Tag Archive | online classes

Thoughts on Teaching – First Week of Classes – 8/30/2014

Well, the first week of classes is drawing to a close.  I went from not at all ready as of the middle of last week to making it through the first week with minimal problems.  I can’t really complain about that, as I know many people have many more problems come up in the first week of classes.  

I found out about midway through last week that I, once again, have a double overload this semester, with 7 class sections on my schedule.  I did not ask for the seventh, and I had specifically said that I did not want a 7th class.  But here I am, teaching this semester with 2 hybrid sections and 5 online sections, and there’s not much I can do about it at this point.  Luckily, I only have two actual preps, as I am just teaching sections of each of the halves of the American history survey.  

It has been a bit of a rocky start so far in what should be my least problematic sections, the online ones.  I had recycled the class from last year, and I neglected to remove one link that had the students going to the textbook website.  I did not realize this until the second day of classes, meaning that I have a bunch of students who initially got into the wrong section (the one from Fall 2013).  So, I have had to deal with the issues of getting everyone to the correct place, which takes time and patience. It would be easier if students actually read the announcements that I posted rather than me having to deal with each of them separately, but, considering this was the most problematic thing I had to do in the first week, I really can’t complain too much.

I’ve got the online courses fully ready to go for the semester, with just having to open up each thing as it needs to open.  Of course, I also have to grade the things as they come in, and, since I am a grading masochist, that is three papers and three essay exams from each student this semester in my online sections.  The hybrid classes are planned out for the first 5 weeks.  I set up the class last fall, and I am doing things a bit differently this semester, which is why I can’t just run things as they are.  I have actually added more class meetings where I will be having activities for the students to do.  That means that I am actually doing some real creation of materials and assignments.  Thus, in the time that I was working to get ready for the semester, I had time to get the first five weeks ready.  So, over the next four weeks, I will be preparing the rest of the material for the later ten weeks.

So, this semester, I am teaching 195 students.  Of those, about 45 are high school students.  We are teaching a lot of high school students in dual credit sections, and almost all of mine are in my online sections.  There are 4-5 in my hybrid sections, but the 9:30 in the morning start makes it hard for many more high school students to make those classes.  

Thoughts on Teaching – A New Semester and a New Beginning – 1/31/14

It seems like I am always starting blog posts off with an apology for not having written in a while.  Since the birth of our daughter 15 months ago, spare time has been harder and harder to come by.  However, she is settling down into a good routine, so I hope to do better this semester.  I had hoped, after the post in November to be back on track, but shortly after that, we had a major family health issue come up that pushed out non-essential items.  Now I think things have settled down, and I hope to be going again with my blog.

So, here we are, with a new semester (three weeks in but, hey, what can you do about that).  I have, yet again, been given a double overload in classes, meaning that I am teaching 7 classes this semester for the second semester in a row.  I have 4 online sections and 3 hybrid sections.  My online sections are running as they always do.  I am in roughly the 5th year of my current configuration of my online class, as so they can largely run without much effort on my part.  That is one of the truths about online classes, that they are very involved and difficult to get going, but they can run pretty easily once you get them done.  However, if you have followed my blog so far, you will see that I am rarely satisfied with how my classes are going.  My online class is far overdue for a reworking, and I hope to start thinking about it this summer.  I have made some changes over the last 5 years on the margins, moving assignments around and changing a few things here and there.  However, I think it’s about time for an overhaul soon.  And, the model that I will use for my overhaul are my hybrid classes.

I have started getting my hybrid class really going in the direction that I like.  I am in the second year of working with this new hybrid format, and I am adjusting and working with the class as it moves forward.  Following what I worked with last, this semester, I have moved into a model of weekly work and a long paper at the end.  There are no exams, although I do have some chapter quizzing going on.  The big part of the grade (about 45% overall) is discussion based, both online and in-class.  Then, to keep the students on track, I have weekly, one-page response papers.  I have returned to this model from what I did the first year, because I tried not having response papers last semester, and I found that students did not do the work if I did not hold them directly responsible.  So, I am hoping that this semester they will do more of the work I expect them to do outside of class.  I don’t have any great desire to grade weekly papers, but I want my students doing the work, and their grades will improve (hopefully).

As I have this hybrid model settled in well, I think I can use a lot of the ideas from this format in my online course.  I would like to move beyond the exam model and include a lot more activities and discussions.  Right now, the online class is primarily made up of reading lectures and the textbook and taking quizzes and exams.  That is exactly the format that I have moved away from in my hybrid class, and I would like to move the online class beyond it as well.  I hope that I get it together relatively soon.

Anyway, that’s a good start for the semester.  Wish me luck.

Thoughts on Teaching – The First Week – 8/30/2013

We are just finishing up the first week of classes.  It is my eighth first week of classes since I got my first full-time teaching job, and it is certainly starting to feel relatively normal at this point.  I was fairly prepared this semester going into my classes, which did help.  My online class is pretty much set in place at this point until I am ready to do a major overhaul.  So, it is largely a matter of updating the dates and links, and then that class is ready to go.  The hybrid class was a bit more work, as I really did want to make some overhauls from what I did last year.  However, my best-laid plans from the summer of spending a lot of time recreating the course did not pan out.  As is true most academic years, I do my primary prep in the week before the semester starts, and so I get a limited amount of work done.

I did have one big change come my way in the week or so before classes started.  Late in the week before our in-service week, I was asked (with refusal not really being an option) to take on another course.  Our normal course load at my community college is 5 classes a semester.  I normally have an overload, so I generally teach 6.  As I was given this extra course, I am now teaching 7 classes this semester. 5 covered by my normal pay and 2 more at adjunct pay ($1800/course).  So, my semester is now set at the highest number of students I have ever taught in one semester (around 230).  There are two good things about this.  First, I was given another online course section, so largely I just have to integrate in 30 more students to my existing course.  There is not an extra course prep, just more students to respond to and grade.  Second, I was given this extra section with enough time to be able to compensate for it in my assigned work load.  I reduced the number of assignments in my online class and changed up some of the ideas that I had for my hybrid class in order to make up for the extra grading I knew I was going to have to do.

Now, we have reached the Friday of the first week of classes.  I have met each of my hybrid classes twice, and they have now been divided up into the sections that meet once a week.  I have fully introduced the course to them, and I have them set to be ready to start real class work next week.  My online class is in its fifth day at this point, and, while there have been some questions and issues, I would say that this is one of the smoothest starts to the semester that I have had.  In fact, things are really going so smoothly so far, that I am really waiting to see when the wheels are going to come off and the fist major crisis is going to begin.

For now, however, I think that the first week has been a success.  I’ll write more specifics about the classes I’m teaching in the next couple of days, so I will get more into the nuts and bolts of the particular classes and talk about what I am doing, what I plan to do, and how things are going.

Thoughts on Education – 2/11/2012 – A revolution in the classroom?

Here’s a breakdown of the articles on education I’ve come across recently.

We’re ripe for a great disruption in higher education

The core of her argument is here:  “But the real disruption comes when you stop measuring academic accomplishment in terms of seat time and hours logged, and start measuring it by competency. As all employers know, the average BA doesn’t certify that the degree-holder actually knows anything. It merely certifies that she had the perseverance to pass the required number of courses.”  She is projecting a time when everything is going to be overturned.  Where it’s not just the point where online courses take the place of face-to-face courses, but where the whole model of how we teach gets overturned.  Who knows if she is right that this is going to happen anytime soon or in our lifetime, as revolutions are predicted all the time, but the argument is certainly compelling.  Alternatives to the 4-year, sit-down degree have been growing, and at some point, it is easy to see us reaching a point at some time where we have fewer and fewer “traditional” students.  Even now, I know that we could fill as many online classes as we could offer at my community college.  My history ones always fill in a day or two after they open, and we could keep going.  Of course, then there becomes the question of who is going to take the traditional classes if we just have more and more online classes?  Right now, we limit the alternatives, forcing most students to take a traditional, face-to-face class.  And, right now, there is a distinct population that wants that.  However, at some point we are going to stop being able to keep that gate closed, and students will start going to places that offer more flexibility.  The other thing that occurs to me on reading the article is that even our most “non-traditional” offering at my community college, the online course, is still strapped into the traditional course calendar.  It starts and ends at the same time, and the guidelines we are given have the students not able to work ahead but instead completing the course like a traditional course.  Breaking those boundaries will become necessary I think.  We should be moving to classes that are self-paced, classes that work outside of a semester schedule, classes that can be completed in 4-, 8-, 12-, 16-, 20-, 24-weeks or whatever.  Classes that start at odd times and classes that end at odd times.  I can see the day, at some point, where we have rolling enrollment and completion on a student’s schedule.  The student registers and starts, finishing up when he or she finishes, with assignments graded as they come in.  We create the content, monitor the course, are available for consultation, feedback, and assessment.  In other words, the day where a lot more places look like Western Governors University.  And, the scary thing is, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Using Google Docs to Check In On Students’ Reading

And, if we are going to move to this more self-paced model, then we need to have better tools to check in on our students as they are doing their work.  So, this article’s title certainly seems to go along with that.  This is a quite interesting use of Google Docs.  He details how to create a spreadsheet to keep track of where students are and what they are doing.  As it is shared among all students, everyone can then see whatever common dimension you are looking for.  In his case, he was having common reading and having the students post up before each class on how far they had read.  That way he knew roughly where all students were, including a class average that gave a decent idea of how far most students were.  I could see this used in a lot of different cases for common assignments in a traditional class or with a self-paced class, you have to post up to that in order to keep track of each individual student’s progress as they make their way through a self-paced course.  I could see something like this really working well at tracking students on those types of assignments that they do outside of class that don’t have specific end points/assessments (like textbook reading and the like).  That gives you another way to check progress rather than just waiting on them to complete a chapter test.  The only thing this relies on is the students accurately and honestly recording their progress.  I do think this would matter less if you were thinking about a self-paced course than one where it would be embarrassing for a student to show up to class not having read the required reading.  With a self-paced course, this tool could also serve to remind the students at regular points that they should be working on some piece of the course.

Harvard Looks Beyond Lectures to Keep Students Engaged

This article was a bit shorter and lighter on substance than I thought when I posted it up to Evernote to read later.  Still, it does cover some of these same ideas that something needs to change, as I think many of us can agree.  In this case, Harvard is dealing with the problem that “researchers already know what works to promote deeper thinking and learning and it’s not sitting in lectures, taking tests, and then moving on to the next topic. Instead, students need the opportunity to make meaning of what they’ve learned and apply it to real-world challenges.”  I can certainly agree with that.  What I don’t buy is the last section, which implicitly tells us to wait for Harvard to make its decision on how we should change things, and then we can all rely on their expertise and change afterwards.  I’m not waiting for them, and I don’t think the field is either.

Resistance to the inverted classroom can show up anywhere

I’ll close today with this one, which goes back to a concern I raised in the first article.  “Many students simply want to be lectured to. When I taught the MATLAB course inverted, all of the students were initially uncomfortable with the course design, some vocally so.”  Challenging the way things have always been done is going to lead to resistance.  The student in a lecture class is in a passive role.  Little is asked of that student, and they can just go through and do the minimum and do fine.  Show up, take a few notes, and we will consider you to be learning.  I hear that all the time from my colleagues (not going to name any names here), that the students they have won’t even take notes in class.  I wonder two things about this.

First, is taking notes the thing we are seeing as the highest level of learning?  I hear that more than anything else, that if you aren’t lecturing and the students aren’t taking notes, then learning isn’t happening.  I go the route where I give all of my students my lecture notes ahead of time, which they are welcome to bring to class or use a laptop/tablet to access in class.  I have had a number of students comment positively about that, saying that it allows them to actually pay attention to what is said in class rather than furiously trying to take notes on it.  I’m not sure when it happened, but we seem to have elevated taking notes on a heard lecture to the highest form of academic achievement.  Yet, I have plenty of students who don’t take any notes who do well and students who take a lot of notes who struggle.

Second, listening to a lecture and taking notes on it is the most passive of activities for a student.  It might seem active to watch the pencils flying out there in class, but, at its heart, this exchange requires very little of the student beyond paying attention.  There are not a lot of jobs out there where the ability to listen to 75-minute lectures and take notes about them is going to be a regular part of what they are asked to do.  Yet, that seems to me to be the primary skill that we ask of the students.  And while it is, why would a student want to change it.  All they have to be is a listener and a note-taker.

Of course changing out of the model is going to breed resistance.  If you told me that instead of sitting and listening to a lecture, I had to actively participate, presenting my opinions, engaging the material, and thinking and doing, I would have resisted as well.  I can’t say it a lot better than this author did:  “What I think this illustrates is that there is a cultural expectation about how college classes ought to go that is very hard to change. Many students — and faculty! — in higher education are sold on what I called the renters’ model, which is basically transactional. I pay my money and inhabit this space while you take care of my needs, and when I’m done I’ll move on. The inverted classroom is one style of teaching that insists on ownership. There will be some friction when two fundamental conceptions of class time are in such disagreement with each other, no matter how much sense it might make in your content area.”  It is something I worry about on a regular basis about making change to my class.  The question is, do we let expectations hold us back or do we move forward anyway and try to change those expectations?

Thoughts on Education – 2/8/2012 – Articles, including a crazy one from 9gag

I’ve saved up a couple of days worth of information on education here.  I can’t say there’s a strong theme here, although several do have to do with games in education, which continues to be something that interests me.  Here are some of the highlights of what I’ve been reading:

Khan Academy: It’s Different This Time

I’ve read a lot about the Khan Academy, and the overall direction of the coverage is generally quite positive.  It is generally talked about as revolutionary to the current state of education.  This is a rare piece that offers criticism.  I have only explored Khan Academy a bit myself, mostly looking at topics covered without really engaging the material.  Thus, I’m really relying mostly on what I have read elsewhere about the Khan Academy more than my personal experience.  Also, as a note, the Khan Academy has a lot more math and science than it does humanities, so it usually gets evaluated in terms of these offerings.  Still, this is a good counterpoint:  “Khan Academy’s style of teaching is identical to what students have seen — and rejected — for generations: do this, then do this, then do this. Today, thousands of American students are performing poorly in math, in large part because they weren’t taught it correctly in the first place.”  From what I have seen, there is definitely a point here.  As the article says, the real problem is that the students are taught that all they need to do is memorize how to complete the task and not understand why completing it is important to know.  The article also goes into a bit on skepticism of “new” breakthroughs that I can take or leave.  It also notes the general positive reviews regarding “engagement” among students and the gamification aspects.  Yet, I think that first critique is the most cogent and relevant.  It is along the lines of what I have been worried about here.  Is it more important in history to memorize what happened or to understand why what happened is important?  I would certainly argue the latter, but I can’t speak for math in general.  I’d love to hear from someone about the math side of things to see if this is a good argument or not.

Despite Focus on Data, Standards for Diploma May Still Lack Rigor

I do have to be honest here that I was linked to this article from another (Reeding and Riting That XPlane Why Stoodents Are Not College Ready), which is obviously a more eye-catching title.  However, it quickly got into minutia about the New York area that seemed irrelevant here.  So, I went to the original article.  It discusses the problems with a single test being presented for all students as what they need to pass.  As the writer argues, “If the standard is set too high, so many will fail — including children with special education needs and students for whom English is a second language — that there will be a public outcry.  But if the standard is set too low, the result is a diploma that has little meaning.”  What this means, in his estimation is that the tests have erred on the latter side, with multiple examples given of passing essays that use barely passable English.  His basic conclusion is that testing-based evaluations have failed to increase the actual abilities of the students and just result in watered down tests to get students through who have not improved.  The relevance for me is that these are the students (in TX rather than NY, of course) that I get.  Somebody made an interesting comment to me two years ago that we are now seeing the students who have been raised through most of their formative years in a testing-focused school environment before college.  I certainly see the limitations and largely agree with the article.  Of course, the problem here is that it offers no actual solutions, outside of stopping doing what we’re doing now.  From my perspective, I need to know how to deal with these students when they get to me.

Are you ready for a revolution in education?

I know, a 9gag link is not exactly scholarly, but then you have to get ideas where they come from, and I do search the linking sites, especially reddit.  I don’t know if I can recommend that people get on reddit, as it has a lot of junk and is mostly amusing.  However, I have found the education, teaching, and higher education sub-reddits to be a great source for articles.  Honestly, I get about 60% of my links from there.  This one is an example of something completely off the wall, namely the reorganization of a class around experience points (XP)  such as you would earn in an actual game.  It sets up a system where students earn XP for completing tasks.  They can then use that XP to level up in the class while also using the points to gain advantages (like extra time on a test).  It’s interesting and got my mind working.  I was halfway through creating a way to use XP in my own classes before I even realized it.  So, the idea is compelling.  Realistic?  I have no idea, but certainly compelling.

Using Role Play Simulations to Promote Active Learning

Along the same lines of gaming came this article.  It talks about bringing in concepts from role-playing to substitute for the traditional lecture and offers three pieces of advice.  The first and last are good, and if you’re interested in role-playing projects, then you should definitely check them out.  The middle one is the one that caught my eye, because it encapsulates one of my biggest fears in making dramatic changes.  The author notes that you have to assure the students that doing something different is ok and that they will be assessed fairly.  Here’s the relevant part:  “Most students are used to their teachers feeding them the information, so this will be a new experience for them.  Addressing student anxieties about this way of learning is particularly important in disciplines or universities where the lecture-essay-exam model is the most common. I’ve found it helps to provide students with examples of work produced by students in previous courses.  You also want to be clear in communicating your expectations. Write out the rules and requirements, and enforce them so the process is predictable. Make sure the teams are small enough that everyone participates and spot check to see that everyone actually does what they are supposed to – the free-rider problem isn’t going to go away. Also, take into account that, depending on their personality or culture of origin, some students may need extra encouragement to participate.”  I will definitely take those ideas in mind when working on recreating my course.

7 Strategies to Make Your Online Teaching Better

  1. Let the technology help you, not hinder you – expect things to go wrong when you do new things.  Don’t get flustered and help the students through the rough parts.  The author recommends making tutorial videos and the like, but I think the biggest thing, which I have found to be true, is expect to be troubleshooting through your first week or two.  This is something I certainly need to remember, as I get frustrated easily and often take it out on students through overly-sarcastic responses.
  2. Anticipate the difficulties – know that online students will be distracted, will get bored, will not spend the time you think is adequate, and all together approach the class in a way that you do not expect.  The author suggests providing much “scaffolding” to keep students from getting lost and keep them moving in the right direction.
  3. Incorporate synchronous opportunities – online office hours and the ability of students to get a hold of you when they are likely to be doing the work and encountering problems.  In other words, not in normal, traditional office hours.
  4. Give extra feedback. Then give more – I was going to write that I think I do this poorly, but then I read the advice here and see that I do all of it.  I guess it’s the nature of online classes, that I always feel like I need to do more since I don’t see them in person.  Yet, I guess I do ok here.  I just always feel that I need to be providing more personal feedback to each student.  But, as I teach 90 students online right now (a little less than half my load), and will have that probably go up even more next year, I’m not sure how realistic extensive individual feedback is.  Still, I do need to think about this one.
  5. Prove you are not a dog – make sure the students know you are a real person with real issues, real problems, real experiences, and such.  Don’t be a robotic responder.  Have some personality, and the students will appreciate it.
  6. Provide support for self-regulation – encourage the students to take charge of their pace of work and requirements each week.  We can only hold their hands so much and must rely on them to get things in on time.  As I see it, you can only be so flexible, again with 90 students, there’s not a ton of leeway on getting things done and providing individual exceptions.
  7. Encourage play – While I have thought of this one, this is well put and something I certainly fail at.  I will leave it with a quotation here:  “Online courses often have a reputation of being dry and boring: lots of reading and lots of lectures.  Adding in other elements can make all the difference in the world: add pictures when you can, consider design principles in your CMS, record your lectures in front of a small, live audience (I once recorded a weekly email from my campsite, replete with kids shouting in the background and a fly buzzing around my head).  The point is, recognize both how you want to teach the information and how it might be received. I try really hard not to be boring.”  I fear my class is boring.  I get compliments organization and the like, but I think it is fundamentally not all that interesting of a course.  This is something I should really work on.

I’m going to close here, as I’m approaching 1750 words.  I have one more article on my list, but this is probably enough for a single post.  Give me any feedback that you have.  I’d love to hear what you have to say, and I’d love to hear what you have to say.

 

Thoughts on Education – 2/5/2012

Just try to find any actual news on educational topics on Super Bowl Sunday.  I dare you.  There’s not much out there, so I really don’t have any articles to bring forward here.  Today, I will just put in a brief word on what I’m thinking about these days.

I am unsatisfied with the status quo in education.  I seek change.  The problem that I have is getting to that change.  I have so many ideas but I do not know what will work and what won’t.  I have taught in many different ways over the time that I’ve been teaching, and the one constant has been change.  I do something different every semester just about, trying things out and seeing what works.  If it works, I keep it.  If it works sort of, I make changes.  If it doesn’t work, I drop it.

I started my teaching career in the most traditional way, working with discussion sections as a graduate student.  I did that for five years, working under numerous different professors.  My first was a several-hundred-person section under Jackson Spielvogel doing a Nazism and Fascism class.  That one was great, as we also had undergrad TAs in the mix, so we were all being taught how to be an effective TA.  After finishing up my comprehensive exams, I was put out there as a graduate lecturer.  What is interesting about that is that the only guidance I was given for how to teach my own sections was what I had done as a TA.  I don’t think the first teaching experiences went badly, but it was certainly a case of learning on the job.  And, as my only real model was teaching through lecture, that’s what I did.  Lecture and overhead projector images to start, with a move to PowerPoint not too long after that.  I taught multiple different classes at grad school, eventually leaving to get a job teaching at the community college where I am now.

Since being here, I have tried to adapt and change.  I became an online teacher as that was a requirement of the job.  I have moved to other things because I want to reach the students.  You know, “engagement” and all of that.  I just am not satisfied with passive delivery of information to the students, but finding other options are hard to work with and find.  I always feel like I’m on my own with this process.  So, I try something, test it out, see how it works, and move on in one way or another.  I have slowly moved to a greater online presence, regardless of the delivery format.  I now have an extensive online class and supplemental classroom for my in-class students.  In fact, I am mostly hybrid now, with all of the quizzing, homework and exams taking place outside of the classroom.  The only thing that’s left in class right now are the lectures, and, if you’ve been reading my other blogs here, you know how interested I am in the idea of “flipping” the classroom.  I would like to stop being the so-called “sage on  the stage” and turn into the class into a more interactive experience for the students, where they learn real skills rather than memorize the material.

The problems with this are many.  For one, I still feel like I’m going to be doing this largely on my own.  Second, how do you hold the students responsible for doing the work outside of class that has them ready to discuss or work on more specific topics in class?  Third, when you are moving away from the traditional ways of assessment, how do you hold to the state standards at that point?  These are all things I’m going to be thinking about as time goes by here.  I can’t promise I’ll come to solutions, but that’s what’s on my mind.

Now, as I am distracted by the Super Bowl streaming in the window next to me here, I will close for today.

Thoughts on Education – 2/4/12

I haven’t had a lot of time to sit and think about education.  Not because I’ve been doing other important things but because I have exactly not been doing other important things.  I tend to try and take some time off when I get the chance during the week, and the last 24 hours or so was that.  The time off will vanish as I get closer to my first big set of assignments due in about a week and a half, but right now, there’s time to take a break in the week every once in a while.  So, I’m blogging now with regard to the articles that I have saved up over the last couple of days.

 

“The Admiring Ignorant”

I liked this blog post a lot regarding the tempering of optimism that initially comes from teaching as you realize how difficult it is to retain that feeling that you are going to change the world.  William was warned by a professor of his in grad school that each year “the students seemed lazier, the job of teaching them harder. And much less rewarding.”  He, like so many of us thought that we could make that difference and be different as well, but then, he was confronted with the reality of the situation, captured well in this paragraph:

“The pedagogue in me gently corrects students’ misconceptions. The educated person in me shakes his head and laughs at such fundamental misunderstandings. But sometimes, the part of me who has to grade the papers — the part of me who is conscious of the 14-hour workdays, the amount of effort I’m putting into this job of educating these students — wonders ‘Is this really what I ought to be doing with my life? Is it possible to really make a difference in these lives?'”  I would imagine that any of us in teaching has come across that many, many times.  We get astounded at the ways that students can mess something up, at the base ignorance that is out there.  We share the funny stories with each other, and we shake our heads.  I do it all the time, it seems.  And, as we say, it seems to get worse year by year.

Again to return to the post here, he says, “‘I had so much respect for my own professors,’ I tell myself. ‘Yet these students seem to be mocking my efforts.'”  But then he actually goes back and remembers what he did in classes, skipping, not paying attention, scraping by at the last minute on papers, not really studying for tests, etc. and thinks that maybe we just see it differently because we are in the position of authority and that it was just a situation of us forgetting or willfully ignoring what our fellow students (and us) were really like back then.  I think I was good, but I can remember slacking off and doing things I shouldn’t do in class.  It’s just that those things are obvious in a different way now, with technology, etc.  Back then, if you doodled on your page or something like that, it wasn’t as obvious you were doing things you shouldn’t be doing.  Now, we see a laptop or cell phone and we automatically assume that they are not paying attention.

So, what am I trying to say about the article?  I’m not exactly sure.  I liked reading it and could easily identify with it.  Does it help explain anything?  I don’t know.  I always try to avoid saying the students get worse every year because I fundamentally don’t think that’s true.  In the historical sense, I think that the real issue is that we always have that glow looking back through rose-colored glasses that things were better in the past (even if only last semester!) than they are now, and we willingly forget what things were like when we were in their seats.

I think, also, that we are too willing to blame technology for the problems today.  The methods of slacking and not paying attention and not doing work have changed, but I’m not sure that the amount of those things have changed all that much.  I think that’s the point of the post more than anything else, and I have to say that I agree.  I invite technology in my classroom, with the full expectation that students will use it and abuse it.  I do this because I also think that it can enhance the classroom, although I’m still working on ways to ensure that it does more of the latter than the former.  I just think that outright bans on technology are wrong-headed and punishing in ways that may not be intentional or expected.  My wire, for example, has been using her laptop in class to record her teachers’ lectures so that she can listen to them later.  And she really does listen to them later.  Yet, she has a teacher now that keeps her from doing that by banning technology.  So, here’s a student who not only is going to listen and take notes but will even go back and listen several times more to the material, and she can’t at this point.  Just a single example, but I think blanket bans end up hurting as much as they help.  (And, cue stepping off of the soapbox . . .)

 

Difference Engine:  Let the Games Begin 

Interactive Textbooks.  OK.  I want to see one.  Where can I find a true interactive textbook?  One designed for college students, whether in my subject area or not?  This is the big promise of iBooks and all of the stuff Apple is doing.  Now I want to see it.  Do I lack patience in this, yes!  I want change and I want it now!

Here’s what The Economist says about it:  “Done properly, interactive textbooks offer not only video tutorials, more personalised instruction, just-in-time hints and homework help, but also instant access to assessment tools, teaching resources and the ability to network socially with students elsewhere. Using tools for highlighting and annotating virtual flash-cards, students can select information within the text and store it for later revision. Searching public databases, direct from within the textbook, is also possible. At school, students can sync with their teachers’ computers, to hand in their quiz results and homework for marking.”  Of course, the question is, will it be “done properly?”  And, if you provide those options, will students use them?  That’s the big question that always comes up with new technology.

So, again, I want an interactive textbook now.  I want one set up for college history.  I’ll run a class test on it tomorrow.  Let’s get this moving, as I think it has a lot of potential, but if we just screw around, that potential will be lost.

By the way, since it is mentioned in this article (and just about everywhere else), has anyone tried using the Khan Academy?  With college students?

 

What Higher Education Can Learn from Video Games

I like the idea here, but the article is a bit shallow on ideas.  I like the idea of “gamification,” one of those ideas floating around now of including games in the learning process to make students more engaged.  This is probably because I like playing games so much myself.  I like the idea of using something that a lot of people already enjoy doing, playing games, and harnessing that energy to a learning environment.  How this could be done for a more ethereal subject realm like the humanities and social sciences is not all that obvious, and how you would assess learning in a gaming environment is even less obvious, but I am intrigued by the idea.

To me, this is the most interesting reason for it:  “Compared to traditional, lecture approaches learning where students sit passively either in a classroom or training boardroom to learn the workplace procedures by memory without any real-life interaction; game-based learning lets individuals learn the facts by testing (via practice and failure) until we commit it, not only memory, but also understand the howís and whys of our success in a real-life situation.”

 

5 Foundational Principles for Course Design

Two very interesting ideas out of this one, ironically enough, neither of them is at the center of the article.

First comes from the first paragraph, which grabbed me immediately.  “The big secret amongst many of us who work in online learning is that we are not all that wild about online courses. Sure, we think online courses can be great, and can fill an important need, but what really gets us excited is learning.”  Undoubtedly true.  I did not get started teaching online because I thought it would solve all of the world’s problems or bring a real new and different way to my teaching.  I did it because that’s what was required of my job.  I think I’m pretty decent at teaching online, but I will be the first to admit that there’s a lot I don’t know at all about it.  I always feel like my online courses are experimental, and I am never very satisfied with them.  Of course, I feel that about my regular courses as well, so that’s not a very good comparison.

I then found the end of the article to raise an interesting point along this very line.  The article goes through how you put some principles together as you try to create a new online course.  It advocates 5 principles, as stated in the title of the article.  They’re nothing spectacular and woefully under-explained in the article, but I found the final paragraph to raise an interesting point that I have talked with others about:  “To my knowledge, this sort of detailed course proposal and course delivery review and support methodology is not standard in most of our on-ground classes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could somehow diffuse these resources and methods throughout our curriculum?”  Yes, exactly.  We think all the time about online classes, and we have a whole evaluation setup for them at my community college.  Yet nobody evaluates the content and presentation of our face-to-face classes in the same way.  We see much more scrutiny in online courses, and the question raised about why is one that doesn’t get asked often enough.

 

Anyway, I think that’s good for today.  I’ll see what crosses my computer in the next day or so to see if I have more articles to talk about or if I will move on to another subject tomorrow.