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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!

Using Mobile Device Logic and Tracking in Qualtrics Surveys

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By in Distance Education, Mobile, Software, Tools, Training, Uncategorized on .

Qualtrics online survey software, provided to faculty, staff and students at Purdue, is providing more options for mobile device display choices and tracking. We often want to know these days whether someone is accessing our survey from a mobile device or perhaps ask questions that are specific to a particular device being used to complete the survey.  Qualtrics allows you do both of these actions.

If you have a survey that contains questions pertaining to specific access, either desktop or mobile; use Display Logic for those questions and select Device Type conditions.

How ? image

  • Select the question that you want to add a display condition to and use the drop-down box to select Display Logic
Display Logic Choice on a Question

Display Logic Choice on a Question

  • In the Display Logic dialog box, select the first condition to be Device Type.
  • Select your Device Type from the drop-down choices.
Device Type condition box

Device Type condition box

  • The logic confirmation box will appear on the top of the question with your selections.
Display Logic Confirmation box

Display Logic Confirmation box

  • This logic for Device Type display may be used in the Survey Flow structure as well.

Additionally, you may want to track what type of device is being used to complete the your survey. Qualtrics allows this tracking by providing a hidden Meta Info question that you may create and insert anywhere in your survey. That question will provide data back to you regarding the browser and operating system used to complete the survey. Since the user never sees this question, you may insert it near the beginning of the survey.

The following fields are available for tracking/reporting as a table in your report or in the downloaded data set: Browser, Version, Operating System, Screen Resolution, JavaScript Support, and User Agent. (User Agent contains the data string for the question. If you forget to add the hidden Meta Info question before you launch your survey, you may add it later using an embedded data field to the Survey Flow area; which is called “UserAgent“.)

How ? image

  •  Add the Meta Info question, by selecting Create a New Item and then Meta Info Question
Meta Info Question Type Selection

Meta Info Question Type Selection

  •  The following image shows the question as it displays within your survey in Qualtrics.
Meta Info Question Box

Meta Info Question Box

Never Overlook the Value of Communication When Teaching Online

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By in Distance Education, Musings on Technology, Student Behavior on .

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 tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist

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.

A Game-Changer for Wireless Communications

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By in Distance Education, IT Administration, Mobile on .

A lightradio cube held in the palm of a hand

The lightradio cube Photo: CNNMoney

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?