When I began my classes for my M.S.Ed. in Instructional Technology (IT), I was often looked upon as an odd duck. Most of my classes were full of classroom teachers, school librarians, and administrators looking to be in charge of a different area. So here I was, a musician in their midst (and a jazz musician, no less), and when I would invariably be asked about what brought me to IT, I always answered, “I’m going to change the way we teach music.” I’ve widened the scope of my approach, and my research, to include everyone I serve at the University, but I still haven’t lost sight of that goal. But the problem isn’t in the discipline itself; rather, it’s in the materials and methodology.
In a previous life, I was a music professor, and tried as much as possible to leverage technology to improve my course materials and course delivery, and to facilitate better learning experiences for my students. However, these improvements tended to be hybrid instruction methods, such as online testing, audio or video lectures, online paper submission or discussion boards. They did make my course more efficient and created more hands-on class time for me, but did little to truly transform the learning experience in the classroom or outside of it. The students thought taking tests online, watching short video lectures, and doing lots of stuff online was “cool,” but as we all know, “cool” doesn’t really equate to a sea change in their learning. (This was over a decade ago, when doing anything online had way more sparkle than it does today.) Looking back on it after studying and practicing Instructional Design for several years, I see most of my former “innovations” are not really that groundbreaking, just repackaging of old lessons to take advantage of some tools I had available.
My colleagues at FITS have already provided many helpful tips for developing and facilitating effective discussions in online courses. Josh cautions against teaching a correspondence course and explains, “the best discussion questions don’t have a clear answer, and sometimes they aren’t even clear questions.” He also encourages instructors to provoke debate and ask those pointed and room-dividing questions. And Ashanti provides strategies for generating discussions that matter, such as providing opportunities for student-led discussions and pushing students to draw real-world connections.
Still, even with these strategies and course design principles in mind, it can be hard to get every student involved and engaged. Julie Stella and Michael Corry recognize this, and engagement is a focus in “Intervention in Online Writing Instruction.” Stella and Corry argue for “an interwoven perspective of motivation, engagement, agency, and action in Online Writing Instruction,” and in the process provide some helpful tips for all online educators.
Stella and Corry begin with an overview of the current literature centered on engagement and agency, and specifically the ways these concepts are treated in Self-Determination Theory (SDT). As they explain, SDT is “a framework through which educators may be able to reliably predict the motivation a student feels toward academic tasks.” In other words, the good stuff instructors are always trying to tap into. In SDT, all students – and humans – are thought to be working towards satisfying three needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
In the training sessions we provide for faculty who are going to teach online or hybrid courses for the first time, our facilitator, Daniel Stanford, often mentions how instructional technology consultants can serve as “course therapists.” We’re there to listen; to assure faculty that the anxiety they might feel around making such a dramatic change to their teaching is normal; and to help them move through the stages of grief they might experience as they negotiate the losses that result from change.
Given my understanding of this framing metaphor, and given the amount of advice I’ve doled out within this context, I thought I was fully prepared to undertake the process myself when I agreed to teach one of my courses online this past Winter. Surely I could coach myself through the process, right?
As the colleagues I turned to when I needed a therapy session will tell you, I was wrong. In two key ways, I didn’t follow the recommendations I usually give to others.
The growth of online and blended offerings, nationwide, continues at a steady pace. Although this data is several years old, the trend, especially at our institution, continues on the same path.
Source: Babson Survey Research Group, Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States ©, January 2014.
A professor told me recently that he’s taken nearly a dozen online courses (as a student) and has never felt a strong sense of community in any of those courses. He asked what practical suggestions I had for building community online, and I found myself struggling to offer him any tips that were truly revolutionary.
When I began my career in distance learning back in 2003, it was a given that every online course should begin with an ice-breaker activity. These ice-breakers typically consisted of a plain text discussion forum where students would answer questions like, “What do you hope to gain from this course?” and, “What hobbies or interests do you have outside of school?” Fast-forward to 2016 and we’re still approaching ice-breakers in much the same way, creating text-based discussion boards full of the same job-interview questions.
Community building is challenging enough when we have the luxury of frequent face-to-face meetings. With that in mind, is it realistic to believe we can foster meaningful connections in online courses? A friend who teaches in our Modern Languages department likes to answer this by saying, “People are falling in love online—or at least feeling enough of a connection online that they know they want to meet and invest more in the relationship.”
Now that Spring Quarter is settled in and courses are all running and up to date (including the build-as-you-go courses) and I have a little bit of breathing room, it is time to switch focus to summer courses, and even autumn quarter courses and beyond. Essentially, what this means, is it is time for spring cleaning courses that were built over the past few years, and may not have been looked at much since then.
The focus for now is on master courses owned by the college. Many of these were designed in the early push to develop online courses, and many of them were designed by faculty members who are no longer at the university, or were designed on previous versions of the LMS and haven’t been updated to utilize newer features and services we now have available to us.
To ensure that I’m checking all the dusty corners of the courses during spring cleaning, the Director of Online Learning for the college I work with asked me to create a checklist of items to review for these redesign/update courses. The following areas are those that I see as crucial for an update cycle. Feel free to point out in the comments any areas I missed, or other helpful tricks or tips you have for updating older courses.
A couple of weeks ago, while traveling with a team of athletes from around the Midwest (all of whom are students at different D2L institutions) I had the opportunity to talk a little with them about what frustrates them with D2L. To be fair, one was my own kid and managing our D2L instance is my job, but it seemed like a good opportunity to get some student feedback.
What was interesting about their responses was that in all but one exception (the one exception being the discussion board) the feedback they gave me had less to do with the Learning Management System itself and more to do with things the instructor does with the system. I thought I would share with you their observations and some best practices. Below are their top three complaints and what you can do to alleviate some of the issues.
As an eLearning Content Developer (ECD) at DePaul University, one of my roles is to provide faculty support for all courses using Desire2Learn. Whether that is providing D2L training sessions, building content, or answering any D2L technical questions. One of the biggest challenges that I face as an ECD is figuring out when I might be providing “too much support.” I’m sure any faculty reading this at this point are thinking how could there ever be too much support? But I believe there needs to be a balance between providing the support faculty need and also giving them the right amount of encouragement to be able to eventually answer their own questions. Continue reading
I attended the Council on Global Affairs’ International Women’s Day Global Health Symposium. The focus of the day was on the health of the next generation for women and girls locally, nationally, and internationally. The keynote panel focused on new initiatives and challenges with implementation. Rebecca Winthrop, the Director for the Center of Universal Learning at the Brookings Institute, talked about the science of scalability and her project, Millions Learning, which “…explores specifically not just how to improve learning, but how to do so in a way that can be efficiently and effectively implemented at a large scale.” Her comments really resonated with me. Specifically, she emphasized that successfully scaling up means releasing the idea of having a “gold plated” model that can be replicated with fidelity. That model is too complex and requires finesse specific to a particular author. When scaling up, sustainability is the goal. To achieve this, the cookie cutter model will not work. Rather, it is best to identify the core “ingredients” and aim to replicate those and then allow the user to adapt to their particular context. This creates a partnership that allows the program to maintain its essential attributes, but allows the user to “make it into their own” and have some ownership. Continue reading
In 2008, DePaul adopted QualityMatters (QM) as the quality standard for online and hybrid courses developed through the DePaul Online Teaching Series (DOTS) program. During the past eight years, nearly two hundred courses have been through the QM internal review process at DePaul. Since 2011 when the first instructor was rewarded with a QM star for developing a course that met all of the QM standards, the number of QM star recipients has increased drastically. These days, becoming a QM star has become a common expectation of all faculty participants of DOTS.
As designers, we are pleased by the numbers and the feeling of “getting a hang of QM”; on the other hand, we ask whether this is the place where we want to be – because that pounding question remains loud and sound: Does QM guarantee a successful learning experience for students?