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Monday, February 28, 2011

For-profit with a High Retention Rate?

American Public University has that.  Interesting podcast/interview with Frank McCluskey on what it takes to manage a high retention rate with 80,000 students.

It sounds like retention is all about student engagement.  Importance of the use of rubrics was interesting. 


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ITC Last Day

Egmont Key
I went to two great session on Tuesday.  The first was a discussion about designing classes and programs around adult learning styles by Mary Petrie and Anne Johnson of IverHills Community College.  The presenters had so many great tips!  Including a schedule page was #1 on their list also -- adults like to have all the information/due dates available on day 1 of the class.  That of course is my experience also.  Mary talked a lot about communicating in a positive, respectful manner and about being available on their schedule -- she holds office hours Tuesday evening from 9:00-10:00 (via Skype, email, and phone) and on Saturday.  I try to be available Sunday evening and that is when I receive calls, on the rare times I do receive calls.  

Adults are busy and very very scheduled, so they need rapid response times from us.  That seems reasonable to me when we are talking about FT faculty, a bit of a problem for adjunct.  We did all agree that posting times when you are online and available and what an expected response time would be was critical.  Also a standardized schedule is helpful -- assignments always due the same day of the week and the same time is beneficial.  Personally I know I couldn't keep track of a changing due day or time, so that makes sense to me. 

Mary also worried about the reading skills of students, so includes a video "tour" of each assignment and of her syllabus.  

Many more tips, but I am off to the beach. Photo credit to Classic Glass from Flickr -, Egmont Key


Monday, February 21, 2011

ITC eLearning 11, Day 1

St. Pete Beach, FlI spent day one following a student retention track.

The morning keynote was Alan Levine of CogDogBlog fame with a presentation on photopgraphy as a metaphor for education.  My take-away was to try to apply the Daily Shoot concept to the developmental math courses I am teaching -- how did each student apply this unit's math concept in their daily live each day.  I think I might ask them to post that (maybe not daily) beginning in unit 3.  

Next presentation was on student risk factors and how to ameliorate them.  #1 was time or registration.  CCCO didn't find any difference in success between students who registered on-time and students who registered the first week of classes, so I am not sure I would cut off registration any earlier than that.  It seems to me that some creative course design could solve any issues there.  #2 was poor/non-existent advising.  Monique has that under control at CMC. :^)  I did think that the idea of cutting students off from online classes when their GPA fell below a certain level was interesting.  I of course disagreed with the thought that students should be required to take F2F courses before they take online courses even if that does positively impact completion rates.

A presentation on 10 tips to increase course retention rates was interesting --
  1. Classmate questions (kind of like the intro discussion only continues on into the term)
  2. Learn as you go quizzes - group quizzes given before the material is officially covered
  3. Weekly notes posted every Friday afternoon, covering the following week's activities.
  4. Assignment schedule page. We know I love this one.
  5. Two due dates -- Tuesday a quick and easy assignment, Thursday the major assignment.  The Tuesday assignment is also a reminder to begin the Thursday assignment.
  6. Consistent Due Dates - Every Tuesday and Thursday, no other days.
  7. Variety -- in assignments, learning styles, etc.
  8. Survey Students
    1. class concepts
    2. How assignments work.
    3. study habits
    4. tie the questions to your learning objectives.
  9. Open Book exams with randomized andpooled questions
  10. Politeness - lots of please and thank you (kill them with kindness), encourage I messages.
Assignment ideas I need to look up :
  1. Tag Galaxy
  3. Collagemaker
  4. Windows and Mirrors
  5. In Plain English on Youtube
  6. Free Rice (has more than English)
Last presentation was similar.... 

Also lots of good conversation about implementing Quality Matters.

(Photo credit - Billy V from Flickr.  My hotel is next door to the tall round one.  

Buy One, Get One?

Well certainly if I buy one, I should get one, contends the author of  a blog post at Of course, in the marketplace, "BOGO" offers appear regularly, and the literal interpretation of this concept in the post is intended to refute the idea that the free sharing of (educational) content is akin to socialism.What?

Could I look at your syllabus? Do you mind if I use those test questions? Hey, that's a great assignment. Can I incorporate it into my class? I must admit that I've never been told "no" when I've asked if I could use or modify someone else's content. Thus, I've always been a little puzzled by the reluctance, at least when faculty come together, to applaud the opportunity to opening share their content. I remember in the "early days" of exploring use of the object repository in WebCT, faculty were very concerned about openly sharing their work.

Of course, many if not all institution policies say that if work is created during contracted time with the institution, it does not belong solely to the developer but at least in part to the college. That leads to another point made by the blog's author about work created using taxpayer dollars (NSF and DOE grants, etc.). For example, "When you pay (through the Department of Education) for a brand-name university in New England to produce simulation-based educational games that can help almost anyone learn basic physics, do you ever get to play that game? No."

The post notes another example of research (conducted with NSF funds) that leads to an article publishing the "groundbreaking" findings. . .that we don't get to read.

I guess I never thought about the source for some of the research articles, etc., that I might have found interesting had I been able to see them without a subscription OR about various other content created with, perhaps, taxpayer $$ to which I don't have access. Of course, there are logistical challenges to openly sharing content, and perhaps that's more the issue in most cases than individuals not wanting to share it. 

I wonder if the federal government's foray into the OER world will make a difference?

SCORM Requirement for OER Grants

Based on input from the "community," the DoL has reversed its ruling requiring SCORM compliance in the development of content under new OER grants.  The new guidelines indicate that content should be created to maximize "interoperability, exchange, and reuse." The guidelines seem to recognize now, too, the more mainstream interoperability standards of AICC and IMS while still including PESC and SCORM.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Musings on Lecture Notes

Main auditorium of Regent Theatre, Melbourne, 1929Where do you post your lectures in your online class?  

Are they something you write up or recorded a long time ago that are in the content area of your course?

 Or do you write something more or less new once a week or so and pop them into the announcements? 

 Or maybe they are part of your discussion pages now?  Email? 

 There are clearly many places to put what we might have considered lecture notes back in the face-to-face world.  But what is right? And what are the implications of each choice?

I see a lot of faculty putting a weekly "Introduction to the Week's Material" in the announcement area of the course.  In Blackboard that can be emailed automatically to each student's email account.  That gives it two benefits. First, a well-written, exciting post may generate some enthusiasm on the part of the student to look at the material.  It's a place to add some immediacy to the content and to explain to students why they are spending their limited time with it. An introduction should help them understand what they have in common with the material (application even) and help them begin to interact with it.  Second, of course it's a reminder that they are in a class and that they might want to do some reading, homework, etc.   

Those are different goals that the lecture notes or videos you might have placed in a content area of a course back when you first developed the course.  Those notes are more of a map through the content; a way to further explain areas in the course where you know students may have difficulties of find particularly challenging.  They might give the students the detailed learning outcomes for each unit of the course, to help them focus their reading. This area is important.  It's unrealistic to expect students to automatically focus on the critical aspects of each unit without some assistance from their instructor.  It's not about daily communication or community building though. And it's not quite about building a relationship with the course content in the way the announcements can be.

Then there is the discussion area of the course.  This is where students build that relationship with the course content. It's where they wrestle with the details and try to fill in the missing pieces.  It's where they practice explaining the concepts and make sure they understand correctly.  Faculty do lecture here in discussions, but here it's critical to end the lecture with a question.  This is the part of the course where the student is supposed to talk back.  This is the area where instructors aren't taking to an auditorium where no hands go up. Some faculty structure their discussions in such a way that the learner is "led" through the material.  Early questions are more basic, later questions are more complex.  Or early questions cover material from early in the course, later questions (in a single thread) cover later material.  Questions bring in current events and possible applications. Students grapple with concepts in front of everyone else in the class.

Is the conclusion that your course needs all three?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gen Y Students

Faculty Focus had an article today about teaching Gen Y students that included this quote:
Research suggests that Generation Y first-year students have a high attrition rate as a result of their level of expectations and enthusiasm for the college experience, which often leads to disillusionment. According to Education Dynamics' November 2008 survey by California State University-Northridge, reasons online students drop out include financial challenges (41%), life events (32%), health issues (23%), lack of personal motivation (21%), and lack of faculty interaction (21%). Among online students who dropped out of their degree or certificate programs, 40% percent failed to seek any help or resources before abandoning their programs. Nearly half (47%) of students who dropped out did so before completing one online course.  (Article by Loren Kleinman)
My only personal survey -- I have a daughter in college  -- also results in complaints about faculty who don't post grades in an online system immediately after collecting exams or essays.  I definitely believe that high schools are raising student expectations about feedback and about the immediacy of feedback.  That seems to me to imply the need for two types of assessments.  

Students today do want immediate feedback.  Assessments and especially self-assessments can be added to classes which include instant feedback.  While challenging to build, feedback can be personalized at least to the extent that it gives direction on what specifically the student needs to review and where to find the missing information in the course content.  Pearson has done a good job of building this sort of detailed feedback into their MyMathLab product.

On the other hand, this sort of feedback really is not faculty interaction in any meaningful sense.  Learners still need a discussion area where faculty are quick to respond to questions and concerns.  Requiring that learners participate in a discussion area several times a week and responding promptly to the majority of posts builds a sense of community and the type of relationship with learners that ensures they are comfortable asking questions.  We don't want learners to abandon courses without asking at least one person for assistance and we need to make it easy and natural for them to go to their instructor for assistance.


A Slightly Different Take on Online Collaboration Tools. . . .

One of the things that was always difficult with the online faculty lounge and the D2L community concepts was that they, and similar collaboration attempts, added a layer of complication to the already complicated online collaboration attempts. In this YouTube video about a tool called SimplyBox (, we see a tool that, instead of requiring us to go to a new tool to see conversations around a topic, allows us to remain in the current tool and see what might have been going on in a project or discussion. I'm not necessarily recommending this particular tool, because beyond what I see in this video I have no idea what this tool can actually do. It does seem, though, that the idea behind this tool goes a long way toward simplifying online collaboration by embedding the collaboration tool as opposed to complicating it by adding another application that we have to visit in order to work together.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

You Will Need It Later

Did your parents or teachers ever try to teach you something by telling you, "You will need it later?" I know I've been told that, and I'm equally sure I've said it! In an eLearn Magazine column outlining elearning predictions for 2001, Roger Schank of "Socratic Arts" and a columnist for eLearn Magazine, predicts that 2011 will "be beginning of the end of the 'you will need it later' model in elearning." He believes that the "just in time" model is more appropriate.

Algebra and geometry come to mind. My experience with algebra and geometry was, shall we say, less than fulfilling. While I know today some of the things to which algebra or geometry might apply, at the time I was in those classes in high school, there was no attempt to make those topics relevant to me. Just think, if someone had taken me to the local pool hall to shoot pool as I was learning geometry, I might be able to make those bank shots now!

The take-home thought for me here is to focus on what my students need to know when they need to know it. . .and to never tell my granddaughter "you'll need it later," (unless it's when I'm stuffing a cookie in her pocket)!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Project-Based Learning

The quote below is from a post by Andrew Miller called "Project Based Online Learning - Natural Fit and Next Steps"  on the edReformer blog ( ).
7) A Publically Presented Product – Excellent student work should be showcased. Students want praise. In addition, when students know their work is presented, the stakes are higher. The work should be for an authentic audience. With so many ways to present work, the web can be used regularly to share amazing student work. 
That is of course the capstone step.   Before that comes all of the actual learning. And the development work by the instructor.  An ideal PBL project is based on a real-life problem that draws learners into content and helps them to understand that it is relevant to their lives.  It has to be detailed and yet have more than one solution, leading to solid discussion and ultimately to a deeper understanding of the material. A side benefit of multiple solutions is that learners spend time in complex analysis and formulating responses that consider more than one aspect of a situation.  

The drawback to PBL learning is that an instructor must spend a significant amount of time putting the project together.  It's also extraordinarily difficult to design a project that follows the order of information in a textbook.  That can make it difficult to build a project that is not too difficult for learners and that doesn't require them to read and assimilate large amounts of content before beginning the project.  A good PBL has to replace lecture and traditional reading time, not simply add on to the time learners already need to spend on the course content.  

I would love to hear of examples of good PBL projects readers have seen.


Monday, February 7, 2011

OER Post from Tony Bates

Excellent summary of the state of OER and what it all might be good for from Tony Bates -


FERPA and Social Media

FERPA has been cited to me as a reason not to ask students to publish work outside of the password protected learning management system.  I tend to disagree for the reasons given in this post FERPA and Social Media: Common Sense Guidelines.  Content restrictions are not what FERPA is about and, more importantly, students lose if we are required to keep them and their work in a walled garden.  In fact I like the idea of authentic writing assignments which are connected to the community at large.  In a recent post The Innovative Educator, Lisa Nielsen, ( listed 10 reasons to use technology in teaching.  #6 is:
 Authentic Publishing In the 21st century, irrelevant hand-it-in teaching should be a thing of the past.  If a student’s work has no authentic audience beyond the teacher, it shouldn’t be assigned.  A student who is self-motivated to do something, counts, btw.  A teacher directing him/her to do it does not.  Most 21st century kids love to share with real audiences and are doing it outside school already.  Inside school, work should not sit lifeless on a computer, or even just the school website.  Support students in finding real audiences for their work in their Global Community.  If you’re not sure how find out by reading, “21st Century Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It!”
I haven't met this goal yet - my students are still writing essays for no one other than me.  This semester I am thinking of changing at least one essay into a letter to their congressional representative or someone else of their choosing with a supported recommendation on an economic policy.  They don't have to send it, but it might be more interesting to write and it might help them focus on economics in a useful way.  

How do you make your class relevant to learners?


Thursday, February 3, 2011

How much should a learner see and when?

I was always a proponent of giving learners access to the entire course -- content, assignments, exams, discussions -- at the beginning of the term.  I've spent the week reviewing courses though and I can see that there is a lot of disagreement with that approach.  Many faculty provide access to content on a week by week basis.  

So why do I set my class up with the entire thing available?  Part of it is that I like to have my class completely finished and ready to go before the semester begins.  I am not good at developing important content and assessments on the fly and I inevitably have a crisis of some sort if I dare to give it a try.  So part of it is a reflection of my course development style.  

A second reason though is giving learners some control.  I assume they have busy lives also and might need to work ahead at times.  And believe it or not I have had learners do just that.   I keep thinking I am going to go a step further and give learners some choice in assessments also, but I haven't quite gotten there.  I've read about learner contracts instead of instructor provided syllabi and I do like the idea in principle...  maybe next semester.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No Surprises in ID!

I've spent the past couple of days looking at courses in Blackboard.  I'm fairly sure that is going to leave me with some comments on BB eventually.  So far my primary observation is that BB makes it very easy for faculty to develop courses without thinking about navigation.  Good faculty clearly develop courses that help students work through the material, but inexperienced faculty can easily end up with material scattered about with no connections where there really should be.

I'm also back at those original web-base courses that so many wonderful faculty came up with -- the ones that linked every part of the course from an "interactive syllabus".  My own version had a schedule page that was really simply a table with a column for dates, readings/lectures, discussion, assessments.  Each of those was linked to the specific activity.  I thought then and still think 15 years later that that is a simple, straight-forward way to organize a course and that it allows students to easily work through the material without wasting a lot of their time on confusing navigation.  

Students shouldn't be surprised by a due date or assessment of some sort.  They ought to be able to easily put all of the course activities into their own personal calendar.  Several of the courses I reviewed today included a schedule with all information necessary for students, but equally several did not.  Including a separate schedule page might be a concrete goal for this coming year.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Surprise! in Instructional Design

Jane Bozarth tweeted an article she wrote for Learning Solutions Magazine this morning.  It's a great piece on the role of surprise in learning design.  It struck a chord for me because she's right -- we do focus on consistency in ID the vast majority of the time.  I can see where something new and different suddenly popping up would garner more attention and would perhaps emphasize a concept that you as faculty think is particularly important.

Read the article here:


Photo from Smithsonian on Flickr