Undergraduate Students and Technology 2013 [INFOGRAPHIC]

The Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) have released their Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology for 2013. They surveyed over 100,000 undergraduate students at more than 250 college/university sites in 14 countries. The full text of the 49 page report can be found here. However, if you only have a few minutes, then this infographic does a good job at giving you the high points. What do you think about this information? Does it resonate with you in your profession?

Authentic Learning in Online Courses

The library at my school has a book entitled A Guide to Authentic e-Learning by Jan Herrington. Unfortunately, it is currently signed out.
A guide to Authentic e-Learning
However, Jan had a brilliant idea! She made a series of short videos that describe each of the steps in her authentic learning model: Authentic context, Authentic task, Expert perspectives, Collaboration, Articulation, Reflection, Coaching & Scaffolding and Authentic assessment. The videos are all accessible from the website devoted to the book so even without access to the book at this moment, in about 30 minutes time, I have gleaned a reasonable amount of comprehension about her process. The website contains more than just videos. One very interesting item is a link to a shared Diigo group on Authentic Learning where people can share resources on the topic together using social bookmarking. Great idea. Another very useful document on Jan’s website is an evaluation matrix so that you can evaluate your course activities in the continuum from non-authentic to authentic. I like it a lot. Do you have experience conducting authentic tasks in e-Learning contexts? If so, tell us about them in a comment below. What are your favourite tips, tricks and strategies?

7 Strategies for Building Community in Online Courses

Loneliness and a feeling of working in isolation is one reason why some online students eventually choose to drop a course. You can combat this attrition by building community in your course. Building a learning community and a sense of social belonging doesn’t happen by accident, you as the designer, developer and instructor of your online courses have to plan to build a learning community. Here are some ways that I have found useful to accomplish this task:

1. Set some ground rules on day one of the course (see my previous post).

2. Provide two non-graded asynchronous discussion forum in the course.
Social Forum - actively encourage learners to introduce themselves and to perform a simple ice-breaker activity in the 1st week of class. Explain that this forum can be used to socialize and to post about current events during the semester. This forum should not be used to contact an instructor or a TA.; however, the instructor and the TA can participate informally in the social discussions.

General Q&A Forum - this forum should be monitored regularly by the Instructor and the TAs. It is a place for the learners to ask questions about course materials. Other learners should be encouraged to answers questions posed by their peers. Work to foster a dialogue around each question posed in this forum and take the time to post addition resources in the context of the questions being discussed.
3. Create a balance between individual and group work activities in the course. If learners will be working in groups, explain when/how the group rosters will be formed. Provide each group with its own private discussion forum. Provide some guidelines on effective virtual team-work. Include a confidential peer assessment of group work component, for all graded group-based assessment tools.

4. Design the course with the appropriate balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities that work for the learning outcomes in your course.

5. Provide netiquette and guidelines on how best to participate in the graded discussion forum, if applicable.

6. Post a weekly summary or weekly welcome message. Highlight aspects of the course that have just occurred or are about to be developed in the coming week.

7. Ask learners for feedback early in the course (about 25% of the way through). This early feedback can help inform minor course modifications that may have a high impact on learner satisfaction. It will show the learners that you care about the quality of their experience.

So there’s my list. Do you have any good points that can be added to this? Leave a comment below.

Week 1 Teaching Online is Critical – A Recipe for Making the Connection with your Learners

Connecting with Learners is the topic of Week 2 for the Teaching Online MOOC. It's a very important topic in technology-mediated distance education. Setting the tone from the beginning is an effective way to close the transactional distance between the instructor and the students, who many never meet each other physically during the semester. How do you do it effectively? Well - it's not an exact science and there is more than one way to accomplish this task. Do you want to see how I do it?

I do it in three parts:

Part 1. I write an email message to the students the week before class. The purpose is five-fold: 1) to confirm their email address on file is correct, 2) to share my contact information, 3) to share a link to a 10-minute video intro of the course, 4) to share some ground rules of the course, 5) to give them a task of preparing a personal bio/intro for themselves, and 6) to share the Course Outline.

Part 2. As I mentioned in Point 1 above, I make a 10-minute video intro for the course. It's purposefully and simply just a talking head on YouTube. I spend time giving them my perspective on the course and the online course delivery method. The goal is to convey that together we are a learning team and I try to break down some of the anxiety issues that they might be feeling about taking a course online.

Part 3. In the email message I send out before class, I ask them to prepare a personal bio/intro (and I give them specific criteria to include). The goal of the activity is to establish Social Presence in the course and I try to inject a somewhat humourous and casual aspect to the activity. Here's the key: I model the activity on the course website BEFORE students have access to the course website so that when they first logon and look around, they see my version of the activity laid out for them. Modelling has the result of encouraging the desired community-building behaviour. Then as the first few days of class unfold, I make it a point to reply to each intro to try to build connections. Again, I do this in hopes that other students follow suit, and invariably a sub-set do!

So in the spirit of sharing, below you will find a copy of an Introductory Email message I sent out this term to students in my Basic Chemistry course. Also, find my 10-minute video below too.

What tools/techniques/strategies/approaches do you use when connecting with learners in the first week of your online class? Share your comments below.

---body of email message below---


I confirm that as of today (Sunday August 25th) that you are one of the 22 students registered in CCE106: Basic Chemistry at RMCC. The course is web-enabled and in 6 or 7 days you will be able to access the class website at moodle.rmc.ca. I am not 100% certain when students are given access to the class website - it could be as late as the first day of class: next Tuesday September 3rd. If by Tuesday you still do not have access to the class website, then please call the RMCC IT Help Desk: 1-866-677-2857 for assistance.

ACTION REQUIRED: I would ask that each of you please confirm receipt of this message so that I can be assured the correctness of your email address that is on file.

Let me give you several ways with which you can contact me during this term: Email: eric.a.tremblay@rmc.ca

Office Hours / Face-to-face or telephone: by appointment

Instant Messaging Services:
GTalk: eric.tremblay23@gmail.com (no email here please)
Facebook: Eric Tremblay in Kingston, Ontario (add me on LinkedIn too!)
Twitter: http://twitter.com/elearn4u

In addition, I am required to remind you of the RMCC Academic Honesty Policy which reads:

"Academic misconduct, including plagiarism, cheating, and other violations of academic ethics, is a serious academic infraction for which penalties may range from a recorded caution to expulsion from the College. The RMCC Academic Regulations Section 23 defines plagiarism as: “Using the work of others and attempting to present it as original thought, prose or work. This includes failure to appropriately acknowledge a source, misrepresentation of cited work, and misuse of quotation marks or attribution.” It also includes “the failure to acknowledge that work has been submitted for credit elsewhere.” All students should consult the published statements on Academic Misconduct contained in the Royal Military College of Canada Undergraduate Calendar, Section 23."

When preparing assignments, if any questions arise about how to interpret this policy please ask me BEFORE you submit your assignment. In this case, asking for advice before submitting an assignment is far better than asking for forgiveness after the fact.

Please find attached the CCE106 Course Manual that will serve as the syllabus for the course. If you have not already done so, you should order the required textbook for the course. Details are found in the Course Manual. Also, I made a quick video Intro to the course. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikQg6R1Q2bY (if that link doesn't work, try this one: http://goo.gl/4giQR5 ) Let me know what you think. I have also posted an Welcome Message on the class website. Because you don’t yet have access to the class website yet, I copied it below for you.

I'm looking forward to learning with you really soon.

Take care


---copy from course website---

Welcome Everyone to CCE106. I am Eric Tremblay and I will be your instructor this term. Feel free to read my bio or view the Intro Video post to the main page of this course.

I am really looking forward to a fun semester of learning. In order to kick it off on the right foot, I have a few ground rules to explain and requests to make.

Ground Rules

Rule #1. Learning is fun. If you don’t want to have fun, then drop this course right away. (*smile*) I’m a jovial person. I try to be positive-minded and I crack the odd joke here and there. Also, I’m the kind of person that loves learning – I have been doing it my entire life. I love it because I find it very enjoyable and challenging. And who doesn’t enjoy a good challenge anyway? So I hope you are prepared to mix a little fun in your learning this semester – even in an online course! I sure am.

Rule #2. Please leave your rank at the door. If your rank is General, then with all due respect, I will not call you ‘Sir’ during the offering of this course. I understand that rank has its place; however, in my classroom everyone is equal – including the instructor. So I would like everyone to simply call me ‘Eric’. Please, no emails calling me ‘Professor Tremblay’ or ‘Sir’ or anything like that. Just plain old ‘Eric’ works for me. In return, I will address you by your first name also.

Rule #3. What happens in the classroom stays in the classroom. This particular ground rule is better suited for a humanities course than a science course, but I am still going to state it here. I taught a Bioethics class in the past and some pretty personal and heart-felt comments were uttered by some members during class time. It’s important to always be aware that if someone shares with you a sensitive/personal anecdote during the course of this class, that that occurrence is not a license for you to broadcast this personal information across the CF or at your work. Let’s keep the classroom a safe place for us to share whatever we wish with each other in the context of the subject matter being studied.

Rule #4. Respect other people’s contribution to the class and do not fear mistakes. We are all responsible for collectively learning the material for CCE106 this semester. We are all here to help each other and invariably some of us are going to know more about the subject matter than others. Be mindful that everyone is a valuable member of this class and that we all have learning to do. In addition, remind yourself that we all make mistakes – and that’s ok, in fact, I encourage it! Myself included. Just because I am the instructor does not mean I am the ‘God of Chemistry’ (*grin*). I am far from that and I will make mistakes during the term. Remember that old John Powell quote: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” So when it comes to learning, mistakes are a necessary part of the equation. In the context of the lab experiments this term, you may end up making some mistakes while conducting the procedures – that’s ok. Take a deep breath, count to 10, check to make sure you have enough supplies to start again, re-read the instructions and then start again. It’s normal.

Rule #5: Extensions. From time to time our personal and professional lives infringe too greatly on our studies. In those cases you may need an extension on an assignment or a lab. I do grant them in some warranted cases. So if you request an extension please supply an excellent reason and propose a new due date for your assignment/lab. I carefully consider each request and I will get back to you quickly with my decision. If I decide not to grant your request, be advised that I do accept assignments and labs late. In the course material, a daily late penalty is defined for each assignment/lab which will allow you to submit things late if you wish. There are some types of extension requests which I never honour: 1) extension requests that come in on the actual due date of assignment/lab, and 2) extensions on extensions. In these cases, late penalties will begin to accrue. I hope you see the fairness in this system.

Rule #6. Know your netiquette. This course is not heavily rooted in weekly discussions but there may be times when we want to talk about a current event or something so be sure to understand the etiquette for online discussion. Sarcasm does not translate well in writing. So if you want to make a joke, then please give us a visual cue. Use things like emoticons, smilie faces, bracket comments like (*grin*) or (*smile*), or the abbreviations ‘j/k’ for ‘just kidding’ or ‘lol’ for ‘laugh out loud’.

Ok, those are my 6 ground rules, now it’s time for two requests.

Request #1: During the first week of class, I would like you to post a message in the main discussion forum introducing yourself. The message must cover the following topics: a) Your name
b) Your current occupation
c) Your geographic location
d) [Optional but highly encouraged] Basic information about your family status. For example, “I am single”, or “I have a wife and two boys, ages 3 and 7”, etc.
e) Why you are taking this course
f) One (or more) interesting ‘fun facts’ about yourself. Examples might include, “I have eleven iguanas”, “I once had beers with Tom Cruise”, "My hobby is playing World of Warcraft", or “I was the first Canadian to play drums on a tour with the band KISS”, etc. You get the idea. (*smile*)
g) Your favourite music band or singer.
h) Post a picture (or a link to a video!) of yourself as an attachment to your message.

Request #2: During the 15 weeks that we will be learning together, if you travel anywhere on vacation (or on Temporary Duty), you must then post a picture of yourself while on this trip in the discussion forum and you must tell us a little about it. I love to hear about people’s vacations/travel when I take an online course. It reaffirms to me that online learning is a great way to study because it still allows time for ‘real life’ and doesn't force you to be in one place all the time. (*smile*)

Ok, so, enough typing from me for the moment.

Again - Welcome Everyone to CCE106!



Try Experiential Learning in Your Courses

Scott McLean, History professor at the Queen’s Bader International Study Center at Herstmonceux Castle in England recently gave a talk entitled “Sites, Sources and Assessment in an Experiential Learning Environment.” I was there. It was a fantastic talk.
He walked the audience through a few case studies that describe courses where he uses physical artifacts in an experiential learning context to help students make deep connections in their learning. Scott places a high degree of importance on using primary sources in field studies and students report elevated levels of motivation and engagement when working with these authentic artifacts in real life locations. For some students this is the first time they touch and work with primary sources! Luckily, the good folks at the Center for Teaching and Learning at Queen’s University arranged to have the keynote recorded and they have placed it online. If you teach history or are interested in experiential learning then you will find this talk fascinating. Be sure to check it out.

Sneak Peek: Best Practices in Online Course Design for Higher Education

I am assembling a set of best practices for online course design in a higher education setting. It’s hard to do. I started about two weeks ago and almost every day I add something to it. It now measures about four pages in length. Now I find myself wondering if the document is getting too large? Will people read it if it is that long? Hmmm. I will have to think about this.

So far I have categorized the document into six major sections:
Section 1. Overall Elements of the Online Course and Learner Support
Section 2. Course Outline
Section 3. Course Material
Section 4. Communication, Engagement and Activities
Section 5. Graded Assessment
Section 6. Accessibility
Do you want a sneak peek into Section 1? Sure you do. Here are my top 5 items that fit into the first section - Overall Elements of the Online Course and Learner Support:
  1. Brand the course website to be consistent with your Institution and/or Faculty. Have a unique image (with Course Code and Course Title) on the main page of the course website that provides differentiation from other courses in the same Faculty.
  2. Ensure simple and intuitive navigation in the online space.
  3. Provide learners with an effective orientation to the course including an instructor introduction. The introduction should convey the instructor’s enthusiasm for the subject and be encouraging to learners that this course will be rewarding.
  4. Provide the learner with links to: technical support, library, writing center, academic policies, etc.
  5. Provide as much of the course material as possible for the 1st day of class.
What do you think of those five items in Section 1? Do you disagree with any of them? Do any of them resonate with you? Leave a comment below.

How To Teach Online – MOOC – Week 1

The MOOC for How To Teach Online (#tomooc) has begun. Naturally, the 1st week’s activities are pretty general. They have questions for learners to answer on their blog, so I’ll do it below:
  1. What is your intention for this course (why are you here)?
  2. What issues do you think are important?
  3. How will you contribute?
  4. How would you like to see community develop among participants?
  5. These types of courses are new for most people. In fact about 90% don’t even participate. How will you overcome the fear of learning in the open and the frustration of using new technology? How do you plan to courageously work through any setbacks, and not give up?
1&2: I just started a new job as an Educational Developer for the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Anytime you start a new job, it’s a very unique time where you can re-evaluate yourself and start fresh. My mandate will be to help move more courses online. So when I saw this MOOC advertised it was a perfect fit. I really hope to find some gold nuggets of wisdom in this course than can compliment my current knowledge and skills.

3: I will contribute largely by authoring posts on this blog and tagging them with the required #tomooc tag. I will do my best to try to keep up with the weekly asynchronous activities, as well as synchronous activities. I am curious how the synchronous activity will go given the (I assume) large number of students in this MOOC. Note: if you are curious about some of the blog posts, you can visit this page and scroll down to see them: http://blogs.leeward.hawaii.edu/teachonline/

4: I hope that the community can develop not only by interlinking blogs but also on Twitter. I am trying to grow my Personal Learning Network using my Twitter account (@elearn4u) so scanning the #tomooc tag on twitter will be a way for me to connect with like-minded individuals. I also really hope to find people working in the higher education field who specialize in Engineering – that would be a bonus.

5: I’m not afraid. Learning is fun. Bring it on ;-)

Psychology of peer evaluation for group work effort online

Wouldn’t that title be a good title for a research paper? Hmm. (Note to self.) If you are designing or teaching a strictly online distance course, no doubt you have thought about group work.
I personally like some amount of group work especially in the more senior courses. But how do you combat the age-old aspect of social loafing that can affect group work activities? That’s where peer evaluation can come in. You’ve seen it before. Basically, you ask learners to fill in an evaluation form at the end of the group work activities, which asks them to evaluate themselves and their team-mates on how much effort they put forward. These evaluations can either contribute to an individual's grade component of the group project grade, or the instructor can use the results to ‘modify’ an individual's participation grade in the course.

It generally seems to work at the practical level; however, some people wonder how effective it is? Questions are raised such as “Does this evaluation provide enough incentive for learners to give their best effort?”, “What is the optimal balance in the relative weights of the peer evaluation vs the group project itself?”, “Will learners ignore the evaluation and just give everyone 10/10 due to guilt or other emotional factors?”, “Should learners be advised of the peer evaluation grades issued by their team-mates? If so, in what amount of detail?”, etc.

What do you think about these questions? Do you have other questions to ask on the subject? Do you have any answers to these questions based on your experience? Click the "comments" link below to share your ideas. #tomooc

What are you waiting for? Start a MOOC today!

Massively Online Open Courses (MOOCs) is a term coined by Canadiens eh. Yup – and now it’s all over the place. These heavily subscribed courses marry the best of both worlds: FREE and EASY ACCESS. You don’t have to take out a student loan to enrol in a MOOC, and you don’t have to show up in class at 8:30am on Monday morning either. It turns out that this very attractive formula works and students are flocking to them in droves. Have you tried a MOOC yet? If not, what’s stopping you? There’s no downside to giving one a try. I just learned about this great website called MOOC.ca that is a treasure trove of MOOC information and also sends out a newsletter about MOOCs. It has an extensive set of resources that describes what MOOCs are, how they work, and the history of the MOOC phenomenon, etc. So it’s a one-stop-shop to find out information about MOOCs and to see which MOOCs are about to start soon. Remember MOOCs can be on any topic, so find a subject that interests you and sign up! What are you waiting for? You might just learn something eh.

Dear Professors: Please think like a student sometimes. Thanks!

We are changing Learning Management Systems (LMS) at my school. Lately I have been very busy transferring content from one LMS to another and prettying up courses. You must envy me right? (*smile*)

Anyway, I am working on distance courses where the instructor and the students never meet face to face. So the primary method of communication of the course materials is via the course website on the LMS. I’ve seen some crazy things in my course conversion tasks. Sometime, I have to ask myself this simple question: Do professors ever put their ‘Student Hat’ on and consider what it must be like to visit their course website from a student perspective? I think the answer is different for each professor because I have seen some things that are disheartening. I feel that professors often (inadvertently?) place roadblocks that impede students from keeping their course material. For example,
  • I saw one course where there were so many files to download that it probably takes each student about half a day to save all the course materials. What a waste of time. Why can’t professors merge some of these files together to decrease the number? Why can’t a ZIP file be offered for download when a large amount of files are present?

  • I saw one course that was entirely HTML-based with many sub-pages for each lesson. It was pretty in the web browser but there was no easy way to save the files. Nor did it have an easy way to print the material. In order to keep the course materials, students probably resort to printing over 100 different html files… one by one. OUCH! If there is no student-to-content interaction required (you know like drag and drop exercises with feedback, or input fields with feedback, etc.) then why can’t professors avoid HTML altogether? In the case where a large number of HTML pages are unavoidable, can professors please try to provide a print-friendly PDF version as well?

  • I’ve seen many courses that have a large number of files to download, but one course added insult to injury. The file names of the files were so cryptic that once saved on the student’s computer it will be a nightmare to decipher which file contains what. Is it too difficult to name the WORD document that contains the Lesson 1 commentary something like “ECON101 Lesson 1.doc”? Apparently for some instructors the answer is “yes”; instead they select files names like “Supply and Demand – Fall 2012.doc”. There were many other strange file names… stuff like “c.p.2012.doc”, “Overview.doc”, “2009-alternate.doc”. Once the student downloads the 50+ files in the course onto their computer, locating which file contains the Lesson 1 commentary could be compared to finding a needle in a haystack. Could professors please consider using a logical file naming system that might mean something to the student?
Are you a professor or a student in an online course? Do you have any experiences, either good or bad, with some of the situations I describe above? If so, leave a comment.

The Importance of Video in e-Learning

Let’s consider distance education for a bit. First there were correspondence courses. You know – read a bunch of stuff, write a bunch of stuff, and your instructor mails you your grade. Sometimes in the setting of a correspondence course there was media involved such as things like audiocassette tapes or VHS videotapes. These audio and video media types took the edge off of correspondence courses and many students found these courses to be slightly less boring due to the variety of media used. Then there was e-Learning: where student-to-instructor and student-to-student interaction could be enhanced. Also, eLearning courses pushed the envelop of media choices because all of a sudden computers were involved. All kinds of things arrived: flash animations, java objects, PowerPoint slides, YouTube videos, podcasts, and even synchronous video chats. We have had this plethora of media choices to inject variety into eLearning courses for over 10 years now, but do most professors use them? In my experience, no. The barrier to the creation of these media objects still feels insurmountable for some instructors. Luckily, there are many “how-to” articles around the Internet that can help. But before you run into the production of your video, do a bit of research on best practices. Alison Bickford from the Connect Thinking for the e-Learning Academy reminds us that to be effective at performance support, the user will expect video “to be short, succinct and supported by visuals.” I agree with that very wise recommendation. It’s almost common sense; however, people can still miss the mark. Have a look at her short 7-minute video on Video for Organization Learning. It’s great.
If you are interested in knowing more about how to actually produce your video then Alison has a follow up video that will give you a good overview. Take special note at the 6-minute mark of this second video as she presents a great table containing the Do’s and Don’ts for video production. In addition, she has this great blog post about how to use Camtasia and PowerPoint to make video for your students.
Do you have any ideas about using video in web-based courses? If so, let us know by leaving a comment below.

The Big Current Issue in Educational Technology – how to fix it?

Michelle Marshall, a student at the University of Texas, asked me a question for her project which involved talking to people who work in the field of Instructional Design. She asked my opinion on what the “biggest current issues or controversial topics are in relation to Educational Technology”.

My response: Great question Michelle. There’s no magic bullet in the educational technology realm so there are always ‘issues’. The absolute biggest one in my opinion is how quickly educational technology changes. Teachers have always been very busy people. Despite what they might tell you, over time they develop mastery in many different arenas: multitasking while teaching many courses simultaneously, communicating complex ideas with learners, assessment of learner performance, and motivation of learners. The problem with educational technology is that despite all the benefits it has to offer, it represents yet another topic that teachers are now expected to become masterful at, and this one is tough to master because it changes so quickly.

So what’s the solution to overcome this big issue? My short answer is “I don’t know”. My longer answer goes something like this. To be successful with educational technology in the learning process, I believe that is it important for teachers to keep a few hallmark things in mind:
  1. Keep it simple. Learning comes first; everything else comes second. If it’s not obvious to everyone involved what an educational technology component is contributing to the course, then get rid of it immediately. Courses that are uncomplicated go a long way towards keeping the stress level of learners down during a semester. Lower stress definitively helps the learning process.
  2. Know an expert. In your school there is probably an Instructional Designer or Educational Developer whose bread and butter is to be up on educational technology developments. Never ask this person what is the new cool thing that you can add to your course. Yup – you heard me right – NEVER ask this person that question. Instead, ask a question like this: “I would like a better way to get my students to meet this type of learning objective (or learning outcome), can we sit down together and I’ll show you how I do it now and then you can tell me if you know of any educational technology element that might help me do this better in the future?” The difference is clear. Any decisions you make about integrating educational technology into your course need to stem from a need to serve a learning objective (or learning outcome). Otherwise, the educational technology element may turn out to be a useless bell or whistle.
  3. Don’t fix it if it’s not broken. If you are using an educational technology element that is two years old then some young whippersnapper might tell you that it’s an antique at this point, based on how quickly the field is changing. In my view, antique technology can still be useful. Heck – look at pen and paper for example; they’re still useful. If the educational technology element is helping your students learn then don’t replace it with something new just because you feel like it. Any replacement should be by design and not by default.
Do you have any words of wisdom for Michelle about the most important issues or controversial topics in the field of Educational Technology? If so, leave a comment below.

The future of online learning for higher education is here today … and it’s FREE!

How did this slip under my radar? Posted to YouTube on August 1st, 2012, Computer Science professor Daphne Koller of Standford University talks about the Coursera project. Massively open and free course-ware that enables learners from anywhere to study online. It's not computer-based training; it's group-paced web-enabled learning. Great features exist like peer grading, student-to-student interaction, short video chunks by masterful instructors, recall practice and real assignments and exams. As of April 2013, more than 62 universities are contributing in order to offer more than 334 courses on Coursera - all free. Check out Daphne's intriguing TED TALK below. Thought provoking isn't it?

Find out what 40 universities in Canada are doing about copyright

Lisa Di Valentino at the University of Western Ontario had the idea of studying what Canadian universities are doing with respect to the recent changes in copyright legislation in Canada. She decided to go all out by collecting data from a whopping 40 Canadian universities. She selected all non-Quebec university members of the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada that have an enrollment of 5,000 students or greater. So you will agree, her sample is very representative of the Canadian university landscape. For her Doctoral thesis, Lisa prepared a paper entitled "Review of Canadian University Fair Dealing Policies". It's well worth a read if you are in any way, shape or form responsible for copyright clearances anywhere in Canada as it shows some interesting trends and consistencies among universities. The paper itself is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License. Put it on your bedtime reading list - it's worth it.

Your TOP 5 Favourite EdTech Tools for Online Education

I was asked recently to do a presentation about educational technology tools for online education. Before I rolled right into my Top 5 Favourite Tools, I made sure I spent some time encouraging my audience to consider the criteria for selecting the tools first. These are the criteria I use:
Criteria 1. Choose a tool that allows your distance students to study anytime, anywhere. Tools that meet this criterion allow the student to be flexible and to adapt the schoolwork around their other commitments such as family and work, etc.

Criteria 2. Choose a tool that encourages social connectedness in the online classroom. I mean student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in this case. The perceived feeling of social connectedness promotes student retention. Colleges and Universities are always concerned about student retention.
So with these two criteria in mind, here are my Top 5 Favourite Tools and some bonus ‘starting links’ if you want to know more about the subject:

1. Discussions
Tried, tested and true. Text-based discussions definitely fit this criteria and are really a staple for online courses. Sure, there are poor ways to design a discussion forum activity; however, on the whole I feel that most educators do a good job implementing this tool.
2. Collaborative Document Authoring
Here’s where educators can drastically increase the feelings of social connectedness in students. Anytime there is a joint deliverable, that a small group of students need to create, it necessitates that they get to know each other a little and that they interact in a relatively intense way. If you are new to online group work, you may want to do some research into best practices of this assessment tool before implementing it into your course. Online students often need special supports to help them with this challenge, such as learning contracts, collaborative workspaces, adequate time to complete the assignments, etc.
3. Video / audio
The third tool on my list is here to reinforce to me (and to you) that student-to-instructor social connectedness is an important factor. There are a few small things you can do as an educator to increase the strength of this factor. One that jumps to mind is to leverage a tiny bit of video to communicate with your students. Take out that fancy cell-phone and do a two minute introductory video to your online class. Be careful, don’t make it too dry. Don’t talk about all your degrees or your research interests but instead talk about the student and how exciting this course is going to be. You can talk about some course-specific logistics too. The goal here is to motivate the student to get off on the right foot, while helping to emotionally connect to you; an email can’t do this as effectively as video in my opinion. Students who can experience you as a walking talking educator, excited about the course, can go a long way towards building a feeling that they actually “know” you (even though they may never meet you face-to-face).
4. Screencasting
If you have to demonstrate a process then avoid writing out a four page step-by-step document; instead, make a screencast by SHOWING the step-by-step process on your screen. If you want to talk about a website, don’t just give a link and drop it into a word document, instead SHOW them the website with a screencast. When the educator can guide using show and tell, I think this really helps students learn. This, coupled with the fact that they can watch the video as many times as they like, will also contribute a feeling of being more connected to you as an educator: a win:win.
5. Voicethread
This last tool is hard to explain. Here are some videos that I like it and I think you will too.
Are any these YOUR favourite tools for online education or do you have others? What are your criteria for choosing a tool? If you have anything to add, please leave a comment below.

Calling all Canadian Instructional Designers

I recently learned that a new association has been created that seeks to assemble all Instructional Designers in Canada. Appropriately called the Canadian Association of Instructional Designers (or in French: Association canadienne des concepteurs et des conceptrices pédagogique).
In broad terms, their mandate is to promote the professional development on instructional designers in Canada regardless of the setting they work ind (i.e. various types of training and education settings) and promoting the profession in general. I think these are good things so I joined. Along with membership comes access to free professional development activities such as webinars as well as access to the LinkedIn group containing the members of the association. That's great for networking! See you there!

Consistency vs Variety in Online Assessments: is the balance important?

I received an email last week from a college professor who had a good question. She is designing her second online course and was wondering what my opinion was on the types of assignments that work best online. Specifically, she wanted my opinion about whether predictability and variety were important facets in good assessment schemes for online courses.
Yes – I vote for predictability and variety; however, there is more than one way to skin the cat. Let me give you a few examples:

Scenario 1:

Assignment 1: Due Sunday of Week 3
Assignment 2: Due Sunday of Week 6
Assignment 3: Due Sunday of Week 9
Assignment 4: Due Sunday of Week 12
Online discussion: weekly
Final Exam: Week 14

In Scenario 1, the student can clearly see the pattern and predict the workflow from week-to-week as the course progresses through a semester. How about variability? Well, there are two types of weeks in this course: i) weeks with two deliverables (i.e. assignment and discussion) and ii) weeks with only one deliverable.

Scenario 2:

Assignment 1: Due Sunday of Week 2
Assignment 2: Due Sunday of Week 3
Assignment 3: Due Sunday of Week 4
Assignment 4: Due Sunday of Week 5
Assignment 5: Due Sunday of Week 6
Assignment 6: Due Sunday of Week 7
Assignment 7: Due Sunday of Week 8
Assignment 8: Due Sunday of Week 9
Assignment 9: Due Sunday of Week 10
Assignment 10: Due Sunday of Week 11
Assignment 11: Due Sunday of Week 12
Online discussion: weekly

In Scenario 2, like Scenario 1, students can clearly see the pattern and predict the workflow from week-to-week throughout the semester. For variability, there isn’t any. Every week is the same.

Scenario 3:

Assignment 1: Due Sunday Week 6
Term Paper proposal: Due Sunday Week 7
Online discussion: Weeks 4-8
Final Term Paper: Due Sunday of Week 12

In Scenario 3, it’s more difficult for students to see a pattern and they can have difficulty predicting the workflow as the course progresses. For variability, it’s pretty high. Some weeks have one deliverable, others have two deliverables and still other weeks have no deliverables whatsoever.

Scenario 4:

Mid-term Exam: Week 7
Final Exam: Week 14

It’s easy to see that Scenario 4 is highly predictable by students but the overall variability in the course is low.

So, given these types of scenarios, which is the ‘best’? In an online course, good course designs must strive to create student engagement. Over time I have learned that the best way to engage students is to provide them two things: 1) a balanced yet consistent level of predictability and variability in the coursework, 2) a balanced level of student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction. I’ve dealt with the interaction piece before (here or here). So let me just stick to the predictability and variability component for this blog post.

Now if you re-examine the four scenarios above you might come to the conclusion that Scenario 1 is the most balanced as far as variety and predictability are concerned. Can it be improved? Consider Scenario 5:

Scenario 5:

Discussion 1: Due Sunday of Week 2
Assignment 1: Due Sunday of Week 3
Discussion 2: Due Sunday of Week 5
Assignment 2: Due Sunday of Week 6
Mid-term Quiz: Due Sunday of Week 7
Discussion 3: Due Sunday of Week 8
Assignment 3: Due Sunday of Week 9
Discussion 4: Due Sunday of Week 11
Assignment 4: Due Sunday of Week 12
Final Exam: Week 14

What do you think about Scenario 5 for an online course? Is it better or worse than Scenario 1? What do you think about the entire idea of predictability and variability in assessment schemes? Please leave your comment below.

SchoolTube: Learning Without the Risk of Explicit Content

There's a dilemma in the K-12 Educational Realm: to block YouTube or not to block YouTube. Parents have the same dilemma at home too. There's a lot of explicit and suggestive videos on YouTube that most teachers/parents wouldn't allow children to be exposed to. The opposite is true as well: there's a lot of fantastic content on YouTube that can help kids in the learning journey. Each school and family makes up their own rules on how to navigate this problem. However, the father and son team of Carl and Andrew Arizpe are giving us all an alternative. It's called SchoolTube. It has all the good parts of YouTube without the risks of inappropriate content. The way that SchoolTube creates this safe environment is to empower teachers to moderate the videos posted to SchoolTube by their very own students. NEAT! Like YouTube, no account is necessary to view videos and the collection of interesting clips tops over 400,000 videos at the moment. Here's one example below that provides a fun and useful introduction to the Periodic Table of Elements. Chemistry geeks will love this.
The main page of SchoolTube also contains a "Video of the Day" that is judged worthy by users. Pretty cool. Do you have any experience with SchoolTube? Are there any other advantages or disadvantages? If so, let us know by leaving a comment below.

Implications for Online Learning – 2012 Canada Copyright Reform

Hot off the presses! Contact North, Ontario's Distance Education and Training Network, has published a very useful summary of the profound copyright changes in Canada that have occurred in 2012 (to date!) Entitled: The Perfect Storm - Canadian Copyright Law 2012 (Making Sense of the Dramatic Changes and the Far-Reaching Implications for Online Learning).
It's obvious by the sub-title that this document discusses the recent changes in the context of distance education and online learning. Refreshing! It is important to note that unlike my last post on the subject of Copyright Reform in Canadathat this document by Contact North also explains five Supreme Court of Canada decisions that took place in July 2002 that contribute towards an expanded definition of "Fair Dealing", technology neutrality and a strong endorsement of end user rights. Have a look at this succinct document. If you are a teacher, instructional designer or distance learning administrator then it will definitely pique your interest.

Learning because ‘it’s cool’ say 17 year old boys

When was the last time you heard kids say they did a science project outside of class time because learning is cool? Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve heard that very often in my career as a science educator. I’ve seen a lot of students say that learning at school is cool depending on the subject matter or the project, etc; however, this story is a bit different.

Two 17-year old kids from Newmarket, Ontario sent a Lego minifigure carrying a Canadian Flag into space and filmed it all. Yup - still pictures and video were taken for the entire 80,000+ ft (24 km) climb and the 122+ Km distance the contraption traveled. They did all of this on their own time, with their own funds, away from school in a completely unrelated fashion from any assignment, science fair or school project. Why? Because they just thought it would be cool.

Awesome! I agree: cool!

Top Four HOT Concepts in Distance Learning

  1. Distance Learning itself. At my institution, we are scratching our heads a little bit wondering why we have an above average number of enrollments in our distance learning courses. The same enrollment boom is occurring at other institutions like Bryan College. However, if you do a quick Google search and read a few reports it is clear that the pundits have been predicting that distance learning enrollments will rise. Student seem to be gravitating towards learning opportunities that are not tied to them having to be in any particular location at a prescribed time during the day or week. So called ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning. They enjoy the flexibility of distance learning away from the traditional 1-hour (or 3-hour) face-to-face lecture format. So Distance Learning itself is a really hot concept. Be sure your institution plays into the needs and wants of today’s students. When you design your distance learning courses, lean towards asynchronous models that do not prescribe the students to assemble (even virtually) at any particular time during the week. These synchronous models can be less attractive to students especially if they reside in a different time zone that the host institution. If you cannot avoid some synchronous activities in your distance courses, then be sure to be up front with your students and clearly state the degree of synchronous commitment expected of students before they register in the course.
  2. Mobile learning. With each passing set of Christmas holidays, more students find themselves joyful recipients of an iPad, iPhone or other fancy tech thingy under the tree. The number of students that come equipped with tablets, smartphones, e-readers and other gadgets is increasing quickly. They are using these gadgets daily for numerous activities and the mobility affordances provided by these items is very attractive to users. Leverage this trend and be sure that your course materials are mobile friendly. PDF files can help but if you want to go one step further, try ePub and Kindle-specific MOBI files. With just a little more effort on your part (more info here), you can provide students with choices in the file formats for their course materials. Choices usually equate in the short run to student satisfaction. Satisfy your students’ desire for mobile learning by making your course materials mobile friendly.
  3. eTextbooks. The tide is turning (albeit slowly) in the publishing industry. Attention is slowly drifting away from the model of having a hardcopy textbook with associated electronic resources online towards a more student-centered model of have an integrated electronic textbook that students can either rent or buy, and store on their own electronic devices. With each passing semester I learn from my students that they are interested in these digital versions of textbooks (sometimes it's because they may cheaper than hardcopy!). For example, I just received an email last week from a student expressing great joy because the publisher of the textbook for my course was providing a Kindle version for sale. The idea of keeping all his textbooks assembled into his tiny Kindle was a BIG advantage for this student. This reinforces the previous point above Mobile Learning. The penetration of mobile devices into the student body is now driving textbook publishers to devote more resources to eTextbooks. So what can you do about this? If you are a textbook author, then encourage your publisher to make eTextbook versions of your book. If you are in the process of selecting a book for your course, then take the extra moment to compare if each of the titles you are considering has an eTextbook format. Making wise choices that facilitate students to learn “anytime, anywhere” will prove to be a win:win for both the students and the educational institutions involved.
  4. Free Resources. Ask any student and she will tell you “Free is King”. Whether you are an instructional designer or a professor, challenge yourself to scour the Internet to look for freely available resources that relate to the topic of your course. Critically evaluate each one and choose the best ones to integrate into your course. Yes – this takes time. However, if you do just a little bit every semester, you’ll soon have course chock-full of fantastically freely available resources that will make your course better. Better courses without increasing cost equals more satisfied students. That logic is easy to understand. Want an even better idea? Design a non-traditional assignment where you ask your students to scour the net and evaluate resources for quality. Let them do the legwork of finding the material and then you can integrate the best of found treasures into future iterations of the course. Brilliant!
Do you have a comment about these Top 4 concepts or do you have a HOT concept for distance learning that didn’t make it into my Top 4, if so, please leave a comment below.

Don’t Blink Eh?: Copyright Law is Changing in Canada – What It Means to Educators

Bill C-11 passed a House of Commons Vote this week and readings in the Canadian Senate have already begun. (Here's the full text of the bill in full-fledged legalese). So the writing on the wall is that Canadian Copyright Law is about to change. There are a lot of little goodies in the law that may help the average person. Some things that have been going on illegally for years will now be legal. Simple stuff like giving the ability to Canadians to:
  • record their favourite TV shows for later viewing (Yeah - TiVo'ing the late game on Hockey Night in Canada so you can watch it the next morning while eating a bowl of Shreddies is now legal!)

  • transfer music from your collection of Compact Discs or Vinyl LPs to a digital device (Yeah - ripping your RUSH Records so you can listen to Geddy Lee on your iPhone while eating a Beaver Tail is now legal!)
Canada is truly great, eh! But what's in it for educators? The practical answer to that question is still pending. People need more time to interpret Bill C-11 in the context of classroom courses, class websites, class discussion forums, and distribution of course materials for distance education. Some interpretations are already starting to become available and in the coming months more information will come to light. If you are a teacher, instructor, professor, or instructional designer then you will want to follow this for the next few months so that you can decide how it impacts your practice. So that you can start getting info, please find below some of the early interpretations and commentary on Bill C-11 from an education perspective. If you come across any other great links on the subject, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I will be sure to amend this blog post with the resources you provide. Thanks!

Careful: Test Cheaters are SMART!

A colleague of mine directed my attention to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that describes a high-tech method where students can cheat on some multiple-choice exams in online courses. It’s a great read really.

Overall, I think that the way the students exploited the weakness in the course’s testing method is truly ingenious. They deserve a bit of credit for detecting, and then so intelligently exploiting, the flaws in this course. (Note: not enough credit to absolved them of their academic dishonesty though!) They honed in on two-specific facts: 1) that students could take the tests twice and get an average of the two scores, and 2) that the correct answers where given to the students immediately upon answering a question. These two facts brought to light a weakness in the course that could be exploited by an elegant collaborative turn-taking method of sharing correct answers using Google Docs among a small group of students.

Although it is not discussed in the article, I imagine that this course did not have a final exam, or if it did, it followed a similar format (multiple-choice, with the answers given immediately) and naturally was un-proctored. Therein lies one problem. If the final exam is not proctored then what incentives do the student have to learning anything during the semester? However, this point is moot if there was no final exam in the course.

In the case where there is no final exam and the weekly tests are essentially summative evaluations, more design features need to be put into place to give incentives to students to learn. Does the feature of being able to take a multiple choice test twice help students learn? In a summative evaluation, does the feature of giving students the answer to a given question immediately after answering help them learn?

What do you think would be a better design for this course? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Humanline – more free images for educational use

I know I have written about free photo repositories before (here and here). Here’s the new kid on the block: Humanline. It’s an image library of arts, history and science that is mainly focused on licensing images for use in education (your ears should perk up now) and for commercial use. On the education side, a careful read of the license shows that for most applications usage is free of cost. The usual credit-line requirement is there; much like a Creative Commons-type license. There is a pre-validation step that you must undergo when applying for your free educational account that normally takes 48 hours.

At this time the database of images is not gigantic; however, it is growing. They are actively looking to partner with other image repositories, museums, galleries, private collectors or archives – basically any organization that has public domain images in their possession. Heck – maybe they should partner with Wikimedia Commons - they are HUGE! (*grin*).

You can browse the Humanline repository or search with key words. When I searched for ‘chemistry’ the selection was limited but it did return a very nice portrait illustration of Robert Boyle the 17th century Irish Chemist that is credited with several discoveries about gas laws. So if you were designing and developing a unit for first year chemistry, such a portrait could be useful. A search for the term ‘nightshade’ yielded some interesting classical illustrations of related plants. In an educational setting these engravings would be fun to compare to real life photos of the same plant.

So despite its limited size at this point, Humanline has potential. Do you know of any new image repositories that can be used freely in education settings? If so, please leave a comment below.

Video is KING in distance education

With the field of Distance Education exploding due to the maturation of the Internet, it’s no wonder more good quality free academic content is finding its way on the web. Here’s a great example that I just learned about from Dr. James Harris at the University of Leeds in England. It’s called The Faculties and it contains video snipits of senior-level highschool (or junior-level university) lectures spanning several fields including Biology, Chemistry, English, History, Math, and Psychology. To date, they have produced over 360 videos with a promise of more to follow. If you are not in the business of distance education this repository remains useful. Instructors can request downloads of the videos so that they can be played for students even in classrooms that are not wired for the Internet.
This semester I am teaching a second year chemistry course via distance and I have some students in the class that have asked me if I could provide links to some useful videos on specific topics. Naturally, I am always on the lookout for them so I was very excited to learn about The Faculties. I’ve watched about a dozen videos so far and they are very good. There is definitively something for everyone in this repository and you can stay up-to-date on the progress in building this repository via Twitter (@thefaculties). Have a look at some of the videos and let us know what you think. Do you know of other similar free video repositories other than the standard YouTube search? If so, let us know by leaving a comment below.

Teaching and Learning Centres: Who Needs Them?

Short Answer: we do.

Long Answer: I work at an established Military College. By established I mean 1876. Futhermore, this Military College has been empowered to confer university degrees since 1959. So these two facts together will lend most observers to believe that teaching and learning has been going on here for many years.

So why isn’t there a Teaching and Learning Centre here? Hmm. I don’t really know. The question was raised again in my mind when I read the excellent report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario entitled Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities.

Have a read of this paper. After reading it I have a question for you. Can you think of any good reasons for denying instructors and students access to a Teaching and Learning Centre? If not, why aren’t they found at all post-secondary institutions? Please leave your answers in a comment below.

75,000 Hit Thursday!

Back in April 2010, I was ecstatic to report that this blog reached 50,000 hits. It took a glorious 5 years
and 8 months of blogging before this blog crossed the 50,000 hit threshold (that calculates out to an average of about 171 hits/week over the 5 year 8 month period). Well, the hit frequency is steadily growing because e-Learning Acupuncture crossed the 75,000 hit mark today and the most recent 25,000 hits were amassed in only 1 year and 9 months. During that time the average weekly number of hits has climbed to 284 hits/week. I love it!

Happy 75,000 Hit Thursday to all the independent bloggers out there! May the hits come fast and furious to you all for years to come!