Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Opinion October 28, 2012

With Obama we get three presidents in one.  The incompetence of Jimmy Carter, the dishonesty of Richard Nixon, and the self-absorption of Bill Clinton.

I am posting this to see if I get any attention.  It is intentionally low, but after he stooped to calling his opponent what he did in Rolling Stone, he deserves it.  He has taken the presidency to a new low.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Blended Toolkit Week 5

How will you know whether your blended learning course is sound prior to
                  teaching it?

I am not sure we can know for certain, since there are so many variables.  However, we have finally gotten a procedure for peer approval passed at my institution.  From now on, any new online or blended course has to be approved by a mentor, a panel of three peers, and the department head.  Since I have a new one coming up in the spring, I better get cracking!  It has to be done six weeks before the start of the semester, too, meaning no last minute preparation.  Now, how that will work in practice is another matter.  It may discourage faculty from starting new courses, really.  There has been resistance here to anyone having any input into another instructor’s online or hybrid course, just like it is for a traditional course.  So, my answer to this is that one way I would know is input from others.  At another institution I worked at, we had to have panel approval.  It was annoying, but it produced better courses because others see things you miss.
Other than that, I would have to look at other instructor’s course setups for comparison, and/or use a rubric provided by other colleges, such as Chico State’s, which we partially used for our rubric.
How will you know whether your teaching of the course was effective once it has concluded? 
Along with a new approval process, we have a new evaluation process.  All courses will be evaluated online (rather than stacks and stacks of paper, yeah!!!  I would depend on that.  I think it is a good idea to also provide a way for students to respond to specific questions you would have that are not on the official evaluation sheet your institution uses.  The website is good for this, although I like to get honest feedback from students that is not anonymous.  I know that we think only anonymous feedback is correct feedback, but I think (a) if you have a good relationship with students and they know they can trust you, and (b) if they are mature about it and are taught how to give decent feedback on the real issues and (c) if you ask the right questions (example, “What would you tell a student signing up for this course next semester?”) you can get some useful feedback.
With which of your trusted colleagues might you discuss effective teaching of blended learning courses? Is there someone you might ask to review your course materials prior to teaching your blended course? How will you make it easy for this colleague to provide helpful feedback? 
I am on our Online Education Committee, which is made up of instructors who have had a commitment to online and hybrid for a while.  I believe I can talk to them about ideas and problems.  And as I wrote above, we have an approval process that is meant not to be punitive but helpful.
How are “quality” and “success” in blended learning operationally defined by those whose opinions matter to you? Has your institution adopted standards to guide formal/informal evaluation? 
Yes, our institution has a rubric (I helped develop it) for the approval process and is in the process of revamping all student evaluation of instruction, which is pretty much a sore subject everywhere.  The new evaluation will distinguish the instructor from the course and from the the technology issues, which I believe will be clearer.
Which articulations of quality from existing course standards and course review forms might prove helpful to you and your colleagues as you prepare to teach blended learning courses?
As mentioned above, we looked at several institutions’ rubrics before coming up with our own for approval processes.  Blended learning has not caught on here as much as I would like it to.  There has not been a good training process, nor is there real remuneration for  developing new online and hybrid courses.  We also have a retention problem with them, although that doesn’t seem to be the case at other institutions.  Blended Toolkit has helped some of us.

Blended Toolkit Week 4

  • In what experiences (direct or vicarious) will you have students participate during your blended learning course? In what ways do you see these experiences as part of the assessment process? Which experiences will result in student work that you score?
  • How will you present content to students in the blended learning course you are designing? Will students encounter content only in one modality (e.g., face-to-face only), or will you devise an approach in which content is introduced in one modality and elaborated upon in the other? What will this look like?
  • Will there be a consistent pattern to the presentation of content, introduction of learning activities, student submission of assignments, and instructor feedback (formal and informal) in your blended learning course? How can you ensure that students experience your course as one consistent whole rather than as two loosely connected learning environments?
  • How can specific technologies help you present content, provide meaningful experiences, and pitch integration to students in your blended course? With your planned technology use, are you stretching yourself, biting off more than you can chew, or just maintaining the status quo?
I currently am teaching two blended courses.  They meet 1.5 hours per week f2f and 1.5 hours per week online, or I should say, the students should be online at least that much.  At our institution we do not have freedom to change the days the class meets or to meet for two weeks and then be off for four, that kind of thing.  Taking this blended learning toolkit course has challenged me to think about how the f2f sessions and the online work mesh. 

I have taught one of the classes, a basic public speaking course, as a hybrid for over two years.  I have made a big mistake in assuming the students would use the online time to either listen to my lectures (they were in Camtasia the first two years), read them (full text was provided), or watch videos of me (this year).  I also provide PowerPoints and lecture guides for them to follow the lectures with, for notes.  It has become clear that I will have to institute some sort of quiz or verification system that they watched the videos before class.  I hate to resort to quizzes, but that will have to be the method.  Even if my online material does mesh with the f2f activities (which, in this class, are usually oral activities or speeches), if the students are diligent with the online part of the course, something major is lost.  I opted to take out the midterm this semester but think I need to put it back in.  The class has a lot of formative assessment but not as much summative.

By the way, I am glad I taped my lectures, but knowledge and teaching being the way it is, I know I am going to want to do it again in a couple of years!  And that could get into some work.  I don’t really think I would do that again, not for every lecture, except for an introductory one.

The other class is a humanities course.  It is content intensive, which works well for a blended course.  They have readings, PowerPoints, and study guides to work on outside of class.  In f2f sessions, we either watch video, read a play out loud, play review games, or I clarify questions from online material.  They also take some tests in class (and some online).  I do lecture some to sort of provide my spin and narrative to the class.  I do not worry about their experiencing the class as two disconnected parts. I would say that I have “devised an approach in which content is introduced in one modality and elaborated upon in the other.”  I worry that I am providing the content they need to meet the assignment criteria and that I am providing enough time in the f2f to facilitate deep learning. 

As to technology, I think it is great that there are so many tools out there, but I have found that simplicity works better.  Right now my students have to use email, the LMS our institution utilizes, YouTube, Turnitin, and the textbook website.  That is enough!  That is four different logins, assuming they don’t log in to YouTube.  These folks are new to college for the most part.  I think a more advanced group of students could be pushed to use other technologies, but not all of our students have Internet service even now.  I am more concerned about seamlessness, as Professor Merrill talked about today. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Blend Kit 2012 Week 3

I have my version of Murphy’s Law, which I call Tucker’s Law:  If anyone can possibly find a way to misunderstand you, they will.  There is a corollary to Tucker’s Law:  In online course, this law is taken to the second power.

Whether one’s assessments online are summative or formative, formal or informal, written or in some other mode, clarity of instruction is key.  Clarity in why it’s being assigned, how it’s to be completed, how it is to be submitted (and when), and how it will be evaluated (graded).  All the ways that you can clarify in a face-to-face course have to be pre-packaged in an online environment, OR you can expect lots of incorrect assignments or lots of emails asking for explanations.

This principle is somewhat less true in the hybrid environment, but it still happens, especially if students are not engaged in the f2f portion of the class. 

I prefer project-based education anyway, but tests and quizzes are necessary.  I usually don’t let those be more than 40%, if that much.  For myself, I have required tests and quizzes, but I do not expect them to be done without helps.  I decided early on to create tests and quizzes where helps would be encouraged or allowed, thus taking out of the picture the need for worrying about cheating, etc.  If I want a traditional dump-it-all on the scantron test, then I just give the tests in class.  If only one out of thirty cheats in an online test because the instructor expects totally personally work with no helps, then the testing is tainted. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

Writing tests and quizzes that truly assess knowledge is the real challenge, I think.  

Sunday, October 07, 2012

BlendKit 2012 Week 2

For my weekly blog post I am going to address these three questions.
·   Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?
• As you consider designing a blended learning course, what kinds of interactions can you envision occurring face-to-face, and how might you use the online environment for interactions? What opportunities are there for you to explore different instructional strategies in the blended course than you have in the past?
• What factors might limit the feasibility of robust interaction face-to-face or online?

At first, to me, this question does not seem to ask for a serious answer, only to make a point.  How could there possibly NOT be a value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses?  Isn’t the whole point of higher education supposed to be that interaction of minds to minds, iron sharpening iron, to quote the book of Proverbs?  Yet, how often does the interaction actually take place?  Certainly in a lecture class of 300 or more students, as is seen in some universities, interaction is not a realistic goal.  All of my teaching has been at institutions where my classes were relatively small, and I teach classes that normally require smaller classes (writing and speaking skills).   So, while the question seems silly on the surface, it isn’t.  Especially nowadays with the online course as often provided, there are a set of learning steps and assignments that may or may not require much in the way of real discussion.

Early on in online education, the tools for interaction were more limited; now they are abundant, so the instructor is really without excuse if he/she says, I know interaction is important, but it just isn’t possible in blended and online.  I have heard many say over the years that online is good for the introverts, those who don’t like being around people (which is of course not a definition of introverts!  See the recent book QUIET for a better understanding there!)  The underlying message is “take online so you don’t have to interact.”

But back to the question—is interaction necessary and valuable in all courses regardless of discipline?  Yes, I believe it is, because if we lean in the direction of a constructivist view of learning (which I do partially, but not totally), learning takes place in social situations and interaction with others.    If we forgo using all the great tools for interaction now available, we are then just falling back to the banking model of learning, or what I call the “tea pitcher model,” where an instructor just pours “knowledge” from a pitcher into the “glasses” of the students’ minds.  Not a very good metaphor for learning. 

This question addresses much deeper questions than how much interaction should be included in a blended or online course.  On the other hand, I think there can be too much.  The interactive tools that we would like to incorporate can just become busy work unless they are tied to something useful. 

I am currently teaching two blended courses and am taking this course to improve them and find out what I have been doing “wrong,” mostly in terms of the retention in the public speaking course.  But as far as what I do when the class meets versus the online portion, in speech class we give speeches and have f2f group/collaborative learning activities.  I lecture some on the subjects where interaction and back-and-forth are needed and where the students’ input drives the lecture.  For example, how to outline a speech and how to do research.  I believe the students would skip over those. 

This summer I filmed the majority of my lectures but have not found a satisfactory way yet to ensure they are watching them, since the lectures are housed on YouTube currently.  In the spring I will institute a series of quizzes.  We are changing to a different LMS in the spring, so I also may be able to post the video lectures there and be able to track their engagement in them. 

The other hybrid class I teach is Humanities 1201.  The students have a great deal of reading to do during the online portion.  In class we clarify the lecture and book material, watch a video, read a play outloud, and play review games for the exams.  I try not to resort to much of me talking, but to get them to interact and talk.  They are doing better than the speech class.  They also have a discussion  board assignment.

As for the last questions, what factors might limit the feasibility of robust interaction, I would say (a) teacher personality and energy, (b) teacher defaulting to lecturing when they meet because the students aren’t being responsible and processing the material on their own (big issue) , (c) teacher not being creative and using the best interactive tools, (d) teacher not being responsive to emails and communications from students during the week between class meetings.  The students should be held to a reasonably high standard and the instructor should not fall back to spoonfeeding them.  They took the blended course not because it is easier but because it allowed them a flexibility the other did not have.  Can a blended course be valuable beyond the flexibility?  Yes, especially if the instructor takes advantage of online tools and believes and understands learning, online or otherwise.  The instructor should design a quality course that might be better than a slapdash one that meets in a traditional format.

Text of my presentation at Southern States Communication Conference on Open Educational Resources

On April 8 I spoke at SSCA on the subject of Open Educational Resources.  Here is the text of my remarks. The University System of Geo...