• Successful design strategies for online courses

    by Terry Austin

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    In order for an online course to be successful, one must first divorce their thinking from the traditional face-to-face classroom, and consider several key components of the online course experience. Let’s focus on the big items…

    Lecture videos 

    One of the most natural starting places for creating an online course is the lecture. This can of course take many forms. The lazy alternative is to simply tell students to read the chapter, but this is, as one might expect, unfair and inadequate. Our students look to us to explain, and that is, of course, one of our primary jobs.

    Many instructors make their initial videos mimic what they might do in front of a class, and some even attempt to record their actual classroom lectures. For quite a few reasons this is a bad idea. Let’s address a few of these issues.

    If you actually record your classroom, this will include extraneous comments and questions from the students in the room that day. This does not provide an “inclusive environment”, as some might argue. What it does provide is audio distractions for students trying to focus on critical material.

    Yet another problem with this style of lecture capture is length. Ideal videos for an online course should be “small bites”. Each video should address a discrete topic (commonly a chapter section) and no more. Ideal time on a video of this sort falls between 3 – 10 minutes. This provides a few key benefits. Students don’t have to remember where they were in an hour-long lecture should they need to leave/return. Students can easily watch/rewatch a short video in available time even with a busy schedule.

    How should you actually capture your lecture? There are several useful tools/techniques that can serve this purpose.

    At hand for most instructors is PowerPoint narration. Both PowerPoint and Apple Keynote permit users to record narration on each slide. While you certainly can then share narrated presentations with your students, that relies on students having the original software to play the presentations. An easier option is to simply export a video. Powerpoint: File>Export>Create Video. Keynote: File>Export to>Movie.

    A more robust option would entail use of screen capture (sometimes called “screencasting” software such as Camtasia (Windows or Mac) or Screenflow (Mac). These apps allow capture of the entire computer screen or a portion of the screen. More importantly, they permit robust editing of the video after the initial recording. This provides an easy remedy for an instructor who has made an error during the lecture. They can simply pause and correct the error. One would then remove the error in postproduction prior to saving the final video.

    Since we have addressed the idea of editing, we should bring up the idea of closed captions. Any instructor providing lecture videos should be extremely aware of remaining ADA compliant with any materials produced. Both Camtasia and Screenflow have features that allow you to insert true closed captions. One strategy that makes this process easier is lecturing from a pre-written script. This will enable you to simply cut/paste the actual words read from the script into the captions track during editing.

    Good Audio

    One cannot have “good video” in absence of “good audio”. To that end, it is strongly recommended to not simply rely on the microphone built into your computer. Bad audio is distracting and is a disservice to your audience.

    You may wish to consider either a headset mic such as the Logitech H390 Noise Canceling headset (around $25 from online retailers).

    Alternatively, you may want to consider a more robust studio microphone such as the Rode Podcaster. Going with this option, you may wish to include a boom arm to mount the mic to your desk. This configuration is a bit more expensive (around $350 total for mic and arm) but provides exceptional audio quality. As a side benefit, this certainly puts the online professor into “recording mode” when you pull the microphone boom arm over in front of you. As a user of a system like this, there is a lot to be said for the level of focus that a good microphone brings to your workflow.

    Online Homework

    One hallmark of an online course is, of course, online homework. Your publisher’s platform is an ideal place to go for ready-to-go assignments. Depending on your discipline you may wish to consider Mastering, MyLab, or Revel. Your publisher also has Customer Support teams standing ready to help you learn all about designing effective assignments.

    Ideally for each chapter, one should consider pre-lecture, mid-lecture (tough topics), and post-lecture (chapter quiz) assignments.Some instructors express concern as they first begin assigning online homework that they don’t want to assign “too much homework”. That approach is actually counter-productive.

    Ask yourself: How many times have students come to you to ask, “What else can I do to study?” Now remind yourself, have you ever said to students: “For every hour you are in the classroom, you should spend 2-3 hours outside of class studying.” It is actually common for an online course to have more homework assignments than a similar face-to-face course.

    A final consideration should be point value. Students won’t be invested in assignments that are simply busy work that don’t contribute to their overall outcome. A good target range would be 10 – 25% of total course grade. I myself set a value of my students’ online homework at 20% of their semester grade.

    Securing high stakes exams 

    Most schools will require some form of proctoring on high stakes exams. These are the “traditional exams” we’re all familiar with. There are several options for having these exams proctored for your online course.

    If you happen to be teaching a discipline that uses MyLab you’re in luck. MyLab has a partnership with ProctorU, an online proctoring service that watches both what happens on a student’s screen and watches the student and immediate environment through the computer camera. In this form, ProctorU is utilizing an artificial intelligence engine rather than an actual human proctor. At present, this option is not available in either Mastering or Revel, thus proctored testing in those platforms is not currently an option.

    For schools that insist on proctored exams there are a few options.

    On-campus Testing Centers are available at most campuses, and students of those campuses can usually test for free. If an online student does not live near the instructor they may still utilize a campus testing center near their home, but they may have to pay a per-exam fee. In such cases, students should provide contact information to their instructor and obtain permission to use the testing center at the alternate school. In either case, details needed to take the exam should be communicated to such a testing center by the instructor. Exams can either be paper based, run on publisher sites (Mastering, Revel, Pegasus, MyLab) under password protection, or via questions uploaded to the school LMS, again under password protection with Testing Center staff entering the password which remains unknown to students.

    The second option would be a proctoring service such as ProctorU.com. These companies provide pay-by-exam services for students (free for instructors to set up) and involve a human proctor watching the student, immediate environment, and student’s computer screen. The service provides incident reports including screenshots, video, and descriptions of incidents. The cost to the student depends on the amount of time permitted by instructors. My own students typically pay about $30 per exam. It is worth noting that the pay scale is based SOLELY on the maximum time an instructor permits. In particular a student cannot rush through the exam for a cheaper session. So, there is no monetary incentive for them to finish an exam early. Most students don’t consider this their primary exam strategy, but rather use it in a pinch when they can’t come to campus.

    Online Discussions Options

    One critical component of an online class is providing a way for your students to feel connected to the instructor and their classmates. There are several options for this component of the class.

    Publisher platforms (Mastering, Revel, MyLab, Pegasus) all include asynchronous discussion forums, as do most of the common LMS platforms such as Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Canvas, and Moodle. Many, if not most of these, require the student to be logged into the platform in order to see current and past posts, or to reply.

    An interesting alternative solution can be found in app-based discussion platforms such as GroupMe. I began using GroupMe a few years ago and it has revolutionized my online class discussions. At the beginning of the semester I create a Class – GroupMe group and send the invitation link to my student email list.

    GroupMe can be accessed in a browser, as well as on-device apps. Students can configure GroupMe to send them group messages as SMS texts. Students and instructors can post messages that appear in real time. The history of the discussion is available to scroll back through all the way back to the creation of the group. Participants can post text and images. The group creator can create group polls. As exam time approaches I post sample questions for students to answer and encourage them to create their own. What ensues is often an impromptu study session.

    This app creates an on-device environment that most of my millennial students seem to relate to, in a communication form that speaks to them at a core level.

    I have had students over the past 2-3 years tell me that they feel more connected to me and other students in my online classes than they have ever felt in any face-to-face class. So, if you are considering creating an online course, stick with these core principles:

    • Produce a lecture component that is easy to consume and ADA compliant.
    • Design and assign homework that contributes to your students’ success.
    • Find a way to securely deliver high-stakes exams that satisfies your administration and is accessible to your students.
    • Communicate! The students in your online course should not feel as if they are in a vacuum. They should feel a part of a community who are all on a learning journey together with their instructor leading the way through the course material

     

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  • AI-based tutoring: A new kind of personalized learning

    by Pearson

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    The Discovery Channel’s This is AI looks at how artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the world now, the scientists shaping it, and the lives affected by this nascent technology.

    This is especially significant in the education industry with the increasing need for lifelong learning. The future of digital learning offers the potential of even greater tools and supports. Imagine lifelong learning companions powered by AI that can accompany and support individual learners throughout their studies – in and beyond school – or new forms of assessment that measure learning while it is taking place, shaping the learning experience in real time.

    While the full potential of the application of AI is being discovered with each day, today there are students and educators benefitting from a new kind of personalized learning.

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  • Digital learning tools foster student engagement and success

    by Pearson

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    Higher education is moving into a new phase when it comes to the power of technology in the classroom. More sophisticated learning tools are being developed, and they promise to fundamentally change how instructors teach and students learn. Such advances are being met with a mix of resistance and acceptance. Some educators worry that new technologies may diminish their role in the education process will eventually replace them, or that digital learning tools are too costly, or not necessary. Some are concerned about the amount of work involved with incorporating technology into their courses. Despite such uneasiness, a growing number of educators are adopting the tools and using them in innovative ways to enhance student learning.

    Among other products, Learning Catalytics is an interactive student response tool that educators are using in classrooms and lecture halls to pose questions and poll students’ understanding real-time with graphical visualization. We are continuing to develop even more advanced learning tools, including technologies that can assess critical thinking skills and broaden tutorial capabilities.

    62% of student believe digital learning technology increases engagement with course materials.

    According to higher education experts, many educators are turning to technology to enhance the learning experience, deliver improved outcomes, and to manage increasing class sizes and varying learning styles. They are selecting course materials that are available in digital format, and they’re using interactive tools to check students’ progress and mastery on assignments when completing course assignments. Many educators are redesigning coursework to blend online activities with classroom experiences. Some are sending texts and emails to nudge students to keep up with assignments, while others are recording and streaming lectures for students to view outside the classroom at their convenience, on a variety of mobile devices. A number of educators are even setting up labs where students can use sophisticated technology to conduct research.

    University of Illinois College of Education uses technology to improve classroom collaboration and efficiency.

    For example, the college of education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign two years ago unveiled its Illinois Digital Ecologies and Learning Laboratory (IDEALL) where students can set up technology–enhanced learning environments and then use technology to study the impact on learning. The lab features state-of-the-art equipment, including 360-degree audio- and video-recording systems, ceiling-mounted cameras, and 55-inch touch-screen tabletops. University researchers say the entire lab operates as a data-collection device to track learners’ interactions with technology. They use data analytics techniques to identify patterns and relationships among the learners’ movements, responses, discussions, and other actions to gain insight into their levels of engagement.

    H. Chad Lane, an associate professor of educational psychology, says the high-tech lab is making a “huge difference” for student researchers, and is an energizing, popular, and much-sought-after resource.

    57% of student believe engagement with online instructors is important.

    Although students might be gravitating toward digital tools, many education technology experts say their use will not replace instructors. Digital learning, the experts say, makes educators better able to meet the students where they are technologically, better able to adapt lessons for varied learning styles, and better able to reach more students. Those benefits, the experts say, translate to stronger academic success, improved retention rates, and higher graduation rates.

    “Students learn best when there is an available instructor because those personal interactions and relationships are a very essential part of the teaching and learning process,” says Barnes. “Technology is simply backing up the instructor because the instructor cannot be there at every moment for every student.”

    Indeed, students can access digital coursework on their own schedule, anytime, anywhere, on their personal device of choice. Digital products also offer a flexibility and malleability that print books cannot. Electronic materials can be easily updated by publishers, and they can be integrated with other technologies to become even more adaptable. Interactive learning solutions typically present topics in small chunks, along with a video, audio, or other teaching aid. Students can highlight and take notes, and they test their knowledge before moving on to the next topic. The interactive capability helps students grasp the concepts, accounts for their different learning styles, allows them to work at their own pace, and pushes them to be more engaged in their studies—all while helping to reduce the cost of learning materials by as much as 70 percent.

    The interactive capabilities also help the instructors by giving them a broader reach to connect with students, an opportunity to give feedback outside class, and the ability to adjust and optimize their instructional plans. Instructors can electronically observe what assignments have been completed, how long it takes students to do them, and how they score on the online quizzes. Educators can send notes to students, prompt them online, or modify a lecture, assignment, or coursework, if they see that students are not understanding a concept.

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  • Breaking down the effect of affordable course materials on student success

    by Sue Poremba

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    When students must choose between textbooks and food or gas money, the latter wins. But without course materials, students often find classroom success elusive.

    A student entering his or her first year of college can expect course materials to cost between 5 to 10 percent of total expenses. At the same time, student populations are changing from the traditional 18 to 22-year-old to campuses that are more diverse, including older adults and returning veterans, all with unique financial challenges. But one financial concern remains consistent: course materials are expensive are often the first college expense cut when money gets tight.

    The steep rise of textbooks

    In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a Consumer Price Index for college expenses. Between 2006 and 2016, tuition costs jumped 63 percent. Over that same period, textbook prices increased 88 percent. Covering that same time period, a study conducted by the Florida Virtual Campus revealed more than half of students spent more than $300 on books in a semester, while nearly a fifth shelled out more than $500.

    More importantly, the Florida study showed how the high cost of materials directly impacts the student’s ability to succeed. When books are too expensive, two-thirds don’t purchase them, and of those students, 37 percent earn a poor grade, while almost one-fifth end up failing. To compensate for high book costs, students are taking fewer classes or don’t register for a class they need — but that ends up extending their time in school, which costs more money. It’s an ugly, expensive cycle.

    How campuses stepped up

    Students began to complain openly about the price of textbooks. Faculty became concerned that students stopped purchasing the expensive materials. Educators at Indiana University paid attention.

    “We started pilots in 2009, working with some publishers, to make some electronic textbook content available, and we didn’t ask the students to pay,” said Stacey Morrone, associate vice president for learning technologies in the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology at Indiana University. The students liked the change.

    Indiana University now works with 30 publishers who agree that the cost of e-texts will be at least 35 percent of a hard-copy edition. They have publishers who now offer their entire digital catalog at a flat rate. And importantly, the students will be able to access the e-text throughout their college career. While digital formats are optional, more faculty are buying in because, Morrone said, it ensures every student has their materials on the first day of classes. Indiana’s data shows that students who achieve A/B grades start coursework immediately and keep reading.

    The faculty benefit

    San Diego State University began its Immediate Access program in 2016 with two classes. That’s since grown to 80 classes with savings of $2 million in textbook costs, with a projection of 150 classes next year and $4 million in savings.

    James Frazee, senior academic technology officer and director of instructional services, said students at SDSU are charged for digital books and materials as a course fee, and they aren’t charged the fee until after the add/drop deadline. The majority of students said they access the materials before that deadline and felt this access helped them academically.

    “Students feel this is a good value,” Frazee said. Not only are the materials more affordable, but they deepen the level of engagement with faculty. Faculty can monitor the way the materials are used and can focus lessons around sections where it is clear students are struggling. Also, as students have access to materials immediately, faculty can conduct more frequent, low-stake assessments earlier in the semester. Having improved insight to how students are faring from day one, faculty can restructure the lesson plan that lead to improved student success.

    Digital materials go beyond affordability, said Drew Miller, senior vice president of marketing with Pearson. Digital learning platforms, like Pearson’s Revel, combine content with immersive and engaged academic experiences. It allows both students and faculty to be interactive in the education process, creating a sustainable business model for both higher education institutions and the students they serve. Students are able to access and afford the materials they need to succeed while the institutions provide a learning environment that allows options that work best for all.

    This content was sponsored by Pearson. See the original article here.


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  • Spring into learning digital learning

    by Caroline Leary, Manager, Pearson

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    Digital learning webinar series for educators

    In the spirit of always learning, we have an extensive lineup of free, professional development webinars that will leave you with actionable ideas and strategies to effectively implement digital learning tools that will increase student engagement and leave you with the freedom to do what you do best: teach.

    Pick and choose from over 50 webinars that span across all disciplines featuring renowned authors and digital learning leaders, like you.

    Aren’t sure where to start? Check out a sampling below or visit our This is Digital Learning Webinar Series website to browse or sort by discipline.

    Unable to attend live? No problem – all webinars are recorded and available to you at your convenience.

    Showcase your learning

    Digital credentials allow you showcase the learning you’ve achieved. When you attend one of the webinars live and complete a brief assessment at the end, you will earn a Digital Learning badge via Acclaim to share with your networks.

    Happy digital learning!


    Monday, March 19, 2:00-2:40 p.m.
    Learning Mathematics through Digital Technologies…the Right Way!
    Kirk Trigsted, Professor, University of Idaho

    Tuesday, March 20, 11:00-11:30 a.m.
    6 Ways to Use Polling Questions to Engage Students in Your Accounting Classroom
    Dr. Wendy Tietz, Professor, Kent State University

    Wednesday, March 28, 4:00-4:30 p.m.
    WAKE UP! Engagement Strategies to Compete in an Attention Economy
    Michael R. Solomon, Professor, Saint Joseph’s University

    Monday, April 9, 12:00-12:30 p.m.
    Dynamic Techniques for Teaching Structure and Agency in the Sociology Classroom
    Jodie Lawston, Professor, California State University, San Marcos

    Tuesday, April 10, 2:00-2:30 p.m.
    Measuring Student Apprehension, Comprehension, and Engagement in the E-book Era
    Dr. Sam Sommers, Professor, Tufts University & Dr. Lisa Shin, Professor, Tufts University

    Thursday, April 12, 11:00-11:30 a.m.
    Stories and Histories: Hooking Students with the Tale
    Bill Brands, Professor, University of Texas at Austin

    Metacognitive Learning Strategies for A&P Students (recording available)
    Chasity O’Malley, Professor, Palm Beach State College

    Thinking Critically from Day ONE of Class (recording available)
    Dr. Lourdes Norman-McKay, Professor, Florida State College-Jacksonville

    No More “But That’s the Answer the Computer Gave Me” (recording available)
    Jim Hanson, Professor, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology


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