Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Surviving measurement madness

Kratwhohl et al's Affective Domain
Going to a professional conference is like being on fantasy island. If you enthusiastically lose yourself in that special bubble of like-minded people, time stands still and arguments over esoterica assume the importance of life and death decisions. It’s refreshing and relaxing in a weird way that only academics can appreciate. Returning this week from a professional conference my mind thus felt unusually free to loosely connect some interesting dots.

Procrastinating in my return to the daily grind, I picked up the latest issue of Educause which had resided on my desk, unread, for several weeks. I flipped to the back where the essays are and chose “Life 101: A Q& A with Michael Wesch.” Wesch is an anthropologist at Kansas State. In his interview he decries the pre-eminence of SLOs—Student Learning Outcomes. Well-intentioned, he says, but he goes on to say that most faculty have “more profound goals that go unexpressed…” Furthermore, “Almost all faculty will tell you that they are interested in nurturing critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving” and these are “complex psychosocial and cognitive-structural developments…not just stuff you learn.”

The next dot is a conversation with a colleague, prompted by a boastful Ball State billboard about job placement, in which she stated that our current formulations of “student success” don’t capture the success stories that she values most. For example, the student who sought a bachelor’s degree not as a path to promotion or a better-paying job, but who just wanted to be able to do his current job better. Or the student who completed her degree because she liked the subject, but continued to work at a Walgreens store for many years after graduation. These students, degree completers who sought self-improvement, who may not have finished in four years, do not figure in our current measures of success. Yet in my view, which I suspect is shared by faculty colleagues, these are the student success stories that we treasure the most. I think these students’ stories are examples of the profound and unmeasured goals championed by proponents of liberal education.

My last dot, and let me say that I am creating a highly abstract work here, one that depends on the reader making the connections between my juxtaposed ideas, is my re-discovery of Kratwohl et al’s 1956 taxonomy of the affective domain. Preparing a presentation for the conference gave me yet another opportunity to reflect on the evaluation study CELT completed three years ago. The alignment of our mission with product-based outcomes (the equivalent of SLOs) still troubled me. How could we be true to our mission while using measures that would show a connection to improvement in student learning? What we are really about is motivating people to change and once motivated, providing them with the support they need in order to implement change. And yes, encouraging them, when things don’t go exactly as planned. It dawned on me that teaching centers operate heavily in the affective domain, and shouldn’t I be using that model to measure the center’s impact? Likewise, faculty can’t make progress with students in the cognitive domain without progress in the affective domain. That’s the connection between the first two dots. So I ask you to consider including affective goals in your syllabus. Use them to develop pre-tests and post-tests to study your teaching. Think about them when you are with your students in the classroom and when you read what they write in online discussions. I find that these are the goals that matter most to educating.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Syllabus Also Rises

By Worth Weller
Continuing Lecturer
Department of English and Linguistics

Much like Ernest Hemingway’s thinly veiled memoir The Sun Also Rises, a syllabus can provide a road map into an instructor’s troubled soul. While it is not clear that many students read their classroom syllabus, it is fully clear even to students that the document carries an imperative with as much moral elegance and nuances as a bullfight: from a distance it is a beautiful spectacle of classroom expectations; up close it is messy and gory.

For example:
  • Late penalties – not only what are they, but left unsaid is the question are you really going to calculate and enforce them (in my case, no: there is a reason I teach English and not math!);
  • Attendance – are you really going to take it and enforce penalties (in my case, I teach online);
  • Discussion etiquette – yes, of course, be polite, but are you really going to read and check each post (nope);
  • Course goals – these can be as poetic as the red cape of the matador gracefully swinging in the sunshine on a hot Spanish afternoon, but do the students care (again, nope);
  • Plagiarism – no matter how you word it, can you really get students to understand in the Internet age that copying and pasting shortcuts learning (thank heavens for Turnitin and SafeAssign; at one time I was not in favor of these, now I see how they can streamline grading and impress students with the gravity of the offense).

Other problematic issues that call up my inner demons include the basic fact that students are always one step ahead of you when trying to set down on paper the rules and regulations of a classroom. 

Have you ever gotten this question for example: “I see that I have enough points now to pass the class; do I really have to turn in the final paper?”

On a related front a syllabus can quickly get out of control and turn into a bulky bureaucratic document the envy of EPA and OSHA officials across the land – I think at one point I had a syllabus that was seven pages long! Even I refused to read it.

One other issue I struggle with is the matter of “tone.” Do I want to sound like the hip college instructor I fancy myself to be, or do I let my more realistic curmudgeonly and scolding feelings emerge?

Like the bullfighter, I find myself dodging and twirling my way through these issues hoping in the end I won’t be gored by a student who finds the weak spots in my syllabus in order to justify their own poor performance.

I can take comfort however knowing I’m not the only one who loses sleep over these concerns, as just this week the New York Times ran a lengthy and eloquent piece on the art of syllabus writing by Princeton professor Christy Wampole (be sure to read the comments section too!). And for more ideas, thoughts and examples about these issues check out CELT’s web page “Syllabus and Course Design.”

Monday, August 29, 2016

When Less Is More

By Worth Weller
Continuing Lecturer
Department of English and Linguistics

With the fall semester fully underway, those of us who teach online have gotten our first round of e-mail from students who say they are “confused.”

I’m never quite sure what this statement means, but I believe the comment most often boils down to a matter of course navigation. For example, at the beginning of last semester I got a very long e-mail from a student who said they (the gender neutral pronoun) had examined my course and found it very confusing and couldn’t see how the assignments and content unfolded. They called the course “vague” and said they didn’t have any spare time to try to figure it all out.

My initial temptation was to be a bit smart-alecky and ask if they had read the course calendar and say that if they had spent more time looking at the course and less time writing the e-mail they might not be so confused. Instead, I simmered down and took a hard look at the course navigation.

One thing I discovered right away was that I had a lot of folders buried within folders. Upon reflection I came to the conclusion that “nesting” material into new folders when not really necessary is just perceived by students as “click-bait”: why go there?

Hand in hand with this discovery was the realization I was delivering a lot of links and files that weren’t really vital towards meeting the goals of the course: more click-bait.

Not long afterwards I came across an article in the Blackboard Blog by Torria Davis, titled “How to avoid a ‘hot mess’ in online course design.” Davis lists five quick tips for streamlining course design and concludes from her own extensive redesign experience that online courses don’t need to “overflow with content to be rigorous and effective. 

In other words, less can be more in online teaching.

Monday, May 23, 2016

NE Indiana Course Design Retreat Advances Student Engagement

Twenty-seven faculty from five northeast Indiana universities met for two days, May 19-20 at IPFW to work on re-imagining their courses with student learning and engagement in mind. George Rehrey, Principal Instructional Consultant with IUB's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, guided participants through a set of highly interactive processes intended to help them design or re-design courses using a backward course design method. The goal of the retreat was to forge new collaborations among members of the NE Indiana consortium while energizing faculty to champion excellent course design and teaching on their respective campuses. Participants responded positively to a very intense two days of work. Typical of their reaction is this comment, "Designing my course from the "big idea" made my course outline much more relevant and engaging!  I will definitely be sharing my learning with others.Thanks again for a great workshop!"

IPFW's Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching organized and hosted the event. Participating universities included: Indiana Tech, Trine, Manchester, St. Francis and IPFW.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Why You Shouldn't Use PowerPoints in (Most) Online Courses

If you are thinking of updating your PowerPoint presentations, or want a fresh perspective, the resource below shows some common missteps and provides ideas on how to better design slides to work with the human brain.

Why You Shoudn't Use PowerPoints in (Most) Online Courses.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Personalize Teaching with Explain Everything

By Xiaokai (Katie) Jia
CELT Instructional Consultant/Designer

As teachers in the information age, we have access to abundant teaching resources, including online videos, articles, images, and files in various formats. At the same time, we may struggle putting all those wonderful resources together easily. How great would it be if we could have an infinite canvas to display these resources in one place and use them to explain things in different ways? Oh wait! There is an app for that. It’s called Explain Everything.

Explain Everything is an easy-to-use and interactive whiteboard that allows users to draw, type, annotate, animate, narrate, import, and export almost anything. Today, I would like to share with you some ideas for getting started with this amazing app.

Visual Presentation
With the pen tool, shape tool, and text tool, users can present, highlight, and illustrate new knowledge. Objects can be easily moved, resized, rotated, grouped, and even animated with auto rotation. Teachers can manipulate various objects to explain new concepts, relationships, and procedures. Objects can be texts, drawings, shapes, images, videos, documents, and even web browsers. For instance, teachers and/or their students can record math problem solving procedures on screen with voiceover, also known as a “screencast.”

Personalized Learning
Many teachers value personalized learning and individualized feedback. However, it is often hard to do. With Explain Everything, teachers can create learning materials and easily share them with students before the class. Providing feedback to student projects can be simplified by importing files directly into Explain Everything, recording a screencast, exporting the video, and sharing with students.

Explain Everything projects can be shared with and edited synchronously by multiple users. This means students can view on their own screens what their teacher is doing in real time, and collaborate efficiently on one project with their peers. In addition to student collaboration and engagement, this feature enables students with visual impairment to zoom in to a specific part of the project on their own devices.

For more ideas for integrating Explain Everything into your classroom, check 17 things to do on Explain Everything. If you are interested in learning more about Explain Everything with a CELT consultant, please use the request for services link on the CELT web site. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Using EDpuzzle to Engage Your Students

Xiaokai (Katie) Jia
By Xiaokai (Katie) Jia
CELT Instructional Consultant/Designer

Have you ever assigned students an instructional video but wondered if they have watched it? Have you found an excellent online video but wanted to quickly customize it (e.g., add narration, crop it) for your own instructional purpose? Do you want to direct students’ attention to a specific part of a video? Do you want to quiz your students while they watch a video? If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, EDpuzzle (www.edpuzzle.com) might be a great solution for you.

EDpuzzle is a free online tool that allows you to fully engage your students, either face-to-face or online, by integrating interactive features such as adding quizzes and comments. For instance, a foreign language instructor can insert quizzes into a video on grammatical rules to check students’ understanding and have them engaged. You can also empower active student learning by having them create their own video projects (e.g., teaching certain topic) and present to the whole class or even the whole world.

The main features of EDpuzzle include uploading/searching for videos, cropping video, adding audio track and audio notes, and adding questions. You can easily monitor students’ progress by viewing their study status. EDpuzzle also automatically grades multiple-choice questions and generates summary of students’ responses for you.

In short, EDpuzzle provides great features for teachers to engage students with videos. All you have to do is to pick a video, add your magical touch, and then track your students’ progress and understanding. What’s even better? EDpuzzle is easy to learn. Check out four short online tutorials from YouTube to get started. If you are interested in learning more about EDpuzzle with a CELT consultant, please request for services online.