Course Evaluations: Your Chance to Effect Change

Course evaluations at UNE Online

Why does your Student Support Specialist email you near the end of each course, asking you to fill out your course evaluations? Does anyone even look at them? What are course evaluations? Course evaluations are our primary way of getting student feedback within the College of Graduate and Professional Studies (CGPS). They gauge what resonated with students, determine what may not have worked well, and identify opportunities for improvement. While the specific course evaluations and formats may vary from program to program, questions follow the same general patterns. Questions may ask the student to rate their instructor’s interaction within the class, or whether the instructor was accessible and able to answer questions about course materials. However they may be worded, these evaluations will ask you about your experiences in that course and with that instructor. All course evaluations use a combination of short answer text boxes and 1-5 Likert scales to evaluate particular aspects of the course. Related article: How to… Read More >

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Putting Current Events in the Classroom

Figure with bullhorn next to bold text: "Engage"

As Instructional Designers, we spend weeks or months working with Subject Matter Experts and Programs to ensure that courses have everything students need. We work on alignment and learning outcomes, and we carefully construct modules so that the content is current, robust, and presented in the clearest way possible. What happens though, when a portion of the course content is affected by a current event? For example: What if the person or company, featured in a case study, suddenly faces serious allegations while the course is still live? Or worse yet, the content itself could become irrelevant or unusable. In these cases, students need to understand what is happening, and why. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some things you can do through the Announcements tool in Blackboard: Give students a synopsis of the issue. Students may not be aware of what has happened. Reassure students that you are aware of what is happening. You could even… Read More >

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Fostering Growth Mindset in Grad Students

Thought bubble with idea

“People with a fixed mindset believe that their traits are set in stone – they have a certain amount of intelligence and nothing will change that. The opposite of this is the growth mindset – people see their qualities as things that they can develop through effort and practice” (Gallagher, 2014, their emphasis). According to Carol Dweck, Growth Mindset is something anyone can have. Realizing the importance and weight of this mindset practice, many K-12 educators are actively incorporating mindset lessons into their curriculum. But what about graduate students? Because they’re more advanced, it’s easy to assume that graduate students have already mastered the growth mindset. But that may not be true. Graduate students are not immune to having a fixed mindset. Achievement may have come naturally to them in the past, and the concept of working hard, regardless of their ability, may be foreign (Swaminathan, 2012). Graduate courses may come as a shock to their learning process. Especially in… Read More >

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What do online graduate students want from instructors? Just ask them.

Online Graduate Students

Instructional strategies for online learning are a frequent topic of these posts, for good reason. A well designed online course relies on an intentional approach to learning supported by evidence and learning theory. Formative feedback, authentic learning, and instructor presence are examples of instructional strategies that are well-supported and effective for online learning. Using the right instructional strategies to facilitate learning is not only important to instructors and instructional designers, it is also important to students. So what do graduate students want? In a recently published study, online graduate students were asked what they wanted from instructors to facilitate learning. The most frequent responses were: “. . . 1) be available and responsive to students, 2) engage/interact with students, 3) provide prompt feedback, 4) foster interaction/communication among students and instructor, 5) provide expectations, 6) provide learning guidance, 7) organize course, 8) provide meaningful coursework, 9) provide synchronous sessions, and 10) use various instructional methods” (Watson, Bishop, & Ferdinand-James, 2017, pp…. Read More >

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Writing Discussion Forum Prompts

Discussion Forum Prompts

Discussion forums are a hallmark of asynchronous online courses like those at UNE. Previous posts on this site have offered an excellent introduction to Best Practices for Discussion Board Facilitation, and an overview of current conversations around learning outcomes and instructional implications of online discussion forums. In this post, I aim to provide a closer look by offering practical tips for writing discussion forum prompts and instructor posts in relation to intended learning outcomes. In a future blog post, I will propose a two-level discussion model as a way to meet the competing goals of discussions as a space for creative exploration of ideas, versus discussions as a venue for more formal academic discourse. Before going on, I want to briefly address the importance of discussions in an online course. In addition to providing a way for students to engage with the content, discussions offer an opportunity for student-to-student engagement, thus adding a social element that is widely considered to… Read More >

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Current Events and Relating Course Concepts

Relating Course Concepts

While I can get behind this quote – not in terms of judging what people discuss but rather in terms of what one may aspire to do ultimately, which is discuss ideas – I also think that it should be less of a tiered approach that may smack of elitism, and more of a pyramid of aspects. It’s going from ideas to their manifestation in the form of people and their actions and events as much as the other way around, going from events and people and getting to the eagle view by connecting them to ideas. This is where current events may illustrate a concept or a point and connect or ground an idea, as well as introduce it in a way that is easier to relate to. Why use current events? Of course, it will make the course livelier and bring to reality certain aspects. Here are some more benefits of incorporating current events: they are authentic and can be interprofessional, complex, and cross-discipline. they can… Read More >

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Blackboard Releases Results from Usage Study

Blackboard

Blackboard Learn. North America. Spring 2016. 927 Institutions 70,000 Courses. 3,374,462 unique learners. The most recent Blackboard usage study casts a much wider net than has been their scope in the past. Titled “Patterns in Course Design,” the learning management system heavyweight released an interpretation on the current environment of course design. By crunching the aggregate data across their broad sample, they were able to classify every course into one of five “archetypes.” They accomplished this by analyzing the tools deployed within the courses and how they were utilized. The identified archetypes reflect larger patterns of course design and student experience. These five archetypes are telling of the primary use of the Blackboard learning management system. Three out of four Blackboard courses are used, likely in coordination with a face to face course, as a course content storage platform. In these types of courses, the majority of Blackboard’s tools go unused. Students are rarely assessed, interact, or are graded in Blackboard in the “Supplemental”… Read More >

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Tips for Strengthening Your Course Narrative

Course Narrative

A good story generally contains the following elements: Protagonist: The hero (or anti-hero) of the narrative. Central premise: The argument or thesis of the story. Backstory: The context of the story. Conflict: The challenges faced by the protagonist. Narrative arc: The chronological movement of the story. Should any of these be missing, readers will find the story lacking, though they may not be able to say why. The same thing holds true for courses. A course is also a type of story. The narrative unfolds through readings, assignments, lectures, and other materials. And as with a story, a course will seem inadequate should major narrative elements be missing. More often than not, the effects of badly designed courses and badly written stories are the same: students, and readers, feel that nothing is at stake. They are not compelled to continue studying How do narrative elements translate to a course? Imperfectly but a rough translation is possible. In a course on… Read More >

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Using Course Announcements to Maximize Instructor Presence

Course Announcements

Research shows that online students appreciate a strong instructor presence. Online instructors who leave regular digital footprints in their classes show that they are actively engaged and committed to supporting student success. In addition to discussion boards and assignment feedback, course announcements provide an excellent opportunity for instructors to maximize their online presence while also sharing important course information. Personalize Your Space Let your students know that you are more than words on a digital page. While you want to be professional, you also want to be approachable. Use an early course announcement to introduce yourself and to let your students know that you are there to support their learning. Since you are an expert in your subject, you may also want to provide your own research or professional anecdotes to help students engage more deeply with the course material. Don’t be afraid to be creative with your posts. The addition of occasional cartoons, memes, digital photos, charts and video… Read More >

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Engagement and Interactivity in Online Lectures: Exploring TED-Ed

Online Lecture Engagement

In the best circumstances, a lecture attended in person is an exercise in engagement and interactivity as well as instruction. Understandably, this too is what we strive for in online education, but we are presented with additional hurdles. The instruction being given is prerecorded, has already happened, and cannot be influenced in real time by ideas in the classroom. Students are experiencing the content asynchronously, at the different times that are convenient to each of them. Students cannot ask follow-up questions while instruction is being given. In the same manner, the instructor cannot assess in-the-moment understanding of the instruction being given. There are a number of tools for addressing the challenges listed above, but one of the most important aspects to delivering quality online instruction is to see that same list in a positive light. In addition to allowing for different approaches to engagement and interactivity, there is a nearly limitless supply of virtual components that can supplement online lecture: Various simulations; Basic… Read More >

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Learning Styles: How we engage with the world

Reflective posture

If you have been following this blog, just a few months ago, we wrote about common learning styles and what effect they have on learners and teaching methods and practices, and that to a large extent these are not well-evidenced in either science or practice, but for some reason have a wide acceptance. Today, we are tackling a different take on learning styles – rather learning preferences in ways we interact with the world along the continuum of how we do things (processing) and how we perceive things (think or feel, the perception continuum) as developed by Kolb and further modified by others. I started doing research on reflective practice – one of many topics I am interested in! – and it eventually led me (should I say took me all the way back) to this source, which I found quite tangible. Reflective practice is an important process (practice) in professional and personal growth which starts with describing and identifying the… Read More >

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Discussions in Online Courses

speech bubble

The apparent convenience of online education is what attracts a lot of students in the first place. Imagine sitting on your couch with a bowl of cereal, still in your pjs and with uncombed hair, and working away on your assignments and readings where no one can see you. The flip side of the coin, the absence of the physical presence is one aspect of online/distance education that makes students feel isolated so much more than in a brick and mortar college program. Isolation is one of the primary complaints. It is also an important factor to account for when designing activities for online students for success. At SSW here at UNE, we often include group activities or at least group and whole class discussion forums, to both mitigate this increased isolation and to have students practice working with other individuals. Some groups and some group activities work well, a frequent complaint is that students don’t always enjoy group projects. The… Read More >

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Gamification - An Implementation of Immersive Role Playing

Illustration of a man collecting coins as he goes up ladders to signify gamification

Former colleagues of mine, Robert Prince and Owen Guthrie of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, developed a journalism course wherein the professor constructed the lesson plan to mimic the internal organization of a struggling newspaper. The students in the course were new hires looking to climb the professional ladder he’d constructed for them, from intern all the way up to Editor-in-Chief. Students covered different subjects and wrote articles in a variety of forms in order to fulfill the obligations of their current position at the paper while, at the same time, meeting certain requirements for promotion. At the end of the course, student success was evident in how high a position at the made-up newspaper he or she had achieved. As was covered in a previous post, one of the principal ambitions of gamification is to design professional and educational processes with heightened consciousness of what motivates engagement. The models for engagement are drawn, with good reason, from games. Games are entirely focused… Read More >

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Gamification: The Bartle Test

Bartle Test

In academia, “Gamification” is the (lately hyped) practice of applying game design to instructional design. The basic idea behind it is that well designed games motivate players to spend inordinate amounts of time learning the system of the game and boatloads of extra lives and respawns trying to beat/win/“game” the game. If one were to effectively align the artificial system of a game with the real-world process of learning a specific subject, perhaps students would be equally as motivated to learn as they are to study the 100,000 pages of content on the World of Warcraft wiki. Class is already a game, of course. Generally speaking, most teachers know to scaffold the large “boss” challenges (tests, final papers, etc.) with smaller, “minion” challenges (quizzes, discussion, etc.) so that students have familiarized themselves with the tools they’ve been provided and the environment in which they’re working before they’re flung headlong into ultimate assessment. For the most part, educators understand implicitly the… Read More >

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Retention Center Settings and Personal Settings for Users in Bb

A gear to signify settings

This may be the perfect time to address some of the issues that will eliminate issues down the road. If you have been using the Retention Center (which, by the way, is quite awesome!), you will notice that as your library of courses grows, so does the number of notifications coming from them, alerting you that your students haven’t logged in in weeks – only in old courses from past semesters. (Do not do it in your current courses, however tempting!!! If you teach a course with another instructor, and turn off the Retention Center, you are turning it off for both of you.) You can easily get rid of those notifications by stopping tracking them. Please see the screenshot. (You see this view in “My Blackboard” when you click on “Retention Center Updates” from the Global Navigation – it looks like an up and down arrows and probably has a read number over it). While you will have to do… Read More >

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What if students created viral videos as course projects?

Viral videos as assignments

It might just work! Sure, writing papers is academically significant and is a way to demonstrate understanding, analysis, and such. No question that putting together a website is collaborative and there are opportunities to make changes after peers offer feedback on the project. But, what if good videos carried a good message – and through great distribution, affected thousands of people and how they think? What if content was presented in a persuasive way, and had immediate impact? We can shoot for the stars, right? Truth is that a good story is part of the success. Viral by itself isn’t much, it has to have a message. But it also needs to be produced well. What if we could attract high-quality production people? What if there were local resources we could rely on? This might be worth looking into. This video is one of those viral ones. The article presents a perspective on the process (you will not be able to miss… Read More >

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