Do you remember the dread of reading books “for school”? As a former high school English teacher, I remember feeling conflicted about book selections because I feared that the “for school” designation would automatically turn students off to a book they might like in other circumstances, no matter how hip and non-worksheet-y the accompanying assignments (Make a soundtrack for the book! Create a children’s book version of the same story with pictures and everything!).
I often find myself falling into the same trap with “for work” reading. I’m genuinely interested in reading about topics related to my job — Cynthia Selfe’s “Multimodal Composition — Resources for Teachers” is a fantastic book, for example, but these aren’t the types of books I turn to for those 20 minutes of unwinding time before my head hits the pillow.
To my delight, though, my current “for fun” reading, Thunderstruck by Erik Larson, is striking the perfect balance of telling a compelling narrative and making connections to my professional life. Continue reading
One of the best things about the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) annual meeting is the broad spectrum of institutions represented, from the Ivy League to large public and private universities to community colleges and small liberal arts schools. If you’re looking for colleagues who are grappling with the same challenges you’re experiencing at your institution, chances are you’ll find them at ELI.
The ELI audience is as diverse as the institutions they represent and includes instructional designers, faculty with a passion for technology, and IT professionals working in higher education. Unlike conferences that focus primarily on distance learning, ELI attracts a large proportion of CIOs and people passionate about the intersection of technology and physical learning spaces. As a result, the conference typically includes ample hands-on time with new gadgets and hardware. On Tuesday, I learned more about Arduinos during a hands-on “maker-space” session that left me missing my old Capsela set. At breakfast on Wednesday, I had a chance to chat with remote conference participants who roamed the venue using a device designed by Double Robotics. And just before heading to the airport, Jeremy Littau, an Assistant Professor at Lehigh University, let me test-drive Google Glass.
Of course, you don’t have to be on a first name basis with the staff of your local Radio Shack to get something useful out of ELI. The annual meeting agenda is brimming with presentations on everything from faculty development for online learning to predictions on the future of open-source textbooks and MOOCs. Here are a few highlights from some of the sessions I attended.
As the name might suggest, Faculty Instructional Technology Services (FITS) is tasked with providing technology support to instructors for the purposes of enhancing teaching and learning. A great deal of the job entails the development and support of online, hybrid, and flipped classes. We’ve been doing this for a while, but lately we’ve been hearing a new set of questions as the direction of higher education moves more and more online:
“I’m teaching a hybrid/flipped class, and I’ve put all my documents online, provided lecture videos, and I do all my papers and exams online as well. But now I have all this extra face time in class…what do I do with it?”
Fear not. We’re here for that too. It is true that the majority of learning materials can usually be offloaded to an online resource. Students can come to class having seen the lecture material, perhaps turned in a homework assignment or taken a quiz, and maybe even participated in a discussion online. This offloading of materials means students can take advantage of the ebb and flow in their personal schedules to complete the class work online, but they still need meaningful learning experiences when they are face to face. Let’s examine some possible strategies that can be easily implemented to reclaim your class time.
In the December issue of the Campus Technology magazine, Gerry McCartney, CIO at Purdue University, was cited in “What Will Happen to MOOCs Now that Udacity Is Leaving Higher Ed?” for his response to the downward spiral of the MOOC. McCartney “applauded the MOOC makers for demonstrating that ‘content has almost no value…”, and when it comes to the value of this type of education, “the money is not in the content”.
McCartney believes that the learning experience delivered through a MOOC is like learning from watching The History Channel. It is merely access to content—a low-value type of education. In his opinion, one can get the best Chaucerian professor to publish a book for everyone in the world to read, but it is impossible for the same professor to offer a class to teach everyone in the world because learning requires personal interaction. Personal interaction, as Gerry McCartney points out, is the high-value type of education—something that is not scalable in a MOOC.
Two months ago, DePaul upgraded from D2L 9.4 to version 10.3, a leap of four versions. For our department, that means we’ve had 60 days of leading trainings on the big changes in the system; discovering, reproducing, and reporting bugs; fielding angry complaints about new annoyances that have popped up in this new version; and constantly manning the phones to answer instructor questions. In short, it’s been exhausting.
But I don’t want to talk about bugs or new annoyances. I don’t want to talk about how much time I’ve spent on the phone to get through this transition. I want to talk about something positive. So to take my mind off of all that, I’m going to write about the good part of upgrades–great new features, my favorite being student progress tracking.
What is progress tracking?
Progress tracking turns your Content area into a checklist for students. Every item in your Content can be something that students can check off as they complete it, or something that’s automatically checked when the student does something in D2L, like submit to a dropbox folder or complete a quiz attempt. This is what it looks like for a student.
Something Happened! – That Sinking Feeling
Sometimes the grade distribution on your exam seems a bit low — maybe even horrifyingly low.
Perhaps there wasn’t enough time to focus on a topic due to a holiday, a bout of illness struck, or maybe there was a question that was ambiguously worded. The assessment might be brand new and still needs some tweaking, or maybe the students just didn’t get it — there was a collective lapse in memory.
Whatever the reason, the grade distribution is low and it feels bad for you and worse for your students.
What Happened? — The Empathy Hat
Now that you’ve identified there is an issue, the next step is to identify the reason for the low scores. Continue reading
I’ve been indulging in a bit of a guilty pleasure lately: a network television series that ran a couple of years ago called Lie To Me. It stars Tim Roth as Dr. Cal Lightman, a deception specialist who is hired by agencies and individuals to determine the “truth” at a crime scene.
Dr. Lightman and his team of experts study the micro-expressions (brief, involuntary facial expressions) on all of the parties involved.
Be it a downturn of the mouth, or a twitch under the eye, “The Lightman Group” banks on the fact that these micro-expressions consistently indicate emotions such as guilt, shame, fear or arousal. These expressions are especially apparent when video footage of a subject is slowed down and studied, frame-by-frame. The scientific premise of the show is based on the cutting-edge research of psychologist Paul Ekman
Photo credit: Paul Ekman Group
When I taught high school English, saying my job title was an explanation in itself, mostly because anyone I was talking to had experienced high school English for themselves. The only difficulty was to convince them I was still an OK person even though I was a high school English teacher: “Don’t worry—I won’t be correcting your grammar or suggesting syntax improvements during our conversation!”
Now, when I say that I’m an “Instructional Designer,” the expression on most people’s faces is one of polite befuddlement—I may as well have said I’m a “Foley Artist” or “Happy Salad Model.”
That’s why I was surprised when Peggy Maki, the keynote speaker at the Teaching Commons Fall Forum, mentioned instructional designers. In her talk on the scholarship of teaching and learning, Dr. Maki was explaining the connections among program outcomes, course outcomes, assignments, and student learning, and she advocated for a clearer linearity across those elements. As an aside, she said (excuse my loose paraphrase), “And that’s why instructional design is so popular now.”
I was sitting right in front of Dr. Maki when she said this, and I think she saw my politely befuddled face. Popular? Instructional design? I think my friends and family have a vague understanding of what I do, Continue reading
I teach several mathematics courses in the Liberal Studies Program at DePaul. For many of the students, this will be the only mathematics course that they will take during their entire college career, and many of them are apprehensive. I try to do a few things to allay their fears or at least help them see that they are in the same boat.
During the first week, I ask them to participate in a discussion forum by responding to the following prompt:
“Most children have a natural affinity for mathematics; they take pride in their counting skills and enjoy puzzles, building blocks, and computers. Unfortunately, this natural interest seems to be snuffed out in most people by the time they reach adulthood.
What is your attitude toward mathematics? If you have a negative attitude, can you identify when in your childhood that attitude developed? If you have a positive attitude, can you explain why? How might you encourage someone with a negative attitude to become more positive?”
This quarter, the students responded very well to the discussion. Those who were comfortable with mathematics encouraged those who weren’t. As the quarter progressed, the students have bonded and helped each other both in and out of class. However, every time I ask this question (and I have for more than 5 years now), I see responses similar to these: Continue reading
What exactly is Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT)? Wikipedia defines JiTT as “a pedagogical strategy that uses feedback between classroom activities and work that students do at home, in preparation for the classroom meeting.” The goal of JiTT is to enhance the amount of learning that takes place during class time. The idea is that the instructor will give assignments that the students must complete and submit shortly before class, then the instructor will read the students’ submissions “just in time” to fine-tune the lesson of the day to meet the students’ needs.
The dynamics of today’s classrooms are constantly changing, including the kinds of students that fill these classrooms. Classrooms now consist of part- and full-time working students, commuters, and older students. They all come from different backgrounds and different levels of education. As a result, instructors’ teaching methods need to evolve in order to keep up with the varying student population. JiTT approaches these challenges by gauging the knowledge level of each individual student on a given topic. The feedback that is obtained from the out-of-class assignments help to maximize the effectiveness of class sessions. The feedback also encourages the instructor to construct team-building exercises. Before class starts, they are able to use the students’ feedback to create lessons that will allow the class to work together on the same objective.
JiTT assignments (often called WarmUps) allow students to take a more active role in their learning because it is their hard work that shapes the next class. These assignments should be built in a way that requires students to do a decent amount of research by reading a book or an online article, watching a video, etc. Instructors should also encourage students to practice using problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. The best way to do this is to create a few open-ended and short-answer questions that pertain to a subject that was not previously discussed in class.
With JiTT, student learning is enriched, and it increases the efficacy and success of classroom lessons.