Have you noticed students coming to class underprepared or unable to demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing, or mathematics at the college level? Over 60% of students who attend either a two-year or four-year university enroll in at least one remedial course to better prepare for their major courses.1
Unfortunately, many of the academically underprepared are economically disadvantaged or come from marginalized or minority groups. For example, in California, over 90% of economically disadvantaged students require remediation in English language learning.2
The impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic may have further heightened the struggles of underprepared students. With the shift to online learning, teaching quality varied substantially and transitions to remote learning were inconsistent. This enhanced the inequality for students who may not have access to the internet or a computer or don’t have the parental support they need.3
Institutions across the country are looking for new ways to help learners succeed. How could your institution and instructors leverage education technology to improve access and utilization to support these underprepared students?
Filling the gaps
Learning gaps should be identified prior to enrollment or the start of a course to ensure students are as successful as possible. Technology can help identify these gaps.
For example, Pearson Gap Finder assesses student knowledge and skills on prerequisite topics prior to enrolling in A&P courses. Students take an online diagnostic assessment and, based on the results, complete online learning modules focused on identified deficiencies so they’re more prepared for the rigorous A&P curriculum.
Once learning gaps are identified, you can provide the remediation students need to be successful. Your institution likely has its own remediation courses that are prerequisites before entering into major courses. Research has found that many of these courses are unspecific, increase costs, and extend the time required to graduate, all of which can lead to increased drop outs.
Using online instruction can compress these courses, allowing students to only receive remediation on the topics they need while co-enrolling with their major course. Plus this specification of courses increases affordability and access1 — helping you reach more students and meet your institutional goals of equity and inclusion.
Leveraging technology for ongoing support
There are many benefits to online instruction that level the playing field for many different social and demographic groups.
It allows for both asynchronous and synchronous instructional models. Asynchronous instruction (pre-recorded video, digital materials, etc.) provides for slowed and/or repeated delivery of instruction, making it ideal for English language learners.
Students can study anywhere at any time, which is great for students who are working while earning their degree.
Online tutoring provides the flexibility students need while still providing quality instruction.
Smarthinking is an online tutoring service available for core subjects, including math, science, business, health sciences, reading, and writing. Assistance can be provided asynchronously and synchronously 24/7 by subject matter experts with graduate degrees. The writing portion of the program allows students to submit essays or similar writing pieces and receive personalized assistance.
In my first post The student as consumer, and the burden of choice, I suggested that when learners face a high stakes purchase (the full degree) and information overload, they often narrow their decision to either known institutions or those that rank on Page 1 of search results. The endless aisle sounds great until you have to walk down it. The learners’ simplification strategy and conscious or unconscious bias excludes lesser-known institutions from the consideration set, even if they may be the “best fit.''
In this post, I examine consumer behavior and its impact on the non-degree market. Those who have worked in direct-to-consumer businesses (either digital or brick-and-mortar) will recognize the language of consumer behavior – trial, offer, purchase, add-on purchase. For learners as consumers, this language is profoundly relevant, and it is vital to the institution’s strategy for non-degree program offerings.
How consumer-learners reduce perceived risk
In their study, Behavioral Changes in the Trial of New Products, Shoemaker and Shoaf found that consumers respond to the perceived risk of trying a new product by reducing the consequences: they buy a smaller quantity (trial). The growth of the non-degree market (certificates) is that very behavior in action.
For the new traditional learner – older, more diverse, navigating career and family obligations, concerned with increasing debt, and having spent years away from any formal academic setting – entering a full degree program raises the stakes. Their anxiety is palpable. The resulting behavior is predictable.
If a learner is uncertain about moving forward, or unsure they can succeed, they update their beliefs through a consumption experience (the trial). What better consumption experience than to begin with a “smaller-quantity,” affordable, low-stakes certificate program that provides an immediate, career-enhancing credential and a powerful signaling opportunity to the learner’s social and professional networks?
Non-degree programs and a wider view of student acquisition cost
I hear many question the economic value of certificates to the institution, relative to the cost of acquiring each student. In isolation and barring substantial scale, one would be hard pressed to show meaningful economic return on a modestly priced certificate. But that misses the bigger point. If viewed as a valuable student acquisition strategy, the university generates exposure, awareness, and trial by delivering short form, employment-relevant content.
With an appropriately constructed “offer” (freemium, credit bearing, pathway to degree admissions, university credential, digital badges) for these certificates, the institution creates affinity. Upon completion, and with a student’s newfound confidence, some of those learners will enter a degree program at that same institution (the “purchase”). When reskilling and upskilling becomes necessary, the student returns to what is now familiar (the add-on purchase). Coursera calls this “the flywheel effect”:
Search engine optimization (SEO) may sound intimidating, but good SEO practices can increase web traffic, boosting leads, and helping you tell your story to a wider audience. And when you get your brand in front of more potential students, without adding significantly to your already stretched budget, those leads have a better chance of turning into enrollments. To do this, SEO analysts implement innovative strategies to optimize websites to rank higher than their competitors. One of these strategies is called the hub and spoke strategy.
What is the hub and spoke strategy?
The hub and spoke strategy, most often referred to as the silo architecture strategy, leverages site structure to increase keyword rankings to important pages on your website.
Most sites contain a blog with highly relevant content for their target users. These blog posts tend to rank well for multiple keywords with large search volumes, leading to significant organic traffic.
By implementing the hub and spoke strategy, high-traffic blog posts relocate to live under the specific pages desired to increase keyword rankings. The specific pages typically are where users convert, such as degree pages, product pages, etc. These main pages are considered the “hub,” and once the blog posts are moved under the “hub,” they are referred to as “spoke” pages or child pages.
An example of the hub and spoke strategy
For example, imagine a user searches for a new car. They would start with the brand they would like. Then, they’d decide what type of car. Their decision would then be narrowed down even further to what color, how many miles, etc. But they start at the top of the funnel with the brand. With the Hub and spoke strategy, the site structure starts with the main page or “hub” and then adds “spoke” or child pages beneath to provide even more specific information.
Essentially, this SEO strategy alters the site structure by placing high-traffic “spoke” pages directly beneath the “hub” pages within the site map. This transition allows positive signals/domain authority to transfer from the spoke pages to the higher-converting hub pages.
Benefits of the hub and spoke strategy
The hub and spoke strategy provides a variety of benefits to a site.
Transfers positive signals to hub pages
This SEO strategy leverages high-traffic blog posts’ authority and sends it up to the “hub” pages which ultimately encourages Google or another search engine to rank this page higher.
Surfaces relevant content with easy navigation
Most users find content directly from the search engines. By relocating these relevant pieces of content beneath the “hub” pages, users can navigate to the information they want more quickly.
Higher conversion rates on site
Due to the nature of the hub and spoke strategy, these high-traffic blog posts are closer to the higher-converting, higher-intent pages of the site. This tends to increase lead capture through a website.
With these benefits in mind, your university could implement the hub and spoke strategy by featuring standout alumni stories as spoke pages under the hub page for the program they graduated from. Or you could highlight innovative research stories under the related program. These examples show how spoke content drives traffic back to the main hub pages that are designed to convert leads into enrolled students.
While this strategy requires planning and technical input from SEO and web development teams, you should see a return on your efforts in the form of more traffic and leads. At Pearson Online Learning Services, our team is always learning and attempting innovative solutions to stay up-to-date with Google. Explore enrollment solutions.
If we’ve spoken or crossed paths in a webinar recently, you may recognize a recurring theme (perhaps obsession) of mine: the student as a consumer. My preoccupation is a reaction to a common assumption that higher education purchases are somehow different than other high-stakes purchases. While the benefits of education arguably outweigh those of other purchases, the learner is first a consumer, and consumer psychology is unequivocally at play.
To more intimately understand the student-consumer’s expectations for digital or online learning, Pearson (the global learning company) partnered with Accenture (the global management consultancy). We believed Accenture’s consumer behavior insights could be applied to the student-consumer journey, to benefit learners, providers of learning, and employers. This series provides a few observations about what we learned together. This post focuses on the beginning of the student journey: the purchase.
The burden of choice
Accenture observed that businesses struggle to create personalized experiences that don’t drown their customers in too many options. Overwhelmed by choices, consumers are likelier to make poor decisions, be less satisfied, and abandon a website or brand altogether. To paraphrase Accenture, the endless aisle sounds great until you have to walk down it.1
That burden of choice also applies to a student’s education decision, with profound implications. Making the best choice in higher education is methodical, often taking four months or longer. It is high stakes — particularly given its cost, and it is nearly impossible to do effectively today. Learners faced with information overload and limited processing abilities will narrow their decisions to known institutions, or those that rank on page one of search.
As a simplistic thought experiment, I searched for “online MBA.” In .46 seconds, I received 332 million results. Valuable information… no doubt. Finding insight of value to me as a prospect… dubious. We know from our own research that nearly 3 in 10 learners are so overwhelmed by education search that they abandon the process without ever enrolling.2
Understanding that your students are more than just a grade is one thing; going the extra step to show them you care about them as people is another entirely.
Dr. Terry Austin has been an instructor at Temple College in Temple, Texas for more than 15 years, during which time he’s championed the use of digital learning platforms in his biology and A&P classes.
Terry found out just how important these resources can be for him and students — and for a reason you might not expect.
During his Anatomy & Physiology class, Terry noticed something odd about one of his student’s Early Alerts reports within the Mastering® A&P platform.
Crista had been doing well. Really well. Her first exam score was in the mid-90s and all her work in the course was great. His dashboard showed her solidly in the green or “low-risk” category. But that unexpectedly changed.
“All of a sudden, kind of out of nowhere, she seemed to fall off a cliff,” said Terry. “She fell pretty quickly into the yellow (medium-risk) and even red (high-risk) category, and it felt like there must be something else going on.”
Normally, you’d expect a noticeable drop in grade to trigger an alert, but this was something different.
“Her Mastering grade didn’t really drop at all, but Early Alerts noticed something going on. That’s what really triggered me to want to reach out. It felt like talking to her was probably the best idea.”
The human connection
Crista was a little shocked to receive Terry’s call.
“Her reaction when I first reached out was a little bit of a startle. I don’t think she was expecting to get a phone call from her professor,” said Terry. “She was almost in tears when I answered — she was really concerned.”
After reassuring her that her grade was just fine, he explained that there was an alert in Mastering telling him that something might be amiss.
He soon found out what that was.
Crista and her husband had been in the hospital the previous weekend with their son, who had broken his arm. A surgery and complications had kept her there for several days. Her husband had brought her laptop to the hospital, and she tried to keep up with her coursework while sitting anxiously beside her son’s bed.
It also became clear why the system had created an alert for Crista.
"She was distracted,” said Terry. "Her correct on first try score dropped, the attempts it took her to get the correct answers rose, but her grade stayed solid.”
That’s what triggered an “aha” moment for Terry.
“If I was looking at nothing but her grade, I never would’ve known anything was going on. The ability to see the need to make an outreach really was empowering.”
Crista’s reaction to his reaching out to make a connection with her as a person — not just a student — drove that feeling home, and also made her see Terry as something more than just a teacher. It went beyond just gratitude.
"It really did seem like a gushing appreciation that somebody seemed to care enough to make sure she was OK.”
With great power...
Terry now likens his experience to a popular comic book trope.
“For me, it did feel like that super power moment. I got that ability to see into a troubled moment in her life, I got the chance to reach out, and I guess — maybe more importantly — I took that chance.”
Not only was he able to reassure Crista that her grade was all right, but he was able to reassure himself that she was all right.
“Her grades were fine — I knew she was OK as a student — but I also knew looking at that shift from green to yellow — something had caused that to happen. It felt really nice being able to reach out and know that she was OK.”
Terry says that this experience did truly change the way he looks at his students.
“It’s a reminder for me that my students are far more than just their grades. It was an insight and really an awakening that there’s more going on with my students than just that grade in the moment. It’s a reminder that there’s a person behind that grade, it’s not just a number.”
He finds that this technology is like having a window to peek through; to have an idea whether everything is all right, or whether he might need to reach out again.
As for that feeling of having a super power?
“It's one of those moments that kind of comes with great responsibility. And it would be nice to think instructors don’t ignore the opportunity being handed to them.”
In the post-2020 remote learning world, how do you stand out from the crowd? With universities being forced to put many of their programs and courses online because of the pandemic — and then keeping them there because now they’re ‘online’ — how do you get prospective students to consider your online courses and your online programs over the thousands now available at the click of a mouse?
First, the differences between “remote” learning and “online” learning stem from how each program was structured and envisioned. Remote learning is characterized by inconsistency and a lack of structure and is usually a reaction to an external force necessitating the need to go online quickly (as illustrated by the 2020 pandemic). At its best, learning materials and assessment are thought out in advance and instructors are trained in online teaching methods. At its worst, faculty is trying to figure out, week by week, how to convert their face-to-face content to an online format, which often results in synchronous video lectures and outdated text materials.
On the other hand, online learning is characterized by planning, consistency, and an understanding of the virtual environment, which includes the intentional use of technology to meet online teaching needs (meaning it can be a truly asynchronous experience). Assignments and student assessment are tied to outcomes and objectives which are clearly stated, course materials are planned accordingly and created for online learning, and students don’t have to guess or wonder what is expected of them from week to week.
Your programs are online and intentional. How do you tell students?
Once you have a program filled with courses that are intentional, engaging, and authentic, you need to be able to quantify this information. What’s the data that supports the claim that your courses and programs are superior?
Many will start by analyzing basic data from their learning management system (LMS).
How do students do on quizzes and exams?
How long are they active in their course?
Where are they spending their time?
While these are definitely data points, are they the right data points? A student who aces every exam may just be a good test taker. What does it really mean when Andre was logged into the Week 1 Discussion for four hours — did he log in and then walk away after 30 minutes? These basic data points don’t tell prospective students much about the quality of your online courses. You need to provide information that goes deeper than basic LMS information.
While there is no magic formula, there are some strategies you can implement to obtain meaningful information and data points that are worth marketing.
Design assessments that matter. What type of assignments and student assessment are in your courses? It’s more impressive to share an average pass rate of 85% when assignments are mapped to objectives and based on real-world situations. An 85% pass rate in a course with nothing but quizzes and exams is less inspiring.
Survey students for concrete experiences. What do students really think about your courses and programs? When creating student surveys, ask meaningful questions. While this seems obvious, it’s still surprising how many course surveys we continue to see with questions like, “Would you recommend this course to a friend?” Relevant survey questions are pointed and meaningful, such as, “What were you able to take from this course and immediately practice on the job/in the real world?”
Assess student confidence before and after. A good course starts with objectives. At the beginning of the course when you are telling students what they will be able to do by the end of the course, assess their confidence level as well. “How confident are you that you will be able to do A, B, and C?” Then, at the end, assess their confidence again. “How confident are you now that you will be able to do A, B, and C?” Combining an assessment of students’ before and after confidence with other meaningful survey questions (see above), and you have a powerful marketing tool.
Use basic LMS data to determine where students are struggling in your program, and then fix those issues. While not really marketable, analyzing LMS data to continually improve student performance will reap its own rewards. Using LMS data to determine students’ pain points and then adjusting assignments and content accordingly will only improve your pass rates, retention, and student satisfaction — which will result in improved student survey results and more marketing opportunities.
From Measuring to Messaging
Let’s look at an example. Say a prospective student is comparing two online marketing programs, each with a testimonial. Which one sounds like the better program?
Coaching students isn’t just a job, it’s a two-way bond that helps students focus on their academic goals. It also gives the student support coaches a unique understanding of what students need to complete their online degrees or programs. And it affords institutions the ability to retain students who are tracking toward their goals. Kristina Campbell tells her story as a student support coach below.
What do you enjoy most about coaching students?
For me, it’s being with a student from start to finish. Nothing is more satisfying than being a part of the student’s process and hearing the excitement and joy they have upon their completion of the program. To be part of their celebration of a momentous achievement.
What's it like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?
Long term relationships are the most rewarding experience of being a coach. They give me a deeper and richer connection with the student. I even love going through those rough stages and gently pushing others when they feel that they can’t continue moving forward.
Recently, I spoke with a student who is in their last semester. They told me that had I not given a gentle nudge the first week of class, they would’ve stopped and never reached their last semester. Students have told me they truly value the role of a coach; they’ve gone through programs before where coaching wasn’t provided and have felt the importance of having one in the programs we provide.
What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners?
Good communication that goes beyond just talking. A coach needs to listen actively, provide helpful responses, and cultivate an atmosphere where students feel comfortable to speak.
Empathy to understand that going through an educational program is not an easy feat. Students want to work with someone they believe will try to understand and show they care.
Being supportive because everyone wants to be affirmed in their decisions. Coaches are part of the support system for a student.
How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees?
Time management is one of the main concerns I hear from students when starting a program or when the tempo of the program changes due to course load. Students have several constants in their lives that take priority before everything else (i.e., family and work). School is a wonderful variable that they are throwing in the mix.
I try to help students figure out how to balance school, work, home, and life. We work on finding ways to make time for learning, figuring out what needs to be adjusted or omitted in their schedule, and on making time for self-care.
How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?
I try to keep learners engaged by calling them regularly, sending emails, and texting. I also send reminders, resources, and any aids or tools I can find regarding their courses.
How do you coordinate with the university to support your students?
My team has a wonderful relationship with our school partner. We have been able to identify issues and bring them to the institution’s attention as needed.
And, on multiple occasions, I’ve reached out to instructors to advocate or help a student succeed. I had one student who was diagnosed with a severe health condition. They were in the hospital and needed help to get extensions on their work. I was able to connect with the instructor to get resources to help the student complete the course.
Q&A with Senior Student Support Specialist Justin Tate
If you're an online learner, it's great to know you can always turn to someone who’s been in your shoes, understands how challenging it can be — and knows you can succeed. Senior Student Support Specialist Justin Tate earned his own graduate degrees online. Now, drawing on that life-changing experience, he counsels other online graduate students on how to stick with the program, balance its demands, and make the most of the experience.
What led you to become a coach?
I grew up in a family where college was expected. There was never any doubt whether I would be getting a degree after high school. Unfortunately, when I got to the university, I realized my study habits weren’t as good as I thought. The workload was way more intense than I expected. It took me two years, and a few dropped classes, before I understood myself: how I learned, and how I needed to balance life, work, and education.
By junior year, I was doing great. I even started working at the university Writing Center where I tutored other students on developing their essays. That’s where I first realized I enjoyed helping learners like me — those who had what it took to succeed, but needed to find their own strategy to get there.
What do you enjoy most about coaching students?
College is tough, especially if you're a working adult with many competing priorities. For me, grad school was an entirely different challenge from undergrad. In the long gap between, I developed professional skills and a greater sense of purpose in my life, but I also had more commitments beyond even a full-time job. My priorities and energy levels had changed so much it was like starting over. Again, it took a while to find a strategy that worked.
It’s rewarding to support students through their challenges in class and in life, because I know how tempting it can be to give up. If I didn’t have someone to talk to — or people in my life who understood what I was feeling — it’s very possible I would have dropped out. My goal is to be that person you can call any time, who understands what it’s like, and can guide you through the difficult times.
What is it like to work with a student from enrollment to graduation, and to watch them succeed academically?
The path to graduation does not always run smooth. It’s great to maintain that relationship all the way through, because you have a greater understanding of individual situations and what approaches might work best on a personal level. I tend to get emotional every time a student graduates, because I know what it took for them to get there.
What characteristics or skills do you need to coach adult learners well?
Start by understanding that every adult learner is different. They have a wide variety of priorities, obligations, and challenges. The only way to understand the obstacles they may face is to take time to listen to what’s going on in their world. Once you build that relationship, it’s easier to offer support that is relevant to their unique situation.
What are some of the main concerns students share, and how do you help them overcome those concerns?
The most common concern is fear about how to find time for higher education. Adult learners balance a lot of big priorities. At first it can seem impossible to find time for them all. Helping them process each class, shift strategies, or find their own unique study style isn’t easy, but we try to get to that space as fast as possible.
How does your coaching help learners stay engaged, so they don’t fall by the wayside?
I’m always personally interested in how classes are going, what big assignments are coming up next, and the general feeling each student has about their experience. By talking through what’s going on in and outside of class, we can collaborate on strategies to help them become more efficient as a student and still get the most from their education.
How do you work with the university to support students?
As a support coach, I’m primarily focused on talking with students, learning about their challenges, and supporting them through times of stress. This includes navigating complicated university processes, registering for the correct courses, and connecting them with the appropriate financial resources, or other departments which are part of the college experience.
As a coach, I collaborate closely with the university to share feedback from students, smoothly implement changes, and distribute information. Since I’m usually the first person to hear about a potential obstacle, I can easily pass that information along to the appropriate parties.
It’s also common for faculty to reach out to me if there are students who could use some extra support, are lacking engagement, or could benefit from walking through resources. All this has retained learners who don’t just go through the motions, but actually feel a part of the program.
Have you or your colleagues ever helped a university discover a problem sooner, so they could support their students more effectively?
My goal is to be a neutral advocate for student learners. That means many students are comfortable sharing their honest perspectives on courses and university processes. This includes identifying clear frustrations about their experience, but also the things they love most. Sharing this feedback with the university has led to more efficient processes, improved curriculum, and innovation in the classroom.
What new issues are you beginning to see now, as more learners come online, or move through and beyond the pandemic?
The pandemic has impacted students in very different ways. Some mention they’re more motivated than ever, with fewer competing social obligations. Others feel additional stress, as they support family and their own mental health during difficult times. Almost everyone has been touched by it in some way, and a good week can easily turn bad. Planning ahead and making contingency plans are a big part of coaching conversations, so we can expect surprises and work through them together.
Institutions around the world were forced to take their higher education programs online in 2020, whether they were ready to or not. And although 33% of postsecondary school administrators plan to continue offering online course options after campuses reopen, many institutions are still hesitant about adopting this new digital-only learning environment.
It’s important to remember, however, that the global pandemic impacted nearly 1.6 billion learners and has changed the way we learn, work, and connect with each other — forever. How learners search for and engage with brands has shifted, and the type of online learning programs they’re looking for reflects that. Google recently reported an increase in the use of “online” as a modifier when people search for specific programs (e.g., online MBA instead of MBA). That’s because this type of learning environment is the new expectation for learners today.
And as a response to COVID-19, learners are focused on programs that can help them upskill and reskill quickly, with 18% of the 162 we surveyed looking for a special skill and 23% looking for a shorter alternative to a degree. Pearson Pathways anticipated this need and it’s why we included courses as part of our portfolio strategy from the start.
Unlike universities that now need to create and market courses individually to meet demand, Pathways has already done this and is able to provide learners with options that support their goals and are delivered in a format that’s familiar to them given the new way we learn and work.
Online education is the future of learning
Consider this: Enrollment increased at primarily online institutions 7% during spring 2021, compared to 5% in spring 2020, which means demand for online programs is on the rise. We all need to be ready for what this means for the future of higher education. If your institution has taken an active role in this digital transformation, there are ways you can support others as they do the same. Start by asking them the following questions:
How are you currently engaging with learners, and what can you do differently?
Are you doing enough to reach a diverse set of learners by looking outside your geographic areas and normal admissions territory?
What is your online learning strategy, and are you prepared to take on-campus programs online? If not, what are your next steps to make that happen?
Pearson Pathways was designed with today's learner in mind
At Pearson, we work closely with our institutional partners to ensure that they have the information and resources they need to be successful as they begin to offer more online courses to learners around the world. One way we do this is through Pathways: the first global online enrollment advisor.
Learners today are stressed. They hold down full-time jobs. They’re returning to learning as adults highly focused on careers. They worry about debt. But even with all these additional obligations, learners have big dreams of advancement through education.
Student Support Coach Nisha Khan works with learners in MBA programs to bridge the gap between institutions and students. And both sides benefit from higher retention rates, less stress, and fewer hurdles to graduation. She shares her story of helping students below:
Why did you become a student support services coach?
I was with a cosmetics company for 3 years where I worked my way up to a services coordinator. I already had the customer service skills — active listening and the ability to offer quick solutions. I knew that I wanted to help people and continue to build strong relationships. When I saw the job description for the student services specialist, I knew this would be the perfect role for me!
What do you enjoy most about coaching students?
It is a joy to work with the same population and have the same group of students for years at a time. You really get to know a lot about each student as an individual, but also learn a lot of insights about the program that, as a coach, you might not have the opportunity to experience.
What it’s like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?
It's truly so special to be part of a student’s life during their studies. You get to watch them from the start, when they are the most passionate and excited to start their degree, through the ups and down of an MBA, and come out the other side to graduate.
We learn a lot about students through proactive outreach. You could be calling a student to simply check in, and they will share that they are nervous to take the upcoming accounting class. You’ll then get a call from that student after the class is over to celebrate their passing grade with you.
For them to include you in their wins is so heart-warming. We also learn about students' personal lives, and we are there to celebrate these milestones as well. Watching a student grow in all aspects really drives me to find out as much about my students as possible!
What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners?
You need to be compassionate, empathic, and have great attention to detail — simple as that!
How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees?
Students value their education and have a high expectation of the quality they will receive, especially with how high tuition can be. Even though we strive to provide the most cutting-edge and smooth experience for our students, sometimes “life happens.” It can be a technical error, a miscommunication on course materials, or grades on their homework that they disagree with. For many of our students when their expectations are not met for the price of their tuition, it can be grounds to take time off from the program, and, in the worst case, withdraw entirely.
Many times students want to be heard, and that is exactly why I’m here. When they share feedback on the quality of the program, I can see whether it was a one-time incident, or if there is an overall trend that I can report to the partner to see if we need to implement change.
How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?
My school has 9 terms a year and classes are between 3–5 weeks in length. While there are benefits to this model, it means that students have registration and drop deadlines in conjunction with their class deliverables deadlines.
My biggest role is assisting students with registration and ensuring they are reminded about upcoming registration periods. By staying in constant email and text communication, along with proactive phone calls, we help the student think in the future and keep track of the administrative and degree planning items while they focus on their studies.
When have you worked with the university to help students more effectively?
I am a coach to online MBA students where most students do not have a background in accounting or finance. As a result, the accounting and finance classes have the highest fail rate and the highest drop rate. Coaches also hear the most amount of feedback in these specific courses.
Learners today are stressed. They hold down full-time jobs. They’re returning to learning as adults. They’re first-generation college students. They're highly focused on careers and worry about debt. But even with all these additional obligations, learners have big dreams of advancement through education.
Student Support Coach Lourdes Carvajal works with learners to bridge the gap between institutions and students. And both sides benefit from higher retention rates, less stress, and fewer hurdles to graduation. She shares her story of helping students below:
Why did you become a student support services coach?
I was an online student in my graduate program and had a lot on my plate to balance. I didn’t even know there were resources at my university to help students like me. I wanted to make the difference in a student’s experience while they’re achieving their academic dreams. It would have made my life a little easier if I had someone to go to from the university on the tough days.
What do you enjoy most about coaching students?
I love when a student confides in me that they’re struggling and need help. Life throws us curveballs when we least expect them and having someone to confide in makes it a little bit easier to withstand. The trust that I have earned from my students means a lot to me because I know how much they want to make it to graduation. I want to be able to help them get there.
What is it like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?
It’s an honor helping someone who has dreamt of achieving their academic goals. They share those goals with me from the very beginning, and I remind them of those goals throughout their journey. We go through ups and downs together, and we get to know each other very well. We become like family. I’m always so proud of them when they do finally achieve their academic goals.
What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners?
You need to be able to see the student holistically. They’re an individual who’s balancing a lot on their plate in addition to their coursework. As an effective coach you need to check in on how they’re doing, not just in the classroom but at home, too. This will greatly affect their performance academically as well.
You also need to be supportive, in whatever decision the student makes. Our students come to rely on us, as they may not always have an effective support system at home.
I believe another skill needed is to have good communication among your students but also the university. I believe the phrase “it takes a village” is very much applicable when working with students. Having good communication in the end will result in better support for the student.
How have you or your colleagues helped a university better meet the needs of students?
Some of the main concerns I hear from students are about mental health and overall wellbeing while being a full-time online student. We brought up this issue to the university and worked together to develop more mental health resources for our program. We have partnered with a resource center at the university to provide workshops on mental health for our students.
How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees?
My background is in social work, and mental health is very near and dear to my heart. I do mental health check-ins with my students, just to see how they’re feeling. We so often are busy taking care of everyone else, we tend to put ourselves at the bottom of that list. I remind them to prioritize themselves by doing some self-care every once in a while. We talk about activities or hobbies that they like to do to de-stress, and I remind them to do this when things are becoming too stressful.
How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?
My coaching style is to be very transparent with my students. If I’m transparent with them, that will make them more comfortable to come to me when they do have an issue. I remind them that they’re never on their own throughout this journey, and I’d love to help them as much as I can. I believe this has helped my students stay engaged in their courses in the program. Just knowing that someone is really looking out for them makes them feel more comfortable and motivated.
How do you work in tandem with the university to support students?
I like to define my role as being here to support the student. The university really likes how my role interacts with learners, as there is generally an academic adviser for the program as well.
The academic adviser takes care of any academic issues, like course planning and grades.
I work with the student to ensure they’re always set up for success. I allow the student to talk about their week, how their personal lives are affecting their coursework, and we also talk about their courses.
The academic adviser and I talk almost every day so we can both brainstorm ideas on how to best support the student.
In what ways do you partner with faculty members to help a student succeed?
I’m very lucky to work with such amazing faculty members at the university. A faculty member will reach out to me personally to talk about a student who could use more support. I work to find the root of the issue and help find resources to best support them.
I reach out to faculty members as well when I notice a student struggling academically and provide the context for what’s going on and how I’m working with the student. I love the collaboration between the faculty, the institution, and myself because we all want the same thing for our students, and that is to see them succeed.
Q&A with Student Support Coach Natasha Prospere, M.ED
Every online learner needs somewhere to turn when they have a problem or need someone to listen — someone whose advice is empathetic and reliable, and who can point them to resources that help them succeed. For many learners, Student Support Coach Natasha Prospere is that person. See how she approaches the crucial work of guiding learners from enrollment to graduation — so learners, institutions, and employers all get the outcomes they’re hoping for.
What do you enjoy most about coaching students?
I enjoy interacting with my students. And I enjoy working on new challenges every day — you never know what to expect. It's rewarding to support each student along their path, to encourage them and to provide the resources they need, from orientation to graduation.
I let them know what to expect along the way, guide them through their upcoming courses, and help them meet their graduation requirements. I can help them access the resources they need, whether that’s mental health, tutoring, writing center, or something else. Students often thank me for being their advocate and facilitator.
What's it’s like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?
Building relationships and positive rapport with students is fundamental to their success. My students know I truly care about them, their families, and their academic success. They feel supported by me.
In our first conversation, I learn about their academic goals — and also about their home life, what brought them to the institution, who’s part of their support system, and their ultimate goals. So, when times get tough — and they will — I can be there to remind them why they started in the first place.
As coaches, we provide motivation, as well as encouragement through personal struggles and life events, whether that's sick children, taking care of elderly parents, or even divorces. We also celebrate, sharing in joyous occasions such as weddings and pregnancies! Whatever’s happening in their lives, we’re there, with personal outreach, regular communication, and timely feedback.
What are three skills or characteristics you need to coach adult learners effectively?
First, you need empathy and compassion. Second, you should be a constructive, active listener. Third, you need to be a problem solver — and to do that, you need to thoroughly understand the resources you can provide to learners, and the university policies you’re operating within.
What are some concerns you help learners overcome?
Time management is a main concern: feeling overwhelmed as they try to balance work, school, personal life, and raising a family. I provide tips on being a successful online learner, both during our conversations and via email. For example, I tell them to:
Plan your study time.
Print and/or download your syllabus so it’s always handy.
Check your school email every day — something important might be happening.
Log into your course(s) several times a week.
Stepping back, I also encourage them to find their passion. What do they do for fun? Are they making sure to take time for self-care, exercise, time with family and friends? Are they eating well and getting enough sleep? That’s especially an issue for my nursing students.
How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?
Online graduate advising is so much more than telling students “what class comes next!”
Students rely on their Support Coach for information to solve problems, make decisions, navigate university procedures, and overcome technology challenges. We help them register for their next class, but we also make sure they know what to expect in their upcoming courses. We help them add the concentration courses they’ll need, transfer programs, take leaves of absence if they must, and — for our Nursing suite — prepare for clinicals and campus visits.
We don’t just connect frequently with students. We advocate for them. We share their concerns with the university. We provide the right guidance: information they can use. It’s all about building a personal relationship that shows each student we truly care about them as individuals — and about their success.
How do you coordinate with the university to support your students?
The institution’s on-campus Academic Advisors (AAs) handle grades, GPA concerns, academic standing, instructor concerns, and similar issues. With my Nursing program, Duquesne also has a clinical coordinator to help learners secure a preceptor and complete their required clinical hours. As a success coach, I send learners a program plan to follow, and remind them when it's time to register, order books, and complete financial aid.
Students tend to reach out to me first, as their main point of contact. I can direct them to their AAs, clinical coordinators, or instructors, as needed. I often copy the AA on emails, and provide time and day when it’s best to reach the student. We follow up via email, and we meet bi-weekly with the university to discuss student affairs.
We're a great team. Here's an example just from today. An AA called me with a heads up that a student may contact me. The AA said she knows we have a great relationship and wanted me to know what was going on with him academically. Since I know his academic situation now, I can proactively reach out to him, as he may need an updated program plan.
What issues are rising to the forefront, as more learners come online, or as they begin moving beyond the pandemic?
Some continuing issues are even bigger — for example, time management. We're always offering advice to help learners stay organized, set aside a dedicated study space, or use a physical or digital planner. And some students who’ve been out of school for awhile struggle with the technology. We’re there to provide resources, including a 24-hour tech support, live chat, and a writing center. So they always have what they need.
One issue I’m anticipating: helping nursing students find a clinical rotation. With COVID-19, many sites weren’t accepting students in person. Now, I suspect, there will be an overflow that we’ll all have to carefully manage together.
“I’d rather sing you a song than draw you a picture,” is what I’ve been telling my math classes for almost 20 years now. I’ve always enjoyed music (I was one course shy of a Music minor) and I always enjoy an opportunity to sing. Even in my math classes, I would sing the quadratic formula to the tune of “Pop! Goes the Weasel” – something which my students always enjoyed.
When it comes to drawing however, that is a whole other matter. My stick figures are embarrassing, so you certainly don’t want me to draw complicated 3D figures in Calculus. If only I could sing about washers and cylinders for volumes of rotation in Calculus; unfortunately, a picture is better than a thousand words, or songs, in my case.
Giving faculty the tools they need to be better online instructors is essential to having a successful course, program, and learner experience.
Develop online courses that work for students and faculty
The best online courses are co-created with learning experts who know how to communicate the faculty member’s message most powerfully. These experts help instructors from concept to delivery and have provided these tips to help you think through your online presence.
Create an effective online course
Your faculty are experts in their disciplines, with strong networks in their fields, and a deep commitment to students. But they may not feel comfortable with teaching online or structuring their course content. That’s where higher ed leaders can make a positive impact. You can provide experts and training to take courses designed for an in-person classroom and adapt them for the virtual world.
Administrators can provide guidance on structuring and organizing course content to make it as engaging and informative as possible. And they can connect faculty with resources and tools to review the courses before they go live with students and help standardize instructional design across courses so students are immediately comfortable when they start a new course.
A Q&A with Heather Clarke, Associate Director of CRO, Pearson Online Learning Services
Institutions are seeking more inquiries and enrollments from their online learning program websites. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) can help them achieve this goal. To explore how, we spoke with Heather Clarke, Associate Director of CRO, Pearson Online Learning Services.
Q: What is CRO (sometimes called website optimization)? How does it relate to marketing online learning programs?
A: CRO is the scientific process of testing for improvements on site elements and a user’s movement towards a purchase decision, with the goal of improving on-site conversions.
I emphasize the word “scientific.” We use the scientific method to collect performance data and user feedback, to form hypotheses, and to test them. Based on data, we create a test variation that we hypothesize will improve performance. By testing with a control, or testing one change at a time, we can attribute any measurable shift in performance to our change.
CRO helps mitigate risks and save time and money. By testing and evaluating (vs. blindly implementing changes), we let learners — through their actions — tell us what works for them and what doesn't.
CRO is continuous. Sites are never 100% optimized. The digital landscape evolves every day. Learners' needs and environments evolve, too. To serve them well, we must keep a pulse on all these changes, and quickly evolve alongside them.
Q: Who should a university leader of an online learning program talk to about CRO, and what questions should they ask?
A: Talk to your marketing team — and first ask if they have a conversion rate optimization team monitoring day-to-day site performance. Then, you’ll want to know:
What does my online learning audience look like? Who are we targeting?
What is the data telling us? What pages get the most traffic and prospective students? Why/why not?
What elements on the site get the most engagement?
What content is the online learner looking for to decide? Do they need more or less of it? Are they finding it easily?
Are the pages actionable? Are the calls-to-action (the next steps you want the visitor to take) clear?
Does our content accurately reflect our online learning program and institution?
Q. How do I judge the conversion rates we’re achieving?
A: Good and bad conversion rates are relative, so there’s no definitive answer. We track baselines and trends to measure success. Our advice: establish a baseline for your site, and constantly strive to improve it.
Once you’ve determined your site’s typical performance (which can vary seasonally), dig into your data, learner behavior, and learner feedback. That's how you identify opportunities to improve.
Q: How can CRO improve performance?
A: CRO’s goal is to find variations of your site that provide a statistically significant improvement in conversion. When you’re regularly making the right content available in a friendlier format, site performance should improve incrementally. More interaction with your forms = more prospective students.
On-site performance is key, but that’s not all that matters. As you get the right decision-making content onto your pages, deliver more relevant information, and help visitors act on it, search engines notice. Your rankings improve. That helps you acquire more learners and decrease acquisition costs.
Q: What tips would you offer to improve conversions?
A: These 6 tips can help you improve significantly:
Listen to your site's visitors. Do this by drilling down into your data, tracking chat topics and search queries, and surveying/user testing your audience. People will tell you their pain points if you listen. Which leads to...
Implement the right tracking. The full story is more complicated than just clicks and conversion. To optimize your site’s layout, you need to know how people move through it. What interactive and non-interactive elements are they interacting with? Where in their journey do these interactions happen? In what order do they click on elements? How far do they scroll?
Simplify, don’t clutter. Focus again on your site’s goal and what learners are telling you. What information do they need before moving forward, and what is your call-to-action? Make it easy for them to get that information. Don’t overload their senses when your page loads.
Create experiences that reflect your knowledge of the learner's journey. You don’t have to do 1:1 personalization, but if you know someone has visited you before, they may need different information to move forward. If they've clicked from a specific campaign, what they see should relate to it. Mobile and desktop users are different, and may need different information. Beyond this, while it’s challenging to link on-site behavior with offsite data via a larger Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database, doing so can take your on-site targeting to the next level.
Don’t make people dig! Your most important content should be higher on the page. Check out your site’s “scroll depth”: how far down the page typical visitors scroll. Anything people need to make a decision should appear above that line. Similarly:
Content should be quickly digestible. What's the average time on site (or page) for site visitors? If your content takes longer than that to skim, you may lose people. They’re in a hurry — just like you.
CRO is constantly evolving. As Heather Clarke’s team tracks the changing web environment, they continually identify new ways to improve performance. In the meantime, the lessons offered here may well help improve your web page conversions.
Keeping learners engaged in pursuing their degrees, certifications, or development of new skills is essential to keeping them enrolled. And for adult learners, engagement and value go hand in hand. Take for example, Jan*. At the start of COVID-19, Jan’s position was eliminated, so she decided it was the perfect time to go back to school.
Excited to continue her education — and excited to be able to do it from home — Jan jumped into her first few courses expecting the best of what 21st century online technology had to offer. What she found instead was a lot of discussion prompts asking “reflective” questions, written assignments, and a few quizzes along the way.
After only three courses, Jan was fed up. It was not so much the money she was paying for her online program, but the lack of any learning that she could use in the real world. She was not in this for a grade — she was in this to up her skills, learn new things, and re-emerge into the job market better than when she left it.
Communicating value through authentic assessment experiences
Jan is not unique. She is an example of the 74% of past, present, and prospective online college students that Magda and Aslanian (2018) found are pursuing their degree program for career-focused reasons, including:
transitioning to a new career field
updating the skills required for their job
increasing their wages/salary
Today's online students want learning they can immediately put into practice, so institutions will have to meet their needs with learning experiences designed with career preparation and upskilling in mind.
Unfortunately, many online courses do not provide the opportunities students need to practice and immediately implement the skills they’re learning. So, like many online students, Jan decided that the lack of actual application of the things she was supposed to be learning was enough to make her quit.
While quitting is an extreme swing of the pendulum, student frustration stemming from the lack of real-world application in online courses isn’t the only concern. What about the hordes of students who graduate and haven’t put their nursing, or engineering, or accountancy skills to the test in a safe learning environment? What about their patients and clients? We can solve both of these concerns using authentic assessments.
What is authentic assessment exactly?
Authentic assessment is a form of evaluation that asks students to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate their understanding of and ability to use the skills they’ve learned.
Wiggins (1998) identifies a few key criteria for an assessment to be considered “authentic”:
It requires judgement and innovation.
It asks the student to “do” the subject.
It replicates or simulates the contexts in which adults are “tested” in the workplace, in civic life, and in personal life.
It assesses the student’s ability to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skill to negotiate a complex task.
It allows appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products.
When every enrollment matters to the health of an institution and, more importantly, to the dreams of every student, keeping them on track to graduate is vital. And when you have a nontraditional student body, they need a student support services team to step in to play a central role, helping students transition back to the classroom.
As student support specialists at Pearson, my team has the privilege of connecting with online students, supporting their goals, and providing resources for their success.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we worked closely with our retention managers and institutions (we call them academic partners) to alleviate some of the additional stress this pandemic has placed on students.
Along the way, we learned three key lessons that can help your team whether your student support services are provided by a partner or from an in-house team.
Help nontraditional learners balance school and life
When nursing student Mary* called me in March 2020, she was in her final semester and didn’t know how she was going to earn the remaining credits she needed to graduate. With elementary-school age children and a newborn, she was already juggling a lot. And with facilities closed, she struggled with figuring out how to meet her program’s clinical requirements.
We worked with her institution to communicate the school’s policies with Mary. But, more broadly, our student support services team became a crucial lifeline for students. We reached out proactively to:
educate students on how credits for the clinical portion of the program would work
share the university’s plans for a virtual graduation ceremony
ease their fears about how colleges and universities could continue to operate seamlessly and safely
Nontraditional students tend to be older than traditional college students. They have careers, marriages, and children to contend with on top of managing their studies. The students we support reflect this reality as well. According to the 2020 Pearson Enrollment Experience Survey, for enrollments in our graduate programs:
the average age is 37, compared to a traditional graduate student at 32 years old
over half (53%) are married and have children
students are working/experienced, with 78% of students working full-time and 50% having at least 7 years of work experience
Focus on student mental health and wellbeing
Like everyone everywhere, our nontraditional learners grew weary as the months dragged on and the pressures mounted. They had jobs, kids, and life stressors on top of working toward completing their degrees. Their previously mapped out routines of school, work, and family had dissolved. Some students continued to juggle homeschooling kids with work and school. Others struggled to find work while keeping up with their education.
While online courses remained constant, the balancing act became harder. We spoke with students, employed as front-line workers, who contracted COVID-19. We became the ear for many, helping students cope with all the changes. We realized that we needed to:
direct students to mental health resources
advise them on time management and organizing tips
encourage students to keep going or take time off for self-care when needed
Serve nontraditional students in novel ways
When nursing student Josefina* needed to find a clinical placement, she faced a roadblock that could have derailed her studies. She was living overseas with her military spouse and didn’t have many options for placement since the country where they were based was in lockdown.
Our solution? Josefina participated in a Zoom session with her academic advisor and student support specialist to develop a plan that would help her lock in a clinical placement on the base.
We learned to:
tailor solutions to the student
connect students with program staff
coach them on options to complete program requirements
COVID-19 has put online learning in the spotlight. As more students need to turn to virtual settings to stay on track with their education, institutions pivoted to provide their courses online.
So how should your institution prepare beyond the moment to launch and grow online? Ask yourself the following questions about investment money and strategic opportunities.
How should you fund your online learning strategy?
As you prepare to launch your college’s online offerings, you’ll need to find a source of funding. Tuition streams will only gradually grow to contribute, so where can you acquire these funds? Institutions have several options:
Tap internal resources — If you have discretionary funds to use to establish online learning programs, this may be a great way to go. Much of the online program investment is needed upfront.
Leverage fundraising — Some institutions have received generous donations from forward-thinking alumni to expand favored online programs.
Borrow funds — Many institutions have pursued this path, but in today’s market securing financing may be more difficult than before.
Use partner investments — Investments from an outside educational provider like an online program management (OPM) company may fund your launch. They can work with you in multiple ways to help you meet your online goals.
Launching a meaningful online presence can require significant start-up capital and ongoing investments as you evolve and scale.
How to assess the market for your online learning programs?
Once you make the decision to launch online and find the money to do so, the next consideration becomes making sure there’s a viable market for your “product.”
46.9% of distance students now attend 5% of institutions.
You’ll want to be strategic in how you assess your opportunities and set up your programs. Here’s how:
Conduct market research — Professional market research can objectively assess student demand and shifting labor markets.
Evaluate your brand — Does your brand stand out in the market? You’ll want a solid understanding of your differentiators, strengths, reputation, culture, and ability to deliver.
Name and price your program — This attention to detail will help you establish yourself in the market and leap ahead of the competition.
To grow online you’ll want to identify niches, clarify and extend your differentiators, and invest more heavily in branding and outreach beyond traditional markets.
Have you ever congratulated a graduating senior, asked about future plans, and been surprised by the answer “I have no idea”? Several years ago, this answer was common. Fortunately, today, educators and employers have identified the career readiness gap and now intentionally equip students to be ready for the “dream job.”
While pursuing degrees, students can engage in Career Exploration courses which provide the necessary tools, resources, and experiences to promote Career Readiness. Some of these courses are offered as standalone courses, and some are paired with discipline specific courses.
Wherever institutions offer these courses, students are given the opportunity to discover careers, develop skills, and demonstrate skills to stand out in the interview process.
Get the big picture
Discovering and exploring careers through research enables students to begin learning about the job market. Burning Glass Technologies’ Labor Insight is an example of a resource students can use to find data on local labor markets.
Many people become so focused on a specific “job title” they don’t realize the vast employment opportunities available within a profession. Although it’s important to research salaries within the career, determining which employers are recruiting can also provide valuable information.
As students mature through their educational journey, matching personal preferences with specific employers can guide graduates. Discovering where a job is located, if it is a large or small employer, and the projected salary can provide insight for career choices.
Building skills for success
Developing and identifying career skills are other key factors for success. As students engage in career readiness courses, they begin learning how to create an online portfolio such as a Linkedin profile, which enables communication within the profession.
Interview techniques and resume writing build confidence for those entering the job market. Through these real-life experiences, students learn if professional certifications are required and how they may be obtained. Becoming aware of the entry level basic skills needed for a profession allows students to enter the job market prepared and with confidence.
Once the career research has been completed and students possess the basic entry level skills needed, they are ready to demonstrate their acquired skills. Being aware of employer expectations provides students an advantage when job searching.
Students who possess the online portfolio can showcase college projects and badges earned while relating them to the career they are pursing. Employers will immediately see the teamwork and collaboration skills. Demonstrating these valuable skills will enable the graduate to stand out during the interview process.
Ready for the future
Entering the job market can be an overwhelming time in anyone’s life. Knowing the jobs available and skills needed can produce confidence for the future employee. Engaging in Career Readiness courses can equip students with the necessary knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to land that dream job. Discovering careers, developing skills, and demonstrating these skills can help transition students to career ready candidates.
I recently spoke with a professor who, like many of us, was overwhelmed with taking his courses fully online while juggling multiple new initiatives simultaneously. The college was trying to reduce texts and materials costs, prepare entirely online courses, update materials for an impending accreditation visit, and, on top of it all, deliberately embed curricular activities regarding diversity and related topics across the curriculum. While some subjects are obviously conducive to this college initiative, it’s often hard for faculty to see the connections with things they already do.
Thinking through the connections
I’m teaching liberal arts this fall, so I am easily able to find such connections. I also require my students to find an article weekly about math topics in real life, so it lends itself well to this. It can, however, still be somewhat vague and not deliberate, so I’m focusing on embedding more problem solving activities that directly address these topics.
I keep thinking of the Mathematics for Democracy and its strong arguments for quantitative literacy. While the text is almost twenty years old, its arguments are timeless. Every citizen needs to have some basic numeracy and quantitative reasoning skills; they need problem solving strategies and critical thinking tools. They need to know how to apply mathematical knowledge to real life.
Outside of the book
Some of my students are ‘strong’ students, easily able to rattle off formulas and do computations. And yet, when I ask them to write about math—they do two short writing projects in a semester—they struggle. It’s hard for them to see math beyond the walls of our virtual classroom, beyond the covers of our book.
Here are ideas I share with them in addition to topics directly connected to our chapters. I often use datasets from StatCrunch, as there are over 40,000 of them available. One of my favorites for this includes data about each state and has such things as poverty rates, education rates, crime, etc. (This dataset is over ten years old now, and there are other ones to use. Any StatCrunch user can also easily upload datasets from the web, such as government census materials. StatCrunch is an amazing tool! More on that another day.)
Diversity and Social Justice topics for my students to explore
Prisons & mental health rates
Crimes & racial profiling
The death penalty and ethnicity
Poverty and minimum vs. living wage; labor laws and statistics
Housing costs and trends; real estate data by demographics
Homeland defense, defense budgets, military recruiting
The mathematics of public health, AIDS, asthma, health insurance, etc.
Educational funding and equity, high stakes testing, class size, homogeneous or heterogeneous grouping of students
Impact of tutoring & other initiatives such as mentoring and coaching on diverse populations
Environmental racism, pollution, resource availability; the mathematics of the climate
The mathematics of wild weather
Chaos and catastrophe theory & modeling
Effects on neighborhoods/sorted by demographics
And of course there are financial topics:
Paying for college
Salary discrepancies for women & minorities
High-cost loans and low-income neighborhoods
Politics & voting structure/apportionment, etc.
I also might incorporate media like Hidden Figures. The linked website here shares a bunch of resources with commentary and ideas. I find my students seem to really enjoy using media and current event topics as a way to see ‘value’ in our course content.
And there are many more.
Discover the details in the data
Certainly it’s easy to explore by subject area, too. As I noted, if I’m teaching probability and statistics, there are literally thousands of datasets at my fingertips, easily searchable. They’re useful in helping my students see what’s really going on–and we can explore just how easily we can be misled by someone manipulating graphics and interpreting data incorrectly.
We can use probability to look at staffing of juries. We can use data to explore fairness of wages not just in the US but overseas. We can look at traffic stop data and use statistics to determine whether there is / is not racial profiling at play.
We might explore some graph theory and use some geometry to explore things like how UPS, FedEx, and USPS are functioning during the pandemic; has there been a greater disruption in service to lower socioeconomic areas? What about the math behind LEED designed buildings or sustainable communities? Are these available in lower-income communities? How can we locate them to make them more accessible to all?
We’ve all heard about equity in STEM education for all students. Let’s take it a step further. Social justice teaching in mathematics focuses on promoting equity within the mathematics classroom, and also on empowering students to understand and confront inequities outside the classroom.
Some additional resources
The Mathematicians Project by Annie Perkins
At Twitter Math Camp’16, Annie described how she gathered information on name, birth, death, ethnicity, biography, accomplishments (including awards), and math specialty on various mathematicians. Annie’s constantly updated “List of Not White Men Mathematicians With Links” and a description of the project are here.
Teaching Tolerance Math Resources
Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has a wealth of teaching material, including math- and technology-related teaching resources. This organization also has a lot of tools for thinking more about the hidden curriculum of our classrooms.
Creating Balance in an Unjust World Resources
The Creating Balance in an Unjust World Conference on Math Education and Social Justice is a bi-annual event next occurring in 2018 (probably in California). They provide resources for educators interested in integrating issues of social and economic justice into their math classes and curriculum.
And last but by no means least, here is a wiki site with a ton of resources.
As instructors we’ve got a lot on our plate. We need to lecture, prepare digital materials and organize our online courses, provide individual feedback and check-ins, submit forms to our institution throughout the semester, and answer constant emails. On the flipside, our students also have full their plates with family obligations, work and employment to balance, and of course the global pandemic. Getting students to class and having work completed is half the battle, and the other half is justifying grades. Because of the increased educator workload and the mounting pressures on students, what can we do?
What is ungrading?
Many instructors are now exploring the “ungrading” model as a potential solution. Because we still need grades at the end of each semester, there’s still a need to view and evaluate student work. It’s how we evaluate the work that will be different in this model.
In the different models of ungrading, instructors don’t grade every piece of work and award points. They decide whether the piece of work meets their standard or not. If not, the work is sent back to the student for revisions.
This requires some rethinking of the traditional grading workflow. For example, in a chemistry class a student completes a problem set. If it’s missing work, I would give that feedback and return it to the student for revision. Are all of the answers incorrect? Same thing. I refuse to accept the problem set until the work is done to satisfactory standards.
How can you implement ungrading in your classroom? There are a few different models to choose from as a starting point.
One type of ungrading is called Spec (for specifications) Grading. Instructors create curricular “bundles” which, when completed, get translated into a grade. These bundles include media, notes, homework assignments and simulations, and ultimately some sort of summative assessment. Each piece of work in the bundle is graded pass/fail only and must minimally meet the teacher’s standards.
Students need a clear understanding of what constitutes passing work prior to engaging in this model. Having exemplars or rubrics which clearly outline the required components of successful work is critical at the beginning of the semester. These don’t need to be super specific. For example, in math this could include
Show all work done to arrive at your answer
Simplify all answers
If asked to “explain your answer,” use full sentences
Include units, where needed
At the beginning of the semester you will be spending a lot of time giving feedback to student work that isn’t meeting requirements. Flexibility around work that is deemed “failing” is important, as is the ability for students to revise their work and resubmit. Once your students have a clearer understanding of the expectations, the time devoted to giving feedback will lessen.
In contract grading, the instructor has clearly defined and outlined requirements for each letter grade (A, B, C, etc.). More or deeper work will be required for an A, standard work for a B, and less for each subsequent letter grade down. Students each write a contract which includes which assignments they will do, their due dates, penalties for late work, and a statement of the letter grade they want at the end of the term.
The instructor will keep a log of completed work that is, again, done to the level of work defined by the instructor. If the student fails to meet the requirements of the contract, the instructor has the ability to adjust their grade based on the submitted work.
The unique part of contract grading versus traditional grading is that the focus is on the work, not the “kind of student” in your class. All work is considered to be of equal weight, and meetings with students generally focus on improvement to work quality or opportunities for a deeper dive into the curriculum.
Allowing the student to determine their grade can be a serious leap of faith, but that’s what consultative grading is. This does not mean that all students receive an “A”. Student have regular check-in meetings with the instructor throughout the semester. At the end of the semester, the student writes a comprehensive reflection and puts together a compilation of their best work.
The student must have data that demonstrates that they deserve the grade they propose. An example of an end-of-the-semester reflection can be found here, as written by Dr. Susan Blum from the University of Notre Dame (Supiano, Becky).
Thought needs to be given to how handle extenuating circumstances on the part of the student. I tend to not make concrete rules on this, as I find that each student’s circumstances are unique.
While I have been thinking about making the switch to ungrading for the last few years, I haven’t made the leap just yet. Besides choosing which model to go with, I still need to identify the following:
What are you willing to negotiate on with students?
How will you handle absences?
How will you be transparent with students throughout the semester, so they know they are on or off target?
I’m looking forward to encouraging my students to improve their work, making grading more transparent, and creating a classroom that is focused on the learning process and not on numerical grades.
Butler, Ruth. “Task-Involving and Ego-Involving Properties of Evaluation: Effects of Different Feedback Conditions on Motivational Perceptions, Interest, and Performance.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 1987, psycnet.apa.org/record/1988-21628-001.
Have you tried using videos to resolve problems or provide innovative solutions in your online classrooms? Effective video usage can foster both individual student learning and increase a sense of community in an online world.
Teaching via video can be synchronous like a live Webinar or Zoom conference, but there are many other methods, including asynchronous video, to enhance your students’ online learning environment. In these COVID times, with so many instructors new to online teaching and attempting to provide or mimic the face- to-face learning environments, many have turned to the use of synchronous meeting tools.
There is often the feeling students are being deprived by being forced out of the classroom and online. This phenomenal upswing in synchronous online learning has been nicknamed the Zoom Boom. However, research is indicating this synchronous surge is simply not sustainable in the long run. There are issues with different time zones, mobile connectivity, as well as teacher and student screen time burnout.
A deeper dive into asynchronous videos
For these reasons, I’m focusing on asynchronous methods of using video to enhance the online classroom and engage your students more fully. There are four areas or goals where using effective videos can help instructors solve some unique challenges in the online learning platform.
Videos can increase student engagement in ways that enhance their understanding of the material.
Videos can help you assess the formative stages of their learning. Are they making the progress needed to succeed?
Videos can offer you methods of presenting difficult or demanding concepts, requiring students to demonstrate their mastery.
Videos can provide feedback to your students on their submissions in timely, meaningful and personal ways.
I have eight suggestions for video activities that enhance the digital learning environment, hitting all four of the goals stated above.
Expand on the written content.
Personalize the digital experience.
Flip your classrooms so they become learning centered rather than teacher centered.
Give clear and memorable feedback to students.
Demonstrate processes or concepts difficult to convey through written content.
Encourage your students’ creativity, demonstrating their mastery of the content.
Be informed about students’ formative learning with populated analytics.
Using the same type of analytics you can evaluate your students’ engagement.
Introducing micro lectures and more
Here are three suggestions for expanding on the written content through instructor-created, short videos. These activities focus on your specific course, adding to the content for added clarity and depth.
Chapter or concept overviews
Micro lectures are not long, nor do they attempt to cover the entire chapter. Above all, they are not boring. They should be short and interactive. And they need to chunk content in short management increments. You should capture your students’ attention as well as meet accessibility standards, such as closed captioning.
As a communication professor, I can offer you some production tips for making your movies of these micro lectures.
Think about covering the difficult single concepts you know students have struggled with in the past. Keep them short (3-5 minutes max).
Make good eye contact with the camera.
Be enthusiastic! You want to be a Tigger on film, not an Eeyore.
Be sure to use good light coming from the front rather than the side or behind.
Use a headset with microphone for optimal sound quality.
Make the videos interactive by asking questions, providing questions before and after.
Provide a transcript.
Keep your lectures focused with no more than four main points.
Be sure to use some type of attention getter in the first 15-30 seconds. It might be a question, a brief story, a startling statistic, a striking picture, a piece of music, or any other method that draws the students into the presentation.
Use far more images than bullet points when using a PowerPoint with your micro lecture.
New visual material every 10-15 seconds. It keeps listeners’/viewers’ attention.
Edit or re-record if needed.
And, be sure to use closed caption so your videos are accessible.
You can apply these same principles when creating walk-through demonstrations for your students of the course overview or a module/chapter overview.
Make a personal connection
Next, let’s look at how videos might personalize both the digital presence of you and your students. These are methods that put “skin” on the computer, that let your students know more than a cyborg is monitoring their progress.
Provide a video introduction from you to your students on the first day of class.
Provide course navigation videos from you to the students that are specific to their course, walking them through how to use the online tools.
Have students create a self-introductory video. You might suggest they share some type of story, like the best thing they’ve ever eaten, or the vacation of their dreams. Do not let them get away with, “My name is Betty Boring. I was born in Borington, and I went to Boring High School.” Really true stories keep us interested, and they’re memorable. It’s why we all understand the phrase, “Tell me another story.”
These introductory videos are powerful ways to create community within the course. We know that emotional connections are one of the most powerful components for student persistence. Any method that increases the connection between instructor and student, and between students increases that emotive piece of the puzzle for decreasing student attrition.
Making class learning centered
Using video assignments can provide information you need to flip your classroom, teaching to the most challenging concepts to that specific group of students. You might use:
Student discussion forums
These types of activities vary the way students interact with the content before classes or before the next week. Having students view a micro lecture before class, completing a short online quiz on difficult concepts offers information to you about student engagement and student progress.
Video quizzes can gauge engagement through data such as time on task, as well as information on questions most missed. You can then fill in the gaps with your own teaching strategies. And don’t forget your Learning Management Systems such as Canvas, Blackboard, Brightspace by D2L or Moodle provide data, informing instructors about student progress.
Videos can also provide us with the ability to give asynchronous talking feedback in an online environment by:
offering students recorded individual or group feedback from you.
recapping the week’s progress using a video message.
briefly discussing the week’s challenging material and common errors.
I began providing a video on Sunday night when COVID created massive changes in schools in March. My students, already in online classes with me, expressed such appreciation for my new weekly summaries with them about class progress with the material. And, it gave me a chance to speak with them about the challenges they were facing in their personal worlds as well, offering to help students find the support they might need.
Give them the microphone
Videos are the perfect environment for the demonstration of processes, skills, and course navigation. Let students demonstrate their mastery of the skill or concept by tapping into their creativity, engaging them with tools they are already familiar with such as:
Harness their inner director and ask them to create videos that demonstrate their proficiency with assignments such as:
Individual presentations such as speeches
Group projects presentations
Demonstrations of a skill or principle
Using the right tools
Once you’re comfortable with some of the tools at your disposal, you can take it to the next level with the many tools offered for video production and presentation. I’m just going to highlight some of the more recognizable tools and what they can do.
Pre-created videos are a great way to start. They are often accessibility compliant and professionally made depending on the site you choose.
YouTube has the broadest range, but may not be academically sound.
Publishers often provide clips which adhere to academic standards and are accessibility compliant like Pearson’s Clips, or premade video quizzes.
TEDx often provides videos that are both compliant and academically sound.
There are tools to help with video mixing, or combining several videos to demonstrate a concept. These can encourage student creativity and a deep understanding of the content of the course. Two of these are:
And, MediaBreaker (Students can create a mix of videos they locate, encouraging them to find current materials that demonstrate critical thinking about course content in a current real-world application).
Backchanneling is another way to engage your students. This is what we do when we are messaging friends during a less than engaging meeting. Phone messaging and Twitter were the original backchannels. And, while we might view these as distractions from the main event, backchanneling is engaging, community building and maximizes time if directed and focused on the lesson. Tools for this include:
Twitter. Students are very familiar with Twitter, but this does not provide protected space, nor is it academically designed.
Backchannel Chat can provide live time streaming commentary on videos students are viewing. Students can also make comments or ask questions.
Hotseat was designed by Purdue University based on a Twitter model and provides a free backchannel tool in an academic setting.
If you want to create your own movies designed just for your course and your students, there are tools offering you a range of possibilities.
EdPuzzle allows you to create your own video quizzes with embedded questions rather than a beginning essential question.
Loom allows you to screen share and create short easy walkthroughs for a class or just one student.
Camtastia is a robust video tool with many creative possibilities, but it is not free. Snagit allows you to screen share and save computer space as your videos are housed in their cloud.
TEDEd is a well-used video creation tool allowing you to stand on the shoulders of educators around the world as well as to share your repository of educational video creations with others.
Easy as pie
So, if you’re just beginning to use video in the online environment, or if you are well into your video use, keep it simple and easy as PIE.
Plan what you want the video assignment to solve for you or your students. Implement the tool that does this for you in the easiest and most effective way. And then Evaluate not only the students’ performance and engagement, but how well the tool worked for you.
“Ugh, when am I ever going to use this?” As an educator, how many times have you heard that question? We are living in a time of change. Changes in education, policy, standards and culture are just a few that we’re all struggling through. I enjoy incorporating current news in my lectures and weaving in my students’ everyday life experiences with what I teach. How can we, as educators, help students make new schema and fit it together with their current world view?
It seems now, more than in the past, these news items carry more weight. If you haven’t taken a close look at your curricular choices lately, it’s worth a revisit.
Personally, I don’t care if my students become chemistry majors. What I do care about is creating students who have a wider world view and can approach problems with a critical mind to make the world a better place. Before tackling social justice topics in the classroom, however, I need to ensure the proper foundation is in place.
I haven’t seen any state or university standards with social justice topics embedded in them, especially for the physical sciences. This means I’m going to have to pick and choose which topics are relevant to my curriculum, and which are appropriate for discussion in my classroom. Before you get started looking at topics, ask yourself these questions:
Which topics do I feel comfortable serving as an impartial moderator?
Do I personally have enough background information on this topic to serve as an arbiter of truth?
Discussion of some topics inevitably leads to frank discussions of topics like privilege, poverty, and inequity. Am I comfortable discussing this with students?
In addition to choosing the right topics for my students, I also need to create a safe learning environment, so my students feel free to discuss a topic from multiple angles without the fear of retribution or judgement. They need to know that their thoughts are valued. Consider the following:
When discussing famous scientists (or authors, or explorers, or…) is there only one narrative being presented? In science, the books seem to be dominated by old white men. I enjoy discussing why that is, and who the underrepresented are.
Ask students questions with no correct answer and let them discuss various viewpoints. For example, why do we learn about the history of the atom? How much radiation exposure is acceptable to the average human?
If you think of a question organically while lecturing, pose it to the class. Let them work out the different sides of the issue and take a stand on which they feel is best. As an instructor, I see my role as asking follow-up and probing questions to challenge my students and move dialogue forward.
Finding a topic
We can’t cover everything, so we need to find topics which lend themselves well to subjects already covered in our curriculum. Here are a few examples I’ve used in the past with my chemistry classes:
Flint Water Crisis
Heavy metal toxicity
Testing for Banned Substances in Sports
False positive rates and their impact on the lives of athletes
Natural vs. unnatural levels of normally occurring chemicals in the body and who sets the benchmark for what is deemed “illegal”
How cell phones work
Nuclear Byproducts at Bikini Atoll, Fukushima, and Chernobyl
Microplastics in the Ocean
Separation of matter
Clean Water and Sanitation Issues
Separation of matter
Engineering and materials design
How do you envision leading your students through the analysis of a multifaceted topic? There are many ways to do this as there are topics. Here are a few I personally enjoy:
Group Discussion or Socratic Seminar
Having students prepare ahead of time is critical for an engaging discussion. I generally have my students write out their ideas and thoughts as a homework assignment prior to the discussion so that they have a position developed which is supported in fact.
Have student take different roles based on their opinions and desires. Have the different sides to the argument present, and ultimately the jurors (other classmates) will make a decision on who made the most compelling case.
Students will form groups in pairs and discuss the issue. After a set amount of time, the pairs will form groups of four and discuss again. After some time, the groups of four will combine into groups of eight and so on until the entire class is one big group.
Most Learning Management Systems have a feature that allows for a question to be asked, without students viewing other student responses until they submit. I like this type of framing because limiting student exposure to other ideas will ensure that what they write is truly their position, without the sway of other ideas.
For some of the topics I mentioned earlier, students can move their ideas into the laboratory to develop cost-efficient ways to solve real-world problems. For example, students can design a field test for water quality, creation of drainage covers that allow for efficient cleaning and reduction of pollution from run-off, or design methods to turn human waste into fertilizer.
Wrap things up in a bow
Once you are done exploring an issue, there should be some sort of resolution. That does not mean that a side needs to be taken, or that something needs to be called “right” or “wrong.” Students inherently always want to know the answer to a question.
“How many covalent bonds are there in one water molecule?”
But some questions don’t have a concrete or finite answer.
“What does the atom look like?”
It’s those questions that are much more difficult. We have a good approximation, but no definite answer. The same can be said of social justice issues. Encourage your students to look at issues from all sides and do their best to understand the perspectives of others. When there are no correct answers, my best hope for my students is to base their conclusions on concrete data and to take the lead in making the world a better place for all.
There is no doubt that back-to-school plans have been hotly debated as the higher-education world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions have whipsawed between resuming on-campus classes or opting for a virtual approach to learning. Students themselves are carefully considering where, when, and how to pursue their college degrees. There are no straightforward answers or “one size fits all” solutions. Despite all the uncertainties and hurdles that have impacted the education industry as a whole, Pearson partner Maryville University has experienced remarkable growth.
Congratulations to Maryville University for making The Chronicle of Higher Education’s fastest-growing colleges list again after record enrollments for the 16th consecutive year. Maryville anticipates this growth trend will continue into the Fall 2020. The proof is in the numbers. Maryville projects overall enrollment increases of 10 percent across traditional on-campus undergraduate students and online undergraduate and graduate students this year. Maryville is welcoming more than 925 new students to campus, including more than 750 incoming Freshmen students enrolled in on-campus classes this fall – representing a 7 percent increase in on campus enrollment. Online class enrollment has grown by more than 17 percent, with more than 7,200 students engaging with Maryville online.
“Students across the country choose Maryville because we offer market relevant, high quality, online programs that provide the flexibility they need to fit education into their busy lives,” said Katherine Louthan, dean of the School of Adult and Online Education. “We are one of the few universities committed to the continual innovation and evolution of the digital learning experience.”
Maryville has long embraced digital learning as the future of higher education and understands the vital role it will play as an element of our “new normal.” Maryville’s decades-long focus on developing robust online programs and providing support for its faculty to deliver high-quality curriculum across all learning environments enabled Maryville to quickly pivot between in-person and virtual learning in response to COVID-19. This flexible and active learning model makes Maryville’s program offerings especially appealing to students eager pursue higher education in the midst of their already busy lives.
“Hey, sorry. I was on mute.” It should be our new national t-shirt.
If you’ve said this recently, you’re in the club. You’re among the millions who have been working at home in the wake of the pandemic.
According to the Physicians Foundation, nearly half of all doctors are using telemedicine appointments. Nearly every teacher in the US this year made the switch to online learning. What do they have in common? The ability to connect emotionally with patients or students is proving to be a struggle.
“New Connections Academy teachers often learn that what makes them a great virtual teacher is their communication skills,” says Mickey Revenaugh, co-founder of Pearson’s Connections Academy, a full-time online school program for grades K-12.
Trying to be human through the lens of webcam may be the next big skills gap, as working from home continues for the foreseeable future. Over 7,000 people in seven countries agree – in Pearson’s Global Learner Survey, 77% of people said that teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me that working remotely requires different skills than working in an office. What are those skills? 89% say that people will need to develop more digital skills, such as virtual collaboration, virtual communication, analyzing data or managing remote team.
Two researchers from Pearson explain.
“Communication and collaboration are two soft skills that become even more important when working virtually,” says Elizabeth Moore, Director, Learning Research & Design. Although these skills have always been important for employees when in the office, they are even more crucial when answering the challenges posed by working solo in front of a computer screen.
“Communication is important but different in a virtual environment,” says Jessica Yarbro, PhD, Senior Research Scientist. “Formal communication has to be more important. You can’t just pop over and have an informal chat.”
But you can teach and learn digital communications. Mickey says that “Connections teachers are specially trained to excel in online teaching, especially how to engage students in an online classroom and use a full spectrum of communications. They understand how and when to reach out to students and their families.”
The norms of how we operate and engage with people at work are gone and being reset by emails, phone calls, texts and video meetings. But something gets lost in these technology-mediated communications. You just can’t read people’s social cues.
Here is what our experts suggest to build more empathy and keep your soft skills sharp while working at home:
1. Make an effort to keep your camera on
“The decision to have your camera on in meetings isn’t something to take lightly. It helps you pick up on someone’s facial expressions and also allows you to show with your own expressions that you are actively listening,” says Moore.
2. Be more direct, not less
Researchers say that while it may feel awkward, you may need to be more direct to get people to engage virtually. The researchers recommend you do more check-ins for what people are thinking and feeling. And use active listening skills – reflecting and summarizing not only what people are saying but their social cues too. Verbal cues like “let me play back what I think I hear you saying” or “I think I hear you saying” are ways to show empathy and make you sure you really understand what others are saying.
3. Practice active collaboration
“Collaboration is about building on each other’s ideas,” says Moore. “So think out loud, virtually, to let your teammates know what you’re thinking and what you mean, so that they can help.”
4. Address conflicts quickly and verbally
But of course, personal conflicts will happen. And if you can’t ask somebody to talk one-to-one over coffee to address an issue, what do you do?
“I think it is even more important to make a space to talk person-to-person, especially if there are conflicts in a virtual environment,” says Yarbro. She says take conversations off email and do a video call.
Some people will find themselves back in the office later in the year, but remote work isn’t going away entirely. There is no escape from needing develop your digital skills in this new world of work.
“This change has been really hard. But, we’re learning,” says Moore. “We will come out of this with a new and more flexible digital working skillset. There’ll be a more of an expectation that you’ll be polished and skilled in doing anything virtually.”
Have you heard of the KonMari method? If not, here’s a quick summary: it’s named after a Japanese author who encourages tidying by category — starting with clothes, then books, papers, komonos (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. If you are “cleaning out,” you should keep only things that are useful and speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer “spark joy.” As the faculty advisors in this pandemic era, we figured out you can use the KonMari method in your classroom. 🙂
How exactly do you KonMari a course? Why would we even think of that? Well, for starters, there are many different features in learning management systems and in our Pearson products. Frankly, we often find faculty are so overwhelmed that they don’t know where to start.
Roughly 70% of faculty had never taught online prior to the pandemic. Even if they did, many aren’t sure what really is best for their course and students. At the heart of the KonMari program is organization, but it’s also a means to simplifying and making things less cluttered.
Where do we start?
Always begin with the end in mind
The first step in developing great content is to know what and why students are learning and how you are going to assess them. Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many faculty who start building content without thinking about this. Ensuring that your content is aligned with your objectives and assessment is much easier if you create a plan from the beginning.
Julie Dirksen, author of Design for How People Learn, talks about “design patterns” which document best thinking around solving different types of problems. This means there are lots of ways to tackle the design of the course, and it’s great to have a conceptual idea with best practices to help you make decisions. This is one of the places where faculty advisors play a key role!
Clean house & declutter regularly
By getting rid of old material, you will create space for new, better-serving material and ideas. Many of us make a standalone copy of our course, so as we find things we want to change, we do it immediately. At the end of the semester, we have a new course ready to go. It helps to constantly refine and choose what works better and eliminate what doesn’t.
Organize your course tools
Ask yourself, “Does a resource serve a clear need?” If not, delete it. I know my students have enough to keep track of without loading more things to my course that they may not need. If I do add new materials, I try to maintain a simplistic structure so they know where things are.
Be an (unofficial) instructional designer
Instructional design (ID) tips dovetail nicely here. You might argue that you were never taught or trained in these principles, and yet somehow we are all expected to “know” these things. Here are a few tips that are pretty standard across the ID field.
Keep it simple
First, and foremost, keep your menu easy to navigate and concise. Use 6-8 key menu items or so. A best practice in course design is to abide by this in each “module” in your course. Try to limit yourself such that you fall somewhere in this range.
Use meaningful images
Vision trumps all other senses. Remember that some users may have visual impairments, so make sure to include rich descriptive text as applicable. We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%. Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us.
Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time. So, reduce text and add images that support the text. This is why using consistent icons across instructional programs is so important. Students can process the meaning of the icon in a second. Use color wisely, and again, remember that those with visual impairments find things like tiny white or yellow font on a dark blue background virtually unreadable. So do many of the rest of us!
Design a distraction-free template
Again, tied to the idea of 6-8 tabs or similar, keep it simple. Sure, there are lots of cutesy graphics available, but it tends to distract and overwhelm many students. Ensure that there is enough “white space” both on course pages as well as in course work time. In other words, try to allow time for reflection.
Break up the content in small chunks
Don’t display all the assignments at once. Have them released by unit / dates. Instead of one weekly assignment with 90 questions, offer three smaller ones. And maintain consistency in the design. We see a lot of courses where we’d be easily confused.
Ensure that your learners stay focused and engaged
Check out John Medina’s website and book Brain Rules or Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Brown, Roediger III, McDaniel). Use tools like low-stakes quizzing, interleaving, and retrieval practice. Think about tools like Learning Catalytics or Live Response. Use the wikis and discussion boards to provide forums for students to interact, share, and reflect.
Reduce cognitive load
Cognitive load refers to the amount of working memory the brain can process. Working memory can typically only hold a few bits of information at a time and lasts around ten seconds. Therefore, your job as a “content developer” is to reduce and/or remove any information that a student doesn’t need to process.
Just how do we do this? Implement simple, clear navigation, that is intuitive and requires no thinking. Use a consistent icon bank across courses — means one less thing a student has to process. Minimize scrolling and create smaller chunks of content. Share Powerpoints or PDFs with the most important points highlighted.
Students can KonMari, too
Here are some KonMari tips for students. Because the KonMari method is all about being organized, I usually share things like the following.
Have a dedicated space
As simple as it sounds, I always tell my students to identify a study space. While online education is flexible, it’s still important to designate a specific place to complete your work. Find one that’s free of distractions, where you can focus and with little to no background noise.
For some, it’s a home office; for others it’s a desk in their bedroom, the kitchen table or a break room at work. Make sure your wireless internet connection is strong or you are hardwired. Find what works best for you and stick to it.
Commit to a structured schedule, as much as possible
Online courses are a significant commitment, and managing time is important. I tell my students to designate specific time frames to complete schoolwork each day or week, and block off their calendar accordingly. If they work a job during the week, consider using a day during the weekend to finish.
Keep an eye on deadlines
It could also help to have a calendar in the study space so course obligations are all in one place and top of mind. Keep an eye on assignment due dates. Even though online courses are often considered self-paced, set assignment deadlines still exist. Because many online students also have jobs, it may be helpful to sync work and school calendars so students can prepare for each day accordingly.
Find and nurture a support system
Earning a degree — especially online — is not easy. Surrounding yourself with family, friends and peers who motivate and encourage you can make a difference. Make sure those close to you understand the time you have committed to earning your degree so they remain respectful and understand when you’re unavailable. Consider providing them with an overview of your school schedule at the beginning of the term to remain transparent and help ensure you receive the support you need.
Connect with your professors early
Establishing a relationship with your professor early on will help you build trust and understanding throughout the term, especially since you may not be able to meet in person. It’s important to connect before the course begins or shortly after to clear up any questions you have about the syllabus or requirements. This will show you have a vested interest in the course and are committed to successfully completing it regardless of your other obligations.
Remember, one of the basic principles of the KonMari method is that you envision the “ideal” before you start.
As many colleges and universities make the decision to offer online instruction in fall 2020 due to COVID-19, we’re quickly reminded of the Saturday Night Live (SNL) episode that aired during the spring commencement season. “Congratulations Class of 2020! You will now pay full price for your college experience at a University of Phoenix Online without the tech support,” joked Kate McKinnon. She was portraying the principal at a COVID-19 graduation at St. Mary Magdalene by the Expressway High School. Unfortunately, this skit from SNL wasn’t only humorous, it also reflected the reality for some. These people have been thrust into a version of remote teaching that, while developed with the best intentions of faculty and administrators, was more emergency triage than true online learning.
All of education quickly pivoted “online” in March due to COVID-19. There is no doubt that there were varying levels of technical abilities and required adjustments associated with the quick move online. The pandemic may have accelerated this transition, but there are already some very distinguished online programs that are comparable to traditional face-to-face programs, and some with evidence of superior outcomes. Quality online learning is already a staple in many disciplines in higher education due to its flexibility and accessibility, and it’s here to stay.
Duquesne University School of Nursing is one of those high quality online programs. Now in partnership with Pearson, the university is applying best practices in teaching and learning and is continually updating those practices to reflect the latest learning science research. Duquesne was the first online nursing program in the United States, offering its online PhD program in 1997, and has since made the conscious decision to offer all graduate nursing programs online.
Online education expands access to those who would otherwise be unable to further their learning. In the case of Duquesne, many students are working nurses, often juggling shift work, family responsibilities, and caregiving. Currently, even if campuses were fully open, the demands of this virus would make it nearly impossible for nurses to access on-campus programs in many parts of the country.
Duquesne’s PhD graduates are deans, faculty, and Chief Nursing Officers — most of whom wouldn’t have been able to follow their dreams and earn their PhD in a traditional, on-campus program. This is true for me, Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow. I graduated from Duquesne with my PhD in 2002, transferring after I broke my ankle and was unable to complete my coursework on my personal timeline.
I found the faculty to be knowledgeable, supportive, skilled teachers with their own bodies of research and much to offer students. I attended a doctoral immersion residency and achieved all the other milestones of doctoral students. After graduation, I continued to work and succeed in academe. I achieved tenure and promotion to full professor at a university with very high research activity, always feeling well-prepared and comparable in knowledge and productivity to my faculty colleagues.
Good online learning is more than providing technology infrastructure to enable remote teaching. Online learning requires purposefully designed, and often increased, interactions with students. Professors hold one-on-one virtual office hours and many check-ins outside of regular hours. Clinical disciplines benefit from real-time virtual patient rounds, clinical case studies, and recitations. In addition, those who are new to teaching online may need to evolve how they approach assessment, technology, and time management. Duquesne and other high-quality online programs utilize research-based strategies like these to help train faculty to effectively prepare for teaching in a virtual environment.
The pandemic isn’t the first event to influence public perceptions that quality changes when we move from a lecture hall to a virtual classroom. The introduction of large, often free, online courses created an image of an impersonal, dehumanized experience that lacked the support students need to succeed. Also, the early surge of several for-profit universities created a negative impression that has been hard to overcome. As a result, well before COVID- 19 and the global rush online, virtual learning programs were often viewed as second class citizens.
The negative press and the poor reviews of online programs in the media are far removed from the quality and student success we’ve seen at Duquesne. Universities with quality, successful programs consider the development of students and the discovery of knowledge as integral to their mission, and that doesn’t change if education is offered online. In many instances, due to the use of various technologies, virtual simulations, virtual proctors, and other exam security measures, online learning is no less costly than face-to-face programs, as sometimes reported. The same highly qualified faculty are in the virtual classroom.
The abrupt transition to remote teaching in March 2020 due to COVID-19 was disruptive for many students and faculty. It’s my hope that thoughtfully planned online learning isn’t mistakenly cast out alongside it. Instead, I’m optimistic that this once-in-a-lifetime wake-up call means that quality online programs will become commonplace going forward, because online learning has much to offer our society at this time of crisis and beyond.
Now more than ever schools are turning to online learning, so why not utilize online learning platforms to help your program with accreditation?
NACEP accreditation recognizes programs that have consistently met or exceeded rigorous, peer-reviewed standards in six areas: Partnership, Curriculum, Faculty, Students, Assessment, and Program Evaluation. These program standards create a quality framework to ensure that students are taking authentic college courses for transcripted college credit while in high school. Becoming a NACEP accredited program requires the submission of a variety of evidence documenting practice, policy, and procedures that meet or exceed NACEP’s Standards. Online learning platforms, like those offered by Pearson, can be an important ally in working towards accreditation.
Alignment via online learning platforms
An accredited program ensures that college courses offered by high school teachers are as rigorous as courses offered on the college campus. Coordinating online platforms between the college and the high school keeps assignments aligned and curriculum tight. By having identical content, the programs are meeting equivalency standards and comparison criteria (exams, homework, lab exercises, essays, etc.). Grading policies and rubrics can be the same within digital platforms to ensure continuity (number of tries, points deducted per wrong answer, extra credit, rubrics provided within the platforms, etc.) which helps programs demonstrate alignment with NACEP’s Assessment and Curriculum Standards.
Embedded professional development
Providing the depth and breadth of professional development needed to keep dual enrollment faculty up-to-date can be a challenge. Pearson offers weekly, discipline-specific, live and on-demand webinars for MyLab® and Mastering® that cover registration, assignment creation, testing, best practices, and other topics that help meet training criteria. Plus, you have access to training documents like how-to videos and planning toolkits. These resources can assist with documenting faculty professional development to meet NACEP’s Faculty Standards.
Downloadable assessment data
Programs need fast access to accurate data reports that highlight key course performance metrics including student pass/fail rates, content mastery, assignment completion, and formative assessment scores. With online platforms, course data can easily be downloaded and exported to Microsoft® Excel files for detailed analysis, allowing programs to make data-driven decisions and laying the foundation for program evaluation.
Viable alternative to in-person labs and hands-on experiences
Online platforms offer alternative learning experiences for students, especially during COVID-19 when the flexibility of online learning is essential and budgets are being stretched. Pearson’s Mastering platform is one example of a versatile tool, providing virtual laboratory exercises and dissections that engage students as if they were in the physical lab space. Struggling to offer content because the high school laboratory lacks necessary equipment? Mastering can help bridge the gap so that all students have equivalent laboratory experiences.
In addition to science offerings in Mastering, MyLab provides less expensive, virtual experiences for other “hands-on” Career and Technical Education fields, including automotive technology, culinary science, carpentry, and more. Creating real options for hands-on exercises provides your program maximum flexibility in instruction to help students continue to thrive despite COVID disruption. MyLab and Mastering present dual enrollment programs with an opportunity to document the ways they ensure equivalent content, even in the midst of a rapid shift to online coursework.
Pearson: your accreditation ally
Our MyLab and Mastering online learning platforms offer all these important benefits to help you document your activities in preparation for NACEP accreditation, while also improving the student and teacher experience. In addition, instructors have maximum control over their course, offering the flexibility to easily create courses to fit program needs. Courses can be shared with colleagues and adjuncts, copied for next semester, linked to an LMS, and more.
With the uncertainty of COVID-19 weighing heavily on instructors and programs, a solid back-up plan is needed for online and remote learning that has academics integrated with realistic experiences. By partnering with Pearson for your dual enrollment program, you can get:
award-winning digital learning platforms that can be personalized for each student
online homework and tutorial services that engage students and improve results
preparation, intervention, and assessment diagnostics that gauge student readiness
technology and services to provide in-depth data and analytics for your program
college and career readiness tools that promote personal and social skills
We were team-teaching Intro Psychology in March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US and suddenly shut down everything, including our campus. As we shifted to remote instruction, we stumbled upon a format that seemed to work well for our class. We started each recorded lecture with a quick check-in, asking each other simple questions like, “Are you doing OK with all this?” and “How are you coping?”
This wasn’t part of some grand pedagogical plan. Rather, it was invention born from necessity. It was an instinctual human reaction to unprecedented circumstances. Our students kept emailing to say they really appreciated these informal and personal moments, which humanized the lectures, normalized their own responses to the crisis, and helped bridge the newfound physical distance between them and us. It seemed to be what they needed at that point in time. And we soon came to realize that we probably needed it as much as they did.
Elizabeth Redden’s July 13 article outlines the mental health costs and needs of college students during the crisis. Over the past several months, we’ve seen a lot of this firsthand with our classes (admittedly via email and Zoom). And, while neither of us are trained as clinicians, we do believe that the psychological science that we teach has lessons to offer our students in their daily efforts to navigate this crisis.
That was our motivation in putting together a new course this summer (to be repeated this fall), titled The Science of Coping. In the course, we’re combining discussion, guest speakers, and mini-lectures to cover a range of topics including:
using critical thinking to assess new research findings and public health recommendations
how stress affects the body and how mindfulness can help
the importance of social connection
how sleep, nutrition, and exercise influence the immune system
the psychology of conspiracy theories
control and emotional regulation
how to use social norms to change health attitudes and behaviors
the effectiveness of telehealth and remote therapy
bias and prejudice during times of threat
strategies for remote learning and managing distractions
The major assignment of the semester requires students to keep a coping journal. Each week they have to select one potential coping strategy, implement it, and then take a critical look back at what worked and what didn’t. Our hope is that the course provides students with academic and intellectual insight into the scientific literature on these topics, but also that it provides them with some concrete strategies that they can take for a test run and possibly incorporate into their daily lives moving forward.
There’s a selfish component in all of this for us as well. Instructors also need something good to focus on during a crisis. Has preparing a new course this summer been stressful? Absolutely. But it has also been a welcome distraction and something productive to focus on while much of the ground we all stand on becomes increasingly unstable.
This past spring was not something we expected. We’d all agree about that. For some, it was significantly more stressful than others. Throughout all my pandemic related research, I’ve heard several different statistics. Most recently, I read that nearly 70% of faculty in the country had never taught online before!
From a coach’s perspective
As you can imagine (or know personally!) those of us who support faculty have been quite busy, addressing many common themes. Faculty members ask us for insight into their course design; we notice things like excessive numbers of assignments; or, we see a long list of assignments—like showing the entire course at once.
Maybe there’s a lack of organization in the LMS. Perhaps the instructor was unclear about the student workflow, or there’s insufficient feedback for student work. Maybe the professor was not familiar with and then underutilized communication tools. We’ve had many discussions about selecting and delivering quality subject matter content; ways to deter and eliminate cheating; and the importance of having your course materials clearly set up and easy to navigate.
Extra points for balance and flexibility
The topic we haven’t had as many conversations about is the emotional side of an online course. Because of the urgency, many professors hadn’t had the chance to really reflect upon course design and effective tools to support students. Just how on earth do you create an online environment with that in mind? If we want students to stay enrolled and engaged, we need to strive to find a cognitive-emotional balance in your course.
We’ve got to be flexible.
Perhaps this might include reflecting about things like growth mindset, embedding study tips, or sharing best practices for students for online courses. Although we might acknowledge the importance of these in theory, their significance is frequently buried under a mountain of other concerns about accessibility, the content, tracking of student progress, and data reporting…
Let’s talk about the assignments first. There is a mind-numbing list of possibilities. What strategies do work? You can read more in The Learning Scientists, but they boil down to this:
Utilize concrete examples: illustrate ideas with examples that students can easily grasp.
Be a coder: a dual coder: integrate words with images.
Utilize elaborative questions: ask questions that help students connect new learning with prior learning.
Practice retrieval: have students practice with test questions on what they remember.
Interleave the practice: mix practice test questions from a variety of lessons.
Space the practice: delay interval periods between practice tests.
Ah, you ask, what happens when we really check these out? Read a recent article about student performance. In this study, note the role of student ability and the finding that spacing particularly increased quiz performance for low ability students.
Here’s a mental note: we should think about the amount of material we release at one time—that can be overwhelming. Instead of having the entire list of assignments show, many of us share only a unit or chapter at a time.
We know, however, that it’s not just content we need to think about.
Wowing the judges
Next, let’s quickly review the importance of communication! My team has heard complaints from professors recently that online learning means dumbing-down material. That’s not the case. It does mean, however, that your course material—as well as the ways your students engage with it and learn from it—will look different.
Many online courses become primarily asynchronous, for example, while others may preserve an element of synchronicity via video-conferencing tools. I find it helpful to have live “review” sessions and make use of tools like Live Response for engagement and practice.
How about some other things to do? Try weaving some of these into your discussion boards, orientation assignments, etc.
Have you seen the “Keep Teaching” community hosted by Katie Linder, executive director for program development at Kansas State University, and her colleagues at the university’s Global Campus? You can “follow” several groups within the community, including a faculty group that is already a lively exchange of ideas and support.
Don’t forget—if your institution has a teaching-and-learning center, that should be your first stop as you begin to transition your course.
Obviously, the ways in which a course can be moved from an in-person to an online experience are virtually limitless. I want to encourage you to reflect and choose wisely. 🙂 Think of this as a smorgasbord—you cannot eat it all! I tell faculty—no one uses all the features. No one has every single thing in the course shell covered. You have to choose what works for you; you’ll have some combination of your own pedagogy, choices, experiences, and skillset. If we feel overloaded, imagine how our students feel.
As painful as the decision was to close campuses and force virtual learning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators must make new, perhaps more difficult, decisions about how to resume classes in the fall. Many schools are asking: can learning happen both digitally and in lecture halls?
The hybrid model of teaching and learning uses both online and in-person options in a purposeful way. Not only does this model give you the flexibility to craft your course to reduce the risk of exposing you or your students to the virus, but it also gives students more ownership over their learning.
Here are our top tips taken from a review of existing research on how to make it work for you.
1. Build around what you want students to learn
Successful hybrid courses fully integrate online and face-to-face instruction, planning interactions based on good teaching practice. That means starting off on the right foot:
Don’t think of your hybrid course as your normal course directly translated to be online, or your normal course with added online components. One meta-analysis cited that many blended courses were not successful because they were “a course and a half”.
Do build your hybrid course starting with the learning objectives listed in your syllabus. Then, as you’re building your course, select and align the delivery method, technology, and assignments that will best help students learn the objectives and content.
Consider what is best done:
in person versus online
in real-time versus giving students flexibility
facilitated by the instructor versus facilitated by the learning resources
For example, few students reported being satisfied with their institutions creating a sense of belonging during the pandemic. Since it can feel more difficult to build relationships online, take advantage of in-person opportunities.
Online learning resources have advantages that enhance learning, such as immediate feedback and progress monitoring. In fact, across many studies, research shows that on average, blending online and in-person learning is slightly more effective than face-to-face learning.
There are two things to consider when selecting how to approach the online parts of your hybrid course:
Is there educational technology that can help solve any problems you have? For example, students may focus on getting through learning activities as quickly as possible, rather than engaging deeply. Adaptive learning technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated at detecting when students are engaging productively and when they are not, and can react to keep students’ attention.
Are you at risk of using digital technology solely for its own sake? Purely replicating an analog experience with digital technology can add complexity without bringing any benefits.
For more resources, this paper is designed as a starting point for thinking about how to use technology in your class.
Generally, a hybrid course is balanced to have more online, technology-facilitated work and fewer in-person meetings. For example, one model many schools are considering to encourage social distancing is to hold a large lecture online with small, in-person discussion sections.
Here are just a few examples of how others have blended online and face-to-face learning:
This course was delivered via a blended learning format in a flipped model, with online lectures followed by a two-hour face-to-face workshop tutorial each week.
This class met both in person and online. They used a flipped learning approach where students were expected to complete assigned activities before coming to a four-hour face-to-face class.
This hybrid course met once a week for three hours in a computer lab with the remainder of the course activities completed online.
2. Plan effective interactions
After you’ve identified your objectives, think about what interactions you’ll use to facilitate learning. Hybrid learning gives you a lot of flexibility in how to interact. These different types of interaction fall into the following three categories.
Learner–instructor interactions, like emails, announcements, and discussions. Instructor interaction is a major driver of successful learning, but feels more difficult online. You can make a point of fostering connections by using students’ names and humor.
Learner–learner interactions, like discussions, collaborative group work, and peer review activities. These can either happen at the same time in person, or online and outside of class. Each mode has its pros and cons:
face-to-face, synchronous interactions are good for creating a sense of spontaneity and connection, but not as good at fostering participation or giving flexibility.
online, asynchronous interactions encourage participation, depth of reflection, and flexibility, but they can lack spontaneity and connection and may let students procrastinate.
Learner–content interactions include activities, like reading content, watching a video, or working through a problem set.
3. Integrate the experiences
You can design the online and in-person interactions in such a way that they support each other, rather than feeling disjointed. For example, assign challenging and engaging online learning activities and then discuss them in person, inviting questions. If you’re encouraging online discussions, reference them in class to confirm their value.
4. Craft a learner-centered approach to learning
In a hybrid model, encourage your students to take control of their learning. Start by enabling students to choose how they engage with the content. Then encourage them to monitor and reflect on their learning. By using technology with progress monitoring functionality, you can also help them stay on track. Professor Manda Williamson has over 700 students every semester and uses the dashboard in her online course material to give students ownership over their learning. She talks more about it in this guide.
5. Support student success
In hybrid learning, students must be more self-driven. Set clear expectations and build in support for self-directed learning, such as encouraging students to plan, check their understanding, study more as needed, and reflect on their learning.
To further support their success, help them use the tools by holding a technology “onboarding” session on how to use the tech and where to go for help.
This approach can not only help keep students motivated, it also builds an important lifelong skill: self-management. If you’re interested in learning more about how to teach self-management, this paper goes into detail.
6. Assess learning online
Since you won’t be in the room with the students when they are taking the test, clearly communicate the rules and instructions before the exam. The rules may include how many opportunities students have to complete the exam, if they can save and come back later to finish, if they need to put away all mobile devices, and whether it is an open or closed book exam.
Technology can help you reduce the opportunities for cheating:
password protect your exam and limit students to one login attempt.
require students to complete a statement of honesty before beginning the exam
open and close access to your exam session within a predetermined time period
shuffle items or create multiple versions of the exam to randomly assign to students
create a pool or item bank to pull random questions from, a function built into many learning management systems ask students to justify or explain their answers by adding an open response field after each selected-response question
if you don’t have these capabilities, use more open-ended question types instead of true/false or multiple choice questions
This blog post gives more advice on crafting quality assessments online.
7. Continuously improve
Keep your approach simple at first and aim for continuous improvement, not perfection. We encourage you to try something, get feedback from your students, and keep improving your course. And you’re not alone: your colleagues may have advice too. You can build an informal or formal learning network to learn from each other.
This fall will be a learning experience for everyone. When faced with the unknown, as researchers we first look to what others have studied and the lessons they’ve learned. These seven tips, which are based on findings from over a decade of implementing hybrid teaching, can give you direction on how to bring together the best of in-person and online learning. For even more detail and research on hybrid teaching and learning, check out this paper.
Pearson Faculty Advisors have become educational first responders during this COVID-19 crisis; diving in to help professors use online tools effectively. We are teachers partnering together to share, learn, and pave the way in this brave new world of internet instruction.
Teaching online is nothing new to us. We’ve logged many years of working online with tools, instructional designs, and various learning management systems. But, watching every teacher in the United States move online in a matter of a few days, regardless of their comfort with distance learning, has been eye-opening. It’s challenged attitudes about online learning environments and the role of a college professor.
So many instructors are struggling with old ways and new challenges, trying to pound traditional classrooms to fit into bits and bytes. I’ve begun to recognize a clear dichotomy in instructional methods: restorative vs punitive. Looking to the experts for ideas, I discovered abundant pedagogical literature on this, making it far from being an original idea. The research is often directed at classroom management and changing student behaviors, but the principles apply to the consequences associated with our assessments, and whether they dish out “punishment” or increase learning.
Liberating learners vs. catching cheaters
There is much consternation amongst “instantaneous” online higher education teachers struggling to hold on to teaching methods that may not be functional for online classes. In brick and mortar classrooms, student mastery was often assessed through paper tests distributed with time limits, monitored by the roaming instructor to reduce cheating, and collected and graded by the teacher.
I’ve seen much hand wringing about how online environments simply cannot police students the way the classroom teacher could. And while the sudden shift to all things digital may revert to traditional classrooms, there may be lessons to be learned. These may be applicable for teaching anywhere and at any time. These atypical days are giving us time to reassess and find new ways to view classroom strategies or policies.
I’ve listened as teachers have listed the many ways they’ve discovered students can cheat by sharing information, invalidating their final scores. I’ve watched frustrated teachers try to create duplicate online classes that were once face-to-face, missing opportunities to increase student success. They are often missing the chance to use digital methods effectively, teaching the same principles in a different manner.
After hearing so much anxiety, I want to share some thoughts about how to be the rock star content expert, maintain your teaching rigor, and remain true to your unique personality with online learning. This may even transform that physical classroom in a return to the old normal.
What do I want from them?
There are so many disciplines and courses in higher education; it’s impossible to cover how every discipline should assess their student’s success. The following suggestions can be generalized and customized to meet the needs of specific courses and content.
“What should my students know by the end of my class?” should be the first question we ask when determining how to assess student progress. Much, or most, of class energy is spent acquiring information to pass the final assessments demonstrating mastery. Whether the course is psychology, speech, statistics, advertising, marketing, biology, or nursing, the time spent acquiring content is the formative stage of learning. Instructors are responsible for providing tools during these acquisition stages to help students “learn” the material in order to critically think through how to apply the new information in real world settings.
What do they need from me?
We are the facilitators of formative activities that help increase our students’ metacognition; helping them to know what they don’t know, and how to acquire the unknown information so they can apply it when required (tested). While formative activities will vary widely, their purpose remains the same.
These classroom techniques are meant for student learning, not assessing mastery by the instructor. I like to ask myself when selecting formative activities, “Is this something I can get out of the way of my students’ learning and let them be the captains of their own ship?”
Low stakes assessment of student progress includes activities that encourage students to reflect, collaborate, teach others, review, apply, or create. Incentivizing with points is vital for full participation. However, exams designed in anxiety producing high stakes testing environments seldom produce the long-term retention that incremental low stakes self-assessments do.
Consider formative activities such as group projects, encourage collaboration through discussion forums, offer opportunities for reflection through journaling, or ask opened ended questions on short, low-stakes quizzes.
Get out of the way and let them learn!
If you like auto-graded, time-saving multiple choice quizzes, leave them for student self-assessments. They can be great tools to let the student know what they don’t know yet, encouraging them to go back and review. But they tell us little about what students are retaining long-term and are rife with possibilities for easy “cheating.”
If quizzes are low stakes, there is little reason to spend the energy to cheat. I would ask, “If the student Googles the answer in a low stakes self-assessment, who cares?” It matters little whether they learned the information from reviewing the content I provided or from Google. If they spend the energy to look up the answer, they most likely will remember the question for some time to come. My passion for teaching is to produce life-long learners who seek information from every source available.
How do I know they got it?
There is a time for all instructors to summarize the total progress their students have made, or are making, during the term. Again, these “summative” assessments will take many forms depending on your specific course. I encourage instructors to think about limiting the number of these high-stakes assessments.
Keep in mind most of class time is spent in acquiring information or forming a new knowledge base. Students need enough time to get comfortable with the content before they really show you their critical thinking skills and applying their new information to unique and practical situations.
A personal example
Here’s a scenario that shows moving from formative to summative student assessment techniques:
Weeks are spent training psychology students through low stakes assignments to write in correct APA style.
The formative assessments are 250-word discussion forums in proper APA, encouraging students to review classmates’ work, compare their thoughts, and make comments on each other.
There are usually 8-10 short, shared essays.
By the end of the term, students demonstrate their mastery of both content and APA writing style through a summative research paper.
All assessments, both formative and summative, provided little chance or incentive to cheat as the essays and paper are submitted for originality checks. Students are ENCOURAGED to collaborate with each other, asking classmates’ input before submitting their final research paper.
Becoming a Titan
We all are challenged to keep teaching fresh and alive, to stay abreast of what is changing in our world, our students’ lives, our students’ learning, and our own wants and needs. I don’t want to create a classroom made for my needs. Rather, it should be one to help the maximum number of my students achieve their goals, persisting toward their degrees. As you think through how to provide formative steps toward knowledge acquisition that summarizes student progress, ask these questions:
In each segment/chapter/module/increment of learning, what should my students remember?
How can I help them submit that information to their long-term memory? See this source for some ideas on retrieval practice.
How can my students demonstrate they have mastered the concepts I feel they need from my course?
What kinds of assessments can I use that limit cheating and demonstrate real learning? See this resource for ideas about summative assessments.
Rock stars, every one
This may seem radical, but I want my students to share questions and answers, learn from each other, and become co-intelligent. I want to teach them that life is a group, not a proctored exam. Life is about solving large problems as a community, not being checked in isolation to see if we know everything about anything on one big exam. I want to be a learning facilitator. It’s all about my students’ learning, not about my need to perform. I may not be the rock star from your past. You may not remember my name. But if the tunes I taught you long ago hum in your head when you see a problem needing a solution, I’ve earned the title “Teacher”.
This spring, thousands of institutions rushed to deliver instruction online at scale. Many were new to online learning, and no two institutions or instructors approached it exactly the same way. But most recognized that it’ll play an important role going forward, and most saw room for improvement. In this blog post, we’ll share five key considerations for your institution to deliver richer, more successful online learning experiences.
1. Develop more compelling online courses and curricula
Translating your faculty’s expertise online requires new techniques and mindsets. Instructional design must be integrated with user experience engineering, technology, visual design, writing, accessibility, web development, quality assurance, project management, and more.
2. Focus on helping faculty succeed
Support faculty all the way to success, with course development help and training that reflects their needs and respects their expertise. The right course development experts can help faculty optimize their own content and course structures for online learning environments, integrate more engaging media and learning modalities, and foreground real-world relevance. The right training ensures that technology serves faculty instead of the other way around.
3. Improve student support to improve outcomes
Online students require seamless support from first contact through graduation. This requires institutions to break down silos, collaborate creatively, and sometimes change culture. Consider: how do students tell you if they’re encountering serious life challenges? How do you respond? Can programs and faculty work more closely with tutors to anticipate student needs? Can each student turn to a specific individual for timely, relevant help that orchestrates all your resources?
4. Choose resources with a track record of success
For each online learning function, whether internal or external, expect a track record of success. Have they met their commitments? Have they built the types of programs you want? Can they do it at scale? Do they understand how technologies and students are changing? Are they agile and collaborative? Will they act as agents of change, recommend and execute on innovations, and help you deliver on your institution’s online strategy?
5. To sustain enrollments, get the marketing right, too
You need to get your marketing strategy right, and yesterday’s strategy may not be right anymore. Today, you’re competing with gap years and dropping out indefinitely, not just other institutions. You have to rethink how you demonstrate your value to students — and that may require objective, outside assistance.
We can help
Our white paper offers more insights in all five areas. And we’re available to discuss your unique online learning challenges. See how we can help you and your students succeed — no matter what comes next.
I like a good deal. Getting something for less than what you expected to pay is rewarding. However, if that item doesn’t work like you thought, or even breaks soon after you get it, it may not be such a good deal after all. I think we’d all agree quality matters. The developers of a set of instructional guidance felt the same and even named it, “Quality Matters”. Let’s take a closer look at this tool whose namesake is what most professors and course designers strive for every day.
What exactly is Quality Matters?
Quality Matters (QM) is a tool used to assess the quality of a course. With increased emphasis on online courses and the need to design materials with accreditation in mind, the best way to design a course is with QM built in from the start. As a result, it’s helpful for all of us to keep these types of recommendations in mind when talking with customers and assisting them with curricular materials.
Where did this all get started?
Quality Matters began with a small group of colleagues in the MarylandOnline, Inc. (MOL) consortium trying to solve a common problem among institutions: how do we measure and guarantee the quality of a course? At the time, I was teaching at a university. Later, I taught at a community college, and the discussions about online courses were extensive at both places. Yes, we wanted to meet the needs of our students, provide flexible scheduling options, etc., and we wanted to offer these courses everywhere because geography would no longer be a constraint for enrollment.
We were also, like many other institutions, simultaneously updating transfer agreements. Administrators and educators across the country needed a way to ensure course quality for their students, regardless of where the course originated. Ideally, courses would be equivalent. Otherwise, transfer agreements would be impacted. In 2003, the consortium outlined how the Quality Matters program could create a scalable process for course quality assurance, and applied for a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The FIPSE grant enabled QM to develop a rubric of course design standards and create a replicable peer-review process that would:
Train and empower faculty to evaluate courses against these standards
Provide guidance for improving the quality of courses
Certify the quality of online and blended college courses across institutions
The QM commitment
Today Quality Matters is a nonprofit organization comprised of dedicated staff from all over the United States who work together virtually to support everyone’s quality assurance goals. To truly achieve their mission of defining and maintaining quality assurance in online learning, the QM staff rely on a much larger community of QM coordinators, workshop facilitators, peer reviewers, program reviewers, conference presenters, and all other individuals and groups who champion QM. Some of Pearson’s faculty advisors participated in QM training in the past and became reviewers with this program.
QM’s mission is to promote and improve the quality of online education and student learning nationally and internationally through the following: development of current, research-supported, and practice-based quality standards and appropriate evaluation tools and procedures.
Recognition of expertise in online education quality assurance and evaluation.
Fostering a culture of continuous improvement by integrating QM Standards and processes into organizational plans to improve the quality of online education.
Providing professional development in the use of rubrics, tools and practices to improve the quality of online education.
Peer review and certification of quality in online education.
A well-designed course is more likely to engage learners and positively affect their performance. Using the QM Rubric and relevant review tools as a guide, faculty and their colleagues, or a team of QM-trained, experienced online instructors can evaluate the design of an online or blended course and ensure it meets QM Standards. When professors are ready to put a course through the review process, they can receive fresh ideas from colleagues who are interested in the course. These QM-trained peers can offer specific feedback in a positive tone that will help improve the quality of the course and create a more active learning experience for students.
So what are the QM standards?
Chances are, if you’ve worked with a faculty advisor, you’ve heard references to these or something very similar. These are also familiar if you’ve looked at the teaching online toolkit and other resources from our Learning Design team.
The eight General Standards of this Rubric are:
Course Overview and Introduction
Learning Objectives (Competencies)
Assessment and Measurement
Learning Activities and Learner Interaction
Accessibility and Usability
Don’t let the short list above fool you into thinking it won’t take long to work through. In fact, there are many resources for each one of these. Here, for example, is a rubric which can be helpful for faculty to refer to as they develop a course.
What if a faculty member is trying to “retrofit” or “overhaul” or redesign a course? QM has an article with suggestions to help you improve existing courses. Again, you’ve heard things like this from our team.
And if you’re looking for a webinar to share in addition to the Pearson webinar offerings this summer, you can direct people here.
If you’re still wondering whether it’s worth it or not…
“Hinds Community College eLearning has been using Quality Matters as the basis for our instructional integrity initiatives for many years now, probably since around 2015. We want our students to feel that they are getting a quality course…when they take a Hinds Community College eLearning course. We know that begins with Course Design and alignment. We ask a LOT of our Hinds eLearning faculty. They dig deep to give us what we ask for. The QM General Standards and course alignment of the critical course components are incorporated into our Hinds eLearning courses through thorough training and course evaluation. All of our pedagogical trainings and evaluations are related to a QM general standard directly or indirectly.
So, why QM? I like the quote by Malcolm X that says ‘If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.’ That is why we look to Quality Matters…the research-based, GOLD standard of online course evaluation for the framework of our Hinds Community College eLearning courses.”
-Katherine Puckett, District Dean of Instructional Technology and eLearning, Hinds Community College
No matter their major, university, or year in school, most students can agree on one thing: buying textbooks is one of the more frustrating experiences that college has to offer. But the recent unexpected shift to online learning and digital course materials is making this less of an obstacle. Four students from across the nation shared their experiences with their textbooks and course materials — and told us why access to digital has changed the way they view studying.
One of the most common complaints students have about their course materials is the actual process of acquiring them. Sarah F., a political science student at the University of Missouri, dreaded having to visit the bookstore at the beginning of each term.
“The only way you can avoid the bookstore is ordering your books online, but there’s a waiting period, so sometimes you don’t even get your books in time for those first couple of homework assignments. I hate having to organize all of that — it’s probably one of the worst things I have to do in college.”
The recent shift to online learning has already led to a shift in course materials in most cases. As faculty look forward with uncertainty, they know that comprehensive, flexible, and cost-effective solutions are key to a successful course, no matter the future of their course delivery. The College Board estimates that a year’s worth of textbooks and supplies can cost the average student a staggering $1,240.1 Zach D., a marketing student at the University of Iowa, has found that, while the cost of textbooks can be frustrating, there’s something even worse — the cost of books that go unused.
“I spent $200 on this book and will only get $20 at the end of the semester for it, when I didn’t even need it in the first place.”
In his experience, the digital course materials he’s been assigned have actually been utilized in class and have helped him keep up on his own time, while physical materials have often gone untouched.
For all four students, digital course materials have been more affordable than physical materials (Zach estimates they’ve saved him several hundred dollars this year alone.) And they all agreed that digital materials were more useful to them.
Rachel H., a business administration major at the University of Colorado Boulder, has discovered a whole host of game-changing benefits to using digital materials. “It saves time in the first place because you get your book on the very first day and can start studying right away, instead of waiting to get the book in the mail. And if you’re trying to search a textbook for something, you can literally do it with your keyboard. Also, a lot of the Inclusive Access that I have has additional online study materials in it, like flashcards and practice tests. It’s extra studying my professor doesn’t give me, but is still a part of the textbook, so I can go in and study in different ways that they provide…it’s definitely had a positive impact on my grades.”
Digital materials also help students by allowing them to learn when, where, and how it works best for them, especially during these unprecedented times. Jesus H., a business management student at California State University Fresno, found that, because of their flexible nature, the digital materials he had access to sometimes contributed even more to his success than attending lectures did.
“For an accounting class I took, I learned a lot through MyLab™ Accounting. It prepared me a lot for my exams, and I passed because of the digital materials. It was convenient, it allowed me to save time, and I could study anywhere. It was very beneficial, and because of that I’m now trying to stay with classes I know will be using digital materials instead of print books.”
Through the Covid-19 lockdown and institutional shift to distance learning, technology is what has kept us together. As almost every aspect of students’ lives becomes digitized, it’s no wonder that pairing technology and education works so well for them. The benefits of digital products and course materials were clear even before the recent disruption to education, and have become even more apparent with the widespread shift to online and HyFlex learning models.
A study by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation even found that when students take courses that engage digitally and in-person, content mastery can occur twice as quickly, and pass rates for at-risk students can increase by 33%.2 Sarah is certain that she’s enjoyed those benefits throughout her college experience, thanks to digital course materials.
“I’m kind of able to be successful either way, but it’s about making it easier for me to be successful. It’s about putting everything in one place and keeping me organized — letting me search through and study the materials I need to, and giving me assignments that I can complete online that are more interactive than they would be otherwise. The culmination of all those things make it easier for me to succeed. Students can still succeed when they’re using paper materials, but I think having the digital materials gives us even more advantages and helps us be just that much more successful.”
During this historic time, faculty around the country in all disciplines are adopting digital solutions to support delivery of their courses and help improve affordability and student success.
Your faculty meeting starts, and one of the key items on the agenda is a focused discussion about cultural diversity and inclusion in online courses. Of course, you must also consider curricular content, pedagogy, accessibility and universal design, and their impacts on education. All of these affect your students’ learning, motivation, and satisfaction in a course. Where do we even begin with this discussion?
Why explore diversity in our courses?
Researchers agree it can promote student growth and reflection. In our increasingly globalized world, it can help students begin to foster a sense of empathy for others and bring about open-mindedness. Supporting tolerance is critical: allowing students to feel unique while still being part of the group helps them prepare for the twenty-first century workplace.
As professors, we are committed to ensuring an inclusive environment for all of our students. This includes people of all abilities, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, religious traditions, socioeconomic classes, and ages. We could discuss these for a long time; however, most instructors are not afforded the liberty of a lot of time to consider these and design a course. How can we take current research and utilize it to deliver a course that meets these needs?
A profoundly critical aspect of any online course is communication; research in sociology, psychology, and cognition supports this. Consider also the importance of student viewpoints towards power structures in the classroom (for example, the role of the instructor versus the role of the student), how information is processed, and subject matter content.
One of the most predominant differences between online and traditional courses lies in how students and faculty interact in the classroom. Not only does the online classroom remove the physical, synchronous presence from the learning community, it regularly shifts the bulk of communications to written exchanges.
Often, the instructor is the one who facilitates the emails and discussion forums. Instructors typically provide feedback in writing, using embedded course tools for grading notes and comments. In addition to the Learning Management System (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas, Brightspace by D2L, or Moodle), the faculty and students can engage outside of the classroom via social media and other tools. Again, these environments are normally driven by text, with varying emphasis on live or verbal exchanges.
Tools such as Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate can be useful; however, it’s frequently difficult to find times that everyone can meet virtually. More often, the meetings are recorded and shared so all can access the material. Live chats, video conferencing, Wikis, and blogs are all tools that are available to you to engage your students.
Emphasis on the written word, regardless of platform, can create potential issues related to the interpretation of content, particularly for students whose first language is not English. Students, particularly English as a Second Language (ESL) students, may look for hidden messages in feedback and/or decipher feedback differently.
Consider the potential (mis)interpretation of written forums or feedback and the impact on student performance and attitude. Be clear and thorough. We find it helpful to create samples of frequent errors with detailed notes that we can easily share with any student. Making mini lessons with apps like Educreations is useful, too. These are useful for all students.
Keep in mind that students do not necessarily have to be English language learners for their culture to influence their interpretation or understanding of the meaning of written text within a course. Culture can impact the dynamics of the exchanges as well. Cultural norms — the common beliefs, expectations, and practices of a society — may impact how and when students respond to questions.
For example, students from Western cultures may be more apt to view the instructor as a facilitator, rather than non-Western students. In some cultures, the instructor is viewed authoritative in nature. You’ve probably had a student or two who argued that you should just “tell them what to do” instead of asking them to “guess.”
Tips for better communication
Use icebreakers and “getting to know you” activities on your discussion boards. Share the expectations for student comments/behavior before the course even begins. Consider disciplinary content in a global context as you post questions and problems of the week. Think and share about your own identity.
First and foremost, consider universal design principles in your course design. It may be as simple as paying attention to color and size of fonts, the volume of material on any given page, the embedding of objectives and directives for the learners, etc. You already know it’s critical to use only captioned videos, images with alt text, etc, but do you know how people tend to scan/read web pages? Are you designing your course with that in mind?
Explore more about accessibility for Pearson products by visiting the product websites. We also have more detailed training resources for many products such as MyLab (Math, Business, etc.), MyLab IT, and Mastering.
The aesthetics of a course are important. How will your course users see and interpret images, art, photography, movies, and so on? What is the reading level of the material chosen? Is the material engaging? Does the media reflect diversity?
Universal design principles help educators consider how to reach every learner by providing flexible instructional materials, techniques, and strategies. It promotes the engagement of each learner by making learning more accessible. A guiding principle of universal design is that we need to provide multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement for students.
Acknowledging and understanding cultural differences
It’s important to note that it is very difficult to identify and address every critical area in a course. Countless articles, some very extensive ones, cover the concept of inclusion and diversity. This short blog is only intended to get you thinking about key components of designing an online course with diversity in mind.
If we acknowledge that diversity influences learning, then we may be able to create discussions that result in examples that are culturally relevant. Your work as an instructor sets the tone for a safe space in the classroom where students can share their experiences and perspectives.
For those of us who are “accidental” instructional designers or instructional designers for real, we might want to consider learning more about things like wisdom communities that offer a framework for orienting and engaging students.
How do we promote diversity in our classes?
We strive to understand our students.
We utilize different teaching strategies and materials.
We structure the course to provide equal opportunities to all students.
We celebrate diversity. We keep this in mind when designing discussion posts or sharing articles, for example.
We encourage differing perspectives. We ask students to share their views and substantiate why they feel/think that way.
We seek to include diverse learning materials.
Understanding the unique differences in traditional and online learning environments and how culture plays a role, can help shape a positive educational experience for students and their faculty. With increasing emphasis on online learning, we need to have more conversations about understanding and supporting students from diverse cultures. It’s helpful to reflect on your own experiences, because our personal cultural influences or teaching styles might guide our choices in course design.
Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education This is a text by Sonia Nieto, University of Massachusetts Amherst (Emerita) and Patty Bode, Tufts University in Affiliation with The Amherst Regional Public Schools. Effective multicultural education must consider not just schooling, but also the larger social, economic, and political factors that affect students’ success or failure in the classroom. Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education helps readers understand these pervasive influences by presenting extensive research and data on the sociopolitical nature of schools and society, information about different sociocultural groups, and a conceptual framework for examining multicultural education. Real-life cases and teaching stories dominate in this book that offers a first-hand look into the lives of students and educators from a variety of backgrounds. Additionally, tips for classroom activities and community actions offer aspiring teachers concrete suggestions to provide high-quality, inclusive education in spite of obstacles they may face.
When you read the title of this blog, you might have thought of sand right away. Blue skies, fluffy clouds, ocean waves….a cooler with sandwiches, a good book… Well, beach time IS a wonderful thing, but it’s not what I’m referring to here. Nor are we going to discuss the beach towels that shake off sand the best (again, a good thing!).
For today, we aren’t thinking of sand as our grit. Instead, our definition of grit is “courage and resolve; strength of character.” Or, it’s the ability to “stick it out” and persevere. In education, there’s a lot of current research about students’ “grittiness” and ability to succeed. There’s even a special GRIT gauge which uses the mnemonic for Growth, Resilience, Instinct, and Tenacity.
I think we’d agree that those are attributes we’d all like to have. I like to hike and to read about those who explore the Appalachian Trail. That requires determination and stick-to-it-ness. Many of us might say there’s no way we could ever do that. And yet, we all know someone who, despite all sorts of roadblocks, setbacks, and crises, still manages to marshal unseen capacity to keep going.
Call it “resilience” or “grit” or “perseverance” or “strong emotional intelligence skills”; even the ability to “delay gratification.” It’s through that “something” where we see tangible results when someone is able to keep going, reaching for some goal or prize.
The stress factor
Whether in a pandemic or just everyday life, our bodies regulate stress by using a combination of chemical signals from our pituitary and adrenal glands, hypothalamus, and so forth. We easily recognize some of these responses; our heart rate increases, we sweat, our stomach has butterflies, we can’t sleep, our brain races. Other effects are not as apparent but equally important; the “fight or flight” mode activates a rise in glucose levels, inflammatory proteins surge through the blood, and neurotransmitters are on overdrive.
After all of this, being ‘stressed out’ becomes our norm. Modern humans don’t typically have to deal with a predator chasing them. We instead deal with mental attacks; we worry about things. The body’s reaction to stress causes wear and tear. The part of the brain most affected by early stress, the prefrontal cortex, is critical for self-management of emotions and cognition. Think about it. It’s not just little kids that have a hard time sitting still and focusing when they are stressed out. Children aren’t the only ones who get overwhelmed with negative feelings and find it hard to rebound from defeat.
So what exactly is going on in the minds of those who manage to persevere despite that stress and impaired cognition? How do they override the “fight or flight” responses and continue to perform despite all odds? Are there some sort of super-human skills the rest of us are lacking?
A special blend
In her New York Times bestseller Grit, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows for anyone striving to succeed, be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people, that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent, but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.” She has found that grit is the hallmark of high achievers in every domain. She’s also identified scientific evidence that grit can grow. You can learn more about her research here. In a recent blog, she wrote,
“Do think critically about the pros and cons of any form of assessment. And if we believe, as Maslow did, that there is a basic human motive to work hard for the benefit of others, we can encourage and support young people in those endeavors.”
What does Alia Crum, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Mind & Body Lab, say about stress? She points out that we have to acknowledge, own, and use our stress to make something new. She recently wrote about her experience with COVID-19 and summarized her thoughts neatly in five words: adversity can make you stronger.
So how do you help your students redirect their attention? Like the Cookie Monster, we have to sometimes wait for our cookies. What can you share with your students to help them get gritty? Persevere? Stick-to-it? One of the insights in psychology that intrigues me is this: what we pay attention to becomes our (subjective) reality. So helping our students recognize their mindset and then begin to apply growth mindset principles can help.
How about habits? At least half of what we do each day is habitual. Did you ever find yourself driving home and then thinking you might not have noticed a light or a turn? Research shows us with practice, even little mini-changes can become good habits. Making small changes in study skills can have a gigantic impact on student performance. For some students, just learning about other study tips and tricks is a great start.
Often we don’t know what we don’t know until someone points it out to us. For example, quizzing yourself rather than just rereading notes produces far greater long-term learning gains. The Learning Scientists blog for students is a great site to share with students. They can learn more about good note-taking strategies and techniques such as spacing of review and methods for retrieval practice.
Even talking about grit and providing examples can be helpful. Modeling metacognitive practices is useful, and providing opportunities for exploring vocations and career tools early in college can increase students’ perseverance toward degree completion.
In other words, students who go through programs designed to help them shape their personal values into rewarding careers are more likely to persist; they have a measurable goal and resources to use to achieve it. Tools like the Conley Readiness Index help students begin to explore how they think and what drives them. The results give them practice applications to help work on areas they struggle with.
Lead by example
“Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Competencies” was released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and commissioned by the National Science Foundation.
Fred Oswald, a professor of psychology at Rice co-authored the report, which was based on a review of 49 articles targeting 61 experimental studies. The authors examined interventions to improve educational attainment.
Across these studies, three competencies most frequently showed evidence of supporting students’ college persistence and success, as measured by grades, retention and graduation:
A sense of belonging, meaning that all college students feel that they belong in college and are socially integrated into college culture and life.
A growth mindset, referring to college students’ beliefs that their own intelligence is not a fixed entity, but rather a malleable quality that life experiences and direct instruction can help improve.
Personal goals and values that college students perceive to be directly linked to the achievement of their future dreams.
And one of the most important keys to all of these?
Caring and compassionate faculty and staff who establish strong connections with students and communicate effectively.
So all that time you spend designing your course materials, communicating with students, establishing a presence in the digital classroom, responding to emails…The time you spend reading professional journals or listening to podcasts to support your own professional development? You actually have been giving your students the tools they need to begin to explore the concept of “grit.” For that kind of dedication, you deserve a relaxing day at the beach, but watch out for the sand; it’s a little gritty!
In April, Inside Higher Ed and Hanover Research surveyed 187 presidents at colleges and universities to see how their priorities have evolved after one month into their COVID-19 response. A similar survey was conducted in March.
In the survey, presidents were asked about their level of concern with potential short-term and long-term issues at their institution in regard to COVID-19. Below are the top 5 issues about which they were very or somewhat concerned.
Top 5 short-term issues
Mental health of students (91%)
Disproportionate impact on students from low-income backgrounds (87%)
Accelerated rates of student attrition (84%)
Short-term unbudgeted financial costs (86%)
Mental health of students (87%)
Top 5 long-term issues
Decline in overall future student enrollment (90%)
Inequitable impact on underrepresented students (90%)
Overall financial stability (88%)
Ability to afford to employ staff & faculty (81%)
Decline in alumni/donor giving rates (56%)
Challenges with remote learning
The survey found that over the course of a month, presidents were having fewer challenges at their institutions ensuring academics standards remained high, having technology support available, and training faculty less familiar with digital delivery.
You can download a copy of the report, Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis, Part II: A New Survey of College and University Presidents, here.
Additionally, the editors of Inside Higher Ed held a webcast discussion about the survey’s results. You can view the recording here.
To say that people are stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic would be an understatement. The accepted social norms and values, like shaking hands or visiting the elderly, have gone out the window in an effort to stop the spread of disease.
We’re navigating according to new rules, and as a result, decisions about how we behave and the choices we make have become more complex. Understandably, other’s actions are sparking strong emotions and reactions, sometimes referred to as “cancel culture,” making it difficult to talk about at home or in the classroom.
As researchers, we turn to research to help guide our behavior and thinking. Social responsibility helps us be thoughtful about our actions, particularly our actions in relation to other people. We published a framework for social responsibility, based on the body of existing research, that can be used as a lens to understand human behavior in a complex situation.
The dimensions of the framework can be used to spark an emphatic, non-judgemental discussion about making choices during a pandemic. We offer a suggestion for how to initiate a discussion with learners for each of the four dimensions:
Multicultural: Is knowledgeable about different cultural identities and sensitive toward cultural differences.
Example of how to engage: Present a set of different choices someone could make during the current pandemic (i.e., decisions related to social distancing). For each choice, discuss how a person’s perspective or prior experiences might influence their decision to make a specific choice.
Ethical: Demonstrates knowledge and awareness of ethical standards and issues and applies ethical reasoning and standards to make decisions in ethically ambiguous situations.
Example of how to engage: Present a set of different choices someone could make during the current pandemic (i.e. decisions related to social distancing). For each choice, discuss how a person’s values could have influenced their decision to make a specific choice.
Civic: Is an informed and active citizen at the local, national, and global level and understands and acts on issues of local, national, and global significance.
Example of how to engage: Have learners explore the role that the local, state, and/or federal government is playing in managing the pandemic (it can be in their own context or a new context). Learners could also discuss strengths and weaknesses for having a certain level of government managing response to the pandemic.
Environmental: Is knowledgeable about current issues of environmental significance and is concerned about the wellbeing of the planet and engages in sustainable behaviors.
Example of how to engage: Have learners explore how the COVID-19 pandemic, and human responses to the pandemic, could impact environmental and sustainability endeavors.
If you want to learn more about how to teach social responsibility, a Pearson colleague discusses it in detail in this webinar.
By taking time to teach socially responsible thinking and decision-making, you’re also helping your students develop a life skill that will help them navigate challenging situations in the future, whether daily decisions about climate change or even what career path to take.
It is also a skill that is considered to be important for employees to demonstrate. Regarding hiring decisions, 81 percent of employers rated “ethical judgment and decision-making” as very important, but only 30 percent thought recent college graduates were well prepared in this area (this source and more listed here).
For these reasons listed above and more, that’s why we have listed it in our framework for what makes someone employable and are working to embed how to teach social responsibility into our products to enable classroom conversations during normal, less stressful times.
Strolling with her toddler in the suburb of a large city impacted by the pandemic, a professor friend reminisced about ‘normal’ life for herself and her daughter. She missed her days at the college, and for her child, the nurturing day care center. For at both places, they found connections, meaning, and comfort.
My friend longed for her office, her classroom, and the physical presence of her students. She missed the mental challenge of being asked pointed and intelligent questions where she needed to be on top of her academic game to answer. She felt nostalgic for the smell of the library, the sight of the sun shining on her desk and papers in the early morning hours as she reviewed notes for upcoming lectures.
She missed that slight thrill she got just as she rounded the corner going into her classroom. These images were so opposite to her sad thought that the quiet and deserted streets she walked felt like the end of the world, and she was surprised that it had ended so quietly.
If the effects of the pandemic can feel so terminal to a young, gifted academic with everything in front of her, what must our students who are suddenly forced into online learning environments feel?
We once stood in front of them, guaranteeing the protection of freedom of expression, if respect to all was upheld in our classes. We built a sacred space, created by mutual respect, open mindedness, and acceptance. Classrooms were a safe place to be vulnerable enough to listen to new information, consider it and expand the size of our boxes.
Students had their own sacred spaces too: at the coffee shop to share class notes and ideas, or at a study group in library meeting rooms. Our students are emotionally invested in the places they learn. This ‘new world’ of higher education during a pandemic is very unlike what they imagined college life to be.
While their teachers work heroically to provide virtual course content, the students miss the sensual stimulation of smells, sounds, and the touch of a physical environment. Many of us are missing that emotional connection to those physical places and the people there. While we professors are experienced enough to grasp the magnitude of this event and anticipate a hopeful new normal, our students often lack the life experience to rise above feelings of permanent loss.
Our students may be dealing with family members sharing increasingly cramped quarters, challenged with internet connectivity, stressed from reduced incomes, and isolated from friends. They’re now exclusively using mobile devices or computers to continue expensive investments in college.
These feelings of loss and helplessness are things that we can help reduce. Here are some suggestions from college professors and online sources to decrease the distance between our students and create virtual sacred spaces to help them reconnect with us in new, potentially more intimate and meaningful ways.
Email your students often
Reach out about more than content instructions. Tell them you understand how stressful lives have become and that you are there for support, not to add stress.
Your learning management system lets you send videos through email. At least once a week, I send a video message to my students, sharing my own challenges and telling them how proud I am of their persistence and grit. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t had a haircut for more than a month, or that my husband may forget and walk behind my camera.
In fact, my students have shared how much they appreciate “being in my home with me.” Now, as if never before, it is important to find ways to emotionally connect with others through these virtual social interactions.
And, while we can’t offer smell-a-vison, or taste TV, we can provide a more relaxed communication channel with our students to help them know we are real and very much invested in their success.
Now isn’t the time to be punitive or judgmental. While assessing performance requires that we judge the progress students are making, we need to rethink how we do it. Are we assessing progress towards mastery, or penalizing for missing deadlines, or not adhering to classroom policies, which may not even apply in a virtual classroom?
Assignment deadlines may become low priority in a home where young children need access to the only home computer to finish their homework, and the lack of income means a lack of food in the home. While some of us complain about the “COVID 15” pounds we are gaining, many of our students are struggling to find enough to eat.
Relaxed due dates have been received by my students with immense gratitude. They tell me know how much it has meant to them to know I really want them to succeed.
Being supportive does not mean throwing rigor out the window. It does require careful evaluation, sometimes on a case-by-case basis, of the emotional and physical needs of our students in context of the crisis and realistic expectations of academic standards.
Many are concerned about online cheating. Consider this instead: what is the desired learning outcome, and can it be assessed in a different manner other than typical high stakes exams? Can you assess your student’s mastery with an essay or open-book timed exam? Might a group project offer a final evaluation of the course content?
Be a positive influencer
Use language that lets your students know you are expecting a new normal. While education as we’ve known it has changed, it can be better. Remind students of their advantage of their social media proficiency. Ask for their input on ways for your classes to be virtually connected.
I’ve learned about super useful free conferencing tools from students who’ve been group gaming with them for years. Who knew? Give them the lead and let them show you how creative they can be. You will help them focus on what they can do increasing their self-efficacy.
You need to be on your game for resource referral. Where can your students find WIFI? Computers? Tutoring? Counseling? Many of your colleges already have policies and solutions to these questions.
For example, our college is creating a parking area where students can stay in their cars and gypsy off the college wireless internet to complete assignments. Drive-in WIFI! And, Student Services offers virtual counseling sessions at no cost to our students.
Many internet providers are offering home service at no cost during the pandemic, and some colleges are loaning laptops to students to finish their college terms online. There are many new and innovative solutions being created on the fly to help students.
If you need ideas, just Google the need; you’ll be surprised to discover the commitment and innovation of educators and professionals nationwide.
Some may be asking, “How can I afford a new digital tool when I already paid for a book?” Pearson is working hard to provide students with access to digital learning environments at no cost while they adjust to a new normal of distance learning.
Please remember, you are also essential workers and first line protectors. You can create new sacred learning spaces for your students, and discover your own well of creativity and innovation. Write to them, support them, be flexible with rigor and show compassion tempered with the desire for them to learn. Be a voice of hope for their futures. Need some inspiration? Give this shout out to your students to encourage self-care. Feel free to borrow:
We’re all in this together. I want you to know I care about more than just your grade in this class. I care about how each of you are navigating these strange days and new ways. I want to take a minute to offer some tips for taking care of yourselves.
According to the CDC, you may feel any or all of the following symptoms of stress during this pandemic:
Changes in the way you sleep (more or less than usual)
A hard time concentrating
Intense moments of fear over your health and the health of those you love
Changes to your existing chronic health conditions (asthma, high blood pressure, etc.)
Desire to escape through alcohol or other drugs
You may have added stress by setting a few high and unrealistic goals during what may feel like an extended vacation. These might include:
Lose 20 pounds
Learn a new language
Make straight A’s
Become the model student, wife, husband, parent, child, (fill in the blank)
Write a novel
Read the top 20 books recommended by professors nation-wide (one I make every summer and break)
You might want to lower the bar on some of these. This is not your spring break. And it is not the best time to fail to reach goals you have set. You need to feel good about yourself, not set the stage for failure and frustration.
But you do need to have goals that are attainable and measurable to help boost your mood when things are tough. If you’re still lying on the couch after crawling out of bed at noon and eating chips and salsa for breakfast it’s time to expect a little more out of your days. Self-awareness and self-efficacy are some of the most important factors in happy, successful people.
To develop your self-efficacy, try setting challenges for your day like:
Stay in school and finish the term (even if it means you are not the star student you were 6 weeks ago). Finish! It’s good for your brain.
Talk with me about problems you are encountering with this new online learning.
Tell me what you need in order to pass the course and we’ll find a solution together.
Set a realistic calendar that you can adhere to in order to finish the work needed.
Set your day with gratitude. (I know it sounds corny, but it really, really works.)
Eat healthy (I didn’t say diet, but you can do better than chips and salsa three times a day.)
Stay connected to your peers (you’re a master at this already but keep it up)!
Exercise (doing a Jazzercize class on YouTube with those in your home or virtually with friends may provide your laughs for the day.)
Laugh a lot. (Turn on any movie that makes you roll on the floor even if you watch it every day).
Turn off the news except for quick catchups. (There were many people who gave themselves post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following 9/11 watching news 24 hours a day.)
Wherever you find comfort and hope, stay in that quadrant at least once a day with purpose. (You might meditate, pray, read the writings of your religious faith, or just uplifting authors who motivate for the good).
Get outside of yourself. Do something every day for someone else. Do it deliberately. (You might call someone you know is alone or make some masks for friends or front line workers, do a chore for someone else in your house as a surprise. It’s amazing how much we get when we give just a little.)
Seek online counseling services if you feel drawn to damaging behaviors. There are so many excellent resources for this. If you need help finding a resource, please let me know and I’ll be happy to share.
I will close as I began. You are not alone. We are in this together. I know we will get to the other side and we will have discovered so much about the depth of our strengths, creativity, persistence, and compassion.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges and universities to move to remote learning environments, many universities lacked preexisting contingency plans or infrastructures for running not just some of their classes but all of them online. Suddenly, many professors were working on short notice to implement online course management tools and facing numerous logistical hurdles along the way.
Do graduating seniors and incoming college freshmen know what career path they should choose, and do they have the necessary skills to be successful? Many educators and employers agree this is an area where students could use more resources.
Pearson Career Success (PCS), an online preparation platform, provides access to a roadmap that helps students explore and understand where they want to go, how they’re going to get there, and what they need to do to stand out from the crowd. Instruction and learning experiences are also provided to help students acquire the skills and capabilities they need to be successful.
PCS provides the bridge between academic readiness and career readiness. Academic Success Modules such as Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Test Taking Skills give students opportunities to engage in learning and scenarios to apply the necessary skills for success. Educators can choose curriculum relevant modules for students to work on.
Also, PCS provides Career Success Modules such as Building an Academic Plan, a Career Portfolio, and developing networking skills. Guided instruction and practice equip students with real life skills necessary to be successful in a chosen career. The modules are not just assignments, but self-discovery tools provided to students as they mature through their academic journey.
Pearson is committed to understanding and identifying the needs of employers hiring new college graduates, and serving the needs of institutions preparing students for college or the workforce. The broad suite of assessments and instructions within the PCS platform is built upon decades of cumulative research by prominent leaders in this field.
Finally, PCS provides state-of-the-art coaching and tools for “presenting” themselves to employers as desirable employees. Engaging students in opportunities to develop career readiness skills can assist them in career success for life.
The recent disruption to education extends well beyond those trying to keep up with normal coursework. Senior year has also been interrupted for thousands of students whose focus has shifted toward internships, career preparation, and employment. With campuses and career centers closed across the country, online tutoring is a valuable tool to support all students as they prepare for the end of the term.
Improving engagement with targeted help
Once education transitioned to full-time virtual environments, many students lost the face-to-face interactions that made up the core of their classroom support. Online tutoring can provide the help students need, right when they need it, helping to avoid the possibility of them giving up when they hit a roadblock. And these one-on-one sessions can bolster a student’s confidence, giving them more freedom to ask questions and delve into discussion that they might never approach in a full-class setting.
In addition, Smarthinking can help faculty identify at-risk students using alerts and session mapping to drill down to specific concepts where they’re seeking assistance. Instructors can see whether students are keeping pace with course requirements, and recommend supplemental help from an online tutor to get them back on track.
Helping students prep for careers
For this year’s seniors, going virtual is affecting much more than just classes. Many who were in the midst of completing career programs and solidifying internships when career centers and university-provided services closed down are left asking, “Now what?”
The spring term is always a busy time for those in programs focused on preparing for the workforce. Smarthinking online tutors have emerged as a go-to resource for live interview coaching and assistance honing presentation skills. In fact, for those students who may be introverts or just plain nervous to get up in front of a classroom, an audience of one can be a much more comfortable environment in which to practice these skills than a class full of their peers.
Resume and career writing help is also in high demand among this year’s graduates. Smarthinking supports students with 24/7 resume and cover letter help, personal branding consultation, and business writing reviews. Tutors are trained and monitored to ensure they do not proofread or edit student papers; instead, their writing review centers on leading students to a broader comprehension of the fundamentals of writing (both higher-order issues as well as lower-order skills) and key strategies for revision.
“Employers and recruiters in 2020 are looking beyond applicants who simply have the required educational experience. Employers want new hires who can think creatively and who are fluid in the use of technology and adept at writing well. Smarthinking tutors can help students develop effective career materials for this new world of work, whether that be a strategically-focused cover letter or eye-catching details to polish a LinkedIn profile.” — Michael Goodfellow, Sr. Lead Writing Tutor
How else can online tutoring support your virtual classroom?
Get the infographic and explore three other ways online tutoring can empower your students to succeed, no matter where they are.
As educators, we know what student engagement looks like in the classroom. Students are focused on their work in front of them, they are collaborating with their peers, they are asking good questions, creativity is flowing… But now that things have moved online, what does engagement look like? Let’s start by asking ourselves what makes something engaging, and then explore some tools we can use in a digital classroom.
What makes something engaging?
A lot of research has been done around student engagement. Primarily, engagement revolves around student ownership of the material being presented. I know what you’re thinking. “I have a curriculum with standards I have to follow! There’s no room for student choice!” While you may be partially right, there are places in every course that allow for more student choice and input.
In an informal survey of my students, the feedback regarding what makes a class engaging is varied; however, there are a lot of commonalities. Students want to be able to pursue their own interests, feel heard and included, and know that they are supported when taking risks. They want teachers who are not too strict but are fair in their handling of the classroom. Even when the material doesn’t resonate with a student’s interest, teacher enthusiasm can change a mundane course into a potential major.
Daniel Pink, the author of the book Drive1, states that three conditions need to be met to trigger engagement.
Autonomy: Give students choice to work on a project that relates to the curriculum but is also interesting on a personal level for the student.
Mastery: The task itself can’t be too challenging or too easy. One creates frustration and the other boredom. The task should be somewhere in what is commonly referred to as the “Goldilocks Zone,” where the difficulty is just right for the learner.
Purpose: The student has to be able to link what they are doing to the wider world. Why should they know what you are teaching? Make the material relevant and you will get more student buy-in.
Instructional methods to increase engagement
Now that we know what student engagement looks like, let’s look at a few instructional methods that can improve our curriculum and retention. While creating your course, don’t worry about including all these options. Just choose a few to start and then ask for student feedback regarding what they liked and what they want to see changed next time.
In each lab report I assign, I ask that students relate the concept or technique to a real-world example. The identification of an unknown salt would be helpful in cases with contaminated water and is a critical skill to master. Here is an example of a student response from a lab where they determined the density of an element by graphical interpolation.
Example “Although this particular lab did not yield extremely accurate results, there are still definite real-world applications for using interpolation, such as to find the density or other measurable qualities of elements. It would be especially useful for finding properties (such as density) of the man-made elements which have too short of a half-life to be effectively examined or measured for mass and volume.”
Project-based learning (PBL) is where students complete a long-term assignment to solve a problem or answer a question. For more information about PBL, click here.
In my lab class, I try to make this an authentic question that students will need to make a recommendation on. As shown in the example to the left, here is the introduction to a basic percent composition of a mixture lab.
Example We are Minuteman Wallboard Co. and we have a severe problem. As you know, the inside layer of wallboard is made from magnesium sulfate heptahydrate. Our feeder company inadvertently gave us an unknown amount of calcium sulfate dihydrate in one of its shipments and this was mixed in with the magnesium sulfate heptahydrate before processing it.
Our advisory board has said that there is no reaction between the two compounds, however if the wallboard has 15% by mass or greater of calcium sulfate dihydrate in the initial mix before processing, the strength and durability of the wallboard will be compromised.
We have already made over $450,000 worth of wallboard stock from this suspected material. We do not want to give this to any of our retailers until we know if the mix had less than 15.0% by mass of calcium sulfate dihydrate. We are supplying you with a sample of the original mix before processing and would appreciate it if your company will help us solve our problem.
Matthew Ventura, Ph.D., recalls a high school English teacher who taught him a hard but important lesson.
“Mr. Davidson was really tough,” he says. “He felt no shame ripping apart our essays.”
“Despite the criticism, he spent so much time giving us detailed feedback,” Matthew says. “It really affected me.”
“Not only did I become a better writer,” he says, “I realized that a Mr. Davidson-like level of feedback can help improve critical thinking skills like few other things.”
Important skills, better teaching
Matthew went on to study and develop new ways to teach and assess 21st century skills like critical thinking.
An early collaboration, the Physics Playground, was a digital game that walked students through complex physics concepts with outcomes and processes that mimicked real-world experiences.
It was a breakthrough.
“These kinds of natural, playful simulations,” Matthew says, “help students strategize their way through tough subjects—and provide an opportunity for teachers to provide feedback based on where each student is in the learning process.”
“Imagine a class of 400 students,” he says. “How can a teacher be like Mr. Davidson and provide such granular, one-on-one feedback to everybody?”
Innovative digital platforms, he says, provide a trifecta of benefits:
They teach effectively. They lead to one-on-one feedback for students. And they’re scalable.
The need for problem-solvers
“It was an opportunity to explore some basic questions about critical thinking,” Matthew says. “What do we mean by ‘critical thinking? How can we improve it?”
It’s part of a conversation, he says, that’s been batted around by academics for decades.
“More and more employers want to hire good problem-solvers,” Matthew says.
Good problem-solvers, he says, can spot opportunities for innovation thanks to critical thinking skills—”so these questions were important to try to answer,” he says.
Critical thinking in specific disciplines
“Skills for Today” reviews the history of definitions around critical thinking. It summarizes leading research on the various methods of teaching and assessing critical thinking.
The paper also takes the discussion about critical thinking in a new direction.
“There is so much talk about broad critical thinking skills,” he says. “What we want to start exploring is: How can we improve critical thinking in particular disciplines?”
A speech class might employ new critical thinking teaching methods in debate exercises, he says.
An IT course might show students how to find bugs in computer code.
A business or economics class might guide students to weigh issue pros and cons in order to make tough decisions.
“We want to provide an actionable framework for educators in this new approach,” Matthew says, “so we can reach more learners and prepare them for tomorrow’s workforce.”
Next-generation teaching tools
Matthew emphasizes that critical thinking skills are skills—and that they are only improved with practice.
He hopes his paper can be a part of making this practice more effective.
“We hope this research helps us develop new learning tools that benefit learners,” he says, “and, at the same time, guides teachers to bring new teaching approaches into their classrooms.”
Many students are learning virtually for the first time, which means they’ll need to find new ways to get additional help outside of regular lessons, like online tutoring. Students often think that since a tutor isn’t the professor, they won’t be able to help with understanding course materials. And as an instructor, maybe you’ve had the same thoughts. But the truth is, many online tutors, especially Smarthinking tutors, are experts in their field. They could even be your peers from down the hall. The right online tutors work with you to make sure students are mastering the right skills.
Our tutors are fellow experts
We have more than 1,500 highly qualified, professional tutors and educators, 90% of whom hold a master’s degree or PhD in their discipline of expertise. Plus, our tutors average 12 years of experience working directly with students: they’re expert teachers as well as subject experts. It’s no wonder Smarthinking has served thousands of higher education institutions around the world.
Smarthinking tutors are trained, monitored, and evaluated on their ability to employ a Socratic method to engage students by asking questions, making students show their own work, and encouraging them to demonstrate overall mastery of the concept or problem.
Tutors are available in more than 150 subject areas, at all levels from developmental through graduate and professional school. Plus, we offer ESL-specialist tutoring, including math in Spanish. No matter the course, we’ve got you covered. And since each tutor is an expert in their field, students can get 24×7 help in the subjects they need, even if that means they need math help one day and then chemistry help the next.
Problem-solving strategies that lead to success
Online tutoring asks students to demonstrate mastery of skill after learning in the classroom. With Smarthinking, faculty can easily share assignment goals, writing prompts, and other course details so tutors can contextualize their instructional assistance with learner outcomes in mind.
Online tutors don’t “hand out answers” but instead teach problem-solving strategies so that students learn to engage with content, break down problems, and build the skills to succeed on their own on future assignments. Tutors teach just the way you would.
Online tutoring encourages learners to ask for help when they need it and raises their confidence to do so. In a classroom setting, some students feel shy or don’t ask questions due to peer pressure. One-on-one tutoring takes this out of the equation, making students feel comfortable enough to ask even what they may feel is a silly question.1
“We recognize that students most in need of academic tutoring often find it difficult to ask for help out of shyness or because of a perceived stigma or simply because it’s new and unfamiliar,” Dr. Cheryl Cephus-Vickers of Gadsden State Community College explains. “We also know that students who form a habit early in their college career of accessing resources/services perform better and feel a greater sense of belonging and ownership of their learning. These outcomes lead directly to higher rates of persistence and completion.”2
There even when students can’t take advantage of on-campus help, Smarthinking tutoring extends your resources, improving achievement, completion and graduation rates, and workplace success.
“As a tutor and a writing instructor, I encourage my students to utilize the tutoring services the college offers. I remind my students that we are all facing this tough time together, and that there is absolutely no shame in needing some help completing assignments. I am transparent with my students: I let them know I am an online tutor myself, and just one session can make a difference in their writing.” – Lauren Williams Magaw, Writing Lead Tutor
How else can online tutoring support your virtual classroom?
Get the infographic and explore three other ways online tutoring can empower your students to succeed, no matter where they are.
In The Road to Dual Enrollment (Part I), I discussed a few of the challenges experienced by dual enrollment programs, including lengthy accreditation processes and access to professional development opportunities. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the obstacles instructors face after they become accredited, including standardization, access, and the affordability of materials. See how online learning resources can help tackle these problems.
Developing a collegiate-level course with minimal resources
After receiving my accreditation and transitioning from high school teacher to dual enrollment instructor for Lee College in Baytown, Texas, I was given a college textbook and a sample syllabus from my department mentor. Within around two weeks I was expected to develop the learning objectives, scope, depth, breadth, and rigor for an entire course, Biology I for Science Majors. The curriculum of this course needed to match the scope and rigor of a collegiate curriculum.
I spent days reading through an entire textbook that I hadn’t previously used in my Advanced Placement® courses and brainstorming appropriate labs for the equipment that I had. I didn’t have a single test, assignment, or lab manual to follow. While my mentor gave me some of his most successful labs, I needed to make sure they didn’t use materials my school didn’t have in stock or couldn’t afford. The scope of the task seemed almost insurmountable.
The impact of online resources
Finally, after making little progress, I reached out to the department chair and department secretary to see what online resources were available. I was provided with an educator account for the associated digital learning platform for my text and was overwhelmed with the quality and quantity of material available to me.
Digital access to platforms such as MyLab™ and Mastering™ are imperative to dual enrollment teachers who are often starting from scratch. The pre-built assignments, test banks, online laboratory simulations, and study modules would have taken years of collaboration and effort to develop. Delivering course materials with such a platform provides instantaneous access to collegiate-level resources.
They also let instructors create coordinator courses. In these instances, college professors can actually create and maintain a set of nested courses for dual enrollment classes at various high schools — pushing the same assignments, tests, and content from the college to the high schools.
Digital learning platforms address affordability
30% of respondents to our surveys at the national and regional NACEP conferences indicated that funding and affordability of materials is one of their greatest program pain points. An additional benefit to using online learning platforms is the affordability for the high school partners.
During my first years as an instructor for Lee College, I would drive 50 minutes each way after school to run student samples on equipment such as PCR machines or high-speed centrifuges because my high school couldn’t afford the $10,000 investment for this equipment. But if a high school has access to the laboratory simulations found in Mastering Biology, they can provide engaging, application-based experiences that can replace thousands of dollars of equipment.
Online learning platforms also provide additional affordability through eTexts. These platforms often contain eTexts so students can avoid the separate cost of purchasing a print textbook.
We’ll continue to explore additional challenges faced by dual enrollment programs in subsequent blogs. Read part I of this blog series and stay tuned for future posts centered around high school student readiness and preparation tools for college courses.
This article was originally posted on June 26,2017
E-babies by the hundreds
This fall, in college classrooms across the country, hundreds of students studying psychology will say goodbye to traditional textbooks and hello to a virtual child.
These new parents won’t raise their children in their dorm rooms, but rather on their laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
This unique “parenting” experience is made possible by a brand-new digital learning product called The Dynamic Child.
Students raise their child from birth to age 18 and see how their parenting choices affect the child over time.
A big idea, and a joint effort
“The Dynamic Child” is the invention of Dr. Frank Manis, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California.
After years of teaching child development courses with traditional textbooks, he began to brainstorm ways to make the material more engaging to students, most of whom had never been parents.
It took dozens of educators and researchers more than five years to develop “The Dynamic Child.”
Amber, an Executive Editor in Psychology, works with higher education professors to create the learning materials used to teach psychology courses nationwide.
“Our shared goal is to create and promote materials that help educators teach child development and other subjects in the most innovative, exciting ways possible.”
Erin is an expert in what’s called “learning design.”
“The course material is important, but the learner’s experience is equally significant. I’m there to make sure it’s always top-of-mind.”
A chicken-and-the-egg predicament
One of the biggest challenges along the way, Amber says, was deciding if students should read the online course material and then raise their virtual child, or vice versa.
“Raise first or read first? It was a true chicken-and-the-egg moment for me,” she says.
“It may sound like a little thing, but the way you sequence learning objectives for a course can have a huge impact on how much and how deeply the students learn.”
Thankfully, Amber says, she knew exactly who could help her answer her question: Erin.
“I introduced Amber to the research concept of ‘anchored instruction,’” Erin says.
“It tells us that there are cognitive benefits of having an experience first and then learning the theories and research that support it afterward.”
“In this case, the research suggests that ‘anchoring’ the course material in the real-world experience of raising a virtual child was the way to go.”
How it happens
For students using “The Dynamic Child,” the parenting process starts with a personality questionnaire.
It has 25 questions and takes about 30 minutes to complete, Amber says.
Students are asked things like, “What were your favorite subjects in elementary school?” and “In high school, did you prefer to socialize in small or large groups?”
All that data is used to create a unique personality profile for the student’s virtual child, Amber says.
Students can pre-select physical characteristics for their child, but the gender is determined randomly by the program.
After the child is “born,” students give him or her a name, Amber says.
“That helps the student develop an emotional bond with their child,” adds Erin.
“Research says that such an emotional investment leads to better learning outcomes.”
Making decisions as a parent
For the duration of the parenting experience, an avatar of the growing child takes up the right half of the student’s screen.
On the left side, students are presented with dozens of realistic parenting scenarios related to their child’s physical, mental, and social growth.
“Topics include sleep training, dealing with shyness, and overcoming adversity in academic, musical, and sporting endeavors.
“Students select from four different courses of action at each decision point, so there are an infinite number of eventual personality outcomes, and no two students will have identical children,” Amber says.
Over the course of the semester, the virtual children grow from birth to age 18.
The effects of a student’s parenting style can be seen in the child’s behavior over time, Amber says.
“The child is responding to the parent and vice versa.”
“It’s bi-directional—a two-way street—just like a parent-child relationship is in real life.”
A full launch this fall
This fall, more than 60 college professors across the country will teach child development courses exclusively via the “The Dynamic Child” product.
Pearson will host the learning experiences through its Revel platform.
Students can access the “Dynamic Child” portal from any device.
“In addition to getting to learn course material in an innovative and engaging way,” Amber says, ‘The Dynamic Child’ costs just $80—significantly less than most traditional psychology textbooks.”
Erin and Amber say they have high hopes for The Dynamic Child.
“We love the product,” Amber says, “and we think students and professors will, too.”
“We spent months and months reviewing the research on anchored learning and incorporating it into the final product design,” Erin says.
“We think it’s the type of homework students will truly be excited to do.”
Today’s students are digital natives, so whether they‘re face-to-face with tutors online or in-person, they’re savvy at getting the help they need. So, support their success with online tutoring. Data shows that online tutoring can help increase student confidence, engagement, and outcomes.
Tear down the roadblocks to engagement
As a student, getting stuck on a concept or problem and not knowing how to move forward can feel like coming up against a brick wall — and no one likes running into a brick wall. Lend students a hand by helping them overcome their learning obstacles. With online tutoring students can get help when and where they need it, rather than giving up in frustration. Online tutoring services, like Smarthinking, let students access live and asynchronous tutoring help at the point of need, so students can get immediate support to overcome academic roadblocks and continue on their learning paths.
A bird’s eye view for precise instruction
Don’t guess at what your students are struggling with when you have the data to guide you. Smarthinking “Taxonomy Reports” highlight the specific concepts that students have sought help for in their classes. This information is categorized and logged by Smarthinking tutors after each tutoring session so instructors can easily pinpoint what their students are having trouble understanding. Instructors know what students are struggling with before exams and can address the issues beforehand. The data and reports can also help instructors plan their programs, curriculums, and activities better.
Early intervention to stop problems at their roots
It’s not always easy to see when a student needs additional academic intervention, but Smarthinking Alerts can help. These alerts were designed to flag students who may be at risk. After a tutoring session, tutors can record alerts that will then display in the reporting dashboard. Instructors and administrators can clearly see sessions that were flagged and find out the exact issues the student is struggling with. This lets instructors respond quickly to emerging issues and improve learning outcomes.
Success and satisfaction with Smarthinking
The vast majority of students who use Smarthinking tutoring services would recommend them to a friend. We’ve also repeatedly shown significant improvements in key student success metrics such as course completion. Here are some of our results from recent studies:
83% of students indicated they had more confidence in their academic skills after working with Smarthinking tutors
100% of students surveyed said they intended to keep using Smarthinking tutoring services
Students enrolled in a pilot program with Smarthinking online writing tutors were 8x more likely to complete courses than non-users
“As each of us learns to manage our time and responsibilities in this ever-changing world, it’s important that we use all the resources available. The LMS offers a variety of tools to make virtual learning engaging and flexible, a win-win for both students and ourselves. The LMS also offers many resources for faculty by providing the tools to manage the class virtually, such as checklists, various communication options, and ease of grading.” — Kathy Adams McIntosh, Business Tutoring Coordinator
How else can online tutoring support your virtual classroom?
Get the infographic and explore three other ways online tutoring can empower your students to succeed, no matter where they are.