Tag Archives: Online Courses

Getting started with eduMOOC 2011: Into the fray

I’m participating in the new eduMOOC: Online Learning Today…and Tomorrow,  which started on Monday. This is a Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) sponsored by the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois-Springfield (UIS). So far, well… I’m learning, listening, and looking for resources.

There’s a lot to do and read. There are study groups, discussion forums, weekly panel discussions, participant blog posts, Facebook and Moodle groups, and a host of other items to review. It seems with a group this big (2450+ people in 65 countries and counting) you can be a little selective – attend to the parts that make sense for you, seek out the resources that meet your needs and fit your interests.

The other MOOC members represent a wide range of roles in higher education and K-12 – senior leaders, administrators, faculty members, graduate students, tech specialists, advisors and counselors, and librarians. I am going at this from the perspective of an instructional designer and education writer/blogger – How is the MOOC structured and moderated? What technologies are involved? How are the logistics coordinated? What are the most popular topics? Where are people gathering and what are they discussing?

To help focus my efforts, I’m following another participant’s lead and going in search of (my own) learning objectives. Yes, these are loose and more designed to keep me going back to the site than anything else. I suppose a better phrase might be “learning and participation objectives:”

  • Attend the 8 panel discussions. (or review the recordings before the end of each week). These are panel discussions held in Elluminate, but broadcast on a UIS system that also streams the Twitter feed. Slides are provided as a PDF.
  • Try new technologies, tools, and techniques. So far I’ve posted my introduction using Google Sites discussion threads, and added my location to the Google participant map, both new to me. There is also a demo of etherpad going on.
  • Join a study group. With this many people it may make sense to find a sub-group. Hopefully one will center on instructional design…
  • Identify new resources in the form of blogs, twitter accounts, journals, and more. And add these to my PLN and Feedly.
  • Develop a list of specific ideas and concepts for further investigation, reading, and writing.
  • Exchange ideas and perspectives. So far I’ve already connected with another participant in New Zealand (Hello, @VirtualMV!) who has a cool wiki.
  • Add my voice to the mix, where I can and it makes sense to do so – hope to contribute and not just add to the fray. Began with a tweet during today’s panel discussion. Lots of description of the benefits and challenges of for-profit models, but it wasn’t apparent that anyone on the panel had worked at a for-profit. Assumptions, I think, are prevalent on both sides, for-profit and non-profit.
  • Spread the word with re-tweets, blog posts, bookmarks and the like.

Have you considered joining? There’s still time! There are also resources you might want to track, even if you decide not to register:

And in case you are wondering, “What’s a MOOC?” here’s a great explanation from Laura Pasquini.

Image credit: stock.xchng

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What I learned at WordCamp 2011: Messages for eLearning

Last weekend I attended WordCamp Miami. This was my second year at this event and I highly recommend it if you use WordPress or are interested in blogging. WordCamp is…

“…a conference that focuses on everything WordPress. WordCamps are informal, community-organized events that are put together by WordPress users…. Everyone from casual users to core developers participate, share ideas, and get to know each other.” – WordCamp Central

This one-day event featured three tracks – beginner/blogger, marketing/design, and development/coding. I felt like I fell a little in between the tracks – not a beginning blogger, but also not a skilled programmer. That being said, I really enjoyed the sessions I attended and left with a list of ideas that will keep me busy for some time to come.

Getting started with WordPress:

If you aren’t familiar but want to find out more, take a look at this Introduction to WordPress presentation from Adam Warner. It’s a nice place to start.

Take-aways for eLearning:

I found that many of the presentations spoke not only to bloggers and WordPress users, but also to designers and developers of online education experiences. We’re concerned about a lot of the same things. The ideas and tips described below could be adapted for use in instructional design and development.

  • Keep mobile development in mind – “The mobile web is growing”, says Steven Mautone. Check out this presentation: WordPress for Mobile. Kevin Zurawel’s presentation on Responsive Web Design recommends developers plan for mobile delivery first, then look at the rest.
  • Let data drive your decisions – In a session on analytics, the stress was on gathering data about blog members and visitors. What data do we collect about online students? How can we better leverage the existing information to improve learning and the online experience? For WordPress users, several presenters mentioned WP SEO by Yost.
  • Improve user experience – We know we don’t ask our students and faculty enough about their experiences with our online courses. How can we get better at this? A user experience checklist might help. Jeremy Harrington presented a User Experience Flight Checklist for a WordPress site that could be adapted for use in eLearning.
  • Prepare to hand-off to your client – In this case I think we could consider both instructor and student “clients”. Too often we complete course development, upload the course pages, then more or less walk away. What can we do to make the transition easier? Tammy Hart discussed future proofing and tips for simplification.
  • WordPress as an LMS – I have friends at the University of Hawaii who are using WordPress to develop and deliver online courses. They are not alone in taking WordPress beyond the blog. Take a look at this presentation by Josh Guffey about using WordPress as a CMS to create a portfolio site. How could students do this for study and/or career portfolios? This plug-in was lauded for making the admin side a lot easier – CMS Tree Page View.
  • Take a long-term approach – It takes time to develop a quality product of any kind. Multiple presenters, especially those talking about the art and science of blogging, stressed this point. It takes time…and practice. And you get better.

Thanks to all:

Thanks to the organizers and speakers for a great event! Lost of positive energy and ideas, all at an affordable price. Visit the WordCamp Miami website for more information about the event and additional links to presentations. If you are at all interested in blogging, social media, or the WordPress platform, find a WordCamp in your area and go!

See you in 2012, WordCamp Miami!

Reporting Course Issues with Screencasts

How do students and instructors report problems with an online course? Over the past year I have been working with one faculty member that posts issues with screencasts. It has been a successful experience both from her perspective, as an Instructor, and mine, as Instructional Designer.

What are course issues?

Typical problems associated with online courses include:

  • Links: broken, misdirected, error messages
  • Errors: typographical errors, formatting problems
  • Content: missing or outdated information

The usual reporting of a course issue involves filing out an online form with predetermined fields. One of the challenges of these forms is the field titled “description of problem”. Communicating an online program via text can be difficult to do.

What is a screencast?

Using a headset and a screencast application you can create a recording of your computer screen and your narration of what you are doing.  The screencast can be uploaded to another site, think YouTube, or accessed via URL. The instructor mentioned above was already familiar with Jing, but there are other options available – many of them free.

A recent example:

A file wasn’t opening properly for students or instructor, instead opening a series of error messages and warnings. I was not able to recreate the problem. When I contacted the instructor for more information she sent a screencast that allowed me to watch her screen as she tried to open the file. I could see that the file extension was the problem. She would not have thought to mention it, or look for that as a troubleshooting step, but I knew that the LMS could be a little temperamental with the .docx extension. The screencast made all the difference in the communication and resolution process.

Benefits

The potential for decreasing resolution time is the primary benefit here. Instructors are on the front lines with these kinds of errors and students, who are not aware of the existence or role of the instructional designer, often hold the instructor responsible for problems. Screencasts help to remove the uncertainty and the need to go back to the instructor for more information.

For more information about using screencasts:

  • Ferriter, W. (2010). Preparing to teach digitally. Educational Leadership, 67(8), 88-89.
  • Griffis, P. (2009). Building pathfinders with free screen capture tools. Information Technology and Libraries, 4, 189-190.
  • Rethlefsen, M. L. (2009). Screencast like a pro. Library Journal, 134(7), 62-63.

Have you used screencasts, or screenshots, to resolve course issues? Consider incorporating screencasts into your issue reporting process!

Image credit: umwditt, Flickr

Course Design – Plan for Evaluation

Evaluation, like needs assessment, is not always given the attention it requires in the process of instructional design. In real world situations, the timeline often drives the work and is usually too short to fully incorporate everything that should be done.

Creating an Evaluation Plan, as part of the initial design, helps you to make a lot of decisions before getting underway and to integrate evaluation tasks as you move forward with a project.

Your Evaluation Plan should include at a minimum:

  • List of objectives for the evaluation – why are you evaluating the instruction and to whom will the results be reported?
  • Description of the data you need to collect and why – what kind of information do you need to collect in order to find out if the instruction is effective?  This can cover a wide range of measures, including:
    • Content accuracy
    • Learning outcome achievement
    • Usability of delivery format
    • Cost-effectiveness of the project
  • The logistics of how the evaluation will take place – How, when, where, and who will be involved in evaluation? Will you use surveys, administer tests, conduct interviews, etc.?

There are a lot of options in terms of models. You’ll find these to be very comprehensive in most cases. Consider creating a customized plan for your project or work context.

There  are full examples of  evaluation plans available online. Two to review:

What is your experience with evaluation as part of the instructional design process? Please consider sharing your experiences related to priority, timeframe, and method. Is evaluation conducted by members of your design team or by an outside group?

Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography, Flickr

Motivation and Online Learning

Recently I attended an online lecture by Dr. Richard E. Clark.  This post is a summary of the information and resources presented in this live session and ideas on the application to the design of online learning.

How does motivation impact learning? Dr. Clark provided an overview of motivation for learning and sparked discussion about the role of games and simulations. He got the group’s attention immediately with a couple of numbers: motivation accounts for 30% of learning and 60% of transfer.

Motivation is a behavior – well, three behaviors, actually:

  • Starting a new task
  • Persisting once the new task has been started
  • Exerting mental effort, investing, in the learning process.

Motivation problems result from not performing these behaviors:

  • Not beginning a new task on time
  • Not persisting in newly started task – distractions!
  • Not exerting mental effort to learn something new.

These problems are not hard to find among online students.

What can course designers do to help students?

  • Provide clear instructions that include the details necessary to proceed at the start.  Do they know what needs to be done? Dr. Clark stated that most people would rather be considered difficult than inept or incapable. Many won’t ask for help or clarification prompting a motivation related issue before the course is begun.
  • Provide clear expectations regarding deadlines – this might include milestones, course calendars, reminders to plan ahead for future assignments and course requirements.
  • Consider issues related to cognitive load. These could lead to a problem with mental effort. Dr. Clark highlighted Frank Paas’s Mental Effort Scale, a single item that measures students’ perceptions of their cognitive load while engaged a specific learning task.
  • Consider possible impact of learner characteristics on motivation. What motivates any individual to start, persist, or invest in learning will be different from the next person. Our own motivations are not those of the students we are designing for. Culture, age, beliefs, and personal experiences can all play a part in this.
  • Present to students the value of the learning event, outcomes, and experience. What is the risk of not learning?

What can faculty/instructors do additionally to help students?

  • Communicate with individual students – are there other problems going on in the student’s life that may result in failure to start, persist or invest, but are not related to motivation?
  • Provide feedback that confirms the student’s ability to complete the task, but guides him/her to identify why they may not be motivated to complete the task.

  • Monitor student effort throughout the experience and provide feedback tailored to the specific kind of motivation problem. Attribute the learner’s success and failure to his or her effort.

Engagement vs. motivation – Dr. Clark acknowledged the widespread use of the word engagement in online learning circles and reminded us that engagement is not motivation in total. He described “engagement as an alternative word for persistence; enthusiastic persistence”.

Entertainment vs. motivation – Games, simulations, and enjoyment of learning were all mentioned. Dr. Clark clarified that while technology rich practice environments can be helpful (such as simulations) games can be a distraction.

Resources

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.

Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.). Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents, (Vol. 5., pp. 307-337). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Hove: Psychology Press, Taylor and Francis Group.

Eccles, J. S., & Wigfield, A. (2002). Motivational beliefs, values, and goals. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 109-132

Paas, F., Tuovinen, J. E., Tabbers, H., & van Gerven, P. (2003). Cognitive load measurement as a means to advance cognitive load theory. Educational Psychologist, 38, 63-71.

Petty, G. (n. d.) Dweck’s Theory of Motivation. Retrieved from http://teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_Dweck.html

Photo credit: Blue Turban Photography, Flickr

Course Design – Start with an Outline

From a project management perspective getting a brand new course moving can be a challenge. With a course revision, you’ve got a full draft right from the beginning in the form of the exiting course. With a new course, the momentum has to come from a complete stop. The work of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is critical in the design stage to ensure that the scope and sequence of the specific content and source(s) of content are all appropriate. SMEs who are also filling other professional roles, such as full-time faculty, need support that helps them to provide their expertise, stay focused on project goals, and complete assigned tasks on schedule.

The project manager/instructional designer can provide tools that both manage the process and result in the information developers need to build the course. For a new course, starting with a high-level outline can be helpful.  A simple table can serve this purpose: organizing thoughts and documenting a plan for the course. The format allows for moving things around and review by others on the team.

In the illustration below, columns list the components of a course unit and each row represents one unit (one week per unit is a typical – but not required or even recommended – way to plan).

Possible advantages of this approach:

  • Provides easy access for others on the team – to contribute, review, edit (Consider posting as a GoogleDoc or in a system that allows for file sharing and version control like Sharepoint or Basecamp).
  • Structures the course before moving to the more cumbersome and detailed development guide for full writing of the course.
  • Becomes a primary reference document for the course – you can go back to it.
  • Allows for division of labor later on – multiple people working on separate units at the same time.
  • Offers flexibility – add columns as needed (e.g. case study) and your own course/program nomenclature.
  • Provides documentation for approval at a critical point in the process – before development goes forward.

This is a plan, not a prescription. Not all units will require a synchronous seminar or have assignments due. In the next phase of development (writing the course content in a development guide) the outline may change somewhat, but it is there in the beginning to show the way forward.

It’s a simple tool that takes some time to complete early in the process. This time on the front-end will likely save your schedule later on. Take the time to frame the house before you begin to buy the furniture, or even put up drywall.

Do you use something like this to get a new course project moving? How do you provide initial support and guidance to content experts and course writers? Please share!

Connecting – Networked Learning

This post is my reaction to the George Siemens presentation on 9/29. The main topic was connectivism, but he covered much more ground ranging from a review of learning psychology theorists/theories to artificial intelligence and neuroscience. Using a couple of the presentation’s prompts as a guide, here are the ideas that resonated with me.

LightMyPath-FaithGobleHow do we teach (design) differently?

Since I am an instructional designer, not an instructor, I modified this question a little: How do we design formal educational experiences differently? As noted in the presentation, we have technologies available that allow us to store information and knowledge (and lots of it) outside of ourselves, outside of our own memories. These technologies offer ways to “off load part of our thinking”. Designing courses, particularly ones that will be delivered online can use these technologies, should incorporate these storage tools in ways that make the massive amounts of stored information accessible to learners, and allowing them to move beyond. Designers are thinking more about how to get students to interact and engage with these knowledge stores through course assignments and activities. The days of weekly quizzes are not gone, but I see them less and less as a ‘must-have’ presented by a faculty content expert.

George Siemens also brought attention to the idea of resonance. One of the definitions of this word is “a quality of evoking response“. What resonates with a student? This is a question instructional designers should respond to more often when working with development teams, especially ones that include teaching faculty. I often ask the question: how should a learner be different after completing the course? Perhaps this question should be tweaked to further delve into resonance. What has meaning to the learner? What will have meaning to the learner? Motivation is part of this. Context is a part of this. Engagement is a part of this.

Capturing that opportunity to engage a student is related to resonance. Identifying that opportunity is another thing. More careful evaluation techniques might help. End-of-course surveys are fairly common, but maybe adding interviews or focus groups with students throughout a course, especially in its first run, would be helpful. Certainly not all students are motivated by the same things, and not all students find resonance in the same things within a course.  What about including students in the course design process? Not instructional design students, but students from the department to which the course being designed belongs. Analysis (learner) and Evaluation seem to be the two areas most likely to be abbreviated or left behind completely in course design. Why?  Time and budget constraints, I suppose, but think about the lost opportunity there.

What about lurkers? Which is what I suppose I am, in the eci831 course where I find these presentations. What resonates with them and how are they engaged? What is their motivation for being in the course and for lurking? George suggests that being a lurker may not be a good thing. Not a bad thing, mind you, but a lost opportunity. There is an assumption that those who lurk are 1) less knowledgeable and 2) less confident members of the group. The idea is that these beginners could be helpful to the overall learning process of both their fellow learners and their instructors, if, they allow themselves and their own learning processes to be transparent to the others. In doing so, they offer a new and different perspective from that of their expert instructors and add to the experience of the rest of the class.

Designers should consider lurkers as part of the audience, finding ways to pull these people into the conversation and making it more appealing for them to want to choose to be transparent to the other participants and their instructors. Alternative assignments might be a way, particularly in F2F or blended situations that easily lend themselves to this – students could choose to participate in synchronous discussion or asynchronous discussion but experience both. I once worked with a faculty member who taught one of those undergraduate, auditorium courses with little class participation, except when he opened up a space in the courses companion LMS site. There he saw not only active participation, but also small study groups forming. This kind of thing could be designed into a course.

Where do we turn for guidance?

George pointed out that the youth culture of today is making up its own rules about how these technologies should be used, how to participate in networks, etc. Their parents and teachers aren’t modeling these things, showing them the ropes. They didn’t have these kinds of technologies and networks. It’s a similar situation in higher education. We need to turn to those who are actively using these technologies and networks. Encouraging these individuals, groups, and institutions to talk openly about what they are doing, to document what works and doesn’t work in their context(s) is enormously important. Disseminating this information should be more instant than publishing books and in journals. It just takes too long to get the word out. This will mean changing the mindset of higher ed at-large regarding what is appropriate and scholarly work. While many people, like George Siemens, are actively blogging, can you get tenure this way? Maybe not.

Other stuff to pass along…

Photo credit: Faith Goble, Fickr