We are planning for the Program for Online Teaching Certificate Class for fall, and there will be some changes!
We’re keeping the independent blogs.
After discussion about having all participants as authors on one blog, we’ve decided that the “space of ones own” concept was too important to lose. MiraCosta instructors will continue to have the ability to get a blog through the college. For others, we’re no longer encouraging Edublogs (which makes you pay now to embed video). We enthusastically encourage a hosted blog of ones own, but we realize not everyone is up to that challenge. We are moderately encouraging WordPress.com. We’re noting that Blogger seems to work rather well, so it’s the first time we’ll recommend that. Since we aren’t aggregating, there are more choices – people could even use Tumblr.
No more FeedWordpress or a big aggregated blog
This turned into a nightmare that could only be improved by being a coder, which I’m not. Dealing with recalcitrant feeds (and finding them when people can’t tell where they are) became a major time suck. I can use another plugin to create a page of feeds if I want to, but it won’t be the core of the course. I still recommend the FeedWordpress method to anyone who has coding knowledge, time, and/or the staff to make it work. I have no staff.
Commenting will be part of a larger community are instead of on the blogs.
Last year, posts were aggregated and clicking to comment led back to the participant’s blog. The blog and comment (call and response) model has not been working as well as we’d hoped.
There are many reasons for this, but my take is the basic idea that blogs weren’t really intended for conversation, only commenting. One purpose of blog comments was to make sure participants knew they weren’t blogging into a void, but this wasn’t always achieved despite the very best efforts of our mentors, moderators and participants. Requiring comments leads to useless comments, and not requiring them leads to very few comments. The method was not fostering community. And no, I don’t believe it would have done so even if the comments had stayed on the aggregated blog. Moderators weren’t really moderating a conversation, but rather giving attaboys which, while important, did not provide real conversation.
Instead, we’ll be asking participants to share a link to their weekly posts in a new Google Plus Community, which is where all discussion and commenting will take place.
No, this is not ideal. There are privacy concerns (well, not so much privacy as Inappropriate Gathering and Use of Personal Information) in forcing folks to use Google. The same was a concern in our Facebook Group, where much interaction has taken place. But in order to introduce participants to the largest social networks being used for education, and in order to have meaningful, recorded and open synchronous sessions, we’ve decided to go with Big Brother.
Workload is reduced and more options provided
It’s a heavy course, with much reading and many tools. We’ve reduced these by providing options (for example, try a video or audio tool, not one of each). We are moving some of the readings into an “optional” column.
A badge can be earned for one semester
We’ve changed the structure to divide the 24-week class into two 12-week semesters, each with a different focus: Online Pedagogy for fall, and Online Education (for spring). Each can earn a badge, with both badges within two years required for the certificate.
This will provide a reward for those completing one semester, and choice of focus. Fall is heavier on pedagogy and course setup; spring is heavier on tools and theory. Beginners will be encouraged to start in fall, but more experienced online instructors are welcome to hop in for spring.
So we’re still working, but these are the ideas so far!
This semester I did a bad thing – I took something that was working perfectly well (ok, maybe it had one little weakness) and tried to improve it.
By “improve”, I mean I changed it to make it more detailed instead of leaving it broad.
It’s that Contrbution Assessment, the one I’ve been so happy with. I revised it because there were one or two things being misconstrued. The criteria all seemed roughly equivalent, so some thought they could not do any context readings, or not help others. I thought I could fix that.
So I changed it to make the assignment more specific, by asking the students to comment on each of the 12 criteria in the new rubric I made:
Forum Posts, Essays and Final Exams
- Use of class materials and activities is expected.
Essays have made full use (A), good use (B), some use (C), little use (D), or no use (F) of class materials and activities.
- Essay theses must be interpretive.
Essay theses are highly interpretive (A), solidly interpretive (B), primarily factual with some interpretation (C), factual (D) or not a thesis (F).
- Essays must use the required number of primary sources from the forums.
The required number of sources used in the essay are all primary (A or B), mostly primary (C), mostly secondary (D), all secondary or not used(F).
- Sources must be fully cited.
Sources in the essay are fully cited (B), almost all fully cited (B), mostly cited (C), not all cited (D) or not cited (F).
- Writing must be at the college level.
Writing in the essay is at the college level or higher (A), at the college freshman English 100 level (B), at the high school level (C), below the high school level (D or F).
Contribution to the Class
- Students should log in at least three times a week.
Logs in more than three times a week (A), 2-3 times a week (B), once a week (C), less than weekly (D or F).
- Students should post/reply at least three times a week in the forums.
Posts in forums three times a week (A), 2-3 times a week (B or C), once a week (C or D), less than weekly (F).
- Students should respond to guidance from instructor, learn from group (rather than individual) feedback, and get help from the FAQ and college resources as needed.
Responds to instructor guidance as provided through examples, replies, and messages – always (A), almost always (B), mostly (C), occasionally (D), never (F).
- Students should be helpful to others through commenting, suggesting, or providing good examples in the forums.
Is helpful to other students weekly (A), regularly (B), occasionally (C), rarely (D), not at all (F)
- Work in the forum should be connected to class lectures and readings.
Work in the forum is clearly connected to class lectures and readings in every post (A), in many posts (B), in some posts (C), in few posts (D), in no posts (F).Lectures and readings should be completed weekly.
- Lectures and readings have been completed every week on schedule (A), weekly (B), most weeks (C), few weeks (D), rarely (F).
- Student work should reflect the student’s own interests.
Writing for theses and essays has been obviously related to the student’s own interests every week (A), most of the time (B), occasionally (C), rarely (D), never (F).
A couple of things happened, and I noticed it first on the mid-term assessment. Some students copied the whole criteria list, and I couldn’t tell which level they were indicating as the one they achieved (text formatting got lost, I suspect, between their writing program and Moodle). Some just listed them (1,2,3) and just put a grade for each (1.A, 2.B, 3. B+) and I kept having to reference the list to tell what they were assessing. Some ignored it completely and just told me what their grade should be.
Now typically, the grades they tell me are really close to what they’ve contributed in terms of their writing and forum posts, and helping each other. Their evaluations of their own contribution have been honest, and the assignment interesting to grade. I’ve been able to check what they say against a downloaded list of their total posts, and their activity as tracked by the LMS.
But I noticed on the mid-term assessment that the grades were a little more off. More students (not a lot) were saying they should get a higher grade than was indicated. They would even discuss all 12 items, tell me they were earning C’s in three or four of them, then say they should get an A anyway.
And now I’m seeing it again, only more marked, on the end-of-term assessments. Some students didn’t read the comments on the first assessment, so didn’t improve, but listed the same grades and said they should get the same as last time. Many more are asking for higher grades than indicated by the criteria. I’m feeling like a meanie, instead of affirming their view. Ugh.
A couple of possibilities:
The 12 points were overwhelming rather than encouraging of reflection.
The 12 points made it appear overly formulaic, so they felt they didn’t have as much flexibility in determing their grade. It came off like a game to trap them, rather than an iterative process designed to engender self-analysis. People respond to games by deciding not to play – or, if the game seems deceptive, they cheat.
Either way, I constructed this and now need to deconstruct it for the summer, or certainly for the fall, and go back to the way I had it before – reference the rubric, then say what you’ve earned and why, and that’s it. In this case, flexibility was better than precision.
A draft of another tripartite idea, this time focused on online classes in general, across the board.
Run inside an LMS, or even better by Coursera or Udacity, and/or offered by proponents of the mass-produced course (U of Phoenix, Ashford, etc), the McClass features recorded lectures, an unmoderated internal discussion (if any), and grading by graduate students, peers or staff (and soon robo-graders). All xMOOCs are in this category, but so are classes created by teams of instructional designers or course developers and “content experts”, but facilitated (I hesitate to use the word “taught”) by less experienced instructors or program coordinators. Sartorial analogy: one size fits all.
The sub sandwich class
It’s a six inch or a twelve — you can change the mix of ingredients inside but the options are standardized. Sub sandwich classes are offered by community colleges and universities dependent on a single Learning Management System, the inherent design of which influences (and may determine) instructor pedagogy. Even built on a whole wheat system like Canvas or an in-house product, the defaults of the LMS are easy to adopt without requiring an examination of ones own pedagogy. Hallmarks include dependence on publisher-produced materials, and an internal, traditional moderated discussion of issues, usually lacking a constructivist focus. Quality varies and is partly dependent on the freshness of the ingredients.
The artisanal class
Created by the instructor, the artisanal class includes only those elements that help realize the instructor’s pedagogy. The design is developed based on knowledge and experience as an active, independent teacher. The artisanal class may exist inside an LMS, but when it does the LMS is substantially customized, and often external web elements are brought in to replace built-in features (blogs, wikis, etc). Hallmarks include a foundation in free and open or home-made formats, innovative assessment techniques, and a distinct lack of top-down control. Discussion may be distributed or focused on content creation. Flaws add character and provide opportunity for community creativity. Most cMOOCs fit this model, but so do classes offered by public institutions who allow faculty substantial control over the design and deployment of their work.
Instructor presence, though it can be defined more technically, is a perception that the instructor is there and available to the student during a class. Lately, in addition to my weekly summaries and guidance in the discussion forums, plus announcements and messages with individual students, I’ve also been using two other elements: an introductory video at the beginning of class, and a Voki introduction to each week.
Here’s the introductory video for this coming summer:
Here’s video on how I create my weekly Voki:
While both are clearly presentations rather than interactivity, I think the spontaneity is important in encouraging students to see me as a real person at the “other end” of the class. That’s why I prefer cheap and easy methods like these (webcam and iMovie for the video, free Voki for the animation) rather than more “professional” means.
For many years I’ve been arguing that instructors must create their own classes, and their materials (like this stuff) when possible. We should automate only those things that are purely factual or arguably objective, such as multiple-choice quizzes of factual information. We should avoid pre-packaged materials and course cartridges, picking and choosing those elements which forward our own pedagogy, not that of “learning teams” or publishers wanting to sell texts and ancillaries. I was taught one reason for this very early on by Louisa Moon, who in 1998 advised me to create online lectures that spoke in my voice, because at the time we were worried that others might take the lectures we created and give them to others to teach with, without credit or thanks. Now the reason is a little more complicated.
As the years have passed, my own pedagogical goals have focused more on student discovery, creation and writing. The historical facts I like to leave to Wikipedia and multiple-choice quizzes. All my lectures and materials are my own or I have found them. I use no course cartridges (I only ever used them for quiz questions anyway), and often eschew even a textbook. I do artisanal online teaching.
But while I have been exercising my pedagogy and DIY skills, the market and the trends move in a different direction. This week I attended a session where a publishing company showed us history software, including a piece that could grade essays for us. Some of the other professors in the room admitted this would be helpful, since we have too many students and want them to do so much writing. I, on the other hand, warned that machine-graded essays is a step toward either having grad students teach our classes or having us teach hundreds of students. Other historians’ responses to the invitation to participate in helping create computer essay grading are here. The current popularity of MOOCs bears out the concern about teaching massive classes, and so does this review of concerns from back in 1998.
But I notice that some of my own changes also begin to lean toward the dark side. A few students on last year’s evaluation said they wanted more feedback on their weekly writing, which I was grading only via a self-assessment at the mid-point and end of the class. I wanted the emphasis to be on practice rather than grading, but they claimed that they did so much work they wanted more feedback. Since it would be impossible for me to give individual feedback to weekly writing assignments, I instead implemented the “graded post”. Writing posts are now randomly graded, with the grades aggregated for 20% of the total grade. I thought it would go faster if I created qualitative scales, which took me quite awhile to create but then could be used to provide feedback more quickly. But I have students now who are angry at the feedback, who want details on exactly what the ratings meant, or who can’t tell the scale itself from their own ratings. They are more unhappy now then when they saw the writing as practice and it got graded twice a year (for the same 20%, BTW).
Then, when a colleague came to me overwhelmed by grading essays, I suggested the ratings as a possible way to speed things up, since we know what the errors and issues are going to be. Scales can be super handy. I suddenly realized I was suggesting, and doing, a certain amount of automation. No! That is the path to demons offering publishers’ cartridges and computer-graded essays, assigning us to teach 400 students without any help, devaluing our labor and our knowledge and turning us into pushers of education rather than teachers.
On the other hand, it is insane to provide every student with individual feedback on every bit of work they do. I know many professors who sacrifice family time and sleep time commenting in detail on stacks of essays. I’ve been guilty of it myself. And then we know that less than half the students read the feedback we’ve painstakingly given, and less than half of them implement any suggested changes. But we keep doing it because we care, we want to communicate to them, we want them to learn and do better next time.
So what is the fine line between automation, where the work isn’t ours and may be taken from us or increased to unreasonable quantity, and insanity, where we give feedback to all on everything and sacrifice our off-the-job lives?
Some of the answer may lie in giving the right feedback to the right people at the right time. In my own class, for example, I think I’m doing it too often, which is stifling creative work and causing a focus on the grade. For the stack of essays, we could ask students to write “Comments, please” at the bottom of work where they want comments. Those who miss that in the instructions likely wouldn’t benefit as much from the comments anyway, and those who don’t read them won’t bother.
There must be other ideas, too?
Here, let me help you. Photo by iapsii via Flickr.
There is some limited agreement about “what’s wrong” with higher education. It is currently trendy to denigrate the lecture format, the high price of a college education, the usefulness of the curriculum, and the lack of focus on individual growth. The solution, depending on your view, might be MOOCs (free huge online classes), an acceptance of non-college-educated workers (no one wants to talk about that), or a focus on “student success”. For those inside the current college system, this last is becoming most popular.
We admit that many of our students are underprepared, overly dependent, and unmotivated. A “student success” focus is designed to deal with these failings and enable students to graduate, presumably by somehow making them more prepared, less dependent and more motivated. Student services are ramped up, early alert systems enabled to provide counseling for those failing their classes. Even professional development for everyone from janitors to administrators is designed to promote “student success”.
However, the system as it exists is not set up to provide the type of personal attention that “student success” advocates say is needed. College is designed for the prepared, independent, motivated student – that’s what makes it “higher” education. Grades are assigned to those students to determine the level of their work compared to a discipline standard, and assessment assumes that the work they do is the result of their learning. At the undergraduate level, college is designed for general rather than deep learning, in a process that forces the student to do lots of reading and pay attention.
I commit heresy now when I say that this traditional design might be a good thing.
Certainly the patching we’re trying to do to fix it is counterproductive. If we accept and condone the underpreparedness, the dependency, and the lack of motivation, we increase the tendency of these students to come to college and expect high levels of deeply personal support. We refuse to say that a student is simply not ready for college, since this could both undermine their “self esteem” and hold them back for remedial work when they need to get their degree soon. So instead it falls on professors to desperately try to hold to a standard of college-level work, while both students and administrators exert pressure on them to ensure “student success”. Part-time college profs in particular know that if they don’t have a certain level of “success”, they’ll lose their jobs.
The view that profs should be deeply attentive to individual students is also leaking into the current arguments about online education. The recent New York Times article The Trouble with Online College has caused great consternation in the ranks, but what jumped out at me is the claim that online classes do not allow for “getting to know” ones students. (In response, some commenters insist that online classes have just as much or more personal interactions between profs and students as on-site classes. That’s true but it’s beside the point.)
I am increasingly having trouble with the argument that “getting to know your students” is the hallmark of class quality. Instead, quality education should create an environment for the students to get to know the ideas and the discipline. The energy for learning should originate with the student, who needs to study and work hard to figure out both the system and the content. Professors are experts in their discipline, not in engendering character development. Their role is to model their scholarly engagement with their discipline, not their personal engagement with their students. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be good teachers, but it doesn’t define a good teacher as someone who really knows their individual students well. I will “know” a certain percentage of students, in person or online, as it happens naturally. And not knowing every student “well” doesn’t mean not contacting or following up with students who are doing poorly – that’s always appropriate. It also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be nice – I’m an advocate of nice .
But over the past decade, I have watched my own students become increasingly unwilling to analyze collective feedback in terms of their own work. Instead they want individual feedback only, preferably in a one-on-one environment with me. At 40 students per class section, I cannot meet that expectation. But it’s a symptom of the individualized attention their sub-standard work has been given thus far. They know that the current system is focused on their “success”, and I’m supposed to make that possible rather than them. Instead of overcoming their own limitations (economic class, learning disability, living situation), they are taught that I will take those hurdles into consideration and lower my expectations. Some have internalized the learning problems and even learning styles they’ve been told they possess as individuals, and they see them as justification for lowered standards. I have students who tell me they can’t do the reading because they are visual learners. (I sometimes find myself mumbling “I’ll read it for you”, a line from Monty Python’s bookshop sketch.)
I realize I sound like a 19th century conservative here, and I am no proponent of Samuel Smiles or social Darwinism. But the dependency of students is expanding within a system increasingly dedicated to enabling their helplessness. Equal opportunity and equal access are the hallmarks of democracy and public education, and I strongly believe in them. But that does not mean equal “success”, especially at the price of academic standards, massive instructor workload, increased student dependency, and an environment that caters to the underprepared and unmotivated.
So I question the current focus on the success of the underprepared, dependent, unmotivated college student. I’m getting concerned that the prepared, independent, motivated learner is being subjected to a restrictive and limited education instead of college or university learning. I have very little time to spend with the high-B student who could be an A, because I spend so much time re-explaining directions and answering individual questions that I’ve already answered collectively, or tracking down poor-performing students to recommend they get tutorial help. This focus on their ‘success” may help them do a little bit better, but at the sacrifice of leaving the better students at the same level as when they came in. I don’t have time to help them make their very good work excellent.
Perhaps “success” should be defined as self-development into an independent learner who can learn something valuable from any professor in any class. It should mean succeeding within various environments and with various teaching styles, and being able to learn something regardless – success as a learner, as someone becoming more educated. (I cringe now when people go off on the track that education reform should be based on people following their own path for learning their own way, studying only those subjects they really care about. College is for finding out the value of subjects you don’t care about, but I guess that’s another post.) I certainly want student success to mean that they come in at a certain level of understanding and increase it in my class. Instead it’s coming to mean a passing grade after lots of detailed and personal help. Thus the cranky post.