Four Excellent Resources for Course Designers

This post features a collection of carefully selected resources specific to course design for online and blended courses.

designI’m in the process of building a bank of resources accessible from this blog geared to educators seeking skill development in facilitating and designing online courses. Previous posts featured resources specific to teaching online courses, and in this post I share four instructional design resources. Resources include a brief description that highlights the value of each and an icon indicating its type.  For the list of previously featured resources and/or for the icon legend please refer to the resources tab of this site.

Toolbox1) An excellent site created by Contact North to serve faculty and instructors of post-secondary institutions in Ontario, Canada is The Ontario Online Learning Portal. It is an open resource that provides numerous tools and information on the latest research and trends in online education. Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.21.52 PMThe site also hosts a series ‘Game Changers‘ which features case studies from institutions around the world that are implementing innovative methods in online education. The most practical resources for course designers can be found in the ‘Tips and Tools’ section. Here educators will find tools in downloadable formats such as the template to plan online learning, and 10 Principles to Select Technology.

Icon representing a website with a depth of resources2) Big Dog & Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition site is THE mother of all instructional design sites. Of all the ID sites I list here, I frequent this site the most, as do many others according to the list of accolades on the ‘about‘ page. It does feature advertising in the most annoying places on its pages, however the depth and breadth of the content make it worth the [minor] aggravation. A warning though, one can get lost on this site in the labyrinth of pages, though the tabs at the top of the page are an excellent guide to topics as is the site map with its Table of Contents.

Website Link3) This site—instructionaldesign.org, is a good reference site providing the basics of instructional design [ID] and learning theories. It includes a glossary of ID terms and a list of several instructional design models. What I find most valuable is the comprehensive listing of learning theories.  Each theory is described in-depth; listed with each theory are its principles, application, and examples of the principles in real-world settings. It also includes references and links to related websites.

pdf4)  This PDF paper, I found on Avetica weblog, which appears to be a blog based upon a student’s research project [thesis perhaps?] about online learning [there is no 'about' page, so I"m not quite sure]. I found this paper Summary of Quality e-learning: Designing pedagogically effective web-based environments for enhancing student online learning in higher education on the blog, and it is worthy of review and consideration for anyone involved in instructional design. It describes a model for online course design I have not seen elsewhere—IDOL, developed by Siragusa (2005) after completing a study on effective design principles and learning strategies for higher education students.

“Teachers and instructional designers can use it to design, develop, evaluate and refine their e-learning environments. The IDOL model (Instructional Design for Online Learning) is accompanied with 24 dimensions/ recommendations that accommodate varying pedagogical needs of learners as well as varying modes of course delivery; entirely online to online learning provided as a supplement to face to face learning. The model is based upon Reeves and Reeves’ (1997) model for creating pedagogically effective online learning environments. IDOL contains 24 pedagogical dimensions which are divided into 3 categories: analysis, strategy and evaluation”. 

Related Posts:

The MOOC Honeymoon is Over: Three Takeaways from the Coursera Calamity

New year 2013The honeymoon with MOOCs is over. The reality check has finally arrived which was inevitable. MOOCs will not solve all the woes of higher education. It is unfortunate it had to be a class on how to design an online course; it was the Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application [FOE] offered through Coursera that brought things to a screeching halt. But this experience can provide an opportunity for institutions to re-focus—identify the role and purpose of MOOCs and move forward with a thoughtful, purposeful strategy.

In my last post I discussed the MOOC disaster with Fundamentals of Online Education, which generated a rich dialogue on the purpose and role of MOOCs. The course was suspended on the third day due to the confusion around group work which created a significant technical ‘glitch’. In this post I’ll share three takeaways from this experience; principles that higher education institutions and educators might want to consider when offering MOOCs or online learning courses of a smaller-scale on the Web. I’m using the challenges within the FOE course to exemplify the struggles within higher education institutions, as technology and economics are disrupting the model of traditional higher education and MOOCs are viewed as a panacea.

It was not technical issues that derailed this course [which was a symptom], it is the underlying philosophy that many institutions still hold ontothat a MOOC is similar to, or the same as a course in a traditional face-to-face classroom, and it can be successful using the same structure, same content and similar instructional methods. MOOC courses offered through Cousera and other such platforms, often appear modified to ‘fit’ into a course experience on the Web, albeit with thousands of students.

The Three Takeaways
Below I’ve outlined the key takeaways from the FOE experienceMany ideas presented here are based upon the concepts and principles of Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier, founders of the original MOOC concept.

1) The instructional model is shifting to be student-centric, away from an institution or instructor-focused model.
In a massive, open and online course with thousands of students, the instructor must relinquish control of the student learning process. The instructor-focused model is counter intuitive to the idea of a MOOC; in the MOOC model the student directs and drives his or her learning. The pedagogy used for traditional courses is not applicable to a course on a massive scale. With the Web as the classroom platform, students learn by making connections with various ‘nodes’ of content [not all provided by the instructor] on the Web, they aggregate content, and create knowledge that is assessed not by the instructor, but by peers or self. This pedagogy builds upon the constructivist theory, and more recently a theory developed by Downes and Siemens, the connectivist learning model.

This new paradigm highlights an existing tension where the control is moving away from the instructor. Below are two comments from readers that were part of the dialogue from the previous post:

“Her [referring to another educator] critique was that an individual[s] with years of experience and knowledge was reduced to a moderator and facilitator. I tend to think it is more of moving the instructor into a coach, guide and mentor role pointing the way. So I guess that argument between control and openness is at the heart of many of these tensions”. Felicia M. Sullivan

“Other than that I have always had the impression that some teachers want so much certain “desirable” features that they try to force what otherwise is spontaneous and diverse in nature, like class participation, group formation, …. That can’t be done. All we can do as teachers is encourage and motivate but if we force that will be counterproductive”. Leonel Morales

2)  Sound instructional design is the key to supporting self-directed learning experiences.
Online courses that adhere to a sound instructional design plan, allow students to navigate the course as self-directed learners: access content from a variety of sources, connect with like-minded individuals, and create a learning experience and environment that fits with their objectives. The technology should be not be the focus, but should facilitate the learning. I often have stated that when one has created a sound instructional design plan, the technology becomes invisible.

Creating a solid instructional design strategy for an online course requires considerable work and planning upfront. Stephen Downes posted a presentation on his site called Facilitating a Massive Open Online Course (2012). His Slideshare gives an overview of the planning required to facilitate a MOOC, and highlights the unique strategy required when offering a course onlineit does not mimic the traditional classroom experience.

Dick, Carey and Carey Instructional Design Model

Dick, Carey and Carey Instructional Design Model: A model I use for designing online courses

My experience with developing online courses (under graduate level, general education courses) is somewhat similar to Downes, but from a different perspective. I usually begin with an existing college course and work with faculty and course instructors to transition their face-to-face courses to the online environment. The instructional design and approach is radically different from what is used for face-to-face, and I use a formal model to guide the process, the Dick, Carey and Carey instructional design model which is systematic approach to developing a course. This model is based upon Robert Gagné‘s nine events of instruction, all which work towards supporting conditions for learning. This model has several phases, and one that is most relevant and necessary is the analysis of the learners (#3). It is in this step that the learning context is considered, where and how the learners will learn the skills and/or knowledge, which in this instance is on the Web. The characteristics of the learner are considered as well, which in the context of MOOCs is necessary given the diversity of learners (Dick, Carey and Carey, 2009).  

Young woman pointing with pen to laptop in library3) Prepare students for the Learning Experience.
Another theme emerged within the discussions around the FOE course, how much responsibility should the learner assume in a MOOC? Does the responsibility not fall upon the student for the success of a course? These questions were posted, and my answer is yes…however, there is an onus on the course facilitators and designers to prepare students for learning by providing some sort of orientation. The instructors need to support conditions for learning, which prepares students to learn on their own, create their own experiences, knowledge, and potentially a personalized learning community.

Preparing students includes orienting the student to the technical tools that will be used in the course, guiding them to the applications (a blog platform for instance), and providing instruction for the tools to be used as needed. This is most important for students that might be new to technical applications. What I appreciate about Downes, Siemens and Cormier is the thorough preparation and guidance offered to students at the beginning of a MOOC they facilitated, change.ca.mooc. Instructions were detailed within the course home pages on How This Course Works. In addition, helpful instructional videos What is a MOOC, and Success in a MOOC, were available (Cormier, 2011). In the online program I worked with at a four-year university, we created a comprehensive orientation for all courses, that included a set of activities culminating with a quiz that reinforced technical details. This program has proved to be quite successful in reducing significantly, the number of questions by students within the first two week period of the online course session.

Closing Thoughts
There is much to digest here, yet it is these three principles that are required to support students in massive, open and online courses. Learning has changed, the student is in the center, yet he or she still requires support and guidance upfront through an effective course design that creates a seamless user experience, and through instructors that offer guidance; supporting students in their efforts to become successful and connected lifelong learners.

Resources

Further Reading on MOOCs and thoughts about the Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application course:

How-to Remain Relevant in Higher Ed with ‘Active Learning’

Active learning…. the topic frequently polarizes faculty. Active learning has attracted strong advocates … looking for alternatives to traditional teaching methods, while skeptical faculty regard active learning as another in a long line of educational fads.(Prince, 2004)

Is active learning a fad? Flipping the classroom, peer teaching and collaborative learning are active learning methods that appear to be ‘in’ right now. Should educators incorporate these active learning methods to keep up and not become irrelevant?  In this post we’ll address these questions – define active learning as it applies to higher education and examine what it ‘looks like’ in face-to-face settings. I’ll also review how educators can stay relevant by incorporating active learning principles into their own teaching without compromising academic integrity. My next post will be specific to online courses; I’ll provide how-to instructions for incorporating active learning activities into the course design.

What is Active Learning?
Active learning is most familiar to educators in K12 environments given that several learning theorists advocated learning through play [Piaget] and collaborative learning [Vygotsky]. It is through these forms of interaction that children develop cognitive and other higher-order thinking skills. However, active learning is not nearly as prevalent in higher education settings; it is the lecture method that dominates.

Yet the lecture method is proving to be problematic in today’s digital culture. It is not uncommon for instructors to cite disengaged students surfing the web, checking Facebook and sending text messages during class. The problem is a nagging one, how can educators engage students and appear relevant without compromising academic rigor?  Bonwell and Eison authors of Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom (1991), describe active learning this way:

When using active learning students are engaged in more activities than just listening. They are involved in dialog, debate, writing, and problem solving, as well as higher-order thinking, e.g., analysis, synthesis, evaluation.

The words, ‘involved’ and ‘problem solving’ are worthy of emphasis; active learning is not busy work, but is purposeful instruction that guides students towards learning outcomes. In recent years, numerous educators have studied and measured the effectiveness of the traditional lecture method. Results consistently show that students retain far fewer course concepts when sitting passively listening than when they are actively engaged in the learning process.

These findings are consistent with Harvard’s Professor Eric Mazur, a pioneer of active learning who developed a method called Peer Instruction. Mazur has conducted his own research since implementing his method in the mid 1990’s, proving that active learning is more effective not only in retention of knowledge, but for developing critical thinking skills.

Active Learning in Higher Ed
Before examining instructional techniques, we need to define the role that lecture plays in active learning. The lecture is not eliminated entirely from active learning, rather the instructor ‘lectures’ for a shorter time, in ‘chunks’, and usually for no more than twenty-minute segments. Anything longer, research finds, student attention drops off dramatically.

I think the answer to this challenge [reaching students] is to rethink the nature of the college course, to consider it as a different kind of animal these days… Students now tap into a course through different media; they may download materials via its website, and even access a faculty member’s research and bio. It’s a different kind of communication between faculty and students.  Eric Mazur as quoted in The Twilight of the Lecture, by Craig Lambert

Peer Instruction Method
Outlined below is an overview of Professor Mazur’s Peer Instruction teaching method:

  • Students complete work prior to the lecture by reading lecture notes and assigned course readings, and then answer questions individually by logging onto the course website to record their answers. This method builds in student accountability.
  • Mazur begins his class with a student question [which he obtains from the course website after reviewing student answers and/or questions] to test comprehension by asking students to think the problem through and commit to an answer. Each student records his or her answer in class by using either their smart phone or laptop. Student responses are compiled and delivered instantaneously. Mazur is then able to see the collective results on his laptop (click here for an example of a class polling tool).
  • If between 30 and 70 percent of the class have the correct answer [Mazur seeks controversy], he moves on to peer instruction. Students find a neighbor with a different answer and make a case for their own response. Each tries to convince the other.
  • After two or three minutes, the students vote again, and typically the percentage of correct answers dramatically improves. Then the cycle repeats.

The Flipped Classroom at Yakima Valley Community College
Two professors at Yakima College re-designed their face-to-face course when they determined students were arriving at class unprepared, appeared disinterested during lectures and were unable to synthesize the course material effectively. The result was a revised course that included a weekly schedule that involved collaborative learning activities. Professors designed the course ensuring that students played an active role, and were responsible for their own learning. Below is an image of the weekly class schedule from the revised course (click image to expand). For more details about the course development phases and how the class schedule works, click here.

How-to Remain Relevant with Active Learning
Incorporating active learning into current instruction begins with revising the instructional plan for a selected course. To begin the planning process start by:

1) Reviewing the expected learning outcomes of a given course.
2) Identifying potential pedagogical methods to achieve the learning outcomes.
3) Selecting the method (learning activity) which is feasible and appropriate for the learner and the learning environment (context).
4) Developing a strategy to implement the method into the class.

I use the Dick, Carey and Carey instructional design model for course design, and according to this model, one important component of instructional planning is analyzing the instructional options that are available [learning activities] that support the achievement of the course objectives. The next phase involves choosing from the options, an activity that is appropriate for the learner and learning environment. Here is where relevancy comes into play – choosing a learning method that is relevant to the learners’ context [in our case young adults who are engaged with technology] and the learning environment [lecture or classroom setting, or the online environment].

Categories and Types of Active Learning
For those educators planning a revision to the instructional strategy, it will be helpful to identify the type of active learning that will fit in with the course plan. There are three broad categories of active learning listed below. Following the categories are links to websites that provide helpful resources for active teaching activities in higher education settings. In my next post I elaborate further on each type, providing examples of learning activities in the online learning environment.

  1. Individual
  2. Collaboration
  3. Cooperative

Links
Moving Away from the Sage on the Stage, Minnesota State Universities and Colleges
Mid-course Adjustments: Using Small Group Instructional Diagnoses to Improve Teaching and Learning, by Ken White
Active Learning for the College Classroom, Paulson D. & Faust, J.

Closing Thoughts
Active learning is not a fad, but a dynamic alternative to passive learning; learning where students are actively part of the process. Educators today are more important than ever – we are the experts in our chosen areas, the leaders and the role models for our students. It is up to us to ‘reach’ students with relevant and current methods, set the standards high and teach students to be life-long learners. For the next post in this series, Learning Online is not a Spectator Sport: How to Make it Active, click here.

Resources:

Photo Credit: No Lecture. UC Berkley, jasonjkong’s photostream Flickr, Creative Commons

How to get students to participate in Online Discussions…

This is the first post in a triplet series on how to create effective discussions in an online learning environment. This post discusses how course instructors can shape and create robust and rich discussions, in post two I”ll share facilitation strategies to develop and sustain course dialogue, and I’ll conclude the series with methods for assessing student contributions and participation in online forums. Please note, this series addresses discussions in the context of online courses for credit – as forums in Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs} are a different animal altogether [I will share my thoughts on MOOC discussion forums next month at the close of the MOOC course I am taking].

Getting students to ‘talk’
Getting students to participate in [brick and mortar] classroom discourse can be a painful process – the blank stares or worse students absorbed with their laptops or iPhones, which is disconcerting to say the least. Yet online discussion forums present further challenges due to its ‘virtual’ space. Research suggests online discussions often fall flat- are shallow, superficial, fail to engage students and result in frustration —for students and the course instructor (Wang & Chen, 2008). From a student’s perspective, poorly designed forums can feel like busy work, a pointless exercise. Is it really worth the effort to develop effective discussions? Yes – online class dialogue is essential to developing engagement and most importantly cognitive presence, which builds critical thinking skills [for more about critical thinking in the online environment see resources below].

“It is within online discussions where learners are able to construct and confirm meaning [of course content] through sustained reflection and discourse.” (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001).

What makes Online Discussions effective….
In the online program at my workplace, we struggled with getting students to engage in discussions forums throughout a given course. After several months, we’ve increased participation considerably after much trial and error. We found it takes more than a skilled facilitator to develop and sustain meaningful dialogue. The instructional design of the course – or  how the course is set-up is critical. Course discussions are most successful when embedded into the design, are tied to the learning objectives or outcomes, which allows for purposeful discussions rather than ‘busy’ work or forced dialogue for the sake of creating ‘interaction’. Below are key components to effective online discussions, adapted from a journal article in Distance Learning (Wade, et al., 2006). My own take on each, follows in [brackets].

  1. A solid course design strategy where discussion forums support learning objectives [students thus recognize discussions are meaningful].
  2. Clear, concise guidelines and expectations for students [I'll share some examples in this post].
  3. Well constructed topics/questions [critical! - I'll discuss this aspect in post 2].
  4. A skilled facilitator or moderator [in our program, most successful discussions include the instructor or students as the moderator - more on this in my next post].
  5. An assessment component for giving student feedback [we use a grading rubric - I'll share a sample with you in my next post. Though grading participation has its drawbacks and benefits, which I'll discuss in post 3].

Course Design
I won’t spend a lot of time on this topic, except to highlight the need to create a solid instructional strategy with clear, learning objectives and outcomes, with carefully selected content and methods where students will apply and work with the course content, (this is where discussions come into play). Consult my preferred method of instructional design, the Dick, Carey and Carey instructional design model, click here.

Guidelines for Students
We found clearly outlining expectations in more than one place within the course is helpful for students, and reinforces the purpose of, and expectations for discussions. I always like to include a sentence that states the purpose for the discussion, thus alleviating the feeling of pointless busy work. We include a statement such as, “Discussion forums are an important part of learning in an online ‘space’….most students find that participating in discussions helps with not only understanding of the course content, but deepens their learning and ability to think critically….”

Below is a sample of what we include in our online syllabus, under the heading of Discussion guidelines.

  • Use a subject line that relates to your post; this will help create interest and focus for the discussion.
  • Write clearly and with expression. Communicating online requires careful and concise writing, but also allows your personality to come through! Though humor is effective and at times relevant in discussion, be sure to avoid sarcasm, which does not translate well in the online environment.
  • Be supportive, considerate and constructive when replying to your classmates. Do not use jargon, slang or inappropriate language. If you disagree with a classmate please respond in a respectful and tactful manner. Any posts deemed inappropriate by the professor will be removed from the discussion board.
  • Keep your post focused on the topic, relating any class readings and materials from the current module in your post (as applicable).
  • Proofread and review your response before hitting the submit button! You have one hour to edit your response before it is posted, then, it cannot be modified or removed except by the instructor.
  • Participate regularly. Improve your learning by being an active and engaged student. Successful students follow and participate in the assigned discussion throughout the module, logging on at least three times a week while reading and participating in forums as assigned in the module.

In the instructions section for a particular module or week, we include directions and specific guidelines for participation:

“Participate in the Module xx discussion forum. Discussion forums are graded and count towards your participation grade. Refer to the Discussion Forum grading rubric in section xx of the course e-book.”

The Potential of Online Discussions
From what I’ve presented thus far, you can see there is much upfront effort required to set the stage for effective online discussion, even before the first discussion is launched, yet it is well worth the effort. Online discussions have tremendous potential to promote critical thinking skills, ‘force’ students to engage with the content, use higher order thinking skills, and ‘construct’ new knowledge. Numerous studies suggest it is the act of writing, thinking about and composing a text-based post that encourages students to engage their higher order thinking skills (Wang & Chen, 2008) – it’s the power of writing.

Click here to read the next post in this series, which reviews strategies the course instructor can implement to continue the momentum of developing and sustaining effective course discussions, and here for the final post on discussion assessment.

Resources
Wang Y. & Victor Der-Thang Chen (2008). Essential Elements in Designing Online Discussions to Promote Cognitive Presence, Journal of Asynchronous Communication. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 3-4 (12).

Wade, D. A., Bentley, J. P. H., & Waters, S. H. (2006). Twenty guidelines for successful threaded discussions: A learning environment approach. Distance Learning, 3(3), 1-8.

Related Posts: Critical thinking in the Online Classroom, Onlinelearninginsights 
Post Two: How to facilitate robust discussions online, Onlinelearninginsights
Post Three: The method and means to grading student participation in online discussions, Onlinelearninginsights
MOOC Mythbuster – what MOOCs are and what they aren’t, Onlinelearninginsights

Providing relevant learning online…outside the [LMS] Bubble

Let’s face it – the learning management platforms (i.e. Moodle, Blackboard) as they exist today, are restrictive, limiting for both the learner and online educator. The flexibility, value and learning potential available with Web 2.0 tools far exceed the teaching limitations that exist within the LMS platform. CT’s s recent article, Rebuilding the LMS for the 21st Century reaffirmed what I’ve written about before – working within an LMS platform feels as if I’m trying to communicate (from the student perspective) and teach (educators’ perspective) through a brick wall – I said A BRICK WALL – can you hear me? Sorry for the big caps, but that is how it one feels inside an LMS – the need to shout.

Now more than ever as LMS platforms merge into one (Blackboard recently acquired Moodlerooms)* educators need to be independent for lack of a better word, move beyond the walls of the LMS, explore and embrace the multiplicity of tools available to teach, instruct and foster learning online. The agility of  innovative software developers to provide new tools and  applications for collaboration far outpaces what traditional LMS providers can offer, in fact this says it better than I could,

 “Web 2.0 enables and accelerates the transition to a more connected world in which open, user-centered and self-organising networks create value, including public [educational] value. That’s the Web 2.0 proposition with which…people …around the world are experimenting to see ….eGovernment Resource Centre

Why use Web 2.0 tools in Online Teaching?
Just as in the classroom, utilizing a multiplicity of tools and methods is part of instruction though with online there are additional reasons, relevancy, and learning through collaboration with peers. A blog reader, a professor of communications class, shared her approach, “I believe they [students] should be using web applications and not be inside the LMS silos … learning how to make use of the possibilities offered on the web.joanvinallcox.ca. Exactly – an illustration of relevant learning.

This clever illustration below uses Bloom’s Taxonomy with its levels of cognitive learning domains presented in the familiar pyramid image, but inserts applicable web 2.0 applications into each, which illustrates Web 2.0 tools that support instruction. I would like to reiterate here, that it is only through a sound instructional design strategy that instruction is effective, with appropriate tools chosen to support learning objectives (my model of choice: Dick, Carey and Carey).

Bloom's Taxonomy and Web 2.0 Applications, by Samantha Penney

The other reason, emerging research suggests students learn better when there is a visual representation of course content to work with, [beyond the text] either through knowledge maps, or graphs with text within boxes [used in context of the visual mapping] (Suthers et. al., 2006). Though the research focuses on collaborative learning and interactions with knowledge maps, this is an interesting concept to consider.  What it does suggest is that online learning needs to move beyond the threaded discussions in the LMS platform.

Where to start…
There are a plethora of tools available and I will admit it will take some legwork to find relevant and applicable tools to meet the needs of the course objectives – I will provide just a few examples below to get you started. Also consider revisiting the instructional strategy, reviewing the learning objectives, the course content, and select learning activities that will support student learning. Next, I like to identify the appropriate level within Bloom’s Taxonomy, which helps with my choice of appropriate tool. Using the verbs associated with the learning level are also helpful – for example, analyze, synthesize will require different learning activities than verbs such as identifying or describing.

  • A collaborative mapping tool, MindMesister
  • Mindamo, Online Mind Mapping Software, available in Google Apps
  • Collaborative Data spreadsheet tool (think Excel), EditGrid
  • 35 Best Web 2.0 tools for Teachers, Edudemic

Keep Learning :)

Related Post: The LMS Divide
* Correction to my original post which incorrectly stated that Blackboard had acquired Moodle, it should have read Moodlerooms.  Moodlerooms is a support provider to Moodle, an open source platform.

Reference
Suthers, D.D., Vatrapu , R., Medina, R., Joseph, S., & Nathan Dwyer. (2008, May). Beyond threaded discussion: Representational guidance in asynchronous collaborative learning environments. Computers & Education. Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 1103-1127

What do Curators, e-Educators and Constructivists all have in common?

“A curator (from Latin: cura meaning “care”) is a manager or overseer [educator] of a collection [e-resources], traditionally a museum or gallery and is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections [educational resources] and involved with the interpretation [constructivist] of material.”

I’ve inserted my own words into Wikipedia’s definition of curator, as I’ve been exploring the term ‘educator as curator’, an emerging concept I’ve noted based on blog discussions and social learning tools developed within the past twelve months. Scoop-it and Curatr both describe learning with the adjective ‘curate’ and discuss educator as ‘curator’.

I’ll admit, I was stretched to see the connection between real learning and ‘curating’ in this context, though after viewing Corinne Weisgerber’s (St. Edward’s University) slideshare presentation  (below), I [finally] could see the connection — in essence, curating is a dimension of social learning, and with the expansion of web 2.0 tools, has tremendous potential for engaging students. However….

Educator as curator, is about social learning, and has great potential with the explosion of social learning tools – yet, I predict, will face acute resistance in higher education circles.  Adoption of ‘social learning’ will face barriers, as the concept collides with traditional teaching methods.  (onlinelearninginsights)

Corinne Weisgerber  (Associate Prof. of Communication at St. Edward’s University, presentation at SXSWedu, March 6, 2012.

Social learning is Constructivist Approach
I found this slideshare intriguing – the focus is on students’ creating, collaborating and learning through sharing. This approach emphasizes social, using web 2.0 applications and tools to create knowledge, with a byproduct being student engagement. This smacks of the constructivist learning theory, of which many higher education educators are wary. Though as mentioned in my post, sage-on-the-side, there is a clash between the objectivist (behavioral) theorists where learning believed to be transmitted from teacher to learner, is passive,  with the inquiry based learning or constructivist approach where the learner is thought to construct knowledge through inquiry, discovery and experience.

The future for Social Learning?  Resistance by Higher Education….
Why am I pessimistic about the adoption of the constructivist approach any time soon? It’s the divergent philosophies about knowledge acquisition held by traditionalist and progressives in higher education institutions. Post-secondary  institutions (in the USA – at least), are objectivist theorist, and though there is progress, change is slow. For example growth in online learning stalled in 2010, in part due to slow adoption (and continued resistance) of higher education institutions and faculty (I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, 2011).

Author and researcher C. Payne puts it this way in her book Information Technology and Constructivism in Higher Education, “The problem of the unwilling students seems to be fading away [using web 2.0 applications] while the hostile colleagues and the land of rigid institutions are likely to become the most important obstacles to deal with“. Ouch! To be fair, not all post secondary institutions fall into this resistant category, in fact there are several progressive higher-ed institutions which embrace and embody the student center approach for undergraduate and graduate programs. These schools discussed in-depth by Payne, however are outnumbered, and the ‘outliers’ in higher ed.

How to make Social Learning Effective
Jerome Bruner is considered one of the founding fathers of the  constructivist theory, influenced by Jean Piaget, a psychologist, founder of the developmental stage theory which describes the nature of knowledge and how humans construct it. E-learning and online educators would do well to review the concepts and principles of the constructivist model —  it provides a foundation for sound and complete instruction for putting the learner in the center, and for creating a framework that allows the learner to construct their own knowledge. I would like to emphasize, that the teacher is not absent from this model, in fact it is only through careful course design and with thoughtful selection of learning activities, can learning be effective and focused.

Principles for effective E-learning design using the Constructivist Theory
A successful e e-learning course is most effective when developed using a course design model, and with consideration of principles of a given learning theory, such as the constructivist theory (core principles below).

  • Emphasize the affective domain, make instruction relevant to the learner, help learners develop attitudes and beliefs that will support both present learning and lifelong learning, and balance teacher-control with personal autonomy in the learning environment.
  • Provide contexts for both autonomous learning and learning within relationships to other students. Group discussion, projects, collaboration as well as independent.
  • Provide reasons for learning within the learning activities themselves. Have students identify relevance and purpose.
  • Use the strategic exploration of errors to strengthen the learners involvement with intentional learning processes and self-feedback.

I look forward to the evolution of ‘educator as curator’, and constructivist – I am sure there will be more to come.  Keep Learning :)

Sources:

Image representing Curatr as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Curatr: Create rich and active social e-learning
Scoop.it: Business and Economics: E-learning and Blended Learning

I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman. Going the distance – Online education in the United States, 2011. (2011), Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC.

Creating Rich, Robust Discussions in Online Learning

Part 2 of a 2 part series on Instructor involvement in Online discussions.

Who doesn’t love a stimulating, thought-provoking and engaging conversation? Online learning is a [potential] hotbed for such rich discussions – yet it takes deliberate instructional planning to develop, guide and teach effectively within online discussion forums. In online learning, the student is in the center, not the professor, yet here’s the irony –  the skills of the instructor and/or instructional designer, are needed just as much, if not more to create a pedagogically sound course using discussion effectively. Furthermore, efforts to simulate traditional face-to-face classroom methods in the asynchronous online environment through the use of ‘interactive’ discussion forums, miss the point. We need to create a new way of learning and designing courses, start from scratch. Let’s press on…

Goal of the Online Discussion
I like to start with the instructional design theory before we get into the practical methods –  if we start with a model of design, such as Dick, Carey and Carey model, we see that online discussion forums are a part of an overall strategy that support learning objectives. A good question to ask is ‘what purpose does the discussion serve’?  With good intentions, forums have been incorporated to create interaction, even fill a void and in an effort to mimic the social component from face-to-face. Discussions purposefully included however, using an instructional strategy are most effective for the student’s learning, promoting higher order thinking skills as per Bloom’s Taxonomy. In a college level course for example, we want to move the learner from the knowledge phase, at the bottom of the pyramid (recall, memorizing, listing etc), to the analysis and synthesis levels. It is at these levels where the student is challenged — he or she  compares, describes, classifies, contrasts using the course content. It’s the skillful instructor that can push the student up the taxonomy.

The Foundations
Let’s review and look at what needs to be in place to set the stage for good discussions:

  • In my post, part I, I introduced some fundamentals – here are two more:
  • Include an introductory forum where learners have an opportunity to meet one another, by sharing interests, backgrounds . One of my favorite student introduction activities is when the professor had us, (students) write a brief paragraph, then share three of our favorite websites, and explain why they were so. Introductory forums are an important component to set the stage for the learner feeling socially accepted and comfortable, which sets students up for success in the discussion forums, where real learning takes place.
  • Create a Rubric for the student. A rubric, grading tool that sets the standards and expectations for the student is an excellent tool because of its specificity.

Role of the Online Instructor
I’ve read numerous articles and even written a couple about the role of the instructor – who is the guide, mentor or facilitator?  Yes, yes and yes. The online instructor is all and more. The role is challenging, and most face-to-face instructors receive little or no support or development in the art of creating and supporting online discussions. What is most challenging for the instructor is knowing when to be involved in the discussion, to promote and guide discussion, and when to back off and observe to let the discussion evolve and develop without students feeling hindered and reticent with too much instructor presence. It’s a balance —  a skill and an art. That being said below are tactics and strategies to create rich and robust discussion:

  1. Create discussion questions which promote dialogue, by: keeping questions fairly short, beginning with ‘how’, ‘what’, and at the end of the question, add ‘Describe’ or ‘Explain”.
  2. Encourage discussion by rewarding the first couple of participants that begin the discussion, by commenting, ‘thanks [name of student], for getting us started off… that’s an good point – have you thought of….what do others think …..” This reinforces early participation, and models for students the behaviors required.
  3. Refocus discussion when needed by acknowledging the students viewpoint and providing an alternative viewpoint, then ask for feedback from students. Being supportive is critical in the online environment. Written text is always at risk for being misinterpreted.
  4. Encourage other students to build upon each other posts through the forum, by asking others for their comments, and by including this requirement in the rubric.
  5. Remove any offensive posts immediately (this rarely has happened in my experience), and contact student directly, by Skype, or phone to explain why.

Resources for Further Development
There are many, many resources for building skills in this area. Though I would say the very best method, is to participate in an online course as a student. Experience the other side! I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing professors, each with very unique and different approaches to online discussions. I’ve been able to use and share my experiences in my workplace which hopefully has helped other professors and students experience rich and robust discussion. Here are a few resources I found to be quite good.