Category Archives: Online Learning

Do an Online Assignment Out of Sequence to Be More Successful

When Griggs University moved to Andrews University, I joined the team supporting online education at Andrews University. We started moving the Griggs University self-paced online courses from Desire2Learn to Andrews University’s Moodle. In the process, it seemed like it would be a good idea to restrict all the content so that students had to complete the previous lesson before they could go on to the next lesson.

At the same time, I was just getting started with my research agenda. It seemed like a good plan to get data before we implemented this plan, and then analyze the data afterwards.

Out of Sequence Success

However, when I analyzed the “before data”, I found that students who did at least one assignment out of sequence were more likely to complete! It was such a surprising result.

But think about it. If you are working away, and you are stuck, what do you do? Do you stop entirely, or do you do something else and come back to it?

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by xerezh

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by xerezh

Maybe taking a detour once in a while isn’t a bad thing. And maybe as instructional designers we shouldn’t be so obsessive about controlling the learning path of our students. Maybe designing for learner choice would increase the success of our students.

My research article is published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning: The Relationship between Successful Completion and Sequential Movement in Self-Paced Distance Courses. Take a look.

What do you think?

Have you noticed students doing assignments out of sequence? Do you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing? Do you think students in a face to face class work on their assignments for the semester always in sequence? Do you think there might be a threshold where too many assignments out of sequence is a problem? What questions does this result raise in your mind? Please comment.

Reducing Procrastination with Frequent Engagement

overdue task list

Photo by AJ Gulyas. Creative Commons Attribution License.

Lately I’ve been thinking about procrastination in online courses. Procrastination can be caused by so many things – feeling inadequate for the task, a sense that the task is hard, deciding that other things are more important.

Have you noticed in your email habits that you tend to answer the easy questions, but if someone asks a hard question, you put it off?

It’s easy to procrastinate on just about anything, but doesn’t it seem like online learning exaggerates our procrastination? We get done what’s in front of us, what’s staring us in the face. But our distance learning is online, in the cloud, on our app. Easily ignored. Easily put off for another day.

What does it take to keep our distance learning right in our students’ faces?

Combating Procrastination in Distance Learning Industries

It’s an issue in all different kinds of distance learning, and there are a variety of ways to combat procrastination:

  • In mobile learning, apps like DuoLingo notify the user daily with a reminder to practice their learning.
  • In online courses, for both K12 or higher education, teachers can design frequent, low-stakes grading, using quizzes, practice quizzes, or short assignments.
  • In corporate training modules, content could be broken up into smaller, micro-lessons, with content and an engagement activity included in lesson.
  • In healthcare, remote patient monitoring can be embedded with regular tips and mentoring to assist patients with improving their health, such as Tactio Health, an app that provides digital coaching along with self-monitoring and/or remote monitoring.
  • In videoconference learning, such as courses or enrichment by content providers, learners probably don’t procrastinate during the live lesson. That’s the beauty of live, synchronous learning. However, there may be assignments or pre-work that is easily put off. Small, easy to manage, learning bites and activities can reduce procrastination or disengagement.

Examples of Frequent Engagement

So how do we design frequent engagement, and low-stakes grading into our distance learning experiences? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Feedback and monitoring. Tullis and Benjamin (2011) suggest that students need frequent feedback to help them learn to monitor their learning. If they have a clear understanding of which concepts they understand, and which need more study, learners can adjust their study time to spend more time on the concepts and skills that need to improve. So design frequent assessments that inform learners on their progress.
  • Daily quizzing. Wesp (1986) suggests for personalized instruction (isn’t all distance learning personalized learning at some level?) that daily quizzes can help students keep on track with making progress on their studies, particularly if the quizzes are designed in such a way that they don’t have a negative effect on poorer students’ grades.
  • Informal writing. Besides regular quizzing, informal writing can engage students regularly with the content, and keep them focused on their learning. In addition, Warnock (2013) suggests that frequent grading gives student confidence and keeps the communication flow between teacher and student. Informal writing can include journals, reading responses, one minute responses, or muddiest point paragraphs.

Now that you’ve considered ways to reduce procrastination in distance learning, what are you going to do about it? Don’t procrastinate! Pick one small idea and add it to the learning design you are working on today! Or this weekend. Or next week. …

Comment Invitation

Please feel free to comment below. What other suggestions would you give for reducing procrastination? What do you see as the benefits of frequent engagement? Are there any examples where you believe these ideas don’t work? Please share.


Tullis, J. G., & Benjamin, A. S. (2011). On the effectiveness of self-paced learning. Journal of Memory and Language, 64(2), 109-118. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2010.11.002

Warnock, S. (2013). Frequent, low-stakes grading: Assessment for communication, confidenceFaculy Focus.

Wesp, R. (1986). Reducing procrastination through required course involvement. Teaching of Psychology, 13(3), 128-130. doi: 10.1207/s15328023top1303_6

Mobile Apps to Support and Enhance Online Courses

This morning I’m presenting to the Iowa Distance Learning Association’s Fall Symposium.

Description: How can specific mobile apps support and enhance online courses? From LMS apps, organizational apps, and university apps to apps specifically design to support a unique course, explore the variety of ways mobile learning can enhance online learning.

PowerPoint: 2015 Iowa DLA.ppt

In this session, we are exploring mobile learning in three areas of online learning: Learning, Connection to the University, School or Organization, and Connection to the Instructor.


Connection to your University, School or Organization

Connection to the Instructor

  • Videoconferencing apps such as:
    • Skype
    • Zoom, etc.
    • Students can schedule one-on-one with the instructor; or attend class via their mobile device
  • Texting students reminders:
  • Deliver content via apps such as iTunes U, YouTube, etc.

Additional Reading

Creating, Gathering and Using Data

It’s Tuesday morning at USLDA, and I’m attending the first session of the morning: Creating, Gathering and Using Data with Karly Good from Grand View University and Sue McDaniel from A.T. Still University.

ATSU’s College of Graduate Health Studies has 145 full time and faculty members in 34 states and two other countries offering 4 masters and 3 doctorate programs. Sharing data and communication among all these locations is challenging. Each program was keeping track of their own data. An example of an issue was a course that was cross listed with 3 prefixes – changing a textbook listing for one didn’t necessarily mean the others were changed.

Data issues included accreditation, dissertations, grades, and more.

At ATSU, they created a Access front end / mySQL backend database called IRMA: Integrated Records Management and Administration. They add 5000-6000 records a month. The instructional designers and academic advisers, associate dean, all have different front ends – Access Reports. They can access it from home via the VPN.

Course Development Via Database

All the online courses are built through the Access database. They add each little piece of a course – content, assignments, they connect all of it to the learning objectives and competencies. All the outputs are done in PDFs so that no one can change it. Faculty have to teach the course as it is, they don’t allow anyone to edit or change anything after it’s been through the development assignments.

The instructional designer’s view has Courses, reports, Term Courses, Textbooks, and Faculty as the main menu.

They build the courses in IRMA, and work through the syllabus items, core competencies, connections to learning outcomes; then a report gives them the HTML to copy & paste into the LMS. The database tracks all the pieces of the course development, the milestones, how far they’ve come etc. They can easily find a specific course that uses a particular tool, such as a wiki.

Faculty Data for Accreditation

The Associate Dean’s view has Faculty, Courses, Surveys, and more. The Faculty menu includes all the data on professional development funds, publications, demographic data on faculty and more. It has the course evaluation data that can be used to make staffing decisions for teaching the variety of courses.

It’s so fascinating to me how scaling online learning requires us to manage information at an incredibly high level. This method is also a way to have easily at hand anything needed for an accreditation report. It is work on the front end setting it up; and also regular work always entering data; but wow! What an amazing tool. 

I also find it interesting that the idea of BIG DATA makes you think of buying some amazing product from a company; where in this case, someone with good database skills can build something valuable using what data already exists in a less organized format.

Tracking 7 Core University Competencies

At Karly’s institution, Grand View, their data comes from Blackboard and a SQL. They pull assignment and assessment data (rubric) and then they pull from their Student Information System as well as Blackboard. They have 7 rubrics for 7 core outcomes that gauge graduating students. You can see 4 year growth of students using the rubric over time throughout the whole university experience. They want to in the future include these rubrics in the Blackboard shell/templates – right now the faculty get the rubric from the University Portal to add to their course assignments.

The curriculum committee on campus developed these rubrics as part of the university assessment. It’s built into core classes as well as within the majors. The rubrics are NO POINTS in Blackboard – so that the rubrics never affect the student’s grade. They are a secondary evaluation in Blackboard – you can choose not to show it to the students at all. It’s a four year rubric. Everyone is assessed on the same scale, freshmen and seniors, both. The students don’t see the results on this rubric – it’s not their grade. They use the Goals feature of Blackboard to align each criteria on the rubric to the goals.

Karly worked with IT to collect:

  • From Blackboard: student name, course, assignment, dept, rubric, faculty name, core outcome
  • From the SIS: gender, major, GPA, term

So far they have pulled the report 3 times.

The next step is to be able to restrict access so that departments can see just their departments; and that faculty can see their data.

Their 7 Essential Competencies are:

  • Critical Inquiry (CI)
  • Quantitative Communication (Q)
  • Information Literacy (IL)
  • Global Awareness (GA)
  • Written Communication (W)
  • Vocation (V)
  • Oral Communication (O)

It’s interesting to me also that you have an Instructional Designer and Instructional Technology Specialist diving into the data needs for accreditation and assessment. The merging of a variety of skills and needs across campus. 

Wow! Inspiration for a lot of work to be done!

Using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software to Track Online Course Development

It’s USDLA national conference time again, and this year I presented in the first session: Using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software to Track Online Course Development.

I shared the story the story of how we went from mostly chaos in our course development to a tracked set of steps that care for the details while allowing for creativity in the learning design of the courses.

The tools we tried before:

The structure and design of our matching course development handbooks:

Our search for a way to track our process went through these two CRMs:

And we landed on CiviCRM due to its case management tools. When we start a course (case), CiviCRM preloads the 62 steps we currently have in our process.

We also discussed challenges and next steps in our continuing journey.

It was an interesting conversation. The audience shared ideas and processes as well. One idea that I took away from the audience was the concept of having reviewers involved in the development process. We do our reviewing and editing at the end of the process. It seems there are pros and cons either way.

What about you? Feel free to comment. Are you using any tool that you recommend for tracking the progress of online course development?

Advances in Instructional Design

Blogging the 2014 AECT International Convention.

Influence of Autonomy, Scaffolding and Audience on Engagement and Performance in Student-Centered Science Learning

Presenter: Eunbae Lee, University of Georgia

This research is design-based and mixed methods.

Student centered science learning is helping students to think and act like scientists. See Next Generation Science Standards.

Connections to writing also – narrative writing in science classes. Stories are a great way to communicate science to a lay audience. Students had to create research narratives – interview a scientist, learn about the research, and write a narrative, to understand the process of science.

Design-based research – work with a practitioner (i.e. teacher in the classroom), integrate known and hypothetical design guildlines as a solution to problems, and the validate, refine and use the design strategies in broader contexts. It’s socially responsible research because you are working with real problems. (More interviews on design-based research here.)

It was essential to start with a problem – and so she did a needs assessment to understand what was already happening in the class. The issue was that there were varying levels of engaging, and students were deviating from the instructor’s goals.

The theoretical framework included: self-determination theory, constructivism, constructionism. Conceptually, students were owning the learning (facilitating endorsement of goals, personal goal setting, choice and flexibility), learning it (explicit directions, support selection question prompts, integrate discipline terminology), and then sharing their learning with others (students had the option to publish, encourage thoughtful peer review).

Data sources included presurvey, postsurvey, scores on their writing, as well as student interview transcripts, observations, and document analysis.

The results suggest that the more engaged you are, the higher the learning. The study also looked at the changes in student motivation throughout the course. The results also suggest that writing for real-world audiences would allow for increased motivation, engagement, and performance.

Bits, Pieces, and Tidbits from AECT

Blogging the 2014 AECT International Convention.

A few ideas and notes from three sessions:

  • Relationship between Learning Management System Self-Efficacy, Situational Interest, Self-Regulation, and Learning Engagement of Online Learners presented by SANGHOON PARK, University of South Florida; and Jung Lim, University of South Florida
  • Dissertations in an Online Doctoral Program: Mentoring, Challenges, and Strategies by Swapna Kumar, University of Florida; Catherine Coe, University of Florida
  • An Analysis of Professional Practice Dissertations in an Online Educational Technology Program Kara
    Dawson, University of Florida; Swapna Kumar, University of Florida
  • Breakfast with the Champions: Charles Hodges and Thomas Reeves

LMS and Learner Engagement

Instruments to investigate further

  • LMSSE (learning management system self-efficacy) – it’s a measure of how well the students can use the LMS
  • Situated interest
  • Self-regulation measured by (MLSQ)
  • Types of engagement – behavioral engagement, emotional engagement, cognitive engagement
  • Engagement scale

Results and Ideas

  • LMS self-efficacy was not a significant predictor of all types of engagement (consistent with Sun & Rueda 2012)
  • Course design factors related to situational interest and self-regulation strategies have to be considered.
  • Experimental Sampling Method – Hektner 2007 – a method to use to analyze user experience along with the data logs that come from the LMS; can use it to create a learning experience dashboard

Dissertations in Online Programs

  • Top reason students finish their dissertation – the relationship with their mentor, dissertation chair, dissertation supervisor, depending on how it’s called at your university.
  • Literature in online mentoring is business and healthcare related; more research needs to be done
  • Students really wanted synchronous with their mentor; but they wanted feedback in writing, and track changes in Word
  • We won’t meet the needs for more and better higher education until professors become designers of learning experiences and not teachers. Larry Spence, 2001, in The Case Against Teaching
  • “Online teaching and learning is a wild ride.” Angelica Pazurek, University of Minnesota Learning Technologies
  • Brookfield’s adult learning theory – 2006 
  • FlipGrid – a different kind of discussion tool

Breakfast with the Champions

  • Research idea from the table for students working on theses and dissertations. Have a research fair where the students share their research every year… whether it’s their early idea idea or anywhere along the way to dissertation proposal to defending. Gives them practice in telling others about their research.
  • Self efficacy is very context dependent. Not just one instrument. Instrument will probably need to be revised if you select one.
  • You’ve heard of a cMOOC and an xMOOC, how about a pMOOC? Problem Based MOOC – making something for real clients. Thomas Reeves worked with colleagues in Australia to create a MOOC where participants were building OERs. Read about it in MOOCs: Let’s get REAL.

Say What? Designing, Facilitating, and Assessing for Intersubjectivity within Online Discussions

Blogging the 2014 AECT International Convention.

Yesterday Barb Hall and I facilitated a workshop on intersubjectivity. Our workshop materials are on our intersubjectivity wiki so you can explore further.

As always, when I work with Barb, I learn something new or find new concepts to ponder. I appreciate the partnership that allows for continued learning!

Notes, Ideas & Resources

Here are some notes, interesting ideas, and resources that came out of the workshop:

  • Conversation: Is constructionism a philosophy or a learning theory?
  • Remember: interaction is the process, and intersubjectivity is the product created when citing sources and peers in peer responses to synthesize new knowledge
  • We created synchronous intersubjectivity in the introductions – the participants talked to each other, and then came up with a table name and introduced the table (as opposed to just individual introductions)
  • Sentence starters can assist students in creating responses at higher levels – i.e. “I see it another way”. Accountable talk is a source for additional sentence starts.
  • Participant Representation of Intersubjectivity

    One of the differences to reach intersubjectivity is actually thinking about what the other person said and referring to what they said in your response

  • The difficulty of making connections or thinking of a way to bridge ideas. A safe place is needed online to practice these types of responses, a place that allows for experimenting with the ideas.
  • Taxonomies other than Bloom’s: Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, Hess Cognitive Rigor Matrix of Webb & Bloom; Marzano’s New Taxonomy
  • When teaching adult learners, it is important to include their experience in the discussion prompt
  • For discussion prompts in the STEM fields, have students share how they solved the problem. There is a right answer, but there are different ways of getting there. They can learn from each other’s methods of problem solving.
  • It seems also that creating more structure and direction for peer responses would help. Some of the structures from this Critical Thinking site could be helpful for requirements for peer responses.
  • Tip for facilitators: use the IAM phase and try to work at phase 3 – modeling for the students making connections between the different peer responses.
  • I’m still mulling over the tendency to write discussion requirements about logistics (1 initial post, 2 replies, post by Wed, etc.) vs. the possibilities around writing discussion requirements that are content/intersubjectivity based.
  • F2F teaching techniques such as group roles, fishbowl discussions, 360 evals are all useful online as well.

IAM Phase Sentence Starters

1. Sharing and Comparing

  • I agree because…
  • Something like that happened to me when…
  • I saw the same thing happen…
  • What do you mean by…
  • So, you think the problem is…
  • How would you describe…

2. Dissonance

  • While you think, I actually think…
  • I am not sure I agree…
  • Is it that you think X, or is it that you think Y?
  • Consider that the textbook says…
  • I don’t think we really disagree, it’s just that…

3. Negotiation and Co-Construction

  • If we use your example, then…
  • So taken together, we’re saying…
  • While that may be true, consider…
  • While I still disagree with X, I do think you’re / we agree about Y…
  • So, you’re really thinking that X means Y, when I think that X means Z…

4. Testing Tentative Constructions

  • That hasn’t been my experience, though…
  • That disagrees with Author’s findings that…
  • This doesn’t make sense when you consider…
  • This makes sense when consider Author stated that…
  • I don’t know if that would apply for the X community…

5. Statement & Application of Newly Constructed Knowledge

  • Let’s apply this new idea to X…
  • I could use this new idea when I…
  • In thinking this through, I learned that…
  • So if what we’re saying is accurate, then…
  • As a result of this discussion, I now think…

Getting to Know AECT Thought Leaders

Blogging the 2014 AECT International Convention.

I’m new to AECT, and some colleagues recommended that I attend the Breakfast with Champions on Thursday morning. I’m also new to higher ed educational technology. AECT seems to consider itself THE organization for educational technology and instructional design for higher education. My take is that it is much more research-based and less cool-tool-based than ISTE; more like AERA in it’s research and theory focus.

Because my training is in K12 ed tech, online learning, and leadership, I’m not yet familiar with the big names at this convention. So, I’m doing my own little investigation here to get a feel for the conversations that happen via AECT events.

So I’m listing here the names for the Champions Breakfast, and then linking to info about them, and what their main field/area of research seems to be at a quick glance. I welcome comments and corrections!

Top Professionals

To Tweet or Not to Tweet; Facilitating Personal Values Formation in Students in Online Religion Courses

Blogging at the Online Learning Consortium International Conference 2014

Renate Hood (University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, USA)

Notes and Thoughts

  • How to help students form personal values and built affective competencies
  • Aims at affective maturity in terms of civic and social responsibilities
  • Types of courses: value exploration courses;  cultural exploration courses; service oriented learning;
  • How important is the affective domain in online teaching? for instructors; for the job market? How important is emotional intelligence for employers?
  • How do you teach students empathy? how do you teach empathy online?
  • How do you include reflection components so that students learn to care about topics/issues like service learning, social justice, etc. without telling them to care – it’s a tendency of some institutions; how do you help them grow on their own; and then how do you do that online?
  • “All reciprocal social interactions take place in “an ecological system” within which formation must be facilitated – Lowe & Lowe 2010
  • Socio-ecology is affected by transactional distance, social presence, existing personal values, and external interactions such as mentorships
  • How do we teach students to be more empathetic to those who learn something slower than they do? who can forgive themselves if they fail? who can work with diverse others? And then how do we do that online or in distance education
  • Mentorships in smaller measures incrementally in courses vs. waiting till the practicum
  • Make use of the community at large; designing offline experiences that include family and community interactions
  • In the course design – need higher social presence and lower transactional distance
  • Include more values formation elements: collaborative learning; learner centered assignments; include a degree of creative license; what is the role of the instructor in this situation?
  • How to allow for students to be honest on what they really care about or not; netiquette is important
  • Role play sites / cartoon sites / animation / avatars – to help students wrestle with affective content and act out situations
  • The big questions are around assessment of values – psychology could help design assessments and surveys

Thought provoking session.