It is no coincidence that my last post here in the blog was just before I started up teaching again. It is my standard online summer class, and so there is no direct effect on my teaching from the pandemic except for the switch to take-home tests since our testing center is closed.
However, life has been busy beyond just the teaching. So, let’s catch up on a few things (maybe this one should be called “Life in a Pandemic.”
- I have been attending a number of workshops, conferences, and meetings (all virtual). I don’t think I have ever had as much choice of things that I can attend related to teaching, and I have been trying to do as many as I can, as free and professional development are two words that do not often go together.
- My youngest daughter is at a Montessori school. The school started a summer session in early July. They offered it for free to help the students catch up on what they might have missed from all of the disruptions in the spring. It lasted two weeks, then they shut it down for a week because one person tested positive, then it came back for 2 days, and then it was shut down for good when our county shut down all public and private (but not religious private) schools until September 28.
- My oldest daughter, who is entering her senior year of high school, was given the choice between going face-to-face or online this coming school year. We left that decision up to her. What she decided was to go online-only. When looking at all of the guidelines, she thought it was too uncertain to even try face-to-face. Of course, as noted in the previous point, her school will also be affected by the online only until September 28, but she was going to do that anyway.
- My sons, who both just finished up their freshman years at 4-year universities, have made the decision to go to my community college for the moment. I’m not going to go into the reasons specifically, but this was something we had all been hashing out over the summer. It is definitely hard to justify paying the money for a university (especially the one going to a private university) that may or may not be running and may or may not be having in-person classes. Both may stay as long as two years at my community college, as they can largely get what they need there for a while.
- Finally, there’s the question of what I’m doing in the fall. There is no official word from my community college that anything has changed. The schedule that students are signing up for now is the same as the one published prior to the pandemic with some more online classes added. I am scheduled to teach 2 hybrid sections and 3 online sections, which would be my normal Fall load. But there is just too much uncertainty to know how all of it is going to play out. I’m in better shape then many, as I have a fully ready online class, and that is over half of what I am teaching anyway. I do not know yet if my hybrid will actually be a class that meets face-to-face or not, but that is where we are going so far. With all of the uncertainty, that’s really all I can say at this point.
So, there we go. Everybody in the family is up in the air. All six of us are back to living in the house, although that’s not as much of an adjustment as some, since the boys were only gone from the beginning of the Fall semester last year through Spring Break. I guess we shall see if we get any more clarity as we move forward.
One of the things that I promised to get back to in an earlier post (see “Thoughts on Teaching in a Pandemic – Reflections – 05/20/2020″) was the work I have been doing on student reflection. I am going to lay out some ideas on student reflection in a couple of posts here.
As a first side note, these posts are not directly on teaching in a pandemic, as I was doing this before the pandemic started, but the idea of student reflection certainly has something to do with teaching in a pandemic. I will explore this in a later post in this series.
As a second side note, I am doing this series on student reflection to help me get some ideas down in preparation for a conference presentation on student reflection. I was slated to present on student reflection at the 2020 Texas Distance Learning Association (TxDLA) conference in March. Like most everything else, that conference was canceled due to the shutdowns from the pandemic. However, it now looks like there will be a virtual conference during the fall, and I have already expressed my willingness to present virtually at that conference. Thus, I am using this series to get some of the ideas down.
As a third side note, I also have been sharing the ideas of student reflection with different groups I have been involved with, including most recently the TCCTA Master Teacher Meetup session that I attend on Monday afternoons. I have talked about doing the reflections on several occasions in those meetings, and they asked me to write something up on what it looks like for me. That will actually be the next post, as I want to have it ready soon.
This post serves as the introduction to this new series. Please stay tuned as I put together this series over the next week or two here.
While you are waiting to see what I have to say about student reflection, I would ask you what you think student reflection in a classroom means. How might you use it as someone who teaches? If you are or have been a student who has seen reflection exercises in a classroom, what did they look like and what did you think?
This is the second half of day 3 of the Texas Distance Learning Association conference. I broke day 3 in half to keep it from getting too long. So, this will cover the post-lunch sessions.
Building Effective Assessments in Online Courses
Presenters – Four Texas A&M representatives – three from Texas A&M Central Texas and one from Texas A&M Texarkana
Why is assessment important? Assessment should be aimed at a process to help the students understand and improve their learning. We should gain insight into student learning and development, professional effectiveness and program quality.
Forms of assessment – assessment “of” learning and assessment “for” learning
Formative assessment – gathering evidence to improve learning for the purpose of improving learning
Summative assessment – gathering evidence of student achievement to show student competence or program effectiveness.
Components of assessment – clear purpose, clear targets, sound design, effective communication, and student involvement.
- Clear Purpose:
- Who – student, teacher, parent
- How – formative/summative
- What – information, type?
- Clear Targets
- Do instructors understand what they are trying to assess?
- What do they want students to learn?
- Sound Design
- Have assessments been designed to match the learning targets?
- Has an appropriate method been selected and has it gone through a planning and development review?
- Effective Communication
- Does information provided from assessment practices allow for the development of instruction?
- Can results be recorded and managed properly?
- Can it be used as effective feedback?
- Student Involvement
- Do assessment efforts communicate the necessary information back to students, such as: learning targets, constructive feedback, learning progress
And yes, this is basically what the slides were. The rest was largely bashing faculty for not using the tools out there, not knowing what they are assessing, being unwilling to work with what is there, and being at fault for everything. It is interesting to see this from the perspective of the instructional designers, where we are all intransigent faculty who seem to come out as incompetent in their eyes. Again, this is funny from my perspective, as we do not have instructional designers where I am, and I have to learn everything on my own the best that I can.
The solutions are all aimed at four-year universities as well. What they say is goad faculty into doing this by pointing out that it is tied into tenure. They also assume that we have big instructional design departments. There was little actual discussion of actual assessments that are running and working, just the broad ideas.
And there we go – one of the last questions – somebody actually asked what assessments you have seen that actually work.
Tune In: Integration and Support for Harmonious Online Learning
Tilly Slaten – San Jacinto College – Distance Learning Coordinator
Atomic Learning – online resources for distance learning students – help support dual credit students especially who don’t have the resources to make it up to campus
Julia Allen – Learning Technologist – Texas A&M University-Texarkana
Using it for professional development for faculty and to help unprepared online students so that faculty did not spend their time remediating.
Atomic Learning – just-in-time training (<3 minute) on 250+ different platforms, both aimed at faculty training and for student help. Can be completed anywhere at any time. Training can be assigned and progress can be tracked. Can even get certificates of completion.
Then, she made the mistake of only showing that it worked with Blackboard. No indication made as to compatibility with anything else.
Wade Ashby – Hardin-Simmons University – Blackboard Admin
Atomic Learning – quick turnaround support – self-service support
As a note, nobody has talked about price yet – the website for Atomic Learning talks about getting a campus quote, meaning that it is not something practical for us to use at all. In theory, this could be useful, but since it costs money and everyone is only talking about Blackboard, it is basally irrelevant. Could be useful and cool otherwise. Ah . . . they just said that it does integrate with Moodle.
And, I won a shirt. A Large shirt, meaning it doesn’t fit me. But I won something.
Using Technology to Engage Students: Online AND Face-to-Face
And, I asked them, and they are not really going to talk about blogs, which is what I wanted to see. So, I am going to head out to beat traffic. Day 3 is over for me.
The second full day (third overall day) at the conference (Texas Distance Learning Association) started early for me. To beat traffic, I got here quite early. There was no scheduled breakfast, but, luckily, there were some basic muffins and drinks, so that carton of yogurt hours earlier got a supplement before the session started. I have taken advantage of the quiet time of getting here early to clear some stuff out of my inbox and do some general grading for my classes, so it was not a waste of time by any means. Today looks like a fuller schedule of sessions than yesterday, and more of them appear to be directly focused on the teaching side of things. So I am hoping for some good content today.
Roundtable: Instructional Design: Solutions and Resources
A general discussion and networking opportunity – no focused guidance but an open-ended discussion
First major question raised – standardization vs. instructor freedom in design
TXDLA putting together a MOOC on teaching people how to teach online. Also proposing a certification track for instructional design. Question also about do they need their own certifications or should they be a repository of what is out there and worthwhile.
One of the things discussed was the question of instructional design when most of us who teach were never actually taught how to teach. We are experts in our subject, but we are not taught how to put together things like student learning outcomes, cross-course competencies, and the like.
Another funny thing, of course, is that I’m in the room with instructional designers who are talking about the struggles they have with faculty and such, and as I just noted, we don’t actually have instructional designer at all. So, it ends up being a funny conversation because people are talking about having instructional designers and how to make it a priority for instructors to get instruction on how to teach, especially to teach online, as we simply do not have it.
Assessments that Rock
Presenter – Sheree Webb – Instructional Designer – Tyler Junior College
OK. It has not started yet, but here’s a good sign – there’s a history assessment up on the screen before we get started. This might be directly relevant in the best way.
The question of what our students actually retain out of our classes – assessments chosen well give you the best ability to choose what students retain. Since they are so focused on what is on the test, giving them assessments that aim at what you want them to get out of the course makes it more likely they will retain that information.
The question of the assessment not matching the learning outcomes. The example given were the traditional history multiple choice tests that are so incredibly poor at focusing the students on what they should learn. Who cares if they can recall random facts in history. Recall (or as I call it in my class, memorize, regurgitate, and forget) questions are poor assessments of student success. Are we really so poor in teaching history that what we want the students to be able to do out of the class is recall random irrelevant facts or do we want them to be able to do higher-level learning? I just get so frustrated at the way history is taught, like multiple choice exams matter. That we should care whether they can recall the facts has always seemed to me to be a base level of teaching history. Of course, the argument on the other side is that you have to understand the facts to be bale to make the connections. But, I just wonder if any of us really believe that the students completing a multiple-choice exam actually shows that they do understand that material, or have they just memorized and forgotten?
Assessment level – you want to give frequent assessments – Frequent assessments keep students engaged in the course and help them gauge how they are doing. Recommendation – at least one formative assessment a week. Formative means – quizzes, short essays, debates, discussion forums, short case studies, reflection questions, questions or problems with the answers posted. Keep they engaged on a regular basis and have them be assessing their progress as they go along.
Authentic Assessment – Real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills. Could be – performing a task, real-life situations, construction/application, student-centered, and direct evidence. This doesn’t mean you can’t do traditional assessment – selecting a response, contrived, recall/recognition, teacher-centered, and indirect evidence. You need a combination of the two, but you need to have authentic assessment, which is often left out.
You Have Me at Hello
Presenter – Dr. Wendy Conaway – Ashford University – Assistant Professor
This one is intended to discuss the introduction forum in online classes and how it can increase student engagement. This may not go well, as there seems to be technical issues in getting going here. This has happened more often than not in my sessions here, as everyone seems to be having some sort of problem getting the provided computers to do what they are supposed to do.
I wonder at what point you give up on a session? Is there a 15-minute rule on a 50-minute session?
Discussing first impressions – how we connect with students throughout the course. We represent us, the course in general, and for students who are in a course with us the first time, it can shape how they feel about the whole college. We represent all of the courses if we are the first ones that we encounter. It also can give you the benefit of the doubt with the students later in the semester.
Instruction Forum – a place to create social presence – creating a persona and creating a connection between you and the students.
Introduction forums promotes a sense of community – opportunity to share and learn about each other. People here require their students to respond to others – getting to know them. I can’t imagine doing this. I have eliminated mandatory responses in my classes, and I certainly would not include it here.
Introduction forums help student engagement – it helps to alleviate anxiety and can be motivating to participate. Helps with student retention as well, keeping the students in the course.
I am going to break here for lunch and go ahead and post this one up for the first half of the conference. I will post the second half at the end of the day.
Today, I am attending the Texas Distance Learning Association Conference in Dallas, TX. Today is the first full day of the conference, and I will be here throughout the day today. I am going to be blogging this event today and for the next two days, with a breakdown of each of the sessions that I am attending.
As a note, I have already been here a long time, as I came in rather early to beat the traffic of driving into Dallas. Thus, I had about a 2-hour starting window for the breakfast (yay! food!). Getting here at 7 with the first session at 9 meant a long breakfast. The good thing is that I was joined by several people that I was able to talk with and pass the time.
According to what I have heard from people, attendance is down this year, maybe because it is in Dallas rather than in Corpus Christi or Galveston, as in previous years. Still, there seems to be a good variety of people here at this point. I do not have any concept yet about how many either instructors or community college members are here this year. I hope to find that out as I hit the more specific sessions.
Session 1 – Opening Keynote
Presenter – Ross Ramsey – Executive Editor and Co-Founder, The Texas Tribune
A general overview of the Texas legislate session, discussing issues that affect out budgetary outlooks, both at the state level and in terms of educational focuses. An overall interesting talk about what the issues are going to be in the last 8 weeks of this legislative session.
Session 2 – SoftChalk – Create-Your-Own Interactive eBooks for iPads and Chromebooks
Presenter – SoftChalk – Paul Miller
I have always been interested in SoftChalk but never seen anything about it. One distinct idea is that anything you create in SoftChalk can be shared with a web link on any platform. Following the twitter handle @PaulSoftChalk gives the link for this session. I am going to be following along with his presentation through his created SoftChalk page.
Showing the use of internal polling, use of frames to display content inside your lesson, use of media (video, images), quizzing embedded in the lesson.
As a note, if you are going to give a presentation to a room full of professionals, you should at least spell check your presentation. Some credibility is lost, either in the presenter or in the product. It raises the question to me if spell check is a part of what you can do. It is so key to what you need in preparing course materials that, if it is not included, this is a weakness.
Next part of the presentation – SoftChalk Cloud – started as a desktop application – now it is in the cloud for both development and distribution.
To create an eBook, you use the eBook Builder within the SoftChalk application. In this example, he pulled in from a Word document with the majority of the formatting coming over as done in Word. So, you can bring in material well from what you have created elsewhere – it creates the html code for what you bring in. Then, you insert page breaks to paginate your book. Inserting activities goes through the menus with 20 different types of activities available to insert. As for media, they have a set number of things (Khan Academy, Getty images, and the like).
Seems pretty straightforward in use. The question is, how different is it to create when you don’t have content ready to go? How long would it take to set up a new lesson? And, do you want all the small activities that the students have to do as you go along? That is what SoftChalk seems designed for, if you want essentially PowerPoint like slides with interactive materials in it. I am not sure if it would work for something more robust in scale.
Also, as was raised in the discussion here, the question is if you want online or offline access. The advantage to online access is that you don’t have to imbed the whole media content in the lesson, making it a smaller file overall but requiring internet access to use. If you want it to be completely offline, then you have to embed the material into the eBook itself, leaving you with restrictions on the size of your document, depending on how much stuff you brought in.
And now, the link that I had above is now the thing that he created here (using already made content) in about 15 minutes here. Something to look at and see what I think about it. The final .epub file is here that you can download and use with students. I tried opening it in iBooks, and it is certainly pretty rough in how it carries over. This is a beta product, and it is not all the way together and ready from what I can see.
Session 3 – Exploring “Helper” Apps to Hit Productivity High Notes
Presenter – Sharon Huston – Texas A&M University – Instructional Designer
Looking for ways to make the annoying busy work side of our jobs less monotonous. How much time do we spend copying and pasting and the like rather than the real essence of our jobs.
ClipMate – clipboard manager that keeps track of what you have copied and pasted so that you can pull multiple different things out of it to paste. Not a Mac tool – PC only – paid product (about $20) – couldn’t use on work computer, as you have to install program.
ColumnCopy – Chrome extension – Allow you to copy a column of material off of the web
Text Mechanic – webpage that allows you to manipulate text in multiple different ways.
Example of using these two together – pull a list of student email addresses and then clear spaces and add commas to delineate them.
Text Expander on a Mac (Phrase Express) – shortcuts for commonly used phrases – why haven’t I thought about using this with grading? Can turn my standard comments into something that I can use by typing a short phrase and then getting the entire thing written out.
word2cleanhtml.com – if you want to convert a word document to clean html
Passwords – LastPass – 1Password – DashLane – All set up to get you to have to have one password to work through all of your different password. LastPass is a browser extension. Also, the passwords are completely random and not tied to anything that you would have as a connection.
Using Google Docs Technology to Promote Collaboration
Presenters – Carolyn Awalt and Teresa Cortez – UTEP
Google Docs, Voice, Calendar, Scholar – to be demonstrated today.
Google Docs –
- upload and save from your desktop
- edit any time, from anywhere
- pick who can access your documents
- share changes in real time
- files are stored securely online
- can tell who does what work and people can’t easily slack off
Google Drive – essentially a cloud-based hard drive. For students, this can be used as a student portfolio if your program needs that. For instructors, you can share information with students that you are working on with them. You can determine their level of participation, read only or edits allowed.
Google Contacts – can use it to tag based upon what class they are in. Not that relevant for me and the way we interact with students.
Google Calendar – ability to share your schedule, access on any computer/mobile device, send invitations and track RSVPs, sync with desktop applications, work offline Could use with students to schedule office hour visits and appointments. Would that get more students to come by my office hours if they saw that I was available there? Could also automate when assignments were due without having to send out Announcements to my students when I remember to. With all students having access to Google through our student gmail accounts, I could add them all to my list and have these things set up for them. Need to talk to IT to see if I can use my gmail account to add in our students, even if their emails aren’t ending in gmail.
Google Voice – Can set up one number to get at your cell, home, and work phone – that way students call one number and it will ring wherever I am. Are we allowed to put this as our office number for students? Accommodates both phone and text, and it will give you a transcript of the phone call.
Google Scholar – for research – an alternative to just the basic Google search – even being able to set up alerts on when certain topics come up.
I was going to stay for one more session, but with not having a hotel room here, I really needed to leave before rush hour traffic began. As with so much of any conference, I certainly miss out on a lot by not being able to actually stay at the conference hotel, as I have to drive in and out and organize my time around traffic. I made it to the sessions, but I essentially missed a lot of the networking possibilities by not being able to do any of the late afternoon to evening sessions.
I got a few of my own things done today, including teaching a class, but the majority of today was taken up with activities involving publishers. This was not a bad thing, it’s just different from normal. It was all with a single publishing company, which shall remain nameless. I met with two representatives just before my first class today, and that was very productive. They represent the book that I am currently using and also represent the book that we are probably going to be adopting starting this next school year. It’s not the exact same book, but is instead the brief edition of the one I’m using now. We discussed some of the issues and problems I’ve been having, and it would have been nice to talk to them longer, as we could certainly have talked more at that point. It was nice, as I do like the one-on-one (two-on-one here) interaction, especially with a product that I am currently using.
After my class today, the representatives took the history people out to lunch, and we had a great time just chatting and eating good food. I don’t go to On the Border much, but what I had was very good. It is funny, as they had this symbol used in the menu that represented “healthy choices,” but it was only on three items out of the whole entire menu. I ended up with a fajita salad, which was not marked as “healthy,” but I left off the sour cream and guacamole, which made it not very bad for me at all.
Came back to campus for a bit of office hours and finished up a few things, then it was a drive to Irving. Long drive. A huge accident at the 121/183 split backed up for miles and led to a very long and slow drive. Finally, I made it to the hotel where the history focus group was being held with the publishers. Essentially, they were showing off their product and getting reactions from us as to what we liked, what we didn’t like, and what we would change/improve. I had seen most of it before and was the only one there who had used all of the products shown. Unfortunately, since I do like to talk, and since I had a lot to say about the products that were being used, I probably did talk too much. Still, I hope it was helpful to the others there, and I hope that what I had to say was also helpful to the publishers. It was an interesting evening, but i know that it was more helpful to them and the others than it was to me specifically. It was not a wasted evening by any means, and I did like discussing the material. I also ran into a couple of people from my earlier conference in Key West last fall, but I must say I liked that format better than this one. I know the intention is different, and Key West is nice as well, but I just like delving into the issues over a 2 1/2 day conference better than over a 2 1/2 hour conference. I felt like we just were not able to go into much detail and kept having to move on, whereas I would have loved to just keep going. I guess that’s the education nerd in me, as I could just talk and talk and talk about this stuff all day long. Probably better to keep it short anyway, as I would have just continued to talk otherwise.
And now, I’m back home. Tomorrow, I’m going to have to get to the actual grading I need to do, but it was nice to do something very different for a day.