Thoughts at a Conference – Texas Distance Learning Association, Day 4 – 4/10/2015

The last day of the Texas Distance Learning Association conference today.  There are two morning sessions and then the closing lunch/meeting.

Getting the Band Together for Ongoing Course Development

Presenters – Beth Dolliver, Nirisha Garimella, and Francis Choy – Instructional Designers – Collin College

Looking at the major members that are necessary for course development – teachers, students, and technology

Course Design and Student Anxiety –

What is anxiety in an online course?  How can instructors tell if a student is anxious?  Are there strategies to share with students?

How to tell if students are anxious – ask a large number of questions; they seem to quit participating; they quit submitting assignments.

Purposeful Design –

Design toward the student learning outcomes – are you aimed at the goals you are trying to reach?  If you are trying to teach critical thinking, then multiple choice is not what you should be using.  You really have to decide that if you are going to emphasize critical thinking, you have to actually do it.  You can’t just pretend that something you were using before actually promotes critical thinking.  You need to think about real course design in terms of learning outcomes.  That is always one of the frustrating things I see, when we say we are going to test something or emphasize something and people change almost nothing and say they were already doing it.

Again, that fundamental issue came up – we don’t have instructional designers, which makes a lot of this difficult to deal with, as I have to do whatever I do on my own.

Getting student feedback –

One thing I could use is surveys (esp. SurveyMonkey to get anonymous responses) – get immediate responses and ability to change problems on the fly.

Some people use anonymous discussion forums in the course itself – so students can raise issues without putting their names out there.  We can see the names, and the students need to know that.  So, I don’t know about using this, but it is an interesting idea.  Of course, I don’t know if Moodle does this anyway.

Appy Hour: Share Your Favorite Educational Apps

Presenter – Anne Herndon – Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

  1. Scholly – database app to help students search for scholarships that separate by parameters and then give a list of scholarships to apply to.
  2. Wonderlist – creates lists of what you need to do and check them off as you do them.
  3. CloudConvert – will take pics of documents  or items and send it as different formats to people – allow students to turn in assignments without needing to have the apps.
  4. AudioBoo – for creating podcasts – 10 minutes free

And that’s the end of the conference.  Lunch and final meeting is next.  Thanks for reading.

Thoughts at a Conference – Texas Distance Learning Association, Day 3, Part 2 – 4/9/2015

This is the second half of day 3 of the Texas Distance Learning Association conference.  I broke day 3 in half to keep it from getting too long.  So, this will cover the post-lunch sessions.

Building Effective Assessments in Online Courses

Presenters – Four Texas A&M representatives – three from Texas A&M Central Texas and one from Texas A&M Texarkana

Why is assessment important?  Assessment should be aimed at a process to help the students understand and improve their learning.  We should gain insight into student learning and development, professional effectiveness and program quality.

Forms of assessment – assessment “of” learning and assessment “for” learning

Formative assessment – gathering evidence to improve learning for the purpose of improving learning

Summative assessment – gathering evidence of student achievement to show student competence or program effectiveness.

Components of assessment – clear purpose, clear targets, sound design, effective communication, and student involvement.

  • Clear Purpose:
    • Who – student, teacher, parent
    • How – formative/summative
    • What – information, type?
  • Clear Targets
    • Do instructors understand what they are trying to assess?
    • What do they want students to learn?
  • Sound Design
    • Have assessments been designed to match the learning targets?
    • Has an appropriate method been selected and has it gone through a planning and development review?
  • Effective Communication
    • Does information provided from assessment practices allow for the development of instruction?
    • Can results be recorded and managed properly?
    • Can it be used as effective feedback?
  • Student Involvement
    • Do assessment efforts communicate the necessary information back to students, such as: learning targets, constructive feedback, learning progress

And yes, this is basically what the slides were.  The rest was largely bashing faculty for not using the tools out there, not knowing what they are assessing, being unwilling to work with what is there, and being at fault for everything.  It is interesting to see this from the perspective of the instructional designers, where we are all intransigent faculty who seem to come out as incompetent in their eyes.  Again, this is funny from my perspective, as we do not have instructional designers where I am, and I have to learn everything on my own the best that I can.

The solutions are all aimed at four-year universities as well.  What they say is goad faculty into doing this by pointing out that it is tied into tenure.  They also assume that we have big instructional design departments.  There was little actual discussion of actual assessments that are running and working, just the broad ideas.

And there we go – one of the last questions – somebody actually asked what assessments you have seen that actually work.

Tune In: Integration and Support for Harmonious Online Learning

Presenters: multiple

Tilly Slaten – San Jacinto College – Distance Learning Coordinator

Atomic Learning – online resources for distance learning students – help support dual credit students especially who don’t have the resources to make it up to campus

Julia Allen – Learning Technologist – Texas A&M University-Texarkana

Using it for professional development for faculty and to help unprepared online students so that faculty did not spend their time remediating.

Atomic Learning – just-in-time training (<3 minute) on 250+ different platforms, both aimed at faculty training and for student help. Can be completed anywhere at any time.  Training can be assigned and progress can be tracked.  Can even get certificates of completion.

Then, she made the mistake of only showing that it worked with Blackboard.  No indication made as to compatibility with anything else.

Wade Ashby – Hardin-Simmons University – Blackboard Admin

Atomic Learning – quick turnaround support – self-service support

As a note, nobody has talked about price yet – the website for Atomic Learning talks about getting a campus quote, meaning that it is not something practical for us to use at all.  In theory, this could be useful, but since it costs money and everyone is only talking about Blackboard, it is basally irrelevant.  Could be useful and cool otherwise. Ah . . . they just said that it does integrate with Moodle.

And, I won a shirt.  A Large shirt, meaning it doesn’t fit me.  But I won something.

Using Technology to Engage Students: Online AND Face-to-Face

And, I asked them, and they are not really going to talk about blogs, which is what I wanted to see.  So, I am going to head out to beat traffic.  Day 3 is over for me.

Thoughts at a Conference – Texas Distance Learning Association, Day 3, Part 1 – 4/9/2015

The second full day (third overall day) at the conference (Texas Distance Learning Association) started early for me.  To beat traffic, I got here quite early.  There was no scheduled breakfast, but, luckily, there were some basic muffins and drinks, so that carton of yogurt hours earlier got a supplement before the session started.  I have taken advantage of the quiet time of getting here early to clear some stuff out of my inbox and do some general grading for my classes, so it was not a waste of time by any means.  Today looks like a fuller schedule of sessions than yesterday, and more of them appear to be directly focused on the teaching side of things.  So I am hoping for some good content today.

Roundtable: Instructional Design: Solutions and Resources

A general discussion and networking opportunity – no focused guidance but an open-ended discussion

First major question raised – standardization vs. instructor freedom in design

TXDLA putting together a MOOC on teaching people how to teach online.  Also proposing a certification track for instructional design.  Question also about do they need their own certifications or should they be a repository of what is out there and worthwhile.

One of the things discussed was the question of instructional design when most of us who teach were never actually taught how to teach.  We are experts in our subject, but we are not taught how to put together things like student learning outcomes, cross-course competencies, and the like.

Another funny thing, of course, is that I’m in the room with instructional designers who are talking about the struggles they have with faculty and such, and as I just noted, we don’t actually have instructional designer at all.  So, it ends up being a funny conversation because people are talking about having instructional designers and how to make it a priority for instructors to get instruction on how to teach, especially to teach online, as we simply do not have it.

Assessments that Rock

Presenter – Sheree Webb – Instructional Designer – Tyler Junior College

OK.  It has not started yet, but here’s a good sign – there’s a history assessment up on the screen before we get started.  This might be directly relevant in the best way.

The question of what our students actually retain out of our classes – assessments chosen well give you the best ability to choose what students retain.  Since they are so focused on what is on the test, giving them assessments that aim at what you want them to get out of the course makes it more likely they will retain that information.

The question of the assessment not matching the learning outcomes.  The example given were the traditional history multiple choice tests that are so incredibly poor at focusing the students on what they should learn.  Who cares if they can recall random facts in history.  Recall (or as I call it in my class, memorize, regurgitate, and forget) questions are poor assessments of student success.  Are we really so poor in teaching history that what we want the students to be able to do out of the class is recall random irrelevant facts or do we want them to be able to do higher-level learning?  I just get so frustrated at the way history is taught, like multiple choice exams matter.  That we should care whether they can recall the facts has always seemed to me to be a base level of teaching history.  Of course, the argument on the other side is that you have to understand the facts to be bale to make the connections.  But, I just wonder if any of us really believe that the students completing a multiple-choice exam actually shows that they do understand that material, or have they just memorized and forgotten?

Assessment level – you want to give frequent assessments – Frequent assessments keep students engaged in the course and help them gauge how they are doing.  Recommendation – at least one formative assessment a week.  Formative means – quizzes, short essays, debates, discussion forums, short case studies, reflection questions, questions or problems with the answers posted.  Keep they engaged on a regular basis and have them be assessing their progress as they go along.

Authentic Assessment – Real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.  Could be – performing a task, real-life situations, construction/application, student-centered, and direct evidence.  This doesn’t mean you can’t do traditional assessment – selecting a response, contrived, recall/recognition, teacher-centered, and indirect evidence.  You need a combination of the two, but you need to have authentic assessment, which is often left out.

You Have Me at Hello

Presenter – Dr. Wendy Conaway – Ashford University – Assistant Professor

This one is intended to discuss the introduction forum in online classes and how it can increase student engagement.  This may not go well, as there seems to be technical issues in getting going here.  This has happened more often than not in my sessions here, as everyone seems to be having some sort of problem getting the provided computers to do what they are supposed to do.

I wonder at what point you give up on a session?  Is there a 15-minute rule on a 50-minute session?

Discussing first impressions – how we connect with students throughout the course.  We represent us, the course in general, and for students who are in a course with us the first time, it can shape how they feel about the whole college.  We represent all of the courses if we are the first ones that we encounter.  It also can give you the benefit of the doubt with the students later in the semester.

Instruction Forum – a place to create social presence – creating a persona and creating a connection between you and the students.

Introduction forums promotes a sense of community – opportunity to share and learn about each other.  People here require their students to respond to others – getting to know them.  I can’t imagine doing this.  I have eliminated mandatory responses in my classes, and I certainly would not include it here.

Introduction forums help student engagement – it helps to alleviate anxiety and can be motivating to participate.  Helps with student retention as well, keeping the students in the course.

I am going to break here for lunch and go ahead and post this one up for the first half of the conference.  I will post the second half at the end of the day.

Thoughts at a Conference – Texas Distance Learning Association, Day 2 – 4/8/2015

Today, I am attending the Texas Distance Learning Association Conference in Dallas, TX.  Today is the first full day of the conference, and I will be here throughout the day today.  I am going to be blogging this event today and for the next two days, with a breakdown of each of the sessions that I am attending.

As a note, I have already been here a long time, as I came in rather early to beat the traffic of driving into Dallas.  Thus, I had about a 2-hour starting window for the breakfast (yay! food!).  Getting here at 7 with the first session at 9 meant a long breakfast.  The good thing is that I was joined by several people that I was able to talk with and pass the time.

According to what I have heard from people, attendance is down this year, maybe because it is in Dallas rather than in Corpus Christi or Galveston, as in previous years.  Still, there seems to be a good variety of people here at this point.  I do not have any concept yet about how many either instructors or community college members are here this year.  I hope to find that out as I hit the more specific sessions.

Session 1 – Opening Keynote

Presenter – Ross Ramsey – Executive Editor and Co-Founder, The Texas Tribune

A general overview of the Texas legislate session, discussing issues that affect out budgetary outlooks, both at the state level and in terms of educational focuses.  An overall interesting talk about what the issues are going to be in the last 8 weeks of this legislative session.

Session 2 – SoftChalk – Create-Your-Own Interactive eBooks for iPads and Chromebooks

Presenter – SoftChalk – Paul Miller

I have always been interested in SoftChalk but never seen anything about it.  One distinct idea is that anything you create in SoftChalk can be shared with a web link on any platform.  Following the twitter handle @PaulSoftChalk gives the link for this session.  I am going to be following along with his presentation through his created SoftChalk page.

Showing the use of internal polling, use of frames to display content inside your lesson, use of media (video, images), quizzing embedded in the lesson.

As a note, if you are going to give a presentation to a room full of professionals, you should at least spell check your presentation.  Some credibility is lost, either in the presenter or in the product.  It raises the question to me if spell check is a part of what you can do.  It is so key to what you need in preparing course materials that, if it is not included, this is a weakness.

Next part of the presentation – SoftChalk Cloud – started as a desktop application – now it is in the cloud for both development and distribution.

To create an eBook, you use the eBook Builder within the SoftChalk application.  In this example, he pulled in from a Word document with the majority of the formatting coming over as done in Word.  So, you can bring in material well from what you have created elsewhere – it creates the html code for what you bring in.  Then, you insert page breaks to paginate your book.  Inserting activities goes through the menus with 20 different types of activities available to insert.  As for media, they have a set number of things (Khan Academy, Getty images, and the like).

Seems pretty straightforward in use.  The question is, how different is it to create when you don’t have content ready to go?  How long would it take to set up a new lesson?  And, do you want all the small activities that the students have to do as you go along?  That is what SoftChalk seems designed for, if you want essentially PowerPoint like slides with interactive materials in it. I am not sure if it would work for something more robust in scale.

Also, as was raised in the discussion here, the question is if you want online or offline access.  The advantage to online access is that you don’t have to imbed the whole media content in the lesson, making it a smaller file overall but requiring internet access to use.  If you want it to be completely offline, then you have to embed the material into the eBook itself, leaving you with restrictions on the size of your document, depending on how much stuff you brought in.

And now, the link that I had above is now the thing that he created here (using already made content) in about 15 minutes here. Something to look at and see what I think about it.  The final .epub file is here that you can download and use with students.  I tried opening it in iBooks, and it is certainly pretty rough in how it carries over.  This is a beta product, and it is not all the way together and ready from what I can see.

Session 3 – Exploring “Helper” Apps to Hit Productivity High Notes

Presenter – Sharon Huston – Texas A&M University – Instructional Designer

Looking for ways to make the annoying busy work side of our jobs less monotonous.  How much time do we spend copying and pasting and the like rather than the real essence of our jobs.

ClipMate – clipboard manager that keeps track of what you have copied and pasted so that you can pull multiple different things out of it to paste.  Not a Mac tool – PC only – paid product (about $20) – couldn’t use on work computer, as you have to install program.

ColumnCopy – Chrome extension – Allow you to copy a column of material off of the web

Text Mechanic – webpage that allows you to manipulate text in multiple different ways.

Example of using these two together – pull a list of student email addresses and then clear spaces and add commas to delineate them.

Text Expander on a Mac (Phrase Express) – shortcuts for commonly used phrases – why haven’t I thought about using this with grading?  Can turn my standard comments into something that I can use by typing a short phrase and then getting the entire thing written out.

word2cleanhtml.com – if you want to convert a word document to clean html

Passwords – LastPass – 1Password – DashLane – All set up to get you to have to have one password to work through all of your different password.  LastPass is a browser extension.  Also, the passwords are completely random and not tied to anything that you would have as a connection.

 Using Google Docs Technology to Promote Collaboration

Presenters – Carolyn Awalt and Teresa Cortez – UTEP

Google Docs, Voice, Calendar, Scholar – to be demonstrated today.

Google Docs –

  1. upload and save from your desktop
  2. edit any time, from anywhere
  3. pick who can access your documents
  4. share changes in real time
  5. files are stored securely online
  6. can tell who does what work and people can’t easily slack off

Google Drive – essentially a cloud-based hard drive.  For students, this can be used as a student portfolio if your program needs that.  For instructors, you can share information with students that you are working on with them.  You can determine their level of participation, read only or edits allowed.

Google Contacts – can use it to tag based upon what class they are in.  Not that relevant for me and the way we interact with students.

Google Calendar – ability to share your schedule, access on any computer/mobile device, send invitations and track RSVPs, sync with desktop applications, work offline Could use with students to schedule office hour visits and appointments.  Would that get more students to come by my office hours if they saw that I was available there?  Could also automate when assignments were due without having to send out Announcements to my students when I remember to.  With all students having access to Google through our student gmail accounts, I could add them all to my list and have these things set up for them.  Need to talk to IT to see if I can use my gmail account to add in our students, even if their emails aren’t ending in gmail.

Google Voice – Can set up one number to get at your cell, home, and work phone – that way students call one number and it will ring wherever I am.  Are we allowed to put this as our office number for students?  Accommodates both phone and text, and it will give you a transcript of the phone call.

Google Scholar – for research – an alternative to just the basic Google search – even being able to set up alerts on when certain topics come up.

I was going to stay for one more session, but with not having a hotel room here, I really needed to leave before rush hour traffic began.  As with so much of any conference, I certainly miss out on a lot by not being able to actually stay at the conference hotel, as I have to drive in and out and organize my time around traffic.  I made it to the sessions, but I essentially missed a lot of the networking possibilities by not being able to do any of the late afternoon to evening sessions.

Thoughts on Teaching – Snow Days – March 5, 2015

So, here we stand.  Our third snow day in the last two weeks.  All of them in late February to early March in Texas.  Yes, that is unusual.  It poses the same challenges that happen any time you have unscheduled time off from school, and, without a doubt, it is better than last year, when our big frozen, snow days were during finals period of the fall semester.  Missing days in the 7th and 8th week of the semester is not bad overall, especially since I do not give midterms.  Those who do midterms are struggling to figure out how to make those up, with the real result that most of them just get pushed to after Spring Break, which is next week.

I know that a snow day is nothing particularly unusual, and that what counts as a snow day would be an average winter day in Pennsylvania, where I spent 8 years of graduate school.  Still, it poses interesting challenges.  I want to talk about those challenges in two ways — first with school and schedule and second with personal time.

The most obvious problem with a snow day is making up the material.  For my online classes, there is no problem, except when students have their internet knocked out from losing power and the like.  Otherwise, the semester just goes along like normal.  And, unless it were to happen at a time when we were testing, days off are essentially irrelevant to an online class.  Since half of my load is online, three of my classes were totally unaffected.  My other three classes are hybrid classes, where the days off are more directly problematic.  We only meet once each week, and if the day is missed, that week is missed.  If the classes were distinct, I could make up in one class for one set of assignments missing, but I am teaching three of the same classes, all at the same point and doing the same assignments.  Thus, to make up the material in any meaningful way means making some of my students do significantly more work for the grade than what they would otherwise do.  There also are no built-in make-up days this semester for me, meaning that when I miss, that material is just gone.  I do have some safeguards built in, however.  For one, they all have pre-class writing on the subject to complete.  So, they are, in fact, directly held accountable for the material that we were to discuss that week.  As well, I have an assignment on the chapter(s) for the week also due before class, and that also means the students are held responsible for the material.  What they are missing out on is the actual classroom discussion of the material.  Two of my three hybrid classes have now missed a day (different weeks of material, of course), and that means that I have not had a chance to discuss the material with them.  One of them was last week, and so I did make some references to the material this week in class.  The other one missed this week, which means I will not see them again until two Thursdays from now.  That is a long time to carry over material.  The other big problem for me is that we were in the middle of a three-class themed set of material.  We covered the World War I to World War II period looking at the theme of American neutrality in the world as it related to the US becoming a world power.  Since the three were linked, missing one means that material was not covered and topics got lost.  As we were doing a narrow look at the issues, it also means that the broader context of what was going on in the world also didn’t get connected to the material.  What’s the effect of all of this for the students?  They’re probably just happy to not have to come to class.  But for me, I’m just trying to figure out how to stay on track and cover what I want to cover.  By the next time I see the class that didn’t meet today, it will be two weeks later, and we will be on to the post-war period.  Sigh.  I worry too much, I’m sure, but I can’t help it, as it is my job.

The other side is my personal experience with the snow days.  It seems like an unmitigated good.  A day off from school.  No travel, no obligations.  But it never works that way.  Of course, as I said above, for one thing, my online classes just continue as normal.  The days off we had last week were in the middle of my own grading period of their material, and so I graded in my time off.  But I actually feel like I got less grading done with the days off than I would have if I had gone into work.  The problem with everyone being home is that we are a household of 6, and getting things done at home when everyone is home is not always the easiest thing.  An even bigger problem, however, is the feeling that I get that is like how the students feel.  I have the day off, why should I work?  I have to force myself to get something done.  For example, take today.  If I had been at school, I would have gotten to campus around 9:30.  I would have been in my office doing work from 9:30-11.  I would have taught from 11-12:15.  Lunch until 1:30.  Then back in the office doing work from 1:30-3:30.  On my own at home, I could barely force myself to sit down for an hour to do classwork.  The temptation to view it as a full day off, especially as this would have been the last work day before Spring Break anyway, is strong.  But I have a lot to do.  I have things to catch up on, both in grading and in preparation.  I owe my hybrid students grades on quite a few small things, and I do not even have the next week of material up and ready for them.  But I find it hard to get any real work done.  That means that I am not getting what I need to do done and feeling guilty about not doing the work at the same time.  Isn’t the human brain wonderful?

The solution to this?  Treat a snow day off from work as a work day.  Or, treat a day off from work as a day off.  I have to choose one or the other.  If I try to treat is as partly one or the other, I just feel guilty.

Those are my thoughts on it.  What do you think?  Do you enjoy unexpected days off?  Do you get anything done?  Do you feel guilty about not getting things done?

Thoughts on Teaching – Quick Thought – 1/23/2015

One thing I wonder by about the time I have reached the end of the second week of the semester – if I have heard very little from my students at this point, does this mean the class is going well or badly?

Thoughts on Teaching – Pre-Semester Preparations – 1/10/2015

Well, here we go.  Another semester is set to start, with just a little over a day left until we get going.  I am teaching six sections this coming semester, three online sections and three hybrid sections.  This last week has been the preparation time to get ready for the semester.  We were worried over the course of this holiday break because we were updating our learning managements system (LMS), and so there were some cautions about doing too much ahead of time in case there were problems.  There turned out not to be any problems, but I scaled back most of my plans for possible changes.  In fact, with my online class, I am simply redoing the course I did last semester, meaning that there were mainly just some changes of dates and a few minor updates.  Otherwise, that course is ready to go.

I have put together a few more changes for my hybrid class.  They have finally gotten my hybrid classes scheduled correctly here, as they are set for meeting only one day a week.  In the past, I have always had them scheduled for two days a week, and then I met for one of those.  Now, I have one class on Tuesday, one on Wednesday, and one on Thursday.  The only negative to that, is that I used to meet for both of the days in the first week, which gave me two days to introduce the class.  Now, I have to get that introduction done in one day.  So, I have developed some introductory materials to show the students how to access my online material and the textbook material.  I used iBooks Author to develop the material, making a .pdf file that is set up like a book and includes both images and links.  I am hoping this provides my students with the information they need in an attractive and accessible format.  If I knew how to attach a .pdf file to this post, I would put an example here, as I am pretty proud of what I did.  It is something new I am trying out, and it worked well.

On that same note, I have put together similar presentations for my hybrid class weekly assignments.  In the past, I had very basic assignments for the students, such as having them watch a documentary, write a response paper, and then discuss it.  Over the years I have been doing this, I have come up repeatedly unsatisfied with my students’ preparation and background knowledge.  So, I have beefed up the activities, providing background information, helpful links, stronger and more involved assignments, and more detailed response papers.  I want the students to be more prepared and to have more engagement with the material.  Again, if I had the ability, I would post one of these up, as I do feel that the iBooks format works pretty well for the material and presentation.  I am not planning on publishing these to the Apple Store, but I do like the ability to create something that looks nice and can be exported in a format that is generic enough for anyone to use.

So, that is what I have been working on.  I have all of the dates in my classes adjusted to the Spring semester.  I have all of the Course Outlines done.  I have the online classrooms ready to go.  The first five weeks of the online course are visible and ready when students get in on Monday.  I have the first three weeks of the hybrid course ready to go, and I hope to get the fourth work done tomorrow and have that be my preparation point to get the students in on Monday.

How about you?  Are you teaching a class this semester?  Are you taking a class?  How ready are you for the semester?

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