Posts Tagged ‘online course’




Teaching With Facebook

posted: September 27, 2011 by

image by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget

Social Media and Course Cohesion

This semester I have a large class with online and offline sections. How to bring them together, so that the e-students would feel connected, not isolated online? Feeling out of the proverbial loop is one of the most oft-cited challenges for distance learners. Traditionally, a face-to-face classroom, “requires a disciplined commitment from the students to actually participate in the learning activities and reach out to others in the class,” observes Cory Stokes, director of the Technology Assisted Curriculum Center, in charge of testing for online courses. In an online course, the onus is on the student to be self-disciplined enough to engage in self-study, often without the benefit of a class community to drive engagement and interest.

Research shows that there is a correlation between social presence and student success. When students feel connected to a community of inquiry they are more enthusiastic, motivated, and they perform better. If that engagement, communication, and awareness happens continuously and in real-time, as it does in a face-to-face classroom — all the better.

So I decided to take my teaching to the one place where students naturally connect everyday, all day: social networks. First I socialized the learning management system (we use Moodle) by creating discussion boards for on-demand threaded conversations in a secure, gated community. Then I looked to Twitter and Facebook as more public and familiar places for members of my “bricks” and “clicks” course sections to sync.

Teaching on Facebook and Twitter isn’t going to be an option that makes sense for every instructor, but here is why it is working wonders to create a sense of social presence in my class:

P2P Effects. On the Facebook wall, students do peer-to-peer mentoring, troubleshooting, and Q&A at every hour of the day and night. I check into the course social channels several times a day, and yet often by the time I see the Facebook wall or Twitter hashtagged conversation, issues and solutions are already being shared without input from the prof. Not only is this a great example of generous community spirit and peer support, but it’s also self-directed learning on-demand. Since research shows that many students strongly prefer to learn from their peers, this is a good opportunity to enable positive peer effects. As a bonus, “students become partners in blended learning” to borrow an insight from a study at The University of Wolverhampton (<– link opens PDF).

Crowdsourced Curriculum. In the threaded discussions and on the wall, students post links to this week’s lecture topic — before and after the in-class lesson or online-webinar schedule. Put differently, my students scoop my lecture topics and Facebook them!  They scoop my case studies and newsworthy tie-ins and tweet them! Students are plugged into the news and they have high-traffic platforms on which to share the most intriguing stories. There’s nothing that delights me more than this crowdsourcing effect, as students work together to make the material relevant for each other (and thus easier to learn). “If Generation Y likes to do one thing, it’s to share cool, creative, funny and quirky things with their friends,” concluded a recent survey (<– link opens PDF) of millennials’ social media consumption habits by L2ThinkTank.

Network Effects. Sharing course information on Facebook and Twitter means that it is automatically distributed not just to registered students, but to students’ entire social graph. A course tweet is sent to all followers, a Facebook post to the course page is also on one’s personal Facebook profile. This distribution of status updates means that course-related conversations (online and presumably off) happen far beyond the webinar chat rooms and lecture halls. Unlike the formal learning management system, which keeps discussion posts behind a wall (what happens on Moodle stays on Moodle, so to speak), the network effects model of social media amplifies students voices across their personal networks. I’ve found this online word of mouth virtually guarantees that enthusiasm for the course (and enrollment)  remains high year after year. But more importantly, it allows students to demonstrate their membership in, and contributions to, a learning community—in a very public, and sometimes even positively viral way.

These three ideas are just the tip of the iceberg, as there are hundreds of ideas for teaching with Facebook. Of course, not all students use these social platforms. Having a course Facebook page instead of a course Facebook group enables non-Facebookers to read all posted content, and likewise, Twitter is also accessible without a site membership.

Although there is a lively debate ongoing about using popular social networking as teaching tools, my experience encourages me to agree with studies that show social networking enhances student performance and enriches learning experiences both inside the online or offline classrooms and elsewhere on campus.

There are many other tools and techniques beyond Facebook and Twitter for using social media to create social presence, including this roundup. However if your goal, like mine, is to meet students where they are, and leverage their familiarity with social communication for educational purposes, then Facebook,  Twitter, and YouTube are the obvious channels of choice.

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Categories: Social Media
Read All Sidneyeve Matrix

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Course Hacks and Mods

posted: August 11, 2010 by

image by Roo ReynoldsPersonal Media, Personalized Courses

In the age of ever more personalized media (including ads, think Old Spice), customized smartphones, and hand-picked social network news feeds—students and profs alike develop a taste for individualized information consumption.  Often, only those pieces of information that closely sync with a set of personal perimeters and “relevancy” filters have any chance of attracting our attention. These trends point toward a digital culture filled with infovores who have very picky tastes and are habitual lifehackers.

Those new digital habits shape students’ expectations and assumptions about mass media and information production, distribution, and consumption. They also affect how students approach and participate in higher education classes.

Class Hacks

So maybe it shouldn’t surprise us when a generation of students who are used to customizing their news and information diet, screening spam, and setting up preferences on social networks to maximize usefulness and relevancy (nevermind jailbreaking devices and buying smartphones that allow for the greatest degree of personalization) want to hack the syllabus.

Or jailbreak the course somehow (change the operating system to innovate or improve its functionality and evade restraints). Or develop some variety of collaborative “cheats” (as in game cheats, walkthroughs, guides to improve gameplay and scores) and clever shortcuts.

Students’ expectations are rising when it comes to customization of course content, personalization of instruction and assessment, and consideration of individual preferences in the classroom. So too it seems their intolerance for inflexibility is becoming greater. Some scoff at the “entitlement” of the “trophy kids”—but there is more going on here, and it has everything to do with emergent modes of media use, information consumption, and knowledge production.

Time to Get Flexible?

If you’re thinking (as I am) that it might be time to figure out how to hack your own course and offer more adjustability, course mods (modifications) and personalization in your course design, here are three places to start:

First, most simply: plan moments of flexibility and choice throughout the course.

Allowing students to make choices about due dates, assignment lengths or types, readings, topics to cover—and polling them on these choices, will help your class feel engaged and invested in them (especially easy to do if students have clickers in their hands).

Second, think about which element(s) of your course might be most open to flexibility right now.

The Centre for Teaching Excellence at The University of Waterloo in Ontario helpfully identifies the key elements of course planning as Goals, Context, Content, Teaching Methods, and Assessment. They suggest that when refreshing a course, we might thinking about changing one component at a time—an approach would also work when figuring out where to begin building in flexibility.

If scheduling is one place where flexibility is an option, you could follow the lead of Bunker Hill Community College—who made national headlines offering courses at midnight.  That move was about easing over-enrollment, but it also worked to meet the scheduling needs of returning and non-traditional students.

Third, an even more radical option: offer completely different versions of the same course simultaneously.

This is something that New Mexico State University did with a required marketing class. Their online and offline versions of the course were similar but certainly not identical in terms of assessment (one was 100% exam based, while the other involved a group project). Students could choose their preferred course option after sampling both for two weeks. This case study was written up by researchers Susan Steiner and Michael Hyman, who investigated the downside of “one size fits all” course design. Incidentally, New Mexico State saw improved retention rates and increased student satisfaction as a result of this initiative.

If you’re thinking about course hacks and mods, you might want to take a look at Disrupting Class, in which Clayton Christensen argues for a student-centered approach that maximizes customized learning. Also relevant, Teaching Digital Natives, by Marc Prensky advocates a flexible “partnering pedagogy” that gives students room to innovate, explore and design their own learning experiences. Both authors provide numerous practical suggestions and also consider the challenges for faculty when adopting a more flexible teaching style.

Flexible Learning, Improved Outcomes

If blended learning results in higher student outcomes, and if flexible course design improves student satisfaction and self-efficacy, there’s good reason to consider becoming a profhacker.

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Categories: Engagement
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Capture your lecture for posterity

posted: April 9, 2010 by

lecturecaptureI first learned about lecture capture at a physics education research conference.  The poor presenter didn’t quite seem to know his audience.  He explained, enthusiastically, how the system that he’d developed tracked the instructor with a robotic camera, based on infrared technology.  Everything that an instructor said or wrote would be recorded on camera, so students could watch it later on their own time.  He seemed a bit confused that we weren’t as thrilled as he was about this great new technology.  The audience asked a few polite questions, but overall there was an embarrassed silence.

“You’re talking to us about lecturing at a conference focused on active learning?” The silence seemed to say.

My colleague leaned towards me, “If students learned from lecture, then this would be a great tool.”

I think that’s too harsh, and missing the point.  Lecture capture can be a great resource, if used correctly.  If you hang around education researchers, you may think that instructors who lecture do students grave harm. However, I know that those same colleagues who roll their eyes at the idea of lecture capture pride themselves on well-organized and carefully planned lectures.

That’s because lectures can be a great learning tool. Didactic lecture isn’t likely to go away anytime soon – it’s an efficient mode of outlining the information that students are expected to know.  But it’s important to remember how people learn new information:

Learning does not happen, for example, through some kind of   literal recording process. Rather, learning is an interpretive process: new information is stored by relating it to, or linking it up with, what is already known. – deWinstanley and Bjork, “Successful Lecturing:  Presenting Information in Ways that Engage Effective Processing

This can be accomplished, for example, by using clickers in conjunction with shorter chunks of lecture, showing concepts in different ways, or using visuals (read more).  There is a time for telling – it’s just that it’s best done after students have had a chance to wrestle with the ideas first.

After all, what’s the point of coming to class if you can get the same benefit from watching it on tape?  This is the fear of many instructors – will students still come to class if they can watch the lecture from the comfort of their room?  I think that lecture should offer more value than just a didactic transmission of information from instructor to students.  And some early results show that most students do come to class when lectures are captured, but over half use the recorded lectures as well.  This is the next generation of audio recorders – you get the whole shebang for your buck.

What are the benefits of capturing these presentations in recorded form?

  • Missed class? Students can see the whole lecture.
  • Zoned out? If a student misses a point, or was sleepy in class, they can see the presentation again.
  • Moving too quickly? If the instructor lectures faster than they can write, students can go back and see it again.  If they’re unable to follow the instructor’s point, or focus on the visuals, because they’re too busy writing notes, they can listen during lecture and take notes at home.  This is particularly important for students for whom English is not their first language or those who need a little extra time to think.  Some students may be struggling in class because lecture moves too quickly for them to process the ideas. The ability to pause, go back, replay, and take notes may be crucial for these students’ success.
  • Exam time? Students can review lectures on difficult points in order to study for an exam.
  • One of a kind? Lecture capture can also be incredibly useful for capturing demonstrations that can’t be easily repeated (as in medical programs).
  • Online course development. Recorded lectures can be easily used to put together online course offerings, long after the fact.  In general, any stellar lecture can be assigned as a “watch-at-home” instead of given again.
  • Professional development. Watching yourself teach is a surefire way to help improve your practice.  It can also be useful for future instructors to have an archive of how a course was taught previously.

Most students are likely to use lectures as some sort of study tool.  One pitfall, however, is that students are generally not aware of how to most effectively study.  Re-reading lecture notes does not engage a student in processing ideas in a way that helps them understand the material deeply – but this is the primary way that many students study for an exam.  Lecture capture may offer a seemingly university-sanctioned method to continue this relatively ineffective method of studying.

Even though straight lecture isn’t the most effective way to teach, capturing that portion of a class period can be incredibly helpful.  If your campus doesn’t automatically capture lectures, there are several simple ways that you can, at least, record your slides and audio presentations using screen recording software.

Relevant links:

7 Things you should know about lecture capture (from Educause)

Lecture Capture:  Augmenting the Traditional Lecture

If you build it, will they still come to class?

MScribe – The pilot robotic lecture capture camera described in the post

Photo credit:

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Categories: 21st Century Teaching, Classroom Response Systems, Exam Preparation, Higher Education, Lecture Capture
Read All Stephanie Chasteen

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