Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Are MOOCs

Check out this very well-said statement by James Richard Brett, which appeared in the latest issue of the University of Virginia Magazine.

 There are good economic and pedagogically sound reasons to make videos of large-scale lectures for regular academic credit and to re-run those lectures locally for a faculty-defined number of years, honing them and evolving them to fit the local environment and the students. Faculty must look at the curriculum to see where these opportunities exist and resolve to find the right balance within the resources available.
Mere distribution of processed information is not higher education, however. The essence of higher education is to foster in students the ability to analyze ideas and data, to relate these to other materials, to develop arguments, to reach conclusions and to present the results of these processes with clarity and style, while encouraging a respect for data and unpleasant facts, tolerance, commitment, creativity and perpetual curiosity. The process is dynamic, cumulative and involves extensive interaction among students, part of which is conducted by people who have already had and reflected upon the experience—faculty.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

MOOCS, the new hot fad in higher education

Everyone seems to be talking about the Mooc; articles are appearing in major newspapers like the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, in journals like the Chronicle of Higher Education, and in all kinds of web-based media.  Everyone seems to have fallen in love with the MOOC, and most of those people really know very little abut what education really involves.  Yes, I am going to sit in front of my smartphone and watch some expert talk to me for an hour and voila, I have learned by being part of a MOOC!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reflections on Social Presence in the Online Classroom.

This is based on the articles by Steven R. Aragon, “Creating Social Presence in Online Environments,” and Brandi Scollins-Mantha, “Cultivating Social Presence in the Online Learning Classroom:  A Literature Review with Recommendations for Practice.”  This was part of a professional development activity at the college.

To begin with two points to consider
(1) there is no right or wrong when it comes to establishing social presence in your online classroom (just as there is no absolute right or wrong to the same in the face-to-face classroom)
(2) your selection of what techniques re social presence to use/not use will depend on your discipline, your specific course goals and objectives and your own personality
(3) You can always change things!

A working definition of social presence:
the establishment of a connection/relationship with a student so that learning takes place (agreed, that’s a bit on the high and mighty side).  Here is another way of possible saying it; a instructor must create an atmosphere of engaged learning, meaning that he is engaged with the student and the student with the material and the instructor. (I think that engagement factor is absent from a lot of online courses.)

Now that social presence can be achieved/attempted in a whole lot of different ways.  I happen to focus on transferring the classroom’s one-on-one conversation to the online environment. I choose not to focus on some other aspects of the social presence definition.

Some factors:
(1) Start with good design of course material in a variety of formats (text, images, audio, video) to capture different learning styles.  That material should be your own content as much as possible (not publisher-provided Powerpoint slides).  That immediately establishes a presence in your course.
(1a) Again, everything begins with the design of your course.  “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage” (in the online classroom, an instructor really needs to be both.  You need to demonstrate to students that you are a master of the course content, and that you can guide them through the course.)
(2) Quick turnaround with communication to students (Returning their emails once a week quickly proves to students that you are not engaged and really don’t care about their learning).
(2a) Send them reminders often with hints on how to approach difficult assignments.
(3) Make tech support a priority (This is often a problem at NVCC, although we are getting better about it; tech problems can really diminish student enthusiasm)
(4) While being nice and interested in student hobbies, etc, is great, you cannot let that alter the way that you grade and assess student learning.
(5) Be aware of how much personal information you provide to students, and be aware of how much you expect students to share with other students.  That is just the world we live in.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Does anybody really know anything about educational reform?

We've got basically open enrollment at the community college level.  Students have to take English, reading and math placement tests, but results on those tests only really apply to English, reading and math courses.  So what about the students who enroll in a Western Civ survey courses that has appropriate college-level reading and writing skill levels, while the students possess a sixth-grade reading level and some sub-college writing ability?  What does that mean re the demand for "student success?"

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chronicle article on Teaching v Technology

Very interesting discussion of the Chronicle of Higher Ed article.  Here are some of my comments:
  • most people vastly overrate the effectiveness of face-to-face teaching (obviously most have never sat in to watch other classes)
  • to do excellent online classes requires a considerable investment (sum of money); most online education is done on the cheap.  That's why there is that widely held notion that online education can be a cash cow for a school
  • both online ed and FtF require a commitment on the part of the students themselves.  If that is lacking, it is not going to work.
  • technology is important, and we have got to implement it in both online and FtF classes so that students are trained to succeed in the business environment of the 21st century

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More on My Chancellor's Professorship

Ok, as VCCS Chancellor's professor for 2012-14, I have created a website to track my progress and my thoughts on my different projects.  I have been considering the role of smartphones to use in my courses.  Because of their size, I think that they do have a role in communication, but I am leery of their use to deliver content, because of their size.  I simply do not think that we have to miniaturize everything.  If TVs are getting bigger to deliver video content, why should we be delivering video content on smaller and smaller screens.  I think that there has got to be some kind of cognitive limit reached with such small devices.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

VCCS Chancellor's Professorship Project

I am starting a project to rethink how I teach my campus (and to a lesser extent my online courses) to rely more on current technology (the smartphone), but at the same time I do not want the technology to interfere with my content teaching.  I will be relying more on online apps and websites to teach content.  I also want to figure out a way to make the study of history more personal for students who do not seem to grasp that history is the history of the lives of real people who have lived and died.  I will post a link to my project site as soon as I get it up.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

UMUC and What Could Become a Scandal

Headlines in the region last week highlighted the resignation of the president of UMUC, U of Maryland's online learning operation.  What I found interesting were the allegations that she shortened courses from 14 to 8 weeks and eliminated proctored final exams.  That kind of stuff sounds familiar, but it is hardly in the realm of academic integrity, but it is is in the realm of boosting enrollment (profit).

Friday, March 16, 2012

Student Learning (not-learning) in Colleges

The Washington Post had a front page article yesterday, Colleges have their Own text anxiety, which focused on the fact that there is some data now that suggests that some students learn very little in four years of college, although I am not sure why anyone would be surprised by that.  This has been kicking around in discussions since the appearance of the 2011 book, Academically Adrift.

What struck me in the article was the call for more critical writing in college courses, which is something that we try to do, despite indirect pressure from college admin to make the course easier (though no one will admit to saying that) so that we have better student success and retention.  We should probably require even more writing than we do now!

The article also mentions another supposedly new grading technique called "minimal marking," which is also something that we have been doing for years now--it is amazing that as soon as a big university starts doing something that has been academically innovative for years now, then it is the big university that garners all the attention and kudos (very weird).

In any case, after reading the article, I am convinced that we are moving in the direction of pre and post testing of students.  We probably wouldn't have to do that if more instructors would just stop giving every student who shows up in class a passing grade simply for being there.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Impossibility of Innovative Tech Projects at a Community College

The problem is tech support (better to say the absence of it). The tech guys have to spend so much time just managing email (someone is always responding to a phishing email and bringing down the entire system) and college resources (virtual drives to store virtual documents) that they have no time to support anything that is outside of the box.  Plus none of them are trained to do that.  They are network and security guys and just have a hard time dealing with any kind of academic support. I have reluctantly moved project after project that I have tried to work on to locations outside of the community college, literally because it is too frustrating trying to get any support.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What about Quality, Challenging Courses?

See, Jay Mathews, Washington Post, Put Spotlight on School, not Sports. (For a moment, let's disregard the enormous billions of dollars spent each year on college sports instead of academic facilities and resources.) No, what a college wants is "student success," which means higher graduation rates (or increased student retention so that students take more classes and pay more tuition).  It is rare the college that is actually about quality courses with real reading and writing challenges for students.  This is particularly challenging for a community college.  From my perspective, the oft-quoted figure that students study maybe 12 hours a week is an inflated figure.  I can come up with a class schedule that will require far less hours and still reward a student with solid grades of "A" and "B."  Faculty are afraid to hold students accountable and perhaps even fail them (that's not the student success that schools are looking for).

The Blackboard Strait-Jacket

We continue to be stuck with the old frame set-up of Blackboard.  There are literally hundreds, probably thousands, of digital apps out there, but we have Blackboard and it's ten or so features.