I took my first online course in 2004 while pursuing my MFA. It seemed like a novel idea at the time, and I had no clue I’d be spending the next ten years up to my eyeballs in online courses. Since then, I’ve helped faculty design dozens of online and hybrid courses, taught several of my own, and evaluated online courses and professional development programs from a variety institutions.
Over the years, I’ve seen certain design issues surface again and again. I had hoped to stockpile 95 of these “course design sins,” then nail them to a door in a Martin Luther-esque call for reform. That vision was later revised as I realized (A) 95 is a lot of sins to identify and (B) Martin Luther didn’t have to compete with the latest Buzzfeed list of 15 dogs wearing tiny hats.
In light of those realizations, I’d like to share with you my top seven course design sins, along with practical tips for atonement. Continue reading
The Computing and Digital Media (CDM) [School of Computing Research Colloquium] recently hosted Dr. James C. Lester of North Carolina State University, who spoke about what I believe will be the future of online learning, and probably learning in general: “Narrative-Centered Learning Environments.”
Here’s the abstract:
The long-term goal of the intelligent tutoring systems community is to create adaptive learning technologies that bring about fundamental improvements in education. For the past several years our lab has been investigating a family of intelligent tutoring systems that have a dual focus on learning effectiveness and student engagement: narrative-centered learning environments. Narrative-centered learning environments integrate the inferential capabilities of intelligent tutoring systems with the rich gameplay supported by commercial game engines. In this talk we will introduce the principles motivating the design of narrative-centered learning environments, describe their roots in interactive narrative, explore the role of computational models of affect recognition and affect expression in their interactions, and discuss their cognitive and affective impact on students through empirical studies conducted in public school systems.
The abstract sounds promising, and I can attest the presentation was truly stunning. Continue reading
Recently, I attended a workshop on assessing student readiness for online learning with some colleagues from other local colleges and universities. That morning, we spent two hours discussing how to assess student readiness for taking online and hybrid courses. This lively workshop included discussions about: face-to-face vs. online, self-paced tutorials; whether or not preparations should also be assessing students’ academic abilities; transfer and nontraditional students who don’t have the same support networks that traditional freshmen have; and which factors we should be assessing to determine “readiness.” Many of the workshop participants lamented about the amount of time they’ve had to spend on technology training because it has cut into the time they need to teach traditional analog skills like proper writing, citation, computation, etc. It seemed like a hard issue to solve, as student learning varies a great deal, and it’s very difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all solution for situations like this (and that, unfortunately, is what colleges and universities want from a management perspective).
Many of my colleagues felt they were not able to provide students with same sense of presence and engagement they had in a face-to-face class. Then it occurred to me that this conversation may need to be looked at from the a different perspective. I derailed the conversation for a few minutes by asking, “So, whose readiness are we really assessing?” In most developed countries, students expect that they will need a computer for college. The majority have cell phones as well as other electronic devices that permit them to be online all of the time. I’ve seen young people type with their thumbs faster than I can type with both hands. They are always connected to an online environment and always conversing with someone (or several people), even as they are in the classroom (unfortunately). Since they’re already so good at technology, the real question is: are we ready to meet them where they are? Continue reading
The concept of a “learning coach” was introduced by Dr. Jose Bowen during his keynote speech at the 2014 DePaul Annual Teaching and Learning Conference while discussing the new role of a college professor. When the knowledge held in the brain of a professor can no longer compete with the phone that is in the hand of a student, as he humorously pointed out, maybe it’s time to think about what makes a professor the most valuable. During his presentation, Dr. Bowen called everyone’s attention to a painful reality: the vastly available content delivered through the Internet free of charge is depriving the professor of the privilege of being the knowledge owner and resource! The value of a “residential” professor—verses the ones teaching to the world via the Internet—lies in the fact that s/he can be actively involved in the learning process with the students by monitoring and guiding them to the end result. That role, as Bowen put it, would be a “learning coach”. Continue reading
At the end of each term, as you pass your harried colleagues in the hall, there’s likely a common cause for your collectively frazzled state: the stack of papers (or digital file folder of papers) that awaits your grading. They loom there, at the corner of your desk, in the middle of your table at home, or in that desktop folder, and you can feel their mental baggage as you hustle through the rest of your end-of-the-quarter tasks.
Grading writing is hard. It takes time and thoughtfulness on your part, and even if you calculate how many hours of grading you have ahead of you (perhaps trying to limit yourself to 30 minutes per paper, knowing full well that your students [hopefully] spent far more time than that writing the paper), you’ll still be reading papers at all hours, struggling with eye strain and red ink visions and mental exhaustion because if you see ONE MORE comma splice…
All of this is what makes the concept of automated grading at least tempting. Continue reading
This winter I spent many weekends traveling with my son and in doing so ended up with a number of rental cars. What struck me is the fact that every car you get in is set up just a little differently. For example, the wiper controls aren’t in the same place, or perhaps the lights get turned on/off differently. It struck me that just like cars, Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are also set up just a little differently each time we upgrade (full disclosure we also were doing a major system upgrade to our Desire2Learn system during this time).
During these travels, my son and I had quite an adventure in the wee hours of the morning while picking up a car at the Salt Lake City airport. When we got to the car (at 12:30 a.m. MTD, 1:30 a.m. CST) I realized it was a keyless start. Having never used a keyless start before, I wasn’t sure that we would ever make it out of the parking garage. Needless to say after a few failed attempts at starting the car, we finally figured out the trick (in case you were wondering, your foot needs to be on the brake pedal for the car to start) and were happily on our way. In this situation there was no one in the garage whom I could ask for help, but there was never any question that we would continue to try things (including reading the manual, if necessary) until we started the car.
This experience started me thinking about why we tend to show persistence in certain tasks, like figuring out how to start a keyless ignition, while with other tasks, like learning the University’s new deployment of the LMS, we are more likely to throw our hands in the air and quit, claiming the task is too difficult or not worth the effort. Continue reading
When we started the Mobile Learning Initiative (MoLI) at DePaul a few years ago, my MoLI teammates and I agreed pretty quickly that our mission was not in finding “magic bullet” apps for faculty so much as it was encouraging learning activities that make use of the unique functions of mobile devices.
Our mission, however, didn’t stop me from seeking my own magic bullet apps. Early last year, at the recommendation of my teammate Joe Olivier, I started using the free version of Wunderlist. Little did Joe know, I have nurtured a list-making habit from an early age. It started with my mom’s yellow legal pads in the 80’s, and it’s been a fire hazard ever since.
Joe’s app recommendation made a huge difference in my everyday life. I’ll explain how in a moment, but first:
After I confessed to my mom that I had eschewed legal pads and Post-It’s for “this amazing app” (and begged her to follow suit) she sent me the link to The Wall Street Journal piece where she first heard about Wunderlist: The Best To-Do Apps for Feeling Productive. Continue reading
Does your online course provide a positive user experience? To determine if it does, you might see how it aligns with information architect and user experience consultant Peter Morville’s User Experience Honeycomb diagram.
Useful. First, is your course useful? The matter of whether the subject and learning objectives are ultimately useful to the student is certainly important, but here I’m thinking of whether the course supports the stated learning objectives. Does it provide the content and tools a student needs to meet learning objectives, or must the student search for solutions or create workarounds to overcome shortcomings, limitations, errors, or omissions? For example, if your course requires students to record and post audio comments, does it provide tools for doing so, or at minimum direct students to the appropriate tools and tutorials? Further, are the elements or components of your course useful? Do the graphics, audio, or video support learning objectives? Do the readings and assessments? Continue reading
Discussions are sometimes called the engine of an online course. Discussions provide an opportunity for students to engage with the course content, with each other, and with you—the professor—simultaneously, which means they have a lot of potential for meaningful learning and high retention.
There is no guarantee that students will really apply themselves by just creating a discussion. What you get out of a discussion assignment depends on what you put into it. Here are some tips for writing your discussion prompt, selecting your settings, and participating in the discussion.
Identify why this assignment is a discussion
Step one is to identify your goals for this assignment and your reasons for making it a discussion assignment. Do you want students to see the diverse perspectives of their classmates on the content? Do you want students to debate contrasting viewpoints? Do you want students to give feedback to each other as they apply the course content? How exactly do you want them to engage with each other? Continue reading
Denise Nacu created a pair of multimodal midterm and final exams for her Human-Computer Interaction classes, but the time it took to grade them caused stress for her and her students.
Putting Denise’s exams online was difficult because parts of them required students to physically draw on the exam. We shifted the exams into two-part asynchronous, online-only formats with a D2L quiz for the multiple-choice and short-answer questions, and D2L dropbox with release conditions for submitting the design questions.
This solution saved Denise hours of grading and allowed her to return all final grades to her students within 48 hours of the last student completing their exam—a win for all involved.
This post describes how Denise and I moved her midterm and final exams online using Desire2Learn. We’ll cover what the exams looked like at first, how we adjusted the format to a fully online format, and what we learned in the process. Continue reading