I have been doing so much thinking about teaching this summer so far that my brain is starting to hurt. I have a lot of ideas floating around, and I’m going to keep writing about them here this summer. Some of it is so that I can get feedback, but some of it is simply so that I can have a place to keep my ideas together.
They were discussing a lot of ideas about online teaching in general, and I could probably have a whole post here just deconstructing the podcasts I’m listening to. However, there was one section that I wanted to separate out and talk about here.
One of the hosts, John, was talking about how we struggle in class to figure out what to talk about and how we are generally taught to rely on the students having read the material ahead of time so that we can synthesize and add to that material. This is especially true in the introductory courses like my own history courses. On the question of whether students are reading, he said:
…faculty who lecture primarily, often get into this situation where they tell students to do the reading… students come to class and they ask them questions about the reading and they find students haven’t done the reading… and in response they end up going over the reading… and then students realize they don’t have to do the reading, because it’s going to be gone over in class anyway… and then the faculty realize that they’re never doing the reading so they have to do it in class…and we get this vicious downward spiral in terms of expectations of both students and faculty — where students end up not learning as much as they could be if that time outside of class was more productively used.
This is right along the lines of what I feel about the traditional lecture and why I have dropped the traditional narrative lecture from my hybrid classes in favor of project-based weekly activities in class where they have to have done the reading ahead of time to be able to discuss and participate.
I don’t have anything more to say right now about this, but I just found that to be so perfect to what I have been thinking about and doing in my classes that I just had to share. What do you think? Do you teach and see yourself in this statement? Are you a student and have had classes that look like this?
I was at a 5-year-old’s birthday party this past weekend, and a parent asked what I do. When I responded that I teach history at a community college, he proceeded to tell me about his own experience. He came to this country as a senior in high school and had to take American history to graduate. He then went off to college and took American history there the next year. His comment was that he thought it was a waste of time to take college-level history, as it was just a repeat of what he had been taught in high school. That further convinced me that my approach to teaching college-level history is heading in the right direction, as I know that my class is nowhere near just a repeat of what the students would have gotten in high school. In fact, the top comment that I get in my discussion forums is how the students have not heard much of anything that I teach before coming to my class.
That brings me to the first part here of what I do in the online teaching environment for history. For a long time, teaching history has been focused around the narrative, with the feeling that, if you do not speak about every single detail of American history that you can squeeze in, then you are failing to do your job. I hear that from my colleagues here and elsewhere that, every time we are asked to do something besides teaching the narrative, we are taking time away from what we are supposed to be doing. When I get to Part 2 of this series, talking about my hybrid courses, I will talk about a course where I have started the break with the narrative approach to history. However, for Part 1 here, my online course is still largely a narrative course.
What makes my course different from a high school course is: What narrative are you teaching? My students have to cover the material in multiple different ways online, getting the narrative from multiple sources and perspectives.
In the old style, the narrative came from two sources — the instructor and the textbook. The instructor presented the “true” content for the course, and the textbook covered all the cracks where the instructor either did not have enough time or did not present on topics he or she wasn’t all that interested in. These two sources largely matched in approach, and student success in class came in how closely they could match the instructor and textbook approaches on their multiple-choice and essay exams.
I have so many different perspectives in my class that there is no single source of information. As well, throughout all of it, I do not insist on a coverage model at all, as we will have some material that we will spend a lot of time on and others that we will not. At the base, here are the sources that my students have:
- My lectures (presented in both a Word document and as audio podcasts)
- The textbook (1-2 chapters each week)
- 7-10 primary sources with detailed assessments on each through the semester
- Crash Course US History videos from YouTube
- 10-20 additional resources on the web each week.
- These are basically anything I can find for free on the web that has a stable link that covers some subject related to that week. These include:
- newspaper articles
- magazine articles
- journal articles
- online museum exhibits
- These are basically anything I can find for free on the web that has a stable link that covers some subject related to that week. These include:
The only part of the above that is not required are the additional resources, but I know that students are reading them because of what they talk about in the discussion forums (which will be a later post). I will have one student post what they find interesting in a resource, and then another student will say that inspired them to read/watch/listen to the resource. Then, they post about it, triggering another couple of students, and so forth.
It is a lot of material, but, of course, in an online course, I can ask for them to do that material and hope they do it. I try to have assessments tied to all of it except the additional resources, whether it be in textbook quizzes, assessments on primary sources, or broad-based essay questions that cover the lectures and Crash Course Videos. The evidence overall shows that students are definitely accessing some of it, with the better students accessing all of it.
I feel that the coverage that I give them works well, as I hear from them regularly. I have a lot of avenues for students to talk to me about their progress in the course, and they find the material manageable and interesting, which means I am meeting the goal I am looking for.
As I move forward in developing material, I do want to do more.
- First, I am looking to redo my lectures. They are the ones that I first developed in teaching American history almost 15 years ago, and I know they are dated. They are largely still on the coverage model, and updating them would allow me to have the lectures be more of a deep dive into the interesting material for the subject and allow the textbook to remain as the one source still tied to the coverage.
- Second, I would like to diversify my assessments to focus more on the skills that I am looking for students to learn rather than just their memorization of the material. I have been fairly successful so far in doing that, but I know I could do more (which I will discuss in the assessment part of this discussion of what I do).
For right now, I am moderately happy with my content coverage, and, if I could do that first one, especially, I think I would have my online history course in a very good place.
Do any of you who read this teach history or another introductory subject? What do you remember from when you took introductory history?
These days, I teach classes in two ways — online courses and hybrid courses. Part 1 of the “What I Do” series will look at how I teach online courses.
I have been teaching online since Spring 2007. I was hired on at my current job in 2006. At the time, I was told that I was to develop online courses for the social sciences department. I was given a year at the time, which meant, of course, that I did not think about it for the first couple of months, as I was just trying to get acquainted with a new place and a new job. I had never taught online before, had never taken an online class before, and had never even seen an online system before. So, I was a complete neophyte in the realm of online education.
Of course, my decision to not think about it for the first couple of months would not last. In November of my first semester teaching, I was told that a decision had been made to move the start date from Fall 2007 to Spring 2007, so, instead of about 10 months, I now had 2 months to get an online course ready. I still had not seen an online course or had any idea what it meant to teach online.
I dove in as fast as I could. We were using the Moodle LMS at the time, and I scheduled a training session with our LMS administrator shortly thereafter. The training was great. I understood Moodle, and I was reasonably confident that I could develop in it at a fairly general level (at least well enough to get started). However, I came out of that training thinking that it was great, but that I still did not know how to teach an online course. The LMS training was great at the nuts and bolts of navigating the LMS, but I still had no idea what online pedagogy was. I did not know how to organize an online course, how to create online assignments that were appropriate for a course, or even how an online course should differ from a face-to-face course. And, as I found out shortly afterwards, that was the end of the training offered at my college. I was told that if I wanted to know more, I needed to go and ask others around the college who taught online.
As a very new faculty member with few connections on the campus (and an office that was isolated from everyone else, as I got the only space open at the time, which was behind the stage in the fine arts center), this was not an easy thing to do. I asked around and got a few examples. Some were bad (just have the students write a few pages on each chapter in the book and give them some multiple-choice quizzes — this online teaching thing is a breeze!) and some were ok (some discussions, quizzes, and exams). However, none really stood out to me as models that I wanted to follow. Later I would learn that there was a whole group of people who had been teaching online well for years, but I would not be introduced to them until later.
Thus, I was left on my own. I had about one month left, and I needed a course to be able to present when the spring semester opened. I followed the one consistent piece of advice I had heard from all over the place — make your online course as much like your face-to-face course as possible. I would never give that advice now, but, over a decade ago, that was the standard. That is what I did.
So, this is what my first course (the second half of American history) looked like:
- My lectures were from lecture notes that I had typed up. I uploaded them, as well as my PowerPoints and other supplementary material that I used in my face-to-face classes.
- I had the students read 1-2 chapters a week. I was told I needed to hold them accountable for this, so I had them submit a weekly writing assignment most weeks on what they had read. I have no idea now what those assignments looked like, but I am sure they were fairly basic response papers.
- I had four week-long discussion forums on primary source documents that were in the weeks that I did not have weekly writing assignments.
- I had three exams that were made up of multiple-choice and true/false questions.
I mirrored this over the summer in developing the first half of American history course. And thus, my career teaching online courses took off.
How did it go? I actually have no idea. Students finished the course. Students got grades. But at that time, I was not much for self-reflection on courses, as I was always just moving on to the next thing. I also had a raging addiction to World of Warcraft that took up much of my spare time, leaving me basically moving in a world without real feedback or intellectual time to think about what I was doing.
For the next several years, I moved along, adjusting things here, moving things around there. Probably the most significant thing I did in year two of teaching online was to record my lectures as audio podcasts. I still use those same podcasts today, and students still compliment me on them, which I take to mean they are both still relevant and were done reasonably well.
By year three of teaching online, I had kicked my World of Warcraft addiction and had started to come face-to-face with the realization that, while my online course was fine, it was nothing special. Over the next couple of years, I started learning online pedagogy, pushed my department to a textbook that had good online tools, and redesigned my course.
My online course today looks nothing like what it did in 2007, and that is a very good thing. I have grown as a professional and now have a course that both satisfies me and is relevant to students and their success. I certainly will not say it is perfect, and I hope to get to a point in this series where I can start talking about changes I would like to make. Up next in the series, I will talk about the structure of what I do today and then will break out the various assignments that I use today.
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 –
- upload and save from your desktop
- edit any time, from anywhere
- pick who can access your documents
- share changes in real time
- files are stored securely online
- 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.
One of those interesting topics that comes up sometimes is the question of how and when those of us who teach can keep our job skills up to date. Admittedly, many who teach do not care about this at all, and they are happy to teach as they have always taught because it works for them. I, for one, am never happy with where I am as a teacher and educator. To my family’s ongoing chagrin, I am always reinventing, reconfiguring, rewriting, and reforming my classes. Only rarely do I run the same course again the next year as I did the year before. I am always making changes, and I am always seeking out ways to make these changes.
The problem comes in the question of what to change and how to make changes. In this case, my own desires for continuing education and change meets the ongoing budgetary crisis head on. We do not have the money for conferences or continuing education. And, as a community-college instructor who teaches full time with overloads and summer courses (essentially a 6/6/3 load), there is little time and money on my own for going to and doing things to improve my education. One of the options is, of course, books, but I find myself with little time and motivation to read professionally any more. This is sad, as I used to read history for fun, but now, after 8 years of graduate school and 8 years of full-time teaching, the idea of sitting down and reading a historical monograph is just not very appealing. I have had to confront this in myself, as my job is history education, and I should have the responsibility to be up on the latest scholarship, while also reading widely in topics relevant to what I teach. However, much like my students, if it is not required, I am not going to read it. In the spare time I do have for teaching, I generally read fiction, as it allows me an escape from everything else. Unfortunately, that means that one primary avenue for continuing education is largely unavailable for me.
So, with no money or time for traveling to conferences and not really being willing to read the things that I should, I have turned to taking MOOC courses through Coursera. Last Spring, I took University Teaching 101, and this summer, I am in two of them. The first one, which I am in the middle of right now, is e-Learning Ecologies, which looks at new ways we can think about the online learning environment. It runs for eight weeks, and it is week 5 right now. The other one that I am taking now is Learning to Teach Online, which takes a more basic approach to looking at how we teach in an online environment. I am hoping to learn more through these courses about how I teach, how I could teach, and what other ideas there are out there. I can’t say much more about them than that, as I am still working on them.
Those of you who teach, what do you do to keep updated with your skills? Those of you who do not, what else can you think of that could be useful?
I tried something new this summer. I have always had fairly formulaic discussion forums in my class. Something along the lines of — here is a paper topic; write the paper; discuss the ideas of the paper in this discussion forum; repeat several times a semester. That was always a very discouraging discussion format for me, as this narrowly bounded topic selection led to very unoriginal submissions and dull reading on my part. The students largely repeated what they had written about, and, since most had written fairly similar things, the results were basically the same. And then, when I had the requirement that they had to respond to each other as well, then they largely just said they agreed with each other over and over, because, honestly, what else were they going to do. They had all written essentially the same thing over essentially the same topic. What else could they possibly do.
So, this summer, I tried something new. I introduced open forums. Instead of tying the discussion forums to a specific topic or to a specific assignment, I had them as open discussions for the students. Here are the instructions I gave them:
The purpose of this discussion forum is for further discussion on the course material. One of the consistent pieces of feedback I have gotten back over the years is that there is not really a place to discuss what is being read and accessed throughout the course. This forum is intended to correct that. As well, I am trying something new with this forum, as I have not been happy with more focused forums in the past, as they generally are uninteresting and everyone says close to the same thing. I do not know if this one will be any better, but I am trying to branch out to a new idea here.
For this forum, I am asking you to discuss the material that you are working with in class. For Unit 1, that includes Chapters 11-, the lectures Topics 1-8, Critical Mission 1, and any other material relevant to the course. As this is an open-ended forum, I am really not going to say much more than that. Here are some examples of things you could post about:
- I was reading the textbook/lecture, and this was something I did not know anything about/I found interesting.
- In the lecture/textbook, it says _____. I don’t understand what this means. I think it means this, but I’m not sure. What do you think it means?
- As we looked at this event in history, it reminded me of something going on today.
- I found this piece of history really interesting. Where might I find more information on it?
- How do we know that this piece of history we are studying is correct/true? What information is it based on? What might we not know?
Those are just some ideas, and you can go beyond that at will. I will be trying to actively participate in the forums, but I will not respond to things immediately, as I prefer for you to answer and respond to each other rather than just having me respond. I find that my responses in discussion forums almost always end the discussion, and so I will be posting only occasionally.
I think it went pretty well overall. I wanted to try it in a summer session first, as the student base is smaller, and the expectations are different. Most of them would not have had me before or probably even heard much about my class, so they could approach it as a brand new assignment. As well, in the summer, I can have an assignment like this and work with it more, as I have more time in a summer session to dive into the material myself as well. I was pleased with the results from those who participated, although there were a pretty decent number of people who did not participate. The topics posted were quite varied, and it did go in many different directions. I am not going to kid anyone and say they were all wonderful, as the majority were about what you would expect out of undergraduate students — fairly simple and short in form. However, they were a vast improvement over what I had before.
I also had to grade this forum in some way, and I posted up a grading rubric for the students. As I can’t get the formatting to work out correctly, the rubric will be the last thing in the post here. It was interesting to see how it went based on the grading. One of the things to note is that I did have a specific number of posts the students were required to make, and this is where most people, even those who participated well, did not meet my expectations. I’m not sure if I set the number too high, but I thought it was fairly reasonable. Still, I would love some feedback from anyone who is teaching or from anyone who might look at this from a student’s perspective.
The other thing to say about the open forum at this point is that I found it nice from my perspective. I could go in and comment and explain on what I found interesting. As well, if I came across an interesting article or podcast somewhere, it made for a very convenient place to post that for student consideration. Overall, I was pleased.
Has anyone else used something like this? Have you taken a class that included this? What do you think of my instructions and rubric? What would you change or improve?
Grading rubric for Discussion Forum
|Does not participate in the discussion at all.
|The student participates poorly in the discussion, participating less than 6 times during the discussion.
|The student waits until the last minute to post, having all posts in the last days of the discussion.
|The student posts throughout the discussion as well as early in the discussion. The student participates at least 2 times early in the discussion and a total of at least 6 times throughout the discussion.
|The student posts frequently throughout the discussion, with posts at the beginning, middle and end parts of the discussion. The student posts at least 8 times.
|Does not contribute to existing discussions.
|The student only posts his or her own ideas without interacting with other students.
|The student only replies to other students and does not make any original posts of their own.
|The student contributes his or her original posts and relevant follow-up questions to posts by other students. The follow up questions are timely and do not slow the discussion.
|The student posts original content and follow-up questions that are timely and highly relevant to the discussion and spark further conversation. The student has asked questions that others have not considered.
|Does not make any references to the content of the discussion from the video, lectures, or textbook.
The student shows little engagement with the content of the course.
|The student posts content that is related to the discussion.
|The student posts content that is related to the discussion and uses specific historical references from the material to support their ideas.
|The student posts highly relevant content and helps keep the discussion engaging and educational using the material from the course.
|Posts are incoherent, distracting, and/or in very poor form.
Posts are simple in nature and largely just agree with what others say.
|Posts show some awareness of the ongoing discussion and attempt to engage. Some grammatical errors.
|The student contributes in a thoughtful way. The student has used grammar correctly and expresses opinions without denigrating others.
|The student has used language that expresses thoughts and opinions clearly and respectfully. The text is clear and concise and free from major grammatical mistakes.
I’ve saved up a couple of days worth of information on education here. I can’t say there’s a strong theme here, although several do have to do with games in education, which continues to be something that interests me. Here are some of the highlights of what I’ve been reading:
I’ve read a lot about the Khan Academy, and the overall direction of the coverage is generally quite positive. It is generally talked about as revolutionary to the current state of education. This is a rare piece that offers criticism. I have only explored Khan Academy a bit myself, mostly looking at topics covered without really engaging the material. Thus, I’m really relying mostly on what I have read elsewhere about the Khan Academy more than my personal experience. Also, as a note, the Khan Academy has a lot more math and science than it does humanities, so it usually gets evaluated in terms of these offerings. Still, this is a good counterpoint: “Khan Academy’s style of teaching is identical to what students have seen — and rejected — for generations: do this, then do this, then do this. Today, thousands of American students are performing poorly in math, in large part because they weren’t taught it correctly in the first place.” From what I have seen, there is definitely a point here. As the article says, the real problem is that the students are taught that all they need to do is memorize how to complete the task and not understand why completing it is important to know. The article also goes into a bit on skepticism of “new” breakthroughs that I can take or leave. It also notes the general positive reviews regarding “engagement” among students and the gamification aspects. Yet, I think that first critique is the most cogent and relevant. It is along the lines of what I have been worried about here. Is it more important in history to memorize what happened or to understand why what happened is important? I would certainly argue the latter, but I can’t speak for math in general. I’d love to hear from someone about the math side of things to see if this is a good argument or not.
I do have to be honest here that I was linked to this article from another (Reeding and Riting That XPlane Why Stoodents Are Not College Ready), which is obviously a more eye-catching title. However, it quickly got into minutia about the New York area that seemed irrelevant here. So, I went to the original article. It discusses the problems with a single test being presented for all students as what they need to pass. As the writer argues, “If the standard is set too high, so many will fail — including children with special education needs and students for whom English is a second language — that there will be a public outcry. But if the standard is set too low, the result is a diploma that has little meaning.” What this means, in his estimation is that the tests have erred on the latter side, with multiple examples given of passing essays that use barely passable English. His basic conclusion is that testing-based evaluations have failed to increase the actual abilities of the students and just result in watered down tests to get students through who have not improved. The relevance for me is that these are the students (in TX rather than NY, of course) that I get. Somebody made an interesting comment to me two years ago that we are now seeing the students who have been raised through most of their formative years in a testing-focused school environment before college. I certainly see the limitations and largely agree with the article. Of course, the problem here is that it offers no actual solutions, outside of stopping doing what we’re doing now. From my perspective, I need to know how to deal with these students when they get to me.
I know, a 9gag link is not exactly scholarly, but then you have to get ideas where they come from, and I do search the linking sites, especially reddit. I don’t know if I can recommend that people get on reddit, as it has a lot of junk and is mostly amusing. However, I have found the education, teaching, and higher education sub-reddits to be a great source for articles. Honestly, I get about 60% of my links from there. This one is an example of something completely off the wall, namely the reorganization of a class around experience points (XP) such as you would earn in an actual game. It sets up a system where students earn XP for completing tasks. They can then use that XP to level up in the class while also using the points to gain advantages (like extra time on a test). It’s interesting and got my mind working. I was halfway through creating a way to use XP in my own classes before I even realized it. So, the idea is compelling. Realistic? I have no idea, but certainly compelling.
Along the same lines of gaming came this article. It talks about bringing in concepts from role-playing to substitute for the traditional lecture and offers three pieces of advice. The first and last are good, and if you’re interested in role-playing projects, then you should definitely check them out. The middle one is the one that caught my eye, because it encapsulates one of my biggest fears in making dramatic changes. The author notes that you have to assure the students that doing something different is ok and that they will be assessed fairly. Here’s the relevant part: “Most students are used to their teachers feeding them the information, so this will be a new experience for them. Addressing student anxieties about this way of learning is particularly important in disciplines or universities where the lecture-essay-exam model is the most common. I’ve found it helps to provide students with examples of work produced by students in previous courses. You also want to be clear in communicating your expectations. Write out the rules and requirements, and enforce them so the process is predictable. Make sure the teams are small enough that everyone participates and spot check to see that everyone actually does what they are supposed to – the free-rider problem isn’t going to go away. Also, take into account that, depending on their personality or culture of origin, some students may need extra encouragement to participate.” I will definitely take those ideas in mind when working on recreating my course.
- Let the technology help you, not hinder you – expect things to go wrong when you do new things. Don’t get flustered and help the students through the rough parts. The author recommends making tutorial videos and the like, but I think the biggest thing, which I have found to be true, is expect to be troubleshooting through your first week or two. This is something I certainly need to remember, as I get frustrated easily and often take it out on students through overly-sarcastic responses.
- Anticipate the difficulties – know that online students will be distracted, will get bored, will not spend the time you think is adequate, and all together approach the class in a way that you do not expect. The author suggests providing much “scaffolding” to keep students from getting lost and keep them moving in the right direction.
- Incorporate synchronous opportunities – online office hours and the ability of students to get a hold of you when they are likely to be doing the work and encountering problems. In other words, not in normal, traditional office hours.
- Give extra feedback. Then give more – I was going to write that I think I do this poorly, but then I read the advice here and see that I do all of it. I guess it’s the nature of online classes, that I always feel like I need to do more since I don’t see them in person. Yet, I guess I do ok here. I just always feel that I need to be providing more personal feedback to each student. But, as I teach 90 students online right now (a little less than half my load), and will have that probably go up even more next year, I’m not sure how realistic extensive individual feedback is. Still, I do need to think about this one.
- Prove you are not a dog – make sure the students know you are a real person with real issues, real problems, real experiences, and such. Don’t be a robotic responder. Have some personality, and the students will appreciate it.
- Provide support for self-regulation – encourage the students to take charge of their pace of work and requirements each week. We can only hold their hands so much and must rely on them to get things in on time. As I see it, you can only be so flexible, again with 90 students, there’s not a ton of leeway on getting things done and providing individual exceptions.
- Encourage play – While I have thought of this one, this is well put and something I certainly fail at. I will leave it with a quotation here: “Online courses often have a reputation of being dry and boring: lots of reading and lots of lectures. Adding in other elements can make all the difference in the world: add pictures when you can, consider design principles in your CMS, record your lectures in front of a small, live audience (I once recorded a weekly email from my campsite, replete with kids shouting in the background and a fly buzzing around my head). The point is, recognize both how you want to teach the information and how it might be received. I try really hard not to be boring.” I fear my class is boring. I get compliments organization and the like, but I think it is fundamentally not all that interesting of a course. This is something I should really work on.
I’m going to close here, as I’m approaching 1750 words. I have one more article on my list, but this is probably enough for a single post. Give me any feedback that you have. I’d love to hear what you have to say, and I’d love to hear what you have to say.