This is a guest post by Ecampus Instructional Design Intern Chandler Gianattasio.

At DePaul School for Dyslexia, I teach 5th-8th graders conceptual mathematics, ranging from basic number sense to advanced topics in Algebra 1. Through this experience, I have discovered something I had never heard of before, a learning disability commonly seen coinciding with dyslexia, called dyscalculia. Many people describe dyscalculia as “dyslexia for math.” Dyscalculia affects one’s ability to take in mathematical information, connect with and build upon prior concepts learned, discern cues for application, and accurately retrieve information. DePaul provides an alternative education for students with learning disabilities, emphasizing explicit instruction to best support their students. In this post, I will discuss the common deficits that make up dyscalculia, where it falls in the realm of disabilities, and some ways we can accommodate students with dyscalculia in higher education. 

Having dyscalculia can be debilitating, making it seem nearly impossible to keep up with neuro-typical classmates, especially when your class is on a fast-paced schedule, and when you are subliminally being told that asking for extra help will make you appear like you are lazy, unintelligent, unable to help yourself, and will just be one more problem that the instructor has to resolve. In Figure 1 (seen below), I have divided deficits of dyscalculia into five categories: executive functioning deficits1, auditory processing deficits2, nonverbal learning deficits3, language processing deficits4, and visual-spatial deficits5. Each category has a set of commonly experienced difficulties below them. However, these lists of difficulties are not exhaustive. 

Figure 1. “Common Challenges Faced by Learners with Dyscalculia” By Chandler Gianattasio – CC BY-NC.

Looking at some of the common symptoms of dyscalculia, you may be thinking that many of these symptoms are also found in other disabilities, such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD, and more, and you would be correct. There is a large amount of overlap amongst developmental disabilities, and each disabled individual presents with their own unique combination of symptoms and, often, coexisting disabilities. To understand where dyscalculia falls within the world of developmental disabilities, I referred to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by the Department of Education. Through IDEA, 13 distinctions of disabilities were made:

  1. [Specific] Learning Disability ([S]LD)
  2. Other Health Impairment (conditions that limit a child’s strength, energy or alertness)
    • ADHD, EFD, NVLD
  3. Autism Spectrum Disorder
  4. Emotional Disturbance 
    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Personality Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, etc. 
  5. Speech or Language Impairment 
    • LPD
  6. Visual Impairment (including blindness)
    • VPD
  7. Deafness
  8. Hearing Impairment 
    • APD
  9. Deaf-Blindness
  10. Orthopedic Impairment
  11. Intellectual Disability
  12. Traumatic Brain Injury
  13. Multiple Disabilities 

From this list, you may notice that there are only three diagnoses recognized as LDs: dyslexia, a reading disability, dysgraphia, a writing disability, and dyscalculia, a mathematical disability. All three of these LDs, as well as the majority of the other disabilities, have very similar biological limitations, each with the potential for a visual-spatial deficit, language-processing deficit, nonverbal learning deficit, auditory processing deficit, and executive functioning deficit. Due to individuals within each diagnosis having their own unique combination of symptoms, some may not have deficits in each of these areas. Figure 2 represents the potential combination of deficits an individual with each of these LDs may have. For instance, if you were to draw a straight line from dyslexia to the outer edge of the figure, the various deficits intersected would be representative of the profile of one individual. This figure shows the fluidity between different diagnoses and how easily co-existing conditions occur, due to a very similar underlying makeup. 

Figure 2. “Potential Combinations of Deficits Behind Each Learning Disability” By Chandler  Gianattasio, CC BY-NC-SA.

Figure 3 is shown below to reiterate the significant overlap found between disabilities. Looking specifically at weaker listening skills in this study, a characteristic originally classified as an APD trait, is also a very prevalent trait in individuals with LPD, dyslexia, ADHD and other LDs.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), Specific Language Impairment (SLI),  Learning Disorders (LD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). [Colors shown in the charts do not correlate with Figures 1 & 2].

Figure 3. Same or Different: The Overlap Between Children with Auditory Processing Disorders and Children with Other Developmental Disorders: A Systematic Review” By Ellen de Wit, et al, CC BY-NC-ND.

Supportive Instructional Strategies

Supporting Executive Functioning Deficits

Students struggling with executive functioning become overwhelmed often due to either external or internal stimuli. They often struggle with rejection sensitivity dysphoria, emotional dysregulation and “time blindness”. The most significant way you can support these students is by creating a safe, non-judgemental space for them to communicate with you, and encourage them to always self-advocate, no matter what. You can further support students navigating executive functioning difficulties by doing the following:

  • Providing easily accessible reminders of important events and assignment due dates. Time management can be a major difficulty, especially with projects over an extended period of time.
  • Giving lots of positive reinforcement, checking in frequently, and having regularly scheduled meetings.
  • Pointing out any prior knowledge that is being built upon, and have them answer any questions based on prior knowledge that they’ve mastered in class to boost their confidence and increase their motivation.
  • Reducing extraneous stimuli and eliminating background noise as much as possible – whether that be in their environment, on a worksheet, in a presentation, in reference material, etc. 

Supporting Visual-Spatial Deficits

Students with visual-spatial deficits often struggle with creating their own visual representations of concepts being discussed, especially abstract or microscopic concepts. When navigating directions, these students also struggle with orientation – both cardinal and left versus right. This often presents when they are performing calculations with negative numbers. Most students with dyscalculia learn adding and subtracting via number lines that they manually traverse to understand the connection between operations properly. To help your students who have visual-spatial difficulties, you could offer the following:

  • Providing tangible manipulatives that they can touch and physically move in order to see how parts function together 
    • This could be provided when introducing a new concept as an addition to 2D drawings or descriptions
    • It’s always beneficial to have manipulatives available for your students whether that’s physical objects for in-person sessions or interactive virtual manipulatives for online sessions.
  • Providing graph paper, templates, and/or graphic organizers can be highly beneficial to your students to organize their thoughts and break up information. 
  • Integrating as much UDL in as possible! Presenting information in multiple formats and allowing the students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways will allow these students to participate in class and showcase their knowledge confidently. 

Supporting Auditory Processing Deficits

Students with an auditory processing deficit struggle to comprehend directions and content from listening. The most significant way you can help your students who struggle with auditory processing is by doing the following:

  • Speaking clearly. 
  • Trying your best not to explain things too quickly.
  • Being very consistent with the terminology you use (try not to use multiple names for one entity or idea).
  • Checking in with students often to see if they understand what is being taught or asked of them.
  • Always encouraging students to ask questions as they work.

Supporting Nonverbal Learning Deficits

Students with nonverbal learning deficits are very literal and struggle to see the overall picture, especially when it comes to abstract concepts. You can support students with an NVLD by doing the following:

  • Creating a lot of associations and parallels between content and what they already know (common, everyday nuances) could help these individuals a lot. 
  • Teaching concepts alongside any procedural knowledge you want them to retain will help them significantly, as they understand the “why” behind the steps. 
  • Making sure to provide a lot of concrete examples, especially when introducing a new topic. 
  • Structuring classes, making them as consistent and repetitive as possible. If they know what to expect and they are confident that they know how to handle it, these students will thrive. 

Supporting Language Processing Deficits

Language processing deficits very commonly occur alongside auditory processing deficits. Students with this difficulty struggle with comprehending directions and content both from listening and reading. To help support these students, try the following:

  • Keeping language used simple and consistent.
  • Ensuring adequate (and modifiable if possible) background to text contrast/color.
  • Using 1.5+ line spacing and increased spacing between letters or symbols.
  • Chunking content and utilizing bullet points when possible.
  • Using consistent color associations with certain topics can go a long way (i.e. red for negative and blue for positive).
  • Starting lessons off with a graphic organizer or outline, showing how ideas fit together.
  • Including simple diagrams to illustrate concepts or procedures.
  • Highlighting keywords, numbers in word problems, or other important information you want to make sure they see.
  • Creating accessible asynchronous/recorded lectures. 
  • Providing access to pre-written notes, “cheat sheets” displaying steps and formulas needed and worked-out sample problems so students can see what they are to do.

Remember that improving the learning experiences of our learners with special needs almost never comes at a cost to the “typical” learner – improving access, accessibility, and support for one improves these areas for all.

Available Accommodations at OSU:

In the Comments Below, Tell Me: 

Do you have any experience designing for learners with dyscalculia? What are some strategies you have found beneficial?

Resources to Explore:

Information shown in Figures 1 & 2  derived from the following sources:

Dyscalculia: neuroscience and education” By Liane Kaufmann;  “Double dissociation of functions in developmental dyslexia and dyscalculia” By O. Rubinsten & A. Henik; “Numerical estimation in adults with and without developmental dyscalculia” By S. Mejias, J. Grégoire, M. Noël; “A general number-to-space mapping deficit in developmental dyscalculia” By S. Huber, et al.; “Developmental Dyscalculia in Adults: Beyond Numerical Magnitude Impairment” By A. de Visscher, et al.; “Working Memory Limitations in Mathematics Learning: Their Development, Assessment, and Remediation” By Daniel Berch; “Learning Styles and Dyslexia Types-Understanding Their Relationship and its Benefits in Adaptive E-learning Systems” By A. Y. Alsobhi  & K. H. Alyoubi; “The Cognitive Profile of Math Difficulties: A Meta-Analysis Based on Clinical Criteria” By S. Haberstroh & G. Schulte-Körne; “Mathematical Difficulties in Nonverbal Learning Disability or Co-Morbid Dyscalculia and Dyslexia” By I. Mammarella,  et al.; “Developmental dyscalculia is related to visuo-spatial memory and inhibition impairment” By D. Scuzs, et al.;  “Dyscalculia and the Calculating Brain” By Isabelle Rapin

The distinction of potential difficulties one might experience were determined by the symptoms commonly seen in the following disorders:

  1. Executive Functioning Disorder (EFD)
  2. Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
  3. Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD)
  4. Language Processing Disorder (LPD)
  5. Visual Processing Disorder (VPD)

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

WHY SELF-CARE IS IMPORTANT FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS

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

In a 2016 survey of Canadian university students, 

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

BURNOUT IS NOT NEW

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

BENEFITS OF ADDING SELF-CARE INTO THE CURRICULUM

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

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


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

HOW CAN YOU ADD SELF-CARE INTO THE CURRICULUM

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

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

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

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

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

THERE’S ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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


Introduction

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

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

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

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

Employ Empathy Statements in Email and Other Communications

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

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

Quote from student email

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

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

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

Instructor email response

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

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

Quote from student evaluation

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

Restructure Office Hours – “Ask Me Anything Hours”

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

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

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

Quote from student evaluation

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

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

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

Quote from student evaluation

Periodically Check in with Students Who Are Behind

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

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

Infographic created by Brittni Racek via Venngage

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

Sources

chart of five phases of engagement: connect, communicate, collaborate, co-facilitate, and continue

 Why Group Work Is Important 

Love it or hate it, group work is an important part of education. Learning to work cooperatively with diverse people is a core 21st century skill, one which employers increasingly value and expect new workers to have mastered. Experience gathered from group work in educational settings directly transfers to and prepares students for successful collaboration in work teams. By collaborating in teams, students learn a wide range of discrete as well as soft skills that make group work worth the effort, including those below.

  • Technology skills
  • Social skills
  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Coping with stress
  • Creating work plans and schedules
  • Forecasting needs and hurdles
  • Time management & meeting deadlines
  • Working with difficult personalities
  • Managing & navigating unmet expectations
  • Following up & messaging
  • Accountability
  • Leadership
  • Development of academic/professional voice 

Pedagogically, group work supports a constructivist approach to learning, in which students contribute to the learning environment, build knowledge both individually and collectively, and co-create the classroom environment. Constructivist theory posits that learning is a social process and values student interaction with and contributions to collective knowledge. Group work and student collaboration are foundational methods in constructivist classrooms that help students develop the knowledge and skills that allow them to meet learning objectives. Additionally, group work is seen as a key element of student-student interaction. 

Considerations for Successful Groups

The first thing instructors should consider when planning to incorporate group work is to reflect on WHY they are assigning it- as an objective of learning or as a means of learning. Group work for the purpose of learning collectively, producing collaboratively, or for gaining experience working cooperatively are all valid reasons to include group work. 

Additionally, instructors must consider the limits of the asynchronous modality when creating group assignments. We all know how difficult it can be if the group you end up working in is not harmonious; For students in asynchronous online courses, group work can be even more difficult, with challenges like different time zones, different daily schedules, and lack of face to face collaboration opportunities. Even the most thoughtfully designed group activities can run into problems. What happens when one student fails to contribute? Do the other group members take up the slack and cover for their absent partner? How should a group handle an overbearing group member who takes on more than their fair share of the project? Anticipating the potential hurdles that may arise when planning the group project and incorporating support and resources for struggling groups can alleviate these barriers to a large degree. 

An important consideration when creating group assignments is Conrad & Donaldson’s Phases of Engagement model, which advises instructors to structure group work so that students can build up group cohesion through low-stakes activities like icebreakers, introductions, and discussion forum posting towards the beginning of the term before ramping up to more complicated collaborative projects. This scaffolding of tasks helps groups bond and build community among members, facilitating better working relationships and the trust necessary to work through the intricacies of a complex group project. The theory can be helpful when approaching a series of courses within a specific degree program as well, moving from simple group projects in lower division courses to co-facilitating and transformative ongoing engagement at the upper levels. 

chart of five phases of engagement: connect, communicate, collaborate, co-facilitate, and continue

Another model that can help instructors understand how to structure group work is Peter Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which describes a pyramid of features that are required for groups to function effectively. Lencioni claims that trust is the foundation of any functioning group, followed in ascending order by managing conflict through healthy discourse, ensuring commitment and buy-in, providing a method of accountability for team members, and a focus on collective results over personal prestige. Avoiding dysfunction by clearly structuring group work to anticipate and provide tools for dealing with these problems can ensure teams get off on the right footing and can work together smoothly.

pyramid of five behaviors of a cohesive team: trust, conflict, committment

 

Additionally, instructors should consider the type of collaboration that is common within their own discipline, whether it be performing distinct roles within a team or more general projects requiring cooperation. Designers often work together creatively to develop and improve products; medical teams must work collectively but in distinct roles to serve patients; computer software developers must be able to distribute work and manage tight deadlines; public-facing personnel must be able to amicably respond to a range of customer behaviors. Connecting group work explicitly to real-world work scenarios helps students see the value and relevance of their learning, which helps increase engagement and dedication. Structuring group projects to mimic the type of work tasks they can anticipate also provides the added value of preparing students for scenarios they will actually be faced with on the job.

Finally, since asynchronous group work relies heavily on technology, ensure that the technology to be used by the group is familiar or can be mastered quickly. Provide detailed instructions or tutorials for how to use the technology, plan for how to handle issues students might face with technology, and share resources they can tap should they run into problems. University instructional technology support can be linked to, and websites and apps often offer training videos. 

Types of group work

  • Pair/partner work
  • Informal cooperative active learning
  • Group essays or projects
  • Group presentations

Setting groups up for success

  • Set up groups of the right size, preferably with an odd number of participants
  • Make groups heterogenous to encourage peer-to-peer learning
  • Provide opportunities for students to activate their unique background knowledge and perspectives
  • Provide detailed instructions for group interaction expectations
  • Provide guidance on strategies for dividing the workload, such as setting up roles (ie: organizer, recorder, liaison, etc.)
  • Provide detailed instructions and rubrics for expected process and product
  • Split the grade for group work between collective and individual grades
  • Build in check-ins with instructor early on and midway
  • Plan for interventions if groups are not functioning well
  • Allow team members to evaluate each other’s and their own performance for contribution, cooperation, & timeliness

Sources

What are the benefits of group work? – Eberly Center

21st Century Skills Map

Group work as an incentive for learning – students’ experiences of group work

Group work – Teaching practice – Learning and teaching guidance – Elevate – Staff

Transforming The Online Learner

Increasing Student-to-Student Engagement: Applying Conrad and Donaldson’s “Phases of Engagement” in the Online Classroom

Teamwork 5 Dysfunctions

 

Memory plays the central role in learning – it is “the mechanism by which our teaching literally changes students’ minds and brains” (Miller, 2014, p. 88). Thus, understanding how memory works is important for both instructional designers and instructors. According to modern theories, memory involves three major processes: encoding (transforming information into memory representations), storage (the maintenance of these representations for a long time), and retrieval (the process of accessing the stored representations when we need them for some goal or task) (Miller, 2014). Let’s briefly review these processes and see how they may inform our course design and instruction.

Encoding – What Is the Role of Attention and Working Memory?

How does encoding happen? We receive information from our senses (visual, auditory, etc.), and then we perform a preconscious analysis to check whether it is important to survival and if it is related to our current goals. If it is, this information is retained and will be further processed and turned into mental representations. Thus, attention is the major process through which information enters our consciousness (MacKay, 1987). Attention is limited, and it is to some extent under voluntary control, but it can be easily disrupted by strong stimuli. Attention is crucial for memory, and without attention we cannot remember much (Miller, 2014).

How attention is directed depends on the way the content is presented and on the nature of the content itself (Richey et al., 2011). If the content is intrinsically motivating for the student, it will catch their attention more readily. But beyond that, the manner we design our instructional materials can influence how learners focus their attention to select and process the information, and in turn on what and how much gets stored in their memory. For example, we can ensure that students are guided to the most relevant content first by making that content more visually salient. Or we can tell an engaging story to focus their attention to the concepts that come next.

Baddeley and Hitch's multicomponent model of working memory (1974).
Baddeley and Hitch’s multicomponent model of working memory (1974)

Working memory is a concept introduced in the 1970s by Alan Baddeley. This model describes immediate memory as a system of subcomponents, each of them processing specialized information such as sounds and visual-spatial information. This system also performs operations on this information and are managed by a mechanism called the central executive. The central executive combines the information from the various subcomponents, draws on information stored in long-term memory, and integrates new information with the old one (Baddeley, 1986).

Some researchers consider attention and working memory to be the same thing; while not everyone agrees, it is clear that they are highly interconnected and overlapping processes (Cowan, 2011; Engle, 2002). Attention is the process that decides what information stays in working memory and keeps it available for the current task. It is also involved in coordinating the working memory components and allocating resources based on needs and goals (Miller, 2014).

The capacity of each of the working memory components is limited. However, these components are mostly independent: visual information will interfere with other visual information, but not much with another type such as verbal information (Baddeley, 1986). Therefore, the most effective instructional materials will include a combination of media, such as images and text (or better yet, audio narration), rather than just images or just text.

Graphic by Cheese360 at English Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Storage – How Fast Do We Forget?

Ebbinghaus's forgetting curve (1885) - the graph shows the percentage of words recalled declining sharply after one day and then more slowly
Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve (1885)

In the late 1800s, Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted his famous series of experiments on the shape of forgetting. The result was the forgetting curve (also called the retention curve), which is a function showing that the majority of forgetting takes place soon after learning, after which less information will be lost (Ebbinghaus, 1885). A recent review of studies on the retention curve concluded that the rate of forgetting may increase up to seven days, and slows down afterwards (Fisher & Radvansky, 2018). This interval is useful to consider when planning instruction. A well-designed course will include sufficient opportunities for practice and retrieval during this time, so as to minimize the forgetting that naturally occurs.

Graphic from MIT OpenCourseWare is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Retrieval – How Do We Get It Out of Our Heads and Use It?

While long-term memory is considered unlimited, retrieval (or recall) can be challenging. Its success depends on a few factors. To retrieve memory representations, we use cues—information that serves as a starting point. Since a memory can include different sensory aspects, information with rich sensory associations is usually remembered more easily (Miller, 2014). Visual and spatial cues are particularly powerful: memory athletes perform some mind-blowing feats by using a special technique called “the memory palace”—imagining a familiar building or town and placing all content inside it in visual form (to learn more about this technique, check out this TED talk by science writer Joshua Foer).

Recall is also influenced by how the information was first processed: deep processing (focusing on meaning) will yield superior retrieval performance compared to shallow processing (focusing on superficial features like some key words or the layout of the information). However, equally important is a match between the type of processing that happens during encoding and the one that happens during retrieval (Miller, 2014). For instance, if the final exam contains multiple-choice questions, learners will perform better if they also practiced with multiple-choice questions when they learn the content. Finally, emotions have been shown to boost memory (Kensinger, 2009), and even negative emotions (such as fear or anger) can have a strong effect on recall (Porter & Peace, 2007).

Conclusion – Implications for Instruction

What can we do to maximize our students’ memory potential? Based on these memory characteristics, here are a few strategies that can help:

  1. Make use of graphic design and multimedia learning principles to create attention-grabbing, well-organized instructional materials that include a combination of media.
  2. Include plenty of retrieval practice activities, such as polling during lectures, quizzes, or flashcards. The website Retrieval Practice is a fantastic resource for quick tips, detailed guides, and research. Top things to keep in mind:
    • Boost retrieval practice through spacing (spreading sessions over time) and interleaving (mixing up related topics during a practice session).
    • Make sure you plan some sessions for the critical seven-day period after introducing the material.
  3. Consider teaching students the memory palace technique for content that requires heavy memorization.
  4. Support every type of content visually where possible.
  5. Encourage deep processing of the material, for example through reflections, problem-solving, or creative activities.
  6. Ensure that students have opportunities to engage with the material during learning in the same way as they will during the exam.
  7. Try to stimulate emotions in relation to the content. While negative affect can help (for example, recounting a sad story to illustrate a concept), it is probably best to focus on positive emotions through exciting news, inspiring anecdotes, and even more “extrinsic” factors such as humor, uplifting music, or attractive visual design.

Using these strategies will help you create learning experiences where students encode, store, and retrieve information efficiently, allowing them to use it effectively in their lives, studies, and work. Do you have any related experience or tips? If so, share in a comment!

References

Baddeley, A. D. (1986). Working memory. Oxford University Press.

Cowan, N. (2011). The focus of attention as observed in visual working memory tasks: Making sense of competing claims. Neuropsychologia, 49(6), 1401–1406. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.01.035

Ebbinghaus, H. (1885). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology.

Engle, R. W. (2002). Working memory capacity as executive attention. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(1), 19–23. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.00160

Fisher, J. S., & Radvansky, G. A. (2018). Patterns of forgetting. Journal of Memory and Language, 102, 130–141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2018.05.008

Kensinger, E. A. (2009). How emotion affects older adults’ memories for event details. Memory, 17(2), 208–219. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658210802221425

MacKay, D. G. (1987). The organization of perception and action: A theory for language and other cognitive skills. Springer New York. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4612-4754-8

Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds online: Teaching effectively with technology. Harvard University Press.

Porter, S., & Peace, K. A. (2007). The scars of memory. Psychological Science, 18(5), 435–441. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01918.x

Richey, R., Klein, J. D., & Tracey, M. W. (2011). The instructional design knowledge base: Theory, research, and practice. Routledge.

Lately I’ve heard from a number of faculty whose students have expressed stress or overwhelm at the workload in a course. Further, students as well as faculty have had to adjust to a new routine or pace in their lives in recent months. All of this change gives us a chance to examine the workload and pace of a course so that it is manageable for both students and instructors. To that end, I offer three simple things that faculty can do to make their workload more manageable:

  • Manage expectations
  • Post time estimates for each activity
  • Consider your own availability

Manage expectations

One of the most effective ways to help students understand how much they should plan to do each week in the course is to be explicit and specific about the workload, early in the course. Refer to the credit hour policy to help students understand expectations. At OSU, it is expected that students engage with course materials and activities for 3 hours per week for every credit hour. So for a 3-credit course, students should expect to work about 9 hours each week on reading, studying, assignments, discussion boards, and other activities. This information is generally listed in the syllabus, but it’s nice to highlight this in an announcement early in the course, or perhaps even in an intro video or weekly overview video. Being explicit early in the course sets expectations for everyone, builds trust, and cuts down on negative emotions from students who feel there is too much (or not enough) in a course.

Post time estimates for each activity

One complaint that students occasionally have is that there is an uneven workload from week to week. One way to address this is to post estimated times for each activity for the week. This could appear in a task list on a weekly overview page, for example. This helps in several ways. First, it helps students who struggle to manage their time effectively. If they know that the assignment takes about 2 hours to complete, they can plan for that chunk of time in their week. Moreover, perhaps there are six readings posted in one week, but each reading is only about 5-10 minutes long. Posting this helps students understand that there are a number of short readings this week. That way students don’t assume each reading takes too long and decide to skip some of them. Moreover, being explicit about time estimates helps students know that you are sticking with the credit hour policy as well, which is another way to build trust.
If you find that the tasks you’ve outlined exceed the credit hour policy, let your learning objectives for the course guide your decisions for what to keep and what to cut.

Consider your own availability

Lastly, consider your own availability. Be explicit with students about when you are available so that you can be sure to carve out time to recharge your batteries. For example, if you like to have a bit of time to relax on the weekends, you might have your weekly assignments due on Monday of the following week for each module, rather than Sunday. That way, if students have questions about an assignment that they are wrapping up over the weekend, you still have Monday morning to get back to them instead of scrambling to answer multiple emails on Sunday evening.

Connecting with our students is essential, but how do we do it? Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by connected. Zoom works to see one another on a screen, you can attend activities on campus and possibly see some of your students, or we can take a deeper look into what connected means. When I think of education, connecting could be students to each other, students to the material, the material to real life, you to the student, etc. I’ll focus on the last one here: You to the student.

Think back to a time when you were in school and you had a “favorite” teacher or professor. What was it about them that made them your favorite? Did they open up their classroom at lunch to play cards with students? Did they give you a “good luck” note for a sporting event? Maybe they came to your choir concert, attended a theater production you were in, or maybe they made themselves available in a time of need. Whatever it is, that’s what connects you. What made them your favorite is because of the connection that you formed.

Effective connection is:

  • Being available
  • Caring (and showing it)
  • Treating the student with respect
  • Being a trustworthy confidant
  • Showing belief in students
  • Acting warm and welcoming
  • Showing compassion
  • Being on the student’s side
  • Exuding love for teaching
  • Showing true interest in students
  • Being a great listener
  • Accepting every student

For me, there were lots of teachers I liked and many I’d say were “favorites” but looking back, one made that huge impression and connection. How? By giving me a cut up straw on a string. Yes, you read that correctly, a cut up straw on a string. That teacher listened to what I was saying when she asked a question about how a track meet went. If it was not so good of a meet, I’d reply “I sucked from a big straw.” When it came time for an important meet that year, I got a good luck card with a straw I couldn’t suck from. That was over 20 years ago and I still have that cut up straw. Now that’s a connection!

Connection Do’s and Don’ts. 

DO

  • Be available
  • Care (for real!)
  • Treat students with respect
  • Be a trustworthy confidant
  • Show belief in students
  • Be warm and welcoming
  • Show compassion
  • Be on the student’s side
  • Exude love for teaching
  • Show true interest in students
  • Be a great listener
  • Demonstrate acceptance

DON’T

  • Try too hard to be liked
  • Gossip about students
  • Fail to set boundaries
  • Fail to set high expectations
  • Be unable to say no
  • Be sarcastic
  • Pamper students
  • Fail to follow through
  • Pretend to care

 

 

Run through the lists and think of a way you can make the do’s happen and ways you can keep the don’ts from happening. Was there a specific example from your examples that really stood out? Use that to help guide you in the other examples. Perhaps you remember a time where you failed to set high expectations, what happened? Reflect on why you thought you had (or know you didn’t) and what you’d like to do differently next time.

Want to know more? Read “You’ve Gotta Connect: Building Relationships That Lead to Engaged Students, Productive Classrooms, and Higher Achievement” by James Alan Sturtevant, 2014

This post is the second in a three-part series that summarizes conclusions and insights from research of active, blended, and adaptive learning practices. Part one covered active learning, and today’s article focuses on the value of blended learning.

First Things First

What, exactly, is “blended” learning? Dictionary.com defines it as a “style of education in which students learn via electronic and online media as well as traditional face-to-face learning.” This is a fairly simplistic view, so Clifford Maxwell (2016), on the Blended Learning Universe website, offers a more detailed definition that clarifies three distinct parts:

  1. Any formal education program in which at least part of the learning is delivered online, wherein the student controls some element of time, place, path or pace.
  2. Some portion of the student’s learning occurs in a supervised physical location away from home, such as in a traditional on-campus classroom.
  3. The learning design is structured to ensure that both the online and in-person modalities are connected to provide a cohesive and integrated learning experience.

It’s important to note that a face-to-face class that simply uses an online component as a repository for course materials is not true blended learning. The first element in Maxwell’s definition, where the student independently controls some aspect of learning in the online environment, is key to distinguishing blended learning from the mere addition of technology.

You may also be familiar with other popular terms for blended learning, including hybrid or flipped classroom. Again, the common denominator is that the course design intentionally, and seamlessly, integrates both modalities to achieve the learning outcomes.

Let’s examine what the research says about the benefits of combining asynchronous, student-controlled learning with instructor-driven, face-to-face teaching.

Does Blended Learning Offer Benefits?

Blended Learning Icon

The short answer is yes.

The online component of blended learning can help “level the playing field.” In many face-to-face classes, students may be too shy or reluctant to speak up, ask questions, or offer an alternate idea. A blended environment combines the benefit of giving students time to compose thoughtful comments for an online discussion without the pressure and think-on-your-feet demand of live discourse, while maintaining direct peer engagement and social connections during in-classroom sessions (Hoxie, Stillman, & Chesal, 2014). Blended learning, through its asynchronous component, allows students to engage with materials at their own pace and reflect on their learning when applying new concepts and principles (Margulieux, McCracken, & Catrambone, 2015).

Since well-designed online learning produces equivalent outcomes to in-person classes, lecture and other passive information can be shifted to the online format, freeing up face-to-face class time for active learning, such as peer discussions, team projects, problem-based learning, supporting hands-on labs or walking through simulations (Bowen, Chingos, Lack, & Nygren, 2014). One research study found that combining online activities with in-person sessions also increased students’ motivation to succeed (Sithole, Chiyaka, & McCarthy, 2017).

What Makes Blended Learning So Effective?

Five young people studying with laptop and tablet computers on white desk. Beautiful girls and guys working together wearing casual clothes. Multi-ethnic group smiling.

Nearly all the research reviewed concluded that blended learning affords measurable advantages over exclusively face-to-face or fully online learning (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, 2009). The combination of technology with well-designed in-person interaction provides fertile ground for student learning. Important behaviors and interactions such as instructor feedback, assignment scaffolding, hands-on activities, reflection, repetition and practice were enhanced, and students also gained advantages in terms of flexibility, time management, and convenience (Margulieux, McCracken, & Catrambone, 2015).

Blended learning tends to benefit disadvantaged or academically underprepared students, groups that typically struggle in fully online courses (Chingosa, Griffiths, Mulhern, and Spies, 2017). Combining technology with in-person teaching helped to mitigate some challenges faced by many students in scientific disciplines, improving persistence and graduation rates. And since blended learning can be supportive for a broader range of students, it may increase retention and persistence for underrepresented groups, such as students of color (Bax, Campbell, Eabron, & Thomson, 2014–15).

Blended learning  benefits instructors, too. When asked about blended learning, most university faculty and instructors believe it to be more effective (Bernard, Borokhovski, Schmid, Tamim, & Abrami, 2014). The technologies used often capture and provide important data analytics, which help instructors more quickly identify under-performing students so they can provide extra support or guidance (McDonald, 2014). Many online tools are interactive, fun and engaging, which encourages student interaction and enhances collaboration (Hoxie, Stillman, & Chesal, 2014). Blended learning is growing in acceptance and often seen as a favorable approach because it synthesizes the advantages of traditional instruction with the flexibility and convenience of online learning (Liu, et al., 2016).

A Leap of Faith

Is blended learning right for your discipline or area of expertise? If you want to give it a try, there are many excellent internet resources available to support your transition.

Though faculty can choose to develop a blended class on their own, Oregon State instructors who develop a hybrid course through Ecampus receive full support and resources, including collaboration with an instructional designer, video creation and media development assistance. The OSU Center for Teaching and Learning offers workshops and guidance for blended, flipped, and hybrid classes. The Blended Learning Universe website, referenced earlier, also provides many resources, including a design guide, to support the transformation of a face-to-face class into a cohesive blended learning experience.

If you are ready to reap the benefits of both online and face-to-face teaching, I urge you to go for it! After all, the research shows that it’s a pretty safe leap.

For those of you already on board with blended learning, let us hear from you! Share your stories of success, lessons learned, do’s and don’ts, and anything else that would contribute to instructors still thinking about giving blended learning a try.

Susan Fein, Oregon State University Ecampus Instructional Designer
susan.fein@oregonstate.edu | 541-747-3364

References

  • Bax, P., Campbell, M., Eabron, T., & Thomson, D. (2014–15). Factors that Impede the Progress, Success, and Persistence to Pursue STEM Education for Henderson State University Students Who Are Enrolled in Honors College and in the McNair Scholars Program. Henderson State University. Arkadelphia: Academic Forum.
  • Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Schmid, R. F., Tamim, R. M., & Abrami, P. C. (2014). A meta-analysis of blended learning and technology use in higher education: From the general to the applied. J Comput High Educ, 26, 87–122.
  • Bowen, W. G., Chingos, M. M., Lack, K. A., & Nygren, T. I. (2014). Interactive learning online at public universities: Evidence from a six-campus randomized trial. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 33(1), 94–111.
  • Chingosa, M. M., Griffiths, R. J., Mulhern, C., & Spies, R. R. (2017). Interactive online learning on campus: Comparing students’ outcomes in hybrid and traditional courses in the university system of Maryland. The Journal of Higher Education, 88(2), 210-233.
  • Hoxie, A.-M., Stillman, J., & Chesal, K. (2014). Blended learning in New York City. In A. G. Picciano, & C. R. Graham (Eds.), Blended Learning Research Perspectives (Vol. 2, pp. 327-347). New York: Routledge.
  • Liu, Q., Peng, W., Zhang, F., Hu, R., Li, Y., & Yan, W. (2016). The effectiveness of blended learning in health professions: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 18(1). doi:10.2196/jmir.4807
  • Maxwell, C. (2016, March 4). What blended learning is – and isn’t. Blog post. Retrieved from Blended Learning Universe.
  • Margulieux, L. E., McCracken, W. M., & Catrambone, R. (2015). Mixing in-class and online learning: Content meta-analysis of outcomes for hybrid, blended, and flipped courses. In O. Lindwall, P. Hakkinen, T. Koschmann, & P. Tchoun (Ed.), Exploring the Material Conditions of Learning: Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) Conference (pp. 220-227). Gothenburg, Sweden: The International Society of the Learning Sciences.
  • McDonald, P. L. (2014). Variation in adult learners’ experience of blended learning in higher education. In Blended Learning Research Perspectives (Vol. 2, pp. 238-257). Routledge.
  • Sithole, A., Chiyaka, E. T., & McCarthy, P. (2017). Student attraction, persistence and retention in STEM programs: Successes and continuing challenges. Higher Education Studies, 7(1).
  • U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. (2009). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. Washington, D.C.

Image Credits

  • Blended Learning Icon: Innovation Co-Lab Duke Innovation Co-Lab [CC0]
  • Leap of Faith: Photo by Denny Luan on Unsplash
  • School photo created by javi_indy – www.freepik.com

One of the most common questions I get as an Instructional Designer is, “How do I prevent cheating in my online course?” Instructors are looking for detection strategies and often punitive measures to catch, report, and punish academic cheaters. Their concerns are understandable—searching Google for the phrase “take my test for me,” returns pages and pages of results from services with names like “Online Class Hero” and “Noneedtostudy.com” that promise to use “American Experts” to help pass your course with “flying grades.” 1 But by focusing only on what detection measures we can implement and the means and methods by which students are cheating, we are asking the wrong questions. Instead let’s consider what we can do to understand why students cheat, and how careful course and assessment design might reduce their motivation to do so.

A new study published in Computers & Education identified five specified themes in analyzing the reasons students provided when seeking help from contract cheating services (Amigud & Lancaster, 2019):

  • Academic Aptitude – “Please teach me how to write an essay.”
  • Perseverance – “I can’t look at it anymore.”
  • Personal Issues – “I have such a bad migraine.”
  • Competing Objectives – “I work so I don’t have time.”
  • Self-Discipline – “I procrastinated until today.”

Their results showed that students don’t begin a course with the intention of academic misconduct. Rather, they reach a point, often after initially attempting the work, when the perception of pressures, lack of skills, or lack of resources removes their will to complete the course themselves. Online students may be more likely to have external obligations and involvement in non-academic activities. According to a 2016 study, a significant majority of online students are often juggling other obligations, including raising children and working while earning their degrees (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2016).

While issues with cheating are never going to be completely eliminated, several strategies have emerged in recent research that focus on reducing cheating from a lens of design rather than one of punishment. Here are ten of my favorite approaches that speak to the justifications identified by students that led to cheating:

  1. Make sure that students are aware of academic support services (Yu, Glanzer, Johnson, Sriram, & Moore, 2018). Oregon State, like many universities, offers writing help, subject-area tutors and for Ecampus students, a Student Success team that can help identify resources and provide coaching on academic skills. Encourage students, leading up to exams or big assessment projects, to reach out during online office hours or via email if they feel they need assistance.
  2. Have students create study guides as a precursor assignment to an exam—perhaps using online tools to create mindmaps or flashcards. Students who are better prepared for assessments have a reduced incentive to cheat. Study guides can be a non-graded activity, like a game or practice quiz, or provided as a learning resource.
  3. Ensure that students understand the benefits of producing their own work and that the assessment is designed to help them develop and demonstrate subject knowledge (Lancaster & Clarke, 2015). Clarify for students the relevance of a particular assessment and how it relates to the weekly and larger course learning outcomes.
  4. Provide examples of work that meets your expectations along with specific evaluation criteria. Students need to understand how they are being graded and be able to judge the quality of their own work. A student feeling in the dark about what is expected from them may be more likely to turn to outside help.
  5. Provide students with opportunities throughout the course to participate in activities, such as discussions and assignments, that will prepare them for summative assessments (Morris, 2018).
  6. Allow students to use external sources of information while taking tests. Assessments in which students are allowed to leverage the materials they have learned from to construct a response do a better job of assessing higher order learning. Memorizing and repeating information is rarely what we hope students to achieve at the end of instruction.
  7. Introduce alternative forms of assessment. Creative instructors can design learning activities that require students to develop a deeper understanding and take on more challenging assignments. Examples of these include recorded presentations, debates, case studies, portfolios, and research projects.
  8. Rather than a large summative exam at the end of a course, focus on more frequent smaller, formative assessments (Lancaster & Clarke, 2015). Provide students with an ongoing opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge without the pressure introduced by a final exam that accounts for a substantial portion of their grade.
  9. Create a course environment that is safe to make and learn from mistakes. Build into a course non-graded activities in which students can practice the skills they will need to demonstrate during an exam.
  10. Build a relationship with students. When instructors are responsive to student questions, provide substantive feedback throughout a course and find other ways to interact with students — they are less likely to cheat. It matters if students believe an instructor cares about them (Bluestein, 2015).

No single strategy is guaranteed to immunize your course against the possibility that a student will use some form of cheating. Almost any type of assignment can be purchased quickly online. The goal of any assessment should be to ensure that students have met the learning outcomes—not to see if we can catch them cheating. Instead, focus on understanding pressures a student might face to succeed in a course, and the obstacles they could encounter in doing so. Work hard to connect with your students during course delivery and humanize the experience of learning online. Thoughtful design strategies, those that prioritize supporting student academic progress, can alleviate the conditions that lead to academic integrity issues.


1 This search was suggested by an article published in the New England Board of Higher Education on cheating in online programs. (Berkey & Halfond, 2015)

References

Amigud, A., & Lancaster, T. (2019). 246 reasons to cheat: An analysis of students’ reasons for seeking to outsource academic work. Computers & Education, 134, 98–107. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2019.01.017

Berkey, D., & Halfond, J. (2015). Cheating, student authentication and proctoring in online programs.

Bluestein, S. A. (2015). Connecting Student-Faculty Interaction to Academic Dishonesty. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 39(2), 179–191. https://doi.org/10.1080/10668926.2013.848176

Clinefelter, D. D. L., & Aslanian, C. B. (2016). Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences. 60.

Lancaster, T., & Clarke, R. (2015). Contract Cheating: The Outsourcing of Assessed Student Work. In T. A. Bretag (Ed.), Handbook of Academic Integrity (pp. 1–14). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-079-7_17-1

Morris, E. J. (2018). Academic integrity matters: five considerations for addressing contract cheating. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 14(1), 15. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-018-0038-5

Yu, H., Glanzer, P. L., Johnson, B. R., Sriram, R., & Moore, B. (2018). Why College Students Cheat: A Conceptual Model of Five Factors. The Review of Higher Education, 41(4), 549–576. https://doi.org/10.1353/rhe.2018.0025

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

sound waves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

Image by mtmmonline on Pixabay.

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