Monday, June 23, 2014

Hacking Education: A Mindset that Embraces Change

This past spring trimester, Phillips Academy's Head of School John Palfrey taught a compelling course called "Hacking Andover; an Experiment in Education in the Digital Age."

It connects in many ways with my first course at Global Online Academy.

Having graduated from Andover in 1992, I continue to be inspired by this special school.
I wish I could have taken this course!

Assignments included a playlist on Youtube:

Students also published content to a variety of social media outlets: Wordpress page, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Plus they had a field trip to MIT.

A student's final argument that echoes Ken Robinson's thoughts on divergent thinking as well as how and why to assimilate technology into the classroom:

This course also reminds me of a video of my history teacher from Andover, Victor Henningsen.
I watch it from time to time, most recently this winter during a snow day, to remind me of my purpose as a teacher.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Curating, Highlighting, Outlining, or Plagiarizing an Article?

For the first lesson in my GOA course, I just read a brilliant article by Jim Henry and Jeff Meadows, but the traditional essay layout with block text and countless citations made it a bit of slog to read online.

Plus it's the World Cup, and I'm watching my three and half year old son...which can feel like this at times...

Thus, with all due respect and credit, I'm applying the Henry and Meadow's principles below:

  1. The online world is a medium unto itself.
  2. In the online world, content is a verb.
  3. Technology is a vehicle, not a destination.
  4. Great online courses are defined by teaching, not technology.
  5. Sense of community and social presence are essential to online excellence.
  6. Excellence requires multiple areas of expertise.
  7. A great web interface will not save a poor course; but a poor web interface will destroy a potentially great course.
  8. Excellence comes from ongoing assessment and refinement.
  9. Sometimes the little extras go a long way.

(If I had time, all citations could be footnotes or linked via hypertext.)

Highlights outlined from:

"An absolutely riveting online course: Nine principles for excellence in web-based teaching"  

by Jim Henry & Jeff Meadows

Principle 1: The online world is a medium unto itself.

The search for excellence begins with this principle: The online world is a medium unto itself.

It is not just another learning environment, like a separate classroom down the hall; it is a categorically different learning environment. 

Without classmates and instructors physically present, Online students
  1. review material, 
  2. read instructions and 
  3. participate in activities
There isn’t someone standing nearby to offer comment and clarification.

Communication is often asynchronous and commonly in written form.

In the classroom, if an instructor is losing the class because a lecture is dragging, 
he or she can change gears or topics, pick up the pace or suggest a quick break. 

Online: Most material needs to be developed and integrated ahead of time before the course is even offered.

As well, the online instructor needs to provide distinct pathways through the material, providing a clear route to those students who either have previous knowledge of the content, or who are picking it up quickly. 

At the same time there needs to be another pathway that provides more detailed background material for those students who either want or need more information about a particular concept.

Because of the different dynamics, material that works well in a traditional environment does not necessarily work in the online environment - needs to be retooled, converted or redesigned for online use

Even supplementary materials such as PowerPoint™ slides, course notes and handouts usually need to be adapted, with explanatory content added.

Lengthy lectures don’t tend to work online. Once uploaded, the lecture is no longer a “live” presentation with the potential for interaction – questions, further discussion, spontaneous comments, the involvement of classmates, smiles and groans around the room. Rather, the material tends to be more static, reduced to a frame of content; a talking head. Because of this insight, much shorter clips were created, using brief excerpts of important points along with the addition of visual material such as PowerPoint™ slides. The result was much more effective (as indicated by the feedback provided by students).

The retooling and redesigning of course materials often takes significant time - the preparation of their material to be the most time-consuming part of the process. 

The online world is a medium unto itself and if instruction is to be effective, material for online courses needs to be developed with the unique strengths and dynamics of the web in mind 

Principle 2: In the online world, content is a verb.

Content alone is not sufficient to result in or to guarantee excellence.

As suggested in principle one, there is much more to online teaching than uploading content. 

Online instruction involves much more than posting a series of readings 
or a standard curriculum to a website. 

Rather than merely presenting learners with content, online instruction needs to 
purposefully and strategically engage learners in activities and interaction. 
  • content tended to be mastered by doing more than by reading or listening. 
  • content was not simply deposited for review. 
  • students were actively involved in it and thereby mastered it.
Essential Question: 
“Do we confuse providing content with creating a learning environment or delivering a course?” 

Beyond Content: 
  • interaction, 
  • dialogue, and 
  • coaching.
The roles for both students and teachers are changing in the online world.

The instructor role: provider of content => designer of student learning experiences 

a facilitator who structures a learning environment where students actually contribute to course content.

[Student curation = crowdsourcing content]

the facilitation of both social and cognitive processes

[Leverage positive peer pressure to engage students = produce thoughtful content to impress peers]

information acquisition < student centered tasks and assignments

Principle 3: Technology is a vehicle, not a destination.

The array of technological advancements continues to unfold at an ever-quickening pace. 

Important to emphasize that an increase in technology does not necessarily mean an increase in learning, and can in fact, lead to an increase in problems: technology blues and wailing students

In a description of her evolution as a course developer, Mandernach (2006) candidly described her progression from utilizing basic technology to eventually integrating all the bells and whistles into her courses. Originally her approach was to integrate previously successful best practices but had evolved into a “smorgasbord of jazzy supplements with little thought placed on their value, role and importance within an education context” (p. 7). Mandernach also discovered that despite the outward, tech-savvy appearance of her course, the pedagogical effectiveness had actually decreased. Not only did student learning not keep pace with her technological advances, but student complaints and difficulties increased and the instructor spent considerable time troubleshooting. Mandernach’s course has now shifted to an evolving balance of basics and bells.

Others have come to similar conclusions. In their review of exemplary online courses, Hopper and Harmon (2000) reported that these courses included a judicious selection of technologies. The developers were conservative and prudent in their application of technology and the courses were sometimes even austere. Online educators must be ever critical of the technology relied upon to engage students in learning. It is only through constant evaluation and examination of the tools that we use that we will continue to make sound pedagogical decisions for their implementation. We must also be aware of the ever changing dynamic of our audience. With more and more students being attracted to online courses we cannot simply rely upon what has worked in the past. As with teaching in a face-to-face environment, we need to constantly gauge our audience and discern what tools and strategies are going to be effective at the time.

Principle 4: Great online courses are defined by teaching, not technology.

Excellence in web-based courses is founded on excellence in teaching.

The instructors in Hopper and Harmon’s (2000) exemplary online courses: 
  • were competent, highly skilled and diligent. 
  • had a good sense of humour, 
  • excited about their content areas, 
  • had high, clearly articulated expectations. 
  • cared about their students, 
  • were confident, fair and 
  • were masters of effective feedback. 
The courses were “not defined by technology but by teaching.”
Specific aspects reported to contribute to enhanced learning and student satisfaction also include: 
  • quick turnaround time by instructor on email and assignments 
  • frequent and engaged contact and individual feedback 
  • having goals and objectives that are clearly stated 
  • and detailed enough to clarify: 
“what the student should be able to do,
the conditions under which the student should produce the desired behaviour
and how well the student must be able to perform it” (Ellis & Hafner, 2003, p. 643)
  • great communication skills 
  • regular use of student names 
  • and the capacity to be real and genuine 
The use of technology, like all aspects of a course (including assignments, activities and approaches to assessment) should align with and stem from course objectives.

The learning outcomes are developed first, and then the course is designed and delivered by determining what pedagogical tools will best facilitate student attainment of each goal. 

In fact, a good rule of thumb is to “keep the course objectives in mind, and omit any material that does not support them.”

This certainly applies to technology. Regardless of how stellar the content or how wondrous the technology, if they are to be excellent, online courses must also involve excellent online teaching.

Principle 5: Sense of community and social presence are essential to online excellence.

Since web-based courses do not have face-to-face contact and the wide array of non-verbal cues that such contact brings, they have the potential to become static and impersonal.

Creating a sense of community is one of the main objectives in any class and is also an essential part of the online learning environment.

Establishing a sense of community often signals movement to a deeper learning experience. 

It is through sustained communication that participants construct meaning and come to a more complete understanding of the content. Indeed it is through such interaction and through attending to the processes of learning and teaching (as opposed to attending only to content) that a deeper rather than a surface approach to learning is encouraged. 

Without this connection to the instructor and the other students, the course is little more than a series of exercises to be completed.

One significant way to promote a sense of community is to develop social presence a concept that has received much attention in the literature. 

In the community of inquiry model  social presence is considered – along with teaching presence and cognitive presence – as an essential element in the educational experience. 

A simple and useful description of social presence is that it refers to the degree to which someone is perceived as a real person in mediated communication.

Students cannot be left on their own and be expected to wade through massive amounts of content. 

They need...
  • connection, 
  • contact and 
  • a sense of realness and immediacy. 
In short, they need a sense of community.

It is also important to emphasize that community will not happen on its own. 

Teachers need to work to develop community in their online courses. 

Without effort and social presence, any sense of community tends to wither.

Social presence and a sense of community are influenced by many things, including:
  • collaborative learning activities 
  • enhanced communication 
  • use of humour 
  • small group activities 
Once a sense of community has been established, it is very important to continue to foster it and encourage the members of that community to participate and support one another.

Principle 6: Excellence requires multiple areas of expertise.

Those new to designing and delivering online courses tend to quickly gain an appreciation for the magnitude of the process. As well as the obvious requirement of excellent instruction, there are also other areas of expertise involved. 

In support of the instructor is the technical expert who may handle things such as HTML coding, getting the material uploaded and helping with the sorts of questions that invariably arise: 
  • Why does the assignment link say ‘404 Page not found?’ 
  • Why do the online readings say the links have expired? 
  • Why don’t the menu bars work on my Mac? 
As well, there is much input required on matters of course design: what tools, resources, activities and forms of assessment best help students meet the course objectives? How are they best integrated into the course?

The expertise involved in developing excellent online courses is not optional; 
it is essential. 

And we either gain those areas of expertise ourselves or we look for help and support. 

Otherwise, significant aspects of the courses we develop will be weak, and possibly even mediocre.

With the software and course management programs available today it is really quite simple to get content online. But as mentioned above, an excellent course requires much more than making content available to students. 

This is why some universities and colleges promote the team approach to online course development. Developing and offering online courses simply requires more skills than are usually found in a single person not to mention that in post-secondary education instructors tend to be subject matter experts and not necessarily experts in learning theory and educational processes.

Some teams are quite simple and involve two or three areas of expertise: 
  1. an instructor, 
  2. instructional designer 
  3. and an internet/technical specialist. 
In some larger institutions as many as eight experts are involved. These include:
  1. content expert, 
  2. instructional designer, 
  3. editor, 
  4. team manager, 
  5. graphics and media designer, 
  6. webmaster, 
  7. library consultant 
  8. and external reviewer. 
In some cases, however, this array of experts is simply not available and faculty members must serve in multiple roles.

Regardless of whether the expertise comes from a team or from an adaptive and ever-learning “lone ranger” the simple truth remains: 
Excellence in online education requires multiple areas of expertise. 
A content expert is necessary but not even close to sufficient.

Principle 7: A great web interface will not save a poor course; but a poor web interface will destroy a potentially great course.

In the online world students essentially go to class alone and there is no one there when they arrive. 

They are not able to turn to a classmate on the first day and say: 
     “Is there a text for this class?” 

They can’t raise a hand and ask the instructor: 
     “What are the assignments?” or 
     “Will we get a syllabus today?” or
     “Are we required to attend?” 

In an online course, students need to be able to find everything they need to be successful learners and how to do so easily. 

Even in well-organized courses it is not uncommon to find out, part way through the course, that one or more students have not found some of the essential information. 

They weren’t just quiet or shy; they were lost.

One thing in particular they need to find is a well-developed and articulate study guide

The guide is the student’s link to things such as content, assignments, group activities, and is the tool that leads the students through the course. Because students often feel somewhat disoriented at the beginning of classes, they tend to search for and depend on a central document, or syllabus, to explain the entire geography of the course; how to proceed and where everything is.

The instructor needs to anticipate where students will go wrong or get lost in the course and either modify the course design to minimize these areas or address these questions with tips, Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) areas or other means. They must also request constant feedback from students on the course content itself and draw attention to areas of anticipated confusion or problems. It is not enough to simply inform students of these areas, the instructor must request that students respond once they have found the required information or activity in question.

Principle 8: Excellence comes from ongoing assessment and refinement.

Obviously there is some distance between a course that works and one that is absolutely riveting.

Two additional factors that develop the former into the latter are evaluation and refinement

  1. the regular and systematic review of all aspects of the course 
  2. and the subsequent changes and updates added as a result. 

Evaluation is essential and should cover at least two important areas: course effectiveness and course efficiency. 
Were the learning outcomes attained (effectiveness) and did the pedagogical tools used in the courses facilitate the attainment of those outcomes (efficiency)? 
This approach helps achieve the constructive alignment between 
the learning objectives and 
the method of delivery and assessment. 

Diagnostic feedback that helps: 
“the student to improve learning,
the teacher to improve the instructional process,
and the institution to improve its curriculum, support services, and infrastructure.” 
There are many ways in which feedback can be collected from within the course: 
  1. discussion forums, 
  2. feedback assignments, 
  3. daily or weekly reflections, 
  4. journaling assignments and, of course, 
  5. formal course evaluations. 

Assessing these types of interactions and commentary through the use of qualitative criterion-based methods is essential in ensuring that the course is meeting the desired learning outcomes and helps facilitate constructive alignment (Biggs, 1999). 

By attending to the issues raised by students the course becomes much more organic and better able to adapt to meet the specific needs of a group of students. Assessment is particularly important in an online environment because 
“educational technology expands more rapidly than anything else that we have encountered and can morph into educational forms that we have not encountered”                                                                                            (Moskai, et al 2006, p. 29).

Principle 9: Sometimes the little extras go a long way.

There are a few things that some online instructors/developers provide that can go a long way with students. 

One is to provide exemplars of the course assignments. Students don’t tend to have the same opportunity to clarify assignments, and quell that pre-assignment anxiety as onsite students. 

Discussion forums, specific to the assignments can be set up, and these help, but exemplars provide much more specific direction. 

At the very least, detailed rubrics that outline the methods for evaluation will help to reduce the anxiety that students have.

As well, brief guides and tutorials placed throughout the course and designed to help students with the skill necessary in order to make the most of an assignment or activity can go a long way to reducing student stress and increasing the quality of the work they produce as well. 

Unless the students in an online course can manage their time and provide some degree of self-motivation, they tend not to do well in a virtual course environment. There is a wealth of articles and resources that can be supplied in order to help students find a rhythm that works for them. 

Brief personal email messages are also appreciated by students. Those who begin courses with very limited discussion forum activity often respond very positively to short queries about their activity level and “friendly” reminders of the course expectations. 

Also, setting calendar reminders to help keep students on track can also go a long way to easing stress.

Another little extra is the inclusion of brief audio clips. There is something particularly connecting and compelling about hearing a voice. This seems to be especially so when the audio segment is directed specifically to the students as opposed to being a recorded lecture segment. 
“Hello everyone. I’ve just finished reading all of this week’s posts and I must say I’m delighted at the level of thoughtfulness you’ve provided and at the support you’ve given to each other…”
The integration of audio helps create social presence by reflecting the emotions and establishing the friendliness of the instructor to the students. These verbal segments can vary in complexity from edited podcasts, complete with musical introductions and RSS feeds, to simple audio clips that are recorded on a computer and uploaded as an attachment.

The integration of related video material also provides another little extra, especially for those students who tend to be auditory or visual in nature. Many online courses are extremely text heavy and instructors need to understand that this is often intimidating for students. Many instructors attempt to reduce confusion in the absence of verbal discussion and clarification by providing more resources and background reading material for each topic. This may only serve to exacerbate the problem.

Of course, the inclusion of additional resources in websites and online courses requires an understanding of the issues of fair use and copyright (Pitler, 2006). Many resources are protected and cannot legally be used without permission from the copyright holder. 

Fortunately for educators many other resources are available via a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons is a relatively new way of addressing issues of copyright, where creators of content may declare their work as having “some rights reserved” rather than “all rights reserved”. As such, many resources are becoming available to share and reuse legally. Creative Commons is recommended as a powerful new tool for educational activities (Pitler, 2006). See the Appendix for links to further information.

Adding little extras to courses can include things such as exemplars, rubrics, guides, tutorials, personal email messages, calendar reminders, audio clips and video segments. These additions, and others like them, often go a long way in contributing to student satisfaction and learning.



[A poetic revised layout of the conclusion, using enjambment and white space for emphasis]

It is not sufficient to be 
                               a content expert
Nor is it sufficient to be
It is not even sufficient to be 
                               an excellent traditional classroom teacher 
Because the online world is 
                               a categorically different environment 
                                                              a particular blend of skills 
and knowledge is necessary 
                              if success is to be found 
                                                              in this domain
a medium unto itself 
                              delivery of content requires 

used wisely 
                a sense of community 
                                                 is essential

many areas of expertise are needed 
                 an effective web interface 
                                                 must be provided

ongoing assessment 
             and refinement 

little extras often go 
             a long 

while technology is the vehicle 
              driven by good pedagogy 

Knowledge and understanding of such principles 
              can help us find success 
                                 in the exciting world 
                                                 of online education
and can help us move from 
              the mere uploading of content 

to creating absolutely riveting online courses

QUESTION from our class OLE 1 at GOA:

"What was one of the 9 principles from the article ‘An Absolutely Riveting...’ that resonated with you: either it was surprising or it affirmed something you already suspected about online teaching. Why?"

Please share with a comment below:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dusting This Blog Off: Thoughts on Online Ed

Today I've watched two World Cup games while learning more about online platforms for education via Global Online Academy. I am taking their two week course on "Blended Learning" OLE 1 - and we just started today.

I am wading in before posting to my classmates, not that I am shy, but for all the blogging and online tools I have used over the years... my thoughts continue to evolve on blended learning. I am writing here to think out loud again.

Just when I felt comfortable at my previous school, a boarding school with an extended block per week and readily available Chromebooks and reliable wifi, I switched to a day school with shorter classes and no block - and let's just say limited access to devices on a daily basis and challenges with wifi at times.

The good news: the 1:1 program in the middle school will migrate to the upper school with the freshman class next fall - and a block period is being discussed in committees...we'll see.

The bad news with 1:1 program is that it requires more than minor shifts in pedagogy or what's the point, right? It's proven lecturing to digital stenographers doesn't work - for a variety of reasons - one being lecturing may not work.

So what role does technology play in the classroom?

My latest thoughts for next year is to go hybrid - old school journals and bring your own devices, even phones, for polls, quizzes, questions, quotes, posts, etc.

Time management is the key to engagement - in short spurts use both old (a private journal to explore thoughts) and then new technology (a public place to share potentially more refined written ideas) then intermix with discussion and questions.

For example: 

Start class with opening journal question for handwritten journal on last nights homework: traditional text or online content (video or student posts) - students can use devices if applicable.

Discussion after written meditation.

Journal some more following discussion - further synthesis.

Then read poem or excerpt aloud in class.
Students use devices to post initial reaction and connections to journal.

Discuss more: conversation continues as students engage and teacher moderates/facilitates.

Homework: read more text and respond to class comments from class discussion or online discussion.

Goal: Ongoing synthesis and conversation building towards an analytical essay - or even op-ed piece connecting topic to other works, politics, current events, history, etc.

The reason to bring this blog back - to share thoughts that may lead to later discussion.