Category Archives: Teaching

Reading Bates

I’m re-reading Teaching in a Digital Age  by A. W. (Tony) Bates this week and the next two for my Design Challenges for Adult e-Learning course in the School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University, Adult Learning Certificate. Students in the course are also reading it as a “straight read through” iv Different ways to use the book. I chose this way since the students are coming from many different perspectives.

Here are just a few quotes to consider:

…The challenge then is not re-purposing education, but making sure it meets that purpose more effectively. 1.4

‘every individual exists in a continually changing world of experience in which he is center.’ 2.5.1

It is useful to remember that apprenticeship is not an invisible phenomenon. It has key elements…one cannnot learn from afar… 3.5.2 Key features of apprenticeship

Pragmatism trumps ideology in teaching

Media differ in terms of their formats, symbols systems, and cultural values – their affordances. chapter 6, Key Takeaways 4.

Thank you to Tony Bates, Ph.D. for making this free.

Teaching a Connected Course

I’m teaching again – a f2f graduate course, Design Challenges in e-Learning for Adults. The students are doing an amazing job of writing about their learning in their syndicated blogs. Their projects are for VCU people wanting insights into ways to create connections for their students using online solutions. I’m finding the shortened 6 weeks makes me pressed to comment, give feedback, write about design, and find good resources to support their work — but thoroughly enjoying the discussions.

Stay tuned for some great design ideas…

Why Online? “Access Trumps Knowledge”

I’m writing in response to Harold Jarche’s post, moving to social learning, where he describes a decentralized social learning approach to change in our organizations. Since we are now so technologically connected with communication networks worldwide, access to a trusted network of people to guide our change in work practices makes sense. By engaging with our networks to cooperate, share knowledge and collaborate, learning online gives us the ability to do complex work more readily. We must create the structures necessary to support it.

Research shows that an effective knowledge network is open, transparent, and diverse. Social networks are by nature open; they can enable knowledge-sharing; which in turn fosters a diversity of ideas and opinions necessary for innovation.

If this adaptive social learning is happening in our workplace, helping students learn “how to search, find and make the connections”  is essential. We’ve labeled these principles connected learning in a networked world – access to information and a trusted network of people in order to collaborate and learn.

Knowledge workers – that’s us – also need to develop emergent practices through social relationships outside the workplace – and classroom. This keeps learning connected to the changing external environment, through human relationships and social networks. As educators, we help our students and colleagues connect the ideas worth exploring.

Reflective Practice

Impact of Reflective Practice on Online Teaching Performance in Higher Education, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. Vol. 10, No. 4, December 2014 629

As this article states, there is a growing interest in reflective practice as a strategy to improve reflect-teacher-featuredthe “art of teaching”.  John Dewey and others encourage systematic reflection about teaching as “the process of thinking about what one has taught and using that data to inform the planning of the future lessons.” In this study, specific areas of self-reflection were identified in order to focus on the quality of interaction and instruction that takes place in an online classroom: communication, engagement, expertise, and the use of quality instructional techniques.

Use this set of criteria for self-reflection to help you think about your own teaching. Does it ask the right questions? Is it helpful? Do you already use this practice to engage with students? Should you add it to your practice?

The study itself uses very specific tools available in their specific LMS to create the interaction. You might use email rather than the discussion forum, for example, to create the same interaction with your students. I’ve added alternative examples in parentheses. As you review these points, focus on the practice rather than the tool used to support it. Does having focused points make a difference in your ability to assess and change your online teaching?

Use of Announcements (reminders, emails):  course due dates, assignments, and general overall guidance regarding course events.

  • Uses course announcements to inform, motivate and engage the entire class.
  • Provides announcements (or emails, blog posts) that summarize the past learning outcomes.
  • Provides announcements, … to facilitate learning and promote student success.
  • Builds positive relationships.
  • Builds a positive learning community.

Use of a “Questions for Instructor” Discussion Forum: This represents a dedicated online course discussion forum where students can post questions to the instructor. You might use student blog posts, emails, or other tools for students to ask you direct questions.

  • Uses an established practice of answering student questions to build course community.
  • Directs responses to questions to the entire class.
  • Provides responses that are knowledgeable and instructive in nature.
  • Responds to student questions in a timely and supportive manner.

Use of General Discussion Forums (syndicated blogs, twitter):

  • Stimulate conversation with the students regarding course content.
  • Ask higher-order critical thinking questions or blog prompts that elicit a critical response.
  • Ask follow-up questions that are varied, yet specific to the unit objectives.
  • Actively engage in the discussion and participates in scholarly conversations.

Assignment Feedback: This area represents the instructional feedback provided to the students in response to submitted assignments.

  • Uses the assignment grading rubric to evaluate assignments.
  • Provides quality feedback on assignments that is content-related.
  • Provides quality feedback that is APA and writing-specific.
  • Provides timely feedback and evaluation information.
  • Holds learners accountable for meeting performance criteria.

Quality Instructional Techniques:

  • Uses personal expertise and experience to enhance the content learning.
  • Provides additional material to augment and enhance course content.
  • Provides an end-of-module summary of the week’s learning.
  • “Sets up” the upcoming module by linking new learning to past modules.
  • Engages in the dialogue and conversation with and between students.


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