Category Archives: Academically Oriented

Connected Learning Principle

Class Size in Online Courses

We often talk of class size and how it affects student learning and instructor performance. I’ve just read a study, published by Merlot in the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, that discusses this question, Classrooms Without Walls: A Comparison of Instructor Performance in Online Courses Differing in Class Size. by Chris Sorensen, Ph.D.

The results of this study suggest that there may be some negative consequences in terms of instructor performance and the quality of instruction in online course with larger class sizes…. Typically, the thought is that smaller class sizes allow for more meaningful student-to-instructor interaction and a higher quality of instruction.

Surprise. Teaching Presence matters.

The optimal class size they found was 15.9 students when 10 or less is small, 11-19 is medium, and 20-30 is large. I agree. 15 to 16 students in an online discussion creates enough varied perspectives on a question to make an interesting conversation. Less than 10 doesn’t provided enough variation. Close to 30 can be difficult to navigate. But realistically, especially for introductory undergraduate courses, the numbers are sometimes 200, seldom 10 to 20.

What was more interesting to me to share are the definitions and rubric used to measure “Distinguished Teaching Performance.” Keep these in mind as you design your next course.

Fostering Critical Thinking Challenging students to elaborate on their thoughts, question their assumptions, examine biases, communicate in a clear and concise manner, and defend their positions throughout the course

Instructive Feedback Providing feedback that challenges and inspires students, while providing specific suggestions to improve the quality of their work and thinking.

High Expectations Demonstrating high expectations throughout the course, while holding students accountable for insightful exchanges and high quality performance on assignments, and promoting active engagement in their own learning.

Establishing Relationships Creatively uses available tools (Announcements, Instructor Guidance, Faculty Expectations, Ask Your Instructor, Emails, Discussion Forum) and strategies to enhance relationships, creating a community of learners willing to take risks and actively engage with one another.

Instructor Expertise Effectively and consistently utilizes expertise in subject matter by providing personal experiences, connecting course knowledge to real-world examples. Enhances course content and resources to encourage student comprehension and application of course learning outcomes.

Many faculty I’ve spoken with recognize that online teaching allows you to personalize the instruction and establish relationships with students, often more than in a f2f class. It is true “that as class size increases, instructors provide less quality feedback because they may not have the time to provide quality instruction to a large number of students.” But course design and instructional strategies can help faculty give feedback and examples of expertise to a larger group of students: group collaboration, discussion groups of 15, learning modules that embed good questions, peer and self assessments, recorded videos of faculty sharing expert examples and demonstrations, one summary post responding to student posts rather than individual response to each post, … are some examples of providing engagement and feedback more efficiently.

How do you engage with your students, especially if you have a large enrollment course of 50 or more?? Please share!!



Divided Attention

9780674368248I’m reading Minds online: teaching effectively with technology by Michelle Miller, recommended by several colleagues and reviewed here by Harvard Press.

I’ve read as far as the chapter on Attention – the capacity to pick out and maintain task-relevant information while holding irrelevant information at bay. We know human perception and attention is highly intertwined with visual processing. Looking and seeing are not the same! Our attention capacity is limited, probably more than we recognize. We have surprisingly little intuitive awareness of when our limitations are exceeded, which is why we still talk on the phone and drive.

We remember very little in the absence of focused attention. Since focused attention directs what is to be kept in our working memory, it heavily influences what we remember, and without it, we remember precious little.  We do process material at some level even when ignoring it but little or none of it makes it to memory.

This YouTube video is an example of how she demonstrates change blindness and inattentional blindness to show students how much attention matters.

Michelle Miller gives several strategies that may help online learners.  I’ve summarized several of them here:

  1. Keep them engaged by asking questions. Ask students to respond as often as possible to the material they’re reading/viewing to keep attention. Intersperse questions within reading material that require an answer, opinion, or example. Do the same with narrated slides or a video lecture.
  2. Practice for Automaticity. Provide unlimited practice that gives automatic feedback for the kind of lower level problems experts solve quickly. Both time and accuracy count with grade incentives.
  3. Lessen Cognitive Load. Put instructions in the same place as the activity. Don’t make them switch back and forth between instructions, illustrations, and text. Use diagrams with labels in place. Teach software skills before using it to do an assignment. For example, have students practice using a wiki before a major assignment using this shared space is due.
  4. Discourage divided attention. Remind students that divided attention by dysfunctional multitasking costs them time and deep learning. Let them know that the distractions of a quick email or message chat changes their focus from the learning activity.
  5. A short walk in nature restores the ability to focus nature walk'sattentions. Even pictures of nature can sometimes improve attention…

In an online environment, it’s easy for students to be distracted so help them focus by using some of these strategies.

The following is an interview with the author, from Teaching in Higher Ed