All posts by Melissa Koenig

Melissa Koenig

Collaborative Learning Experiences: Lessons from Dr. Seuss and the World University Games

Book cover for The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. SeussAs a child one of my favorite stories was The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss. I have since learned that many have never heard of this wonderful story about Sneetches with stars and those with none. Seuss intended the story to be a satire of race discrimination—in particular antisemitism.

I always loved the message of The Sneetches, especially the fact that by the end “neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew whether this one was that one… or that one was this one…or which one was what one…or what one was who.” I loved this idea of the world, a world where it didn’t matter where you were from (or whether or not you had a star on your belly). This world view is one I think you achieve by being exposed to many different cultures.

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Melissa Koenig

Exercise Your Body and Mind with Pokémon Go

I have a confession to make. I confess that I jumped on the Pokémon Go bandwagon—and I am still riding it.

My first introduction to Pokémon was when my son was little. He had a collection of cards, carefully curated in protective binders. He spent hours reading the cards and developing the perfect deck to defeat his father—not an insignificant feat.   For a child who was a “reluctant” reader these cards were one of the first times that he read for pleasure. He spent hours reading each card to learn the strengths and weaknesses of these unique creatures.

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Melissa Koenig

Adaptive Learning in the University Classroom

In May of 2014 The Journal asked the question, “Adaptive Learning: Are We There Yet?”. In this article, John Waters gives a nice overview of what adaptive learning is. Waters defines adaptive learning as “an approach to instruction and remediation that uses technology and accumulated data to provide customized program adjustments based on an individual student’s level of demonstrated mastery.” Often found in K-12 classrooms Adaptive Learning models were developed to be able to facilitate personalized instruction based around learning outcomes. Most frequently this type of instruction takes the form of intelligent tutoring systems that “learn” the student’s strengths and weaknesses and provides them with a custom set of activities.

As one can imagine, this form of adaptive learning is best suited to lower order skill sets where memorization or “drill and kill” activities might traditionally be used. Using an intelligent tutoring system provides support for students who may struggle with concepts while not penalizing those who have already mastered them. Many of the textbook publishers have developed robust intelligent tutoring system specifically for these types of classes. Continue reading

Melissa Koenig

The Extra Credit Game

A couple of years ago Sarah Brown wrote about gamification strategies and the new wave of activity trackers—many of which have game theory elements built into them, e.g. leaderboards, badges, levels, etc.—and how these elements helped her re-imagine how she approached running.

While there is much talk about how adding these types of elements into classes may help to engage our students, the question, at least in my mind, is how much of this do we really want to add to our classes? Does everything have to be a game? At what point are we dumbing down the educational delivery method in order to make it more fun? And if we do this what message are we sending our students? If it isn’t fun, is it not worth doing?

I think these are large philosophical questions that bare a closer look, at some point, but, even given these questions, I do think there are ways to make parts of our classes more fun. At the D2L Fusion Conference (June 2015) in Orlando I was able to sit in on a session conducted by Vincent King-Spezzo, an instructional designer at Valdosta State University, about gamification. What was interesting about his presentation was the way he implemented game theory in his class. It wasn’t used for learning the “meat” of his course, but as a way for students to earn extra credit points. Continue reading

Melissa Koenig


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

Melissa Koenig

Mixed Content makes for an Interesting Course Experience

For a while now, both Internet Explorer (IE) and Chrome have been blocking “mixed content.”  In the last few weeks, the most recent Firefox release (Firefox 23) has also begun doing so.  So, what is mixed content and why should you care?

When your web browser connects to any webpage, the webpage is sent to you by another computer called a server. Your web browser and the server know how to connect by way of a set of digital rules, or a “protocol.” There are two types of protocols your web browser can connect through:

  • HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or
  • HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS)

Secure webpages start with https in their URLs.  These sites have their connections to the webservers encrypted, making the information shared on them more secure from sniffers and man-in-the-middle attacks–in other words, from people who are up to no good.  Sounds good, right?  When you are making a purchase online, accessing your bank account, or taking an online class, you want your data to be secure.  So what then is the problem? Continue reading

Melissa Koenig

A Rectangle Is Not a Square

In grade school, I remember learning the following: a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square. This logic lesson learned in elementary school can be applied to today’s debates about online education and MOOCs (massive open online courses). While MOOCs are online courses they are not what most universities consider online education. Unfortunately, most of the press these days about MOOCs, unfairly villianizes online education. Take for example the recent NPR Marketplace segment on Duke University’s announced decision to decline the invitation to offer online classes through the company 2U. What bothers me about the piece is not that Duke has decided to think about what the 2U partnership would mean to them, but rather the tying of this decision to Amherst’s decision not to team up with Harvard and MIT to offer free MOOCs.

This is where the square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square analogy comes into play. Continue reading

Melissa Koenig

Lessons from Digital Asset Management for Online Courses

I recently attended the Digital Asset Management (DAM) Conference held in Chicago. Besides being a day filled with references to DAM technology, DAM plans, and DAM systems, with the obvious puns intended, the day proved to be an interesting insight into what organizations are doing to manage their digital assets. While most of the presenters and attendees were from the corporate sector, there were, I believe, a number of lessons that can be applied to higher education.

The keynote speaker talked about immersive consumer experiences. The concept of these experiences is the idea of creating a multimedia experience that is better than the original. For example, the Van Gogh Alive exhibit immerses the user in Van Gogh’s work and in many ways provides a better experience than viewing these same works of art in a museum (where you may be viewing them through a crowd of people or behind glass or other barriers). This got me thinking about how we can make our online courses more immersive. What can we do to make them better than the classroom experience (the original)? And does this immersion always mean adding multimedia? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but it got me wondering.

The idea of making DAM systems more fun and game like was also a point of discussion. As in course design, this idea seems to be all the rage. The context for the discussion at this conference focused primarily on system design. In particular the speakers talked about the importance of making DAM systems fun and intuitive in order to garner buy in from the end user. In my mind, these same concepts can be applied in systems used in higher education for teaching and learning. If we are asking instructors and students to spend time in our learning management system, shouldn’t that experience be at the very least intuitive? I am not convinced that everything needs to be a game or that we need to simplify things to a point that it doesn’t seem serious, but intuitive and easy seem to be a good compromise.

Another lesson we can take from this field is the idea of system integrations. Many barriers exist when systems are in silos. The consensus, however, seemed to be a movement away from creating a one size fits all solution, but instead finding ways to share information between systems to create a seamless user experience. Meaningful system integration (not just linking between systems) is something that I feel is often lacking in our strategic thinking in higher education. The plan is usually one of two things: 1) buy one system and stuff everything into it regardless of whether or not it is the right fit, or 2) everyone does their own things and none of the systems work together, creating a frustrating experience for users and a less efficient system for administrators.

Perhaps one of the most relevant presentations was by the folks at Encyclopedia Britannica. When most people think about digital assets they think about images and videos. At Encyclopedia Britannica they also consider all their printed content to be digital assets. To make it easier to reuse and repurpose this content, Britannica breaks everything into small discrete chunks which can then be repurposed in a variety of ways.

We talk a lot about chunking when developing online content, but typically this is in reference to making the content more "digestible" by the student in order to reduce cognitive overload. The idea that this same concept could be used to make it easier to reuse and redeploy content over multiple classes is an intriguing one. Most instructors, for example, teach multiple classes in the same field. While they aren’t the same class, often a small piece of content used in one can also be used in another. The idea that you could have a database of all of these "chunks" of content that could be easily pulled into multiple courses is an interesting one.

Finally, the traditional use of a DAM system has obvious utility in higher education and in particular in the management of assets created during course development. There are many digital assets (videos, images, lectures, animations, etc.) that are created when developing a course—particularly when creating online or hybrid classes. Being able to quickly find and reuse these assets is imperative if we hope to realize a return on the investment (ROI) for creating them. If these items are able to be shared, creating a search schema that allows for quick and efficient retrieval is paramount. For those items that have copyright or intellectual property restriction, being able to track this information and make sure that all parties are aware of the restrictions is imperative to being ethical consumers of these assets. Making resources easier to find, share, and reuse will ultimately make it easier to sell the creation of these assets in the first place.

Melissa Koenig

Classroom Copyright Perils

Recently, I attended a faculty professional-development event and, as is often the case at such things, the subject of putting pdf copies of course readings directly into one’s course on the university learning management system (LMS) came up. As I sat quietly (or at least attempted to), a faculty member showed how easy it was to simply upload these files into their course. "But can I do that?" someone asked. "Don’t I have to use the library reserve process?"

By nature we are all creatures of using the path of least resistance. Is it easier to simply upload everything myself into my course than to plan ahead and have someone provide me access through the library? Absolutely! The question, however, isn’t (or shouldn’t be) is it easier, but what is legal. As it turns out "fair use" is not an easy thing to determine and even those (like libraries) who are perhaps the most versed at the process are not immune to getting themselves into trouble. In 2008, Georgia State University was sued by three publishers (Cambridge University Press, SAGE Publications, and Oxford University Press) for copyright infringement for materials placed on the university electronic-reserve system. 

The ruling in GSU’s case just came down last week, and the judge, by and large, ruled on the university’s behalf. This case has been closely watched in university circles especially in light of some fairly restrictive cases just north of the border in Canada. Barbara Fister’s blog entry on the GSU decision poses some interesting thoughts on the topic of what happens if institutions decide to avoid risk by simply paying higher fees to license-collecting agencies without regard to fair use.

This is essentially what has happened and is happening in Canada where Access Copyright (the Canadian license collection organization) is attempting to severely increase rates and have claimed that "posting a link" is the same as making a copy. Potentially, a university who accepts the new fee structures could now be responsible for a $27.50 fee for every full-time equivalent student and be subjected to surveillance of campus email accounts.

In light of the turmoil in the world of copyright clearance and fair use, what are faculty members to do when it comes to making decisions about using excerpted materials in their classes? The short answer is stick with the professionals. If you don’t think that the publishing world is watching, think again. If a library can get into hot water, don’t believe that you are only small potatoes. The best option is to work within your university’s copyright and fair use policy and your library reserves process.