online student engagement June 5

How to Add Student Engagement to Your Online Courses

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Student engagement has become a focus of higher education—online education in particular—over the past few years. The wide range of interactive methods now available on the web provides instructors with a multitude of ways to insert engagement into their courses.

But while we hear about engagement from instructors and software companies, students themselves have been a somewhat silent voice in the discussions. Florence Martin and Doris Bolliger address this oversight by surveying students in online courses to identify which activities they find most engaging. The researchers divided engagement activities into three categories: learner-to-learner, learner-to-instructor, and learner-to-content. Their findings suggest a number of ways for online instructors to infuse student engagement into their courses.

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tips for using Quizlet in college classroom May 10

Tips from the Pros: Promoting Active Learning with Quizlet

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How best to engage students and provide opportunities for active learning is a question we find ourselves thinking about and discussing often with colleagues. Quizlet is a user-friendly, technology-based quizzing system that works well to engage students in both face-to-face and online learning environments. Instructors can use it to create their own study set or browse through and use existing study sets. Study sets consist of groups of questions presenting content that students have reviewed. The content is presented as terms, definitions, pictures, diagrams, and labels, making the program flexible and effective for many disciplines. For example, an anatomy professor could insert pictures or diagrams of the skeletal system, and students may be charged with either labeling or identifying the correct term.

Quizlet has many functions both inside and outside of the classroom. One common use of Quizlet is its flashcard function, which is useful to review course content. In order to engage in the flashcard function, students click on a study set and then click on the flashcard icon. Next, one at a time, a definition is revealed and the student types in a term. The program indicates if the answer is correct and how many terms the student has answered correctly. In addition to flashcards, students can engage in a matching game. For the matching game, students click on a study set and then click on the matching game icon. Next, all the terms and definitions are on the screen in a scattered pattern and the student clicks on a term and drags it to the correct definition. The Gravity game is another popular activity using a video game format where students test their knowledge by answering questions before asteroids hit the ground.

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virtual reality April 9

Easy Methods for Using Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality in Your Teaching

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The terms “virtual,” “augmented,” and “mixed” reality have been thrown around a lot lately in education, leaving many instructors understandably perplexed over their different meanings. Worse yet, discussions of these concepts often fail to adequately disconnect them from their gaming origin, making one wonder whether they have useful applications to education. The good news is that there are many educational uses of these applications, and a world of free educational content available to instructors. Better yet, most of these applications do not require expensive goggles or other equipment for making or viewing content.

Virtual reality
The term “virtual reality” has gone through three iterations. The first referred to an animated world that the user entered through their computer by taking the form of an avatar representation of themselves. Second Life was the most famous of these systems. Users could build homes and other structures, as well as interact with one another within the world.

A number of educational institutions started using into Second Life, most using it for recruiting purposes by designing a mockup of one of their halls that prospective students could explore. Champlain College went a step further by connecting its site to its gaming program. Students would learn to create game elements by adding to the school’s Second Life site, designing new buildings and even a concert venue that hosted live concerts put on by local musicians. Jean Haefner at the University of Wisconsin–Stout built a gallery for students in her art and design class to allow students to have the experience of a virtual art exhibition, including interaction with the public who asked questions of the students. Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson created a space to broadcast lectures and hold discussions for his class Cyber One: Law in the Court of Public Opinion.

These early efforts eventually fizzled out due to the need for specialized programming skills to build the virtual worlds and falling pubic interest in Second Life itself. Virtual reality then reinvented itself by allowing participants to become their avatar’s virtual reality goggles. The user completely immersed themselves in a virtual world where the system would detect the user’s body movements to translate them into sword swings and the like. This added an exciting kinetic experience to virtual reality, so much so that because the user could not see their immediate surroundings the systems needed to project virtual walls around the user to avoid having them put a foot through a television set or the like.

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student studying on laptop March 9

Captivating Your Online Learner with Engaging Course Visuals: 7 Easy Principles

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In an online environment, keeping your audience’s attention and focus on the critical concepts can be a challenge. Visuals are one of the most powerful ways to engage online learners, especially those from the upcoming generations. We will discuss how the visual design quality of course materials impacts student learning and describe seven simple design techniques that educators can use to create clean, clear, and uncluttered visuals.

Why does good design matter?

Design affects our emotions and perceptions. Attractive visual design can evoke positive emotions in learners and facilitate learning (Plass et al., 2014). Designing attractive, simple, and uncluttered course materials contributes to emotional design, thereby enhancing positive feelings of learners and increasing motivation. Positive emotions have been shown to contribute to more flexible and adaptive thinking and encourage creativity, problem solving, recall, and innovation (Isen, 2002). People also perceive well-designed objects as easier to use (Norman, 2005). Utilizing a few simple design techniques to create clean, clear, and uncluttered course materials can help enhance learning.

Good design also impacts cognitive processing, increasing both comprehension and information retention. Research suggests that visual design affects cognitive processing in four main ways: selection, organization, integration, and processing efficiency (McCrudden & Rapp, 2015). Good design allows students to identify and focus on the most relevant information and efficiently organize that key information in memory, increasing comprehension and information retention.

Finally, well-designed course visuals communicate the credibility of, and care taken by, the presenter. Research has found that judgments of credibility are largely influenced by design elements like layout, font, and color (Robins & Holmes, 2007). Given that materials that look good tend to be judged as both better and more credible, design improvements can increase presenter credibility and communicate that the presenter cares about both the audience and the topic.

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flipped learning ideas February 6

Don’t Just Flip—Unplug

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Why “unplug” in the classroom?

In his book Teaching Naked, Jose Bowen challenges us to rethink the role of technology in our courses and be more intentional about when we use it, why we use it, and what our students do with it. Bowen (2012) explains, “Technology is most powerfully used outside of class as a way to increase naked, nontechnical interaction with students inside the classroom” (preface, p. x). Here are three reasons you might want to consider adding unplugged strategies to your classroom:

  • To increase focus. In my work, the FLIP means to “Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process” (Honeycutt 2013 & 2016a). When you FLIP, you focus on integrating active learning strategies and helping students achieve higher-level learning outcomes when they are in class with you and their peers. When your students disconnect from their devices for part of a lesson, they can connect with each other and work with the course material in a different way. They are focused on the task of solving a problem, organizing information, analyzing content, or creating something new.
  • To decrease distractions. In a 2013 study, undergraduate students reported using a device (phone, laptop, tablet) almost 12 times a day during class for nonclass activities (McCoy). Interestingly, in 2012, researchers found that students did not have to be the ones engaging in nonclass activities to be distracted. Students in view of a peer engaged in off-task activities scored 17 percent lower on a post-lecture comprehension test (Sana, Weston, and Cepeda, 2012).
  • To add value. One of the most common challenges faculty face when implementing flipped and blended instructional design models is how to encourage students to complete coursework outside of the in-person class time. Students need to know how their out-of-class work will be used in class. Bowen (2012) explains, “Nothing has more potential to eliminate boredom and create an incentive for a student to come to class prepared than a complete rethinking of the use of class time, overhauling it from a passive listening experience into a transformative learning environment” (p. 185).

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online video formats for teaching January 12

The Best Video Formats for Online Teaching

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When online faculty or course developers are approached about adding videos to their content, they tend to think of either webcam shots of themselves at their computer or screencasts of themselves reading bullet points to students. But there are a variety of highly effective and easy-to-produce video formats for online education. Here are the different options, along with their best uses and the best technology for creating them.

Webcam
Yes, the webcam shot does have a place in teaching. For one, it is the fastest way to make a video. Just start the webcam, speak to the camera, save the file, and upload it to the course. But the time savings is usually lost by the need to reshoot multiple times due to errors. It is unlikely that you will get through a video much longer than a few minutes without some verbal errors, and it can easily take five to ten shoots before you get a clean version.

For this reason, webcam shots are best used for content that does not need to be flawless. A good example is discussion posts. Instructors can use them to summarize important points in a discussion at the end. The “ums” and other verbal pauses or corrections do not matter. We do not worry about them in live conversation; our audience just listens right through them. So an instructor does not need to worry about them for video discussion. Leaving them in might even better demonstrate that the instructor is speaking from the heart, rather than a script. A good idea is for instructors to include thoughts that have occurred to them as a result of the discussion, demonstrating to students that the instructor is paying attention to their posts and thinking about them. An instructor can also assess discussion, saying that “I thought it went well because . . .” Online instructors rarely provide students with an assessment of a discussion as a whole, instead focusing on individual comments, but talking about it as a whole will help students understand what the instructor is looking for from students. Take a look at this example: https://youtu.be/h7vj8j_gZuQ.

Webcam shots are also good for videos that welcome students to a course. While they do require multiple shoots to get a clean version, the time investment is worth it due to the way that they humanize the instructor to the students and make students feel comfortable expressing themselves. Students should be encouraged to make their own as well. See this example: https://youtu.be/6KfM_JaVJ6E.

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adaptive learning - student working on laptop December 12, 2017

How to Implement an Adaptive Learning Program

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Adaptive learning is hailed as a means of offering students a personalized education, and thus is being backed by a variety of supporters, including the well-funded Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Implementing adaptive learning systems takes time and effort, but with the proper planning any institution can incorporate adaptive learning into its curriculum.

What is adaptive learning?
Adaptive courseware can take many forms, but the basic idea is the same across all platforms: each student receives a customized learning experience tailored to meet his or her needs. The system adapts to student understanding, providing additional explanations, more and different practice problems, topics to challenge students, or remediation as needed.

Good teachers have always done this. If it’s clear that students aren’t getting it, you slow down and find another way to explain the concept. You offer another example, an illustration to help students make sense of the idea, or another way of presenting the problem to help students take the steps necessary to solve it. In an ideal world, teachers would sit next to every student and work one-on-one to ensure understanding. But as educators know, this is not possible at scale.

Cue adaptive courseware. The promise is that this technology will provide that individualized learning experience for each student, and at lower cost than traditional textbooks, too. The reality is not quite so rosy.

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Online learning November 16, 2017

Empowering Learners through Online Discussion Self-Grading

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Have you ever thought, “There has to be a better way!” while grading your online learners’ discussions? It is no secret that grading student discussions is time consuming, laborious, and tedious, considering the disproportionate amount of time required to give solid, quality feedback on a large volume of discussion. On the learner side, students often do not use the rubric to craft their discussions or read and use feedback to improve. This adds to the frustration and can make grading learners’ discussions feel like a waste of time. Fortunately, a better way exists: engage and empower your students by having them grade their own discussions!

Benefits
Discussion self-grading is an innovative, unconventional, and creative learning method. It empowers learners to improve by employing adult learning principles outlined in the theory of andragogy and reflective learning. These principles encourage learners to be self-directed and responsible for their own learning (Knowles, Holston, & Swanson, 2015), and that serves to motivate the learner. Learners engage in their own learning process with internal motivation and are allowed to maintain control.

Discussion self-grading also requires reflection on experiences, beliefs, knowledge, one’s self, and practices with the goal of improving (Kember, McKay, Sinclair, & Wong, 2008). Reflection is an important lifelong skill for life, career, learning, and problem solving. It helps people improve both performance and practice in all facets of life. In the case of discussion self-grading, as learners engage in grading their own discussions, they reflect upon their discussion performance. Learners discover their mistakes and accomplishments, learn what they can improve and how, and are motivated to do better in the future.

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librarians can help with online course design October 10, 2017

Librarians are the Forgotten Course Design Resource

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Most institutions provide instructional design teams to support faculty in creating online courses. At my institution, each department has an assigned instructional designer, and most faculty members consider designers to be an indispensable part of the course development process. The same cannot be said for librarians, however, as my experience has been that most instructors view librarians as valuable sources of resources but not as actual resources themselves. While not intentional, of course, this means that instructors are missing an opportunity to enhance their courses. Similarly, instructional designers, who often work independently of librarians, may not be aware of all the resources available to them when supporting instructors during the process of course design.

All institutions have librarians dedicated to instruction and assigned to departments. In many cases, especially at larger institutions, these librarians hold graduate degrees in the fields to which they are assigned. They also usually possess many years of experience working with faculty from those fields. Combined with their training in developing collections, these librarians bring considerable expertise when selecting resources to be used in class and should always be consulted when choosing textbooks, articles, and other materials being used in class. They often know of material that faculty members are not aware of. They are also up-to-date on what databases and other electronic resources are currently offered through the library. This is no small detail because licensing agreements and available titles shift regularly as libraries and vendors renegotiate their existing contracts. Consequently, it is best to always include a course’s assigned librarian in all stages of course design, as the librarian may have more current knowledge regarding available resources than an instructor or instructional designer.

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online learning communities of practice September 9, 2017

Facilitating Communities of Practice in Online Courses

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What are communities of practice?
A community of practice is a network of people who exchange knowledge about a common profession. Members of the community exchange best practices and share evidence and results while supporting each other on a personal level. Good examples of these communities are the LinkedIn groups that can be found for nearly any profession.

While communities of practice are common and valuable in the working world, too often the interactions within a course are designed to apply only to that course, rather than prepare the student for the broader discussion within the profession that they will encounter after leaving school. That’s why I focus on forming communities of practice within my online courses.

A gradual approach to communities of practice
While there are various ways to promote communities of practices in online courses, I find discussion forums are the easiest place to start. When I design my discussion forums for my classes, I use a gradual design approach that spans the entire semester. The idea is to use the forum to facilitate a pathway toward communities of practice for the students.

communities of practice

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