April 30, 2010

Building a Connection with Online Students Right from the Start

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When teaching and designing courses, I find that it’s easy to slip into autopilot and use the same tools and strategies over and over. Autopilot can be comfortable and easy, but I know I don’t do my best work in that state. So I try to look at my courses and materials with fresh eyes as often as I can. Often, I’ll ask another faculty member or designer to look at what I’m designing with a critical eye, and I return the favor for their courses.



April 29, 2010

Discussion Board Assignments Designed to Foster Interaction and Collaboration

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After some trial and error, I have hit upon a discussion set up that seems to promote the kind of depth and breadth of engagement with the course material and with each other that I would ideally like to elicit. Students are asked to read between two-to-four pieces of literature (poetry, short stories, essays) and to participate in two discussion boards per week – one group discussion and one pair discussion. For both, they must post an initial answer to a question I pose by Tuesday. Then, by Friday at noon, they must read at least what they’re groupmates have posted and post at least one reply/follow-up.



April 27, 2010

Working Alone and Together

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They’re those independent learners who participate in group activities reluctantly and almost always prefer to do it alone. Should we excuse them from group work when they want to go it alone? There were points made on both sides. If they don’t learn well in social contexts, then why should we place them in situations that compromise what they’re going to learn? But group work is expected in so many professional contexts. Aren’t we doing students a disservice if we don’t help them develop the skills they’ll need to function effectively in groups?


April 27, 2010

Transforming Your Teaching Style: A Student-Centered Approach

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When I started teaching 27 years ago, like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz I believed that just having a brain would make me successful. And so each class session I would literally “take the stage” on a raised platform to deliver what was in my head and on my papers. Even though there were 60 students in the class, there could just as well have been none because I basically ignored the students. They were objects, sponges whose task was to absorb course content.


April 26, 2010

Are More Regulations Coming for Online Education?

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After years of double-digit growth and more than 4.5 million students currently learning online, almost everyone agrees that online education has moved from the periphery of higher education to the mainstream. It also has moved into the sight line of the federal government, which has stepped up efforts to better monitor, structure, and regulate online education.



April 22, 2010

A Journal Feature Worth Noting

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Recently, I was reading the journal Cell Biology Education (sometimes referred to as CBE Life Sciences Education). It’s a fairly new pedagogical periodical but it’s consistently excellent—made so in part by a regular feature called Current Insights. Edited by Erin Dolan, a biochemist who works at Virginia Tech, the column summarizes educational research relevant to those teaching in the sciences. Or, in the editor’s words, “This feature is designed to point … readers to current articles of interest in life sciences education as well as more general and noteworthy publications in education research.”


April 22, 2010

Giving Students Multiple Attempts to Improve Test Scores Provides a Powerful Learning Opportunity

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Using multiple test trials was something I had never considered until found myself in a newly assigned course with an old syllabus. The previous course, which consisted of 310 total points, included 140 (45 percent) testing-based points. In addition to a 100-point final exam, there were four 10-point quizzes. I was intrigued by the quiz design format that allowed students to take the quiz up to three times over the course of a week, with the average score added to the grade book.