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We all strive to create effective online learning content and experiences for students. Yet, when we are teaching content to students and designing our online course, it’s so easy to overwhelm students with lists and folders of materials, cross-links and multiple links, and giving them everything we ever wanted to them to know about our subject. I know I’ve been guilty of over-supplying the information and options in the past. We just have so much we know about the subject and after all isn’t our role to teach and share what we know when we are doing instruction?
Interestingly, one of the consistent complaints we hear from students when we survey them in regard to the learning management systems, be it Blackboard or Canvas are: problems with navigation and knowing where to go first in the course, where to find something, or which links to use.
Actual student feedback comments from past surveys:
- “Things are to scattered. Easy to loose track of where something was. Some things are everywhere you look and others are hidden.”
- “It was hard to figure out how to submit assignments… so I would suggest making it easier and in one place. I just found it difficult the way either my teacher set it up as, or how the website was set up.”
- “Collaborative group work was hard to manage. Not everyone knew where to look for our shared documents we were using.”
Now, various learning management tools take different approaches, some are better or cleaner than others; but we always have a certain amount of customization we can use to tailor the course how we see fit. How do we do that best?
One approach is to look at online courses you like or that are set up as “best practice” examples and borrow some ideas on course set-up. Taking part in workshops and sharing about online course design is certainly another approach. Many of you have likely used both.
Let me offer another approach, slip on a different pair of shoes and think like a student. You do it now without realizing it when you participant in our IMPACT course redesign program through the Blackboard content, complete an online MOOC or participant in any other online course for professional development. I have had amusing comments from my IMPACT faculty, who sheepishly admitted they were short on time to complete their weekly online readings and activities. One of them said he felt like one of his students must, by quickly scanning down the page to see just what he “had” to get done for the session today. So, if we are looking for shortcuts at times; what of course are the students doing? If we aren’t sure what to do first and poke around when we are in an online course for the first time; what are students doing? The same, I would imagine. I don’t think we can write it off as students are being lazy when we are all challenged with time constraints and try to maximize our time on tasks.
While we like to give many options and much information, it’s best to help learners maximize their time on tasks too. So as you set up your entire course or a partial amount of your course online, think like a student.
Look at the course like you are viewing it for the first time. Using the ‘student view’ options provided are useful for this as well. Consider, is it glaringly clear where the student should start first? Is it without a doubt, clear what is required weekly and where items are found in the menu or content arrangement? Have you pared down content to focus on what the student ‘must know’ and moved additional ‘nice to know’ information into a reference area; so, they are not bogged down completing weekly tasks? How will they communicate with you and with other students? Ask a student to test drive your course and provide feedback.
To get started with assembling and arranging your content, here is a link from our ITaP Course Design Web page: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/cdm/index.html#faculty or email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy thinking!
Developing A Questioning Strategy
Many of the seminars I attend focus on the strategies instructors can employ to engage students in their own learning and enhance their learning outcomes. The appropriate use of questioning strategies by instructors is a method that can facilitate this process. Research highlights the importance of instructors being able to ask questions that engage students and allows them to expand, clarify, and justify their answers. Nevertheless, instructors often do not receive any training in the use of questioning strategies.
Below are some of the questioning strategies instructors use to engage students:
Instructors Ask Closed vs. Open-ended Questions
Closed-ended questions require a single answer, such as “yes”, “no”, or a brief phrase, and do not invite an elaborated response from students. For example, this question is an example of a closed ended question: Was Purdue University founded in 1869? The answer is yes. In addition, closed-ended questions can be used wrap up discussions, obtain more information from students, or help groups reach consensus. Examples of these kinds questions include: Have we covered everything?, Does everyone agree this is the best choice?, or Is the class ready to move on?
- Pros: May require little time to develop and grade. There is one correct answer. Not ideal if the goal is to stimulate in-depth thinking by students.
- Cons: Questions may not provide students with the opportunity to explain that they do not understand the content or have an opinion about a topic. These questions may also discourage students from thinking on their own or expressing their real feelings. In addition, students can answer without knowing anything about a topic.
Open-ended questions do not have a single correct answer and leaves the formulation of the answer up to the individual. When open-ended questions are posed, students have the opportunity to be creative, structure their response in a manner that best suits them, and develop critical thinking skills. These questions usually begin with “What”, “How”, or “Why.” Some examples of open-ended questions include: What kind of information were you looking for?, How does this information related to our goal of…?, and What suggestions do you have for…?.
- Pros: These questions encourage students to share their ideas, concerns, and feelings; facilitate the development of enhanced levels of cooperation and understanding among students; and help faculty support diverse ways of student learning.
- Cons: It is sometimes difficult for faculty to formulate an open-ended question in such a way that students understand the type of response that is expected of them.
Instructors Utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy to Guide the Development of Questions
Bloom’s Taxonomy is a framework that describes three domains or types of learning: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor (Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956). The cognitive domain, pertinent for this discussion, focuses on the development of a hierarchy of thinking skills important in the learning process. The levels of learning found in the cognitive domain can be used by instructors to develop questions that enhance the development of critical thinking skills in students. The grid below provides a glimpse of the types of questions that can be posed to students during the learning process.
Instructors Integrate A Four-Question Technique into Their Discussions
I recently read an interesting Faculty Focus blog post authored by Dr. Maryellen Weimer which described the use of a four-question set that could be used to engage students with course content and promote deeper ways of learning. The strategy was developed and used by Dietz-Uhler and Lanter (2009) in an introductory psychology course. Students were asked to analyze, reflect, apply, and question the content they read. The following question prompts were used:
- [Analyze}:“Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea…they learned while completing this activity.”
- [Reflect]: “Why do you believe that this concept,, research finding, theory or idea…is important?”
- [Apply]: “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.”
- [Reflect]: “What question(s) has the activity raised for you? What are you still wondering about?” (Dietz-Uhler & Lanter, 2009, p. 39)
These researchers found that students performed significantly better on a quiz when they were able to answer the four-question set prior to rather than after they had taken a quiz. A benefit of using this strategy is that it can be applied to learning environments that tend to be lecture-based as well as those that promote active learning.
Some Tips on Developing A Questioning Strategy
- Ask a mix of questions (from all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy)
- Create a classroom climate that invites student questions
- Plan your questions in advance (noting when you will pause to ask and answer questions)
- Create questions that help students link important concepts
- Frame questions in language students understand
- During class discussions, ask one question at a time
- Rephrase the question if it seems unclear to students
- Asking Questions to Improve Learning (St. Louis University)
- Bloom’s Taxonomy Guide to Writing Questions (University of Georgia)
- Open-Ended Questions (University of Twente)
- Questioning Techniques (Academy of Art University)
- The Six Types of Socratic Questions (University of Michigan)
- Writing Objectives Using Bloom’s Taxonomy (UNC Charlotte)
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives: Complete edition, New York : Longman.
Bloom, B. & Krathwohl, D. (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives. The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. N.Y.: Longman Green.
Dietz-Uhler, B. and Lanter, J. R. (2009). Using the four-questions technique to enhance learning.Teaching of Psychology, 36 (1), 38-41.
Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview, Theory Into Practice, 41(4), 212-218.
Officially launched yesterday shortly after their ‘Back to Mac’ release keynote, Apple has launched a beta release of FaceTime for Mac computers (Snow Leopard or higher). The popular FaceTime video chat protocol was previously available for iPhone 4 and new iPod touch users with the inception of the front facing camera on the device. FaceTime has been a heavily marketed and hyped feature of the new iPhone that Apple hopes will be just as popular on the desktop and is promised to be the easiest “one click video chat” tool.
FaceTime for Mac is in beta so there may still be bugs or minor issues that pop up while using the software. However, it will be interesting to see if users will flock to FaceTime. Do you plan on using the service to chat with other Mac or iTouch/iPhone 4 users?