Category Archives: Teaching and Learning

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Simple Steps to Get Started With Teaching Online

photo credit: http://cat.xula.edu/food/moving-from-in-person-to-online-teaching/

photo credit: http://cat.xula.edu/food/moving-from-in-person-to-online-teaching/

With the Christmas holiday and New Year around the corner, I’m sure many of us have begun planning our holiday getaways! For me, I have a perfect relaxation plan in place to unwind after a very busy and fruitful 2015. However, before we head out to implement our various holiday plans, I want to encourage you to think about your spring 2016 course(s). This is particularly important if you’re new to online teaching.

At the recently concluded 4th Annual Fall Teaching & Learning Day, my colleague, Natalie and I participated in a poster session, where we presented on the simple steps to take for those who are teaching an online or hybrid course for the first time.

We began by outlining the opportunities that are often derived from teaching online, such as the convenience and flexibility that we have in our schedules, where teaching can occur anywhere and anytime without facing any hindrances or fighting traffic to get to class. Also, the opportunity to learn new skills, or enhance existing ones, and being able to transfer the skills to other aspects or modes of teaching, such as online and face-to-face (F2F), and vice versa. Lastly, there’s also the opportunity for student engagement and participation to increase, since no student has the ability hide in the shadows or holdout from staying engaged or participating fully.

Having a full understanding of these opportunities, and being able to embrace and internalize them would make your online teaching experience much more rewarding, especially if they are coupled with the steps below.

Step 1: Assess skills/yourself

Penn State University created a very helpful self-assessment tool for online teaching that allows you to assess your skills to determine areas of strengths and weaknesses. What are your competencies? Have you taught online before? Are you comfortable teaching online? Do you need some training?

Step 2: Have a plan

This is a case of the 5 P’s of success, where proper planning prevents poor performance. Begin with the end in mind, knowing fully well that any poorly designed course might lead to a poor delivery of content, which might elicit a poor performance evaluation from students.

Therefore, make a plan and a schedule. Do you have a course that you might redesign/or content to repurpose for another course? Set some time aside to work on the redevelopment. If on the other hand you’d be creating an entirely new course, have you thought of what you might need? A course development plan would help you actualize this. Creating content for/designing an online course for the first time is time consuming and could take up to 3 months, realistically. Would you rather be scrambling at the last minute or work ahead of time to leave room for improvements?

Step 3: Incorporate some design standards

Course design standards such as the one by Quality Matters (QM) or Online Learning Consortium (OLC, formally, Sloan-C), help guide the design of online courses to ensure that the content is pedagogically sound. The QM Rubric, for instance, outlines eight (8) standards to follow. We’re happy to discuss the standards/rubrics with you, if need be.

Step 4: Maintain a regular presence in the course

Facilitate the course by being present in the course to facilitate learning. Include critical thinking opportunities for students, especially in online discussions. Feedback is also key. If students are made aware of their strengths and weaknesses, it presents a great chance for them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Step 5: Maintain your partnership

At every step of this journey, the e-Learning Center (e-LC) remains a helpful partner, and stands ready to assist in any way possible. We provide training opportunities for all things Sakai. Opportunities are available through walk-ins, by appointment, in person or through video conference. After assessing your skills, if you discover that you need to refresh your knowledge or gain new knowledge, do not hesitate to call on the e-LC right away. Ramon Bautista once said that “the only stupid question is the question that is never asked.” We’re here to help make your teaching experience as pleasant as possible.

Enjoy your break, and have a wonderful New Year!!

How do you wrap up your course?

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Gift Box with Your Course written on the tag
The end of the semester is quickly approaching, so how do you wrap up your course for your students and yourself? The article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, Wrapping Up a Large Online Course, provides good ideas, even though the article is intended for larger online classes.

The article provides three big ideas:

  • Evaluate and prioritize assignments for revision based on student success
  • Offer a student survey for specific course feedback
  • Review materials and prioritize content for updating

I like the idea of collecting specific course feedback and reflection. Just because the course is over, what students have learned may not apply to them immediately. It is helpful for students to make connections with prior learning and experience and what they learned in your course. A suggested technique is for students to create a mind map as a way of capturing the key concepts from the course to connect with what the concepts mean and how concepts can be applied.

Sample mind map structure:
Central Point in the middle with branches to main points and sub points

Students can draw a mind map or use a free mind mapping tool.
http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/best-mind-mapping-tools/

Another option is to create a Wrap Up discussion forum for you and your students to reflect on the semester. Consider offering open-ended questions which can impact how you revise your course.

  1. How rigorous or difficult was the course?
  2. What is something you accomplished this semester that you are proud of?
  3. What was your most challenging assignment?
  4. What was the most challenging part of this course for you?
  5. If you could change one thing about the course, what would it be?
  6. In what area do you feel you made your biggest improvements?
  7. What are six adjectives that best describe this course?
  8. What advice would you give students taking this course next semester?

When the course is over, you can wrap up the discussion and provide additional resources for students including associations, journals, and books.

From the mind maps and/or open-ended responses, you have additional feedback to consider, so now it is a good time to self-reflect. Ask yourself, did the students make connections as you thought they might? Are big ideas missing? How can you revise your course to make the concepts more clear? You now have information to guide you as you reflect, revise and improve your course.


Salter, Anastasia. (2015, Nov. 20). Wrapping Up A Large Online Course. Retrieved
November 20, 2015 from The Chronicle of Education.

 

SharePoint Arrives to UB via Team Sites

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The University of Baltimore’s Office of Technology Services recently released Team Sites, an online document library and collaboration tool that, like UB’s email, is part of the Office 365 suite of tools. Organize, author, share ideas and documents with this tool based on Microsoft’s SharePoint collaborative functions.

Team Sites will enhance work that had previously been done via shared storage on mapped drives or by using a project site in Sakai Learning Management System (both of which will still be available). In Team Sites, individual faculty, staff, or students can be added as Site Administrators, empowering them to manage the granular permissions that drive the Team Sites experience. Links to Team Sites tools like document libraries can be made available in Sakai, leveraging the integrations of both systems.

Some of the great new features of the Team Sites tool are highlighted below.

Team Sites information, FAQ, and policy can be found here.

Document Check-out
Files stored in a Team Site library can be checked out to allow you to complete your edits. Once the file is checked back in, other users may view the latest changes or check it out to make their own.

https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Check-out-check-in-or-discard-changes-to-files-in-a-library-7E2C12A9-A874-4393-9511-1378A700F6DE

Real-Time Document Co-authoring
Multiple users can edit Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents simultaneously using the online versions of those tools in Office 365. These documents can be saved with version control in Team Sites.
https://blogs.office.com/2013/11/06/collaboration-just-got-easier-real-time-co-authoring-now-available-in-office-web-apps/

Document Versioning
Document versioning can be enabled to track both major and minor versions to a file. This includes author auditing and dates, and files can be reverted to a previous version at any time.

https://support.office.com/en-in/article/How-does-versioning-work-in-a-list-or-library-0f6cd105-974f-44a4-aadb-43ac5bdfd247

Document Workflow
Document approval and signature workflows can be added to Team Site libraries. One-to-many users can approve both serial and parallel workflow items, augmenting current pen-and-paper business processes. Workflows can be used to seek director approval for policy changes. Professors could institute workflows for reviewing first edits of an assignment.

http://blogs.technet.com/b/lystavlen/archive/2012/06/16/workflows-in-sharepoint-online.aspx

Best Practices for Online Exams

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image credit: http://ctle.hccs.edu/OTDE/about_de/cheating.html

image credit: http://ctle.hccs.edu/OTDE/about_de/cheating.html

With the Fall 2015 semester at its midpoint, one thing is on the mind of students and faculty alike: “Midterm,” which means, “exams.” In the last week or so, I have set up a lot of Midterm exams in Sakai (our learning management system, LMS), and they all had one thing in common: “multiple choice.” Instructors rely heavily on multiple choice (MC) exams to evaluate student learning outcomes. This is understandable because multiple choice exams offer convenience, ease of grading, quick and easy feedback, among many others.

PS: Sakai can grade multiple choice, true/false and fill-in-the-blank questions automatically.

Whereas a good MC or online exam should be able to assess the key components of a course, in other words, measure the learning goals and objectives of the material(s) covered, it should also adhere to some e-Learning best practices.

Although there are lot of best practices in this regard, here are a few to keep in mind:

1. Be consistent

Decide early on how many answer choices to make available to students for each question, and stick to it. If, for instance, you offer A to D as answers in the test, stay consistent throughout. In “Multiple Choice Questions In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know,” Christopher Pappas, advises that “as a general rule, you should limit the number of variables to 4 or 5, as this decreases the chances of a learner correctly guessing the answer and prevents memory overload.” By doing so, you allow students the opportunity to process and retain information easily, and reduce the chance of them getting confused. This also allows them to quickly move through the test, especially if it is timed.

2. Discourage cheating

A good multiple choice assessment discourages cheating, not only in the way and manner the questions are created, but also in the way they are administered. Because it is easier for students to congregate in computer labs or form “study sessions” during the test, it is important to take measures to prevent such unethical behavior.

i. Time the assessment

Students are discouraged from overt cheating when they’re constrained by time. The fact that they don’t have infinite time to complete an assessment encourages them to concentrate on the task of completing the assessment within the allotted time.

ii. Randomize the answers

Randomizing the MC answers is a tried-and-true way to discourage cheating. Assuming that merely timing the test fails to discourage the “congregation,” then randomization becomes the gatekeeper. When I set up tests or quizzes, I not only randomize the questions, but I also randomize the answer choices as well.

iii. Randomize the questions

Sakai allows for the randomization of questions with the click of a button. In addition, we can also create question pools, where a pre-determined number of questions are randomly drawn for each student. Again, it wouldn’t hurt to randomize the answer choices too as an added measure.

3. Provide feedback

Endeavor to provide some feedback to the students beyond simply giving them the correct answer(s). A detailed feedback goes a long way to reinforce learning. Another great feature of Sakai allows for extensive feedback to be included for every question. The e-Learning Center (eLC) staff can help!

References:
Dickinson, M. (2012, March 12). The Thing about Multiple-Choice Tests …. Retrieved July 29, 2015, from

Pappas, C. (2015, July 28). Multiple Choice Questions In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know. Retrieved July 29, 2015, from

Structured Assignments Can Help to Close the Achievement Gap

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Yesterday in an opinion piece in the New York Times Annie Murphy Paul asked whether college lectures were unfair. She cited research that shows that “the lecture is not generic or neutral, but a specific cultural form that favors some people while discriminating against others, including women, minorities and low-income and first-generation college students.”  Why would this be? Researchers know that “we learn new material by anchoring it to knowledge we already possess.” First-generation college students, women and minorities might be less sure that they possess background knowledge that would be useful in understanding a lecture, so allowing them to show themselves what they actually know already primes them to acquire new knowledge in the classroom.

Paul does not advocate throwing out the lecture entirely. Instead, she encourages professors to introduce more structure into reading assignments outside of class that will help them engage more fully in a traditional lecture. Studies have found that when professors provide questions to students about the reading before they come to class, students are more likely to complete the reading, putting the entire class on a more even footing.

Some professors grade the answers to the homework questions, but others administer frequent in-class quizzes that incorporate them. I like this method, since I prefer to grade writing on paper instead of on-line.  In class I can ask students to connect the reading to a document they have not seen before or an image I show them for the first time. Last week my first-year students had read about Captain John Smith for homework. At the beginning of class, I asked students to fill in this Point of View graphic organizer to analyze his many layers in order to determine bias he might have brought to his record of his Chesapeake Bay explorations. When they had completed the graph, students could see right in front of them the knowledge they brought to the class, so they were ready to hear more about John Smith in a lecture. This type of structure is relatively easy to incorporate in your teaching. In fact you already might be doing it.

.photo

Paul writes, “In the structured course, all demographic groups reported completing the readings more frequently and spending more time studying; all groups also achieved higher final grades than did students in the lecture course. At the same time, the active-learning approach worked disproportionately well for black students — halving the black-white achievement gap evident in the lecture course — and for first-generation college students, closing the gap between them and students from families with a history of college attendance.”

Students spend a good deal of energy trying to figure out “what the professor wants.” Structured reading assignments make homework expectations explicit. When they know the answers to reading questions, students can feel certain they are reading in the right way. When they can connect their homework to new experiences in class, they gain a sense of mastery. When a professor tells them every week that they are on the right track, they come to understand that they are in the right place.

Difficult Online students

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Dealing with difficult students in an online class presents some unique challenges. Certainly, faculty are aware that there is a line of abusive language that must be dealt with directly and in conjunction with others at the University (remember the Dean of Students can be your greatest resources in such situations).  But what about the disruption that is less hostile – the discussion post that is critical of the course organization, the complaints that go to other students instead of you, or the message dripping with sarcasm?

angry studentTeaching online is more time consuming than teaching face-to-face and the prep time is probably double. It is that preparation that can make
the difference in heading off the critics. Good course design and a comprehensive syllabus are the foundation of a successful course and fewer jabs from the disgruntled student.

Sometimes the difficult student is venting and needs just to be heard. Courses can be daunting and both personal and work demands can take a student to the edge. Dr. Alan Lyles at the University of Baltimore describes his approach as one of “compassionate rigor.”  Can we address the disruptive student’s behavior with compassion without bowing to a lessening of standards or course expectations?

In his paper on Dealing with Problem Students and Faculty Thomas Tobin reminds us that we all know at least one faculty member who is disorganized (I’d respectfully add thorny and/or cantankerous). The breakdown in organization and communications can often be the source of complaints.  Are you are willing to examine the causes of difficult students or only make it a student issue?

In a face-to-face environment we might use non-verbal to address a difficult student. Giving a student “the eye” or standing a little closer to their desk as you continue teaching are strategies that can’t be reproduced online. You can however try a few of these techniques:

  • acknowledge the difficulty of the assignment, provide additional instruction( if necessary), and encourage the student
  • allow a draft submission or create an environment where it is okay to make mistakes
  • make your learning objectives realistic and achievable
  • build relationships with your students that allow for both your praise and critic
  • keep it simple. Make your instruction as clear and yet comprehensive as possible.
  • provide timelines not just deadlines
  • ask students to contact you with questions
  • set firm rules for decorum and interaction (between students and with you)

Recreating Ancient Greek Ceramics

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kilnopen2-700x466

In the spring of 2015 Johns Hopkins University teamed up with Baltimore Clayworks to provide students with an experiential learning course that focused on researching and recreating ancient Greek ceramics. The course set out to put theory into practice. In the first few weeks of the course students learned about the historic significance of drinking cups to ancient Greek symposiums.   As the course developed students began working with clay while also observing the science that is involved in creating ancient ceramics. And finally, the students were asked to provide a finished product that replicated ancient works of art.   The only word that comes to mind as I explore the website documenting the students journey is WOW. This is truly an exciting example of experiential learning that needs to be shared and promoted.

http://archaeologicalmuseum.jhu.edu/the-collection/object-stories/recreating-ancient-greek-ceramics/

 

Renovated Classrooms Lead to Innovative Learning

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history-1024x352

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, librarian Brian Mathews wrote about the ways that new classroom designs are allowing his library to become a pedagogical incubator. Instead of setting up traditional rows of desks and computers, his institution invested in classroom furniture that is flexible: tables that can be configured in a variety of ways, rolling individual desks that can be grouped easily for team projects, flat screens and mobile tables that can be configured as a media lab, pictured above.

When students walk into a classroom environment that does not look the way that classrooms have looked for the past 150 years, they know that they are going to be doing something that goes beyond lectures and tests. The physical environment influences the activity that goes on within it. Innovative learning spaces should exist outside of library incubators. Our students deserve to learn in environments that encourage the best pedagogical practices.

Universities should recognize that students rarely see the interior of administrative offices. They might spend an evening in an auditorium, and the truly committed hang out at the library. The college spaces that influence them the most are the classrooms, and every university should invest in learning spaces that reflect their educational mission and encourage innovation.

Take a look at the animation for Verb classroom.

And here is the Node Classroom

 

Don’t Rely on Grades Alone by David Gooblar

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full_full_11132013-pedagogyunbound

 

https://chroniclevitae.com/news/975-don-t-rely-on-grades-alone?cid=VTEVPMSED1

Don’t Rely on Grades Alone by David Gooblar in Vitae on April 15, 2015 is a refreshing commentary on the merits of developing intrinsic motivation to get students to learn.  In my day-to day conversations with educators in an attempt to promote student-centered learning, in lieu of the “traditional” classroom lecture that was the status quo twenty years ago, I normally observe a slight hesitation.  Especially when it comes to “group work” which I prefer to call “team work” because the term sets a different tone in respect to work dynamics.   Critics of team work seem to be either concerned with grading such assignments or with the lack of participation that some times occurs with particular team members.  As the article points out, decades of research dismisses extrinsic rewards in the achievement of learning outcomes, and effective student participation depends on student motivation.  The key to effective team projects begins with course design and proper implementation.  Mr. Gooblar notes that the educator needs to “sell” such projects on the first day of class while reviewing the syllabus.  Educators need to spark an interested in the students to get them to want to learn.  This can be done by focusing on fascinating problems that intrigue students inviting further inquiry, but also by following up on assignments and putting the learning process in context to the course.  It is important to communicate the learning process to the students because it might not be something that at first appears intuitive.  Finally, the article concludes by reminding the reader of the importance of giving students ownership over the course and acknowledging a concern for their work.

It is Never Too Early to Start Productive Habits of Mind

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Southwest Baltimore Charter School

Southwest Baltimore Charter School

Ten years ago I helped start Southwest Baltimore Charter School in my neighborhood. As the current board chair,  I’ve learned a great deal from the dedicated K-8 teachers and administrators who work there.  SBCS is an Expeditionary Learning School where students engage in hands-on extended projects as they work their way through the Common Core curriculum.  I’ve found that the practices that SBCS instills in its students, especially EL’s Core Practices, would serve college students as well, especially in a general education context.  You can find the practices below and read more about Expeditionary Learning here.

1. The Primacy of Self-Discovery

Learning happens best with emotion, challenge, and the requisite support. People discover their abilities, values, passions, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. In Expeditionary Learning schools, students undertake tasks that require perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline, and significant achievement. A teacher’s primary task is to help students overcome their fears and discover they can do more than they think they can.

2. The Having of Wonderful Ideas

Teaching in Expeditionary Learning schools fosters curiosity about the world by creating learning situations that provide something important to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed.

3. The Responsibility for Learning

Learning is both a personal process of discovery and a social activity. Everyone learns both individually and as part of a group. Every aspect of an Expeditionary Learning school encourages both children and adults to become increasingly responsible for directing their own personal and collective learning.

4. Empathy and Caring

Learning is fostered best in communities where students’ and teachers’ ideas are respected and where there is mutual trust. Learning groups are small in Expeditionary Learning schools, with a caring adult looking after the progress and acting as an advocate for each child. Older students mentor younger ones, and students feel physically and emotionally safe.

5. Success and Failure

All students need to be successful if they are to build the confidence and capacity to take risks and meet increasingly difficult challenges. But it is also important for students to learn from their failures, to persevere when things are hard, and to learn to turn disabilities into opportunities.

6. Collaboration and Competition

Individual development and group development are integrated so that the value of friendship, trust, and group action is clear. Students are encouraged to compete, not against each other, but with their own personal best and with rigorous standards of excellence.

7. Diversity and Inclusion

Both diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability, and respect for others. In Expeditionary Learning schools, students investigate and value their different histories and talents as well as those of other communities and cultures. Schools and learning groups are heterogeneous.

8. The Natural World

A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and teaches the important ideas of recurring cycles and cause and effect. Students learn to become stewards of the earth and of future generations.

9. Solitude and Reflection

Students and teachers need time alone to explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas. They also need to exchange their reflections with other students and with adults.

10. Service and Compassion

We are crew, not passengers. Students and teachers are strengthened by acts of consequential service to others, and one of an Expeditionary Learning school’s primary functions is to prepare students with the attitudes and skills to learn from and be of service.