• End of term: Tweaking your course for next term

    by Dr. Terri Moore

    A woman with short hair and glasses sits at a desk smiling at a laptop. Behind her are shelves of books and decorative items and a glass wall to the outdoors.

    Many of you may be experiencing those end-of-term emotions ranging from relief to exhaustion. On top of all the final grades and last-minute faculty duties, it’s time to think about the next term’s classes, whether that’s a short summer session or getting a jump on Fall class designs.

    Course review

    If you’re a Revel® user, I suggest you examine your aggregate class data from the easy-to-access dashboard view before automatically copying the current course into the next term’s course shells. The dashboard view gives you a wealth of actionable data.

    The Revel dashboard is a completely different tool for analytics than I have ever used in terms of providing numbers that reflect what was working and what needed improvement. The data helped to inform my decisions about the efficacy of the current course and implied changes I could make to the current design to increase students’ engagement and content proficiency next term. Let’s walk through what I found most helpful.

    Educator Dashboard insights

    The Revel Educator Dashboard provides a great deal of information in the following areas:

    • aggregated class data for a view of overall performance
    • score details to see class performance on each type of assessment assigned
    • struggling and low performing student gauges for quick identification and communication
    • assignments with due dates as well as additional details, including challenging items
    • settings tab showing assessment types and ways to improve the course design

    Assessment data

    When reviewing the assessment data, I ask myself if there are any settings or scoring policies that I might change to increase both engagement and comprehension.

    The view score details section provides aggregate scores for students on each type of assessment assigned, allowing me to note assessment types that received low scores. This can indicate a lack of understanding or a lack of participation. By drilling into the details of some assessment types within the assignment view of the grades section, I might see a lack of participation rather than low scores. This could indicate I should assign greater value for these types of assessments if I feel they are sound activities for students to become proficient with the content.

    Increasing the weight of certain assessments might incentivize students to complete them. Or, by allowing fewer attempts for the Revel module or chapter quizzes, students may be less likely to complete the quizzes without fully understanding the concepts they should have read before taking the quiz.

    You might choose to exclude certain types of assessments next term if you feel the value is less than you wish for students to expend energy and time completing. In that manner, you might increase compliance on the assessments you feel are more robust in helping students acquire the knowledge needed to become proficient in your courses’ required outcomes.

    I acted weekly based on the struggling and low activity student gauges by sending a brief email to those students and it made a dramatic difference in my classes, both face to face and online. For three years I conducted my own efficacy study by examining the effect of using this intervention strategy with my low-performing students. I opened the dashboard view early Monday mornings after the Sunday due dates and dropped each student an email stating I noticed they were having some issues in completing their work in Revel the previous week. I would tell them to contact me if I could be of assistance with anything.

    This simple, very quick intervention was so telling during COVID-19 when students would email me back and share things like they had little connectivity at home with four siblings using the same Wi-Fi, or they had lost their homes and were in the process of moving. Issues that I had no ability to resolve yet tugged at my heart. However, I could put skin on the computer by letting my students know I cared and connected with their struggles. Even if the student was simply slacking, they knew I was an active presence in the online classroom. We know from research on distance learning that human connections between students and teachers, and between peers, are often the variable that increases persistence to completion.

    Over our three years of COVID-19 I have seen an increase of slightly more than 25% retention in my online classes and 13% in my face-to-face classes. Apparently, being engaged with the content outside of class was equally important as in-class presence.

    Deeper course analysis

    The next question I pose for myself relates to what I can change or renew for even greater success next term.

    When you scroll beneath the dashboard to the assignments and you see challenging items, this means there are questions on the quizzes that many of your students did not answer correctly on the first quiz attempt. This could indicate the concept is difficult to grasp by simply reading the material.

    When you dig deeper, you can see the exact question/concept where students struggled. This information has prompted me to add some of my own content to the Revel material to increase students' understanding. For instance, with psychology, operant and classical conditioning are concepts often confusing for intro to psych students. I have added material in my LMS, class, or Revel by using the highlighting and sharing a note feature to increase students’ understanding of that difficult concept.

    I also like to look at overall trends in the term by scanning the dates, the scores, and the participation. This can inform me about seasonal changes in students’ performance such as midterm slump, spring break fever, or those times in any of our terms where students’ performance historically declines.

    Student engagement tactics

    Interventions to increase student engagement might include reducing the number of assessments or using more active engagement assessments, such as asking students to present or to work collaboratively to engage them more fully.

    If you go to the resources tab and open your book, you can select the section you found of challenging items. Highlight that section, add a note or even a URL to create an active link in your students’ notes. You could add a TED talk, or, as I did with my psychology students, a link to YouTube of The Big Bang Theory show where the actors are using operant and classical conditioning to train their significant others. When you share notes like this, the information appears in your students’ notebooks, and they can use your notes as study guides.

    Revel offers the right amount of actionable data for me to understand my students’ progress, their engagement, and where they experience challenging concepts. The platform also helps me improve my delivery, increase student success with Revel, and helps students become proficient in the learning outcomes.

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  • Outcomes: Scaffolding student success

    by Dr. Terri Moore

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    My colleagues and I often chaffed under the stress of needing to get ready for our classes while attending the dreaded college-required professional development sessions on “Outcomes” designed to comply with accreditation. We were offered little more than college-dictated Educationese required inclusion in our syllabi.

    Most of the outcomes were far too broad and vague to be measurable, and I began to daydream about how to make these days have some merit. I started to muse about outcomes. I needed a definition beyond what’s left at the end of something.

    Specifically, what is a useable learning outcome? What would meaningful outcomes look like? Linda Nilson tells us that learning outcomes are what we want our students to be able to do by the end of our course. Therefore, it makes sense to think about designing meaningful course-specific outcomes by looking at the desired end and working backwards, determining the building blocks needed to reach those goals.

    Patricia Cross stated the sole purpose of teaching is learning. This does not mean the teacher is the singular path to learning. In fact, learning often occurs best when the wise teacher gets out of the way to allow it to happen organically. Conversely and sadly, there can be a great deal of teaching with little, to no, learning.

    I felt myself in the later position more than I would like to admit, working so hard while my students expended little energy. I was expending the lion’s share of classroom energy. I wondered how to flip this energy grid, so the students would become the primary energy consumers.

    Learning scientists tell us that deep learning is not easy, it takes effort. Effort = expenditure of energy. So, if my students spent little energy, and learning consumes lots of energy, then the ratio of teaching to learning was seriously off-balance in my classrooms. I was doing so much teaching that was not resulting in a proportional amount of learning. I realized I needed to become the classroom learning facilitator.

    I daydreamed about my ideal class with students learning. Teachers often believe we are the keepers of knowledge and only from our mouths may students learn. We’re the rock stars, dancing as fast as we can in front of the class, exhausted at the end of the day. And, while rock stars often get glowing student reviews, studies have shown students often mastered less than students in classrooms with methods focusing on learning outcomes rather than what the teacher teaches.

    Sound outcomes contain three statements:

    1. how the outcome will be measured;
    2. what the conditions will be for demonstrating the outcome;
    3. and, the criteria for evaluating the student’s performance of the outcome.

    How the outcome is measured might be stated in terms like; define or compute. The conditions for measurement might include; speeches, portfolios, or maps. Finally, the criteria for evaluating are the rubrics developed to measure progress.

    There are cognitive, psychomotor, affective, social, and ethical outcomes; however, I am only examining cognitive outcomes. Bloom’s taxonomy remains an excellent framework for developing cognitive outcomes. These cognitive processes begin with knowledge. Without knowledge, students have no material with which to construct an end result.

    Parroting new information in order to remember is the first rung. This might be coupled with comprehension, the second learning process, where the student is able to express the information in their own words. The third rung is application, using newly acquired information in unique situations. The fourth step analyzes the new information understanding how the components relate. Synthesis follows as students use isolated components creating new skills or products. The student reaches the top of the cognitive structure and is able to see from a new vantage, evaluating the relevancy of this learning.

    It is important to note that outcomes have little merit without motivated students. Maslow’s hierarchy of need offers an excellent frame for motivation – beginning with the subfloor of meeting physiological needs and safety concerns, moving to a sense of belonging, leading to increased self-esteem, and culminating with self-actualization.

    I am able to address each in my classrooms, creating environments with little effort that are physically comfortable, a safe space emotionally and physically, with collaborative activities increasing belongingness, giving constructive and meaningful feedback that increases self-esteem, and encouraging students to design their paths to uniquely defined success leading to self-actualization.

    The principles of Bloom’s learning ladder coupled with the scaffolding of human/student motivations in Maslow’s research integrate learning and motivation producing my dream classroom.

    The learning outcomes were supporting my course redesign. I reviewed assignments, assessments, and classroom strategies. If I found an activity or evaluative tool having little connection to the learning outcomes, I eliminated them, creating other activities better aligned with outcomes. I limited the number of outcomes so I could measure each and offer timely feedback so students had a very transparent view of what it would take to be successful.

    My class gradually became far less about how much material I was able to cover than about how much progress students were making toward a final goal of mastery. This sometimes led to decreasing the amount of content I had assumed necessary simply because the textbook offered X number of chapters.

    I kept in mind the BIG question, “What do I want my students to be able to do when they walk away from my course?”

    Now, a warning! This outcome-based, learning-centered environment is often noisy. I have had one or two neighboring professors, request a room change due to the enthusiastic discussions and sometimes raucous laughter emanating from my students’ engagement with each other and the course principles.

    I once had a provost, invited to visit student end-of-term presentations, become so engaged with the students and their learning that she remained for the entire class rather than the few minutes she had intended.

    I’ll also warn that you must be prepared for changes in yourself. Motivation is infectious. The more motivated I became to create a sacred space for my students to learn, the more motivated they became to learn, which in turn reenergized me. I had found my teacher fountain of youth. The energy grid was teeming and flowing all over the place, back and forth from me, to students, to outsiders. I went home at night, not exhausted, but energized.

    So, I guess I’ll express gratitude for those many tedious and painful college “Outcome” in-services for boring me into daydreaming and taking action.

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  • How to design a course backwards

    by Debbie Schmidt

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    Being assigned a new course can fill a professor’s heart with joy, dread, or a bit of both.  The joy can come from the excitement of being able to create something new; to put into use all the techniques and technology that you have learned about and exercising the academic freedom that you may have been denied teaching courses designed by others.  Some may dread it because of the daunting amount of work necessary to design and implement a new course; often without extra time or pay to do it.

    Recently, I found myself in both the camps of joy and dread.  I was given the opportunity to develop the fully online version of Anatomy and Physiology at my college.  I have taught the subject many times, so I knew the course, the student population, and the resources well.  I had just completed courses myself about creating engaging online courses and I had lot of ideas ready to go.

    Then, I was begged to revamp an old course in Human Diseases, a course I have not taught before, knew little about the student population or resources, and just had an old syllabus to go by.  It also had to be changed from a 16-week semester to an 8-week term.  And oh, by the way, it started in two weeks.  Ugh.

    So, there I was, designing two different courses and I had two vastly different attitudes about it.  With the time crunch, I had to be very deliberate about how I invested the time I had.  Human nature had me wanting to spend all my time on the course I was excited about.  That felt good.  It was fun to me.  But I also had a responsibility to produce a good course for the other about which I was less excited.

    For a moment, I sat there with the world of possibilities swirling before me.  Syllabi, readings, PowerPoints, videos, delivery platforms, assignments, labs, quizzes, exams and more piled up inside my head, threatening to bury me under the weight of the time needed to create them while each rallied for my attention first.  It was hard to know where to start!

    Then I remembered the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe called Understanding by Design in which they recommend that instead of starting at the beginning, I should start at the end.  Their strategy called Backward Design, also called backward planning or backward mapping, is a process meant to be used to design learning experiences and instructional techniques to achieve specific learning goals.

     

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