Free Online Courses

It has been over a year since my first post on OERs. Since then, the choices have continued to grow and I wanted to link that old blog post with a short list of some of the most written about and recent OERs. However, this list has some differences from last year’s list. Last year, the talk was still more about free online educational RESOURCES. This year, the buzz is more about free online COURSES. That’s a big difference!

iTunesU – I’m not sure why it doesn’t appear on the old list, but it certainly has a lot of great resources for learning. From their website: “If you’re an educator at a university, college, or K-12 school, now you have an easy way to design and distribute complete courses featuring
audio, video, books, and other content. And students and lifelong learners can experience your courses for free through a powerful new app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.” (I added the bold emphasis.)
MITx – Although MIT’s OCW has been around for quite awhile, MITx is their newest online learning initiative. Whereas MIT’s opencourseware (OCW) has educational resources from their courses (various pieces and parts), MITx will deliver free courses. Its first course will be Circuits and Electronics, offered in a prototype form from March 5-June 8, 2012. The course is free, and students will have an opportunity to demonstrate their mastery and earn a certificate. For this pilot, it seems that there is no cost associated with the certificate.
Coursera – Started by two Stanford professors, Coursera offers free online courses. From their website: “We are committed to making the best education in the world freely available to any person who seeks it. We envision people throughout the world, in both developed and developing countries, using our platform to get access to world-leading education that has so far been available only to a tiny few. We see them using this education to improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.”
UdacitySebastian Thrun, a professor of computer science at Stanford, resigned from his newly tenured position to build this new online educational venture. The first two courses are titled “Building a Search Engine,” and “Programming a Robotic Car” (Thrun worked on Google’s robotic cars). Last year, Thrun opened his “Intro to Artificial Intelligence” course to the world and 160,000 students enrolled of which it’s reported that 20,000 actually stuck with the course through the final exam.
The Floating University – “What if the world’s best thinkers all taught at the same school?” is the message on their website. Although these courses aren’t free, they’re certainly priced low, ranging from $39.99 for “Is Biomedical Research Really Close to Curing Anything” taught by Douglas Melton, a professor at Harvard, to $59.99 for “Who Wants to be a Billionaire?” taught by William Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital.
Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE) – From their website: “SEE programming includes one of Stanford’s most popular sequences: the three-course Introduction to Computer Science taken by the majority of Stanford’s undergraduates and seven more advanced courses in artificial intelligence and electrical engineering.” These free courses include lecture videos, reading lists, course handouts, quizzes and tests, and opportunities to communicate with other SEE students.
Open Yale Courses – From their website: “Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn.” What these courses provide is access to classroom lectures. I just read an interesting Yale Daily News article briefly describing how the online provision of the classroom lectures changed what happens in the classroom.
Udemy – Some of these courses are free, but not all. You can take a course, or create a course. When I visited their site, the top 3 trending free courses were Foundations of Business Strategy, How to Make iPhone Apps (Lite), and Operations Management. I noticed some course authors were from MIT and Stanford.
Khan Academy – If you haven’t already heard about Khan Academy, then you need to check it out now. From their website: “With a library of over 2,800 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 298 practice exerciseswe’re on a mission to help you learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace.” These are not free courses, but free topics. However, they could certainly supplement learning in your courses. Their most recent news is that Craig Silverstein, Google’s first hire in 1998 (not including the co-founders), is moving to Khan Academy as a developer.
Knowledge@Wharton – This online newsletter also offers articles, interviews, and Q&A’s as podcasts to listen to on your mp3 player, iPod or PC. Check out their podcast archive.
Finally, Open Culture has provided a listing of almost 400 free online courses arranged by discipline and title.

Have you taken any of these free online courses, or viewed a Khan Academy video? I’ve downloaded a few of the iTunesU courses to my iPad and plan to check them out one of these weekends. I’m curious since I design online courses, and wonder what I might learn by investigating this new breed.

Why students cheat and what we can do about it

I just read a feature article posted by the American Psychological Association providing some depressing statistics and, what I feel are, common insights into why students cheat. A survey of 40,000 U.S. high school students found that more than half have cheated on a test, 34% have done it more than twice, and 1/3 have used the internet to plagiarize. Additional surveys indicate that their behavior continues in college, and might even be associated with dishonesty later in life.

The article provided reasons on why students cheat: academic pressure to do well, low intrinsic motivation (learning)/high extrinsic motivation (grades), peer influence (cheating is contagious), and the need to stay competitive.

The real value of this article was in reading about a student-led effort at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where a student petition is calling “on faculty to provide more education on academic integrity, state more explicitly the rules for academic integrity in the classroom and report all cheating when they see it.” At UCSD, “all freshmen must complete an online tutorial on academic integrity before they can register for their second-semester classes.” Professors are encouraged to spend time in the first week of classes to stress the importance of academic integrity and explain the behaviors that constitute cheating, including the consequences. UCSD’s academic integrity coordinator feels that a university-wide initiative such as theirs must include an assessment to first capture student and faculty attitudes and current behavior. It makes sense to understand the current state of affairs before developing a strategy to move forward. 

At Penn State Harrisburg, faculty invite the Learning Center’s writing specialist, Kathy Brode, to visit their classes and address plagiarism issues with their course writing assignments. Faculty also build in a process of writing with multiple milestones and deliverables that makes it more difficult to plagiarize. An increasing number of faculty also use Turnitin for plagiarism detection. When they have their students submit a draft of their writing assignment to Turnitin and allow them to see their own originality report, it often creates a teachable moment. Penn State has an iStudy module, titled Academic Integrity, Plagiarism, and Copyright, that they can import into their course in ANGEL for student use. The module “has been reviewed by Judicial Affairs and the Academic Integrity Committee,” and includes materials for the instructor and the students. I would love to see an initiative led by students and faculty, with strong administrative support, to build a stronger climate of academic integrity here, promoting ethics and professional integrity.   

Strategies for Teaching Millennial Students

The Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence held a workshop facilitated by Kathy Jackson and Crystal Ramsay on Thursday, 1/19/12. Characteristics of the millennial generation, classroom challenges, and teaching strategies were discussed. They organized the discussion around four topics: Environment: Classroom climate, Students: Mindset about learning, Instructor: Scaffold student learning, and Tasks: Student work. We began by collectively taking a quiz from the Pew Research Center – How Millennial Are You? (Also see This quiz is helpful to become familiar with characteristics of the millennial generation, and also to discover which characteristics you might share with them.

Seven Characteristics of Millennials (Debard, 2004; Ramsey, 2008):

  1. internalize they’re special (1st generation w/”Baby on Board” signs)
  2. live sheltered lives
  3. self-confident (sometimes misguided thanks to helicopter parents)
  4. team-oriented (but don’t necessarily like working on teams)
  5. conventional (like to have everyone get along with each other)
  6. feel pressured (over-programmed)
  7. high-achieving (not necessarily realistic)

Environment: Classroom climate
Issue: Defining “Disruptive”

Resource: Felder, R.M., & Brent, R. (2000). All in a day’s work. Chemical Engineering Education, 34(1), 66-67.

Disruptive was defined as a behavior that “distracts the class’s attention from your teaching.”
To set a classroom climate conducive to learning, be clear in the syllabus about your expectations and how they relate to learning – offer your rationale, and discuss this in class.
When a disruptive incident occurs, ask 2 questions:

  1. Is the behavior disruptive or non-disruptive?
  2. Is it the 1st offense or is it a recurring behavior?

If the behavior is disruptive, deal with it assertively. If it’s not disruptive to the class, ignore it. If it is the 1st offense, don’t make too much of it. If it is recurring, try to learn why it is occurring.

Strategies shared:

  • Get student input on what they consider disruptive behavior
  • Set classroom guidelines together
  • Use “proximity control” (walking around the room so your presence is closer to each student)
  • Learn what behaviors don’t bother you and giving it away (e.g., allowing texting but not phone calls)

Students: Mindset about learning
An Issue: Performance vs. learning

Resource: Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

What is the student’s motivation for engaging in an achievement activity?
Consider the differences between a fixed mindset and a learning mindset. With a fixed mindset, students don’t pursue challenge because they feel it won’t get them ahead.

Strategies shared:

  • Teach disciplinary ways of thinking.
  • Include an exam wrapper, which is a handout returned with exams/homework asking students about their preparation and understanding (Google “exam wrapper” to learn more and find examples).
  • Attribute success or failure to effort and strategy (or lack thereof).

Instructor: Scaffold student learning
An Issue: Commodity Thinking

Resource: Crone, I., & MacKay, K. (2007). Motivating today’s college students. Peer Review, Winter, AAC&U. (See

Millennials view a college education more as a commodity to be acquired than a process and experience in which to engage.

Strategies shared:

  • Be explicit with expectations, directions, instructions
  • Teach them to plan, execute, and evaluate their learning
  • Parse projects and assignments into pieces
  • Give credit for planning
  • Use exam wrappers
  • Consider Consumer vs. Creator dilemma for students
    • Teach what plagiarism is in your discipline
    • Teach how to carefully vet sources
  • Avoid straight lectures – provide opportunities for interaction with others, engagement with content, and feedback about their understanding (formative assessment)

Tasks: Student work
An Issue: Reading Compliance

Resources: Armbruster, B.B. (1984). The problem of “inconsiderate texts.” In G.G. Duffy, L.R. Roehler, & J. Mason (Eds.), Theoretical issues in reading comprehension (pp. 202-217). White Plains, NY: Longman.
Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging ideas: Integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Strategies shared:

  • Try to select a “considerate text” (see for a quick explanation)
  • Make sure the purpose for reading is clear and explicit – e.g., we’re going to do a group activity with it tomorrow
  • Teach disciplinary ways of reading
  • Select interesting, relevant texts (even if supplementary) – are the readings tied directly to the course, or are they just a chapter to chapter list?
  • Make assignments that encourage deep reading
  • Don’t use quizzes to motivate reading (doing so tends to encourage surface reading)
  • Tell students if they can expect the reading to be difficult (i.e., research articles were not written with an undergraduate audience in mind, so they might be difficult to read)
  • Model note-taking from the text
  • Arouse interest before reading
  • Create reading guides
  • Use informal writing assignments (marginal notes, reading logs, graphic organizers)

Welcomed Updates to Adobe Connect

Reported by Barb Smith to the Meeting@PennState Notification Listserv on January 6th

Information Technology Services (ITS) recently upgraded Meeting@PennState to Adobe Connect Version 8 Service Pack 2. This upgrade offers a better user interface, including enhanced audio and video controls, unified attendee management, and optimized screen use.

Other enhancements include accessibility improvements for users with disabilities. These include screen reader support and easier keyboard navigation.

In addition, users outside of Penn State no longer have to get a Friends of Penn State account to be able to join in a meeting. They can now log on to public meetings using the Guest log on, greatly simplifying their participation In the attendee pod, participants logged on as guests are shown with a blue icon and are easily identified from the Penn State and Friends of Penn State participants, which are shown with a yellow icon. This is important information for the host, as guests can enter a meeting room using any name they wish.

Another enhancement is now all faculty and staff are able to create their own meeting rooms. Upon signing in to, the new landing page for Adobe Connect at Penn State offering announcements and additional information about the service, only those with LDAP designations of “staff” or “faculty” will be auto-promoted to Meeting Owners. Staff with “member” or some other designation should contact to explain why they need to be able to create meeting rooms. Students who want their own meeting room should contact a staff or faculty member to get a room.

For more information, please contact or visit

Note: The next demonstration session is scheduled for January 24th, from 10:00-11:00am in If you plan to join the demo, it is suggested that you read through the Adobe Connect Version 8 information at and test your connection in advance with their generic test meeting room at

To learn more, handouts are available through Penn State’s Training Services site:

Help is available by emailing

Preparing for the New Semester: ANGEL Reminders

The Faculty Center has prepared a list of ANGEL reminders and tips to help you towards a smooth start to the new semester. Please be in touch with any questions. Our contact information is provided on the “Contact” tab of this website.

Activate Course
If you still see Disabled under your course title on your ANGEL “My Profile” page, students cannot see your course. To activate your course so students can see it, please follow the steps listed in this ANGEL Help article:

Tip: Activate your course before sending ANGEL mail to your students.

Gradebook Copy Tool
If you used ANGEL’s Gradebook in a previous course and have the same or similar assignments and grading scheme in this semester’s course, you might be able to save time by copying that previous Gradebook into this semester’s Gradebook. Use the Copy Gradebook Settings steps provided in this ANGEL Help article:
Tip: If you have not used ANGEL’s Gradebook, but are interested in getting started, please make an appointment with one of the instructional designers in the Faculty Center by calling Betsy at x4309.

Importing Content from a Previous Semester
This ANGEL Help article will provide the steps to import content from a previous semester’s course into your current course in ANGEL:
Tip 1: Be sure to be in your NEW course to begin these steps.
Tip 2: If you have taught this course multiple times over the past year, it could be difficult to distinguish last semester’s course from all of the other previous sections. One way to determine which course is which is to add the semester and year to the course title, e.g., FA11. To do this, from your My Profile page, click the “Settings” link located under the course title and type in the year and semester in its title field. Click “Save.” Now you can enter your new course and begin the process to import content.

Sending Course Mail
It used to be that when you chose to “Compose Message” in ANGEL and selected “To,” options would automatically be available from which to choose. Now it seems that at least some of us need to select the Groups link to see the choices to send to “All course faculty,” “All course individuals,” or “All course students.”
Tip: Be sure that you have activated your course before sending ANGEL mail to your students.

Supported Browsers
ANGEL is not compatible with all browsers. Currently, it is only compatible with Internet Explorer 7, 8, or 9, and Firefox 3.6, 4, or 5. Please refer to this ANGEL Help article for the list of compatible browsers and links to their downloads:
Tip: This might be a good link to share with your students.

Syllabus Upload
The last step in the syllabus upload process is often forgotten, so please refer to this ANGEL Help article for a list of the steps:
Tip: For students, only one file is viewable from this tab. If you have two separate files for the syllabus and course schedule, upload the syllabus to the Syllabus tab and upload the course schedule to the Lessons tab.

System Check
This component is viewable from ANGEL’s logon screen, directly beneath the Log on button, and checks your browser for compatibility every time you navigate to ANGEL. Read more in this ANGEL Help article:
Tip: This might be another good link to share with your students.

Reminder: The ANGEL Archive will take place Wednesday, January 25th, for all courses from Fall 2010 and prior, all groups with low activity for 6 months or longer, and for all master courses and learning object repositories no longer in use. You received email notices from ANGEL Support on 12/12/11. You can read the entire ANGEL archive policy here:
Tip: Work with the Faculty Center’s instructional designers to devise your own archiving strategy.

ANGEL Replacement Rumors
It is true that ANGEL was bought by BlackBoard, and is being integrated, along with WebCT, into their newest version. A University eLearning Strategic Committee has been working for over a year conducting site visits, piloting various learning management system products, and reviewing RFPs. Some of Penn State Harrisburg’s faculty have been involved in those pilots. A decision for ANGEL’s replacement will be made before the end of this semester with a pilot project likely to begin in Fall 2012. The transition to the new learning management system will continue until 2014. We will continue to use ANGEL through Spring and Summer 2012, and many of us will still be using it during Fall 2012. Most will begin the transition during 2013.

Reading Assignments

Today the Faculty Center connected to a workshop facilitated by the Schreyer Institute for Teaching & Instructional Technology on strategies to encourage student reading. We began by discussing three questions:

  1. In general, do your students complete their reading assignments? What are some of the reasons your students might not be reading?
  2. Basing your answer on a discipline-specific course, what does your typical reading assignment look like?
  3. What purpose do your reading assignments serve in your course, and how do you integrate these assignments into the content?

The consensus was that students might not be reading because they consider the text boring, they need guidance on what to read and how to read it (reading strategies), they might have an expectation for the instructor to teach what is in the text, they have a lack of time to spend reading, and/or the reading assignment is not a priority in light of their other assignments. A typical reading assignment simply listed the pages to be read. One interesting integration of the reading assignment into the course content was the use of a study guide that students needed to complete which they were then able to use during the weekly in-class quiz. Both the study guide and the quiz were graded.

Different ideas about what it means to READ can lead to frustration. Does it mean to read every word? Does it mean to skim or glance over? Students tend to lack strategies, or use ineffective strategies, for reading. Additionally, strategies might not be transferable across disciplines. They need assistance in setting priorities – with limited time, what is most important to read?

Comprehension occurs where text characteristics, reading context, and reader characteristics intersect:

  • Text characteristics – Is the text “considerate” and appropriate? Is it easy for the reader to understand?
  • Reading context – Is the reading situation meaningful, integral, relevant, and unambiguous?
    • Is there a clear purpose for reading?
    • Do students know why they need to read?
    • Are there clear instructions provided for why and how to read?
    • How do YOU read?
  • Reader characteristics – Do students possess requisite skills and appropriate motivation for reading a particular text? A textbook assumes a prior level of knowledge – does this match your students?

We reviewed two different text examples, both on archaeology, to tease out things that help learning and things that hinder learning.
Things that hinder learning:

  • Difficult vocabulary
  • Awkward flow
  • Long table with dense information
  • No structural flow
  • Dense information

Things that help learning related to the text:

  • Well-written (coherent across sections, paragraph to paragraph, and sentence to sentence)
  • Clear structure
  • Signals (clear headings and subheadings distinguished by different font sizes and styles)
  • Useful pedagogical (study) aids
  • Visual appeal and utility

Things that help learning related to the context:

  • Varied types of reading
  • Meaningful activities that link reading to course goals/objectives
  • Explicit references to reading (“As you read in the reading for today. . .”)

Things that help learning related to the reader:

  • Adequate background knowledge for the text
  • Knowledge of discipline-specific reading strategies
  • Expectation for reading success, that reading will make a difference in learning

Teach Active Reading:

  • Assign appropriate reading.
    • Require students to take notes while reading.
    • Formulate questions, note words that need to be defined.
    • Note agreement/disagreement with readings.
    • Note connections to other course materials or prior knowledge.
  • Ask students to engage with the text.
    • Generate a “Top Ten” List from assigned reading (Clark, 2010)
    • Locate an alternative perspective; plan to discuss (Clark, 2010)
    • Cooperative reading approaches (e.g., Jigsaw)
    • Identify a question that emerged from reading; share in group; reach consensus about one to ask the instructor/class (Bonwell)
    • Think of an example of how a concept discussed in reading relates to student’s own life
    • Bring a question from reading on a 3×5 card (Bonwell)
    • Write 2 or 3 top ideas from reading in a Minute Paper (McKeachie)
    • Answer thoughtful, integrative questions provided by instructor
    • Respond to low stakes iClicker questions in Think-Pair-Share format (Freedman)
  • Require students to reflect on all the interactions with the text.

Additional resources suggested by the Faculty Center:

Media Commons 101

On June 15th, Nick Smerker, our traveling Media Commons Consultant, spent a day on campus updating us on the Media Commons (MC) resources, projects, support, and new offerings. A summary of those updates is provided here. If you would like to stay current with Media Commons happenings, connect with them on Twitter @psumc or Facebook

Resources: Equipment, Space, People

The equipment resources available to lend/use from our MC includes HD camcorders, Flip cameras (which are being gradually replaced by Sony Bloggie Touch and iPod Touch), digital still cameras, lighting and backdrops, wireless lavalieres, podcasting kits, and iMacs for editing. The loanable equipment will be available at the library’s circulation desk, and can be loaned for a period of three days.

The studio and editing spaces have moved from W344 Olmsted to various places throughout our campus. The future “home” will be in W7 Olmsted, but there are already various spaces in the library that are available. Most notable are the whisper rooms located on the first floor just past the circulation desk. Besides University Park, we are the only campus with these special booths available for podcasting. They can be reserved just as group study rooms are reserved by using a link available at the library’s website ( All equipment and spaces are free to use for all Penn State faculty, staff and students.

MC support staff are available by hotline and email. All contact information is available at Nick’s travel schedule and contact information is available at He will provide consultation for faculty planning media projects, and is available by request for in-class training for students, and for faculty and staff workshops.

Nick shared a number of examples of faculty and class projects grouped as follows:

  • Community Film/Documentary
  • Health Care Training
  • Social Issues/News Broadcasting
  • Educational Storytelling
  • Technology Analysis
  • Advertising
  • Educational Development

Examples of faculty projects are available at

Recommendations were made for building a project with the MC. Gearing up for Fall, these are the steps to take:

  • Conceptualize Your Project (now – mid-August)
  • Contact Nick Smerker, our MC Consultant (mid-July – mid-August)
  • Media Commons Training (September – December)
    • One session: MC General Studies or class visit
    • Multiple sessions: video/audio basics, iMovie/GarageBand, review and critique
    • Follow-up sessions as needed

There are multiple avenues of support available via the MC hotline, online, and live help from campus staff (see The MC website provides tutorials, video training, storage space (select “Manage MC Storage” from the left-hand menu), a link to the Creative Commons Media Library, and live chat. There are also “Project Backup” tutorials available to learn to use MC Storage.

New Offerings
Media Commons is running a Mobile Media Pilot, and the Faculty Center’s submission has been approved. We will be receiving devices pre-loaded with media creation software for our World Wide Narratives project.

Another new offering is their One Button Studio that provides an easy and efficient process for presentation practice/recording, studio recording, lecture capture, and video recording. It is currently being piloted at University Park, but there are plans to try and provide the equipment on a cart so it can be available in multiple locations within our library. Great interest has been shown by our speech faculty.

Finally, the Educational Gaming Commons (EGC) works closely with the MC, and is looking for faculty interested in building games and game-like elements into their courses. Current projects can be viewed here

TLT Tech
Nick also mentioned some initiatives sponsored by TLT. The Faculty Center has held various workshops on these, and can provide some support for their use: NBC Learn, Blogs @ PSU, and VoiceThread. Please be in touch.

The interest shown by faculty and staff at MC 101 indicates some interesting new multimedia projects about to be born this Fall!

The Power of Hybrid and Online Teaching & Learning

A Regional Colloquy facilitated by Penn State Harrisburg and Penn State Erie, and sponsored by The Schreyer Institute for Teaching Effectiveness, was held May 11, 2011 (see schedule details). The Harrisburg location had 60 attendees from 10 campuses, a morning keynote, and 10 concurrent sessions. Below is a listing of the sessions held at Harrisburg, including the morning keynote, and the luncheon keynote from Erie, with links to the presentations.

Morning Keynote at Harrisburg: Best Practices and Practical Strategies for Designing and Facilitating More Effective Hybrid & Online Courses by Susan Ko (Presentation file: Ko-BestPracticesandPracticalStrategiesPresentation.pdf)

Session 1A: Examining the Quality of Course Delivery: A Guide for Conducting Online Peer Reviews by Ann Taylor (Presentation file: TaylorPeerReview.pdf)

Session 1B: Social Media and Higher Education by Shannon Ritter (Presentation file: ShannonRitterSocialMedia.pptx)

Session 2A: Using the “From the Field” Recorded Interviews in an Online Introductory Course by Barb Sims

Session 2B: Nested Upside Down Traffic Light for Communicating the Learning Objectives of a Course by Emilia Kenney (Presentation file: KenneyPresentation.pdf)

Session 2C: If You Digitize It Will They Read? Digital Textbooks in the Classroom by Peter Eberle, Bill Gardner, and Tony Hoos (Presentation file: DigitalTextbooksHarrisburg0511R.pdf)

Session 3A: Learning by Doing What Works On-Line by Vera Cole (Presentation file: VERACOLELearningByDoing.pdf)

Session 3B: Teacher-Student Interactions in Hybrid and Online Courses: An Echo Analysis by Bing Ran (Presentation file: BingRanEchoAnalysis.pdf)

Luncheon Keynote: Teaching and Learning in the Cloud by Alexandra Pickett (Page of links from her talk: AlexLinks.doc)

Session 4A: The Nexus of Learning for Digital Natives: The Emergence of Digital Learning Materials (DLMs) & Open Educational Resources (OERs) by John Shank (Presentation file: JohnShank2011.pdf)

Session 5A: The Video Learning Network Project: Teaching Hybrid Courses Through Video Conferencing Technology by Lynne Johnson and Dean Shaffer (Presentation file: VLN_presentation_colloquy.pdf)

Session 5B: Using VoiceThread in Online Courses by Jeremy Plant and Wenyi Ho (Presentation file: UsingVoiceThread.pdf)

Applying Lessons for Business Leaders to Higher Ed

Monthly I get a copy of Business 2 Business which I typically give a quick review and recycle. However, the March issue that recently found its way to my desk had something that caught my eye. Ira Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions, Inc., has an article in the human resources section titled “Unsocial Media?” He speaks about the differences between the Gen Ys and the Millennials, and relates the “tsunami of change” . . . “on the cutting edge of a social revolution” to the recent events in Egypt and President Obama’s election.

He shares four powerful lessons for business leaders that I think could also be applied to higher ed. Here they are:
1. “When people complain, listen.” “The Millennial generation is a force to be reckoned with.”
While everyone could use the advice to listen to the complaints people share, I took this immediately to heart in the way that I listen to faculty complaints, and how I need to listen very closely and ask the right questions to get to the underlying issue(s). We also need to listen when students complain. What’s the underlying issue? What’s going on? Is there a pattern?

2. “Don’t confuse dissent with adversity.” “If the Millennials don’t respect you or support your cause, they now have the power to do something about it.”
We’ve heard that students vote with their feet, as in not coming to class. Taking the title of the article to heart, students can also vote with their fingers: texting, tweeting, posting on the Web.

3. “Followership is the new norm in leadership; partnership is the new business strategy.” In this lesson, Mr. Wolfe refers to the “youth-led but leaderless protest” that overthrew Egypt’s government.
“Followership” reminds me of the ability to easily gather like-minded folks together very easily using social media. It’s being used for crowd-sourcing, flash mobs, and I see it happen a lot in Facebook, where followers seem to abound. But the partnership part of the lesson is what I heard about a lot during the past Sloan-C Conference as a strategy for higher ed to survive in the current economy.

4. “The internet changed everything. Social media is not a fad, but a communication revolution.” Mr. Wolfe quotes author Don Tapscott, “People no longer have to follow the leaders and do what they’re told. Now they can organize themselves, publish themselves, inform themselves, and share with their friends – without waiting for an authority to instruct them. This unprecedented access to power has already rocked the music and newspaper industries, and it will roll over and through every other world this generation enters.”
How are we using this, building on this, in our classes?

The article ends with “Staying power doesn’t come from trying to pin everything down. Instead, it is the result of listening, flexibility, and responsiveness.”
How true is that for higher ed?! Unwilling to change? You probably won’t be around much longer. We really need to be rethinking everything we’re doing, considering the tools available, the characteristics of our students, the barriers that prevent them from access, and the benefits/value added we provide. It’s not enough that we change, but that we are also a vehicle FOR change.

Food for thought on a Friday.

Universal Design & Online Education: Ensuring Access & Engagement for all Students

On Friday, a small group of faculty and staff attended this webinar sponsored by Education Technology Services (ETS). The presenters were Kristen Betts and Jenny Dugger, both from Drexel University. While the focus was on students with disabilities, we quickly realized a few things, and wondered about a few others:

  • A high number of disabled students do not self-identify with our Office of Disability Services, but are still in our classes trying to learn.
  • Some barriers to self-identification include the cost of acceptable tests and the mound of paperwork required. The burden is quite great.
  • By proactively designing our courses to be accessible, we could be impacting the learning for many more of our students than we might realize.
  • Are we doing enough to increase students’ awareness of the resources available to them (syllabi, marketing, etc.)?
  • What happens when accommodations are simply a part of our course design, and not something special we need to do differently or retrofit?
  • Does our definition of disability include the barriers WE create?

So, what might Universal Design mean for our work in designing courses (online and face-to-face)? A list of guidelines and best practices culled from Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) was provided that gives us a great starting point.

  1. Text Alternatives: Use text alternatives for any non-text content (i.e., images).
  2. Adaptable: Create content that can be presented in different ways.
  3. Distinguishable: Clearly differentiate between elements (i.e., separate foreground and background – contrast).
  4. Keyboard Accessible: Users should be able to navigate everything from a keyboard.
  5. Enough time: Provide enough time to complete tasks.
  6. Seizures: Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures (i.e., flashing lights).
  7. Readable: Text needs to be readable and understandable.
  8. Predictable: Consistency helps with navigation.
  9. Input Assistance: Be proactive in avoiding and correcting mistakes.
  10. Compatible: Able to use with assistive technologies and other agents.

These are all great reminders for designers, and are guidelines that benefit all learners.

Additional resources:
7 Principles of Universal Design, from Sloan
Dr. Sean Zdenek’s Accessible Rhetoric Blog
National Center for Universal Design for Learning
List of assistive technologies