Tag Archives: online learning

Supporting Learning – Student Outreach

Fall 2018 my department will launch a 100% online Graduate Certificate in Writing. This certificate program has been approved on campus for a number of years, but there has been no advertising, no support, no enrollment. To launch this program officially, it needed an overhaul, it needed curriculum to meet the needs of 21st century learners. So my recommendation to the committee was to streamline the courses to be completed, and deliver them 100% online in a year time frame.

In shifting to the online platform, many of the faculty in my department are nervous about teaching graduate courses (especially never before taught graduate courses) through the online platform. So I asked to lead a faculty reading group to support faculty in discussing teaching composition online – or Online Writing Instruction (OWI). We’re reading Applied Pedagogies: Strategies for Online Writing Instruction edited by Daniel Ruefman and Abigail G Scheg.

So far (I’m reading chapter 6 of 11) a question/concern regularly raised is “how to succeed in an online course”. Some chapters raise approaches to support student learning in online courses while others focus on instructor success (yes, teaching an online class SHOULD be different than teaching a face-to-face!). What’s important about these conversations is the student-centered focus on success in an online platform BOTH success with the online delivery (finding things) and with learning (content).

One of the automated ways of refocusing students in the digital classroom (even in f2f delivery) is student outreach. When students don’t submit assignments, when students don’t access pages, have the system automatically email.

CAVEAT: some students print everything! There are ways in some LMS systems to automatically print files in a module folder that don’t register a student having accessed specific pages. Setting up automatic student outreach may be overkill for EVERY page because there is no guarantee students haven’t accessed in print.

I’m also reading through The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating your course which emphasizes showing students the larger structures of organizing content knowledge so they know how to model the background knowledge you’ve created, where individual module pieces fit in, etc.

So, I want to combine these two ideas – to support a learner-centered classroom, how can I use automated messaging to support student content learning so they know how to make sense of their learning AND recognize learning? Instead of using Student Outreach messages as “hey, I see you didn’t submit the thing, how can I help” what if they focused back on learning “this assignment fits here on the learning map” (I default to pirate themed designs as we’re marauders – aka land pirates). The message could be tailored then to students who submitted and students who didn’t. If all students realize they are being direct messages in support of their learning, will they be more active agents in their own learning?

At this point – while still reading both books and prepping Spring 2018 syllabi – i’m still considering how these ideas come together to support students learning. But, I think it’s important to note – OWI offers new ways to be teachers, new ways to be students, we should consider how these new ways shift our questions and our focus. We should keep addressing questions like “how to succeed in the online classroom” but I think the focus should be more positive, even more positive learner-focused (growth mindset and/or mindfulness ideas would help me flesh this out here, but I’m trying to keep my findings more brief than that). How can these new tools, seemingly designed to track student submissions and engage students with things in the course, be used to teach students how to learn in was that positively effect learning AND engagement?

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Discussion Boards and Online Teaching

I was reading a thread in an online teaching forum about late discussion board posts. Many of the educators were willing to allow some points beyond their syllabus stated policy for comprehension, but not engagement. However, one poster equated the discussion board to the classroom essentially stating educators don’t hold make-up classes for students so why award points for late work.

I should also frame this with the fact that I have a fairly loose late policy – each student has one free late assignment – no questions asked (I don’t want to know about the vomit, or the grandma, or the dog, etc.) AS LONG AS THEY NOTIFY ME IN ADVANCE. They only need to notify me a few minutes in advance – the policy is an automatic yes if you’ve asked – I see this as a way to get better papers and slightly less stressed students.

So with the understanding that late policies are set by instructors and institutions, and vary greatly, I want to focus on the idea that the discussion board = class.

When I wrote my dissertation, Scott Warnocks Teaching Writing Online: How and Why was one of the most comprehensive texts about online composition courses. It still holds a high place on mosts lists (include this one). Warnock recommends instructors translate their face-to-face curriculum online, emphasizing the writing possibilities in digital spaces. In many ways, this reliance on translate or migrate is similar to the discussion board I’m following – instructors make a direct one to one connection between what happens in face-to-face class and what therefore must happen online. However, this overvalues the face-to-face classroom model.

Not all classrooms look the same. I need to say this again, Instructors choose to teach their classes in ways that meet curricular goals effectively for them. Not all classrooms look the same. So, why do online courses needs to look just the face-to-face course?

I understand and agree that many students are new to online learning – reinventing the wheel with design and learning decisions students don’t understand in the online classroom space can be problematic – instead of learning content students focus on understanding navigation, design, and basic instructions. I don’t want to purposely confuse students, but I also think if we continue to tell them that discussion boards = class they will continue to phone-in their discussion posts. Not all students thrive on active participation in face-to-face classrooms, but discussion boards don’t offer the type of flexibility that classrooms do (it’s harder to notice if a student is struggling and/or disliking the forced conversation in posts the way instructors can notice in the classroom).

In the Spring semester I’m leading a small departmental reading group about teaching online composition. I’m really hoping to develop conversations like this – how does design influence how students learn, and how can online composition courses use that to facilitate better learning? Let’s move away from an online needs to resemble a face-to-face and begin the questioning and the inquiry from the point of learning in digital space. Since learning is the goal, let’s reimagine ourselves as less point calculators for discussions that should resemble a classroom, and consider where we can design moments of learning about writing, where meaningful feedback can be returned for student learning and writing improvement. I hope I can quickly shift everyone away from using a tool because it ‘mimics’ the classroom, and focus on using tools that support good learning about writing.

This ended up being a rather hopeful – my year ahead post. Well, tis the season and all 🙂

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Twitter in the Classroom

I’ve been using Twitter in my courses for over a year now, yay! And so far i’ve collected tons of great (anecdotal) evidence that Twitter helps. So now it’s time to actually test the response.

Similar to my last post, my foray into classroom tweeting began with the desire to help students (online graduate students specifically) engage with course material and each other. Twitter seemed like a more effective platform for that engagement because students could post ‘notes’ and then respond to other student notes. The reduction in characters from a fully developed, well articulated discussion board post would, in theory, help students engage with the material so they could then write the fully developed, well articulated, thoughtful discussion board posts I was looking for.

As I begin to put together my IRB paperwork, I need a more clear research question. I began using Twitter to help students write about reading, to help them process their own notes on a deeper level. So an obvious research question here is: do students engage on a deeper level with course material?

But, I need measurable outcomes, measurable data. Here the most obvious is the tweets, i need to collect student tweets to understand trends in twitter use.

Going back to my anecdotal evidence, different classes used Twitter very differently. So, if I gather data from 3 hashtags this term, could I encounter 3 very different uses of Twitter? So then should I start with a more basic research question, when assigned tweets as a writing assignment, what do students do? How do students use Twitter when a required part of the classroom?

No matter what way I lean, IRB will need to go through, and I’ll need to make some decisions about comparing course data since I’m teaching a freshman level composition course, and a junior level composition course. To add to the ‘how do students use Twitter’ I could also look to the data for trend differences in use between the Freshman and Junior level writing courses which would indicate some connection back to understanding writing.

I’ll keep working through these ideas, but the use of Twitter builds upon my eventual hope to incorporate OER into the classroom, can Twitter and required ‘note’ tweets help students engage with course material (the problem here is what does engagement mean? and if I look for traditional ideas of engagement according to comp theory, can I ensure students know what that means and care enough to actually do that, so then am I measuring what students understand to be required versus authentic engagement…….oh the pandora’s box here).

I’ll update further with where I end up with this question – I have some Uses of Facebook in the Composition Classroom articles to read to help solidify my ideas before I submit the concrete proposal.

In the mean time, how do you tweet?

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OER: how do students use them in the classroom?

A year ago this summer I began using Twitter in my classroom with the long term goal of implementing OER (Open Educational Resources). I attended all the teach-ins presented by Faculty Professional Development at my previous institution, and often heard professors struggle in the ed tech sessions with how students learn from technology. While I try to use technology for meaningful learning I struggled with a more basic problem: how do students learn from Reading Online. As yet I haven’t seen an answer. I haven’t even seen much of an engaged discussion about this in relation to OER (and I’ve found nothing on Pinterest but hand notes for K-12 reading, Pinterest is now failing me in sparking brilliance!!!)

Here I will outline my reasons for seeing struggle in a fairly one sided argument (with myself) to continue to move toward the adoption of OER in the classroom. I want to cut down book costs, but I’m still finding students learn better when I assign a book versus an article (accounting for equal level of density between the two). I see huge connections to information literacy development that is necessary outside the classroom, so this isn’t just a cost thing for me.

Problem #1: It’s RARE that  student will come to class with the article printed, while mine is all marked up, noted, questions listed for class on the front, and often color tabbed so I can direct the discussion, check understanding and use the article for engaged learning in game days. On Game Days when students were asked to reference sections of an article, students flipped through pages, back and forth, back and forth, with what seemed like little direction or idea on how to focus and find what they needed in the text.

Problem #2: I don’t know how to transfer my own reading process to an online resource – so how can I guide students to do the same in a freshmen comp course using only OER?

Problem #3: OER are not designed to be printed, so what is the relationship between reading and taking usable notes? Similar to other online debates in relation to education (how do you authenticate the identity of an online student? – ummmm do you check id’s in f2f courses? like that debate) – this is a fine point question. Students don’t always/usually know how to take notes on their reading in a usable way to begin with so why would they know online – so then what do I do?

So it’s problem #3 that I believe provides the entry point (and the connection between maker education, digital rhetoric, and education that I strive for in my research) to OER. But I feel like I need to *solve* #2 to address #3. I need to find ways to take and retain usable notes from all my online reading. I need to find a way to store and access information, article references, annotated bibs for all my school-related reading first. If I can model one approach, and recommend good approaches that didn’t work for me, I’ll be in a place to help guide students through OER.

I think this is a good time to jump in with the why – why is this important. When I first started working at ASU with the hopes of a job paying for my master’s I worked at the front desk of a department. I had calls for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week asking for information that could easily be found on the ASU webpages. I became really good at finding those sources and sending them. Information retrieval, search terminology, all of that is a necessary information literacy skill (yay one more thing that needs to be taught and discussed in an already jam packed semester). The good news here, if I have an ARG for this!! The point is, in a job, this was one of the first skills I was expected to develop, QUICKLY. When I mastered that skill, I was promoted because information retrieval is a skill not many fine tuned. Hopefully the connection here is a bit obvious, students may have to search for articles and ideas for school, but they’ll similarly search in the work world based on modern uses of computers. So reading the internet and retaining/using information read is both an important school-based AND work-based skill (we’re mattress shopping right now, it’s also an adult skill).

The difference here, using my example (and drawing from Gee’s works) is need – I needed to demonstrate strong information literacy so I didn’t sit behind a desk my entire career (plus moving on helped my grad class schedule – so double need). I retain articles and blogs better when I consider using the information in class. I remember romance novels in more detail when I imagine the blog review I would write when I work up the nerve to start my romance review blog. Just like in videogames (Gee) the need to use information increases retention.

So my struggle with OER won’t be solved today, because I don’t know how (similar to textbooks and in-class articles) to make it seem necessary to students. I also don’t think enough research has been conducted on how students approach reading OER versus textbooks to begin to know how to address it. Through my Twitter assignment, I assign necessary tweets reflecting on readings, connecting performance to grade to artificially inflate ‘need’ but I think there are better approaches. So for the next 3 months (Fall term) my goal is to find ways to use online resources without printing. Wish me luck 😉

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online courses and twitter

when I initially began requiring twitter use in an online graduate class, the goal was to understand note taking behavior to attempt to help future students as textbooks for purchase phase out of the lower division undergraduate curriculum. Graduate students and upper division students continue to purchase textbooks for a variety of reasons, so their note taking could be similar to mine with underlining physical pages. There is the possibility in all cases that students simply purchase the electronic book for cost or preference reasons. All together, the goal is to find alternative ways of taking, tracking and keeping notes.

During the first semester I saw bonds begin to form with groups of students, who then used twitter to maintain and continue class connections. Students began directing tweets at each other as part of their normal course tweeting. In this way, the course twitter feed began to resemble a class discussion more than a forum based discussion board does. yes, there are character limits, but the overall feel of the space became conversational and bonding.

So this semester I began requiring twitter use in 1 face-to-face senior-level undergrad course and 1 online graduate course. I also offered the option to online grads in a second course – although as expected the use has been extremely limited here, mostly my previous twitter students posting messages and directly contacting me for immediate feedback.

In my online graduate course, now in week 4 i’m finding an amazing amount of engagement, interaction and discussion through twitter. Observations:

  1. Twitter engagement and interaction improved after I posted grades
  2. Twitter engagement and interaction improved after students began conversing more and note taking less, but the conversations are still mostly focused on the readings and highly engaged
  3. Not all students read and post at the same time, so groupings of high conversation activity form around people reading and posting together – which adds to engagement and conversation
  4. Students (online AND f2f) enjoy the direct contact to me – they run ideas by me, let me know when assignments will be late and generally keep me updated.

Potential updates in future use

  1. I’m intending to implement Twitter in the other online course. I really think the combination of twitter engagement and DB forum engagement is adding to learning – i have no data for this, it’s all observational based on conversation. The conversation in the twitter class is amazing
  2. I’m intending to build twitter into the questing in my upper division undergrad course. I have blog posting, as blogs are a requirement, but I think there are ways twitter can develop as professional a connection
  3. I still have students not filling out profile entirely who don’t appear in the class hashtag list – I need to play with settings more to ensure everyone has equal opportunity to share in the conversation

Overall, while Twitter sets a character limit for messages, when used appropriately, it can provide space for conversation and engagement with course readings that compliments the DB forums provided in an LMS. I feel online students can learn more from the combination of interaction types.

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Backchannel and Notes

In a summer grad class I taught I began using Twitter. I’ve heard amazing ideas and stories of uses in f2f courses for creating a backchannel for students to participate in class, and to identify when information needs further discussion. This second idea influenced my adoption of this technology in an online only grad class – could I use Twitter to create a digital archive of the course, similar to class discussions, and also use those notes to address any struggles with course materials. I specifically designed the assignment to create a store house of notes from reading, so students could use all the notes from all the students, plus LMS discussions, as they created their theory papers. It provided alternative approaches to course material, requiring students to find ways to write virtual notes about each reading in 140 characters or less.

Many students struggled in the beginning – thinking of notes in such short bursts was difficult to them. They wanted to write paragraph length notes. After the first couple weeks, Tweets were more effective for note purposes, and more useful to students as they wrote their paper.

Additionally, these notes demonstrated the learning and focus of students, so they served as an unofficial backchannel for me – I could gauge the responses of students and prepare for their projects more effectively based on their understanding, discussion and embracing of the course readings.

Moving forward with this assignment, I’ll be more overt with the backchannel. Students who experimented with Twitter were willing to include my handle when questions arose, and they were happy to engage with my posts when I responded, but few reached out to other students, instead preferring to post in isolation. I’ll work on engagement in the Fall as I use Twitter again in courses to further support engagement with the course, course materials, course concepts, and Twitter as a learning tool.

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what is public?: or, public discussions about tool use

Inside Higher Ed recently published an article on Saida Grundy’s Twitter comments questioning masculinity that landed both Grundy and BU in hot water. IHE raises the question what should academics and scholars keep in mind when discussing their research topics more broadly or more publicly. My question in relation to this, what is publicly?

I have – clearly – a Twitter account, where I follow a few mom bloggers as part of one of my research paths and personal interest. Predominantly I follow education technology bloggers/twitter writers, gamification writers/discussions, and higher education general information. I have a handful of news sources there too. So for me, the majority of my Twitter public seems very academically focused.

I tweet notes for my courses – just as I’m asking my students to do – assuming the hashtag minimizes the public reading that tweet. When those outside my courses read the tweets, I’m assuming they see the tweet as academically inclined and use that lens to make sense of the ed tech/maker movement/digital message. I understand I’m making a lot of assumptions about the sense making of my readership, but I feel most academics fall victim to this. If I follow other academics on Twitter, they become my audience. When I ask students to use Twitter, they also become my audience. I continue to write from my disciplinary perspective as that represents my followers and who I follow. It also shapes my usage, which will influence how I compose my message. I will write academically, with all the bias and lingo, because that’s who I assume is reading.

So when IHE raises the question, what happens when our academic discussions reach a wider public, I’d like to problematize that with what is public? what happens when our intended usage of a space is understood by followers, but is misunderstood by outsiders. We saw all the *fun* gamergate caused with Twitter trolls levying death threats and asking why anyone took them seriously, and a small group of women both academic and not who continue to feel unsafe due to these *uses* of Twitter. Previously a professor lost his job for twitter comments, now Grundy similarly experiences issues with her use. What all these examples have in common is usage – authors expect understanding and sense making to happen in a specific way, instead outsiders coopt message and interpret them differently.

So what happens when the public doesn’t understand variety in usage because the academic discussion about rhetorical uses and functions of internet spaces sounds too academic (it is, but it’s one of my favorite in my field), so no one considers variety in usage and the possible negative ramifications? Importantly, how do we (and who is we?) start and sustain public discussions about uses of digital tools? How can these discussions overcome the erroneous assumption that *everyone* uses the tools the exact same way as me, because it’s the right way?

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maps….maps and learning…..maps

Have I mentioned that i’m terrible at reading maps in games….well in real life too…….but I love the concept of maps and how they connect ideas, places, people, cultures, learning. i’m considering the meaning in their design that helps a learner connect ideas, geographically, in cyberspace – how the design helps learners build upon concepts both geographically and in cyberspace. this visual connection between ideas in a game like Candy Crush helps me as a learner understand that elements of difficulty experienced in the previous levels will be experienced in subsequent levels. Part of how I define a ‘good’ game is the repeated testing of design elements in new, harder manners, and how I as the player understand how to make meaning from those designed elements. At a very high level, these goals mimic course goals. I want students to start with basic concepts, to build on the complexity of those concepts in their learning, thinking, speaking and writing, then produce a final product (which is the test phase) that demonstrates their learning of all these concepts (course elements by design).

However, we don’t typically consider course content in this manner. We traditionally view course content as a body of information, facts, ideas that must be memorized and regurgitated. Chronologically we can see the connection between ideas, but we don’t always see the skills at play in learning this body of information, we especially don’t see the skills we learn as we manipulate, rethink, question, discuss this body of information we’ve learned in a class. Instead we see a class like British Literature as requiring us to read a specific set of books, regurgitate the information on the books and write a paper at the end. Instead, what this class actually asks learners to do is engage with British Literature and culture, the history that influenced and produced those ideas and those works, how we see them today, what their place is within the academy, how we talk about them, why we talk about them, and what we can do with them. This actually plays out in different ways in classes, and we almost never discuss this. So how do we move individual classes toward discussing these practices. So we’re back to maps. Can mapping the practices engaged in and defining them as a group help learners visually understand the practices they engage as students of a course? Will this awareness help them understand their own learning better? What other benefits can we get from this (agency, identity, deeper learning, more engaged learning, etc)?

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