Deconstructing out-of-class discussions

This post will be an expansion on my earlier thoughts on developing a platform for out-of-class, discussion-based assignments. To quickly review, my goal is to “snow-day-proof” my classes and also create a framework for online discussion that I can use for planned or impromptu out-of-class assignments. I envision a three-step process for these assignments: (1) initial reading, (2) on-line reflection through GChat, and (3) collaborative responses to questions on a Google Doc. My goal with this post is to deconstruct the assignment’s various components (listed below), and raise questions to force myself to confront the scope of what it will take to prepare this assignment for actual use.

  1. Content
    While my goal is to develop this assignment in a content-free way, I still have to consider the types of content that I can use. Since I plan to use this activity both for discussions of assigned readings (which will tend to be more challenging and complex, and require advanced reading on students’ own time) and for impromptu snow days that arise unexpectedly (for which readings must be short and easily digestible), I must structure the activity with both of these readings in mind. But will any of the questions that I consider here have different answers depending on which of these two types of readings will be discussed? I must keep this question in mind as I proceed through the rest of the list.
  1. Group formation
    I have recently begun to think more and more about how to optimally put together groups for discussions in class, so I am wondering whether similar (or different) questions have to be asked when it comes to forming groups for online discussion out of class. Should I use the same degree of caution when attempting to achieve gender balance or aptitude balance? Should I use stable groups across multiple meetings or reconfigure groups each time? Specifically, if I want to get the most out of online discussion, would it be problematic, or helpful, to put people together who have never worked together? What are the advantages and disadvantages associated with the tradeoff between familiarity and novelty?
  1. Length of time for the assignment
    To facilitate communication across students in groups, the assignment must have a finite time to be completed. For snow-day-replacement classes, the length of time would naturally be one class period. For discussions of external readings, longer periods of time (but probably not much longer given coordination challenges) might be desirable. But how long is too long? And how will the construction of specific assignments change depending on how long I set aside for the discussion?
  1. Instructions
    The instructions will play a critical role in setting expectations, motivating students and setting the ground rules. What needs to be included in them in order to make the assignment meaningful and facilitate learning? What ground rules need to be established? How can I model successful GChat transcripts and answers to discussion questions?What do students need to be told in order to get them to take the assignment seriously and interact thoughtfully and respectfully with their group members? What do I need to tell them about what I expect the final product to look like, and how should I convey information with respect to how I will be grading it?
  1. Grading
    Speaking of grading, how can I assess the quality of the group’s overall work? What criteria can I use to judge both the final product (the ultimate answers to discussion questions) and the intermediate inputs that lead up to it (the chat dialogue that preceded the ultimate answers)? How can I assess the quality of relative contributions, both in terms of making my own judgment of the work and having students rate their own and their group members’ contributions? I envision a rubric that makes my approach to grading explicit, which will be provided to students along with the assignment’s instructions.
  1. Providing feedback to students
    After collecting the assignments, what feedback should I provide, both with respect to the work produced and the quality of the discussion? Should I spend class time debriefing? Should I provide written feedback and, if so, should it be specific to each group or general? Should I share specific responses to the entire class? Will the answers to these questions depend on specific readings?
  1. Learning and adjusting
    Once the work is collected and graded, how can I assess the quality of the assignment? How will I know whether learning goals were achieved? How will I know whether changes need to be made? Given successful and unsuccessful experiences, what should I be looking for in terms of readings that I can use for this assignment in the future? Reflecting on all of the questions, from all of the topics in this list, how will I know if there are things I can do to improve across all of these areas?


In future posts, I will turn my attention toward answering these questions. But this preliminary exercise has made me realize that I have my work cut out for me, and that I could benefit immensely from other tech fellows’ perspectives on these questions. So any help would be much appreciated!

“Clear Vision” flickr photo by C.P.Storm https://flickr.com/photos/cpstorm/167418602 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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Building a New Approach to Online Discussions

working-in-snow-620x826Earlier this semester, I experimented with a “virtual class” on a day when snow closed down the college. Had there been class, students would have discussed a reading in small groups. Typically during these sessions, students spend roughly 2/3 of the class period working through discussion questions. The final 1/3 is spent debriefing with the entire class, hearing from the groups directly and collectively filling in the blanks. On the snow day, I figured that students could use GChat and Google Docs to collaboratively answer these same discussion questions, allowing me to use this time productively and not have to push my course schedule back. Students connected with their groups over GChat and typed answers on a Google document that was shared with me.

Jumping ahead in time, I am currently putting together the first midterm in this course. As I debate the set of questions to put on the exam, I am reflecting on what was actually accomplished during this virtual class. It was a way to get something out of this brief period of time when I knew that students could get together, and it enabled me to keep the course on schedule. But what did the activity accomplish aside from these basic goals? Could I be confident that students understood the key components of the reading? Could I know who was driving the discussion, who contributed to the final answers, and who simply was passively along for the ride?

Upon reflection, I cannot answer any of these questions. While the activity was not a total waste, it did not successfully mimic the learning that would have occurred in a regular class; it did not allow me to assess the degree to which students understood and appreciated the reading. As a result, I do not feel comfortable including questions about this reading on the exam.

I know that I, with the help of technology, can do much better. I am seeking to substantially enhance my approach to online discussions, with the dual goals of “snow-day-proofing” my courses and creating modular discussion-based assignments that can take place in, or out of, class. In the initial stages, I am taking a content-free approach, thinking about general best practices, methods of instruction and tools of assessment that help me think through the various challenges and strategies for dealing with them. How can I assess relative contributions? How can I develop ground rules, and provide instructions to encourage full participation and successful collaboration? How can I use chat transcripts to help me answer these questions without being overly intrusive? What would a successful transcript look like, and how can I model successful collaboration for students at the start of a semester? What kind of rubric can I use to set expectations?

The sheer number of these important questions (all of which have to be answered if this approach is to reach its potential) tells me that this journey will not be an easy one. But the payoffs are potentially high enough to make an initial time commitment well worth it.

Image Credit: Susan Dickerson-Lange

Snow Day Plan – Do You Have One?

Snowscape at Connecticut College

As you prepare for the semester, this is a good time to review some of our “weatherproofing” suggestions. What do you do when classes are unexpectedly canceled? Share what has worked for you in the comments!

  • Several low-effort ways to reach students when you can’t come to campus were featured in Snow Day Resources: Don’t Let Snow Stop You! Ideas include recording short, 5-minute screencast videos using Jing or whiteboard apps such as Doceri, Screen Chomp, or Educreations, meeting virtually using Google Hangouts or Zoom, or utilizing the many collaborative features of Drive.
  • We discussed strategies for communicating with students – well ahead of the snow day and during – in our post, Weatherproofing Resources.
  • Have a little more time? Our follow-up post to a weatherproofing workshop included many recommendations, from recording full lectures to facilitating synchronous and asynchronous discussions.

See you on campus soon!

Swivl toward Lecture Recording

This semester Joe Schroeder is using a Swivl, a robotic mount that holds an iPad or smartphone, to record lectures in Behavioral Neuroscience. With the use of a remote that the presenter wears, the Swivl tracks a moving person and uses the camera on the iPad or smartphone to record. Lectures or presentation are stored and saved in the cloud using Swivl’s cloud service, and shared with students through a link.

Swivl robot
Swivl robot

Why Lecture Record

Last year Joe had a problem: several students were going to miss class but he needed to cover important material. He asked about ways to record his lecture, and we suggested he try the Swivl. He gave it a try, and found the technology easy and convenient to use. This year, due to scheduling difficulties in Behavioral Neuroscience (PSY/BIO 314), he has one student who needs the class but is unable to attend one day a week. Recording the class on this day was the only way that this student could enroll. Remembering the Swivl, he decided to record the Friday lectures.

How it Works – Technology

Joe assigned one student as the class videographer, and this student is responsible for ensuring that the device it turned on, recording, and working throughout the class period. After class, Joe initially downloaded the video, saved it as an .mp4 file, then uploaded that to Moodle (through Kaltura). This process, while simple, was time consuming. More recently, with the introduction of Swivl’s cloud service, which automatically processes the video after recording and provides a link to the video, he simply copies that link and shares it with all students through Moodle. While Swivl provides tools for editing, the integration of slides and video, and other features, Joe does not spend time editing.

Excerpt of Joe's Moodle site, showing links to outside resources, lecture slides, and class recordings.
Excerpt of Joe’s Moodle site, showing links to outside resources, lecture slides, and class recordings.

How it Works – Pedagogy

After a few weeks of recording one day a week, Joe decided to record every class. Initially he had concerns about attendance – would students attend a class they knew would be recorded and could be watched later? He found that this practice did not affect attendance. Students value class time for the interaction with Joe and fellow students, as well as the ability to ask questions and check for understanding – this is a challenging class and expectations are high. In addition, the course does not use a textbook (see When Risks Pay Off in the Classroom), but a collection of resources – an online animated textbook from University of Toronto, simulation software, videos, articles, and more. Students use the recordings as another resource to understand course material.

Final Thoughts and Next Steps

While the full impact of providing class recordings is not yet known, mid-semester feedback from students is positive. Using Swivl is low-effort, but may potentially have a high impact for all students in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Beyond lecture capture, I can imagine additional uses for the Swivl. Students or faculty could use it to practice presentations and review the recording, students could rehearse a performance, then send the video to faculty or peers for feedback.

If you have questions or are interested in exploring ways to record your classes, contact your Instructional Technology liaison.

On the Road! What we learned at the Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts conference

Faculty and Staff going to Bryn Mawr
Ann Marie Davis, Karen Gonzalez Rice, Diane Creede, Jessica McCullough, Suzuko Knott, Lyndsay Bratton, Anthony Graesch on their way to Bryn Mawr.

Last week 7 faculty and staff from Connecticut College took a road trip to Bryn Mawr for the Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts conference to present the Technology Fellows Program (TFP). During the two day conference, we learned a lot listening to the presentations, talking to each other and to colleagues at other institutions. Here are a few things we learned.

Anthony Graesch: I collected a handful of inspiring ideas across the various sessions, including some new ways of framing knowledge building in my curriculum.  But I was most struck by the realization that it might take 10 Blended Learning Conferences to be the equivalent of one full cycle of the TFP.  Only in its second year of operation, our TFP combination of workshops and seminars is resulting in a sustained conversation about the role(s) of digital technology in teaching and learning at Connecticut College.  Over the last academic year, we’ve seen considerable growth in collaborations across the campus, with teaching-focused innovations being co-authored and implemented by faculty fellows, digital technologists, and librarians.  One of our emergent goals (realized during our long drive to and from Philadelphia) is to make even more evident the products of these collaborations.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, we aim to use digital technology to better achieve this goal!

Suzuko Knott: I was particularly excited to see so many panels dedicated to world language learning and the blended classroom. It was interesting to hear how other institutions are implementing technology in consortia to address issues of low course enrollments and student access to world language learning at schools with limited course offerings and resources. But more importantly, I was struck by how the conversations we have been having in the TFP are rooted in pedagogical best practices that will no doubt help us steer clear of many of the challenges we heard voiced at the conference. Synchronous online distance learning certainly has many great things to offer, but only when the pedagogical benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks – bad audio connections (a real problem for foreign language learning), stationary teachers, limited sense of community – that the technologically mediated classroom often has.

Jessica McCullough, Karen Gonzalez Rice & Lyndsay Bratton: We were all excited about the same presentation! Danny Jauregui, Associate Professor of Art at Whittier College creates digital worksheets in Moodle to accompany readings in his sophomore-level art theory course. He found that many students had difficulty critically engaging with the reading and that too much class time was given to explaining or summarizing readings. To solve this problem, he created “Critical Reading Worksheets” in Moodle that required students to answer a series of guiding questions for each reading. One question asked students to summarize the reading using 5-6 hashtags – requiring them to distill each reading into its main points – then order the hashtags in order of importance. This, along with word clouds he generated from their responses to this and other questions, formed the basis of a conversation about the readings. He discovered that students were better prepared to discuss readings, the tools helped place students at the center of the discussion instead of the professor, and that students appreciated using the worksheets.

Ann Marie Davis: This was my second time attending the conference. A year ago when I attended I was inspired to learn about the growing movement where faculty, staff, and administrators are exploring best practices for blended learning within the context of the liberal arts. As a Tech Fellow, I was especially inspired to learn from the examples and case studies that were presented by fellow colleagues at institutions similar to Connecticut College.

The conference also allowed me to better appreciate the TFP, which is supported by the College’s Dean of Faculty and VP of Information Services, and is one of the most innovative programs among the liberal arts colleges. The TFP is already ahead of the curve, offering an institutional model in terms of its support for faculty innovation in teaching. With this knowledge, I was eager to return to the conference this year to share information about TFP with other peer institutions. It was a great opportunity to showcase the program as well as discuss  case studies in which technology-infused assignments have pushed teaching and learning to new levels.

Diane Creede: Faculty at Smith College presented on their use of a software program called Knowledge Forum and how it enabled asynchronous online discussion and knowledge building. Their use of this tool got me to thinking about use of the online discussion forums in Moodle and how they might be used differently (better?). Students were instructed in specific practices for online (and offline) discussion that more effectively increased their knowledge. For instance, responding to other students posts by beginning with the phrase “Building on your comments,….”; or using direct quotes from course readings; or avoiding opinion-based posts, such as those that start with “I think…”.

Zooming into Language Acquisition

My current Japanese 400C provides students multiple opportunities to study collaboratively with the upper-level Japanese students at Mount Holyoke College (MHC), MA by using technologies. This course employs content and language integrated learning (CLIL) approach, and students are expected to gain the new knowledge about the Japanese language through the reading materials, which my friend at MHC has been developing.

The current upper-level Japanese courses at Connecticut College (CC) are facing some administrative as well as pedagogical issues: 1) recent years there are chronically small enrollments; 2) the level of individual student’s language skills varies widely; 3) it is difficult for each student to find a peer who obtains the same Japanese proficiency level in class; 4) there is lack of peer pressure due to familiarization among themselves as well as with instructors, which creates an ineffective atmosphere to motivate the students to improve their language skills.

These issues are not unique at Connecticut College (CC); rather I found that the Japanese programs at small liberal arts colleges faced similar issues. New technologies have enabled us to supply students at both campuses with peer-reading sessions through Zoom, email communication among the students as well as between the students and both instructors, Zoom presentation sessions, and survey after presentation practice as well as final presentation in Google forms. We are also recording peer-reading sessions and Zoom presentations, and uploading them in the shared folder in Google Drive, which we hope helps each student to evaluate her/his own performance for their assignments.

techfellow_blog_hk2 (1)

We have unintended positive outcomes by using technologies. This winter we had more snow than usual, and there were multiple times the college was closed. One cancellation happened on the day presentation was scheduled. In the morning I hoped that there would be no cancellation despite the fact that powder snow started covering the ground. My friend at MHC emailed me, “we don’t have snow here.” I had a bad feeling. An email came telling us the college would be closed at noon. I decided to stay on campus for the sake of presentation. Then another email came telling that there would be a parking ban. “Oh, NO!!!!!” Now I had to leave the campus.

I told my students to stay in the room and to wait for an invitation for Zoom session from me through email. I went back home to send out invitations for Zoom session. Thanks to Zoom we were successfully able to have student’s presentations by connecting five locations; a classroom in MHC; a student’s room at Smith College; two student’s rooms at CC; and my place, and we recorded the session as well!!!

We found another interesting effect of using Zoom. Time to time we asked our students if they would prefer not doing certain assignments or not. The students on both campuses always answer, “I can do this.” They never say to us, “NO.” It seems that they are motivated to show their best to the students on the other campus. We are pleased with our student’s attitude. Probably I will be able to report to you after this course whether they maintain this attitude throughout the semester.

Lastly I would like to share with you what happened last year when we offered the same course. I had one male student in the course at CC. He spent two semesters in Korea when he was a junior. One of the female students at MHC came from Korea. Apparently they had many things to talk about. One day my friend’s teaching assistants said to her, “Today you will have a session with Connecticut College.” My friend asked how they figured it out. Then they told her that they knew because the student wore make-up. Hmm…. It IS indeed interesting!!

On Blended Learning and Flipping the Classroom

Graesch_photo_NYT1

This is a guest post written by Anthony P. Graesch, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Technology Fellow.

Representing the Faculty Technology Fellows Program at Connecticut College, I recently travelled with two colleagues to attend the 2014 Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Conference hosted by Bryn Mawr College.  The roster of presentations included 15 talks on how digital technology can be leveraged to make for better learning environments, and five presentations were dedicated to discussing the outcomes of instructors’ efforts to flip the classroom.  Prior to these sessions, I was not entirely clear on how to draw a distinction between courses that used digital technology to achieve blended learning outcomes and those that “flip” the classroom.  Are these not one in the same?  Maybe and maybe not.

 Blended Learning Model (BLM)

In a keynote presentation, our hosts offered this pedagogical stance on blended learning: a blended learning model (BLM) is one in which (1) students receive feedback on learning activities outside of the traditional classroom; and (2) the online component of student learning helps professors craft more responsive and overall better interactive experiences during in-class meetings.  Seemingly, the goal of a BLM is not to decrease the amount of “seat time” in a classroom, but rather to make “seat time” more meaningful and interactive.  Other goals include empowering students to take ownership of their learning experience, cultivating a deeper understanding of concepts, and meeting the needs of diverse learners.  Of course, these goals are neither new nor revolutionary in higher education, and anyone who suggests otherwise might be trying to sell you something.  Nevertheless, digital technology may afford opportunities to better achieve these longstanding goals.

Certainly, there are other definitions of blended learning, and the pedagogical stance proffered by Bryn Mawr reflects the unique missions of Liberal Arts Colleges, institutions that place substantial emphasis on the importance of faculty-student interaction and experiential education.  A key element of this definition of the BLM centers around online assessment and using assessments to tailor discussions during subsequent class meetings.  So, is the flipped classroom a blended learning experience?

The Flipped Classroom

flippedgraphic(web1100px)_0Depending on how you go about it, flipping the classroom may or may not be congruent with this particular definition of the BLM.  The driving idea behind “flipping” a classroom is that students will be able to obtain course content – information that is traditionally delivered in the form of professors’ lectures – from online audio or video podcasts and outside of the regular class meetings.  “Seat time,” or the time students spend in desks during in-class meetings, is transformed into a forum for more focused and experientially richer interactions.  This might include working on problem sets, discussing and debating ideas, and collaborating in the application of key concepts.

In many ways, flipping the classroom is very much about transforming the ways that students use time.  A fully flipped classroom is one in which class time is used exclusively to grapple with concepts introduced outside of class meetings.  A partially flipped classroom might be one in which professors use some class meetings to lecture, whereas other meetings are used to discuss or apply content captured with video podcasts and viewed by students before coming to class.  The extent to which you pursue or align with one model or another may hinge on the extent to which you regard lecturing as a critical component of your teaching.  Some scholars (and I am one of these) argue that the term “lecturing” is too general to adequately capture otherwise highly varied classroom-based interactions between instructors and students.  That is, we all lecture in different ways, some of which are probably more dynamic and engaging than others, and generalizing these experiences may be undermining our best efforts to make for maximally effective classroom experiences.  That said, higher education is replete with instructors who rely almost entirely on lecture-driven course formats, and there is a growing corpus of data to suggest that passive learning is simply less effective.

If fully flipped courses include opportunities for students to be assessed outside of the classroom (e.g., feedback given for online quizzes or discussion threads that follow podcasts) and the products of these assessments are used to enhance subsequent in-class meetings, then the flipped classroom conforms to this definition of the BLM.  This may not be possible in fully flipped courses, and thus the flipped classroom would exist outside of the BLM, despite the fact that it is merely a different approaches to achieving similar goals.  That said, there are various ways of using digital technology to enhance your learning environment without ever having to flip the classroom.

Should I “Flip” My Course?

After listening to the successes and challenges faced by instructors who flipped their classrooms, it became apparent that introductory courses in the formal, physical, and life sciences (e.g., mathematics, chemistry, and biology) as well as some of the more empirical of the social sciences (e.g., economics, psychology) might be the best candidates for fully flipped classroom formats.  A general rule-of-thumb emerged: if your traditional course has students passively absorbing lecture inside the classroom while spending considerable time working on problem sets outside of the classroom, then a fully flipped classroom affords you opportunity to provide feedback and guidance at the point that students need it the most, or when they are actually engaging the concepts.  For those in the social sciences and humanities, you may want to think about partially flipped classrooms in tandem with the BLM.

If you’re toying with the idea of flipping one of your courses, you might take the following into consideration.  First, the “startup costs” are significant and should not be underestimated.  The time required of producing podcasts, in particular, is substantial.  Some presenters talked about spending the entirety of their summer recording, re-recording, and editing podcasts.   On the bright side, you will likely be able to use your archive of podcasts for many years to come.  Second, podcasts can take various forms, and before committing to any one format, it is worth thinking about (and researching) (a) the pedagogical affordances and constraints of each as well as (b) the technological support your institution can provide.  Regarding the former, here’s a list of possibilities:

  • Audio-only presentations. If you’re a producer at Radiolab, then you have mastered the art of audio podcasts.  If not, you might seek some honest feedback on how to infuse some pizzaz into your show.
  • Narrated slideshows.  Basically, this is a video of your Powerpoint/Keynote slides while you blah blah on the audio track.  See above comment about pizzaz.  Example here.
  • Digital “chalk talk.”  Although this is a video file, it’s pretty much a narrated video recording of an online “white board” on which you draw or type content.  Various software enables this approach, and it’s particularly well-suited to courses in which formulas, equations, and graphs are used to illustrate concepts (e.g., economics, math, chemistry). Depending on your technological capabilities, you might even include a small frame in which your talking head appears during part or all of the video segment.  Example here.
  • In-person “chalk talk”.  This is a video recording of you – probably in your office and with a chalk/white board – talking to a tripod-mounted camera.  Although I know of no data to fully evaluate this assertion, I suspect this may be one of the most engaging podcast formats for students.  The embodiment of information sharing via gesture, writing on a board, and facial expression may have deeper cognitive resonance. Example here.
  • Live lecture capture.  Put a camera in your classroom; press ‘Record’.  There are some quality-, technical-, and FERPA/privacy-related issues surrounding this format, and some (e.g., Jose Antonio Bowen, author of Teaching Naked) discourage live lecture capture outright. Example here.

It’s possible to hybridize most of these formats (e.g., narrated slideshows edited into live lecture captures).  It’s also possible to produce really good and really bad examples of any one of these podcast formats.  I think the examples linked above exemplify the variability to be observed on YouTube.

Image Credit: Center for Teaching & Learning, University of Texas at Austin

Camp Teach & Learn Instructional Technology Related Sessions

CTLWe are very excited to be a part of this year’s Camp Teach & Learn. Here are some sessions related to instructional technology – hope to see you there!

  • Reading Group: Teaching Naked 
    Tuesday, May 20, 8:30 – 10:30
    Didn’t read the book? Feel free to come anyway. We’ll be discussing Jose Antonio Bowen’s (President of Goucher College) 2012 book, Teaching Naked. The book examines the potential roles of technology to improve student learning and argues that face-to-face contact with faculty inside the classroom is key to student learning.
  • Technology in the Liberal Arts Classroom
    Tuesday, May 20, 10:45 – 12:30
    College students and faculty are increasingly entangled in a digital world. But to what extent does the landscape of digital technology afford improvements to the ways we teach and learn? Join members of the Faculty Technology Fellows Program in a panel discussion of digital literacy and how some technologies might be used to: 1) provide new lenses on natural and behavioral phenomena; 2) permit the authorship and dissemination of new or alternative perspectives; and 3) cultivate a deeper understanding of otherwise complex relationships.
  • Flipping the Liberal Arts Classroom
    Thursday, May 22, 10:45 – 12:30
    During this session, we will discuss what flipped teaching & learning looks like and potential uses in the liberal arts classroom. We will show several options for tools you can use to record yourself – from five-minute explanations to hour-long lectures – and how you can make these available to your students. Faculty with experience flipping the classroom will be available to share their experiences, offer practical advice, and discuss their students’ response.

Creating Better Online (and offline!) Quizzes

This post is in response to Chapter 3, “Blended Assessments of Learning,” in the BlendKit Reader, Second Edition, Edited by Kelvin Thompson, EdD.toolkit_001

As an instructional designer, I think about assessment early on in course development. Assessments should follow directly from learning objectives, answering the question: “how will students show me they met this learning objective?” You may employ several assessments for one objective, but each objective should be assessed in at least one way or you should seriously reconsider it.

Formative and summative assessment can take many forms, and technology opens faculty up to a broader array of options. Thinking of moving assessment out of your class and into an online environment? The multiple choice quiz is one format that is an easy place to start and Moodle offers many options for setting up quizzes.  When we show faculty how to use the online quiz feature, the conversation inevitably end up discussing the questions themselves. How do you create questions that challenge students to use higher order thinking skills (comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis)? Creating questions for which the answer cannot be easily found online or in a textbook also acts as a barrier to cheating.

The Blended Learning course offers several useful guides for writing quiz questions you might find useful – whether you are moving your quizzes online or keeping them in class.

-Jessica

Traditional Course Design and Blended Course Design: Similarities and Departures

toolkit_001This post is a response to Chapter 1, “Understanding Blended Learning,” in the BlendKit Reader, Second Edition, Edited by Kelvin Thompson, EdD.

The topic for our first week is “Understanding Blended Learning.” Put simply, a blended course is one in which online learning replaces some portion of face-to-face instruction (Thompson, 2014).  The blended learning model allows for the individual interaction that we value and is our strength, but it also allows faculty to utilize a growing number of online tools to extend learning beyond the classroom. But how do you create a quality(!) blended learning course?

While reading the first chapter of the BlendKit Reader, I was transported back in time to the “Systematic Instructional Design” course I took while a graduate student. In the reading, I was reminded that designing a blended course is actually not very different from designing any other course. The first steps are still defining course goals, analyzing learners and context, and writing learning objectives. In fact, the chapter argues that in a blended environment these tasks are more important because it is easy to inadvertently create an unmanageable workload for you and your students and/or a learning experience that does not match your intended learning objectives.  After writing learning objectives, the next step in the design process is to create learning activities that will help students meet them (and provide a mechanism for you to know they accomplished them!).

But here is the point of departure. In a blended course, the instructor then analyzes each activity to determine if it can and should be delivered online. Our course instructors provided us with a Venn diagram example that demonstrates how you might approach this task. This is, I believe, new and difficult to many. I see it as the perfect time to collaborate with an instructional technologist – someone who knows what online tools are available for learning activities, understands the benefits and drawbacks to each, helps research new tools, teaches how to implement them, and assists students with technology questions during the semester.

The design process is not over… but by accomplishing these initial steps, you will have a solid foundation for a successful blended course. Next week’s module is on Blended Interactions. Stay tuned! -Jessica