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I’ve been teaching online at an institution other than Purdue for about 7 years now. During the Fall 2013 semester, a student commented to me that they really appreciated the amount of communication I had with them during the semester. Another student mentioned that I was much more engaged compared to his previous online course instructors.
For some reason these comments really haunted me after that term. Yes, it felt great to get that kind of feedback from students because it was positive. However, I have since been curious about why these students praised my involvement. Why is it odd to students that online instructors are engaged in their courses? If so, shouldn’t that be somewhat alarming?
Engagement is a two-way street. We can’t expect students to be highly engaged in their classes while as faculty, we appear to either simply observing the class…or at worst, completely unengaged and uncaring about what is going on.
One aspect where student performance can be impacted positively by communication from faculty is through feedback. Chickering and Gamson (1991), in their Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, list two principles that work hand-in-hand when it comes to communication: Giving prompt feedback, and communicating high expectations.
If I simply state in my syllabus that I expect strong performance from my students on an assignment, but I provide little to no feedback to students, I am not being effective in providing guidance to high-performing students who may simply need reinforcement that they’re on the right track. I am also not being effective with lower-performing students by not providing them with the feedback and information they need to improve their work and rise to the expectations I have for the class. If I don’t tell a student what I expect and clearly communicate to them what they need to do to improve, how can I expect them to do better?
So what’s so important about prompt feedback? Prompt feedback plus communication about what the student needs to continue doing (or improve upon) can make a difference in the student’s performance. Not providing prompt feedback can put a student in a position where they don’t know what to improve upon until after the submission of additional assignments or assessments.
There are other components of communication that can be accomplished to keep you engaged with the course. Consider using Announcements within Blackboard to provide updates and information that can help them, such as tips on how to complete assigned tasks, or emphasizing due dates. If you do use Announcements, change your course entry page from Course Content to Announcements so those are the first thing a student sees when they log in. In addition, critical announcements can also be emailed to students.
Furthermore, if you’re teaching online or a blended course where synchronous activity with your students is limited, you may wish to add online office hours using web conference tools provided by Purdue. This can allow you to host real-time discussions with students wherever you are.
Communicating feedback and expectations is important for student success. However, simply communicating with your students to let them know that you’re engaged and available can also demonstrate that you care about your students and their involvement in your class.
To discuss ways to increase communication with your students, please contact us at email@example.com.
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1991). Appendix A: Seven principles for
good practice in undergraduate education. New Directions for Teaching
and Learning, 47, 63-69.
CNN reporter David Goldman describes a true marvel of ingenuity that is about to hit the mobile market. It’s not the latest whiz-bang smartphone – they’re a dime a dozen now. Rather, it will have a profound effect on the background infrastructure of mobile communications itself. It is called lightradio. “LightRadio [is] a Rubik’s cube-sized device made by Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) that takes all of the components of a cell phone tower and compresses them down into a 2.3-inch block. Unlike today’s cell towers and antennas, which are large, inefficient and expensive to maintain, lightRadio is tiny, capacious and power-sipping.”
“The global wireless industry is spending $210 billion a year to operate their networks, and $50 billion to upgrade them, according to Alcatel-Lucent and PRTM. Networks are dealing with that cost by putting data caps in place with heavy overage charges and by raising prices on their smartphone and tablet plans.
“Despite all that spending and pressure on consumers to curb their data usage, the networks are fighting a losing battle. Mobile data usage is expected to grow 30 times in the next four to five years and 500 times in the next ten years, according to Alcatel-Lucent.” [Goldman]
I’m positively drooling when I think of the possibilities for education! The potential for much cheaper but fast and powerful mobile connections could make the vision I sketched earlier a reality. Think of lightradio as cloud infrastructure. Alcatel-Lucent stripped out the power equipment from cell phone towers and moved it to centralized locations. What remains can be shrunk to the size of a hand-held appliance and communicates back to the cloud infrastructure via microwave signal. This produces many more advantages than just power savings:
“[The lightradio cube’s] small size and centralized operation lets wireless companies control the cubes virtually. That makes the antennas up to 30% more efficient than current cell towers. Live data about who is using the cubes can be assessed, and the antennas’ directional beams can be shifted to maximize their potential. For instance, radios may be pointed in one direction as people are coming to work in the morning and another direction as they’re leaving work at the end of the day.
“The lightRadio units also contain multi-generational antennas that can relay 2G, 3G and 4G network signals all from the same cube. That cuts down on interference and doubles the number of bits that can be sent through the air.
“Today’s cell towers, by contrast, send power in all different directions, most of which is lost, since it doesn’t reach anyone’s particular devices. They’re inefficient in other ways as well: Roughly half of the power from cell towers’ base stations is lost before it makes its way up to the antennas at the top of the tower. And they have separate antennas for 2G, 3G and 4G networks, causing interference problems….lightRadio’s smart technology and power efficiency can help cut carriers’ operating costs in half, Alcatel-Lucent believes.” [Goldman]
Trials of lightradio will begin this fall and Alcatel-Lucent expects to mass-produce the units next year. Mobile service providers are running up against significant barriers in expanding their service – cell towers are very expensive and they are running out of room to build new ones. I wrote earlier about the “coming storm” in mobile as the crush of demand collides with bandwidth limitations. What people often say about the weather – wait 15 minutes and it will change – is certainly true in technology. As frustrating as technology can sometimes be, one of the bright spots is how seemingly intractable problems can be nullified by the latest new development. This just might be the case here.
Itpopular writes that Verizon, Purdue’s mobile partner, will begin field testing lightradio soon. They note the following benefits:
- Energy: lightRadio reduces energy consumption of mobile networks by up to 50% over current radio access network equipment.
- Unwired link – The microwave backhaul link enables broadband coverage virtually anywhere using microwave to connect units back to the network.
- Operating savings: when combined with small cells and LTE [Verizons high-speed service], a reduction of total cost of ownership (TCO) of mobile networks up to 50% is expected.
- Enhances user bandwidth: by doubling bandwidth and simultaneously reducing the cost per bit, lightRadio makes possible new services and competitive service pricing.
So, come on, university IT Infrastructure people! Help make my vision a reality! Partner with a cell company to install these cubes all over campus, including inside buildings. Get rid of your expensive, unreliable Wi-Fi networks. Remove all the computer labs, take away all of the faculty and staff office computers (saving tons on maintenance) and negotiate great deals for all the students, faculty and staff to switch to dockable smartphones, and then run all of your services from the cloud. Can’t you smell the savings?
We know that students are accessing instructional content online more than ever before, but most recently; the mobile learning trend is also becoming common. For many instructors it is still a challenge to provide online content that is also readily accessible through mobile devices. For Moodle users, for example, the challenge is lessened by installing the MLE-Moodle plug-in component which allows instructors to make lessons, self-assessments/quizzes, surveys, forums, wikis and other mobile learning objects available to students with very little effort. To most of us, who depend on a specific course management system to deliver content to students, contrary to common belief, our options are not limited and the “connected anywhere” trend should not surprise or scare us. We should be glad to have many options to deliver our instructional content, and that these options allow us to deliver content and expect dynamic interaction from our students. The “Semantic Web” has certainly opened the doors to facilitate “user-led” media consumption and the students’ need to produce and create content that enhances their learning. This is a very exciting opportunity for instructors as we have now in our hands the mechanisms that will assist students in the enrichment of their own learning as they practice retrieval methods of important learning material. All we have to do is find the right tools that will do the job well and introduce those tools to our students.
The flexibility, portability and relative ease of use of some of the tools available for producing online mobile learning content are important to note; however, the design of the content for mobile consumption is much more important to talk about. I have been recently looking at Mobl21, a product from Emantras, a company that specializes in e-learning content development for fortune 500 companies and leading higher education textbook companies, such as Cengage, Mc Graw Hill and Pearson Education. The most interesting aspect of the usage of this mobile delivery technology is not the technology itself, but the model used for delivery. The idea is that instructors will only deliver context accompaniment and “smaller nuggets of learning consumption” to support the user-led environment so inherent in mobile learning consumption. After reviewing their product, I decided not to mention the technology itself because I did not see it as important as the idea of content presentation model for students in mobile environments; which is really what mobl21 is doing well: simple learning asset delivery to mobile with just-in-time, user-led access anywhere.