through discussion guidelines and rubrics for participation. You might also create an introductory activity in which students and the instructor make their expectations explicit through a negotiated process.
Provide timely and individualized feedback
There are many methods for delivering feedback (written, video, audio, conferences, etc). In fact, using a combination of methods is good practice for incorporating elements of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Regardless of how you deliver feedback, it should add to or extend students’ understanding, make concrete suggestions for improvement, highlight what they are doing well, or provide models.
Send regular announcements
Announcements are handy for sending reminders about due dates and other housekeeping items. As an RSI strategy, announcements present a useful vehicle for digging into course content and helping students to synthesize important information. You might use announcements to extend concepts from the previous week’s activities, contextualize content students will see in the coming week, or to identify sticky points or patterns seen in student work. While announcements can be used for on the fly reminders or clarifications, it is a good idea to establish a pattern for sending substantive announcements whether that be on Sunday evenings or at other intervals so that students know when to expect them.
Incorporate tools for meaningful interaction
VoiceThread, Padlet, and Perusall are just a few examples of platforms that instructors can use to facilitate interaction. While it may be tempting to incorporate several tools to boost engagement, a more effective approach would be to avoid using technology for the sake of using technology. Instead, try incorporating one or two tools and create meaningful tasks around them. Use each two or more times during the term so that students spend their time engaging with each other and the content via the tool rather than learning how to use it.
Conduct surveys and evaluations
Midterm surveys on students’ experience in the course are helpful for second-half tweaks to stay on track toward the goals you set out to accomplish. They can also be useful for making adjustments for the next time you deliver the course. Ask students how they feel about the interactions with other students and the instructor. Ask how they could be improved, and encourage them to reflect on their own contributions. If there is group work involved, solicit opinions about how it is going and how you can support their collaborations. In doing so, you give learners the opportunity to ask for help where they need it, and you gain information to give you ideas for how to structure interactions for the next iteration of the course. A trusted colleague or an instructor designer can also be helpful in evaluating the level of RSI in your course. When you feel you have reached your goals around interaction and other markers of high-quality course design, consider asking for a formal review of your course to become Quality Matters certified.
Hold regular office hours
In order to qualify as RSI, office hours must be predictable, scheduled, and required rather than an optional feature of the course. While synchronous sessions should be kept to a minimum to allow for student flexibility, you can also facilitate meaningful interaction via a virtual meetings. If you give mini-lectures or provide models for specific lessons, for example, you might consider recording your explanations so all students, including those who cannot attend a particular session, benefit from the extra guidance.
Poulin, R. (2016) Interpreting what is Required for “Regular and Substantive Interaction”. WCET Frontiers. Retrieved from https://wcet.wiche.edu/frontiers/2016/09/30/interpreting-regular-and-substantive-interaction/
Regular & Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online Learning. Chemeketa Center for Academic Innovation. Retrieved from https://facultyhub.chemeketa.edu/instruction/rsi/
How to Increase Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online and Distance Learning. OLC Webinar 2021. Retrieved from https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/webinar/how-to-increase-regular-and-substantive-interaction-rsi-in-online-and-distance-learning/
Quality Online Practices: Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI). University of Tennessee Knoxville. Retrieved from https://onlinelearning.utk.edu/online-teaching-learning-resources/quality-online-practices/rsi/
When I hear the word presence, I’m reminded of a teacher taking attendance at the beginning of class. I picture the teacher calling out each student’s name, the students responding either “here!” or “present!” in turn. In this scenario, though, while the students each affirm their presence, the teacher’s presence is a given. The teacher doesn’t mark herself present in the attendance record. The teacher doesn’t need to prove they taught class or prove they exist to students. As one might suspect, this is an area where online asynchronous courses differ from traditional classrooms: one’s presence is not a given. Presence becomes even more important in online settings. Perhaps that’s why we hear so much about it. Online presence. Social presence. Instructor presence. But, what do these words really mean in virtual classrooms?
There are many ways to define presence. The first entry in Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines presence as “the fact or condition of being present.” This entry directs readers to present (adjective, entry 3 of 4), which defines present as “now existing or in progress.” There is an immediacy to these words, a temporal aspect, and a physicality: Presence. How do we reconcile the temporal and physical connotations of this term with online, asynchronous interactions?
In this digital age, I think most folks would agree that it’s possible to experience presence online, to feel that someone is real, even if they’re not standing in front of you. But, how do we define it within this context? How do we describe presence to someone who’s attempting to achieve it virtually? For myself and other instructional designers tasked with guiding faculty to design and prepare to facilitate an online course, where they’re told their ability to establish presence will directly impact student success, what advice do we offer? Simply put, how is presence communicated in an online, asynchronous course?
To begin answering these questions, I’ll provide an overview of Garrison et al.’s (2000) Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, which defines three presences for computer-mediated communication (i.e., the communication that occurs in online courses and other digital environments). Then, we’ll briefly consider how you might think about presence in your own online courses.
Overview of Community of Inquiry (COI)
We’ll start with a brief overview of Garrison et al.’s (2000) model of Community of Inquiry (CoI). CoI is a conceptual model that identifies three presences that are essential for online classrooms. It’s worth noting, too, that this model was created to provide a framework for presence mediated through the use of digital technologies. The three presences are 1) cognitive presence, 2) social presence, and 3) teaching presence.
Cognitive presence refers to the opportunities learners have “to construct meaning through sustained communication” (Garrison et al., 2000, p. 89). This is considered a foundational element of the model and might include, for example, an instructor providing feedback to students or students engaging in peer review.
Social presence includes opportunities the instructor and students have to share personal details within the classroom environment. Social presence supports cognitive presence and plays an important role in meeting course goals that are explicitly affective (Garrison et al., 2000).
Teaching presence is divided into two functions: structure and process. The structure can be thought of as the design of the educational environment and the process is often thought of as the facilitation of the environment (Garrison et al., 2000). Although different people may be involved in each function (e.g., an instructional designer and teacher might design a course, but a different instructor and a TA might be responsible for facilitating the course), both functions play a role in teaching presence.
Ultimately, you might find it hard to keep these presences straight, and that’s okay! Richardson and Lowenthal (2017) point out that academic publications don’t even use the same terms to describe various online presences. Acknowledging that there are different interpretations of presence in online contexts and different approaches for achieving presence online is the point of this post. In the future, you can always refer back here or save the resources listed below for reference later. In Ecampus, we try to emphasize instructor-student, student-student, and student-content interaction, an approach you might find easier to remember.
What I hope you take away from this post is that it’s not as important to remember the differences between each of these presences as much as it is important to include a variety of strategies in your course to communicate and establish presence. I’d also encourage you to occasionally try new approaches and to strive to communicate presence in multiple ways, without getting locked into a narrow view of presence and what it means in online classrooms.
Garrison, Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2), 87–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6
This post is the second installment in the series that describe the main characteristics, major benefits, design considerations, and practices and challenges of implementing an ungrading approach. This second blog presents the types of ungrading practices, challenges to implementation, and main takeaways derived from the book chapters and discussion with my colleagues in the Ungrading book club.
Types of Ungrading Practices
To begin, it is important to recap that the underlying concept supporting ungrading is deep, extensive, and formative feedback. This means that instructors are expected to design low-stakes formative assessments and devote substantial time and effort to craft feedback that students can use to revise their work. This section summarizes several contributions the book chapters authors made in regards to pedagogical practices, strategies, tips, and resources to adopt ungrading. Instructors can combine the ungrading practices or use them as stand-alone activities.
Approaches to Assignments
Portfolios: Students can build their portfolios with different digital tools that allow them to create personal or professional materials that are useful beyond the class (e.g., website, content curation). The critical element in a portfolio assignment is that there needs to be space for critical thinking and metacognitive work that can be shared with others. An additional element can include portfolio conferences. For these conferences, students meet with their instructors to review their course work and make annotations about their learning journey (they can also discuss their final grade).
Project-based Learning, Problem-based Learning, Inquiry-based Learning: Students work on activities that relate to their own experiences, real-life applications, and ill-structured scenarios. These activities encourage students to work with others, find solutions, investigate deeper, and apply concepts studied in the course to realistic situations.
Staged Assignments: Students work on reviewing/redoing assignments to allow them to learn from the feedback they received from their peers and/or instructor.
Minimal Grading: Use of a holistic or simplified grading schema (e.g., pass/fail, strong/satisfactory/weak).
Process Letters: An activity where students describe their learning process and how they evolve in their work in the class. This can be multimodal (e.g., presentations, reflections that combine audio, video, and text) and/or accompany major assignments.
Student-made Rubrics: Students can develop their own rubrics, which can become a learning activity in itself.
Participatory Voices: Students can contribute to course content by creating content, adding items to the syllabus, selecting the type/format of feedback they want to receive, evaluating peers, and developing an intellectual voice. Through self-evaluation and peer evaluation, students can reflect on their learning, understand the process of evaluating others, and focus on excellence and building confidence. Students are given a set of guiding questions to engage in self-and peer evaluation. At the end of the project or term, they recommend a grade for themselves and their peers.
Declaration Quiz: A quiz that asks students to select a checklist of the assignment requirements that they have completed. This can be a low-stakes assignment that helps students reflect on how they accomplished the task. Instructors can create declaration quizzes for each assignment and associate the number of points to the letter-based system.
Peer Assessment: When students work in groups, they can evaluate each other. Students can write about their contributions to the group projects as well as their experiences with the team. This can give instructors a view of the team dynamics and activities that are not usually visible.
Grade-Free Zones: This involves reviewing major assignments and/or providing a sandbox space for students to experiment before they engage in completing formal assignments. Students can submit early assignments or portions of them for peer comments or the instructor’s early feedback.
Mastery Learning Artifacts: Students collect learning artifacts that they have developed to demonstrate their mastery of the learning concepts based on the exemplary work and expectations provided by the instructor. Students submit these artifacts at the end of the term. In addition, students describe the areas of growth based on the instructor’s feedback (e.g., revisions).
Single-point Rubrics: This type of rubric includes criteria and fixed binary points (done = 1; not done =0). Comments can be added to either point to note the improvements to be made (in case it is not done) and to highlight the aspects that go beyond expectations. A benefit of this type of rubric is that it encourages mastery of content and keeps students’ focus away from the grade itself.
Feedback Logs: Students collect feedback and identify the areas in which they received more feedback, work out strategies to improve those areas, and reflect on the ways they are learning.
Feedback and Revisions: Students work on a series of drafts, and the instructor provides comments that students are expected to incorporate in the next revised draft. A grade can be added to the final draft.
Self-Assessment: Consider metacognitive activities that engage students in their own evaluation of learning and in dialogue with the instructor. Encourage students to develop their own standards and self-scrutiny practices.
Student Individual Plan: Students articulate goals and values for themselves about a class or a project. The instructor can help students by providing reflection guidelines and templates for developing their own goals.
Challenges to Implementation
While ungrading encourages a shift from a focus on grades to a focus on feedback and metacognitive activities for student learning and success, its implementation is not without challenges. The challenges range from local critiques to structural and how-tos.
A second challenge is the structural system of grades that prioritizes performance over learning. If the focus continues to be on how students perform in a class rather than on their learning, Kohn and Stommel argue that using an ungrading system that gets rid of grades will not be sufficient to push toward a system that creates learning spaces for critical thinking, reflection, and metacognition.
A third challenge involves the redefinition of the curriculum, innovative pedagogy, and how to assess learning. If the idea of content coverage and memorization of facts prevails, learning is treated more as information transfer –from the instructor or textbook to the students. In this transfer, students may not necessarily own their learning. Along with this is the way assessments are designed to emphasize judgment of students’ performance. If the teaching method does not allow room for real learning, ungrading will not make a difference. Thus, the convergence of changes to the curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment methods is of utmost importance.
A fourth challenge is more systemic and structural. Kohn argues that control, in many educational cases, prevents students’ choice and voice in their learning journeys. If ungrading is to have a way in educational contexts, instructors, and even administrators, will be invited to relinquish some of the control they exert over students’ performance to welcome students’ decisions related to their learning needs and interests.
A fifth challenge is a deep and widespread belief that grades reflect learning and action. There is a great concern that if grades are to be eliminated, students will not complete their assignments, need to do more work, or even skip classes. Also, instructors will have to “grade” more and be overburdened.
A final challenge is the over-reliance on rubrics that, according to Khon (foreword, p.xvii), is a system for “judging students…They offer umpteen different axes along which to make students think about their performance— often at the cost of becoming less immersed in what they’re doing.” It is not that ungrading does not provide guidance but it is important to avoid overcontrol evaluation practices. Instructors will need to analyze when and how rubrics help students focus on the learning process (and not solely on the points they get).
The book offered clear rationales, experiences, and strategies that instructors could consider if they feel they want to move away from the grade-focused system. In addition, as a designer, I have a better understanding and collection of resources to use during my consultations with faculty who might be looking into authentic and alternative means for assessment and grading.
Ungrading requires a reconceptualization of the curriculum, pedagogical, and assessment practices. If an alternative means of assessing student learning is to be implemented, the content, activities, and assignments need to open opportunities for students to engage in their own process of learning, reflection, and feedback. If we don’t level the playing field for students, no grading (or ungrading) system would be worth trying.
Grades are considered to be problematic because they contribute to widening the educational equity gaps. Ungrading, as a student-centered approach, can help mitigate some of the inequalities that students experience for access to successful learning. Since not all students come with the same knowledge and skills, ungrading, as a system that personalizes learning and assessments, will orient each student to focus on the feedback that they need.
Ungrading does not mean that instructors do not grade or that students have a free pass. Ungrading requires a deeper understanding of what learning means and how to design learning activities and contexts in which it can be evidenced. There is no universal magic approach to do it. If you are seriously considering moving to ungrading practices, start small, one step at a time.
Have you ventured into ungrading? If so, how did it go? What works and what does not? If not, what are your thoughts about ungrading? I’d like to invite you to share comments or experiences.
Since the first post in the series appeared a few months ago, we have received plenty of feedback from other instructors who are actively engaged in online education. Some of the stories shared by them reiterate the points we discussed, and others included tips and techniques that have worked particularly well for them. Almost all of them agreed that teaching well online remains a challenging task.
“I love the notes on proactive student support … especially the notes on checking in with those who are behind. Sometimes all they need is a little empathy!”
Vic Matta, Associate Professor, College of Business, Ohio University
“I regularly incorporate each of these in my relationships with my students, to include weekly zoom “what’s up” meetings with my students. I check in on them if they’re behind on assignments…Yes, it takes effort; but my mission is to help these students find the greatness within themselves to succeed.”
Continuing from the first post, Part II will revolve around six specific practices that I have found particularly helpful for online teaching and learning.
Practice 1: Adopt a variety of communication methods
I provide assignment instructions and guidance using a variety of communication methods including texts, diagrams, images, and short video clips. I have learned that instructions with screenshots and videos tend to be better in explaining complicated procedures than text alone.
Video Tutorial Example: Creating a random sample using XLSTAT
Practice 2: Create a Q&A Discussion Board
I have a separate discussion on Canvas for students to address issues with the class in general (content questions, technical issues, deadlines). Instead of emailing the instructor regarding issues other students may also have questions about, students are encouraged to use this forum so that all can benefit from the questions and answers. I usually wait for a few hours for students to answer each other’s questions first before I provide mine.
When students email me questions that are a good fit for the Q&A Discussion Board, I’d respond through email first and then recommend the students submit the questions to the discussion board so that other students can learn from the questions and answers. This discussion board also creates an inviting and engaging learning environment for the students who don’t get to meet their classmates in a face-to-face setting.
Practice 3: Estimate the amount of time taken for each assignment
I was skeptical of this at first as the time taken would vary drastically for each individual. However, student feedback indicates that estimated times helped them plan for the week and set aside an appropriate amount of time. We don’t need to worry too much about making the estimates accurate for everyone as students will automatically adjust given their own work styles. A workload calculator that I have found helpful is developed by the Center for Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University, called the Workload Estimator 2.0.
This practice is obvious, but difficult to do when one is teaching multiple sessions with hundreds of students. For online classes, timely replies make students feel as though they are taking an in-person class with all of the built-in support and resources. I understand that we all have different teaching priorities and schedules, however, it all comes down to figuring out how to most efficiently organize our days so that we can be available to students.
Setting aside a couple of times a day for handling emails has worked quite well for me, e.g., the first thing in the morning, after noon, and before the end of the day. I try my best to respond to students’ emails within 24 hours and check my mailbox at least once every day on the weekends.
The timely replies in discussions were super helpful. It really felt as though I took this in person with all of the built-in help and support.
Practice 5: Synchronize assignments with Canvas calendar
I have also synced all assignments and my office hours (renamed as Ask Me Anything Hours) on Canvas so that there are office hours available around when assignments are due. This proves to be incredibly convenient and useful for both students and instructors.
Practice 6: Reorganize course content
Here are several Canvas LMS tips that have helped in organizing the course content and saved my time. I try to organize everything in modules. Under each module, all items are split into two main components: resources and to-do lists, so students know exactly what assignments they would need to complete for each module. I also adopt a fixed set of systems for titling Canvas items. Items within modules are indented to help with organization.
Weekly agenda and announcements are also hyperlinked to guide students with the course navigation. I could not emphasize enough how much I value the internal messaging in the Canvas grade book that was briefly discussed in my previous post. This feature allows instructors to message students who haven’t submitted yet or who scored less than a certain point. Definitely a slick way to send quick emails to a target group.
Recently, I have been experimenting with a range of visual cues (e.g., emojis) to categorize course content. An example is provided below.