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

Open Pedagogy Part 1 – What is the value of going ‘open’?

By Ashlee M. C. Foster, Instructional Design Specialist Oregon State University Ecampus

Designing the "right" assignments
Figure 1: A list of challenges and strategies associated with designing the “right” assignments. This list is a result of a collaborative activity generated by the Critical Open Pedagogy cohort at the Digital Pedagogy Lab 2019. Photo courtesy of Ashlee Foster

Are you committed to broadening access to education and knowledge, acknowledging and mitigating barriers, fostering social justice, and designing authentic and renewable learning experiences that contribute to the greater good? Do you employ pedagogical approaches that focus on student agency, collaboration, community, and connection to the public and world at large? If so, you may be an open educator at heart!

This is a three-part blog which will introduce the potential value of open pedagogy (part 1), critically examine considerations and strategies for implementation (part 2), and explore current practitioner examples and design approaches (part 3), which I hope will help you envision open assessments for your courses.

You may be thinking those two little words encapsulate a great deal, and you would be right! I have learned that this is a complex question with various evolving answers among practitioners. Recent literature indicates that there is a shift occurring from Open Educational Resources (OER) centered pedagogy to pedagogy that is focused on the potential impact, collaboration, connection, democratization of education, and the critical inquiry of systems and technology. Both leaders in the field, Robin DeRosa and Rajiv Jhangiani define open pedagogy as, “access-oriented commitment to learner-driven education AND as a process of designing architectures and using tools for learning that enable students to shape the public knowledge commons of which they are a part.” It may help to contextualize this pedagogy by examining your perceived value of the approaches, consider what excites you most, and identify how you personally connect with the pedagogy. Let’s begin by exploring this together!

What values underpin open pedagogy?

What is open pedagogy?
Figure 2: A whiteboard with questions posed. The questions include “What is open pedagogy?”, “What is Open Educational Practices?”, and “What is Open Education?” Cohort members co-generated answers to these questions and posted them to the board. Photo courtesy of Ashlee Foster

I had an invaluable opportunity to attend the Digital Pedagogy Lab Critical Open Pedagogy track, facilitated by Rajiv Jhangiani. Throughout the intense week, our cohort engaged in meaningful discussions centered on what is it that makes someone an educator, open pedagogical approaches, public scholarship, educational technology, the democratization of education, and how open pedagogy can foster social justice. Rajiv asked participants to review his 5Rs for Open Pedagogy and then write a personal interpretation of the values. Specifically, he asked, “What brings you (or others) to this work?” In the spirit of openness, I have shared my initial perception of the values which continue to evolve as I learn more about the field.

Recent literature surveyed educators and asked them to describe how going open impacts their pedagogical approaches. Educators indicated that the open approaches prompted them to find innovative ways for students to obtain and share knowledge, use of new methods and platforms, diversify learning materials to include multi-perspectives, actively teach open literacies, move to a participatory model of teaching and learning from one that was top-down, and to engage in critical inquiry around entrenched knowledge structures.

Additionally, educators shared their perceived value for creating learning assessments that:

  • go beyond a single course (renewable),
  • are broadly relevant (inclusive),
  • allow for student choice when demonstrating learning (agency),
  • connect to the real world and the learner’s personal interests (relevancy),
  • amplify multi-perspectives from broad global voices (liberate),
  • empower students with the knowledge and skills to participate openly (freedom), and for educators and learners to collaborate (participate)!

What are students saying?

These are valuable insights from practicing educators, but what are students saying about open approaches in their classes? In a recent study, 173 students were asked to compare the educational value of open pedagogy to traditional approaches, to identify the types of learning outcomes associated with this approach, and if they preferred open pedagogical approaches to traditional. Out of 169 respondents, 53% of students preferred open pedagogical approaches to traditional classroom teaching practices. Students shared that the open approaches led to increased knowledge of the material, synthesis of information, consideration for the relevance of information, how to bring information together in a meaningful way for diverse audiences, application to real-world issues which they personally connect with, and they found the approaches to be more engaging. However, 20% of students preferred traditional pedagogy. This highlights that the integration of varied approaches may be optimal. I have learned that open pedagogy is not necessarily a silver bullet that can remedy all barriers and challenges associated with closed systems. Rather, it seems to be a tool that can be leveraged to foster social justice, engagement, participation, collaboration, co-construction of knowledge, the democratization of education, and to increase global access to education.

With all that said, let us circle back around to the question posed in the Critical Open Pedagogy workshop, what brings you to this work? I encourage you to reflect on this question. You may even find it helpful to write out your interpretation of the values of open pedagogy and share those with the community. If you feel comfortable to do so, please feel free to share in the comments of this blog. Do you find yourself inspired by this pedagogical approach? If so, I invite you to revisit this blog for Open Pedagogy Part 2 – Critical Considerations for Implementation and explore the resources below.

References

Resources

 

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

Decorative image

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

Benefits for Faculty Members

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

Here are some benefits to consider:

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

Building Empathy

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

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

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

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

Tuition Reduction for OSU Employees

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

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

Share Your Experience!

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

Resources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a stranger give it welcome.” – Shakespeare

Students need tactics for when they encounter strange people or strange ideas. (Wilson, 2018) First-time online students are a perfect example of individuals who are encountering something new, strange, and often uncomfortable, for the first time. Welcoming that strange experience should include a little bit of information gathering. Look for positive and negatives in situations to help decide how you view it and, most of all, have an open mind.

To help potential online students make decisions, when they take their first online course, Marie Fetzner asked unsuccessful online students: “What advice would you give to students who are considering registering for an online course?”

Their top 13 responses:

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

 

These responses raise the question: how can we better help our students? From the advice above, we know students struggle with time management, expectations, communication, etc.  So, what can we do to help foster their success?

  1. Reach out to students who seem to be lagging behind. A quick email is sometimes all it takes to open up that line of communication between you and the student.
  2. Provide approximate times for course materials and activities. Students can use this to better plan for the requirements that week.
  3. Keep your course organized so students can spend more time with the content instead of search for the content.
  4. Remind students about where to access help and support services.
  5. Develop a Q&A discussion board for student questions about the course. Often, more than one student has the same question and often other students might already know the answer. Have this be something you check daily to answer questions quickly so students can continue with their learning.
  6. Use rubrics for grading. By giving the students rubrics, they will know what is expected, you will get responses closer to your expectations, and it makes grading easier!

 

Welcome these ideas as you would a new experience. Give it a little try, jump right in, confer with colleagues, or chose your own path. Know that as an instructor or developer for an online course, you have the ability to help your students be successful!

References

Fetzner, Marie. (2013). What Do Unsuccessful Online Students Want Us to Know? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), 13-27.

Wilson, J. (2018). “As a stranger give it welcome”: Shakespeare’s Advice for First-Year College Students. Change, 50(5), 60.

 

Image of mountaineers with quote by John Dewey.

What is Experiential Learning?

You may have heard the terms experiential education and experiential learning. Both terms identify learning through experience as a foundational understanding. However, experiential learning is associated with individual learning.

Traditionally experience-based learning in higher education has been presented as educational opportunities complimentary to classroom instruction. These experiences might include clinical experiences, cooperative education experiences, apprenticeships, fellowships, field work, volunteerism, study abroad, practicum and internships, service learning, and student teaching experiences. These types of learning experiences are offered in and across many different disciplines (Giesen, 2012). These familiar experiential education programs demonstrate the value of individual experiential learning. But, the question remains: Is experiential learning a viable approach for online instruction?

Understanding the potential for experiential learning for online courses turns upon recognizing experiential learning as a process. The experiential learning process has been described as a cycle of learning (Kolb and Kolb, 2018). The model below illustrates The Experiential Learning Cycle.

Model of experiential learning showing sequence of Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation.

Experiential learning is understood as constructive pedagogy approach that is highly student centered. The Experience Learning Cycle begins with a concrete experience of some kind. Commonly we think of this as a real world event. That experience is followed by reflective observation of the experience, abstract conceptualization of what was learned, and the application of new learning via active experimentation. That experimentation is integrated as part of the next concrete experience.

The interactive and progressive nature of the experiential learning cycle is considered a driver of personal growth and development. The dialectics between concrete experience and abstract conceptualization as well as reflective observation and active experimentation are theorized to drive motivation for learning. 

Online Experiential Learning In Practice 

Problem-based learning, case-based learning, and  project-based learning are examples of design models that may include learning via experience in the real world (Bates, 2014). These models are often used as a way of bringing engagement into online instruction. So, if you have been incorporating these models of learning in an online course you are engaged at some level with experiential learning. But, what if you wanted to design an experiential learning assignment that does not fall within one of these models?  What might that look like?

Let’s examine the application of the experiential learning cycle to an online learning experience in a course recently offered through Ecampus at Oregon State University. The asynchronous course, Introduction to Organic Agriculture Systems, is a survey style course with an enrollment of students from Oregon and more distant.

Let’s step through The Cycle of Experiential Learning with an assignment from this course as our sample context. Hopefully it will reveal some insights into both the process of experiential learning and its practice.

1. Concrete Experience

The concrete experience for this course was an organic scavenger hunt assignment that was to be completed in the first week of the course. Although the overt activity of was a guided scavenger hunt the learning experience focus was to begin to learn systems thinking in organic agriculture. This is important to identify, as it is the authentic learning goal of the experiential learning.

As the professor framed this assignment: “This introductory activity will provide you the opportunity to explore organic availability, marketing, and farming in your community.”This concrete experience is the direct experience of organics in the student’s community.

The objectives of the scavenger hunt were to:

  • Identify organic products and marketing techniques that differentiate organic from conventional products
  • Conduct a survey of organic availability in your local store and region
  • Participate in hands-on exploration of different components of the organic system

Students were provided with a detail scavenger hunt instruction set and told to complete there first part of the assignment in a local store using an organic scavenger hunt questionnaire-work sheet. Time estimates for completion of the scavenger hunt was up to three hours at the store site. Completed work sheets were turned in to the instructor.

The key to this assignment is the real life exploration of the local organic system. Although this will be elaborated on in subsequent weeks of the course, this concrete experience will become a touchstone students can reference as they build new knowledge and skills in systems thinking in organic agriculture.

2. Reflective Observation

Part 2 of the scavenger hunt assignment includes independent student work guided by questions that ask about the presence of organic farms in the student’s area, type of organic farms, scale of the farms and evidence of their independent research work.

This element of the assignment encourages students to search for, identify, and reflect upon gaps in the local organic system in their own backyard. This work encourages students to reflect upon their own concrete experience, the quality of their work, and its linkage to understanding systems thinking.

3. Abstract Conceptualization

In week three of the course students were assigned a course discussion to share their findings from the scavenger hunt with peers. Here they compare and contrast their scavenger hunt findings and observations. In particular, students were asked to connect the social, environmental and economic dimensions of sustainability in organic agriculture to their observations taken from the scavenger hunt experience. Additionally students were asked to review other student work from different locals and explore common understandings about organic agriculture systems.

The value of this exercise from an experiential learning perspective is the application of concrete experience to more abstract concepts described by others or found in other agricultural regions. This provides opportunities for the re-conceptualizing of prior experiences with the goal of expanding on the process of organic agriculture systems thinking.

4. Active Experimentation

The Cycle of Experiential Learning rounds out with planning and applying new learning about organic agriculture systems thinking to a future concrete experience. Abstract conceptualization completed in the previous discussion will contribute to the formulation of new questions and ways of examining a local organic agriculture system. Students will likely apply these ideas to ongoing organic agriculture systems thinking in the course. In this way prior reflective observation becomes the root of new questions and predicted results for the next learning experience in organic agriculture systems thinking.
 

Final Thoughts

The final project of this course is the production of an organic systems map that explains the relationships between organic system stages (i.e., production, processing, distribution/marketing, consumption, and waste) and the dimensions of sustainability (ie. social, environmental, and economic).

In order to complete the final project students learn a great deal between their initial scavenger hunt and the final project. Their original concrete experience in systems thinking will likely inform decisions about how to re-apply new organic agriculture systems thinking.

The experiential learning assignment we just examined only works if students perceive that moving through the cycle of experiential learning addresses an authentic learning need. As the course is focused on introducing organic agriculture systems the idea of learning systems thinking makes sense. It captures the fundamental truth of what is expected to be learned (Jacobson, 2017) making the learning appropriate.

What Now?

As you explore the possibility of using experiential learning in your online course it is valuable for you to first consider formulating answers to a number of questions.

  • What is the authentic learning needed?
  • What concrete experience provides students with access to that learning? 
  • How will students carry that concrete experience through the cycle of experiential learning?
  • How will you provide the opportunity for concrete experiences for remote learners in a way that fosters individual learning and contributes to large scale learning in the course?

As you explore experiential learning for your online course revisit the model shared in this article. For help in this process contact your Ecampus instructional designer. They can help focus the key questions and suggest instructional strategies and tools to help you achieve your online experiential learning goals.

 

References

Bates, T. (2014). Can you do experiential learning online? Assessing design models for experiential learning. Retrieved from https://www.tonybates.ca/2014/12/01/can-you-do-experiential-learning-online-assessing-design-models-for-experiential-learning/

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Giesen, J. (2012). Experiential Learning. Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, Northern Illinois University. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/strategies/experiential_learning.pdf

Jacobson, J. (2017). Authenticity in Immersive Design for Education. In Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Realities (Ch 3). Singapore, Springer Nature.
Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-981-10-5490-7

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


Experiential Education Resources

Association for Experiential Education
http://www.aee.org/ 

Journal of Experiential Education
http://www.aee.org/publications/jee 

Experience Based Learning Systems Inc.
https://learningfromexperience.com

Experiential Learning & Experiential Education
http://www.wilderdom.com/experiential/

Great places to find answers to this question are the Lilly Conferences on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning held annually at six sites from coast to coast. These conferences invite participants to engage in lively dialogue about the scholarship of teaching and learning, share best practices and hone teaching skills. Lilly Conferences are not specific to any course modality; they cover classroom, hybrid and online teaching. I found the three topics from August’s Lilly – Asheville Conference of particular interest: alternative approaches to traditional grading, faculty and student empathy, and strategies to enhance the effectiveness of lectures.

Alternative Grading Systems

Michael Palmer,  director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Teaching Excellence, challenged conference attendees to address the question “How does grading influence learning?” He then encouraged examination of alternative approaches to traditional grading practices, and explained specifications (“specs”) grading, which he personally uses. Briefly, specifications grading involves:

  • Grading assignments and assessments on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis, where mastery (passing) is set at a “B” level or better.
  • Bundling assignments and assessments together and allowing students to select these “bundles” based on the final course grade they are seeking. Bundles are aligned with specific course learning outcomes. Higher final grades require students to do more work and/or more challenging work.
  • Building in flexibility by giving students a few tokens at the outset that they can trade in for an extension on an assignment or an opportunity to revise/redo an unsatisfactory assignment.

Advocates of specs grading tout its effectiveness in motivating and engaging students while restoring rigor, providing actionable feedback (Palmer gives audio feedback) and supporting deep learning. To learn more, see Linda Nilson’s book Specifications Grading. Regarding ways to provide feedback that enhances learning in online courses, see Wanted: Effective Instructor Feedback.

Empathy and Student Success

Katherine Rowell of Ohio’s Sinclair Community College spoke eloquently about “The Importance of Teacher and Student Empathy in Student Success.”

  • She noted that positive faculty-student relationships are a principal factor predicting student success. In fact, the 2014 Gallup-Purdue survey found that college graduates were far more likely to be engaged in their work and thriving in key areas of well-being if they had one or more positive relationships with faculty.
  • Rowell encouraged the audience to learn more about the role that empathy plays in student success, and to look at how empathy—by both instructors and students—is manifest in the college classroom, including the online classroom.
  • She recommended Christopher Uhl and Dana Stuchul’s book Teaching as If Life Matters which encourages teachers to nurture students in ways that make learning beneficial for a more meaningful life. In this regard, OSU Business instructor Nikki Brown’s recent post in this blog on meeting students where they are is a excellent place to start.

Improving Lectures

Todd Zakrajsek of UNC-Chapel Hill presented evidence-based strategies to enhance lecture effectiveness. His message can be applied to asynchronous online learning as well as to on-campus courses:

  • Lectures and active learning are not mutually exclusive. Using lectures, including short online lectures, plus active learning can reach more learners better than using either technique in the absence of the other. Think of strategies to get learners to interact with the lecture content!
  • “We have to stop thinking there’s only one kind of lecture.” Just as there are many varieties of active learning, there are multiple kinds of lecturing!  The classic college lecture model is continuous expository lecturing, which can effectively stifle student engagement when delivered non-stop in one-hour doses! It’s useful to consider how other approaches such as case-study, discussion-framing, and problem-solving lectures can be used in online and hybrid courses.
  • We all benefit from examining the research on how learners learn, and applying this knowledge  to inform course development and teaching, including lecture design. For more on this, see The New Science of Learning, co-authored by Zakrajsek and Terry Doyle. Also consider meeting students where they are.

What are your experiences with these topics: Have you explored alternative grading systems? How do you use empathy in your teaching? What are some strategies you use to improve lecture effectiveness and incorporate active learning? Please share your ideas here.