• Social justice in the math classroom

    by Diane Hollister

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    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:

    Credit cards
    • Managing debt
    • Paying for college
    Saving/budgeting money
    • Consumerism
    • 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.

    A Guide for Integrating Issues of Social and Economic Justice into Mathematics Curriculum (2007)

    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.

     

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  • KonMari your online course

    by Diane Hollister

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    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.

    I envision successful students. 🙂

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  • Mental gymnastics: Finding the balance in an online course

    by Diane Hollister

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    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:

    1. Utilize concrete examples: illustrate ideas with examples that students can easily grasp.
    2. Be a coder: a dual coder: integrate words with images.
    3. Utilize elaborative questions: ask questions that help students connect new learning with prior learning.
    4. Practice retrieval: have students practice with test questions on what they remember.
    5. Interleave the practice: mix practice test questions from a variety of lessons.
    6. 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.

    Introduce your students to mindset. Have them take a self quiz and watch a video or two, then share their reflections on the discussion board.

    Do your students think about metacognition? “Metacognition is a superpower that helps elite students separate themselves from their peers.” Check this out, too; learn more about self regulated learning in this post.

    Do students need strategies for time management?

    How about helping your students choose the best way to study?

    Need writing tips? Check these out.

    Nailing the landing

    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.

    We all need to strive to find the balance.

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  • Quality Matters!

    by Diane Hollister

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    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

    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:

    1. Course Overview and Introduction
    2. Learning Objectives (Competencies)
    3. Assessment and Measurement
    4. Instructional Materials
    5. Learning Activities and Learner Interaction
    6. Course Technology
    7. Learner Support
    8. 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

    Quality does matter!

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  • Diversity & inclusion in the online classroom

    by Diane Hollister

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    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?

    Communication

    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.

    Interpretation awareness

    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.

    Some faculty create affinity groups and note that their students love knowing their peers are dealing with some of the same issues, life events, challenges, and so forth.

    Course design with diversity in mind

    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?

    1. We strive to understand our students.
    2. We utilize different teaching strategies and materials.
    3. We structure the course to provide equal opportunities to all students.
    4. We celebrate diversity. We keep this in mind when designing discussion posts or sharing articles, for example.
    5. We encourage differing perspectives. We ask students to share their views and substantiate why they feel/think that way.
    6. We seek to include diverse learning materials.

    Conclusion

    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.

    Listen to a short webinar about making your teaching more inclusive.

    Enjoy an article from earlier this year about culturally responsive teaching.

    Explore Cornell’s open course about diversity in the classroom.

    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.

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  • Gotta get gritty

    by Diane Hollister

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    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.

    Growing grit

    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!

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  • Help! I'm testing online for the first time

    by Diane Hollister

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    Technology has really changed the way we teach. It doesn’t seem that long ago that my classes brought their paperback workbooks to class; they tore out review pages and turned them in for grading. They brought notebooks to take notes in, and we gave paper/pencil tests. Now? They can use e-books on a tablet. They access assignments on their phones. Course materials can be available with one click, anytime, anywhere.

    But those changes don’t all happen overnight. They take time and preparation. And sometimes that’s not a luxury we have. We might have catastrophic weather or a pandemic or some other event that closes the school for a while. Every course needs an online presence. And it needs to happen now.

    So where do we start? Let’s assume our primary goal is to deliver some assessments online while the campus is closed. You may have existing question banks you can use. Or, you may have texts with materials like TestGen available.

    If that’s the case, you’ll need to download TestGen software if you want to make a paper/pencil test and then export it to your Learning Management System (LMS).  You then need to download the question banks at Pearson’s Higher Ed site to build your library of questions. You may already have these from your existing tests. (By the way, if you want to export a TestGen test to your LMS, be careful to export it in the correct format. You typically need to look at the Blackboard export option.)

    You may find it easier to access the TestGen question bank files from Pearson’s website and upload them directly to the Learning Management System. You will need to search by your text to see if files are available. You might need to use an older edition if the new one is not available or use a similar text if you need more variety of questions. Again, note that TestGen question banks are not necessarily available for every text.

    Once you have identified the question banks, download them, and then use the LMS to upload the question banks. Here are links you can use to learn more about the process for your specific LMS.

    After you have those loaded in your LMS, you can then create quizzes/tests. Your LMS administrator on campus has training materials for how to do this, and you can also find extensive instructor resources for each LMS online.

    As you design your quizzes/tests, keep in mind things like pooling questions to provide variety. You might also be able to scramble the question order. Allow some extra time on tests so students are able to navigate the technology and still have time for the test itself.

    In addition, you may want to have a “mini test” for students to practice with, especially if you require them to use Respondus or Proctor U or Honor Lock or a similar tool. You can learn more about the technology tools your school has by checking with your LMS administrator.

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  • Deterring cheating in an online course

    by Diane Hollister

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    Cheating isn’t new. Many students do it, and in many different ways. As courses move to online environments, we might wonder if the lack of the instructor in the classroom makes it more likely cheating will happen. Technology certainly changes how students cheat.

    A 2017 study by Kessler International reported that 76 percent of surveyed students said they had copied text from someone else’s assignments. Slightly more (79 percent) admitted to plagiarism from internet sources. Around 72 percent said they’d used mobile devices to cheat.

    An astonishing 42 percent of students admit to purchasing custom papers or essays online, and 28 percent have paid someone to do their online work. Sadly, many of them thought it was ok to cheat.

    Colleges and universities have implemented a variety of tactics designed to minimize cheating. They include tools such as the following.

    Clearly defining cheating and setting expectations

    This may seem elementary, but letting students know you are aware of cheating and will take it seriously can help curb cheating. If your assignment does not require the use of their phone for apps or resources, remind them to keep devices out of reach.

    Academic integrity policies

    Many colleges and universities have policies about cheating in their student code of conduct, and these are perhaps the simplest methods to deter cheating. When students break the policy, they may be dismissed from the program. It is a good idea to require students to sign an honor code statement in an initial assignment or prior to each test.

    Using proctored exams

    Many schools require students to report to campus or to official off-site testing centers for proctored exams. Proctors are typically required to check students’ IDs, enter passwords if needed, and watch them during tests. Tools like ProctorU support digital online proctoring and record the testing session for the instructor, flagging any concerns.

    Restricting IP addresses

    Some software will allow you to restrict access only to certain labs on campus. This is often done in conjunction with proctoring.

    Use a Lockdown Browser

    Require students to use a Lockdown Browser with online quizzes and tests. This is a custom setting that literally “locks down” the browser that displays the test or quiz, preventing students from copying or printing the questions or accessing any other websites or applications.

    Utilizing keystroke verification software

    Keystroke verification software, such as Keystroke DNA, is perhaps one of the most common tech-based cheater prevention methods.

    The approach is simple: Students type a short phrase, which is then analyzed by a software program. The software assesses the students’ typing speed, rhythm, and other personal characteristics to create a behavioral biometric data profile for each user. Before any work is submitted, it needs to be verified.

    Embedding text-matching software

    These are tools like Turnitin, SafeAssign, or CopyLeaks, where software is used to read an essay or paper and assess the likelihood of plagiarism.

    Variable testing

    Students tend to share old tests, use study material sharing sites to share answers and methods, etc. To prevent cheating, professors may find it useful to use question banks and randomize the questions so that students have a more difficult time in sharing answers.

    Professors should change assessments each semester or create multiple versions of tests or quizzes for a class. Include essay or explanation questions, as it makes it more obvious if an answer was copied from somewhere else. If possible, consider pooling questions so all students get similar but slightly varied test questions.

    Offer low-stakes quizzing

    It reduces the incentive to cheat because the value of each quiz is lower than that of an exam, but it still provides opportunities for assessment.

    Assign collaborative learning activities

    Use collaborative activities liberally. Consider using social media, shared documents, discussion forums, cyber cafes, video conferencing, and other types of collaborative tools to engage students with one another.

    Studies indicate collaboration in online classes increases problem-solving skills more effectively than the student who is completing all classroom activities alone. There is little motivation or ability to cheat when students are working cooperatively for a common goal.

    One study at MIT in the 1990’s forbade student collaboration in a programming class. The students collaborated anyway, and became more effective programmers. MIT determined that collaboration would be the new normal in programming classes. After all, the goal is student learning!

    If students learn better when collaborating, and collaborating reduces the chances of cheating, then increasing the collaborative activities in an online environment will lead to increased learning and decreased cheating, which is a win/win by any standard.

    Use resources already in your arsenal

    You might find it helpful to use your Learning Management System to provide links to resources like Turnitin, which can often be linked directly with assignments.

    Students think of cheating as a way to avoid learning the course material. But I tell my students that as hard as they work to avoid doing any actual learning, I will work harder to find ways to encourage and guide them to do what they should.

    There are resources out there to help me do that. Check your Learning Management System instructor resources, explore other available technology tools, read Chronicle of Higher Education articles or Learning Scientists posts, and talk to your campus instructional designers. These are all great places to find tools you can use to deter cheating in your online courses.

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  • Helping students develop proper internet etiquette

    by Diane Hollister

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    If you enjoyed Downton Abbey as much as me, you might think of etiquette as knowing how to set a table worthy of a stately dinner. But that kind of etiquette might not be so useful in an online course, unless we’re studying the Edwardian era!

    In the context of online teaching and learning, it’s more appropriate to think about the etiquette involved in engaging others in conversations and providing guidelines for smartphone use than how to handle a dinner guest’s dietary restrictions. We want to apply the best practices of etiquette to every interaction in the course.

    Netiquette (net + etiquette) is the “code of conduct” applied to online spaces. Teaching students about netiquette is just as important (if not more so) as teaching them to use technology or master content.

    Crafting a netiquette document or post for your class and informing your students about the importance of these rules can help you create an engaging, respectful, and meaningful learning environment.

    If hosting lectures or office hours live online, you might want to include guidelines for expectations around arriving on time, reducing noise by using earphones and the mute button, and minimizing distractions the best they can.

    Keep in mind that students might have their children or siblings home from school or day care and some flexibility and understanding might need to be extended during this season.

    Another area for need of netiquette guidelines is in the use of discussion boards. I often share things like this with my students:

    • Use proper language. This means no emoticons, text message language, or swear words. The discussion board is like a workplace and is meant to be professional.
    • Run a spelling and grammar check before posting anything to the discussion board. This is especially important if your instructor is grading these comments.
    • Read through your comments at least twice before hitting submit. (Some professors use settings that allow students to edit their responses, while others don’t.)
    • Don’t type in ALL CAPS! If you do, it will look like you are screaming.
    • Recognize and respect diversity. It’s ok to ask questions to clarify things you don’t understand. If you’re not sure, email the professor privately for more information.
    • Avoid sarcasm and dark humor. Take your posts seriously. Never say online what you wouldn’t say in real life to another person’s face. Your posts are a permanent record, so think about the type of record you want to leave behind.
    • If you are frustrated and finding the course material difficult, please reach out to the professor, use the tutor resources, etc. You can ask your peers for study tips. A discussion board is not the venue to complain about why you need to take this course or how hard you have to work.
    • Don’t wait until the last minute to make your post. Allow time for other students to respond before the deadline. Likewise, don’t wait to post your replies until the deadline; the author deserves an opportunity to address any questions you have or respond to points you make.
    • Before asking a question, check the instructor’s FAQs or search your Learning Management System resources and/or the internet to see if the answer is obvious or easy to find.
    • Be forgiving. If your classmate makes a mistake, whether it’s a typo or grammatical error, don’t badger him or her for it. Just let it go.
    • The same rules apply for email. “Hey, teach, heeeelp!” is probably not the best way to ask your professor a question. You should communicate with your professor in the same way that you would speak to your boss or a potential employer. Also, any email you send your professor should always include your name and which class you are in.

    While it is tempting to think we should only have to focus on content, surveys of Fortune 500 company CEOs over the years have resulted in very similar responses: they want students who can communicate clearly, collaborate well, think critically, etc.

    We know those skills are being developed and enhanced in our courses everyday, so it’s worthwhile to spend some time encouraging them to be respectful, contributing members of our online course communities.

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  • Sweet chili lime pistachios? In my classroom?

    by Diane Hollister

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    Sweet chili lime pistachios. Yes, they are real; and they are addictive. One of my team members told me about them, and because I’m a pistachio lover and a chili lover, I had to try them. Yum! I’m a sucker for Tex-Mex flavors, and this one got me. Like many of you, I tend to eat lunch and snacks at my desk, so I need to be careful my laptop doesn’t end up with chili in the keyboard!

    When I first heard about sweet chili pistachios — maybe you did this, too — I kind of debated whether I really wanted to try them. Sometimes we read or hear about combinations of foods that don’t sound so good, like the Scandinavian chicken / banana dish my aunt recently sent me as a joke. Ew.  Sometimes we try the new combo and discover it’s really amazing. And other times … well, it may have been better to ignore it! (Kudos to the first person who put peanut butter and chocolate together … but why would anyone want that chicken / banana combo or a mayonnaise-and-peanut-butter sandwich?!)

    You might justifiably wonder just how this foodie blog has anything to do with student engagement. Bear with me a moment or two while we explore some thoughts here. Like those addictive sweet chili lime pistachios, sometimes we need to spice things up to get students engaged. Sometimes we have to be willing to try something new, or look at something innovative to capture their attention. Sometimes we need to seek out new resources to share with them.

    First, it can be helpful to think about how we teach and how students learn. Take a look at a book like Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide. Read Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning if you haven’t yet done so, or Powerful Teaching. Whet your own appetite with practical applications for the classroom based on solid cognitive research. Consider tools like retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback and how these can be used to help your students learn better — and keep them interested. Our excitement, and our own growth mindset, can help students be more engaged.

    Next, explore technology tools (or even non-techy tools like index cards) that allow you to track student responses and get real-time feedback on muddy points. Look at tools like Pearson’s Learning Catalytics.  

    Then, take a look at the research about emotional intelligence, grit, mindset, and related qualities. As simplistic as it may sound, many students aren’t sure how to schedule portions of their days. They don’t realize the importance of mindfulness vs. the multi-tasking that they are so familiar with. They need specific, targeted feedback and modeling to develop metacognition skills.

    Don’t forget resources for the students. Maybe they are not engaged because they don’t even know how to be a student. Share www.studygs.net. Students might really appreciate the Learning Scientists blogs. A recent one explores the importance of explaining things to help cement memory and learning. Earlier this summer, another blog outlined research about note-taking. Giving such tools to students can empower them, and drive them to succeed  which can engage them more deeply in the learning process both in- and outside of the classroom.

    Something to keep in mind is that we don’t need a lot of chili powder to spice things up — many of these changes don’t need a lot of time, and they don’t take a ton of effort. Maybe you’re even doing some of them already. 🙂 A little bit can go a long way. And humor helps. Check out articles like this one: Examining the energizing effects of humor: The influence of humor on persistence behavior. 

    Time for a snack!

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  • Neuroscience and my classroom: Can it really help?

    by Diane Hollister

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    Wonder if you are the only instructor trying to figure out what might help your students learn? Wading through emails and articles and questioning what really works? Could you use a cup of coffee right now, and a chat with another instructor? Grab a cup….and read on.

    Today’s educator is bombarded with a lot of information. With the advent of the internet, information is literally at your fingertips all the time. Some might think that makes it easier to learn about the latest research and techniques, but in many ways we educators know it’s harder and more overwhelming. It’s time consuming to weed through “propaganda,” false news, misinterpreted data, ads, and more to determine what really works.  We’ve all had those moments where we read something or heard someone speak and thought to ourselves, “That person has never been in the classroom with real students,” or “She has no idea about little students are engaged,” or “His students are not like mine.”

    You can find many articles about Generation X, Y, Z students, or the i-Generation, or whatever you want to name them. You’ll also find common themes; today’s students have short attention spans. They are very used to technology and often have little or no interest in investing a lot of effort into learning. They are motivated by a “gaming” approach to learning. They often have poor study skills. And so on. Add that to the proven untrue theory of learning styles, and today’s educator is left wondering…what on earth am I supposed to do?! How do I find the balance, or is there no way to achieve a Goldilocks state in my classroom? Does anything work?

    The answer is a resounding YES!

    Want an easy-to-read resource chuck full of ideas? Try Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. What’s really nice with this small text is each chapter is a stand-alone and you can read in small chunks about things such as interleaving, spacing, retrieval tools, and more. You can also check out the CIRCLE website, or the Center for Integrative Research in Cognition, Learning, and Education.

    Did you ever wander into a room and then ask yourself why you’re there? Try to remember where you filed something in your Google Drive? Attempted to recall what someone mentioned at a meeting last week? Any time we engage in activities like that, we’re doing the same thing our students are doing when they try to recall what you taught as they complete an assignment. Retrieval practice is a learning strategy where we focus on getting information out. It’s even more powerful when combined with additional research-based strategies including spacing, interleaving, and feedback-driven metacognition. One of the most powerful tools in learning is effective retrieval, and there’s an entire website devoted to research on it. You can subscribe to get updates and new studies sent right to your inbox.

    You can also get quick infographics to summarize these topics for yourself and students, as well as blogs for you and students, on a site hosted by Learning Scientists. Curious about the latest information about note-taking or wondering if naps can help you focus better? Do you think learning styles really make a difference? (Hint, we already mentioned they don’t; but how do you respond to those who think they do?) There are some great blogs about all sorts of topics…and they are supported by research not just a popular idea.

    What about Bloom’s Taxonomy? How does that tie in with retrieval practice? Dr. Pooja Agarwal examined whether retrieval practice could do more than just support the acquisition of factual information. She wanted to test the assumption that students should first focus on the lower levels of the taxonomy before higher-order thinking can be accomplished. Dr. Agarwal directly compared retrieval practice with the use of lower vs. higher-order thinking to determine if that was the case.  What do you think happened? You can probably guess by the fact that retrieval practice is so powerful. Read more here.

    Are you also a bit of a research junkie? You might want to check out this book; I’m partway through Powerful Teaching and keep finding all sorts of gold nuggets in there. In theory, I’m using it to augment planning a training for later this year and using info from the book but must admit I find myself reading and then doing additional research just to learn more. I love learning about cognitive science and psychology. The best part is, this book shows us how to use it. We can learn how to filter what works and what doesn’t.

    Hmm, I think it’s time to refill the cup and dig in….let’s talk again soon!

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  • You want me to use my phone in class?

    by Diane Hollister

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    Students and smartphones. Educators have legitimate concerns about their use in the classroom, and how the technology is quite frequently a distraction. Cognitive scientists study the effects of distraction on learning and point out how short the typical student’s attention span is. As an instructor, can I  use those tools – especially cell phones – to my advantage? Can we use them to help students learn?

    The answer is yes. I want students to use their phones in class, but not for scrolling through Facebook or checking text messages, posting on Instagram, etc. We use them as a classroom response system (and any wi-fi enabled device will work, so a laptop or Kindle or Google tablet or iPad will work, too). Think of them as a more powerful clicker type of system. Instead of being able to only use multiple choice questions, I can choose from 18 different types of questions. It’s all about using the phones as a catalyst for learning; the tool is Learning Catalytics.

    As an instructor, you can pose a variety of open-ended questions that help your students develop critical thinking skills, while monitoring responses with real-time analytics to find out where they’re struggling. With this information, you can adjust your instructional strategy in real time and try additional ways of engaging your students during class. Students can review their work after class as well, and see your additional notes and feedback. It’s a great just-in-time tool for you–and it’s a great review tool for them.

    Learning Catalytics also lets you manage student interactions by automatically grouping students for discussion, team-based learning, and peer-to-peer learning if you’d like. You can deliver a session in five modes; typically we think of the instructor-led synchronous mode, but you can also deliver it automated online or use self-test or self-paced options, or even teams as noted above.

    This amazing and engaging tool allows you to search thousands of existing questions across many fields of learning; anything from art history to psychology to mathematics to physics to anatomy and much more. You can search questions loaded by Pearson Education and tagged by author or content. You can also search content shared by your colleagues down the hall or around the world. If you want still more questions, or you can’t quite find exactly what you want, you can easily create your own questions. You can embed images or dataset links, use an equation editor, provide additional feedback, and even leave notes for other educators.

    The help site on Learning Catalytics is quite extensive; it’s good to explore the video resources if you are thinking about getting started.

    One of the best things? It’s free if you are already using a MyLab & Mastering product. If you aren’t, it’s $12 (6 months) or $20 (12 months). It’s also easy to access student performance data by class or even by module or question.

    I’ll admit, when I first saw it more than 6 or 7 years ago, I thought it was neat. I also figured I didn’thave time to add one more thing in my classroom. I was concerned students might not have access (what if our wi-fi went down?) and I didn’t know if it was really worth the time to set things up. At the time, I taught courses that had very little available in terms of pre-written questions, so I wrote my own.

    The first day I ran some sessions with students made me a believer. The very last question I asked them in each class was what they thought about that day’s new tool. Yes, I loved the instant feedback in class, and I liked seeing them more engaged, but if they just saw it as a toy….maybe it wasn’t worth it. I wanted it to help them remember and develop new memory skills. (Interested in more about working memory? Read this article.)

    Their replies cemented it for me. One young man wrote that it was the first time -ever- that he enjoyed a math class even though he had to work hard. Others wrote it was fun, it made them pay attention, or they liked being able to ask questions or let me know they didn’t understand without everyone else knowing it.

    Thus began my journey. I’ve used Learning Catalytics online. I’ve done large workshops with nearly 100 attendees participating. I’ve done team-building in my classes both face-to-face and online. I’ve written a lot of questions. I’ve shown other faculty how powerful this is–and they teach everything from art to economics to math to English to career readiness. It’s a flexible and powerful tool.

    And, not only does it engage my students, but it engages me. I like technology, but I also want it to be something that really benefits my students, not just makes them have fun. Learning Catalytics fits the bill-I like to think of it as “teach-nology.”

    Want to see it in action?

    Looking for some more training materials to help you get started?

    Learning Catalytics was developed by Eric Mazur, the creator of Peer Instruction, speaker on physics education and interactive teaching, founder of SiOnyx, and a professor of physics and area dean at Harvard. He collaborated with Brian Lukoff, an educator, entrepreneur, technology designer, and engineer. Brian was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and a Stanford Ph.D. in educational measurement and technology. Eric also worked with  Gary King, an expert on statistical methods, founder of Crimson Hexagon, Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and one of just 23 University Professors at Harvard.

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  • I can't remember! Or can I?...Let's learn about retrieval practice

    by Diane Hollister

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    Maybe you are chuckling to yourself about a moment recently where that happened to you. You sat at your desk or stood in the middle of the room or waited in your car at the intersection…trying to remember the thing you wanted to recall. You may have employed some mnemonics or keywords or other tools to help you store and later access that information. Sometimes if information hasn’t seemed to clearly fit into our mental mapping or schemas, or we haven’t attempted to access it for a while, it’s kind of tough!

    Often times when we think about teaching, we’re focused on getting information into students’ heads. We have content to cover, a final to prepare for, etc. We may think we don’t really have time to add another “thing” to our classroom routine, and yet, there is something very critical that we should be focusing on. Happily, it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time, money, or any special technology tools.

    Retrieval practice” is a learning strategy where we focus on getting information out of student minds. Through the action of trying to recall information, our memory for that information is strengthened. Consequently, forgetting is less likely to occur.

    In the book Making it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, the authors share the benefits of using learning strategies such as retrieval, spacing, interleaving, elaboration, dual coding, and more. There has been a significant amount of research in the field of cognitive science as well as neurobiological research about how we learn. We’ve learned that a few strategies in particular are far more effective; from LearningScientists.org: “About 10 years ago, a report was published summarizing the research from cognitive psychology applied to education. These strategies in particular were found to have solid evidence and were suggested for implementation. Unfortunately, a recent textbook report suggests that they have not really made their way into teacher-training textbooks. However, it’s important to note that not all 6 strategies have equal amounts of evidence behind them. In particular, spaced practice and retrieval practice are most strongly supported by decades of research.”

    The real question is, though, how can we make use of those studies in our classroom? What does learning science really tell us? What would retrieval look like?

    It can be a 2 – 5 min activity in the beginning of class where you ask students to recall material from the prior class. They can then pull out their notes and fill in the gaps. It can be using sample tests and frequent low-stakes quizzing to help students practice. It can be using flash cards to not only recall ideas but to think about connections between topics. I read about one professor who said when he bumps into a student on campus, he uses those moments to review key things from class or help them make connections to other coursework.

    Want some ideas for warm-ups?

    Learn more on this great Retrieval Practice site--you can even subscribe for some newsletters and timely articles and information. You can also download resources. And here’s a second site to check out, for both you and your students: Learning Scientists.

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