I recently attended a talk sponsored by Penn State’s new Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The speaker was Ray Schroeder, from the University of Illinois, Springfield. Ray used his website as the anchor for the presentation, taking the audience to several different MOOC providers as well as illustrating the various models employed by MOOC providers like Coursera and Udacity.
Dr. Ocker, the recipient of the George McMurtry Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award for 2007-2008, leverages a wide variety of active learning strategies and methods to engage students in the classroom. “I put it on them [the students]. You walk into class, you’re quizzed, before we talk about anything.” Dr. Ocker’s typical class involves a short lecture, followed by a student-centered discussion, and then a closing activity. Dr. Ocker’s course is structured similar to a flipped classroom approach. “The longer I teach, the less I lecture. I’m putting more onus on the students, then using the time together for solving problems or applying knowledge.”
This model stays consistent across her various courses, whether she’s teaching 30 students or 125 students. Dr. Ocker also teaches online, and states “If I excel in teaching, I should be able to excel across different venues. This includes online.” All these experiences, Dr. Ocker reflects, add to her toolbox of teaching skills and techniques. “Online teaching has improved my resident teaching, without a doubt. It has forced me to be more organized, clearer. I remember, in the past, not having a course schedule finalized at the start of the semester. I would never do that now, in any course. Online courses have brought a discipline to my teaching.”
One approach to course design that is consistent across all of Dr. Ocker’s courses is the use of student teams. Specifically, Dr. Ocker focuses on partially-distributed teams (PDT), where two or more team members are located in one geographic area and two or more team members are located in other geographic areas. Throughout her teaching, Dr. Ocker incorporates PDT projects, where students in the College of IST are in teams with students from other universities around the world. When talking about strategies to implement teams in a course, Dr. Ocker emphasizes that students need to be taught how to work in teams. “Be prepared to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly when working in teams.” Instructors also need to allot plenty of time for student teams to work through the teaming process, and in Dr. Ocker’s courses this includes in-class time to work on team projects and provide team status updates to her each week.
An important aspect of teaming projects, Dr. Ocker states, is to identify what you want to assess. For instance, is the goal of the teaming project to illustrate how to work in teams and collaborate, or is the goal to produce a final deliverable or outcome? “You cannot manage what you do not measure,” says Dr. Ocker.
A recent publication in Science is stirring up dialog around approaches to STEM education in K-12. The article, The Efficacy of Student-Centered Instruction in Supporting Science Learning, found that students not only performed higher on content knowledge exams than the teacher-centric control group, but also showed hither retention of that knowledge in the future. One thing that really stands out about this study is the thoroughness of methods. Occasionally in similar studies, results are often overlooked or de-emphasized due to the lack of rigor in methods. But the researchers in this study even went so far as to record each session of instruction, to make sure that the teachers held true to the student-centered or teacher-centered approach they were assigned. This reminds of me a Chinese proverb I recently used in several meetings:
Tell me and I may forgetShow me and I may rememberInvolve me and I will understand.
Members of the Institute are currently working with faculty members from Hotel and Restaurant Management on a research project around reading compliance, trying to better understand the factors that contribute to a student’s decision to read course materials. We’re currently administering a survey on the topic, and finalizing an analysis of past focus group data. Based on the data, as well as prior research in the field, some things you might want to consider to motivate and encourage your students to read course materials:
- Quizzes – short, regularly scheduled reading quizzes provide motivation for students to read. In some instances, these quizzes might be weekly, and worth a very small number of points. In addition to quizzes, some instructors have success with short reading essays, also worth a small number of points.
- In-class discussions – integrate active learning elements, like in-class discussion, into your course. Students felt more compelled to read before class when they knew the instructor might call on a random student to answer a reading-related question. Some students even cited the use of i-clickers in class as a motivating factor when deciding to read.
- Vary reading assignments – students understood the value of text books, but also appreciated various viewpoints, case studies and other sources of reading materials throughout the semester. Students especially appreciated readings that were current, and also readings that illustrated practical application of content being covered in class or the textbook.
- Stress long-term benefits – students often read only with short term benefits in mind, such as grades. Instructors should emphasize the long-term importance of course readings, such as being more knowledgeable, having a deeper understanding of a topic, the ability to draw connections between seemingly disparate topics, be better prepared for interviews and the ability to apply a wide range of knowledge to existing challenges.
- Repeating the book – this was one of the primary reasons students did not read. If an instructor lectures directly from the book, students often decide not to read because they can get the same information in class.
- Enthusiasm or interest in the topic – students cited a lack of interest in the content by the instructor as a reason not to read. This might be challenging for some instructors, especially if it’s the 50th time they are teaching the same course. Students will quickly pickup on instructor disinterest in the material, and it might impact their interest as well.
- Surprise quizzes – this was a tricky point to unpack. Students cited quizzes as a motivating factor, but some flavors of surprise quizzes seemed to demotivate students. For example, when an instructor ‘threatens’ a pop quiz each week, but never gives one. On the other hand, some students indicated that instructors that give one surprise quiz each week (I know, that doesn’t sound very surprising) acts a motivator to read. To build on this example, it might be that the instructor teaches MWF, and gives a short quiz on one of those days each week based on the readings.
We hope everyone had a great summer, and looking forward to another great fall semester at Penn State. After a summer of planning, the Schreyer Institute is excited to once again offer a wide variety of workshops, presentations and seminars for Penn State faculty and graduate students. This year, we are specifically focusing on the theme ‘Student Engagement’ in the vast majority of our programs. Throughout the semester, members of the Institute will be taking to this blog to discuss various aspects of student engagement, so be sure to bookmark this page, keep abreast of current topics and add your voice to the discussion. Some specific resources you might find valuable include:
This is our first entry in SITE Stories, where members of the Penn State community share information about projects in collaboration with the Schreyer Institute. If you have an idea for a story, please email Bart Pursel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the last 8-10 months, a handful of folks from the Schreyer Institute, Teaching and Learning with Technology and the Office of Institutional Planning and Assessment discussed and researched the topic of learning analytics. If you never heard the term learning analytics before, the easiest way to explain it is by looking at companies like Netflix and Amazon. These companies leverage your personal renting or buying habits to compare you to hundreds (or thousands) of similar users to provide you with recommendations on what to rent or purchase next. Learning analytics is the application of these same practices, but in support of education. Specifically, learning analytics is:
- The highest rated courses you should be taking (based off your major, semester courseload and other data)
- Your predicted grade for the course (this is generated by comparing your historical transcript data to 10 years worth of other students that have similar characteristics).
Tomorrow, 3/2/12, I’ll be heading to Lehigh Valley with a couple colleagues from Education Technology Services, Chris Millet and Matt Meyer. We will be talking with a group of faculty primarily about “Flipping the Classroom”, an interesting model to bring more active learning elements into a class. Below are a few resources we’re distributing to participants that can be leveraged to learn more about the tools and technologies that can assist in flipping your classroom.
Leveraging Video to Support Teaching and Learning
- Lecture Capture – Penn State’s Lecture Capture home on the web. Contains resources, case studies, help documentation and contact information for assistance. If you’re interested in participating in the lecture capture pilot, this is the place to start!
- Media Commons – Media Commons is a university-wide initiative to enrich the teaching and learning experience through multimedia technology, classroom training and direct support for students, faculty and staff. If you have an idea for including video in your class, both faculty-created or student-created video, contact Media Commons to talk to a consultant about your idea.
- VoiceThread – VoiceThread is a totally web-based application that allows you to place collections of media like images, videos, documents, and presentations at the center of an asynchronous conversation. This website contains all the documentation to help you get started, as well as contact information for support.
- Training Services – Penn State’s Training Services offers a wide variety of training opportunities around various technologies, including VoiceThread and iClickers. Find the topic, date and time that is right for you.
- Clickers – Student Response Systems, such as clickers, represent a great way to quickly engage your students in a meaningful way. Check out Penn State’s “Getting Started” guide for instructors.
- Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence – The Schreyer Institute offers a wide variety of workshops on active learning strategies, as well as a library of online resources to help instructors identify and implement active learning strategies. Institute consultants are available year round to sit down with you and help think through implementing different active learning strategies within the framework of your course.
- TLT Classroom Flipping – The Teaching and Learning with Technology website has added a page introducing the idea of flipping the classroom that will include more resources shortly.
I had the opportunity to attend the annual Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) conference this February in Austin, TX. I came away from the conference re-energized and excited to move forward in two different spaces:
- Blended learning
- Learning Analytics (more on this in a future post!)
As the Institute continues to explore our role in online and blended learning, this year’s ELI contained two fantastic sessions, one from Northwestern College and one from the University of Central Florida, on approaches to blended learning. I especially feel good about the conference take aways, things I can apply here at PSU immediately upon return. Both of these presenters provided just that.
University of Central Florida
UCF was well represented at ELI this year, with a wide variety of interesting presentations from UCF personnel. One specific presentation contained a wealth of resources designed to help faculty get started with blended learning. Kudos to UCF for making the resources all Creative Commons licensed, allowing other institutions to leverage them.
The primary resource is the Blended Learning Toolkit. It would take too long to review each section of the site, but I’d like to point out a couple very good resources.
- Working through the BlendKit – This is a professional development course offered to UCF faculty, but it’s designed so anyone can take advantage of it. You can complete the course on your own in its entirety, or pick-and-choose elements of the course to complete for your own development.
- Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository – This is a vast collection of resources, submitted by a wide variety of people, into a large wiki repository. The level of detail is fantastic, as each entry typically has both a synopsis and description of a pedagogical strategy, but also links to resources, examples and citations.
Northwest College presented on a blended learning program they implemented to help faculty take face-to-face courses, and migrate them to a blended model. I specifically enjoyed this presentation because it both applies to efforts taking place in the Institute around online learning and the presenters provided a set of fantastic resources for others to use. The entire project has a website full of resources. A few resources that I find particularly useful:
- Radio James – This is an online objective builder tool, allowing faculty to build objectives in an interactive format, following Bloom’s taxonomy.
- Top Ten Tech Tools – A great list, short and articulate.
- Workshop Documents – samples of documents the Northwest team used in their 2-week faculty workshop series to help faculty redesign their course. I particularly link the checklist.
The two primary ‘hub’ websites for both of these initiatives are flooded with resources. I highly recommend exploring the sites if you’re working with faculty, or if you are a faculty member, designing a blended or online course.
Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Laura Guertin has developed a reputation for being innovative in the classroom. Dr. Guertin’s innovations stem from necessity. She teaches at Penn State Brandywine, a commuter campus with approximately 1600 students. Many of her students use public transportation to commute within Pennsylvania and from Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland; it is not unusual for them to have a 2-3 hour trip to campus. In addition to attending college, many students work and care for family members. The result: little or no time for homework.