Student Feedback - How am I doing

It’s just after break week, so; if you haven’t already; now might be a good time to collect some fast feedback from the students in your course(s) about how well you are managing their expectations as learners. Click HERE to download a copy of the “Start-Stop-Continue” form. You may want to distribute a copy of this form to your class or post it on your elearning space.

Option 2: during the last 5-10 minutes of a class and ask students to take a piece of blank paper and answer two questions about their learning environment:
1) Which practices most help you to learn? 2) Which practices could be improved? Collect the anonymous papers.

Ideally, you will want to respond to the students’ feedback in the next class. It is helpful for students to hear that they have different perspectives and learning preferences. What one person likes another dislikes. You are attempting to satisfy different learning styles. Do let students know what, if anything will change as a result of the feedback.

Peter Seldin, in Evaluating Faculty Performance, believes gathering data and taking action to address any problems that arise virtually guarantees higher ratings when the formal feedback process takes place.

Add comment March 3rd, 2014

Online Video - Is Shorter Better?

If you are creating online videos or doing lecture capture the following may give you pause.

Philip Guo, an assistant professor of Computer Science at the University of Rochester, recently published preliminary findings on research he is doing for edX, a major MOOC provider.

Guo reports two finding on video usage in online courses.
First: the attention span for a video lecture is shorter than for a face-to-face class; “the optimum video length is 6 minutes or shorter”
Second: while the average viewing time maxes out a 6 minutes, if the video is longer than 12 minutes the average time spent watching goes down.

philip-guo-edx-first-blog-figure4

For a 30-40 minute video, the average viewing time is 3 minutes or 10% or less of the content.

It’s not hard to imagine someone watching an online video for a few minutes and then moving the cursor to the bottom to see where that progress line is. If it’s past half way, they are likely to watch it to the end, if it’s still close to the left edge, they may give up then and there.

Short videos keep students engaged and may also give them an incentive to use short windows of time that might be available; in breaks between classes. for example; to watch when they couldn’t commit to watching a longer video.

As Guo writes “The take-home message for instructors is that, to maximize student engagement, they should work with instructional designers and video producers to break up their lectures into small, bite-sized pieces.”

Add comment February 6th, 2014

How Do Students Prefer to Learn?

What are the preferred modes of learning in 2014?

Everest College and HarrisDecima just published a new poll of over 1000 adults learners aged 18-65+ in the US.
The details can be found at this link.

The most preferred ways of learning were “Active participation through hands-on learning” (52%) and “Visual demonstrations shown by an instructor” (28%).

The Least preferred ways of learning were “Learning by teaching other students”, “Listening to a lecture” (16% each) and Watching videos” (15%)

“Reading a text book” (23%) was rated higher than “using the internet” (19%)

Men (56%) were significantly more likely than women (47%) to say hands-on training works best for them.

Women (32%) were significantly more likely than men (25%) to say visual demonstrations work best for them.

This poll would suggest that those things that were traditionally regarded as the strengths of our colleges; hands-on, applied learning, with skilled instructors who are knowledgeable and experienced in their fields; are still what adult learners want and what works best for them.

Add comment January 30th, 2014

Are You Teaching in ‘The Zone’?

Do students complain that learning activities are too easy and they are bored; or too hard and they confused and frustrated? Then you might ask yourself are you teaching “in the zone”?

Educational theorist Lev Vygotski proposed that learning occurs in what he called the “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD). For a particular area of skill or knowledge, this zone lies between what the student can currently do independently and what the student cannot do even with assistance. The ZPD represents what the student can do with assistance from a teacher or “more capable peers”.

Vygotsky believed that when a student is at the zone of proximal development for a particular task, providing the appropriate assistance (scaffolding) will give the student enough of a “boost” to achieve the task. Once the student, with the benefit of scaffolding, masters the task, the scaffolding can then be removed and the student will then be able to complete the task again on his own.

So what does that mean to teachers?

Effective learning happens “in the zone”: outside the zone students either become bored and disengaged because they “know this stuff already”; or they become frustrated and confused because they cannot grasp the task and it goes over their heads.

Teaching “in the zone” means starting from where the students are, and understanding what their abilities are so that existing knowledge and skills can be built on. The teacher’s role is provide the appropriate scaffolding support; lots of guidance and direction to begin with, then less as the learner’s skill and understanding develops and they become more independent in the task. As the task is mastered and moves into the zone of what can be done without assistance, new related tasks that were previously beyond the student’s grasp now fall within the Zone of Proximal Development.

For more on this check out this link. where Marc Andre Lalande where explains how the ZPD can relate to Bloom’s Taxomomy in the classroom.

Leslie Marshall - Centre for Teaching and Learning

Add comment January 24th, 2014

e-Portfolios as Boundary Objects

Among the challenges of thinking about e-Portfolios are the ambiguity of who they are for and what functions do they serve. Is an e-Portfolio for the person who creates it or for those who will view it? Is it a Test (an summative assessment tool) or is it a Story (a formative record of a learning journey)? One possible way of looking at an e-Portfolio that might help is to consider it as a Boundary Object.

What is a Boundary Object?

Originally described by Star & Griesemer(1989), and developed by Wenger (2001), the concept of a Boundary Object is an object which is developed in one context or community for a particular purpose, but which is useful to others in other contexts or communities, and so forms a bridge between them – a common use object on the boundary of both communities.

Boundary objects are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. They may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds. (Star & Griesemer, 1989, p. 393)

An e-Portfolio initially developed as an assessment tool in school, might be viewed from many perspectives and serve different purposes after graduation; for potential employers, credentialing agencies, or as a tool for reflection and self-development of the graduate.

So is an e-Portfolio a Boundary Object?

What are the characteristics of a Boundary Object. And does e-Portfolio fit?

Wenger proposes a number of characteristics “enabling artefacts to act as boundary objects” (Wenger, 2001, 107):

  1. Modularity: each perspective can attend to one specific portion of the boundary object (e.g., a newspaper is a heterogeneous collection of articles that has something for each reader).
  2. Abstraction: all perspectives are served at once by deletion of features that are specific for each perspective (e.g., a map abstracts from the terrain only certain features, such as distance and elevation).
  3. Accommodation: the boundary object lends itself to various activities (e.g., the office building can accommodate the various practices of its tenants, its caretakers, its owners, and so forth).
  4. Standardization: the information contained in a boundary object is in a prespecified form so that each constituency knows how to deal with it locally (for example, a questionnaire that specified how to provide some information by answering certain questions).

Those characteristics are useful to view what enables e-Portfolios to serve as bridges between various perspectives.
Modularity and standardization are inherent to E-portfolios: artifacts selected for inclusion in an e-Portfolio are connected within and across portfolios by standardized structure and requirements for the assessments or learning activities at the course level and Program Learning Outcomes and Institutional Learning outcomes at higher levels. Viewers who are familiar with other forms of webpages can quickly grasp how to navigate an e-Portfolio; using tabs and links to access content folders in various categories of information. Using links in social media (for example, a Linkedin profile), specific categories of information, or particular artifacts can be accessed without the rest of the portfolio. This allows the information in the e-Portfolio to travel far outside of the original context where it was created.

The potential of an e-Portfolio to accommodate various activities is easy to see. For a teacher it is an assessment tool for learning activities or projects; for the student it is a record of a range of experiences and a tool for reflection; for a potential employer it is evidence of skills and competence. In a community of practice it is a means of developing connections and networking as a new member: of creating a profile within the professional community.

Finally, since artifacts are selected for a wide array of possible items of work, the e-Portfolio also shows abstraction. Not every piece of work done in a course or program is included. When specific details are selected for inclusion or presentation, others are left out. The portfolio creator is assuming that those “who know” can read between the lines and fill in the gaps for themselves.

The notion of e-Portfolios as Boundary Objects is a useful reminder that whatever the initial objectives of the e-Portfolio, once it begins to cross into other contexts it will be viewed from different perspectives and be used for different functions, and that is when it will become really useful.

Star, Susan; Griesemer, James (1989). “Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39″
Wenger, Etienne (2001). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity

Add comment January 16th, 2014

Are You Present in Your Online Courses - Part 2

Continuing from last week’s post on Social Presence online based on the paper from Inter American University of Puerto Rico . As previously mentioned, Social Presence is defined as “the degree to which a person is perceived as a ‘real person’ in a mediated communication context” - the sense that there is someone there at the other end of the computer.

The second component of Social presence online is the cohesive element.

The Cohesive indicators of Social Presence include:

  • Using inclusive pronouns to address or refer
    to the group.
  • Using phatic communication, or communication that serves a purely social function

Cohesive communication builds the sense of community, and can establish ground rules for social interaction. Things like a welcome message, acknowledging individual’s contributions by name, such as: “John makes an interesting point”, and thanking participants - “thanks to everyone who contributed to that discussion”. These serve no other purpose but are purely social courtesies, in the same way as you would knowledge or thank someone face to face.
One way to encourage social cohesion between students is to provide them with a social space within the course, such as a discussion board for non-course-related posts that functions as a virtual “Student Lounge”. This allows them to interact in the same way as they would, for example, in the hallway outside the classroom.

Thanks to those who responded to last week’s post.
(cohesive communication!) - (using aside comment with exclamation mark - affective communication!)

What social cohesion strategies do you use online to develop Social Presence?

Add comment January 11th, 2014

Are You ‘Present’ in Your Online Courses?

(Re-post)
A paper from Inter American University of Puerto Rico highlights that an important factor in students’ satisfaction with online learning is the Social Presence of their teacher. Social Presence is defined as “the degree to which a person is perceived as a ‘real person’ in a mediated communication context” - the sense that there is someone there at the other end of the computer.
Social Presence promotes participation, integration and cohesion in the online community. It contributes to student motivation, and is associated with retention and completion rates in onlne courses.

How do we create a Social Presence in our courses and encourage students to be ‘there’ too?

Studies have focused on two types of indicators of Social Presence: Affective and Cohesive.

The Affective indictors of Social Presence include:

  • Conventional or unconventional expressions of
    emotion, including the use of repetitious punctuation,
    conspicuous capitalization, and emoticons.
  • Use of humor through teasing, use of irony,
    understatement, and sarcasm.
  • Self- disclosure evidenced in the inclusion of
    details of life outside the class or by expressing
    vulnerability.

Simple things like responses such as “good job!” “Success!” to discussions as well as more formal feedback; comments such as “you’ve made it to the end of Unit 1, now take a break before we start Unit 2″; or having a profile in the course that discloses something about your ‘real’ life (I usually find posting a photo of my dog works gets a positive response). These help create your Social Presence and encourage students to develop their own presence in response.

We’ll look at the Cohesive Indicators of Social Presence in a follow-up post, but in the meantime - what are methods do you use to create your Social Presence?

Add comment January 7th, 2014

How to Answer when a Student Asks “Did I Miss Anything?”

For a new year and a new term; a perfect answer to an age-old question.

Did I Miss Anything?

by Tom Wayman
From:   The Astonishing Weight of the Dead. Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.

                                                        Question frequently asked by
                                                        students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

        Everything. I gave an exam worth
        40 per cent of the grade for this term
        and assigned some reading due today
        on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
        worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

        Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
        a shaft of light descended and an angel
        or other heavenly being appeared
        and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
        to attain divine wisdom in this life and
        the hereafter
        This is the last time the class will meet
        before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
       on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

        Everything. Contained in this classroom
        is a microcosm of human existence
        assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
        This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
       gathered

       but it was one place

        And you weren’t here

Add comment January 1st, 2014

What Really Motivates us?

As we come into the holiday season and the challenge of choosing the right gift for someone, consider this.
What kind of ‘rewards’ do you like? Chocolates? Flowers?
What is it that really motivates people to do their best? What motivates our students and what motivates us?

Author Dan Pink explores research into human motivation in this entertaining animated video from RSA
The key motivators he has found to be autonomy, mastery and purpose.


(or view on “>youtube )

Add comment December 17th, 2013

What is the Final Exam Worth?

It seems like to good time to consider: what is the value of final exams? In many institutions final exams are becoming a rarity; At Harvard in spring 2009 only 259 of 1137 courses had final exams. So is there still value in having a final exam?

Beyond the stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation they cause for students (and faculty) there are two major criticisms of final exams: first, the lack of feedback opportunities in them; second, the false sense of closure they give students.

Lack of feedback: frequently the only feedback that students receive on their final exam is the final grade; especially successful students. Unsuccessful students may have re-writes or some other form of remediation, and get feedback on their final exam performance. Generally, however, successful students don’t bother getting feedback on the final even if it’s available; they passed, so they move on. This is related to the second criticism.

False closure: one of the problems with a final exam is its…finality. Students get a sense that they are now done with the content of the course and don’t make connections to related and advanced courses they take subsequently. This disconnect can hamper student learning in later terms, and development of more holistic understandings.

What are the positives of final exams? Among the most common reasons faculty give for having final exams are: they are concerned students will have forgotten the early material and a comprehensive final insures they will review everything; and want to test students’ ability to pull everything together and “join the dots”. After 14 weeks with two or three one hour chunks of time each week, faculty want to see that student can put it altogether, and even do something with it.

One other consideration, I think, in favour of final exams is that for many college graduates the way into professional employment is by way of registration or certification exams. These can be multiple, even day-long exams that are the key to their professional future. Not giving students the experience of that kind of comprehensive, cumulative, summative evaluation (including facing the stress and anxiety) would be doing them a disservice.
So, at least while entry to practice exams exist there is a role for for the final exam.

More on this can be found at:
BMJ - Validity of Final Exams
Psychology Today - Are College Final Exams Disappearing
The Test Has Been Canceled: Final Exams Are Quietly Vanishing From College

Add comment December 10th, 2013

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