Measuring Time: Course Workload in the Online Domain

At the turn of the century, prognosticators and provocateurs alike were quick to point to perceived shortcomings of offering credit-bearing college courses in the online domain. “Sage on the stage” had long been supplanted by “guide on the side,” but the concept of asynchronous teaching, or providing and facilitating instruction without static meeting times and locations, seemed difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. Three hours of classroom time each week, coupled with outside reading/homework requirements, has often given way to some generic conflation of the two that is difficult to assess in a meaningful, holistic fashion. Additionally, students can end up with radically different “classroom” experiences not just across disciplines and departments, but within them as well. This gives legitimacy to student gripes about rigor, frustrating their (and our) expectations of college-level work.

Our faculty have begun investigating solutions to the problems that often result from inconsistent course workload expectations. Rigor—mentioned above—is somewhat of an elusive concept, as the subjectivity inherent in each of the various disciplines engender multiple definitions. Fortunately, there are technological tools that can help us evaluate rigor (specifically, how it is divided between classwork and outside work) in our courses. A particularly useful one is the Rice University Workload Estimator. This tool allows an instructor to set the parameters of a course (semester length, number of exams/reading assignments/writing assignments, etc.) in order to produce an estimate of the number of hours of outside work students are being asked to complete. Read More

A Quick Technique for Making Your Lectures More Active

While reading a recent interview with Christine Harrington, executive director of the New Jersey Center for Student Success, I was reminded of how some practitioner-scholars in the more technical academic fields experience discomfort with the pedagogy of active learning, although they needn’t. In these instances, faculty feel obliged to present very specific information to students, usually in response to precise disciplinary/workplace expectations or to satisfy accreditation standards that mandate specialized knowledge objectives.

Practitioner scholars

This obligation, whether philosophical or prescribed, can exacerbate the friendly tension that may exist in faculties between “those liberal arts types” and “we practitioner-scholars.” In my experience, practitioner-scholars feel obligated to define instruction as delivering information to students, even while accepting the premise that active learning almost always facilitates stronger outcomes.

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You DO Have Time For This! Incorporating Video into Your Classes

By Maria Thiaw, M.F.A., Professor, English and Communication

Every new technology has its benefits and its pitfalls, and throughout history, as new inventions have emerged, traditional industries have shown reluctance before coming to acceptance. Teaching, an ancient art, is no different. All of the new bells and whistles coming our way from CPC’s CTE can be overwhelming and under a challenging course load, learning new technologies can seem impossible. That being said, today’s students have been raised on multimedia and in order to lasso them long enough to get our points across, we need a 21st-century approach. This is why I was an early adopter of all that the CTE has to offer.  In the process of using the CTE to create videos through Screencast-O-Matic and the One Button Studio, I have learned a few things that have made using technology in the classroom easier.

First, you have to approach this with an open mind and understand that it is a process. Look at your schedule for places where you can squeeze in some practice time. Come in on a Monday or use one free hour during each day to learn how to use the programs. The biggest time commitment is in the beginning when you are learning. I found that it took a couple of days of practice, but they are very user-friendly and Kim and Judith were there to help. Once I mastered them, things went much faster. Now that I know how to use the programs, I find that I need about 2 – 3 hours to prepare a PowerPoint video for a class. 1 hour to prep it, 1 hour or less to record it and 1 hour to edit it. This is why it’s best to learn and plan over break, have a script ready, and plan time throughout each week to build your inventory of lessons. Notice the word I am repeating here is PLAN.

Secondly, you must edit your expectations. Don’t expect to have an entire class, let alone 4, completed over a two-week break. This isn’t a week long project; it’s a term-long project. It might take longer than that to feel like your class is perfect. Take your time and get through each lesson. Eventually, the class will be where you want it to be and you’ll be proud of it.

Lastly, don’t worry! You don’t need 44 hours of video, even if it is an online class. It is best to use a variety of teaching methods. Attention spans are short these days so think about keeping your videos less than ten minutes. If you are lecturing for an hour, you can break it up into five or six segments, which helps to promote student focus.

Now that I can handle Screencast-O-Matic, I can create and edit short videos at home.  Even under our intense schedule, with some planning and patience we can work some of these technologies into our pedagogy.

Week One: Silence

By Judith Dutill, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence

Excitement. Anticipation. Enthusiasm. These are all words I would use to describe how I feel in the weeks and days leading up to a new term. Yet, despite my eagerness, even my widest smile, best jokes, and most engaging team building icebreakers are sometimes met with silence so great, the only thing that can be heard is the sound of my proverbial bubble bursting.

I know that if I hunker down and weather the first few days or weeks of awkward silences, things might pick up once we all get to know one another. But what if it doesn’t? (And, sometimes it doesn’t.) I have found that it is better to work on getting my quiet classes talking earlier in the term than if I let the inactivity persist to the point that silence is what ultimately defines our time together.

Now that a new term is underway, if you feel like you are the only one in the classroom with something to say, try one (or several) of these techniques to get your quiet classes talking…

On-ground classes

  • Keep students moving; try setting up learning/activity stations around the classroom, have students work in small groups before reporting out to the larger class, let students share ideas by writing on the board or creating a post-it wall.
  • Ask students what they need to get more engaged in the class. Use an anonymous survey or poll at the end of class to capture feedback.
  • Use positive reinforcement; notice and acknowledge when class is going well, thank students for their participation and responses.
  • Begin class with a discussion icebreaker such as a current event or a provocative image or news story.
  • Assign student discussion leaders; allow students to create the prompts and facilitate the discussion.
  • Create homework assignments that will connect with the next class meeting’s discussions so students are more likely to arrive prepared to discuss the day’s topics.
  • Use classroom games such as Jeopardy, Bingo, or poling games such as Kahoot.

 

Online classes

Quiet classes can occur in any modality. If you have a quiet online class (which I currently do), you may need to think creatively to get them talking.

  • Reach out to students via email as a reminder that the discussion board needs attention from the class.
  • Ask students what they need to get more engaged in the class. Use an anonymous survey or poll at the end of class to capture feedback.
  • Model a post by creating a starter thread for student reply.
  • Post a mid-week discussion or deploy a mid-week poll (use a polling tool such as Poll Everywhere) on a current event/relevant controversy.
  • Assign student discussion leaders; allow students to create the prompts and facilitate the discussion.
  • Provide multiple discussion prompts so students can find their way to the discussion topics they are most interested in.
  • Use the Groups tool in Blackboard to create small group discussions. Students may be more willing to open up at the beginning of the term with a small group versus the larger group.
  • Encourage students to end their discussion post replies with a lingering question. This will provide other students with a springboard for their replies.
  • Encourage students to share relevant examples by posting multimedia in their discussion posts.
  • Engage students with activities other than discussion boards; try using a VoiceThread asynchronous video discussion, building a class Wiki, or deploying a PlayPosit interactive video (tip: students can also create PlayPosit videos for their peers).

What techniques do you use to get students talking? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Don’t Forget the Grade Center!

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

There are so many things to keep track of at the start of a new term it can be difficult to know where to begin. Recent research shows us that there is one thing that we definitely do not want to overlook: setting up the Blackboard Grade Center! At Central Penn College we use the Grade Center to maintain a record of student grades. Not only do we associate the College’s grading schema with the Grade Center, we also associate assignments, discussion boards, tests, quizzes and other activities with the Grade Center too. This allows us to use the inline grading features within Blackboard to provide detailed feedback and grades to students.

In a recent Campus Technology article I learned of an analysis conducted by Blackboard to determine the biggest LMS predictor of student achievement. From the Campus Technology article, the analysis shows that the “most successful students” are those who access the gradebook function in Blackboard “most frequently” (para 3).

These results are yet another great reason to take the time to make sure that your Grade Center is set up correctly, now. Students rely on having access to an accurate grade record throughout the term, not just to keep track of their progress, but also as a motivator to achieve academic success.

What can you do today? Check your Grade Center and make sure that you…

Throughout the term you should…

  • Let students know when graded feedback on assignments can be expected and follow-through on these promises.
  • Keep Grade Center records up to date throughout the term.
  • Remind students to check their Grade Centers frequently and to ask questions for clarification right away, especially when new grades are posted.
  • Remind students how to read your detailed feedback and what their grades mean (especially when weighted grades are used).

If you need more information about how your Grade Center should be set up, contact your Program Chair or the LMS Administrator (kimbateman@centralpenn.edu). Have a great term!

Context is Key: Using Films on Demand’s New Intro Video Feature

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

In online teaching, an important part of successfully using video for educational purposes is framing the video in the context of your lesson and learning goals by using annotations. When you embed a video (or any multimedia element) into an Item in Blackboard, you should include annotations that orient your students to the content of the video.

Effective annotations include:

  1. An overview of the video’s subject-matter
  2. Information on how the video aligns with your weekly or course-level learning objectives
  3. Specific information on what students should pay attention to in the video or an overview of what students should take away from the video
  4. A reminder for students to take notes, if necessary
  5. Insight on any related activities or assessments that will be conducted after viewing

 

Example Annotation
An Example of Embedded Videos with an Annotation in Blackboard

 

If you’re looking for high-quality video content for your classes, our library subscribes to Films on Demand, a streaming video platform that specializes in educational videos. Our subscription to Films on Demand can be accessed through the Charles “T” Jones Leadership Library’s Online Resources page.

Films on Demand allow users to bookmark videos, build playlists, and generate share links and embed codes to embed videos in Blackboard. Additionally, Films on Demand has a new feature that allows users to create 2-3 minute intro videos for their playlists.

Click this link to see an example of a Films on Demand Playlist with Intro Video.

Users can use intro videos to build continuity and cohesion into their courses, to provide brief instruction to students, and to put videos in the context of a lesson or learning goal. Using an intro video also adds instructor presence because it allows students to hear from (and see) their course instructor as they set the stage for learning.

If you are interested in learning more about this feature, check out the Films on Demand Support Center. Need help recording your first intro video? Contact the Faculty Support Center: facultysupport@centralpenn.edu.

Are you going to give this feature a try? Let us know how it goes in the comments section!

How much work is enough?

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

At my undergraduate college orientation, the director of academic advisement took a moment to inform my freshman class that college is more than just attending classes. Nobody in the room look overly surprised by this information, that is until they distributed a chart that further informed the group that for a college freshman taking a full-time course load, there would be between 24-36 hours of out-of-class work per week.

As I progressed through my college education, I learned that the 24-36 hour figure presented at orientation was an estimate that varied widely depending on the course subject and level, my pre-existing knowledge, and the professor’s teaching style. Yet, my freshman year was an eye-opening experience that included many late nights in the library spent reading and writing more pages than I had ever previously attempted in my academic career. Sometimes it felt impossible to keep up with my work, and that was without the responsibilities of a full-time job or family, which so many of today’s college students balance in addition to their studies.

Years later, the tables turned, and I found myself in the role of educator. There I was, looking at the very same chart I received my freshman year, wondering how I would find the right workload for my students. It turns out, I am not alone; I am often brought into conversations with colleagues who feel challenged to find the right balance for their students. It seems many of us feel that this challenge is only compounded by technology and the multitude of teaching modalities that blur the line between time spent in-class and work performed outside-of-class.

As you pursue the right workload for your students, my best advice is to seek input from colleagues both inside and outside of your academic discipline, to talk to your students, and to tune into the research and conversations about student workload that are happening across the landscape of higher education.

A handy tool for gauging your current (or future) student workload is Rice University’s Course Workload Estimator. This is an impressive, research-based tool created to estimate how much time a student can reasonably expect to spend on work outside of your class every week based on  planned weekly reading assignments, writing assignments, exams, and other assignments; I highly recommend checking it out.

What do you do to determine the right workload for your students? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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