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Every day, millions of students log onto a learning management system. Too often they find syllabi that are inconsistent with the actual course contents, disjointed activities, and links that require them to navigate a complicated maze. More times than not, colleges and universities assume that they have a great online learning product and maintain that they just need to execute better strategies to sell it. In reality, the need lies in the investment of the product itself.
The academy is full of subject-matter experts. That’s great, if passing information to students is the goal. But the goal ought to be loftier than that. If the learning management system is a mere repository of information, students will be passive recipients of knowledge. In contrast, a system that invites students into a highly collaborative community is one that encourages them to generate and analyze ideas and to share ties to real-world contexts. This type of environment connects people and ideologies in ways that can significantly shape and change their worldview as they challenge existing cognitive schemas. As the cognitive domain is affected, there is the potential to expand out from personal change to ubiquitous change. And, dare I suggest that this is the type of learning that taps into the affective and even spiritual domains, impacting people in their deepest parts? From a holistic perspective, all facets of the individual influence the way he or she interprets and applies knowledge. Adolescence and emerging adulthood are typically credited with the stages of development invoking crises of identity, but human wrestle with their interpretations of the world and how they impact the core of their being throughout their entire lifespan.
Online education is on a spectrum with “mechanical” on one end and “relational” on the opposite end. It can be as mass produced as Ford’s Model T or it can be as personalized as the custom made license plate on the back of it. Online education is a competitive market that ought to be customer-driven. Those who reengineer their processes involved in the delivery of online education based on that premise will thrive. Those who do not will fail to understand and meet the needs of people who are looking for a high-quality education that warrants its financial investment by meeting some essential expectations. These include the following: Convenience in a fast-paced and dual earner society, engaging and relevant education that allows for them to see where their intended career goals meet, and personable faculty and staff who see them as individuals with unique roles to play in the world using education as a means to meet that end.
So how can colleges and universities develop online courses that accomplish these goals? Investing in instructional designers can play a key role. Contrary to popular belief such designers are not in the business of changing content, as they understand that the faculty members are the experts on that. Rather, instructional designers exist to help subject-matter experts deliver content in ways that resonate with the learner and minimize learner distractions and frustrations. Instructional designers can help ensure that syllabi and course contents are congruent, that the navigation of the course interface is intuitive, that learning objectives align with course activities, that assignment expectations are clearly communicated, and that courses do not have the appearance of being thrown together in a hurry. They exist to ensure that the customer, or student, is the primary focus. An online course is not simply about the content; arguably, it’s also about how the content is designed and delivered.
Instructional designers not only help subject-matter experts produce excellent courses, they can also champion faculty training initiatives so that courses are logistically sustainable as online teaching techniques evolve and emerge, and they can also design training programs with the goal of increasing performance for support staff involved with supporting the customers. Building an online program with the help of instructional designers can improve the product, position a college for continuous development in a world where technology changes rapidly, and build an organizational culture that adopts a “customer-first” mentality. These constitute the greatest needs of the online learning movement today.
Most people would argue that their most teachable moments are not usually when they are downloading scores of PDFs from the Internet. Their worldview is not typically shaken by reading the latest news on Twitter or reading alone in a corner at Starbucks. Their best thoughts and ideas have come after having hallways conversations with colleagues, and their most memorable learning has taken place through relationships with others. Knowledge retrieval happens most frequently in the same context in which it was encoded. That context often involves human interaction, or some kind of meaningful activity. Special attention needs to be given to how this transfers to the online medium. This is why instructional designers are essential. They take content and bring it to life. They take a learning management system and turn it from a website into an online classroom. That’s what students expect: They want to log into a community. If they just wanted information, they could use Google for that. Colleges that understand the importance of good instructional design are more likely to produce an online product that retains students.
Another important role of instructional designers and educational technologists in helping online students succeed involves tracking and analyzing student activity. The online learning platform is full of data, and it would behoove administrators to use it to make data-driven decisions about how to reevaluate and modify the product to meet the students’ needs.
When it comes to online education, instructional designers are the game-changers. Whether or not they are utilized and the extent to which they are utilized can make or break one of the most crucial outcomes in higher education: student satisfaction. An investment in instructional designers is an investment in the product. Rather than focusing on the marketing while the product is suffering, invest in the quality of the product and then let the marketing fall into place. This is the key ingredient to the next significant advancement in online education. When it comes to breakthroughs, online education is long overdue. Such breakthroughs are not unthinkable, yet they seem to emerge very slowly.
Student-centered learning looks at where students are when they enter the classroom and attempts to customize teaching to allow students some freedom in choosing how to learn. This kind of teaching allows instructors to free themselves from the traditional lecture and allows them to change the learning space to one that best fits the needs of the student. Students are led to what they need to know instead of listening to someone tell them and they can become actively engaged in their learning.
What has been for some, a liberating style of teaching and learning, frees instructors by allowing them to lead the adventure instead of dispensing it. It is not unusual for instructors to struggle with the transition in the beginning and many feel as if they are giving up some control, which is not inaccurate. However, giving up some control allows students to become actively engaged. Learning can reach new heights without limit. More focus is often put on the quality of students questions instead of the quality of their answers. Higher order thinking skills are engaged since students are able to keep moving towards a goal, work together, ask questions and build on what they know. According to John Dewey in his book entitled How We Think, he notes deep thinking takes time and cannot be expected to happen when prompt answers are required (Dewey,1910). Student-centered learning allows students to make those higher order connections by giving students time to explore and be actively involved in their learning.
This change in the dynamic of the classroom can often intimidate those new to the process, but I liken it to a typical lab experience often seen as a normal part of many lecture courses. That shift instructors feel when they go from lecture-based courses to a lab class is the shift they are referring to in student-centered instruction, switching from dispenser to facilitator and learners going from passive to active learning. Most of the instructor’s work happens before the lab begins with perhaps a pre-lab, setting up the equipment, making sure students stay on task by outlining lab report requirements and having students turn in documentation showing what they have done. This is student-centered learning. The instructor set up the experience and then sits back and let them experience it. There is no lecturing during a lab, yet students learn. Learning through active engagement helps students better relate what they are doing to what they already know resulting in higher levels of retention and comprehension (Angelo & Cross, 1993).
Although not a new concept, some may struggle with the shift to the student-centered approach. Taking this familiar concept and applying it to the lecture part of a course is something many might find foreign. Many others have found it worth their time in making the transformation in everything they teach because many students are more engaged and respond much better to being an active participant in their learning. Other students though who were counting on putting in seat time for another lecture series while chatting on their phone, napping or doing other things have been found to resist the expectation they engage. Each instructor needs to decide what is best for their learners, but keep in mind there is no one right way to create a student-centered environment. Your subject material, student population, and personal comfort level should all be taken into consideration.
The IMPACT Program at Purdue University provides resources and support for instructors to redesign their course in a student-centered way. The comfort level of the faculty member is of utmost importance and nothing is imposed without the instructor initiating the desire for change.
On April 10th, IMPACT will be hosting Eric Mazur who will be talking about how he transformed his course from lecture to student-centered. Faculty, staff, and students are invited to attend.
Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers.
Dewey, J. (1910). How We Think. New York: D.C. Heath & CO.
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Flipping the classroom requires students to gather information outside of class, generally through reading or watching recorded lectures. As flipping the classroom gains momentum, instructors are increasingly looking for ways to engage students in online content so that students will be prepared and ready to participate in class. The material presented must not only provide the necessary background information for the classroom activity, but it must interest the students as well so that they actually engage with it. After all, the flipped classroom model doesn’t work if the students don’t come to class prepared with the knowledge they’ll need to participate.
Video is a popular method of presenting content online, and TED-Ed is offering a way to turn TED Talks and YouTube videos into an interactive teaching opportunity. TED-Ed Lessons provide pre-made interactive videos, with the added advantage of allowing the instructor the ability to modify them to fit their own teaching style. Instructors can also create their own interactive videos using a video from YouTube.
These interactive videos turn passive video watching into an active learning experience. The videos can contain multiple choice and open-ended questions, connect to a class discussion, and link to additional information. With good questions and supplemental materials for further exploration, these interactive videos can encourage higher level thinking skills, which will increase the chance that students will be ready to actively engage in the flipped classroom.
The multiple choice questions are automatically graded, so students are provided immediate feedback. Students then have the opportunity to retry any questions they answer incorrectly. Instructors can also offer a video hint, which allows students to review the video before retrying the question, and may discourage guessing. Open-ended questions are sent to the instructor to review.
There are two options for obtaining interactive videos from TED-Ed:
OPTION 1: Find a pre-made interactive video
To find appropriate interactive videos, the instructor can filter by content (TED originals, TED Talk Lessons, and TED-Ed Selects), student level (elementary through college and beyond), and duration (3-18 minutes). These videos are also grouped by topics (arts, mathematics, science & technology, etc.) and series (inventions that shape history, how things work, math in real life, etc.).
OPTION 2: Create your own interactive video
Instructors can also create their own interactive videos using any TED Talk video or YouTube video. These interactive videos provide options like Watch (view the video), Think (create multiple choice and/or open-ended questions), Dig Deeper (add related content for students to explore), Discuss (create a discussion), and And Finally(provide closing thoughts or something to ponder to add closure to the lesson). This last option, And Finally, could also be used as the preparation for the class lesson that follows. The instructor can delete any of these functions, except watch. Once the video is finished, the instructor simply shares the URL with his or her students. The instructor can choose to keep the lessons private or distribute them publicly and can choose whether to allow others to customize the lesson.
A user must create an account to generate lessons and to participate in the interactive aspects of the video. Users must be thirteen to create an account. Lessons viewed, lessons started, lessons completed, lesson drafts, and lessons created are tracked in the user’s account. Instructors can also track student activity, feedback from students, and feedback from educators. This feedback can allow instructors to revise their videos as necessary in order to ensure that they are meeting student needs.
TED-Ed is providing an interesting tool that may encourage student engagement outside of class and track student progress in one convenient package. It provides an active learning experience that encourages accountability through tracked student interaction. TED-Ed’s interactive videos may make flipping classrooms just a little bit easier and perhaps more interesting for the students.
When I moved to Indiana almost two years ago, I was overwhelmed trying to find my way around until I came across some helpful digital apps. There are many official and unofficial apps related to Purdue University but I am going to share the ones that worked best for me in the operating systems I use.
The most helpful was Purdue Maps, available free on Android. While other apps have maps, what made this one useful is this is all it does. One tap and it shows me right where I am on campus. After typing in where I need to go, it shows me my destination with a dot. All I have to do is follow the map to match the dots. I still use this app nearly two years later.
The other issue you run into as someone new to campus is not knowing how long it takes to go from one part of campus to another. Purdue Walk, free on Android, assisted with this. You tell it your starting and ending points and it tells you how long it takes to get there at various walking speeds. When I have needed to calculate what time I need to leave to make an appointment or if I need to drive to make it over walking, this app has been extremely helpful.
Learning my way around West Lafayette and Lafayette became much easier after utilizing Yelp (free for both Android and IPad). If you haven’t heard of Yelp, it is an app that reviews businesses and includes maps to find them. You get to hear from others who have been there and discover which businesses have received good reviews. It also knows where you are and can tell you what businesses are close to you and related to what you need, such as car repair or a grocery store. Yelp also allows you to look businesses up ahead of time, and bookmark them to find them more easily when you need them.
I must also include the very important Starbucks app (free on Android and Ipad) which is perfect when you only have your phone and really need coffee, tea, or a snack. The app works by having you pay ahead and it can subtract your purchase from your account. It also has maps to nearby Starbucks and will inform you if they are currently open.
What apps have you found to be helpful for those new to Purdue?