Category Archives: Online Learning

The Community of Inquiry Framework in Practice

I’m attending the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning 2017 in Toronto, Canada and blogging the sessions I’m attending.

This collection of sessions are about the Community of Inquiry model.

Social Presence in Two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

by Matthew Stranach, University of Calgary

He used the case study methodology. He looked at courses as a whole. The courses aligned with the xMOOC format (proprietary learning software, behaviorist / cognitivist approaches to teaching and learning).

Participants self-reported via the COI instrument.

Key findings included: social presence was in both courses; personal interest was why people participated in the MOOCs – they weren’t really there for academic or professional reasons; similar levels of teaching and cognitive presence in the courses; but social presence was the last experienced. Participants didn’t generally view themselves as part of a learning community. Social presence did help participants further individual learning goals.

These findings are consistent with the COI literature. Social presence played a supporting role to cognitive presence.

Comment that synchronous elements and social media are areas that can contribute to the MOOC format.

The Importance of Teacher Presence in Creating an Invitational Educational Environment

Presenter(s): Margaret Edwards and Beth Perry – both from Athabasca University

She’s been using the COI model since 1999 in online programs she works with at Athabasca.

This research is around characteristics of exemplary online educators, and they’ve looked at it online 10 years ago, again, as well as in face to face classes previous to the 1990s.

Methodology: students wrote narratives regarding teachers that they considered exemplary.

Exemplary online educators:

  • Encourage interaction
  • Establish social presence
  • Cultivate a sense of community in educational environments
  • Ensure teacher presence – teacher intentionally instead of teaching

Specific ways teacher presence was created:

  • students know there is an engaged, enthusiastic, interested, credible instructor
  • participating in the discussion, addressing issues, answering questions, triggering debate, providing leadership
  • presence of humor (not a comic, but a sense of light-heartedness)
    • invitational language – you are invited to share your thoughts; vs. you are required to write two posts
  • presence of humanity
    • authenticity of the teacher; that you’re not perfect; that there’s a humanness to you; telling stories, being real when you answer, leave the ums and the ahs in your audio/video
  • presence of expertise
    • not a “look at me the expert”, but instead seeing the knowledge and experience that we have as educators as a gift we can give to students

Instructional designers think a lot about learning strategies …. but, as the teacher, you are an instructional strategy!

My favorite quote of the student comments she shared at the end:

Good online teachers play ball. When you are on an online student you toss the ball and you hope there is someone out there who will catch the ball and toss it back. My best teachers return the toss and make me jump to catch it.

TEL MOOC Participant Response to the Community of Inquiry Theoretical Framework

Presenter(s): Martha Cleveland-InnesSarah Gauvreau
Co-Author(s): Nathaniel Ostashewski (Athabasca University), Sanjaya Mishra (Commonwealth of Learning), Gloria Richardson (Confederation College)

Technology Enabled Learning MOOC

This MOOC was an iMOOC – a course based on inquiry learning, as defined by the community of inquiry. Athabasca was testing this format.

The course covered TEL frameworks, integrating technology, OER, creating TEL lessons, review and summary, and participants created an OER resource.

The report today is about the participant response to it.

The design and organization needed the right blend of direct instruction and facilitation – which is part of the teaching presence definition.

The videos were recorded in studios; the videos were less than 5 minutes; they focused on the material and the learning process. It was more than a lecture of the material.

They offered two types of facilitation:

  • The inspirer – a video offered at the beginning of each week that inspired them to work with each other; and summarized each week with another video; they were the inspirer and motivator; they occasionally posted
  • One facilitator for each of the 500 students; they were troubleshooting; they reminded the students of what the other students were doing; for the COI model, students need to learn from each other; the facilitators job was to smooth the learning and connect participants to each other

Results of the study, looking at participant response to COI in the TEL MOOC, included the positive benefits of the COI model.

Fostering Social Presence on Virtual Learning Teams at Royal Roads University

Presenter(s): Elizabeth Childs; Author(s): Jennifer Stone (Royal Roads University)

Jennifer did the research and Elizabeth is reporting on it. This was action research; some items have been incorporated into the university practice from her research.

The majority of their Masters programs are online or blended with short intensives on campus.

She looked at faculty, students, adjuncts, staff, representatives from the teaching and learning group; across three specific Masters programs.

The total n was 45, which was small but fit the institution well.

Mixed method approach; interrater reliability; interviews etc.

Study findings and themes:

  • Understanding of social presence: 100% found the value of social presence; 93% foudn it ciritcal to the level of connection
  • Roles and responsibilities: 86% believed that it was the role of the instructor to initiate and maintain social presence
  • Intentional learning design: Clearly communicated rubrics, assessments, virtual team assignment design
  • Technology and virtual space: Limitations within the LMS for cultivating what the expectation was for social presence

There were 60 different understandings of what social presence was. Whose job is it to ensure the social presence? Where do the roles and responsibilities fall? Whose job is it to ensure that social presence is designed into the course? Is the current technology enabling us to embrace fully the social presence we want?

Her recommendations were to:

  • Determine an operational definition of social presence and decide to what extent the programs wish to prioritize it
  • Consider professional development for instructors on how to develop and role model social presence
  • Incorporate course design that supports the intentional development of social presence and interpersonal relationship building
  • Consider the efficacy of the current learning management systems and how they support the development of social presence

Based on this action research, the institution is updating their learning and teaching model to incorporate social presence. What an awesome result to a student’s research!

Discussion

After the presentations, then discussion! And sharing of resources:

People really want to talk to real people – humanity, expertise, authenticity.

Interesting that some students don’t want learning community. The presenters commented that students are at different stages in their life, different levels of agency. They may need the engagement, and someone are just wanting to get in and get out to get the required work done.

Cognitive engagement can look like social presence, but it’s on the academic side. The important thing is to offer multiple opportunities for students to have choice. The concept of choice came up also in giving students places for social presence, with and without marks.

The Future of Learning Management Systems – Development, Innovation and Change

I’m attending the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning 2017 in Toronto, Canada and blogging the sessions I’m attending.

Phil Hill presenting. His slides are online here:

 

Phil commenting on the hype of MOOCs, the hype of higher ed going away entirely, the lack of business models for educational technology start ups. He recommends healthy skepticism on new trends such as adaptive learning.

Phil suggests that ed tech people have been children happily playing in the corner, but now the children are loose in the house. Funny metaphor – interesting how twice this morning I’ve heard that ed tech people just talk to each other (playing in the corner).

Online Students Survey by LearningHouse – good to understand student views of online learning.

Students want their own pace, but also instantaneous feedback. – PPIC, Successful Online Courses in California’s Community Colleges report

A problem-based learning method used in Habitable Worlds, a science course for non-science majors by Arizona State University – an example of the new direction of online learning that we need to consider. Focused on the big concepts, not the details. It’s multidisciplinary too – physics, sociology, etc. Students said, it was the best course I’ve ever taken. This course was built on Piazza – a wiki based discussion space.

Phil’s question – how can the LMS support this kind of course. This course was not in an LMS, because the standard LMS could not support what they wanted to do.

Some areas to consider: competency-based, gamification, adaptative, personalized learning. These are areas where people are trying to innovate in LMSes.

Having an LMS is like having a minivan – you’re not proud of it, but you have it. You buy it because you need it – it solves a particular job. A metaphor goes a long way to explaining a point!

A course management system is a better description – how do you take a course and how do you manage it? Learners are a list of people inside the course. They aren’t really “learning” management systems. The LMS isn’t really thinking about the learner outside the course or across the courses.

Phil has a slide with both LMSes and free consumer tools (i.e. blogger, wordpress, ning, pinterest, etc.). Interesting that we have both – faculty want these in the LMS or we expect the LMS to be easy to use like the cool tools. 

Some info on LMSes: Moodle has the largest installed base; Canvas is currently the fastest growing and the dominant for new implementation. Interesting comments that the competency based attempts aren’t very successful, not enough market. 

Cloud hosting or externally hosting is a huge new trend. A big issue – LMS going down on exam week or the first week of school. That is partly what’s driving the move to the cloud – to be able to scale up resources as needed. Security concerns also drive hosting decisions.

In North America, it appears that open source LMSes – Moodle and Sakai – installed base peaked about 2013, and is going down. Also that open source for open source’s sake is no longer such an issue.

Phil talks about the tension – what should be in the LMS vs. “cool tools” but then should those be inside the LMS? Initiatlly LMSes were a walled garden: forum, assignments, announcements, syllabus, etc. Nothing in or out. Over time though, there are consumer tools faculty and students want to use – blogging, social networking as two examples. Initial reaction by the LMSes was to give you a terrible version of it inside the garden. Lots of laughs from the audience. Feature bloat. Too many tools crowded in that were poor imitations of the outside. The new trend is LTI integration – we don’t have to have all activity. The LMS provides the basics, and hooks in other tools via LTI to connect to other items.

Now we think, the LMS is central; but it should enable me to use third party tools, but without being too confusing for students or too many logins!

Other tools coming to integrate are XAPI and Caliper – so in the future – we should have interoperability standards where we toss out the imitation tools from the LMS, and integrate easily with third party applications. Most competency based systems though are sticking with the walled garden idea.

Phil thinks that Canvas is pushing the competition – to reduce feature bloat and get a cleaner design.

Corporate learning is doing better with integrating tools; in the education market the integration of tools is more basic and somewhat clunky. The education market could learn from corporate learning.

Re mobile: The LMSes are moving their slowly. Offline access and responsive design for mobile are two major areas they are working on. It’s just slow.

Re learning and data analytics – the movement is more towards – we want the data, but we aren’t as interested in your graphs and learning analytics. Given our work in Intelliboard, I see this. What the data means depends on course and institution policies – and it’s better for the institution to be building up the meaning around the data.

Great session to get an update on what’s happening with LMSes. The evidence seems clear that LMSes are not dead nor dying.

Review of Canadian and U.S. Survey Results on Online and Distance Education in Post-Secondary Education

I’m attending the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning 2017 in Toronto, Canada and blogging the sessions I’m attending.

Presenter(s): Tony Bates, Ross Paul, Brian Desbiens, Denis Mayer, Eric Martel, Tricia Donovan, Russell Poulin

Babson & IPEDS have been collecting data in the U.S.; it has impacted policy at the state and federal level. But no comparable Canadian data across the whole system. So hence the new survey that is being reported on for the first time here at ICDE, and released to the public today.

This survey was done with a volunteer team, plus Babson and WCET to assist. Funding was raised, there wasn’t a federal base for it. They developed a national database of institutions to do the survey as well.

They had a 69% response rate; about 78% of the student population covered. Almost all of the post secondary institutions offer online for credit. They also checked websites and provincial records to identify what institutions were doing, even those who didn’t do the survey. It’s really a mature market – institutions have been offering online learning for 15 years or more. The growth rate has slowed because most institutions are already doing online (it’s about 2% measuring institutions; 15% colleges; 10% growth for universities 2010-2015). Online is about 16% of the teaching at the university level.

They made a distinction between distance education and online – print based being included in their distance education definition.

72% institutions rate online learning important and are developing a strategy for online.

Some technologies are hard to track because it might be at the individual professor level instead of at the institutional level.

They defined hybrid learning as a reduction in face to face time to allow time for online – that’s our blended learning definition at Andrews too. 

On hybrid learning – faculty were rethinking their teaching to better use online and face to face pedagogies. This type of learning is hard to track.

There’s no MOOC mania in Canada…. it’s neat and interesting and might be helpful but it won’t change our business.

Benefits of online learning: flexibility, increased enrollments, innovative teaching.

Challenges included lack of resources, faculty resistance or lack of training, lack of government support (lowest in Ontario, highest in Quebec).

Challenges with the survey – many Canadian institutions aren’t counting their online enrollments regularly; and even basic student counting of data is widely different across provinces; the need for a standard method of counting; post-secondary oversight is entirely provincial. FTE definitions are not the same across provinces.

Another challenge with the survey was whether to do a snapshot or an annualized version of the learning. A snapshot, for example, may not take into account summer online learning.

Comparisons between Canada and the U.S.

  • Similarities:
    • Difficulties with definitions for data collection
    • Institutional commitment and growth rates
    • Larger institutions are more likely to be doing online / distance ed
    • Institutions see online education as a strategic part of the institution moving forward
  • Differences
    • Canada: course enrollments / U.S. headcounts
    • Canada has almost all public institutions offering online; U.S. about 3/4ths public institutions involved in online

Implications

  • Scaling up faculty support – do faculty have to go to a central unit? can they get the support on their own and on demand?
  • Planning for digital learning
  • What about small institutions and the resources they need
  • What could or should the government be doing?
  • Organizational issues
  • Online course enrollment data

Links and Resources

UX Design for Learning

I’m attending the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning 2017 in Toronto, Canada. This session is just one presentation shared by the Centre for Extended Learning at the University of Waterloo.

Presenters: Meagan Troop, Darcy White, Pia Zeni; Matt Justice, Kristin Wilson (University of Waterloo)

They have instructional designers, media developers, technology consultants, librarians, copyright specialists and more.

UX Design – popularized by Donald Norman. “Design decisions should be based on the needs and wants of users rather than informed solely by clients or developers.”

Desire Path by Wikimedia

Desire Path by Wikimedia

For us, the user is the learner. Why should I involved learners in the design process? Design without user input results in the user sometimes not even using what you designed. i.e. a “desire path” where users pick a path more efficient.

They got funding from ecampus Ontario to do a large research project on what users want in their e-learning experiences.

How do we keep the focus on the UX design where there is a big production pressure for getting courses launched?

Peter Morville is an information architect, UX expert. He developed the UX honeycomb – with valuable in the middle of the honeycomb.

UXLDL 1.0: They surfaced the literature on these areas, and focused on the various areas of the online learning experience. See their honeycomb website.

In this session, we are looking at two cells from the honeycomb: useful and desirable.

Useful

How can we create useful learning experiences for students? building on Richard Mayer’s work. 

Not just putting out information – but how do we get students to engage in “appropriate cognitive processing”. The idea is that we are processing visual and verbal information using different channels. We experienced watching a video where the words being spoken didn’t match the words – which is a problem because the brain is working on both but then can’t make sense of it because they don’t match. We need to engage both channels of the brain – visual and verbal – in a way that they match. If you add audio, you need to give the user a choice to use it or not. Also the visual should enhance the learning and add meaning or make the meaning easier to grasp, not just be added on.

The honeycomb website goes into much more detail on how to work on all of these areas.

Sometimes new material is complex, learners are novices. We need to help students process the new material. Segmenting short chunks, introducing key concepts first, using narration, not text to accompany pictures.

Four different kinds of visuals – decorative (they add nothing), representational (they represent one element of the concept; they don’t really enhance learning), organizational visual (depict relationships between one or two elements – do help with learning), and finally explanatory visual (like the water cycle – these help with learning). Need to focus on visuals that help explain the concepts. Metaphor visuals can act as a visual cue for retrieval of memory.

Media done poorly distracts learning!

Desirability

It should Look Good (visceral design), Feel Good (behavioral design), and Make You Think (reflective design) aka Beauty, Function, and Reflection.

How do we create positive affect in online learning? Read more from the honeycomb here. We want to capture student’s attention, curiosity. Students need to watch the content to learn it, so how do we get them involved?

Surprise, a story, emotional design. How are we ensuring this is included in our courses? Is it easy for students to go from text to video and back to text? For function, do they have to mess around very much to get to the content and to engage in the course? We want to be creating a positive affect within the course.

What about the fact that some of these things take so many resources to create? And we have so many courses to create?

Images that engage emotions, that catch attention.

Researching the Honeycomb

The honeycomb was launched in 2016, and spring 2017 the research questions are around validating the honeycomb.

They focused on the literature on cognitive and affective work in online learning. They identified a gap in the literature. They are collecting data via surveys, in depth interviews, and user research.

They are looking at four courses – STEM and non-STEM – that were intentionally designed with the honeycomb in mind.

Results include students wanted: ongoing interaction, self-directed, self-paced, high quality, meaningful, fair assessments, same rigor in a classroom experience, flexibility, social aspect of learning, individual learning, humanizing learning.

The honeycomb is really about content – which would make sense because it is based on web design principles. For 2.0 they want to include the other types of interaction also – with the instructor and with peers.

Students ranked features in order of importance to them. Content and activities being easy to find (top feature, findable & usable on the honeycomb). Easy to read instructions, also high. Only 2% wanted opportunities to interact with their classmates. They think that interaction seems inauthentic or forced (i.e. discussion forums). This was undergraduate (and only a very small percent were adult learners) – I really think that undergraduates struggle much more with discussion than graduate students.

The honeycomb doesn’t really focus on humanizing learning, and this is an area they want to work on more.

I really appreciate a session where a team of people took a concept or framework and worked on it deeply, exploring the concept deeply, researching, experimenting with course design, etc.

Turning the Page on Digital Textbooks

I’m attending the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning 2017 in Toronto, Canada. The set of presentations I’m reporting on are all around open, digital textbooks, OER, open publication, etc.

The Value and Experience of Open Publication

This section is presented by Dianne Conrad, co-editor of IRRODL, Terry Anderson, retired from Athabasca University and Rory McGreal, co-editor of IRRODL.

The open movement, you know, includes open society, open educational resources, open acces, open data, open source software, open licenses.

What is an open access journal? No price barriers. No permission barriers. Subsidized by an academic institution, learned society or government.

IRRODL is the first open access journal in Canada. In 2008 they started the open AU press too. It’s linked to the OER knowledge cloud. SSHRC-funded. The most cited journal in distance education. The readership and manuscripts come from around the world.

The Directory of Open Access Journals, they have the DOAJ Seal which means they adhere to open access best practice. Something to check on other open journals!!

Discussion of the publication of monographs via the AU press. University support is critical for the press. Goal of 1% of the AU budget to go to the press.There are grant funds. Issues in Distance Education – series.

Next Rory McGreal talked about the advantages of open textbooks: cost, adaptability, updating, localisation. Challenges: entrenched practices and special interests. Increase in textbook prices. Publishers are selling less textbooks so they keep increasing their prices.

Main leaders in OER: BCcampus, SOL*R, ecampus Ontario.

Developing an OER Digital Interactive “Textbook:” Challenges and Opportunities of Modular and Flexible Design Principles

Presenter(s): Gail Morong, Shannon Smyrl

This section is creating an open learning course for introduction to academic writing. There are dozens of projects. This is one that every institution has, but needs significant adaptation for local. They wanted to build an open textbook that supported both students and faculty through the experience.

Their main criteria for the project was to have a user-driven resource vs. a textbook-driven resource. The learning resource should support and facilitate the course design rather than dictate. The idea is that the teacher shouldn’t have to be held hostage by the textbook. In activity based learning, you need things to work with in the classroom – and sometimes textbooks don’t provide that.

The design criteria then were modular, open, flexible. Think of how sometimes you only use 3 chapters from a $200 book. Academic writing courses shouldn’t need a textbook. Maybe first year theory courses need it, but you really need something flexible. It should be flexible for 60 students or in a computer lab, or in self-directed online, or whatever.

It’s set up so the different activities can be used. It has a coherent theme, but doesn’t require that students follow through. You can put your own theme in, or you can pick and choose.

From a faculty member’s point of view – what was needed was institutional support, technical support, media support, instructional design support. There was also huge disciplinary support – as part of the work load of faculty.

Development Methodology of Interactive Digital Textbook for Experimental Subjects

By Kwang Sik Chung and Sooyoul Kwon (Korea National Open University)

The challenge with creating digital textbooks is coordinating all the different people. So, a methodology for creating a digtial textbook would be helpful. They were creating their textbook for the smartphone – he showed an example of having the user tilt or shake the phone to fill a beaker for an experiment.

Interesting model from data to information to knowledge to wisdom – moving up a pyramid. How do we get to wisdom? How do we design to bring students to the level of wisdom, not just data at the bottom of the pyramid.

They created a methodology that included: plan & analysis; design; development and implementation; evaluation stage. It includes a variety of roles and a coordination timeline as well.

Developing OER Degree Pathways in the US and Canada

Una Daly, James Glapa-Grossklag; Amanda Coolidge (BCcampus)

James started: The idea here is, how could students have a complete pathway for their whole degree – with the benefit of students the end result. James is from California and is working on the Zero Textbook Cost degrees – it means community college associate degrees or career technical education certificates. It’s about the student – the student getting done. It’s a big deal in California as they serve 2 million students in 114 community colleges; 1/5th of all the U.S. community college. 1/10th of all US [community? ] college students are in a community college in California. 25 colleges are working on a ZTC degree pathway.

In British Columbia they are doing the same thing – Zed Cred – using the Canadian pronunciation of Z. Fun!

It’s significant cost savings to students, increasing in enrollment, persistence and performance (Hilton et al 2016). It makes it easier for student to learn better and more quickly.  What would it take to have an Adventist initiative like this? Maybe different institution could collaborate on specific courses? Funding for development and adaptation of open textbooks for the faith perspective would be critical. Would be so cool!

Another initiative is Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count. This effort is privately funded, and is including research in it’s focus. This effort requires open resources – it can’t even be library resources that are stuck behind a paywall. Very interesting to make sure it’s totally open.

They are also working on what is needed to move from an OER course to an OER degree. They think about total institution cost too – not just the cost benefit to students – costs like instructional support, the departments involved supporting, as well.

Research questions include – do students complete better if they have OER courses; and what are the institutional costs and support? Advising, registration, advertising so they know. Articulation agreements with 4 year degrees. The 4 year degrees should be prepared to accept the courses. It’s very worth while having that conversation with the institutions will be going to next.

Discussion

An accreditation question. U.S. accreditors don’t require that materials are published by a commercial publisher – what they require is that the qualified faculty is the one making the choice on the materials. Thomson Rivers response – the accreditors are looking at the learning outcomes. The resources are chosen by faculty to meet the learning outcomes.

Someone wondered if students might do all the learning resource activities on their own, and then come to the institution for assessments. The responses were that most of these were used for traditional courses.

OERu is another initiative in this area – where students can use OERs to get a credential.

The value for OER and digital textbooks is really for the students.

Someone else in the audience said this is a cost shift from the students to the institutions and/or faculty. Response: there are faculty incentives. Questioner: why are you doing it? Response: plan for student success – better pedagogy – students completing. In Canada they are government funded – it saves provincial money in the long run because otherwise the province is paying for textbooks with funds for student education. Passionate response: the bike rake is free, the wifi and the library are free, why not the learning resources? That’s the main thing that students are here for.

Another huge aspect of the open textbook is that it can be a different format  – not just print and graphics. Maybe we should call it something instead of a textbook. That’s why we have OER. It’s kind of a workbook – it’s all the things you need. Things you copy, things you use for activities.

On the faculty side, development in this area must count towards tenure and promotion.

Fascinating discussion and presentations. An area where creative and innovative work continues.

Effective Communication with Online Students

Blogging the United States Distance Learning Association 2017 National Conference. This session presented by Sharon Clampitt from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico.

Description: We all know that interaction and communication with online students is essential, but is it always as effective as we would like it to be? This interactive presentation explores the key elements of a successful communication with students, and our students with instructors. It gives practical tips for effective communication both from and to students.

Effective Communication

Types of communication:

  • Professor -> Student
  • Student -> Professor
  • Student -> Student
  • Student -> Support Personnel
  • Support Personnel -> Student

Even the students may need some training and assistance on communicating effectively with students – thinking of some of our dual enrollment students who really need help with this!

What are some of the reasons faculty talk to students…. Need to ask them if they are ok and finding everything they need. Often they won’t say anything until they are asked! Transmitting and summarizing information of course, but also following-up to remind them about assignments etc. Clarifying misconceptions – before the issue becomes viral on a discussion forum or before an exam. Individual feedback in communications – they need to know why they got the grade they got. If you don’t tell them what they missed, they misunderstand, they start changing what they already do understand.  The students who are successful also need a pat on the back and encouragement. Students need motivation communications. One of the most demotivating things in distance education is lack of faculty communication.

Why are students communicating with faculty? To ask for information. To ask if they can hand something in late; to give them a break. They follow-up on requests – things they need from us. Clarifying questions they have; to give the faculty feedback.

Effective communication can create a rapport and desire to communicate more; however if it’s done poorly, the door can shut and you might not hear from the student again.

Three Key Takeaways

  • Timely. Sufficient time for the person to take appropriate action. There needs to be time to remediate. Respond to questions as soon as they are asked. Clarify before misconceptions become an epidemic.
  • Meaningful. Provides the information they need; attends to academic, psychological, social needs as well, the recognizes the people involved. Use their name in the email. Encourage. Help them calm down. Thinking also of the idea of acknowledging how the feel or what they said or experienced. “as so and so said in their post, ….” “it seems you’ve read the material carefully…”
  • Actionable. The person needs to know what to do next. Start with something positive. I can tell that you’ve put a lot of work into this. Make it clear what to do next. Please make an appointment with me. Thinking of the positive helpdesk email reading I’ve been doing lately. Connecting on a human level first; and making sure that you assist with the actual thing the students need.

We need to teach students to do this as well.

  • Timely. They should ask for help before the assignment expires. Not at the end of the class where they haven’t done anything yet.
  • Meaningful. It should be very clear what the actual problem is.
  • Actionable. They should be clear on what type of solution they are hoping for.

What are some ways we could help students communicate more effectively with us.

Sample email from a student.

Hello professor.

This is the first time I have taken an online course and I don’t know what to do. I tried to do the first assignment, but I didn’t understand anything. I haven’t bought the textbook, well, because I don’t know what to do. I tried to do the first assignment, but I didn’t understand anything. I haven’t bought the textbook, well, because I don’t know which one it is. Can you help me?

Sincerely,

Gunter Lunch.

First, though, check that the information they need is actually available and not hidden!

Writing a response in groups:

Dear Gunter,

I’m so glad you decided to take the leap and take this class as your first online class! Welcome! Online courses can be tricky for getting started, so here’s some tips to help you get started.

Here’s the direct link to buy the textbook. Please acquire it as soon as possible. If you have trouble, call 123-barnes&noble.

Then, for getting started, did you find the orientation in the top how to section of the course? This will help you learn how navigate and get yourself organized to learn online.

On the first assignment, after you get textbook, read chapter 1, and watch the little intro video, and review my notes on what the expectations are for the assignment. Then, if you are still stuck, give me a time between 3-5 pm on Thursday, and I’ll send you a link to videoconference so we can talk it over. This assignment is due next Sunday, so start soon!

Are you checking your University email? I sent a welcome email with instructions to get started. Did you receive it? Let’s make sure you’re getting my communications.

This should get you started! Again, so glad to have you in class! Call 123-my-office if you want to talk further.

Professor Schedule-a-Meeting

Comments and discussion on this exercise:

  • Sometimes these questions can help you consider your course. Maybe they shouldn’t see the content until they have done the orientation.
  • Sometimes you can look at the stats to see where the student has been looking; and that information can help you figure out a more appropriate response to the student.

Tools to Hide Your Cell Phone

These are the tools shared at the end to text students but not give them your cell phone number.

Dissertation Advising at a Distance

One of the challenges of online PhDs is how to keep a good dissertation advising process working, mediated by technology to bridge space and time. In an on-campus PhD, a student has the benefit of a community: fellow students hanging out in the library; walking into the office of dissertation committee members and advisers; graduate student lounge; graduate student association activities.

However, the online PhD experience may be lonely and challenging. So, let’s look at some tips from the student and the faculty perspectives.

Writing with pen, paper, and laptop

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tips for Online PhD Students

Many of these tips come from my own experience with an adjunct methodologist. What would you add?

  • Adapt to your adviser’s style. I had an amazing methodologist; but at first I was frustrated with how low-tech he was. I wanted to videoconference; he used the phone. I wanted to email my documents; he wanted a hard copy. I later learned what an expense it would be to an adjunct methodologist to print; so now I better appreciate his requirement of mailing. I adapted by buying the flat rate mailers; and soon found that this strategy contributed to a faster turn around time.
  • Summarize notes. As soon as we got off the phone, usually about a 30 minute conversation, I would take my scribbles and write them up into official notes and email them back to him. I did this recap to help keep the information in my brain. I always felt like it was falling out of my head. But another huge benefit was a record of what we had discussed, a todo list of what I was supposed to do next. This made it easier for my adviser to keep track of my progress.
  • Use a recording device. It’s a great idea to use some type of method to record the conversation with your dissertation chair or advisers. This allows you to go back and listen to it again. Often as students, the information overload causes us to miss something. Hearing it again and ensuring that we’ve responded to all feedback makes for a more efficient and pleasant process for everyone involved.
  • Respond to feedback soon. Don’t procrastinate in working on the changes or next steps discussed in the meeting. The longer you wait, the fuzzier the concepts get in your brain. Do it soon! I usually talked to my methodologist on Fridays, and then Sundays I’d do the work that we discussed; trying to get another version in the mail by Monday.
  • Plan for “waiting” jobs. Plan to have some things to work on while you’re waiting for feedback. One easy job is making sure your references are in your software tool (Endnote, Zotero, etc.) and are correct. Check the caps on all the titles. Check the page numbers. etc. This will help you stay in “dissertation mode” and will save you in the long run when you get to final editing stage.

Tips for Professors Mentoring Online Dissertation Students

  • Schedule regular meetings. Your on campus students have easier access to you. They can pop by your office. But your online students only have phone and email. If you don’t respond to email quickly, they can feel neglected. An easy way to resolve this challenge is to schedule regular meetings. This provides deadlines for both you and the student.
  • Schedule your reading time. Put an appointment on your calendar to schedule time to read and prepare feedback. What gets scheduled gets done!
  • Use a videoconference tool. Our institution uses Zoom, which allows several features that can be helpful in discussing writing: screen sharing, annotation, and recording. Depending on the tool, have the student record so the recording is on their computer. Videoconferencing is as close to face to face as you can get at a distance; and the ability to get tone of voice and body language enhances the interaction significantly. Your academic technology office probably supports a similar tool and can provide access and training.
  • Use TurnItIn. Use TurnItIn to check for proper citation early and often. Your academic technology office should be able to set you up with a space for dissertations. TurnItIn can even be set up for students to have access to see the results to help improve their citations.

Your Turn

What would you add? What have you found as essential tips or tools for online PhD students – from the student or the faculty perspective? Please comment!

Making Web Friendly Link Collections

Lately I’ve been seeing several collections of resources and web links come in from faculty for their online courses. I thought I’d write a few tips on how to make these collections web-friendly and easy for students to use.

First: Why?

First, think about why you are giving these web links to students. What do you expect them to do with them?

  • Are they supplemental resources?
  • Are students expected to complete an assignment after visiting the links? Is there a concept or principle they should be looking for as they peruse your resource list?
  • Should they read some of them? how should they choose?
  • Is it for extra practice? How would students know if they need extra practice?

Think this through, then make it clear in the instructions provided with the links.

Second: Link Specific Words

Note the difference between these:

How to make a web link in Word: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Create-or-edit-a-hyperlink-5d8c0804-f998-4143-86b1-1199735e07bf

OR

Click this link to learn how to make a web link in Word

OR

How to make a web link in Word

Which one is easier to read? I hope you chose the latter!

  • Write specific words. Either the reason to click the link. Or the title of the website. Something specific. Avoid “click here”!
  • Link the words. Find the URL/web address and copy it. After you’ve written the specific words, then highlight the words, select the link tool, and paste the URL. Voila!

Tips for Links

  • Ctrl K works in many places to jump directly to making a link. In Word, in WordPress, probably in your Learning Management System.
  • Word and PDFs. If you are putting Word files or PDFs in your course, make sure all the links are set up like this before you upload. When you save from Word to PDF, usually your PDF writer will make the links active.
    • Find the URL/web address and copy it.
    • Write specific words.
    • Highlight the words.
    • Select the link tool, and paste the URL.
  • Discussion, Annoucements, Labels. In your Learning Management System, you have multiple opportunities to write content. In all of these places, you can add links. Make a good linking habit. Write specific words. Link the words. Don’t just paste the long and ugly URL!
  • Moodle “Page” In your Learning Management System, there is probably a tool that lets you create content. In this tool, you can also, write specific words, link the words.

 

Write Specific Words. Link the Words.

Got it? Your LMS helpdesk can probably assist you with this if you need additional help. It’s a simple thing, but it will make your online content look much more professional. It will also increase the likelihood that your students will actually click the links!

Shorter Time between Assignments for Success in Self-Paced Courses

As a follow-up to a study published earlier in 2016, I have another research article examining student behavior in self-paced courses…

See the out of sequence article for some background and previous work…

Do an Online Assignment Out of Sequence to Be More Successful

In this latest article, I looked at three measures of student delay behavior (is it delay or procrastination? That’s a whole field of study too!): 

  • the days between registration date and first date of assignment submission (Days to Start)
  • the average days between assignment submissions (Days between Assignments)
  • total days between registration and completion (Days to Complete)

Of these three, the average length of time between assignment submissions was found to be most useful to predict final letter grade and withdrawal. Students with shorter amounts of time between assignments were more likely to complete successfully.

Check out the full article online in the Distance Education journal.

While one could argue that an instructor is needed to keep students’ on pace, some of the students in this study did very well on keeping a regular pace. That self-regulation skill is critical for life, don’t you think? Good to learn and practice.

What do you think?

Do you think that learning analytics such as this, watching student behavior in an online course, is useful for predicting completion? useful for planning interventions for students not doing so well? Is it intrusive or useful? Should we try to find a threshold for success? If we did, what interventions might be appropriate? What questions does this result raise in your mind? Please comment.

A Beginner’s Guide to Learning Analytics

I’m attending the IFWE 2016 conference in San Antonio, TX and live blogging sessions. One more session till lunch! Be sure to follow the #ifwe2016 hashtag on Twitter if you want to learn about what else is going on here!

Presented by: Mindy Menn (Texas Woman’s University)

Description: What do novices need to know about learning analytics? How can learning analytics be leveraged to improve online programs and students’ experiences in online programs? Find out during this session addressing the basics of learning analytics.

Learning Analytics Introductions

Foldable note taking from

Foldable note taking from “To Engage Them All” blog

Interesting bits from the introductions. Someone wants to understand better the difference between learning analytics and analytics. One institution is starting a learning analytics committee. One instructional design specialist does analytics as well as instructional design. Someone from Penn State is working on a custom dashboard of learning analytics. Another person is looking at how to give faculty learning analytic data to empower them.

Mindy had a really cool colored folding paper strategy. 5 sheets of colored paper, spread them apart and then fold so you have 9-10 layered and colorful places to write. This page has an example – scroll down.

Learning Analytics Definition and Limitations

  • It’s measurement, collection, analysis, report of data
  • It’s about the LEARNERS
  • We want the learners to benefit
  • “spot hidden trends and predict outcomes”
  • “organize, store and mine data to improve teaching and learning for all students” – it’s not just the at-risk students – it’s for everyone – including the bored students
  • It is a research domain and a field
  • It overlaps with other fields – computer science, machine learning, statistics (lots of different regressions to predict relationships), big data, etc.
  • It cannot make taking action easier
  • It won’t be a magic solution
  • It can never perfectly predict anything – remember your stats class!

Learning Analytics Questions

Some examples of things that we can look at with learning analytics…

  • What registrar/institutional data provides insights to students’ progress?
  • How does student’s video watching correlate with their course success?
  • How does the time submitted compare with course performance?
  • How does success in a specific course correlate with degree success?
  • What are online learning behaviors and what do they tell us? When do they login? When do they logout? What do students click on?
  • Who talks to who and how many responses in discussion forums?
  • What signals do we have in courses where we might need to update something in the course? or to send students to a service to assist them with their study skills…

People who are interested in it….

  • Learners – they are concerned about how we analyze their data, but also the data can be used to help give advice to them or to help them improve their practice
  • Instructors
  • Administrators – academic analytics are a little different – learning analytics is purely on the learner; academic is more about the whole university
  • Researchers

Resources

What Next?

It’s important to know what your question is – which depends on your role… the stats people who can help you are going to want to know your question. So you need a narrow question. Not just to track and know everything!

Takeaways

I guess I really am doing learning analytics with my recent publications:

This is a huge area of interest to me. What data do we have? How can we collect it? How can we track it over time? How can we use it to monitor and improve the success of our online courses and programs? And how do we do it well and ethically?