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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Interaction and Learning

From Terry Anderson (
An avid reader might note that the advice above tends to contradict the 1st theorem of my Interaction Equivalency Theory namely:
Deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student–teacher; student-student; student-content) is at a high level. The other two may be offered at minimal levels, or even eliminated, without degrading the educational experience.
This implies that one can still learn without enhanced interaction (that grounds connectivist pedagogy). I still believe this to be true. People can and do learn in a very broad array of models, models, contexts and personal inclinations. However the second theorem posits that:
High levels of more than one of these three modes (student-student; student-teacher, student-content) will likely provide a more satisfying educational experience, though these experiences may not be as cost or time effective as less interactive learning sequences.
As I redesign my economics course I of course like that quote because it gives me permission to back off on some of the interaction in the course.  The Reflection assignments work on the student-content interaction, the first 2 assignments and the discussions work on student-peer interaction (okay and student-teacher).  That leaves my comments on reflections and other grading for student-faculty.  I have all three built into the class, but the focus is on student-content.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Where's the Viola?

Michael Feldstein just posted a few thoughts on what is missing from xMOOCs and from publisher material on eLiterate, .  I am curious how many students had a college experience that included long thoughtful discussions with either faculty or peers about the content?  And then of course I am curious where you went to school.

I am back thinking about my economics courses again.  I do try to spend time in the discussion area, but I have my questions there focused on application, not on theory.  Perhaps this semester I will move them to theory.  Maybe that will help me spot not only the that a student has a problem with indifference curves, but exactly where the problem is and how to solve it.  This is the sort of thing that is easier to build into an online course than it is to build it into a F2F course - for more students, not just for those who sit in the front of the classroom. 

I am also wondering about the intersection of xMOOCs and providers like StraighterLine.  Do we get to take over the lower level courses, those where at most universities the discussion taking place is between peers, not between students and faculty?  The PSY 101's that are taught in giant lecture halls anyway?  Clearly there is plenty of room for improvement there, particularly in STEM fields where that course is taught as a weeder course (think General Biology I, or  Chemistry I).  If someone other than traditional F2F educators do take those over, then there needs to be an improvement in pedagogy, not just in cost.  Is the community college model of small classes the best model?  Is it the only model?  Or are we working our way towards a new model that does scale?  

StraighterLine has added new ways to include the professor with Professor Direct. More importantly, SL is looking at new ideas and new ways to add the Viola back in -- via the new models grouped under Professor Direct or via organized student study groups or simply thinking carefully about other possible changes in pedagogy. We need to fit analytics into this discussion though as well as instructional design theories, role of the faculty, etc.

Friday, December 7, 2012

If the goal of discussion is to increase learner's critical thinking skills then online has some major advantaged over the traditional classroom.  That said, there are still significant skills to leading a discussion whether it is online of face to face and not a lot of places to get training in those skills.

Watched a keynote of Tony Bates today - we've spent a lot of time thinking about online course design, what to put online and how to present it.  We need now to think about the classroom.  What goes there, why, etc.  Also what to put online should be thought about at the program level, not only at the course level.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why Give Credit from Sources Outside the University?

Perhaps the actual question is "Do you believe learning takes place outside of the University?"  If your answer to that question is yes then we have to think about why an individual would need to be  credentialed for learning that took place outside of the university.  We also need to consider whether or not that learning was something that could or would have been learned during a traditional university education.  If it was and if the case can be made that learners do have knowledge and understanding of concepts that are a part of their degree program, but that that understanding came to them from outside of the university experience we will need to respond to that case.  As the university we are credentialing learners.  We are stating that we are confident they met the outcomes listed for our courses and programs.  But what if they met those outcomes prior to their university experience?  Is it appropriate to insist that learners take basic courses covering learning outcomes they have already met? 

Adult learners are asking these questions.  As a group they don't particularly want to spend time, effort, and money on content they already have.  How are you responding to them?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Summer Class Review

I taught in Canvas for the first time this past summer.  That was interesting and fun all by itself, but what I've been thinking about was how my class actually worked.  When I move a class to a new LMS I try to rethink the structure and assignments - far too much of what a class looks like is driven by the LMS rather than pedagogy. 

Canvas is very linear - or at least the default design in Canvas is very linear.  That's okay with me as I think most people are most comfortable in a linear class.  I used the modules to organize the class - there are 4 each with the same basic structure:  intro, my notes on the content, assignments, discussion, quiz. 

What worked:  the blogs.  I asked each student to set up a blog for the class.  Every chapter had one or two thought questions for them to answer after they completed the reading.  My goal was to help them actively read the text and think about what they understood or didn't understand after completing the reading.  I treated them like journals -- I had a grading rubric, but itwasn't about right or wrong, only about depth of thought.  Originally I was going to use the RSS feature to feed the blogs into the class, but I never managed that. I will try that this semester.  Student feedback on the blogs was very positive.

What sort of worked:  the Voice Thread Assignment.  I needed better directions to make this work without the frustration of technical difficulties.  Hopefully I have fixed that for this semester.  I still think a VT assignment is good for student authentication.  Student feedback was mixed though.

What sort of worked:  The quizzes.  I like short answer quizzes where I have the answers already keyed in.  That's a problem when students have technical problems.  I can add an attempt, but there doesn't seem to be a reset button.  If a student answers one question, then has a problem they have all of the answers.  Oops.

What sort of worked:  the last assignment.  It was a problem set.  The students loved it.  I think they are boring.  What to do....

What sort of worked:  Discussions.  I have too many and I didn't participate enough.  The staggered due dates helped.  (First post due 3 days before the end of the discussion period.  Second post due 1 day early.)

What really didn't work:  The peer review assignment.  The tool doesn't work like I expected it to.  I might have it figured out now, but the rubric part isn't right. 

Got a few compliments on the lecture notes - links to videos mostly. I need to add more short videos, especially where I know students get stuck. 

I felt like those who stuck it out learned something -- my most frequent comment on my student survey was "I learned more than I expected to learn."  That might mean they set the bar very low....


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Student Retention and Success

Is it a perfect storm that could result in some actual movement toward great student retention and success? At least in my world, a number of technologies and delivery methods directed at doing just that appear to be converging. Data analytics, early alert systems, learning communities, mainstreaming, developmental education revisions--not new concepts, to be sure. Separately, these tools and techniques might make small improvements in the success of our students. Combined, these projects could help us make massive improvements in student success numbers. They just might.

Many of these changes, particularly what I'm seeing regarding developmental education courses, seem to me to be long overdue. I can't think of a single argument against anything that gets students successfully and more quickly through developmental coursework. I also can't find fault with the concept of contextualizing dev ed courses--or other core courses, for that matter.

Research on what puts students at risk for failure is growing, and the data we gather in our various projects will help us more specifically define what leads to success for our particular student populations--and maybe even help us define what "success" means!

So THIS time, will these projects come together to result in measurable improvement in student success? That remains to be seen. I can only hope, while trying to keep up with the many and varied projects!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS)

Interesting title, right? It's an interesting, if scary, concept, too!

Today's edition of the Chronicle asks if "electricity is the new smart drug." Apparently the concept of hooking people up to receive small doses (I'm not sure what "small" is), is gaining new attention as a method of improving learning and retention.

A research study ( that tested subjects' ability to recognize potential threats in the form of disguised roadside bombs, etc., indicated that those individuals receiving a "higher" dose of current learned to recognize threats faster than those receiving a lower dose of current--although both groups "performed better with current than without."

The reason WHY this treatment is effective is still somewhat mysterious, though the article notes, "It seems that the low-level current stimulates neurons, making them more likely to fire, thereby putting the brain in a state where it’s more likely to form connections." (Bartlett)

It appears that there are already YouTube videos as well as a web site where you can buy a kit to try this yourself. Hmmmm. Maybe the next time I am installing an electrical outlet, I'll leave the breaker on and THEN see if I can do math!

Bartlett, Tom. "Is Electricity the New Smart Drug?" - Blogs/Percolator. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 Apr. 2012. Web. 27 Apr. 2012. <>.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dance Your Ph.D.

I'm not what you would call a scientific person. And I'm certainly not a great dancer, though a good two-step tune gets me moving. It certainly would never have occurred to me to combine the two--dancing and science. I now have an entirely different perspective on that combo, though. Search for "Dance Your Ph.D" or or visit this link for a TED talk from John Bohannon.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Assessing the Online Learner, Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt

Reading Assessing the Online Learner by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt while continuing to think about my micro class.  I'm still obsessing about how to help students read the textbook carefully and retain something of what they read.  The textbook is nearly at the top of the learning pyramid presented in the book (page 19), with a mere 10% retention rate.  Tonight's thought is that I will assign a reflection exercise at the end of each chapter:  Most of us have thought about the economy and how it functions in the past.  What in this chapter made you think about an economic concept differently than your previous beliefs?  What new questions about the US economy arose from this chapter?

This would essentially be a journalling exercise for the first unit.  For unit 2 I think I could expand it and ask each student to write a test question based on the most interesting or important concept from the chapter.  I could then ask students to respond to one test question, then the original writer would need to respond to that post.  I'd need to post Bloom's taxonomy and require that questions be written to elicit a certain level of response, probably at least analysis.

Sort of on this same note, in my developmental math courses I am trying to write discussion questions that ask students to set up real life questions.  Right now we are working on area, so I asked how they would find the square feet of flooring needed for a kitchen with an island.  I'm trying not to give them the information, but have them think about what information they would need.


Friday, March 9, 2012

More continuing ed

Went to a webinar this morning sponsored by Instructure "5 Smart Things to Do in Online Course Design".  The presenter was from Utah State University and did a great job!  I think the presentation will be archived on the Instructure website -

I took away a couple of thoughts for the transition to Canvas - 
  • Our idea to put a module on how to use Canvas into every course (for students) this first fall is a good one.
  • A demonstration course with different ways to present content and examples of interesting assessments/learning activities would be a nice thing for faculty.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ITC 2012 - Long Beach, CA

Digital Storytelling:

Moderated by Barry Dahl.  They set up a very complete website on the presentations at

Lots of good ideas in this session:

Glogster - poster creation.  In my class students could to the story of the Federal Reserve or talk about how monetary policy works

Google maps:  could do a location-based history project, a book report as characters travel through the book, history of the economy of a certain area (through time and space)

There are others on the website above with directions on how to use each tool.

ITC 2012 - Long Beach, CA

There were many thoughts on how to develop a learning community online from Beth Mathieson, Capilano University, CA
  1. Use Voice Thread for your introduction, ask students to respond via VT also, using audio
  2. Video email (Canvas has this embedded)
  3. Phone of course
  4. allows you to share desktops
  5. Real-time get-together to go over the syllabus via webinar software like elluminate (note: it really helps to have 2 moderators - one to talk and one to chat.)
  6. Students introduce each other via Voice Thread - puts up pictures of coffee mugs and tells students to choose the one that best describes them
  7. Or use pictures on Voice Thread and have students write a story - start with first picture, first student writes a sentence, etc.
  8. Student generated weekly questions in discussions
  9. General question area in discussions
  10. Interactive lectures via VoiceThread (ask them to use audio and video, no text)
  11. Use Voice Thread to bring in a guest lecturer
  12. Book chat:  students choose from 1 of 3 books, the assignment is a book review, they must meet in real-time with 2-3 fellow students to discuss the book.  5 minutes for intro, then 1 to 1.5 hour discussions
  13. Wikispaces: cooperative review of the week's reading.  Everyone puts up questions, you look at every page and respond to one unanswered question. (A twist on Louis's homework forms).
  14. Audioboo to record audio
  16. Blogs
  17. Collaborative exams - students write the exam questions (give them Bloom's first, no recall questions allowed).  They can choose to find a partner and turn in a single exam.
  18. Collaborative exams, idea 2:  groups develop 2-4 questions, then respond to another groups set of questions.  Grade responses to your own questions.
  19. to go over syllabus
I tied this to Monday's Keynote by Josh Jarrett from the Gate foundation.  Josh talked about the 2 sigma problem - students getting one-on-one tutoring do two standard deviations better than students in a traditional F2F classroom.

Josh gave us many statistics:
  • students who log in before class starts have a 90% likelihood of successful completion of the course.
  • 75% of students are non-traditional (we know this already because we teach in a CC)
  • by 2014 1/2 of students will take at least one online course.
He made me wonder if advising could happen online ala Amazon. 

Classes need to be scalable, replicable, sustainable to break the iron triangle of cost, quality, and access.  (Not sure I agree there).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ITC 2012 - Long Beach, CA

Saturday: Developmental Math Online, Workshop, Donna Gaudet and Lisa Young

Donna teaches the full sequence each semester - Arithmetic, Intro to Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra.  She uses proctored tests as that seems to be the standard for math courses online. Her success rates are in the upper 70%, nearing 80%.

1.  Use technology like Animoto to introduce yourself to students and to make yourself more accessible. She also asks students to use Animoto to introduce themselves to her.  Her rationale is use of technology is a 21st century literacy.

2.  Requires a student orientation ahead of time.

3.  Course design:  
  • vertical design
  • consistent due dates:  Homework is due Mondays at 11:59 pm, Quiz and Testing on Wednesday.  Quizzes can be taken many times, an 80% pass rate is required.  Tests can be taken once..  The written assignment packets are due Thursdays at 7:00 pm.
4.  Flow (weekly)
  •  Mini-lesson (replaces lecture):  Uses a Livescribe pen to deliver a 7 to 15 minute lesson, primarily example problems.  She includes a handout with the same problems on it - she asks students to turn in the handout with the problems worked out exactly the same way she does them on the mini-lesson.  
    • Essentially she wants to see her work in their handwriting.  
    • Students like to hear her voice.
  • Homework:  These are problems they do on their own in MyMathLab.  A 90% success rate is required to move on.
  • Quiz:  Also in MML.  Students can take quizzes multiple times, they ultimately need to get an 80%.
  • Test:  Tests are handwritten, not machine gradable.  Students have to show work.  The test sheet is divided into 2 columns - one for the original time they take the test and a second column for corrections.  
    • Corrections are required
    • Students receive extra points for the corrections.
    • Midterm and Final are proctored
5. Misc:
  • Students turn in work via Filestork and Dropbox to reduce clicks for Donna.
  • She allows students to work ahead.
  • Structured flexibility:  due dates, but students can work ahead.
  • Continuous feedback through MML.
  • Transitioning from Livescribe to screencasting because of calculator -- TI Smartview (using Jing, but need Jing Pro, so have file type options beyond flash). 
  • An option to MML is Wamap, which is free.
Lisa Young then talked about institutional good practices:
  • Use Smartermeasure to  help students assess their strengths and weaknesses for online classes.
  • Involve families in the discussion of "When are you going to study?"
  • Use group work, scaffolding, rubrics to establish clear expectations, structured flexibility

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Course Objectives

I've been wide awake since 3:00 a.m., and I decided that something boring might put me to sleep. I know! I'll delete my old emails! However, I came across a Faculty Focus newsletter from July that I wanted to share with you.

We all include course objectives/outcomes on our syllabi, and I've even included them in each unit of various courses. . .all the while being pretty sure that students don't give them much credence.

This article entitled "How to Win Students and Influence Learning" demonstrates how to make course objectives seem real to students.

I think that as a student, I would pay attention to objectives written this way! Here is the example the author provided:

What can this course do for me, the student? This course can give me:
  1. At least two items for my job-seeking portfolio – gorgeous mind maps and a comprehensive statistical research project – demonstrating to employers my work ethic and the quality of my work.
  2. Life-long learning and study skills I can apply continually to get the best grades, land top jobs, and move quickly up the ladder.
  3. Opportunities for developing leadership and interpersonal skills in a team environment, winning the heart of almost any employer.
  4. Practical experience with computer-based technologies, increasingly essential for me to compete in today’s marketplace
  5. Problem-solving and critical thinking abilities that employers consider among the most important skills needed to succeed in the workplace.
  6. An understanding of statistics and research that will allow me to critically assess and understand the world of data around me.