Need-to-Know-News: App ‘Spritz’ Promises Speedy Reading, eLearning Manifesto is [Very] Serious, and $5 Million Prize for College Success Solution

MP900405500This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.  

1. Spritz the New Way to Read

 “Spritz’s Mission is to change the way people read and make communication faster, easier, and more effective.”

Speed reading is not new. I remember a few short years ago when my oldest son, a college junior at the time, enrolled in a Speed Reading workshop hoping it would help with his studies. The goal of the half-day session was to teach students the skill set specific to reading rapidly, yet with comprehension. Now with an innovative software program Spritz, there’s no skill required—just about anyone can speed read with technology customized for small screens, i.e. smartphones, wearable devices etc. The Spritz software, developed by a group of entrepreneurs, software engineers, and experts in reading methodologies (spritzinc.com), is apparently based upon the scientific principles of how we read. It’s gaining considerable attention from media and with headlines like this one, How To Read A 223 Page Novel In Just 77 Minutes, many readers too.

How it Works

“The structure of our visual sensors forces us to scan the page by jerking our eyes around every two or three-tenths of a second.” These eye movements take time, slowing down the rate at which we can read. But what if the words moved, instead of our eyes? That’s the innovation behind Spritz, which employs a technique called rapid sequential visual presentation, or RSVP. When using the app, words are presented one at a time, in the exact spot where our gaze is “focalized,” or primed for visual recognition. Then that word is whisked away and another appears in the same, optimal place—and quickly, quickly, others follow.

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The focal point Spritz has identified for the eye to best parse words is where the letters coloured in red appear in the above examples

There are similar programs available now based upon the RSVP method, an example is Speeder [click here to try it out]. However according to Spritz’s CEO, Spritz is different, by using new technology and ‘optimization components’ including the use of color contrast and positioning of words.

Insight: I see the technology helping when skimming information for instance, news headlines, briefs or executive summaries, when the purpose is to have a general familiarity with topic. But for deep reading I don’t see Spritz being able to support not just reading comprehension, but enjoyment.  I can’t image reading a literary classic with Spritz, or a book that requires thought and time to ponder and consider. To me, this is one of the great joys of reading.

2. The SERIOUS e-learning Manifesto

Launched this week by a group of four e-learning professionals, labeled “instigators” on the manifesto’s website, the document seeks to provide us with a set of principles for developing and implementing e-learning.  I watched the beginning part of the hour-long recorded presentation titled the ‘world premiere‘ and it was heavy, with statements such as, e-learning is doomed if we don’t get on a better path, before it’s too late, we need to turn it around why we still can, and the current situation is bad but the opportunity is so wonderful (Youtube).  How depressing. I couldn’t watch much beyond that—why bother, we may as well just throw in the towel and close up shop (a touch of sarcasm).

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“we believe that we need to go beyond typical elearning to the values and characteristics of Serious eLearning” elearningmanifesto.org

Insight: I don’t mean to make light of the effort, as I do see value in several of the supporting principles outlined on the website. But the premise for the document is weak, where is the data to support their claims that e-learning is doomed? Though the manifesto appears to have backers, or at least organizations “providing their support to draw attention to the Manifesto”, something is missing.  Stephen Downes in his daily newsletter The Olddaily, sums it up best, “The manifesto is relentlessly provider-focused, which is unfortunate. If I were writing a manifesto it would be more about making my profession unnecessary, so that people wouldn’t need specially designed materials in order to learn, but rather, could forge learning out of raw materials for themselves.

3. Robin Hood Prize: College Success Prize

I met a woman at the EDUCAUSE conference last November who described what seemed to me at the time, a fanstastical idea for a contest sponsored by New York-based Robin Hood Foundation for the development of a phone application or software program that will help at-risk students graduate with an Associate Degree in two to three years. The contest payout would be big, but the results, students graduation rates, would have to be tied directly to the innovation, in other words the app or other software be need to be directly responsible for student success. I wondered how on earth it would look. I need not wonder any longer—Robin Hood launched its College Success Prize this week with a hefty prize for the winners, $5 million. I am hopeful it will generate several innovative programs to address the low-graduation rates of students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Skepticism aside, full marks to the foundation for putting effort and significant funds into a worthy cause. Details below:

“The competition is open to individuals and teams that develop scalable solutions that will help more community college students graduate within 2-3 years.  Competitors may address whichever set of student skills they believe will produce the greatest success. These may include math, reading, or writing, as well as behavioral, non-cognitive or non-academic factors. 

The Prize will reward successful interventions – such as smartphone apps, computer applications, and web-based tools—that are aimed at the individual student and will supplement existing curricula and supportive services such as tutoring.”

Why Google’s ‘Helpouts’ Concept is a Brilliant Idea for Online Education

Help wanted Sign

Students seek real-time help and support as demonstrated by community use of Google Helpouts

I wrote about synchronous learning in a recent post where I suggested that technological applications have advanced to a point where real-time exchanges between students and instructor, students and students can be facilitated seamlessly, leading to improved quality and better outcomes in online learning. Real time interactions can fill the void frequently mentioned by students and educators—the absence of a personal connection, the human touch in online learning environments. My position is that synchronous, real-time exchanges will bring what we now call ‘distance learning’, or ‘online learning’ to a new level, where distance is no longer a barrier, and online learning becomes ‘learning’. Distance and the barriers associated with it will disappear.

In this post I review the Google Helpouts platform, launched by Google in late 2013 that provides a method for face-to-face learning via a video call, and is one that institutions and online providers could model. Such a platform can bring significant benefits to students and their respective institutions. Benefits that include increased student performance, higher levels of student engagement, and reduced attrition. There is also potential for value-added services that include life skills development, career advice, networking skills, and coaching for students transitioning from school to the work world. Before getting to my proposal for institutions that models the idea of Google Helpouts—first a brief overview of the platform.

Google Helpouts Overview
Google has a long history of launching new tools and platforms, many of which don’t catch on, fade into obscurity, essentially fail, but whether Google Helpouts becomes a success is not the point of the this post, it’s the concept that has great potential for online learning, specifically for institutions and providers of online education that serve high school or undergraduate students. It’s the concept that is worth examining—how can the idea of real-time student interaction help institutions improve learning outcomes.

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Three ‘Helpouts’ listed within the Education & Careers category on Google Helpouts

What’s a Google Helpout?
‘Real help from real people in real time’ is Helpouts tag line. It’s essentially an online service where one can find an expert in a given field, and pay by the minute to receive realtime help and guidance from the expert using a web cam.  I see it as an extension of YouTube, but you get to interact with the expert, get feedback and ask questions.

“Live interactive video. Helpouts are conducted through live video calls with the provider. During the session, you can point your camera to show what you need help with, or take a photo, or even allow the provider to remotely access your computer to fix a problem. For example, you can point your camera at a broken appliance. If you don’t want the provider to see you, you can always turn off your camera. If both you and the provider agree ahead of time, you also can record the Helpout, and it’ll automatically be saved in your Google Drive” Introduction to Helpouts by Google

Google Helpouts features eight categories that include Art & Music, Computers & Electronics, Education & Careers, and more.  Not surprisingly, there are several Helpout options within the Education & Careers category, many related to math, writing  and SAT prep support. But here is where it gets interesting, there are also Helpouts featuring support in Test-Taking Strategies, Giving a Speech: Coaching support for students, Finding a job using Social Media, and Learn more Effectively by Taking Better Notes!.  This last Helpout appears to be one of the most sought-after, with over 45 reviews by users giving five stars (out of five). In fact after reviewing several categories, it appears the Education category has the most reviews by users, which may be an indication it’s generating the most interest. It appears there is a great demand for not only subject specific support, but study skills, communication and job searching skills.

How Does Apply the ‘Real Time Helpout’ Concept to Education?
Given the apparent demand for personalized support related to education, it’s worth examining in light of the problems and opportunities that exist within online education—could there be a fit? I believe so. Let’s look at some of the biggest barriers to online learning cited by students (Muilenburg & Berge, 2005).

  1. Lack of social interaction
  2. Administrative / Instructor issues
  3. Time and support for Studies
  4. Learner motivation

Institutions also face challenges of poor student performance and low completion rates for-credit courses for students enrolled in the online or blended courses. A recent example is the San Jose pilot project with Udacity, where three courses were offered online for students, including a remedial math course. Results were poor, with the pass rate far lower than in the face-to-face class. Student motivation, time and lack of academic skills were factors influencing the poor results.

Low completion rates, another challenge—yet when looking at successful programs we find that one-on-one coaching and mentoring is key component to success. This is a method Western Governors University has relied upon since its inception. And the City University of New York (CUNY), gives us an example of a public institution addressing problems of low graduation rates and low performance with its Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP) that increased graduation rates significantly from 23% to an incredible 56%. Though financial support was part of the program, another was the academic advising and support  “[the] ASAP website  [provided] the personal touch — biweekly seminars and one-on-one advising.(Kirp, 2014).

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Scheduling tool associated with each expert’s service, Google Helpouts

Proposal for ‘Student Helpouts’
I suggest institutions seeking to increase the quality of online programs and success of their students, adopt a platform that closely follows the Google Helpouts format. A platform that features a similar interface (how the platform looks and its ease of use) and infrastructure (how it works) that upon implementation supports seamless communication including online scheduling, ability for students to provide feedback, and a selection of services and educators to choose from for support. The platform would be a landing-place for students that require:

  • Academic advising, what courses to take, drop, and planning for graduation
  • Help with course work that is subject specific
  • Support with the writing of academic papers, essays, etc.
  • Life Skills coaching: time management, stress management
  • Career Building Skills: Resume advice, how to interview, how to look for a job, using social media

How it Might Work
Of course, the question is how would it work, for instance who would be providing the services?  I suggest a combination of students and employees of the institution as the tutors, mentors and advisors. Senior students could be hired to provide tutoring support, even mentoring support for new or struggling students.  Employees working in the institutions academic advising, career services, student aid departments would provide support specific to their department’s services.

Another question, how would transactions be funded? Students could be assigned a certain number credits each semester that they can use towards the Student Helpout platform, which is included in students’ tuition.  Once the credits run out, students can buy additional credits, or apply for ‘free’ credits depending on certain criteria. At-risk students, or those identified as requiring remedial support, may be awarded an additional block of credits.

Conclusion
I see great potential with a platform such as Student Helpouts. It’s a platform that could address the barriers students associate with online learning—the lack of social connection and personalized interaction, poor motivation, and absence of needed academic skills for college level work. I acknowledge that this vision is simplistic, lacks depth, as it is only an idea where the details have not been fleshed out.  Yet my goal here is to provide ideas and perspectives for institutions and educators about technology and its role as a tool for providing personalized support and guidance of high school and undergraduate students. And to meet the challenges of online learning, while at the same time helping educators and institutions remain relevant, effective and prepare students for thinking, living and learning in 2015 and beyond. Now that would be brilliant.

References:

Image credit: ‘Help Out Sign’ by brizzle, born & bred, Flickr

What Will Education Look Like in 2025? What the Experts Have to Say

“Experts predict the Internet will become ‘like electricity’ — less visible, yet more deeply embedded in people’s lives for good and ill” 

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Word Cloud from Pew Research Report ‘Digital Life in 20205′

The Web is 25 years old this month. Quite astounding really if one thinks how entwined with and dependent our lives are on the internet.  Pew Research published a weighty report this week in honor of the Web’s anniversary, Digital Life in 2025. The results are thought-provoking, even controversial.  I urge readers to read the full report at some point, though in this post I highlight a host of predictions specific to education, made by numerous experts and scholars. Pew’s report includes thoughts and visions from hundreds of experts, including faculty from some of the best public and private research institutions in the world.

Brief Overview
To appreciate it fully, readers may find the background of the report helpful. The report is the work of Pew Research group and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.  The Digital Life in 2025 looks to the future of the internet, collectively assessing how life might look in 2025 with input from hundreds of experts on how the Web will influence various aspects our lives, including privacy, relationships, education to name just a few. This report is part of a series, its forerunner The Web at 25 in the U.S. looks at the present and past of the internet. A good read that provides context for the future and emphasizes the incredibly swift adoption of an invention that has changed institutions, values and culture.

The Purpose of the Report: To look to the future and identify patterns and themes that may affect aspects of society and everyday life in 2025 by examining a collection of predictions from internet experts and engaged citizens. In this post I focus on predictions specific to education.

Who had input: Pew gathered feedback via a web-survey, collecting 2,558 responses. Respondents fall into three categories, 1) targeted experts identified by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project; experts that have extensive experience with internet research and/or input during its formative years, 2) targeted technology groups gathered from listervs of internet analysts and associations, and 3) the mailing list of the Pew Research Center Internet Project that includes individuals who closely follow technology trends and related research. Many of the experts are faculty members at leading public and private higher education institutions within the United States and beyond. Input from non-experts is included to give insight into how everyday people are influenced by the abundance of digital information and constant connectivity.

“Make your prediction about the role of the Internet in people’s lives in 2025 and the impact it will have on social, economic, and political processes. Good and/or bad, what do you expect to be the most significant overall impacts of our uses of the Internet on humanity between now and 2025?”  One of the eight questions from the survey 

The Fifteen Theses: More-Hopeful and Less-Hopeful 
Upon analysis of the responses, Pew identified recurring themes, summarizing each into fifteen theses. Eight are considered ‘more-hopeful’ where experts view the effects of the internet as positive overall, while six are grouped into the ‘concerned’ category, the word used by Pew authors to describe the ‘less-hopeful‘ theses, and one thesis is categorized as neutral. After reading the less-hopeful theses, I might describe the category somewhat differently than ‘concerned’ as Pew does, given thesis #10 for example, “Abuses and abusers will ‘evolve and scale.’ Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime, and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others”. Though I can see why Pew wanted to put a more positive spin on the darker predictions given there is a continuum of negative viewpoints.

“These experts expect existing positive and negative trends to extend and expand in the next decade, revolutionizing most human interaction, especially affecting health, education, work, politics, economics, and entertainment. Most say they believe the results of that connectivity will be primarily positive. However, when asked to describe the good and bad aspects of the future they foresee, many of the experts can also clearly identify areas of concern, some of them extremely threatening. Heightened concerns over interpersonal ethics, surveillance, terror, and crime, may lead societies to question how best to establish security and trust while retaining civil liberties.” 15 Theses About the Digital Future, (Anderson & Raine, 2014)

Predictions about Education
Education is mentioned throughout the report.  At the top of most experts lists is the idea of sharing and accessing knowledge within a global community; several experts “expect the evolution of online tools to expand the ways in which a formal education can be delivered, disrupting the status quo.”  Though thesis number eight addresses education specifically. It’s a bold statement that could be viewed positively or negatively depending upon your perspective, though it is categorized in the more-hopeful theses section: “An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.

Selection of Comments from Thesis #8:

Adrian Schofield, manager of applied research for the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, wrote, “The Internet will be the core means of creating, analysing, storing, and sharing information in any form that can be digitised… Learning will no longer be dependent on the quality of parents and teachers in person. Scholars and students will have access to the best materials and content available globally.”

Alex Halavais, an associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at Arizona State University, predicted, “I suspect we will start to see some really extraordinary changes in the way people learn over the next decade that will continue beyond that. Especially in higher education, the current institutional structures are at a breaking point. The Internet is both a large part of the problem and a part of the solution…”

All public education will be by master teachers who connect through the Internet to all students across the country — local teachers will become tutors only.” — Anonymous (U.S. based)  

The following comments though included in thesis #8, appear quite concerned, not hopeful at all.

Celia Pearce, an associate professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, wrote, “… The US education system will continue to decline; as a result, we will continue to see a poor match in labor demands and labor pool, along with a continued growth of economic disparity in this country, as well as outsourcing to tech-related jobs abroad.”

Joan Neslund, an information resources professional, agreed, writing, “Education will totally change with global classrooms. The United States will no longer rule the world; we will have a difficult time keeping our heads above water. Corporate greed has killed us. Students won’t think about the technology behind what they do; they will focus on the methods and collaboration that will happen.

On the other hand some educators don’t believe much will change at all, in fact things will pretty much stay the same.

Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, predicted, “The transformation of the educational sector will prove far, far overblown. Especially in the K-12 system, schools in 2025 will look an awful lot like schools in 2013.”

Anonymously, a professor at the University of California…”The educated, capable, innovative populations from which local and national leaders have traditionally been drawn will be less involved with geographically oriented communities and institutions — to the detriment of those communities and institutions…”

What Does This Mean for Educators
Granted Digital Life in 2025 is a set of predictions, guesses really, but educated guesses given the expertise of the respondents. The Pew Internet Research Series holds great value for educators—it demonstrates that change is coming, is inevitable. Though it doesn’t provide a blueprint by any means, it does provide glimpses into what education might look like, could become in a few short years, for better or worse. Will your institution be ready?

Further Reading

The Next-Big-Thing in Online Education…Learning in Real Time

This article examines the potential of synchronous communication in online education by analyzing the newest tools and platforms that facilitate real-time group communication, and the pedagogy associated with implementing synchronous communication tools into asynchronous learning environments.

synchronous communication in online courses

synchronous communication

Communicating in real-time from a distance has never been easier. There are numerous new platforms and applications (apps) available free-of-charge that are easy-to-use and facilitate seamless communication between geographically distant people with access to a smart phone or laptop. After reading a WSJ article reviewing several smart phone apps that facilitate real-time communication among small groups seamlessly, I realize that the time is coming where synchronous tools will bring online education to the next level. Over the last two years there’s been a flood of free apps and platforms on the market that break down distance barriers and allow people to communicate from their handheld mobile device, tablet or laptop. One example is group video conferencing. There are now several free web-conferencing tools for groups that also feature document and screen sharing, including Google Hangouts, newly launched appear.in (video conversations for up to 8 people), and meetings.io (also free). These platforms knock down the once insurmountable barriers for video conferencing use in education—barriers of student access, and technology that was cumbersome and expensive.

A key aspect of this is the consideration of approaches to capitalizing on the capacity of video communications to reduce isolation and increase personalization of learning experiences for distance students. Indeed there is now scope for the empowerment of distance learners and an opportunity to offer a much wider choice of strategies intended to enhance and support learning (Smyth & Zanetic, 2007). Indications from the research literature are exciting.(Andrews, Tynan, Smyth &  Vale, 2010)

However, one significant barrier still exists when considering synchronous tools for education settings, and that is pedagogy.  From the same paper as the above paragraph, is this statement that describes the barrier crisply, “from a practitioners point-of-view, the challenge will come from the need to be flexible, adaptive and innovative. In other words, the need is to rapidly develop new understandings of pedagogies to best utilize the person-to-person interactivity of emerging technologies” (Andrews et al, 2010).

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A group of students in an online hangout using the platform meetings.io

The Great Potential: Synchronous Tools for Online Education
These apps and platforms hold great potential for online education—seamless real-time chats, video discussions that can facilitate peer-to-peer, and educator-to-student(s) exchanges that foster social connections, learning support, feedback or create a space for discussion of concepts and ideas in a way the asynchronous communication cannot. The new technology brings with it numerous possibilities. But though the potential is great, so are the challenges associated with implementation. As with any educational technology tool, the purpose for using the tool has to make sense, has to fit in with the curriculum in a pedagogically sound way that supports learning and achievement of the course objectives.

Although video conferencing has been around for some years, in many cases the use has not been informed by rigorous research leading to sound pedagogical practices. videoconferencing has frequently copied typical lecture style format of didactic lecture style delivery rather than exploring approaches….” (Andrews & Klease, 2002)

How-to Implement Educational Technology, i.e. Synchronous Tools
Before getting to highlights of the research addressing synchronous tools in online education, I’ll emphasize what needs to happen prior to implementing educational technology into a learning environment, which essentially is a needs analysis. The first step is asking questions—questions such as, “what educational problem are we trying to solve? what method can we apply that supports the problem? what tool will best work for the application that works within the learning context?“.

To be more specific with regards to implementation of synchronous tools as discussed here, the question might be, “How can a synchronous tool be used to improve the learning outcomes, or solve a learning problem that is not being met within asynchronous online classes?

It’s the answers to these questions that guide the learning design process. The next steps are when the real work of course design begins, developing the learning strategy to meet learning objectives ideally by following a model of learning or instructional design [I write extensively about instructional design. A good post for readers interested in learning more about instructional design is "Start Here": Instructional Design Models for Online Courses].

Learning Challenges Synchronous Tools Can Solve
Synchronous tools are not a given for each online course, it will depend upon a number of factors as determined during the course design process. Though to give readers an idea of the types of situations where synchronous tools may be used, I’ve included excerpts from Kansas State University’s webpage ‘synchronous course delivery‘ from its e-learning faculty modules site.  Note, that it’s not always the instructor that will use synchronous tools, but learning counselors, tutors, small groups of students and others.

“Online real-time may be used for a number of learning purposes. There may be a small window of time when an online class may access a digital lab; a simulation; …an interactive streamed event.

….to introduce learners starting a cohort-based program. … there may be icebreakers to help people connect online….

…for academic and professional advising and counseling. It may be used for group or expert critiques of student designs and e-portfolios.

….for student group work, collaborations, and study sessions. Learners may interact with each other for problem-solving, planning, co-design, or strategy sessions.

If there is not a need for synchronous learning, then it may well be better left alone.e-learning faculty modules, 2012

No Talking Heads
One of the papers I review here from the International Journal of Education Technology, provides sound advice based upon the research, and one worthy of highlighting is that synchronous tools should not be used as a one-way medium, a format where the instructor can deliver information in real-time, but instead be viewed as a vehicle that allows for the exchange of information, for accommodating three or four-way [or more] conversations that build learning, ideas and learners’ motivation. The synchronous communication medium should be reserved only for exchanges that support a course objective or other learning-related function that can’t be accomplished through asynchronous methods.

“In other words students find the talking head presentation to be undesirable. This finding is not a new one (Commeaux, 1995; Schiller & Mitchell, 1993)…” (Andrews & Klease, 2002)

Research Highlights
Below are a selection of highlights from the papers referenced in this post that outline the impact of, and considerations for synchronous methods used in online education.

1) Building Social and Teacher Presence: More than one study suggests that synchronous communication activities support the social needs of online students not typically met in the asynchronous format, “Social support is desirable as a way to foster knowledge work and collaborative learning; it provides an environment where communication is encouraged; e.g., anecdotes and personal experiences encourage trust, which foster receptive and creative learning environment” (Hranstinski, 2008).

Synchronous activities contribute to building of social presence, one of the three dimensions of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, a  frequently referenced model that describes the conditions for optimal online learning experience (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). When the three dimensions are present, teacher presence, social presence and cognitive presence, the student can experience deep and meaningful learning. Purposefully developed synchronous [and asynchronous] activities can contribute to building social and teaching presence as supported by the research cited here.

2) Group Size: The purpose of a group activity as determined by the course design process, will determine the appropriate group size as well as the best tool or platform to support it.

It is worth noting here that multi-point videoconferencing is most effective with small groups of students (20 to 25 across 3 or 4 sites) as stated by Mason, (1994) cited in Burke, London and Daunt (1997)…” (Andrews & Klease, 2002)

Video and hangout platforms each have a limit to the number of individuals participating at once, as do chat platforms, which again reinforces why the instructional strategy created in the course design process is critical. The meetings.io platform for instance allows up to five people per hangout, ideal for a small group discussion, while Google Hangout accommodates up to ten, which may be applicable for a meet-and-greet type session held at the beginning of a course.

Chat platforms, for example whatsapp, might be used effectively for group discussions, i.e. one question related to a course topic, where students contribute initial thoughts and exchange ideas, followed by an asynchronous forum discussion continuing the conversation.

3) Differences in Time Zones: One of the drawbacks of synchronous tools often cited is students living in different time zones, however in closed online courses for credit, this is not as much of an issue as massive courses that cater to a world-wide audience (though even in these instances, there are ways to accommodate learners in different time zones). In my personal experience with synchronous activities in closed, online classes, most students are willing to adjust their schedule to participate in synchronous activities, more so when activities have a clear purpose and appear worthy of students time.

“Students were willing to deal with the problems of time difference in order to take advantage of this opportunity, which, on this occasion, resulted in very early classes. Additionally, they liked the experience of interacting with a wider peer group and of learning from each other’s different knowledge-base and backgrounds.” (Andrews & Klease, 2002)

4 ) Instructor and Student Familiarity with Tool: As with any technology used in online education, familiarity with the technology is essential to establish the foundation for a successful learning outcome. The institution is responsible for providing professional development for faculty and instructors, and working with course designers/instructors to build-in course time for student practice with the tool, and make available resources that support students (and faculty) with the technological issues.

Resources:

References

Why is Adoption of Educational Technology So Challenging?… ‘It’s Complicated’

“If an institution’s stated strategy is to promote the use of educational technology, that institution must establish an adequate framework for faculty to use technology successfully. This includes not only formal incentive structures but also the development of a sufficient educational technology infrastructure and a satisfactory framework for educational technology support.” Faculty Adoption of Educational Technology by F.Z. Moser

fighting with technology

Technology Integration can be complicated

After reading the paragraph above readers will likely nod in agreement…yes, yes that makes much sense.  Yet most institutions fail to recognize the complexity of introducing educational technology into the classroom and curriculum. Granted, the majority do recognize that faculty and teachers need guidance on how to use the features of a new educational tool or platform, but support usually stops there. Professional education for faculty and teachers that addresses skill development, focuses on integrating educational tools using pedagogically sound methods, for the most part is nonexistent. Yet what can be done? The answer—it’s complicated, which is the thrust of the research brief from EDUCAUSE—Faculty Adoption of Education Technology. Complicated, but by no means impossible.

Author of the paper Franziska Moser, conducted research with nine U.S. institutions focusing on education technology and the types of support strategies provided [or not provided] for ed tech implementation, and the resulting impact on faculty’s teaching behaviors. As part of her research, Moser put forth the Faculty Educational Technology Adoption Cycle, a model for institutions to consider when working with faculty and their implementation of educational technology.

The Model
Moser’s model includes five behavioral characteristics of faculty, observed upon implementation of educational technology in higher education settings. The model includes outside factors and variables deemed to have positive influence on each characteristic.

  1. Time commitment. The time instructors invest in integrating educational technology into their courses lies at the core of the model. Moser suggests that the level of time commitment depends upon organizational incentives provided (extrinsic motivation) and on individual variables such as personal values and goals (intrinsic). Moser also identified a causal relationship between time commitment and competence development of faculty.
  2. Competence development involves focused skill development for faculty; the skill set required to integrate technology in a pedagogically sound way. Competence also leads to quality course design and teaching expertise.
  3. Course redesign includes support from a variety of departments that may include instructional designer, tech specialists, multi-media experts, peers, department faculty, etc.  Using an instructional design model as a guide, serves as a frame of reference for the design team. The redesign process puts the focus on students’ learning, and the accomplishment of learning objectives via pedagogical methods, not the educational technology tool.
  4. Teaching/Learning experience that includes trustworthy infrastructure with a built-in support mechanism and a feedback loop leads to: teaching effectiveness, better learning outcomes, and increased satisfaction—not only for students but for instructors.  I’ll emphasize here, how critical the availability of support for instructors is—without such support, student learning is at risk, as is the motivation of the educators.
  5.  Reflection, the final phase encourages faculty and instructors to examine newly implemented teaching strategies, consider student feedback, discuss and share results with peers.
Screen shot of Faculty Adoption of Educational Technology

Franziska Moser’s model depicts a circuit of faculty behavior activities (bold) which are influenced by several outside factors and conditions (italic).

Moser’s diagram is instructive as it is insightful; it highlights the complexity of the course design process in a simplified format.

Fast Forward to 2014
Moser’s article was published in 2007, quite some time ago in this age of rapid technological transformation. Yet many institutions still face the same challenges that Moser describes in her paper.  There are but a few institutions that appear to follow a model similar to Moser’s. Two that I’ve studied are Purdue University with its IMPACT program and University of Central Florida’s Distributed Learning Program. Both schools’ invested, and continue to invest significant effort and institutional resources in supporting faculty in the redesign of courses and implementation of innovative teaching practices. Though there are others that I haven’t mentioned, these schools are in the minority. Why this is the case I don’t have the depth of expertise to answer completely, but I do see that many institution look externally to address the implementation of technology as a method to increase efficiency and improve learning outcomes rather than creating strategies with the human resources they have within, by human resources I’m referring to faculty, technical and media experts, graduate students, etc.

There are numerous examples of higher education administrators going externally, making decisions about the use of technology without involving internal stakeholders.  A recent example is California’s public higher education system. One school in the California state system San Jose State University, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a pilot project with MOOC provider Udacity in an attempt to solve the schools’ challenge with bottleneck courses in its institutions. The pilot served as a potential model for other California public higher education institutions. The program failed. Yet University of Central Florida dealt with a similar issue of bottleneck courses and limited institutional resources to accommodate students, yet were able to solve the problem by relying upon its own faculty and staff. UCF’s solution involved developing four types of learning formats including, mixed-mode, face-to-face, and video-streaming, all of which were completed by UCF faculty after they engaged in a comprehensive development program that provided skills training and support for course redesign. The result was a roster of courses in a variety of formats that allowed administrators to achieve a significant reduction in institutional overhead, while getting students into courses they needed to graduate.

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Screen shot of the headline from the Los Angeles Times Newspaper

There are other examples of failed roll-outs of education technology programs where there was little, if any instructor development plan in place as per Moser’s model. One that is incredibly expensive is the L.A. Unified School Districts’ iPad program. The program cost is said to be $1 billion dollars, which aims to put an iPad or computer into the hands of every student, teacher and administrator in the district, yet little if any resources are allocated to teacher competence development, support, instructional education, lesson planning strategies or curriculum redesign.

Why is Integrating Technology so Challenging?
So why don’t institutional leaders take a strategic approach to address the challenges associated with integrating educational technology? My guess is that it’s a combination of factors—some that are common to all, and some unique to the institution. I suggest strategic planning is required for educational technology implementation program, course redesign, or roll-out and that takes a strong leader that is willing to challenge things as they are. Doing this is difficult. Also required—a leader who can assess what is needed, create and communicate the vision of the project, build a team of experts, and follow through on its implementation. Also difficult.  It also requires short-term and long-term planning, and patience. Challenging. Course development takes time, as does learning the skills needed for implementing new teaching practices and methods.  Another obvious factor is resources—needed are a significant investment of funds. Most Challenging.  And finally, knowledge of a model or framework such as the one presented here, that outlines the complexities and dimensions of technology integration and course redesign. Complicated, but not impossible.

Conclusion
The transformative nature of technology offers tremendous opportunity to improve learning outcomes, improve access, and even reduce institutional overhead costs that does not involve reducing faculty or instructors, yet as discussed it’s challenging to accomplish given the complexity of such an undertaking. But as stated, not impossible as evidenced by institutions like Purdue and UCF that have forged a path of leveraging internal resources to redesign courses, implement technology and develop innovative teaching practices. I’ll delve into Purdue’s program in a post next week, share details of IMPACT, and a selection success stories from faculty.

 Resources:

Best Methods and Tools for Online Educators to Give Students Helpful and Meaningful Feedback

strict businesswoman shouting in megaphone

Giving Feedback to Students that Stands Out

In last week’s post Tools-of-the-Trade to Make your Online Teaching Even Better I reviewed various tools that help online educators make a connection with students by using media other than text to deliver guidance and instructions to students in online classes.  In this post I focus on how educators teaching online [and face-to-face] can use ed-tech tools effectively to provide formative and summative feedback to their students. I’ve included several resources and examples of ed-tech tools in this post in a case study format featuring both online and face-to-face educators describing their methods. 

The Case for Formative Feedback
Formative feedback in some cases is more valuable to student learning than the final assessment. For instance, when a final grade comes later in the course session the student is not as receptive to feedback, and often focuses on the grade not the feedback. Formative input on the other hand allows instructors to promote deeper learning by prompting students to dig deeper and expand and clarify their argument or position while the student in engaged in the learning process. Instructors that foster depth of learning with this kind of real-time feedback, push their students to dig deeper and think more critically. Below is a selection of excellent and user-friendly ed-tech tools that allow educators to give this kind of input seamlessly.  

p_WwmiCgOn3TnVRGLGPYCLe-RLWAeo7P9uRrbplomGwj5ACN6j0fhwzfUEj03mFq1Kk=w78-h78Case study #1: Using Audio Feedback  A long-time online educator based in Austria outlines in a blog post Audio feedback and human touch her methods and rationale for using audio feedback for student assignments. She captures the essence of how students benefit by audio feedback in this paragraph:

“I feel that by using voice recording and screen casting tools, we can now provide more personal, more meaningful and more effective instruction in an acoustically and/or visually supported manner. Intonation and voice tone both help to convey feelings, which in turn really help to create tutor presence and build rapport (the human touch). Finally, since students can decide when, where and how often they listen/watch, an element of choice is added, a step towards promoting learner autonomy.” Veronica’s Teaching Online Blog

Tools to use for Audio Feedback:  Many LMS platforms have built-in audio tools, Canvas  does as does Desire2Learn. There are also several Apps available for Mac and Android systems that facilitate audio feedback, though Vocaroo seem to be the most highly rated audio app for its simplicity.  I like the audio record feature in Evernote. It allows you to record easily, and then email the voice recording in a note format in a snap.

Case Study #2 Feedback [formative and summative] via Screen Casts.
Screencasts allow an instructor to talk through a student’s work by recording audio comments on the student’s assignment displayed on the instructor’s screen. Below is an example of screen cast where an instructor provides formative feedback to a student on her essay using the free program for screencasts, Jing [screen casts are also used frequently for summative feedback on individual and group assignments].  With this method, the focus is on the students’ work which is featured on the screen—either a document file that has been downloaded onto the instructor’s computer and is opened, or any resource online—Google document, e-portfolio item, etc.  It is best not to sound too formal in screencasts—speaking naturally as you would to a student face-to-face feels more authentic to students.

The resource below is on the platform Screencast.com (associated with Jing, both are by the company TechSmith), and which is free as well. In this instance the professor made this available as a public file, though one can make it private for only those with the link able to view it [a unique link (URL) is created for each screen cast when uploaded to Screencast.com. This functionality is built into the Jing program].

The Center for Writing at the University of Michigan, provides an excellent resource in PDF format Giving Feedback on Student Writing. The screen cast below is drawn from this resource.

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Click the image to view a screen cast recording of an instructor giving formative feedback to a student on her essay.  Thanks to University of Michigan’s Writing Center for making this example available.

Case Study #3: Formative Feedback using Google Drive.  A literature professor teaching face-to-face classes at Santa Clara University uses Google Drive (the new term for Google Docs) with his students to provide feedback on the draft copy of students essays.  How it works: The student creates his or her essay in Google Drive, enables the sharing feature and includes the professor’s email address which sends the link to the prof.  The professor then makes comments, notes on each student’s draft document [Google drive provides excellent tools for providing comments in the side bar and/or making comments within the document itself] and the student is automatically notified of the comments made.  

If there are methods for giving student feedback that you would like to share with readers, please do so by posting a comment.  Other readers benefit greatly with the exchange and sharing of ideas. Thanks!

Other Resources:

Student Perceptions of Online Group Work: What They Really Think and How to Make it Work

This is the third post in a three-part series featuring strategies and skill development for instructors wanting to create, facilitate and encourage collaboration among students working in groups. This post identifies what students really think about group work—the three most significant barriers to working in online teams and strategies to help students overcome each.

Young Couple Sitting with a Pile of Books

Success of the group learning process is dependent upon the target outcomes of the assignment and design of the collaboration activity

 “Working with other people on a real project can actually be a valuable learning experience. The problem is, if it’s mandated by school, and participants aren’t really interested or motivated, that’s not a “real project.”  If there was a way to facilitate projects that were relevant to participants’ interests, and perhaps some kind of meaningful output, that would likely result in a different kind of experience.” Student comment on the School Survival Forums [an uncensored forum for students created by students in 2001]

It’s a myth that students in online courses don’t want group work. Most students see the value of working in groups, but are resistant when the project appears unrelated to course goals, is simplistic, without a purpose—busywork.  When introducing and writing instructions for group activities, I emphasize the why of the activity—what’s in it for the students. I’ve outlined other strategies below focusing on the three most significant barriers to group work based upon research of group work specific to online learning, and personal experience as an educator and student.

Meaningful Learning
Before getting to the strategies for overcoming barriers to team work, I’ll point out what’s needed to highlight the what’s in-it-for-me part of the assignment descriptions for students, what I refer to as the marketing element or selling of the group work. The assignments need to be weighty, not necessarily in grades but in terms of complexity; projects that encourage students to synthesize, analyze and create a product that showcases their knowledge via a ‘meaningful output’ as mentioned by the above-quoted student.

A meaningful output might be a group essay, a narrated slideshare, Prezi presentation, a video, or wiki—also known as digital artifacts. The slide below from the slidesharestudent perception of collaborative small group projects using synchronous and asynchronous tools” outlines the elements of a problem based learning approach, necessary to foster meaningful and authentic learning via collaborative learning environments that are designed to develop expertise by helping learners discern patterns and create meaning in a non-static, collaborative setting. According to “How People Learn” (Bransford et al, 1999), such environments encourage the development of deep factual knowledge bases where knowledge is easily retrieved and shared, and conceptual frameworks built.

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Slideshare: ‘Student perception of collaborative small group projects using synchronous and asynchronous tools’ slide #4  (Wicks, 2011)

Significant Barriers to Group Work and How to Overcome Each

 “I feel sometimes you have to give in to some other people’s ideas so that you    can finish the project.” (An, Kim & Kim, 2008)

“I like working in efficient groups. Not many groups I’ve been in were as such. Most we’re “Hey, who doing the work?” or “You just do x-y-z, and we’ll stand here” Student comment on School Survival Forums

1.  Accountability

…among the factors that either facilitated or impeded progress, individual accountability was perceived as being the most critical factor. A lack of individual accountability is consistent with what Latane et al. (1979, cited in Levine, Resnick, & Higgins, 1993) referred to as “social loafing.” This term was defined as meaning that when individuals think they are working in a group, they anticipate doing less work than when they think they are working alone.” (An, Kim & Kim, 2008)

Suggestions:

  • Have students create a team charter. The charter includes the purpose of the group, the rules and guidelines for group interactions, using their words, rules and guidelines.  See example  below right:
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Sample of Group Charter, slide # 13, from Slideshare ‘Student perception of collaborative small group projects’ (Wicks, 2011)

  • Provide an outlet for students to get help with group collaboration and conflict. Include on the course site steps to effective group work, and steps to resolves issues.
  • Create small groups – ideal size is three or four students, maximum five.
  • Provide a mechanism for students to give feedback and reflection on group participation and the experience overall. Readers that have read several of my other posts on group work, may see that this contradicts my views on group work (my initial position was to have self-reflection only, not rate other groups members), however research says otherwise, and I do see that a carefully facilitated method where students submit to the instructor, evaluations of other team members that is kept private, and not shared with other members in the team,  addresses this barrier.  See below the form used by online instructor Larry Ragan from Penn State World Campus.
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Screen shot from open course, “Best Practices in Online Teaching”, by Larry Ragan

#2  Technology

“Participants indicated that the challenges inherent to virtual communication relying solely on written language was the second highest impeding factor (19%). Although online communities can provide a supportive context that makes new kinds of learning experiences possible (Bruckman, 1998), online faculty need to consider the inherent limitations of asynchronous, written communication. Because of the challenges of its usage (time lags, lack of spontaneity), and the dependence on the written word, a number of students indicated that they were overwhelmed, especially when they faced conflicts and when they felt isolated from the group.” (An, Kim & Kim, 2008)

 Suggestions:

  • Provide recommendations and guidelines for one or two tools that facilitate group collaboration that are user-friendly and foster seamless collaboration. Group discussion boards don’t have enough features, and students often find the discussion threads overwhelming and difficult to follow. Google Docs is an example of very good collaborative tool.
  • Recommend groups schedule at least one synchronous discussion during the course of the project using a platform such as Google Hangouts, Skype, or a new video conversation tool appear.in.
  • Provide orientation to course site and tools. The institution should create and offer a course that introduces the student to the learning platform, and the features and tools within it. The institution should also highlight to students within the course site the help services available for technical and trouble shooting solutions.
  • Where possible, encourage group members to be in similar time zones to facilitate synchronous communication (a three-hour time difference or less).

#3  Leadership

“Another noteworthy response is related to the perceived role of the group leaders. Having a positive group leader was recorded as the third highest facilitative factor (16%), while the absence of this factor was believed to have negatively impacted the completion of collaborative tasks (5.9%). For our study, it should be also noted that the course instructor merely suggested that each team elect a team leader, rather than making this a requirement.” (An, Kim & Kim, 2008)

Suggestions and Comments:

  • Recommend that the group select a project or team leader. Though I’ve seen some instructors select the group leader, I suggest having the group determine their own roles. In the long run this creates more autonomy and trust within the group, even more so when done in conjunction with the creation of a team charter as mentioned above. A shared leadership role is also possible.
  • The need for leadership in groups working asynchronously is more acute given the nature of the medium.

Further Reading

References