example of the Hubs toolThe Ecampus multimedia team researches emerging tools, and works with our sibling team of Instructional Designers to help support instructors. So lets take a moment to peek at tools we all might be using in the coming years for communicating with teammates from a distance.

Multimedia developers primarily use a paid tier of Slack (for instant messaging), Outlook (for email), and Zoom (for meetings with live video or audio). While we play around with many other emerging tools, I believe we’re using the same basic trio as most everyone else. Just wanted to be clear that I don’t have a revolutionary new secret tool in my back pocket which you must start using today. We’re all in the same basic boat at the moment.

CDT shares files through a variety of different online services. Documents are usually shared through Box, with Google Drive as a backup. Videos usually end up on Kaltura through OSU’s MediaSpace, but works in progress start out on Frame.io to leverage some handy features for time stamped feedback. We manage our team’s projects through Asana, and store final deliverable files with a wrap-up note in a private internal database tool (that our team created and maintains). So those are handful of tools that might be mentioned when working with us. You may have already been sent a Box folder to upload files into, or a frame.io link to comment on a video.

As we all settled into home office work back in March, there was an interest in new tools for social interaction. I was particularly interested in applications that were connecting Virtual Reality users with phone and desktop users. Mozilla, the creators of the Firefox browser, are quietly building up Hubs, which strikes me as the most promising tool in this space. It’s free, easy to learn, and offers a ton of excellent functionality. Stop by the experimental space I set up for my team. It features a 3D model imported from our sketchfab account, and a video from our YouTube account.

One of the developers of Hubs recently laid out the secret plan for this tool: to build up a persistent global 3D network to rival the world wide web. Exciting stuff for all you fans of the scifi metaverse, and the freedom of early web pages.

There are other interesting tools bubbling around at the moment in the VR space. Facebook is letting anyone sign up for the beta of a shared social universe for Oculus VR users called “horizon.” Microsoft acquired AltspaceVR, which mixes VR users with desktop users and has already hosted multiple conferences during the quarantine. If you’ve invested in a VR headset, it might be worth checking out the bustling communities in VR chat or Rec Room. The makers of Second Life tried out 2 approaches to VR (Sansar and High Fidelity), but recently changed course. My team is currently trying to schedule a time to try out Sketchbox in different VR headsets. I stumbled across “Somnium Space” while writing this blog post. It’s kind of crazy how many things are being developed, but… aren’t quite ready for mass consumption just yet.

There is a cognitive load problem with all the new tools bubbling up in these cauldrons around the world and begging for attention. While Mozilla Hubs is my favorite, it does take a few minutes to go through it’s tutorial and learn what all you can do. These days that’s a lot to ask of people who just seek the simplicity of walking into a room to meaningfully interact with other humans in a natural way. More and more I’m nervous about suggesting new tools to colleagues, because I know they’re already dealing with a lot. And I see a lot of folks casually making a notable pile of work for others without seeming to notice the strain. As a designer, I enjoy walking through a new tool, and once I determine it’ll be useful for others it is hard to appreciate how exhausting it might also be for them. I think the key mistake is to require others learn a tool before they can get back to whatever task they set out to do in the first place. Hopefully we can find ways to design simpler tools, and to help people enjoy learning useful new third party tools. Wait until you’re ready to jump into the ones I’m mentioning here, and take it easy on your coworkers.

Suggestions? Want to meet up and talk about this further, perhaps inside one of the tools mentioned above? Please just leave a comment, or send us an email – we’d love to hang out with you and explore what the world is cooking up!

Awe – A Shared Uncommon Human Experience

Can you recall the last time you experienced awe? It is likely you can because awe is an emotion that tends to be a positive memorable experience. What were you doing during your awe experience? Did you learn anything from it? Do you still think about it? This post will profile the nature of awe and will conceptualize how we may integrate awe in learning design for online instruction. We will begin with exploring what awe is and how it occurs. Then our focus will turn to how awe might impact cognition and therefore learning. Lastly some examples of how awe integration might be conceptualized for online instruction and remote experiential learning.

 

Photo of the North Shore of Lakes Superior by Lawren Harris.
Figure 1. North Shore of Lake Superior by Lawren Harris (1926). Paintings are examples of art that may elicit the awe response. Photographed in situ by Craig Rademacher.

It is understood that awe is a common feeling associated with experiencing art, music, panoramic views, and other beauty (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). Awe is considered a positive emotion with a prototypical facial display (Shiota, Campos, and Keltner, 2003). Awe is a state experience that is differentiated from other positive emotions such as amusement, interest, love, joy, contentment, and  pride (Campos et al., 2013). As an emotional state it is transient but may produce feelings of transformation, or openness, due to its impact on cognition (Danvers & Shiota, 2017). Course developers and instructional designers often value new ways of creating learning experiences in course design. The nature of awe suggests it may be useful in that regard. Before we can integrate awe into online course design we must have a better understanding of how it occurs.

 

What Makes Awe Happen?

The awe experience is elicited by two key features in a stimulus: perceptual vastness and need for acommodation (Shiota & Keltner, 2007). Although perceptual vastness is often experienced when viewing grand landscapes, vastness may also be found in any stimulus that expands a person’s accustomed frame of reference.

From this perspective vastness may be understood as a function of space, time, number, complexity, ability, or the mass of human experience. Shiota and Keltner (2007) further suggest vastness may be implied by a stimulus, making even a mathematic equation feel vast due to its ability to explain a large number of phenomena. Even people like Henry Ford, Rachel Carson, Queen Elizabeth II, Nelson Mandela, and Bill Gates might elicit a sense of vastness due to their understood expansive impact on the lives of others and society.

 

Panoramic photo of a lone person standing in the vast landscape of Bad Water Basin in Death Valley National Park in California.
Figure 2. A hiker stands alone in the vast landscape of  Death Valley. Encountering vast landscapes like those in Death Valley National Park have the potential to elicit awe in park visitors.   Image by Craig Rademacher.

When facing this sense of vastness that challenges personal understanding, we adapt. Cognitive accommodation is a process of changing our thinking patterns, or frames of reference, in the face of perceptually vast stimuli. This differs from assimilation which brings a new experience in line with existing schemas or experiences. In contrast, accommodation stimuli reshape or alter existing cognitive schema. This sense of a need for accommodation is the second key feature of the stimuli that elicit awe.

 

How Awe Impacts Us

From a cognitive perspective awe occurs during the engagement with novel, complex, patterned information that is accessible yet, as previously has been stated, is outside a normal understanding of the world (Keltner & Haidt, 1999). This cognitive challenge creates a feeling of wonder and astonishment and humans respond (Shiota et al., 2017). Rather than depend on default cognitive frames of references  or scripts, awe encourages cognitive accommodation, prompting the taking in of new information to update understanding.

The accommodation process fostered by awe focuses a more detailed analysis of the information-rich stimulus under consideration. In this process individuals in awe shift their awareness away from normal concerns. In a sense, awe changes our vantage point to something greater than ourselves and opens the mind to new information, perspectives, and understandings.

Awe not only leads to new ways of processing information it also changes how we see the world, making life a richer experience. Research has shown that awe elicits self- relevant thoughts and connectedness leading to an experience of a “small self” (Nelson-Coffey et al., 2019). These self-transcendent feelings are positive and contribute to awe being an emotion that is pleasant and calming and inspires an interest in social responsibility.

 

Integrating Awe in Online Instruction

After an awe experience it is likely we have changed our thinking, feeling, and perhaps behaivor. Isn’t this one of the great purposes of education and a goal of learning? How might we leverage this awe in online instruction?

A recent op-ed by Goldie Blumenstyk in The Chronicle of Higher Education (2020) addressed the topic of what kind of higher education is needed now and beyond the current pandemic. Blumenstyk  identified a number of issues. Two are salient to a discussion of integrating awe into online learning. In brief these were:

  • A need for more applied learning that can be evaluated through guided reflection and mentoring to prepare students for careers of purpose in society.
  • Customized education, leveraging the online environment and technology that is both values-based and experiential.

As we have seen in the research, awe theory addresses the needs identified by Blumenstyk. Awe is a positive emotional experience that fosters personal reflection. It is individualistic, or personally customized, and inspires consideration of ideas and actions outside the self and increases prosocial behavior (Piff et al, 2015). It is clearly experiential in nature. Awe as a goal and vehicle for learning seems worth exploring. How might we integrate awe into course design and development of online instruction. Let’s look at three different examples as a starting point.

Example #1: Referencing Awe Experiences in Learning

One of the most obvious and perhaps easiest way to bring awe into online instruction is to have learners reference past awe experiences as part of their course work. This may seem daunting to faculty who cannot identify or manage what experiences will be brought forward. However, that is part of the benefit. Referencing awe experiences is a personal application of learned experience to the online environment. As an example, an instructor may post a discussion prompt that might look like this.

Discussion Prompt – Topic: Poverty and the Social Safety Net
For this assignment I would like you to recall a time you experienced awe. Where were you? How did you feel in that moment of awe? Did it change your perspective in any way? Once you have thought about your awe experience post a response to the following questions:

What ideas or feelings about your role in society are related to your awe experience? Are your beliefs about poverty and the role of government in providing a social safety net informed by your perceived role in society? How is your perspective aligned with government policies concerning social aide?

Although not completely fleshed out in terms of response posts or a rubric this discussion prompt encourages individualized learning related to the course topic of poverty in the local community. It encourages reflection, analysis, and logical comparison. It brings awe into the discussion as an individualized reflective element.

Example #2: Stimulate Awe Experiences in Learning

Research on awe has used writing about awe and video viewing to stimulate awe in study subjects. Stimuli that creates a sense of perceptual vastness and accommodation shapes the awe emotional response. Can we create these opportunities for students? Below is an example to consider.

Interactive Timeline – Topic: Anthropology and Early Human Migration
At Oregon State University we often use a proprietary timeline tool in online courses. The scale of this timeline can be varied and it typically is media enriched with images, video, text, and links. Any timeline can be built entirely by the instructor or students can contribute to the timeline as part of an assignment.

In this example of a senior level Anthropology course the instructor provides a timeline chronicling physical appearance of the Bering Land Bridge and the migration of humans across the land bridge into North America. The assignment may read something like what is seen below:

 

Illustration of the Beringia gene flow map.
Figure 3. Map of Gene Flow in Beringia. Some concepts include vast ideas such as the scale of geologic time. This too can elicit awe in learners. Erika Tamm et al / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)

Paper Assignment Prompt

For this assignment review the contents of the Bering Land Bridge timeline that addresses the migration of humans in the Beringia region during the Ice Age. In your review pay close attention to the process of glaciation and how it impacts both the land bridge and human and animal migration patterns. Note the length of this time period.

Once your review is complete write a paper about Beringia and the scale of both the time period and human/animal migration. What impressed you about the history and geography of the migration? How does this migration inform your thinking about how species adapt to survive?

Although a cursory assignment, it illustrates an intent to engage students with the vastness of geology and geography and immense physical/cultural change over time. It also asks learners to reflect on new information and how it may inform current thinking about the human experience and nature. It is designed with an awe experience in mind. And it is presented and completed entirely online.

Example #3: Awe In Experiential Learning – Art Appreciation

In an earlier post on this site Rademacher (2019) described the process of experiential learning. That process is depicted in the experiential learning model below (Kolb & Kolb, 2018).

 

Model of the Experiential Learning Cycle.
Figure 4. Model of the Experiential Learning Cycle. Model depicts the four stages of the experiential learning cycle.

The starting point of the experiential learning process is the concrete experience. Incorporating awe into experiential learning is about designing learning that integrates an awe eliciting concrete experience. Once that is complete, then the experiential learning cycle can be completed. Interestingly, the four stages of the experiential learning cycle seem to parallel the awe experience process. In the table below, you can see the parallels that might be conceptualized. This teases the idea that awe may be an archetype of experiential learning.

 

Image showing the parallels between the Experiential Learning Cycle and the Awe Experience Process
Figure 5. Conceptual Parallels: The Experiential Learning Cycle and The Awe Experience Process.

So in this example the goal is to create a remote learning experience where students seek out a setting where they may, or have, experienced awe. As various forms of art elicit awe let’s use an art example.

Experiential Learning Assignment Description

The major assignment for this term is to examine the purpose of art in the human experience. Your assignment is to visit a local art gallery or museum of your choice. During your visit identify several art pieces that you feel inspired by. Spend focused time looking over and reading about your favorite piece of art. If permitted, take a photograph of that piece of art for future reference.

Compose a paper about your art experience. Before you write, reflect on how the artwork you photographed inspired you. With that in mind provide answers to the following questions:

  • Describe your thoughts and feelings about experiencing the artwork in person?
  • Did your understanding of art change from this experience? How?
  • How might you approach viewing art differently in the future?
  • How do you think your experience might be like that of other people viewing this art?
  • Describe how your art experience affirms or contrasts the purpose of art as defined by the authors of the course text.

Submit your paper via the learning management system by…

These three examples were provided as a way to begin thinking about how we might integrate awe as part of online instruction. Each example is incomplete and would need further details. Each does, however, provide a kernel of an idea of how awe integration might be pursued.

 

Final Thoughts

Awe is a common human emotion that has been shown to be important from the perspectives of spirituality, philosophy, health, wellness, and defining ourselves (Keltner, 2016; TED, 2016). This article posits that awe may also be valuable as a vehicle for online instruction and learning. As course designers we often look for ways to connect real life experience with the online learning environments. The conceptual parallels between awe and the experiential learning cycle highlighted earlier may be worth examining in greater depth.

In her 2016 TED Talk, awe researcher Lani Shiota defined awe:

Awe is an emotional response to physically or conceptually extraordinary stimuli that challenge our normal frame of reference and are not already integrated in our understanding of the world.

Shiota’s definition suggests that awe serves as a form of new learning originating from things we do not readily understand. Yet it is not simply taking in new knowledge, it is adapting to ideas and physical stimuli that we perceived as vastly bigger than our selves. It may prove valuable for course developers and designers to think about what awe opportunities might exist in the design of online instruction. We might begin that process by better understanding how awe shapes cognition and emotion. Integrating awe into online instruction could very well help online learners find the vastness and beauty of new subjects, new ideas, or new experiences.

 

References

Blumenstyk, G. (2020, April, 22). The higher ed we need now. Leadership & Governance | The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Higher-Ed-We-Need-Now/248591

Campos, B., Shiota, M.N., Keltner, D., Gonzaga, G.C., & Goetz, J.L. (2013) What is shared, what is different? Core relational themes and expressive displays of eight positive emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 27 (1), 37-52.

Danvers, A.F. & Shiota, M.N. (2017). Going off script: Effects of awe on memory for script-typical and irrelevant narrative detail. Emotion, 17 (6), 938-952.

Keltner, D. (2016, May 10). Why do we feel awe?. Greater Good Magazine.
Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_do_we_feel_awe

Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (1999). The social functions of emotions at four levels of analysis. Cognition and Emotion, 13, 505–522.

Keltner, D. & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 17 (2), 297-314.

Kolb, A. & Kolb, D. (2018). Eight important things to know about The Experience Learning Cycle. Australian Educational Leader, 40 (3), 8-14.

Nelson-Coffey, S.K., Ruberton, P.M., Chancellor, J. Cornick, J.E. & Lyubomirsky, J. (2019). The proximal experience of awe. Public Library of Science (PLoS One), 14 (5), p. e0216780.

Piff, P.K., Dietz, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D.M., & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(6), 883-889.

Rademacher, C. (2019, February 16). Experiential learning in online instruction. Ecampus Course Development & Training (Oregon State University). Retrieved from http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/inspire/2019/02/06/experiential-learning-in-online-instruction/

Shiota, M.N., Campos, B., and Keltner, D. (2003). The faces of positive emotion: Prototype displays of awe, amusement, and price. Annals New York Academy of Science, 1000, 296-299.

Shiota, M.N. & Keltner, D. (2007). The nature of awe: Elicitors, appraisals, and effects on self-concept. Cognition and Emotion 21 (5), 944-963.

Shiota, M.N., Thrash, T.M., Danvers, A.F., & Dombrowski, J.T. (2017). Transcending the self: Awe, elevation, and inspiration. In M. Tugade, M. N. Shiota & L. Kirby  (Eds.), Handbook of positive emotion (pp. 362–395). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

TED (2016). Why awe is such an important emotion | Dacher Keltner [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysAJQycTw-0

TED (2016). Why awe is such an important emotion | Lani Shiota [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uW8h3JIMmVQ

Storytelling is a fundamental part of human culture. With the use of narrative and world building in an educational setting, we can imagine ourselves as one of the characters and better engage with the material at hand. In distance education, these tools can be powerful allies made stronger with a multimedia approach. In a typical lecture scenario, students are presented information in the form of topics and relationships, specific ideas and often jargon. All these things are a necessary part of learning and provide a framework for the course’s content as well as preparing them for the application of the material. But by using storytelling as a tool, student engagement can be brought to higher levels and create memorable experiences.

A great example of the storytelling approach is Rorie Solberg’s PS 110: Governing after the Zombie Apocalypse. The course deals with the rebuilding of government after a fictional zombie apocalypse. Her course might be a bit too relevant to modern society during a pandemic, as it takes a closer look at the effects of a global health crisis. The students of PS 110 have been ‘selected’ as delegates to a constitutional convention. They represent one of the four territories standing in the place of the former United States, and each student faces the challenge of writing a new constitution, under which a new democracy will be built. The duty of the students is to create the outlines of a new government, accounting for the new needs of the people in this post-apocalyptic environment and, should they find it necessary, addressing the shortcomings of previous governments from around the world. The class begins with the first meeting of the delegates and at no point is the fourth wall broken.

Leveraging multiple forms of media can reinforce the verisimilitude of these stories and provide different avenues for student engagement. Rorie’s course is making full use of what Ecampus’ Multimedia Team has to offer with press release designs, audio broadcasts, animation and an interactive voting simulator.

The audio broadcasts, released by “PZA News” after the collapse of mainstream media outlets, are made to sound like the work of amateur Ham Radio operators doing their best to keep their communities informed. With a distinct taste of Orson Wells’ “War of the Worlds” radio play, these broadcasts feature our very own Warren Blyth as not one or two, but all of the eleven different characters and voices featured therein. The broadcasts cover local issues, giving insight to how societies and communities have changed in light of a global disaster. By tackling social issues as well, these fictional news broadcasts provide a more complete context to the decisions these students will eventually make in drafting their constitutions. They must consider any long reaching effects of their specific wordings and how their policies may affect disadvantaged groups, even unintentionally. Rorie’s course goes beyond being placed into a simple setting and focuses on how her fictional characters would interact with each other and their environments.

In addition to audio there are written publications. While reading is typical in any class, written press releases allow students to read more stories taking place in their post-apocalyptic society. Multiple forms of media for news releases reinforces the world building aspect and contributes to a multi-dimensional, fleshed out feel to the course’s setting. An animation, depicting the daily life of the surviving population is also being developed for this course. This is another fun and engaging way to bring the class materials alive. What better way for students to understand their roles than to see for themselves how their constituents live.

Storytelling and world building can be powerful tools for both student engagement and learning that can create memorable experiences. Enriching stories with multimedia creates an immersive experience that entertains as much as it educates. Rorie’s PS 110 is an excellent example of storytelling, world building and leveraging media assets to enhance immersion.

Author: Matt Djubasak

Flexibility is an inclusive practice. Structure is an inclusive practice. Both of these statements are true–yet, many people might wonder how to reconcile these seemingly opposite approaches in their course designs. How does one build a course that is both flexible enough to accommodate the diverse needs of their students, yet structured in a way that is clear and unambiguous? In a practical sense, what do these words really mean?

First, let’s define these terms and consider why each of these approaches are critical to student success. What do we mean by flexibility and structure and why are they both important features of course design and facilitation?

Flexibility

Flexibility is getting a lot of press right now, due to our global pandemic. We are all encouraged to be flexible and understanding of one another and to recognize that most of us, especially right now, are dealing with increased responsibilities. As a student myself, I recall how much relief it gave me to read in a note from my professor that this term is “all about flexibility” along with detail around what this means in the context of our course. 

For those of us familiar with online learning, accommodating students with full-time jobs and child or eldercare responsibilities, for example, is not new. However, even for our online students, these responsibilities are compounded by school closures and other distancing measures. Everyone needs additional flexibility, understanding, and support right now. Even you, reader! Let’s be explicit and honest about this in our communications with students and each other.

In the context of our online or remotely taught courses, how do we communicate this to students? Here are a few ideas and suggestions to get you started:

  1. Flexible policies: Saying you will be flexible is not enough. Build flexibility into your policies. For example, if students are required to do field observations for a report or lab, are the guidelines for these observations too restrictive? Might students with mobility challenges or high-risk health considerations be unable to spend extended periods of time outdoors? What alternatives can you provide to these students?
  2. Student choice: Providing your students options will increase their autonomy and engagement. Choice is especially important now because it will allow students to make decisions based, not only on their personal and professional interests, but also based on their individual circumstances, which may have drastically changed in recent months.
  3. Communication: Keeping the lines of communication open is essential. Frequent communication builds feelings of connection so that student needs are more likely to be articulated.

Structure

Building structure into your course means removing ambiguity and avoiding assumptions about your students. Structure does not mean being inflexible. You can be explicit and unambiguous without being rigid.

Two helpful tools for adding structure to your course are rubrics and models, or examples. Rubrics will help you to communicate with your students and will allow you to identify your expectations along with how each criterion will be evaluated. Model assignments will help students to interpret your expectations.

When you don’t have enough structure built into your course, when your expectations are ambiguous, your underrepresented students are disproportionately impacted. This level of ambiguity often results from assumptions about your students’ prior experiences. Assuming they know how to use an LMS or that they have reliable WiFi at home, for example, puts students who don’t have these resources at a disadvantage. 

When you don’t have enough structure built into your course, your students will be forced to make assumptions, correctly or incorrectly, about your expectations. Some students may ask questions, but others will do their work and hope for the best. This results in a clearly unequal playing field, exacerbating existing inequalities. 

Balance

Given that both flexibility and structure are needed in course design and teaching, whether online, remote, on-ground, or hybrid, how does one balance these competing elements?

Too much structure, and your students will lose agency and motivation. Too much flexibility, and your students may feel ungrounded and directionless.

Here are some tips for finding balance:

  • Give choice, but include clear parameters for evaluating student work.
  • Provide multiple lower stakes assessments and stage your course projects, so that students have multiple opportunities to get feedback, correct misconceptions, and earn course points.
  • Welcome student questions and concerns and share your feedback with the whole class. If one student is asking a question, many others are thinking about asking it and would benefit from the same communication. 
  • Don’t wait for students to request alternatives: odds are high that only your most privileged students will feel comfortable asking for accommodations such as more time or additional feedback. If one student requests an accommodation, others who need similar considerations, may not be asking for them. Why not proactively offer these options to all students?

As a final thought, both structure and flexibility are essential ingredients in the recipe for exemplary teaching. When you find the perfect blend of these elements, all your learners will benefit!

References

Parker, F., Novak, J, & Bartell, T. (2017). To engage students, give them meaningful choices in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan 99 (2), 37-41.

Sathy, V. & Hogan, K.A. (2019). Want to reach all of your students? Here’s how to make your teaching more inclusive: Advice guide. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20190719_inclusive_teaching

Do you ever get the sense that students posting in their online discussions haven’t really engaged with the reading materials for that week? One way to encourage active engagement with course readings is to have students annotate directly in the article or textbook chapter that they are assigned. While it is common to see students annotating in their paper copies of their textbooks or readings, these aren’t easily shared with their peers or instructor. Of course, students could snap a photo of their handwritten annotations and upload that as a reading assignment task, though that does require additional steps on the part of both the student and instructor, and there is no interaction with others in the course during that process. However, it is possible to have students annotate their readings completely online, directly in any article on the web or in their ebook textbook. With this process, the annotations can also be seen by others in the course, if desired, so that students can discuss the reading all together or in small groups as they are reading an article or book chapter online. The benefit to this type of annotation online includes components of active learning, increased student interaction, and accountability for students in engaging with the course materials.

Active Learning

The shift to active learning is a bit like going from watching a soccer game on TV to playing a soccer game. Likewise, reading passively and reading to learn are two different activities. One way to get students actively reading to learn is to ask them to make connections from the course materials to their own lives or society, for example, which they then make into annotations in their readings. Annotation tasks require students to take actions and articulate these connections, all without the pressure of a formal assessment. Furthermore, many students arrive at college not knowing how to annotate, so teaching basic annotation practices helps students become more active and effective learners (Wesley, 2012). 

Interaction

“Individuals are likely to learn more when they learn with others than when they learn alone” (Weimer, 2012). Discussion board activities are often where interaction with others in an online course takes place. However, rather than having students refer to a particular reading passage in their discussion board activity, they can simply highlight a passage and type their comments about it right there in the article, no discussion board assignment needed. Others in the course can also read participants’ annotations and reply. With some creative assignment design in Canvas, this can also be set up for small groups. Students may find this type of annotation discussion more authentic and efficient than using a discussion board tool to discuss a reading.

News article embedded in the assignment shows annotations made by specific students with a box to reply
Above, the online news article is embedded in the Canvas assignment. Students simply go to the assignment and can begin annotating. In the image above, a student highlights a passage to show what the annotation refers to. For a collaborative activity, students can reply to any peer’s comment. Alternatively, the instructor can set the annotations to be private, for more independent tasks.

Accountability

A popular way to ensure that students have done the reading is to give them a quiz. However, this is a solitary activity and is higher-stakes than asking students to make targeted annotations throughout a reading. It may make more sense to guide them through a reading with specific annotation tasks. Being explicit about what pieces of the reading students should focus on can help them understand what they need to retain from the reading assignment.

Possible Activities

  • Student-student interaction: Replace a discussion board activity with a collaborative annotation activity where students can annotate the article as they read. Then they can go back later in the week and reply to each other. 
  • Activate prior knowledge: Ask students to include one annotation related to what they already know about this topic.
  • Evaluate sources: Find a pop-science article in your discipline that includes weak support for arguments or claims, for example. Ask students to identify the sources of support in the arguments and challenge the validity of the support. Perhaps they could even be tasked with adding links to reliable sources of support for your discipline in their annotation comments. 

Nuts and Bolts

Two popular annotation tools are Hypothesis and Perusall. I would encourage you to test these out or ask your instructional designer about your needs and whether an annotation tool would be a good fit for your course learning outcomes. 

Resources:

Hypothesis

Perusall

Wesley, C. (2012). Mark It Up. Retrieved from The Chronicle of Higher Education: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Mark-It-Up/135166

Weimer, M. (2012, March 27). Five Key Principles of Active Learning. Retrieved from Faculty Focus: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/five-key-principles-of-active-learning/

Welcome to the Webcam and Video Tips guide by Oregon State University Ecampus
This brief series of tips is meant to be a beginner’s overview for DIY home recording on webcam, with some additional options suggested if you want to take your video production even further.
Since this document may not cover every issue you encounter while acclimating to DIY video recording, we recommend contacting your school tech person for additional troubleshooting.

WHERE TO START

  • Internet Connection
    • Wired connection via ethernet cable is best
    • If wired connection is not possible, having a clear line of sight to wifi router will give the best wireless connection
    • Disconnect any wifi devices that are not in use or needed.
  • Computer Check
    • Determine if your computer meets minimum system requirements for streaming software
    • Close all non-essential programs to free up more computer resources
    • Disconnect any external monitors if you are on a laptop and it is running slowly
  • Testing Your Tech
    • Does your computer have a built in webcam or do you have a 3rd party webcam?
    • Identify where your microphone is and talk towards it
    • Test the webcam and audio settings BEFORE your first recording. 
    • Practice practice practice
      • The last recording will be better than the first
  • Making sure your voice is clear and easy to understand
    • Having a microphone helps with this
    • Smart phone earbuds have a built-in microphone that can help you with voice clarity
    • Airpods would also work when recording to an iPhone

PRESENCE AND ENVIRONMENT

  • Be aware of your environment.
    • Limit any background noise as much as possible.
    • Clean up your space and be aware of what is in the background of the video.
    • Rooms with carpets and drapes are best for audio.
    • Turn off lights and close windows that are behind you when you are recording.
    • If possible, turn on a light behind the camera.
    • Keep experimenting with lighting until you have a set up that works for you.

  • Try not to bump the desk, computer, camera, or microphone while recording.
    • Typing should also be avoided.
  • Do a test lecture and watch it.
    • See what works and what doesn’t.
    • If possible, get feedback from others
  • Practice
    • The more you practice, the more natural it will feel.
    • Run through what you want to say before you start recording.
  • Relax and be natural! Hopefully you are sharing knowledge that you are passionate about and we want that to show. (Remember that we are always our own worst critic, and your teaching team will be there to help you with constructive feedback on how to help students best enjoy and learn from these videos.)
  • Have notes in front of you while you’re recording. 
    • It is easy to get distracted or off topic, especially when you are uncomfortable.
    • Having notes in front of you while you record can help you stay on track.
    • These notes can be as vague or as detailed as you want, but avoid reading off of them directly and not looking at the camera.

DIGITAL NOTATION

GOING FURTHER WITH VIDEO PRODUCTION

  • For DIY video production, there are many ways to go about this!
    • The lowest barrier to recording on your own would be to use a smart phone attached to a tripod or other mount.
    • If you have access to a camcorder or DSLR, get out there and use it!
  • For smart phone video
    • Avoid handheld and invest in a tripod or smart phone / camera mount
    • If you have a decent internet connection for uploads, consider recording 1080p at 30fps
    • Use an external microphone whenever possible

ACCESSORIES TO CONSIDER IF RECORDING WITH A PHONE

Apps:

  • Filmic Pro – $14.99
    • Allows manual control of exposure and white balance, audio monitoring, and other useful features.

Audio:

  • Lavalier microphone – $18.99 
    • Highly recommended. Audio recorded from your phone’s microphone can be difficult to hear if you aren’t standing near the phone or if the location is noisy. 
  • Double lavalier microphone – $25.99
    • For when you have two people on camera. Both mic cable feed into the same phone, removing need to sync two audio sources. 
  • Audio cable extension – 10 ft. $9.95 or 20 ft. $15.95
    • For when you need to stand farther away from the camera.

Stabilization:

  • Selfie stick w/built-in tripod and Bluetooth remote – $23.99 (heavy duty, 51″ extended), $14.99 (27.6″ extended)
    • Terrific for self-recording in the field.
  • Combination hand grip/small tripod/tripod adapter – $8.89
    • Can be used as a hand grip for filming on-the-go or as a desktop tripod. Phone mount can be removed from the hand grip/tripod legs section, allowing you to mount your phone on most standard tripods.
  • Gimbal stabilizer – $94.99
    • Pricey, but will greatly increase the quality of your footage if you’re filming something that requires camera movement, such as a walk-and-talk interview or a field trip video.
  • Creative ways to mount a smart phone with household items:

 

ADD-ONS / TIPS AND TRICKS

  • If you would like to have access to a teleprompter as you record video, consider one of the following:
  • Here are some sound improvements to consider to reduce echo in your recordings.
    • Add blankets or blinds on walls to reduce echo.
    • Record in the smallest room possible.
    • Avoid rooms with hardwood floors.

Lighting for video

  • Turn a window or glass door into a soft “Key Light” by hanging a cheap, frosted shower curtain over the window. 

 

Authors: Jason Jones, Drew Olson, and Sammi Lukas, with special thanks to Victor Yee for technical support with the images.

Facilitating Active Learning with Zoom

connected learners image
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Christine Scott, Instructional Design Specialist, Oregon State University Ecampus

So you managed to get your face-to-face courses up and running remotely in the midst of a global pandemic. You’ve secured your Zoom sessions to avoid unwanted disruptions, your students are in their virtual seats, and you’ve successfully delivered a few lectures. So what’s next?

Now that you have students’ attention, you may find that you’re ready to focus on transforming your synchronous session into a space for active learning to take place. It’s no secret that students learn better when they are actively engaged in the learning process. The question is how that translates to a remote Zoom session. Is it even possible to recreate the dynamic learning environment of your face-to-face class? 

To answer that question, we can look to best practices in online pedagogy. We know that students in online environments experience better outcomes and higher satisfaction when there are opportunities for active learning and engagement with the instructor, the course content, and each other. Fortunately, Zoom has several tools we can leverage to incorporate learner engagement in the remote setting.

Creating Opportunities for Active Learning

To set the stage for active learning, consider breaking your content delivery into shorter chunks, punctuated by periods of activity. Ask students to do something meaningful to help them engage with the content. This approach not only supports learning, but it also encourages accountability. If students understand they will be called upon to complete a task, they are more likely to be motivated to engage with the lecture.

During your synchronous session, you might ask students to: 

  • Respond to a question
  • Take notes to share
  • Create a list of examples or discussion questions to share afterward on the Canvas discussion board
  • Prepare a reflection to submit after the fact
  • Solve a problem

Breakout Rooms in Zoom

Breakout rooms are easy to set up and operate in Zoom. These small group spaces are useful as a means of incorporating peer-to-peer interaction and feedback into your remote course. They can also promote inclusion by providing an opportunity for low-stakes participation for learners who may be reluctant to chime in during large group sessions. Finally, breakout session activities can serve as a tool for formative assessment as the activities students complete can help instructors gauge achievement of the learning outcomes. 

Creating Breakout Room Tasks

Breakout room tasks can be carried out on-the-fly in the synchronous session, or they can form part of a more complex assignment. You might provide a prompt, file, or a link as a springboard for spontaneous discussion in small groups. Alternatively, you might flip your remote classroom by providing students with a pre-activity to complete before the live session. For further engagement, you might have students build on what they produce in their breakout rooms through an asynchronous submission in Canvas. 

When creating breakout room tasks: 

  • Set clear expectations. Any explanation of expectations should include a clear relationship to learning outcomes. Provide a code of conduct for interaction, performance expectations related to the task, etc.
  • Prepare instructions in advance. Provide students with a clear task and deliverable. Include any resources needed to complete the task. Outline the deliverable or provide a model so that students understand what is expected upon reconvening with the whole class. 
  • Guide students in how to self-organize. Assign roles or ask students to assign them (host facilitator, notetaker, timekeeper, and speaker who reports back to the class). 
  • Provide technical support. A tip sheet for the technology can be helpful in case they get stuck, for example. 
  • Monitor. Circulate as you would in your face-to-face class by joining breakout rooms to check in. 
  • Report back. Ask students to present a summary slide (groups might contribute a slide to a class google presentation), share group’s response, etc. Follow up with whole-group sharing in some form. 

Sample Breakout Room Activity Types

  • Small group discussion
  • Think – Pair – Share
  • Group project
  • Data analysis/text analysis
  • Debate preparation
  • Simulation practice – mock interview
  • Peer feedback
  • Jigsaw activity

Polling 

Another option for interactivity during lectures is the Zoom poll. Polls are easy to launch and are a handy tool for icebreakers at the beginning of sessions, to check for understanding, or to allow students to have input on lecture content. They can be created as anonymous surveys or as simple question responses. 

Fig. 1 This example demonstrates how polling could be used to pose a question and elicit an anonymous response from participants.

Non-verbal Feedback in Zoom 

Sample of Nonverbal feedback icons from Zoom
Nonverbal Feedback options in Zoom

If you miss the non-verbal feedback of a live audience in a face-to-face setting, you might consider encouraging students to use Zoom’s non-verbal feedback options available in the chat window. This tool allows students to input quick yes/no responses to questions, ask for the speaker to speed up or slow down, indicate that they need a break, and more. 

Sample of a music activity
Fig 2. Consider how the simplicity of non-verbal feedback indicators might be useful in a cognitive psychology course for student feedback while listening to audio clips. Students could be asked to use the thumbs up when they can name the familiar melody mixed with interfering tones, for example.

 

Facilitating Lab Experiences Remotely

Live lab activities provide another opportunity for interactive experiences in Zoom. The following examples of lab tasks that implement active learning principles are taken from existing online courses through Oregon State University Ecampus. Consider how similar field and lab experiences could be used to engage learners in your remote courses. 

Sample Experiences

image from science course

Science Education

In this example from a phenology course, students observe and record specific elements in a local natural area over the course of the term. After watching an instructor-led demonstration, learners record key elements based on Nature’s Notebook. They then share their data, photos, and drawings with the class to create a collective body of observations. Students then contribute their observations to a national phenology network. 

Public Health

pedometer walker
Image source: pixfuel.com, cc

Learners in this course collect and analyze authentic data through a public health topic: the human-built environment. Students wear a pedometer to track how many steps they take over a 48-hour period. They ask other members of their family or community to track the same information. Students gather, analyze, and compare their data to identify potential strategies their community could implement to improve its built environment to promote active transportation by walking, biking, or other means.

Tips for setting up remote lab demonstrations or tasks: 

  • Consider common household items to recreate a lab experience
  • Add or find components online
  • Use online videos or DIY recordings of a demonstration
  • Present simulations and provide an analysis or breakdown of what is happening
  • Connect students to virtual labs or simulations
  • Provide instructions and expected outcomes
  • Demonstrate or show the process for collecting data
  • Provide raw data for students to analyze
  • Offline – engage students with assignments or discussions related to the remote lab experience

Whether you opt to use breakout rooms to facilitate collaborative tasks, quick polls to gather student input on lecture content, or non-verbal feedback options to take the pulse of your audience, the features of Zoom offer a means of interaction that can help you to bring students to the center of your remote teaching sessions. 

Adapted from slide presentation by Cyndie McCarley, Assistant Director of Instructional Design, Oregon State University Ecampus

red lightbulb

Photo by Terry Vlisidis on Unsplash

Last Time on SDT & Online Education…

This post is a continuation of my previous blog posts on Self-Determination Theory (SDT) and Online Education and a companion post to Chris Lindberg’s series of posts, Games as a Model for Motivation and Engagement.

In my last post, I posed some difficult questions to consider as you start thinking about how you use grades and motivation in your courses. In case you missed that post, here are the questions—I invite you to spend a few minutes, hours, or days with these questions before moving on with the rest of this blog post:

  • Do you use grades to create external regulation of behavior in your course?
    • Are you grading a behavior or the demonstration of a skill?
  • Do you want to emphasize performance goals or mastery goals?
  • Are there ways to help students identify and integrate the activities and assessments in your course?
  • Do you need to grade this activity/assessment/task?

Why are you grading?

“The troubling truth is that rewards and punishments are not opposites at all; they are two sides of the same coin. And it is a coin that does not buy very much.” (Kohn, 1993, p. 50)

When I first started teaching, I remember asking a colleague if they would review my syllabus draft. They read the attendance policy and asked me something along the lines of, “Why are you grading this? Does it have anything to do with the outcomes of your course?” I probably spewed the usual talking points that students do better in class when they attend, I wanted them to come to class, etc. The reply: “So, do you want to grade learning, or behavior?” That question rocked my world as a young teacher. And made me question everything.

Why do we use grades? Numerous studies have shown that grades and rewards, especially for intrinsically motivating activities such as learning, have detrimental effects. And what do these grades communicate? In terms of SDT, “grading in educational contexts has two functions. One is providing competence-relevant feedback to students, presumably as an aid to enhancing subsequent performance … A second is gatekeeping. Grades can be used to make sure that only students who have mastered material and are thus qualified are eligible for higher training…” (Ryan & Deci, 2017, p. 371). What does an A, B or F communicate to you? For Ryan & Deci, grades by themselves provide little in the way of relevant feedback. (For more on effective feedback, see Wiggins, 2012.)

So can a “grade” be useful? In the context of SDT, there needs to be important information communicated to students about how they’re doing and where they need to spend more attention and effort. In order for this to be autonomy-supportive, it should be informative for the learning process and not judgmental, pressure-inducing, or a social comparison, both in terms of being a reward or a punishment. For example, “Great work. You might consider adding an example in your third paragraph.” is not informative toward the learning process; “You do a great job of defining the problem in your third paragraph, which is an improvement from your first draft. Adding an example would do even more to help your readers relate to this problem.” is an example of feedback that informs a student about where they have come from and where they still need to go.

Performance vs. Mastery

“There do, indeed, seem to be few empirical or theoretical supports for the motivational or competence-building advantages of classical grading schemes. Yet, in most school settings, grades and evaluations are employed as if they were the key to motivation, when, in fact, especially for those who need competence supports, they are likely to be undermining influences.” (Ryan & Deci, 2017, p. 371)

Is it possible to see a letter grade of your work in a course outside the context of social comparison? How often is a B simply viewed as “better than average” or “in the top half of the class”? Focusing on performing a certain way relative to others is a performance goal, while focusing on increasing competence or learning is a mastery goal. (For more on this topic, see Elliot, 2005.) Additionally, each category of goal has an approach type (seeking to achieve something) and an avoidance type (seeking to avoid something). Multiple studies have found that the performance-avoidance combination has the most detrimental outcomes for both learning and student well being, and that this combination is adopted most when students have expectations of being graded (Ryan & Deci, 2017, p. 373).

Ungrading

“…the grading system that higher education in the United States has relied on for many decades has serious problems. It does not work in anyone’s interests, and it genuinely hurts those most directly associated with it: the faculty and the students. In fact, the system is broken.” (Nilson, 2015, p. 23)

At this point you might be asking, “what am I supposed to do?” There are numerous tools, resources, alternatives, and considerations when thinking about using or eliminating grades in a course, such as self-assessment, student-created rubrics, or specifications or criterion-based grading. (Several more are listed in the Reference & Resources section below). One option is to eliminate grading all together, which some institutions have done. If you aren’t ready to eliminate all your grades, try focusing on providing students with feedback in an autonomy-supportive way and empowering them to learn the valuable skill of self-assessment. Without rewards and punishments, students will feel a greater sense of competence; self-assessment and valuable and informative feedback will give students a greater sense of autonomy—that they’re in the driver’s seat for their own learning; with an increased focus on communication about learning, students will also gain a greater sense of relatedness.

There is much more to the topic of grading and ungrading than can be covered in a single blog post, so I’d like to invite you to check out the references and resources below, add your comments, suggestions, and experiences in the comments, contact your instructional designer, or keep an eye out for other opportunities to continue the discussion at various upcoming Ecampus events!

References & Resources

Center for Self-Determination Theory (CSDT). (2019).

  • This website is a treasure-trove of resources on SDT and its application in numerous fields, including education.

Elliot, A. J. (2005). A conceptual history of the achievement goal construct. In Elliot, A. J., & Dweck, C. S. (Eds.) Handbook of competence and motivation (52–72). New York: Guilford Press.

Flaherty, C. (2019). When grading less is more. Inside Higher Ed.

Kohn, A. (2018). Rewards are still bad news (25 years later). New York Times.

Kohn, A. (2011). The case against grades. Educational Leadership.

Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Nilson, L. (2015). Specifications grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time. Serling, VA: Stylus.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Press.

Stommel, J. (2018). How to ungrade.

Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership 70(1), 10–16.

About halfway through earning a master’s in education, I took a summer session class on digital storytelling. It ran over the course of three half-day sessions during which we were required to complete two digital stories. I had no great academic ambitions in my approach to these assignments. I was trying to satisfy a degree requirement in a way that worked with my schedule as a single mother of two teenagers working full time while earning a graduate degree.

My first story was a self-introduction. I loved this assignment. Even though I had one evening to complete it, I spent hours tweaking it. I enjoyed learning the tools. I enjoyed sharing my story with my classmates. Even after it was graded, I kept finding ways to improve it.

After completing the course, I began to study the use of digital stories in education. My personal experience had shown me that in completing my assignment I had to become comfortable with technology as well as practiced my writing, speaking and presentation skills. I also felt a stronger connection to my classmates after sharing my video and watching their videos.

Literature

The research on digital storytelling echoes my own experience. Dr. Bernard Robin, an Associate Professor of Learning, Design, & Technology at the University of Houston, discussed the pedagogical benefits of digital storytelling assignments in a 2016 article,  The Power of Digital Storytelling to Support Teaching and Learning. His research found that both student engagement and creativity increased in higher education courses when students were given the opportunity to use multimedia tools to communicate their ideas. Students “develop enhanced communication skills by learning to organize their ideas, ask questions, express opinions, and construct narratives” (Robin, 2016). Bernard’s experience also finds that by sharing their work with peers, students learn to give and accept critique, fostering social learning and emotional intelligence.

Digital Storytelling as Educators

Digital Storytelling in online education shouldn’t be thought of as only a means of creating an engaging student assignment. Educators who are adept at telling stories have a tremendous advantage in capturing their student’s attention. In the following short video, Sir Ian McKellen shares why stories have so much power. Illustrated in the form of a story, he shares that stories are powerful for four reasons. They are a vessel for information, create an emotional connection, display cultural identity, and gives us happiness.

The Power of Storytelling, with Sir Ian McKellen

McKellen is a compelling narrator with a great voice. This story is beautifully illustrated. It reminds me of how I want my learners to feel when they are consuming the content I create. Even if for a moment, so engrossed, that they forget that they are learning. Learning becomes effortless. As he points out, a good storyteller can make the listener feel as if they are also living the story.

Digital Storytelling Assignments

There are lots of ways to integrate digital stories across a broad set of academic subjects. Creating personal narratives, historical documentaries, informational and instructional videos or a combination of these styles all have educational benefits. One of the simplest ways to introduce this form of assessment to your course is to start with a single image digital story assignment.

Here’s an example I created using a trial version of one of many digital story making tools available online:

Single Image Digital Story Example

 

Digital Story Making Process

The process of creating a digital story lends itself well for staged student projects. Here’s an example of some story making stages:

  1. Select a topic
  2. Conduct research
  3. Find resources and content
  4. Create a storyboard
  5. Script the video
  6. Narrate the video
  7. Edit the final project

I created an animated digital story to illustrate the process of creating a digital story using another freely available tool online.

Digital Storytelling Process Movie link

Recommended Resources & Tools

You will find hundreds of tools available for recording media with a simple search. Any recommended tool should be considered for privacy policies, accessibility and cost to students.

Adobe Spark

Adobe offers a free online video editor which provides easy ways to add text, embed videos, add background music and narration. The resulting videos can be easily shared online via a link or by downloading and reposting somewhere else. While the tool doesn’t offer tremendous flexibility in design, the user interface is very friendly.

Canvas

Canvas has built-in tools to allow students to record and share media within a Canvas course. Instructions are documented in the OSU Ecampus student-facing quick reference guide.

Audacity

Audacity is a free, open-source cross-platform software for recording and editing audio. It has a steeper learning curve than some of the other tools used for multimedia content creation. It will allow you to export your audio file in a format that you can easily add to a digital story.

Padlet

Padlet allows you to create collaborative web pages. It supports lots of content types. It is a great place to have students submit their video stories. You have a lot of control during setup. You can keep a board private, you can enable comments, and you can choose to moderate content prior to posting. Padlet allows for embedding in other sites – and the free version at the time of writing allows users to create three padlets the site will retain.

Storyboarding Tools

A note first about storyboarding. Storyboarding is an essential step in creating a digital story. It is a visual blueprint of how a video will look and feel. It is time to think about mood, flow and gather feedback.
Students and teachers alike benefit from visualizing how they want a final project to look. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It is much easier to think about how you want a shot to look at this stage than while you are shooting and producing your video. A storyboard is also a good step in a staged, longer-term project in a course to gauge if students are on the right track.

Storyboard That

This is a storyboard creation tool. The free account allows for three and six frame stories. In each frame, you can choose from a wide selection of scenes, characters, and props. Each element allows you to customize color, position, and size. Here’s a sample I created:

The Boords

This site has several free to use templates in multiple formats to support this process. Here is one that I have used before:

A4-landscape-6-storyboard-template

Looking for Inspiration?

Start with Matthew Dicks. Dicks is the author of Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling. He is a teacher. He is a five-time winner of the Moth GrandSlam championship.
His book is wonderful, but to just get a taste, start with the podcast he cohosts with his wife. Each week they include a well-vetted and rehearsed story told during a competition. They then highlight the strengths and areas for improvement. You will walk away with ideas and the motivation to become a better storyteller. Here’s the first episode, and one of my favorites.

Conclusion

When pressed for time to develop course content, we tend to over-rely on text-based assignments such as essays and written discussion posts. Students, when working on Digital Storytelling assignments, get the opportunity to experiment, think creatively and practice communication and presentation skills.

For educators, moving away from presenting learning materials in narrated bulleted slides is likely to make classes more engaging and exciting for their students leading to better learning outcomes. Teachers work every day to connect with students and capture their attention. A good story can inspire your students and help them engage with the content.

I was uncomfortable when I received my first digital storytelling assignment. I didn’t really know how to use the tools, wasn’t confident I knew how or what to capture. I was sure it would feel awkward to narrate a video. But These assignments turned out to be engaging, meaningful, and the process is pretty straight forward. Introduce digital storytelling into your courses, even by starting small, and you are sure to feel the same way.

As online educators, we strive for a balance of learning activities that incorporate three types of engagement: learner-to-content, learner-to-instructor, and learner-to-learner.  The learner-to-learner component is often filled through discussion boards or group projects, but an underutilized and undervalued option is peer review.

The Rationale

There are many ways peer review benefits students, among them Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation lists:

  • Empower students to take responsibility for and manage their own learning.
  • Enable students to learn to assess and give others constructive feedback to develop lifelong assessment skills.
  • Enhance students’ learning through knowledge diffusion and exchange of ideas.
  • Motivate students to engage with course material more deeply.

More broadly, the authors of The Knowledge Illusion argue that our individual capacity for knowledge is often much more limited than we realize and that our true depth of knowledge is held collectively.  They remind us that, “when you put it all together, human thought is incredibly impressive.  But it is a product of a community, not of any individual alone” (page 5).  In our increasingly complex world, some evidence of a shift towards building knowledge collectively can be seen in research. For example, in the MEDLINE database, “the average number of authors per article has nearly quadrupled from about 1.5 in 1950 to 5.5 in 2014” (page 226).  This is just one of many examples the authors use to illustrate how essential collaboration and relationship skills have become.  In nearly every field, students need to be prepared to be more than individual achievers, but rather to contribute effectively to a group.  Peer review provides students an opportunity to give and receive feedback with the goal of creating a better end product, but it is also an opportunity for students to practice and build their teamwork skills.

Moreover, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 3b emphasizes the need for students to, “evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.”  Peer review is a great way for us to meet this standard and to combat against misinformation, by teaching students to evaluate and challenge claims.  In Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era author Daniel J. Levitin shares strategies for how we can think more critically and evaluate the trustworthiness of what we are being told.  He notes that, “sometimes the people giving you the facts are hoping you’ll draw the wrong conclusion; sometimes they don’t know the difference themselves” (page xx).  If your students are in either of these groups, it benefits them to have an attentive reader review their work and provide respectful suggestions for improvement prior to a final assignment submission.  This may help you as the instructor to avoid catching errors too late in the process when students cannot revise their work.

The Explanation

However, students may not see the value of peer review on their own.  The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis describes many reasons students may express uncertainty around peer review as, “Many students do not perceive feedback from peers as relevant to the process… students are likely to assume that it is only the instructor’s feedback that ‘counts.’”  Therefore, it is important that we explain to students why we are asking them to engage in peer review explicitly.

It can be helpful to explain specifically how this will relate to industry or field of study requirements as a student advances as a professional and scholar – it looks different for a researcher than it does for a project manager, so motivate students by sharing with them how they will engage in similar activities in the future as this gives them an opportunity to practice what Starting Point: Teaching Entry Level Geoscience describes as, “key skills such as abstracting, developing arguments, describing, assessing, criticizing, analyzing, and reviewing.”  As Faculty Focus advises, we can’t assume that students will implicitly understand the purpose of peer review.  When we craft a peer review assignment, we need to think carefully about how we will articulate the benefits of the process to students.  It can be helpful to answer questions like, “Why am I having students do this?” and “Why should students be excited about this process?”  Or, to take it a step further, we can anticipate the questions from our students’ perspective and proactively address the purpose and logistics in the assignment description, by answering questions like, “Why am I doing peer review?” and “How am I supposed to review my peer’s work?”  Make sure the technology needed and processes are clear and that resources are provided for students that need more guidance.

The Process

Remember, knowing why students are peer reviewing and being able to peer review are two totally different skills.  If you are an Ecampus instructor, talk with your instructional designer about strategies that can help your peer review process be more successful.  Some of the best practices suggested by Center for Instructional Technology & Training at the University of Florida include:

  • Clarify expectations in advance
  • Check your students have all the tools they will need
  • Provide enough time in the peer review process so that students can meaningfully engage – this may span more than one module
  • Model the type of feedback you want your students to use
  • Create a quality rubric as a guide

Your instructional designer can also talk to you about digital tools or strategies that can be used to introduce students to peer review. For example, you can discuss whether it makes more sense to use Canvas Peer Review or another tool, like Peerceptiv, which is research-validated peer assessment technology available for Ecampus courses.

Remember, students need opportunities to practice peer review, as they may never have done it before.  That means they have to get familiar with both the tools and the process.  It’s best if they can practice with the technology on a low stakes assignment before using it for a high stakes assignment, so that they can familiarize themselves with a peer review process without the added anxiety of a major grade on the line.  It will also take time for you as the instructor to get familiar with the process, but it is a completely worthwhile investment!

I invite you to consider some concluding thoughts from Levitin, “Information gathering and research that used to take anywhere from hours to weeks now takes just seconds… The implicit bargain that we all need to make explicit is that we will use just some of that time we saved in information acquisition to perform proper information verification” (page 253).  Let’s reinvest some of the time our students saved researching to engage them in verifying claims, evaluating evidence, offering commentary, and incorporating feedback – all of which support the development of a stronger student work and the building of a collective knowledge.