Our institution recently (generously/mercifully) provided the entire university access to Box.com, an unlimited online cloud storage solution. While many in our office were already pro subscribers of Dropbox or Office 365/OneDrive, the addition of an officially available solution for all faculty, staff, and students opened many, many opportunities—but brought a few challenges as well.
Some of the users we’ve worked with following the release were already familiar with cloud storage solutions, which also means they are well aware of the “data discipline” required when you have near limitless (or in our case, actually limitless) storage that can span across physical hardware setups and locations. However, some who were new to this, or just those who—let’s just say “have trouble with cleaning up” their files—needed a bit of a primer on data discipline and how to avoid the digital dumping ground.
Recently, on “Pi Day” (3.14, or March 14 for the non-nerds out there) I was reading an article about the benefits of learning programming on the Raspberry Pi, a micro-computer that costs only $35 dollars, and all the ways that it helps tinkerers learn programming and solve obscure issues by creating their own software and hardware solutions. I had recently fallen into the trap of tech lust—the feeling nerds get when they suddenly want to buy some piece of technology they may or may not really need—and decided that I wanted to buy a Pi device and get back into programming, having not written a line of code since high school.
That last bit presented a bit of an issue for me, however. Learning to code was always easiest for me when I had a specific issue to solve, since it helped me predict what kind of code I needed to learn, while also making the motivational factor much easier to maintain. It’s this feeling of not knowing where to start that I often see students struggle with as well.
Facing this issue myself, before I decide which Pi to purchase I’ll look online for specific Pi projects that others have done, to see what solutions I may be able to integrate into my own network and test bench at home. At the same time, I think it is helpful to consider the different pedagogical approaches available to instructors to naturally integrate problems into the assignments we give, in order to help students learn to solve them.
Recently, while filling out one of those mundane online forms that asks general demographic info like education level, industry, and various demographics, I was a bit puzzled that within the preconfigured options for occupation, my exact title of “Instructional Technology Consultant” wasn’t an option, though “Instructional Designer” was.
I admit now that I shouldn’t really have reason to take pause. For most of the ITCs I work with, instances like this wouldn’t faze them at all. I’m well aware that our nomenclature doesn’t really change the fact that what we do is, in fact, instructional design. Yet I have to admit that before that moment I’d never really seen myself as a designer—at least not in the sense of what people think of when they traditionally think of a “designer.” Consultant? Sure, I can easily recognize myself there, but not as a designer.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Brightspace Fusion 2016 conference. While the conference itself is hosted by the team that develops our LMS (Learning Management System), many of the sessions focused on strong use of technology in general, as well as tested strategies for engaging learners, whether online, hybrid, or in traditional classrooms (in other words, these ideas apply regardless of the LMS you may be using). If I had to pick one theme that stood out to me most, it would be the idea of personalized learning and instruction.
I know what you may be thinking now—we’ve been hearing about this for years and it still doesn’t seem to be that common, and most people push back by saying they don’t have time for creating individualized items for every student in the class. I couldn’t agree more; that’s why the point here isn’t necessarily making many individualized items for each and every student, but personalized to different styles of learning, or even to your personal style of teaching your subject. From what I see, the point here is that much of the content for courses is ubiquitous now—anyone can search online for countless bits of information, textbooks, how-to guides, websites, or videos on a topic; because of this, the real art and strategy of teaching is not so much in what we present, but how we present it. The personalization is as much about the instructor’s style as it is the learners’ styles—the questions we need to answer are “How knowledgeable and authentic is the instructor? How can an instructor use their personal experiences or examples to make the content more accessible?”
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.
One of the biggest questions faculty have as they move their courses online is how assessments will work when they can’t see their students taking quizzes or tests. Questions inevitably arise about students sharing answers or taking tests together, since the instructor isn’t there to see the students while they take the tests.
While there are services out there that will monitor students as they take the test, often referred to as online proctors, these come with an added cost and still need to be scheduled, eliminating one of the main draws for students—that they can work based on their own schedule—even at 3 a.m. These services tend to work best in high-stakes tests as well, meaning major exams for the course rather than weekly tests or quizzes. (We won’t get into that territory today, however.)
Many instructors are familiar with the popular cloud-based file back-up and editing sites available today. For years, we’ve all played with Google Drive’s integrations with Docs, Sheets, and Slides, or used Dropbox or Box to upload and share versions of our files between computers. With Microsoft’s updates to Office 2016 and integration with OneDrive (available as free or paid options, depending on storage amounts), the old familiarity of Microsoft Office we’ve been so comfortable with using gets a big boost in cloud-based functionality with file sharing and editing. This boost is one that can truly make things easier for developing courses too, since embedding documents that automatically update in the cloud is easier than ever.
To start with an example, many of us have used Word for things like posting a syllabus, a rubric, or an assignment sheet. These documents often go through frequent updates and many versions, sometimes even during the course of the term as we find that something needs to be added or removed. For instructors who teach multiple sections of a course, or for Instructional Designers who work with scores of courses per term, reposting every edit to these documents for each course that needs them can take significant time, not to mention the worry of the wrong version of the document being posted in one or more places.
Using the embedded document through OneDrive helps to eliminate missed edits or updates since instructors or designers can put the embed code for the general syllabus, rubric, or assignment sheet into the correct location in the course, and the edits can be made in one document in the cloud, to be quickly and automatically pushed to all the courses. Each time the course is copied and updated, the embed links stay in place, and automatically changes the content as soon as the document is updated. Better yet, these edits can be made by the instructor or the Designer, or even by a teaching team who is sharing documents across courses in a program. Every course gets the most recent version immediately with minimal time and effort. (While Google Docs can do this too, it often takes several minutes, even up to 15 minutes, for updates to go live on the pages. With OneDrive, the updates are immediate, often just requiring a page refresh).
A recent Wired article by Chris Kohler titled “Hey, Video Games: Please Trick Me Into Thinking I’m Smart” caught my attention between levels of the mind-bending puzzle game Monument Valley as I rode the train in to work one morning. I began to wonder if video games (“real” video games and not the ones designed principally as educational tools) really can make us smarter. And if they can in fact make us smarter, I wondered how I could replicate this in my own courses.
I can admit to having moments in class when I was a student where everyone around me seemed to get an idea with ease and I just stared at the teacher, feigning a smile and hoping my cluelessness wasn’t too apparent. It was similar to moments I had in video games, walking back and forth between the same locations, looking at the same objects over and over and simply not seeing anything there; there was no rhythm or pattern that I could discern to do anything useful or that resembled anything I had done in the game before. Overcoming these blocks was often even more dire due to the fact that I have 3 brothers who are extremely talented gamers, and were often several levels ahead of me as I bumbled my way through the levels at half their pace. (I would be teased relentlessly for missing the obvious solutions. Their favorite was to emphatically say “It’s right there in front of you!” without pointing at anything and letting the anxiety paralyze me.)
What usually solved my gaming issue was changing the angles I used to look at things— standing on a different side of the room, looking down from a ladder, or trying and retrying the character’s abilities or items until something worked. (When all else failed, I usually looked for a cheat-sheet or walk-through, a study-guide-like item explaining each step to take to beat the level.) Within the games—trying and retrying or looking at things from different angles—I often learned a new skill that I was ready to employ later in the game to get the next level.
Within the classroom, I usually didn’t get such opportunities. I would simply admit defeat so that I didn’t fall behind going into the next level, and hoped that I didn’t need that particular skill again later. It had never occurred to me then that some of the same gaming strategies might benefit me in class, and that all I may have needed was a different way to look at and do something. Continue reading