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Simple Thoughts for Simpler Times: ‘Think like a Student’

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By in Blackboard Learn, Content Development, Course Redesign, Distance Education, Getting Started, IMPACT, Morning Musings, Student Behavior on .

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 tlt-cdd@purdue.edu. Happy thinking!

Thoughts on Adding Technology to Blend Courses

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By in Content Development, Course Redesign, IMPACT, Musings on Technology on .

This Spring, I made a decision to enroll in a Blended Learning course sponsored by EDUCAUSE called “Becoming a Blended Learning Designer”. This MOOC requires participants to complete the course in six weeks, and during that time participate in discussions, blogging, and readings.

As I went through the readings for the first week of the class, two lines stuck out to me:

“Blended learning is not simply adding an online component to a face-to-face course.  Technology in a course should be used wisely – to facilitate student learning.”  (Thompson, 2015, p. 7)

I’ve seen cases all too often where faculty members try to add technology in to the course because they’re trying to meet a need.  They know they should be adding technology but they’re looking to add something that may not always be the most practical or the most appropriate for their class.  Some instructors I have worked with have looked to using the LMS to replace in-class quizzes, for example.  Great idea in theory, but they were not prepared for some of the variables:

  • Students trying to use smartphones or tablets to take the quiz (when the LMS doesn’t necessarily support this well)
  • Students taking the quiz with other students
  • Students using their notes/books for the quiz

The instructors in these cases were thinking it would be simple to replace their low-stakes quizzes with ones that could simply be taken online. But they wanted a full replication of the in-class experience, one that mitigated “cheating” (or as some prefer to call it, “collaboration”).

For me the first part of a blended learning course is determining which parts should go online, and which should not.  It should be a careful, deliberate process that seeks to allow technology to assist in teaching, not trying to force technology into a role that faculty may regret later.

If you are looking to redevelop your class, consider applying for the IMPACT program by visiting http://www.purdue.edu/impact. If you know what tools you want to use and need help getting those tools integrated into your class, contact us at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist

Citations:

Thompson, K. (ed.). (2015).  BlendKit Reader (2nd Ed.).  Retrieved from https://blended.online.ucf.edu/blendkit-course-blendkit-reader-chapter-1/

How is Student-Centered Instruction Different than Traditional Instruction?

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By in Classroom, Content Development, Course Redesign, IMPACT, Professional Development, Uncategorized on .

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.

 

References

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.

Related Links and Articles:

http://www.purdue.edu/impact/

http://www.teachthought.com/learning/4-principles-student-centered-learning/

http://www.teachthought.com/technology/10-tools-student-centered-creative-expression/

http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/learner-centered-pedagogy-fear-losing-control/

http://www.teachthought.com/learning/metacognition-50-questions-help-students-think-think/

Confluence as an Alternative Learning Management System

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By in Content Development, Software, Tools on .

Recently, a faculty member commented to one of my colleagues and I that Blackboard was simply “too much” for things he wanted to do within his course.  That got me thinking as to why someone might consider Blackboard Learn to be a tool that might be excessive for specific needs.

Blackboard Learn offers to faculty a rich set of tools – but what happens when a faculty member does not want to use the clear majority of those tools?  What if a faculty member only wants a place to place their syllabus and course schedule, content for students to read, upload an occasional video, and so forth?  Does a faculty member have an option for a simpler way to get course content to students at Purdue?

The answer is yes – the Confluence Wiki.

While it might seem odd that a wiki could be an alterative to Blackboard, the Confluence Wiki can perform many of the same functions for faculty that a traditional LMS would be able to provide.  Confluence offers the following for faculty:

  • On-Demand Course Creation:  Unlike Blackboard, where course sites are created automatically, faculty may create their course’s space (site) in Confluence on demand by using the Space Creation application located at http://www.purdue.edu/apps/Confluence.  This will automatically create a space on Confluence for the class and enroll all students and instructors in the class into the newly created Confluence space.
    Confluence Space Creation Application
  • Automatic Enrollment Management:  When a space is created using our Space Creation application, as noted before all students and instructors will be added to the newly created space.  In addition, as students add or drop the class, those changes are reflected in the Confluence space.
  • Content Management:  Faculty can easily upload documents and images to Confluence, and then quickly replace those documents with up-to-date versions.  For example, if the course syllabus changes, a new syllabus can be uploaded and replace the existing file.  Additionally, web links to other sites and to multimedia may also be included in Confluence.
  • Flexibility:  A Confluence space can be very simple (one or two pages with all the content needed) to highly complex, depending on needs.
  • Privacy:  Academic spaces in Confluence are only accessible to those enrolled in the course; they are not accessible by the public.

There are a few features Confluence does not have that is important to note.  First, Confluence does not offer integrated homework submission and quizzes/exams, like Blackboard.  Faculty who want to offer online exams (such as pre- or post- assessments) would be able to use Qualtrics and survey panels within the Qualtrics tool to control assessment delivery.

Also, Confluence does not offer an electronic gradebook, which would require students to track their own grades.  Additionally, while Confluence does offer the ability for students to comment on pages, there is no threaded discussion board available like what is available in Blackboard.

One other concern would be that if Confluence is used instead of Blackboard Learn, students will need to be directed to Confluence to access course content.  In this case it is recommended that any instructor using Confluence provide directions to students in class on how to access the Confluence site and make the site a favorite, so the site is quickly accessible after login.

Although there are these concerns, the Confluence Wiki does provide a great amount of flexibility on how the online portion of a course can be set up.  As much (or as little) information can be made available to students as desired.

While Blackboard Learn has many tools that faculty may wish to use in their teaching, there may be a desire for something that simply does not do everything that Blackboard can do, and that’s where Confluence can assist.  An example “course” in Confluence has been created at https://wiki.itap.purdue.edu/display/confcourse/Confluence+for+Courses+Demonstration+Home to provide some ideas on how Confluence may be used as an alternative to Blackboard.

Confluence for Courses example homepage  example course schedule in confluence

For more information about using Confluence as an alternative to Blackboard, or adding wikis to your course, please contact us at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist