August 22 - A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Raising, Communicating, and Enforcing Expectations in Online Courses
As an instructor new to the online environment, I carefully reviewed the syllabus and the requirements for the course discussions and assignments and incorporated the following ideas from Myers-Wylie, Mangieri & Hardy: a “what you need to know” document that includes policies about late work, formatting, source citations, grading and feedback, and the dangers of plagiarism; a separate “assignments at a glance” calendar that details due dates and submission instructions; a “frequently asked questions” thread in the discussion forum; detailed scoring rubrics for each assignment, and example assignments. As is typical in the online environment, my course was equipped with areas for announcements and discussions and a grade book with a place to post comments for individual students. I used all these formats to communicate with students about course requirements and provide detailed feedback.
Most students begin college, the academic year, and new courses motivated and optimistic. Many first-year students expect to do well because they were successful in high school. Some are right, but others will only find similar success if they work much harder than they did in high school. Yet most start out expending the same level of effort. They will talk with their classmates and convince each other that an exam covering three chapters can’t be that hard, so they put off studying and then “look over” the chapters the night before— happily dealing with any and all interruptions and distractions.
When I speak with other professors who work extensively in the classroom, we often find that we share many of the same challenges. Students’ lack of classroom participation in discussion and test anxiety are two of the most common. Many professors try to mitigate these issues through two time-honored pedagogical tactics: a participation grade and extra credit questions on tests. While both tactics can be effective, by applying concepts from gamification research I found a way to both enhance classroom participation and reduce test anxiety with one simple technique.
I have been teaching online courses for more than eight years now. I was one of the first at my previous institution to transition a face-to-face (F2F) course to a 100% online course and now, in addition to my F2F courses, I also teach for two fully online institutions. However, I still find many of my F2F colleagues reluctant to make that transition.
August 13 - Motivating Students: Should Effort Count?
I’ve always said no, effort shouldn’t count. When students pleaded, “but I worked so hard,” or “I studied so long,” I would respond with the clichéd quip about people with brain tumors not wanting surgeons who try hard. Besides if students try hard, if they do their assignments, come to class, take notes, ask questions, and study on more nights than the one before the exam, that effort will pay off. They will learn the material, and their grades will reflect that learning.
Faculty use asynchronous discussions to extend and enhance instructional practices in the online classroom. It is widely reported that online discussions play an integral role in facilitating students’ learning, as well as fostering dialogue, critical thinking, and reflective inquiry (Kayler & Weller, 2007; Morris, Finnegan, & Sz-Shyan, 2005). Despite faculty’s knowledge that discussion forums can serve as a useful learning tool, online discussions are not easy to establish and manage.
Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, advocates an instructional design/community-building approach to academic integrity rather than an adversarial approach. Her stint as a police officer informs this stance. As radar gun companies introduced improved speed enforcement tools, the latest radar detectors (often produced by the same companies) rendered such improvements ineffective. “I learned that you can’t out-tech people, and you don’t want to get into that situation. You don’t want to have that arms race. Certainly some security measures are going to be necessary, but don’t get into the habit of relying on technology to establish a climate of integrity, because it can have adverse effects. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being watched all the time,” she says.
August 6 - Four Key Questions about Grading
There’s an excellent article on grading in a recent issue of Cell Biology Education-Life Sciences Education. It offers a brief history of grading (it hasn’t been around for all that long), and then looks to the literature for answers to four key questions.
Passivity still seems to be the norm for most college courses: students passively try to learn information from teachers who unwittingly cultivate a passive attitude in their learners. As the subject matter experts, many faculty are reluctant to give up some control. We know the material, there’s a lot to cover, and let’s face it, going the lecture route is often just plain easier for everyone. We “get through” the material, and students aren’t pressed to do anything more than sit back and take notes. Teacher and student thus become complicit in creating a passive learning environment.
This summer I am teaching online, in part because many students prefer to take classes online. Summer is the time for mischief, experimentation and creation—there is just something about that added sunlight, all sorts of plants I know not the names of in bloom everywhere—it just makes you want to try something new.