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Monday, September 26, 2011

Lunch and Learn

Thinking about 30 minute lunch and learn topics.  I have three to come up with for the fall.....

Discussions - this one would run over the different types of discussions, why and when to use them, how to grade them, etc.  Needs a catchy title.

Orientations - CMC requires online faculty to do an orientation of some sort.  Here I'd talk about the different ways faculty orient students to their courses, from elluminate, to Voice Thread, phone, etc.

What's up in Online Learning:  the new LMS, new online course standards, new online course observation form.  Really just an opportunity to ask questions and make comments.

That leaves all of the fun stuff for the spring.  I need some new technology topics, course design topics.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What to do with Lectures?

You spend a lot of time perfecting the lectures you give in face-to-face classes... that should mean you need something similar in the online classroom.  Why do you include lectures in your teaching repertoire though?  What is the purpose exactly?  
  1. Clarify the sticky parts of the course.
  2. Add material that is not included in the text.
  3. Emphasize the material that is most important.
  4. Keep momentum going in the course.
  5. Add applications and current events.
I am sure there are other reasons for lecture as well, plus you use class time to go over exams and homework, have students do group work, etc.  

There are several places to put lectures in an online course.  First, you could develop a set of taped or written lectures (say Powerpoint with voice-over) and put them in an specific content place.  Clearly this is a good way to handle anything that can be developed once and used for several semesters.  It is a good way to add any material missing from the textbook and to clarify sticky spots in the course.  On the other hand it doesn't do anything for momentum and current events.

You can develop a weekly (or twice or thrice weekly) announcement - again either written or recorded - that discusses current material.  In Blackboard this can work particularly well because you can automatically email each announcement to students.  This reminds them they are in a class and that they need to stay abreast of requirements.  The drawbacks are that email doesn't handle video well and that the announcements are also a good place to handle the housekeeping details -- due date reminders and such.

Last is the discussion option.  You can break your lectures up into sections and use them as discussion starters.  To do this start a discussion thread with the first part of a lecture, ending with a question or two that you commonly ask students.  Discuss that for a day or two, then post the next lecture section, again ending with a question or two.  This can be very labor intensive, but is fairly effective.  

The other option is to break the lecture into sections and post each as an individual discussion thread.  For some reason though the multiple discussion threads seem to be off-putting or frightening to students.  It also eliminates some of the conversational aspects of the single thread as too many student respond in the same way to each question instead of moving on.

Personally I use all of the above, depending on the type of material.  What's your favorite place for lectures?


Monday, September 19, 2011

Gamers solve medical problem

"Online gamers have achieved a feat beyond the realm of Second Life or Dungeons and Dragons: they have deciphered the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus that had thwarted scientists for a decade."


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Student Engagement and Student Achievement

I've read a couple of articles lately about student engagement versus student achievement.  Clearly they aren't the same thing, but for years we've worked on adding student engagement to our online classes (usually through the latest cool Web 2.0 tool) on the theory that student engagement leads to student achievement.  A recent article in Faculty Focus written by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti asked the question "Is there too much interaction in your online courses?"  The research she quoted panned learner to learner interaction.  I was left with a couple of questions though - I wanted to see what learner to learner interaction was expected of students.  

For years we've all added discussion areas to our courses on the theory that building a community of learners will increase course completion rates.  And I think they probably do increase success rates, if they are carefully designed.  On the other hand there are a lot of discussions in courses that really aren't discussions -- they are a lot more like busy work.  Particularly in first year community college courses it is unrealistic to expect learners to manage a good discussion of the course material on their own.  Valuable discussion happens in the online world the same way it happens in the classroom -- under the guiding influence of the course instructor.  An instructor can help learners apply content to their own lives and can help them move through the content in a timely manner, without wasting everyone's time.  Expecting new learners to do that by themselves is a lot like leaving the classroom for an hour every week and expecting your students to focus on the content in a productive way.  And good luck with that. :^)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Can Students Learn to Learn?

Several articles I've read lately note that we sometimes focus on teaching/learning content to the exclusion of teaching students how to learn the content. Colleges have long recognized that some students need help in learning how to learn, but often the tools provided have been segregated from the "actual" coursework that students complete.

All this makes me wonder if I'm doing enough in my classes to help students learn? Add to that the plethora of teaching tools and techniques I read or hear about daily, and I sometimes feel completely overwhelmed by the possibilities! So many methods for improving learning are available, and it seems that I just don't have the time to do justice to it all! Then I wake from my nightmare and realize that we are all constrained by time and resources, and that even just a little step in class can do a lot to help students learn to learn.

I've blogged here before about an extra-credit project in my accounting classes. I don't typically provide extra credit for a variety of reasons, but this activity is sort of like disguising those yucky vegetables in fruit juice. You don't know how good it is for you when you drink it! I allow students to earn back a maximum of 15 points, 1 out of 2 points missed on each exam question, by demonstrating to me through calculations, examples, or description, that they do indeed understand the question they missed. They like it because it's extra credit, I like it because it encourages students to do something they should be doing to learn anyway.

This link leads to a recent article from Inside Higher Ed that outlines strategies for helping students. "News: Can Students Learn to Learn?" Some great ideas appear here!