H5P Interactive Videos: Mark words, navigation hotspots and more

H5P Interactive Videos: Mark words, navigation hotspots and more

Common Teacher Misconceptions about Online Learning

One of the biggest challenges many teachers have with online teaching is seeing teaching asynchronously. Asynchronous means not at the same time. By extension, asynchronous learning means learning that does not take place at the same time. Most teachers have years if not decades of synchronous teaching, which means they are use to all their students being in the same place and learning at the same time. In this post, we will see how this misconception can begin to creep into many different aspects of online teaching.

Attendance and Seat Time

When a teacher moves to online teaching, they expect to be able to something as simple as taking attendance. However, it doesn’t make sense to take attendance because the students are not all in one place simultaneously as in a traditional classroom. Therefore, students’ attendance is not kept through presence but rather through completing activities and assignments.

Another common problem connected with asynchronous learning is the concerns of meeting a certain number of lecture hours. Again, in online teaching, it not about hours but instead demonstrating competency by completing appropriate forms of assessments. In other words, the work completed is proof that the lecture hours have been met. In addition, because students can work at their own pace, there is no way they will all spend the same amount of time in the course. This means that assessment is more critical than lecture/content in an online course because it is hard to control the amount of time needed for individual students to learn.

Live Stream vs. Prerecorded

Many teachers that I have worked with over have wanted to live stream their classes. Again, this goes back to the idea of trying to duplicate the synchronous learning experience online. Live streaming is not a bad thing, but you must be able to solve technical issues quickly, and you need adequate equipment. The equipment can include a camera, computer, microphone, and someone to control all of this stuff. To live stream your class through your laptop or tablet for students is a poor learning experience.

Prerecording is a superior choice because you do not have to worry about solving technical issues immediately. This approach is also consistent with asynchronous teaching. You record the video, fix any problems, and upload. Students can watch the video whenever they want, which provides them with the flexibility they may need in a faraway timezone.

Assessment and Cheating

When it is time for significant assessments such as final exams, teaches often want all the students to take the exam simultaneously. Again, this is another example of synchronous thinking in an asynchronous context. It is reasonable to have all students take an exam simultaneously if they are in the same place. However, if the students are all over the world, it is not practical.

Generally, traditional assessments such as quizzes and finals are avoided when teaching online. This is because the temptation to cheat is so high. Instead, projects in which the students have to apply the knowledge is the preferred way when possible so that the students have to use what they learned rather than repeat it.

If traditional testing is necessary, you can employ several a question bank from which the exam pulls one of several questions. You can also scramble the correct answers within a question.

Conclusion

Change is difficult, and when teachers are forced to move to a different teaching platform, it can be challenging. The assumptions of synchronous teaching are not wrong until they begin to impact the students’ learning experience in an online setting.

Developing Curiosity in Students

Young students, generally less than 11 or 12, seem to have an endless supply of questions for their teachers. They are always looking to learn something, even if this is not reflected in their academic performance. However, as students grow older, it is common for them to lose interest in learning more than the minimum. In other words, curiosity often dies as compliance becomes stronger with time. This post will look at ways to maintain are strengthen curiosity in students using the following strategies.

  • Questioning
  • Employing active learning/leading
  • Modeling

Questioning

Asking questions is one way in which a teacher can inspire curiosity. Questions stimulate thinking as the student finds the answer or realizes they do not know the answer. Often, if students do not know the answer to a question from the teacher, they will want to know it.

It is hard to say what makes a good question suitable. However, open-ended questions usually encourage deep thinking. Examples of open-ended questions often involve the use of such phrases as “what if,” “why,” and “suppose.” Teachers need to try and use open-ended questions when possible. In addition, teaching the skill of asking questions is highly valuable in a world that is demanding critical thinking. It is not enough to ask good questions as teachers need to teach students to ask good questions as well.

Asking great questions will allow students to interact with each other and with the teacher will provoking stimulating discussion. This ability to have deep stimulating conversation is a skill that is rarely found in the world today.

Active Learning

Active learning involves having students do something to learn rather than receiving information passively or without action. It means putting them in charge of their learning as students. It is difficult for a student not to have any curiosity when they are the leader in their learning. One way to encourage this would be to employ self-direct learning in which students pick for themselves how to complete a project.

A simple example of this is having students share current event articles. The students have to select and then share the article. Finding an article takes some curiosity as they explore the internet looking for material. Sharing information also requires the development of thinking and communication skills.

Modeling

Being an example of curiosity is probably the most critical strategy. Imitation is a primary way of learning for students. As a teacher, you have to be the one who demonstrates what curiosity is. This involves asking questions, showing what active learning looks like, listening carefully when others talk, and more. It may also include making mistakes in front of the class to show that curiosity is sometimes about failing.

Modeling may be the most potent tool for encouraging curiosity because this is a primary way in which people learn and that is through the watching and imitating the behavior of others

Conclusion

Curiosity is alive outside of school. If you doubt this, look at how students figure out their cellphones, tablets, and games. However, once inside the classroom, students seem to lose interest in being curious. As educators, we need to find ways to help students bring their curiosity into the classroom.

Core Concepts for Experimentation

This post will explore several core concepts that are related to experimentation in research. These concepts include

  • Randomization
  • Replication
  • Blocking

Randomization

Randomization involves making sure that the order of the individual runs of the experiment are determined by chance. The main reason for this is to ensure that observations and error are independently distributed random variables themselves. Spreading out all variables in a similar manner helps with the validity of the results. This is because the error is averaged out among all variables and not only one.

Many computer software will automatically randomize the runs of an experiment for you. Such a process helps to eliminate any accidental patterns that may arise if you try to randomize yourself. A common mistake people make when doing experiments is to let convenience determine the run order. For example, if it is hard to set up equipment that can be used as an excuse to run the experiments in a way that is most convenient but may also influence the results.

There are times in which complete randomization is not possible. There are ways to address this statistically, as we will see in the future.

Replication

A replication is a repeated run of a particular factor combination. For example, let say you are looking at the role of gender (two levels) and class level (four levels) affects quiz score. One replication would be to have at least two female freshmen take the quiz.

The benefits of replication include the ability to estimate error and a more precise measurement of the mean for that particular combination of factors.

Another term confused with replication is repeated measurement. They are the same thing with the exception that repeated measurement leaves out randomization. In other words, with replication, the measurement is not consecutive but spread out, while with the repeated measurement, you would measure your variable repeatedly in a row.

Blocking

Blocking is used to improve the measurement accuracy of experiments by blocking the effect of nuisance factors. Nuisance factors are factors we do not care about. For example, if you are trying to assess the impact on quiz scores but do not care whether the quizzes are in the morning or afternoon, you can block for the time of day. You then randomly assign people to each block and rn the experiment.

The goal is to create blocks that are as homogeneous as possible, which means only afternoon people in the pm block and only morning people in the am block. Doing this helps to control for the influence of time of day.

Conclusion

The topics discussed here are foundational to experimental design. However, we don’t want to give the impression that this is all there is that you need to know. Instead, what is discussed here serves as a guide concerning other topics that need to be investigated.

Types of Experiments

This post will provide some basic ideas for developing experiments. The process of doing valid experiments is rather challenging as one misstep can make your results invalid. Therefore, care is needed when attempting to set up an experiment

Definition

An experiment is a process in which changes are made to input variables to see how they affect the output variable(s). The inputs are called controllable variables, while the outputs are called response variables. Other variables that cannot be controlled are called uncontrollable variables.

When developing an experiment, the experimenter’s approach or plan for experimenting is called the strategy of experimentation. Extensive planning is necessary to conduct an experiment, while the actual data collection is often not that difficult.

Best Guess Approach

There are several different strategies for experimentation. The best-guess approach involves manipulating input variables based on prior results from the output variable. For example, if you are teaching a math class and notice that students score better when they work in groups in the morning compared to working in the afternoon. You may switch to group work in the morning and see if lectures may further increase performance.

This guesswork can be highly efficient if you are familiar with the domain in which you are doing the experiments. However, if the guess is wrong, you have to continue guessing, and this can go on for a long time.

One-Factor-At-A-Time

Another strategy of experimentation is the one-factor-at-a-time (OFAT) approach. You begin by having a baseline for each factor (variable) and then vary each variable to see how it affects the output. For example, you can switch whether students study in the morning or even and see how it affects performance. Then you might test whether group work and individual work affect scores.

The biggest weakness with this is that you can see interactions between variables. Interactions are an instance in which one factor does not produce the same results at a different level of another factor. Interactions can be hard to understand, but sometimes when two factors are mapped at the same time with the response variable, the lines cross to indicate that there is an interaction.

Interaction

Factorial Experiments

Factorial experiments involve varying factors together. For example, a 2^2 factorial design means four combinations of experiments with two variables are varied, and one response variable with four possible combinations of experiments. Often these types of experiments are drawn as a square, as shown below.

Factorial Design

Each point represents a different combination of the two factors. The calculation of this involves subtracting the means of the variable or factor on the x-axis. If we run each combination twice, we would calculate the difference, as shown below.

The more significant this difference, the more likely there is a strong effect based on the independent variables in the model.

When the number of combinations becomes large and complicated to manage, it may not be practical to run all possible combinations. In this situation, an experimenter will use a fractional factorial experiment in which only some of the combinations are used. For example, if 32 experiments are possible (2^5), maybe only 12 of them are conducted. The calculation is the same as above, just with more groups to compare.

Conclusion

Experiments are a practical way to determine the best combination of factors or variables for a given output variable(s). The majority of the time is spent planning and designing the experiment, with the actual data collection being straightforward.

Logistical Challenges of Online Group Work

The surge in online education has led to questions about group work. This post is going to avoid talking about all the basics of group work such as setting expectations, dealing with lazy students, setting deadlines, etc. because these are principles that apply offline as well as online. Instead, we are going to look at the unique logistical challenges of online group work. Some of these challenges include

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Presentation

Communication

Finding ways for group members to communicate is a major challenge when working online. However, it depends on the context. Students may need to communicate synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous means everyone is together and talking at the same time such as during a conference call. Asynchronously means people communicate but not at the same time such as through a forum/chat.

If all the students are in the same time zone are neighboring ones, it is easy for them to communicate synchronously. However, if students are spread out all over the world finding a convenient time to discuss and work on a project together becomes difficult.

As mentioned earlier, forums/chat are a way for group members to communicate when it’s convenient for them. However, for some, working like this doesn’t feel look group work. This is s subjective view but is something to bear in mind.

A general recommendation to make is that the closer students live near each the more complex the project can be because of the ease of communication (synchronously). However, the converse is also true that the further away students live from each other simpler the project may need to be because of the challenges of communication (asynchronously).

In terms of the tools to use for communication, it’s probably better to have official channels worked out beforehand for the students to lower confusion. Again this is much more important as the students are more spread out geographically. Have all the students signup for whatever tool you pick and then have them use this one. There are so many different tools to choose from that this can be better decided between you and your IT staff.

If the communication is asynchronous, it might not be necessary to use any external tools as most LMS have forums and even a chat feature. If the current tools do not work again it is recommended to consult your IT staff.

Collaboration

The word collaboration in this post means some sort of document(s) that a group has to work on to complete the project. This can be a serious headache if you do not put in place some sort of system through which students can share document(s). What you really want to avoid are students emailing each other copies of the document which quickly falls apart. Another problem that you want to avoid is one student pasting together several documents from different people because there was no collaborating happening when this takes place.

Depending on your school there may already be tools for document collaboration. For example, Google or Microsoft both provide tools for institutions to share documents. The problem is that you as the teacher must learn how to do this and then explain and train all of your students, which is extremely difficult. This is probably one reason why group work in eLearning is talked about but rarely done.

Presentation

Often, when a project is completed it is shared with the class. Again, if all the students are geographically near each other a live class online is feasible. However, in a situation in which students are spread out this is not possible. This leads to the question of how to have students share what they learned.

The simplest solution is to have students prerecord there presentation. This is then linked inside the LMS so that other students can watch it. You can even require that students leave comments as proof that they watched the presentation. Unfortunately, doing this means that normally only one person gets to present in a group because of the challenges of communication.

Conclusion

Group work online is challenging, however, it can work in certain circumstances. People may disagree but the main challenge is differences in time zones that can impede live communication. When this is missing a lot of critical interaction is missing that is a part of the learning experience. Therefore, online projects are better if they are simply rather than highly complex.

Getting Students Online

In this post, we will look at getting students online for the purpose of learning. Moving students online requires some training for the students and clarification for the administration in terms of what they need to share and this post addresses both of these concerns.

Traits of Successful Online Learners

Online learning requires highly autonomous students. This means students who are self-motivated and organized. They must have the drive to work to achieve a goal. The reason for this is that social relationships are warp in the online context and it is hard to rely upon friends for encouragement and even the teacher for structure.

Online students must also possess the ability to read and at times find instructions for completing assignments adhering to due dates etc. Text is a primary vehicle fo instruction in online learning and students who do not like to read and or are aural learners may have a hard time in the context.

Perhaps the most important trait online learners need to possess is the willingness to ask help from the teacher or IT staff. It is difficult to survive online if a student is too shy to ask for help when they are confused. Again, this has to do with the inability to socialize with peers adequately online. Without the initiative to call out for help students will quickly become overwhelmed and lost.

These traits mentioned above are traits that students should possess before studying online. It is difficult if not impossible to develop these abilities while studying online. It is also equally challenging for the teacher to try and teach these skills. This means that online learning is not for all students.

To determine if students are ready for online learning it may be necessary to assess their skill set before online studying. Assessing study skills, time management, etc can at least help to flag students who may be at risk.

Tools for Online Learning

The tools for online learning are rather obvious but sometimes students do not seem to understand this. For example, a steady internet connection is necessary. This seems obvious but sometimes I have seen students try to study in public places are in a noisy home with many competing devices on the network.

There are also things to consider about the hardware. Students must have some sort of way to back up their data. This can be cloud storage or an external hard drive. Many students have computers that crash and leaves them without there assignments. This can be avoided for as little as $10 for a decent thumb drive.

Students also need to have the browser that your site supports as well as specific plugins for individual courses (adobe reader, Zotero, etc). However, be careful with adding more and more software as it can lead to difficulties for students who lack the technical knowledge or technology.

Student Orientation

The orientation to online at your school should deal with all the ideas addressed above along with the traditional topics your school deals with during their orientation.

In addition, you need to lay down expectations about communication, academic integrity, and the time commitment of online learning. Other topics include using the LMS, study tips, as well as handling online assessments.

Generally, the orientation is fully online. However, if the program is new it can be fully face-to-face or a hybrid model. This is because a new program may want to focus on students who are on-campus to work out the bugs and kinks of starting a new program. If you go live all over the world without any preparation it could lead to a lot of surprises.

Conclusion

Preparing students for online learning has a lot to do with the students being prepared beforehand. Online learning works for those with the discipline and motivation to work independently. If a student lacks this trait it doesn’t matter what the training covers.


E-Learning & Support Staff

Many think e-learning is only about teaching. In reality, there is an entire army of people working behind the scenes so the teacher and student can shine. In this post, we will look at support services and how they can be made ready to support e-learning

Defining Support

The support staff is all of the people involved in the online learning experience whose primary function does not involve teaching or leadership. Examples of support staff can include information technology, academic services, finance, student services, and marketing among other possible individuals.

A common problem with support staff is that like many teachers they have never studied or taught online. This means that they may not be familiar or comfortable with supporting students virtually such as in the context of an online experience. In addition, even though they do not teach support staff needs to be familiar with the LMS and other online tools so they can at least communicate basic information to students when it is necessary.

To put things as simply as possible, even the secretaries should be familiar with e-learning ideas an concepts not for the sake of teaching but for the sake of being able to understand students and even teachers’ questions and concerns as they provide support for them. This can only be done through training and some experience.

Information Technology

The IT team has the advantage of being thoroughly comfortable with technology. Therefore, learning about the technical aspects of e-learning is not much of a challenge for them. The problem with IT often is that they constantly want to add more and more technology to solve various problems with the existing technology that you are using. When this happens the new technology clashes with old technology causing bugs and the learning curve to use the LMS grows. This discourages students and teachers from using the system employed by the institution. Therefore, it is important to limit the expansion of technological tools employed for e-learning for the sake of simplicity.

Other problems facing IT is the selection of the LMS. Generally, you want them to be a part of this process to win their future cooperation. If you pick it without them and they know what you picked was bad they will resist supporting the lousy system with 100% commitment. However, if you pick a bad system together you will get full cooperation because of the IT’s ownership in the bad decision.

When deciding on what LMS to pick the choices are essentially free (moodle) and commercial (Blackboard). Free is not free as you have to provide extensive support to get the LMS working which may require hiring additional people. Commercial cost more but is already fully functional.

The choice of LMS also has to consider supporting the system. This includes standard procedures for updates/archives, the appearance of website, security, and how to address technical support. These are all basic IT concepts but they need to be worked out for the e-learning context.

Academic Services

Academic services will need to determine if the Student Information System is going to integrate with the LMS. This is primarily so that information in one system is simultaneously available in the other. Examples of information that may need to be in both systems include grades, student ID, student names, majors, faculties, etc. Doing this is simple for IT (most of the time) but there are security issues that need to be addressed.

It is also important to have all the standard academic policies adapted for the online experience. For example, addressing issues involving plagiarism and cheating need to be adapted for e-learning. Lastly, the academic office needs to think of how tutoring and remedial support can take place in the online context. For example, proficiency exams for entrance, writing support, and additional forms of tutoring needs to be addressed in the online context.

Library Service, Finance & Student Services

The library needs to establish a strong online presence by acquiring ebooks and electronic databases. The staff of the library must also becoming comfortable helping students online rather than face-to-face. For example, library staff may need to make a video recording of how to use online library services which means the staff has to be familiar with technology.

Finance needs to determine the cost of learning online. Students expect the fees to be lower than on-campus because there is no room and board involved. Therefore, there is intense pressure to keep costs down in e-learning.

In addition, contrary to what we see with MOOCs, online classes should be the size of traditional classes at your institution. Teaching 500 students at once cannot be done with 1 person even with all the technology. Students need the individual attention that comes with moderately small classes. With a large class, the institution is forced to higher TAs that quickly start to eat up the budget. Therefore, finance needs to be sure to treat online classes like regular classes financially.

Student services can involve such things as counseling and social activities. Therefore, it is left to Student Services to develop these tools in an online context. Students require emotional support like anybody else.

Another project is for the student service team to develop ways for online students to socialize and get to know each other. This may be done by breaking students into social cohorts who have to interact synchronously at times.

When thinking of all these services, they can be shared by the online program with the university or they can be separate. For example, the online program can share financial services or have its own financial services. There is no right or wrong but what works best for you.

Conclusion

There is a lot involved in support staff to have a quality online experience. Everyone needs to work together for the sake of the students to learn. If anything is neglected the online experience will be negative for many.

Online Teaching Competencies

In this post, we will look at teaching from the perspective of three different areas of competence. These areas are

  • pedagogical
  • technical
  • administrative

Skills in these three areas indicate a teacher who may find it easier to be successful in the online learning context.

Pedagogical

Pedagogical skills that an online teacher should possess include the following.

  • Content mastery
  • Responds to students inquiries (within 24 hours)
  • Provides feedback
  • Communicates
  • Monitors progress
  • Demonstrates presence
  • Instructional variety

Content mastery is the expertise a teacher brings to a subject. Generally, this is acquired through university studies and is not acquire while learning to teach online.

Responding to student questions and providing feedback all deal with the idea of communicating. When teaching online, messaging is a primary tool for reaching students. Therefore, responding to concerns and providing feedback on assessments promptly are key skills in successful online teaching because this is the primary way of interacting with students one-on-one

Monitoring progress is similar to providing feedback. However, monitor progress is about watching the students while they work rather than checking their progress after working. For example, many LMS systems have a way to know when students last logged in to the course and can even tell you what they clicked on. If you notice that a student has not logged in for a while you may want to contact him to see what is going on.

Demonstrating presence means providing students with evidence that you are watching and monitoring the class and know what is going on in the learning experiences. This can be done through the use of several skills already discussed. When students know you are there and watching it can boost motivation.

Finally, instructional variety means having different ways of providing instruction. Nobody enjoys only lecture-style teaching or maybe even exclusive group work. Rather, what people enjoy are different forms of experiencing the learning content.

Technical

Technical competency may be one of the biggest challenges for teachers. To demonstrate technical competency teachers must have strong computer knowledge. This can include fast typing skills, various forms of software, hardware, and even coding (i.e. Html). It may also be necessary to develop video editing skills for lectures and knowledge of different forms of social media for sharing content. In addition, all the tools mentioned are upgraded over time requiring a teacher to refresh their skill set. In other words, you never stop learning when it comes to technical competence.

The LMS is another highly specific that has to be mastered to a certain degree. No matter what your institution chooses (Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, etc.) there will be a learning curve to figure out what to do. A teacher will be responsible for grades, communication, course display, and even helping students with minor technical questions.

Larger institutions may have dedicated tech support for moving a class online while smaller institutions may not. Technical challenges are perhaps the top complaint of online teachers. Therefore, technical skills must be developed. Personal experience shows me that the only way to develop technical skills is to play with the software/technology involve. Large training sessions are fun for socializing and being together but people generally don’t develop the ability to do or use something in such settings.

Administrative

Administrative competence is highly similar to the pedagogical competency. Some of the administrative competencies include the following

  • Classroom management
  • Academic integrity
  • Course revision

In terms of classroom management, teachers need to make sure the syllabus/course outline is available, that the course is available from the official start and end date set by the institution, communication is taking place, student progress is being monitored, etc. As you can see, there is a strong overlap between pedagogy and administration.

Academic integrity is another important competency, particularly with older students. The policies for defining this behavior need to be explained in the syllabus/course outline and available to students. In addition, penalties need to be explained for violation of academic integrity.

Course revision is using feedback from students to improve the course. Usually, a course will have some sort of an evaluation that students complete for course improvement. However, student feedback in only one source of information. The teacher should always be looking for ways to improve their courses by incorporating new material, teaching approaches, and or technology.

Conclusion

Competencies help people to determine where they are at and where they need to be in terms of their skillset. Being deficient in a competency does not mean incompetence (no pun intended). Rather it is an opportunity to grow and something that may not be natural.

Roles in Online Teaching

Online teaching requires the teacher to be able to wear several hats in teaching online. These different hats are symbolic of the work and roles online teachers have. The following is a list of some of the main roles teachers have when teaching online

  • Course Designer
  • Facilitator
  • Manager
  • Expert
  • Mentor

Course Designer

Course designing was discussed in a prior post in this blog. For simplicity, course design is curriculum development in an online context. You must develop objectives, assessments, and learning experiences while aligning them.

Facilitator

The role of the facilitator involves supporting the students in the completion of the course. This can be achieved through the use of the following strategies

  • Contacting students regularly
  • Holding office hours
  • Present in discussion forums
  • Providing timely feedback
  • Modeling online participation for students
  • Motivates

Most of these strategies are self-explanatory. Contacting students helps to establish a connection with them which is critical in helping students to develop the resilience to complete a course. Holding office hours lets students know when you are available for impromptu communication. This will not wok all the time given the differences in time zones. However, the point of office hours in the online context is to advertise availability and not necessarily practicality.

Showing presence in online discussions demonstrates active engagement in the course. A facilitator needs to respond to comments made in forums to show and demonstrate participation. In other words, this simply a matter of prompt communication.

Timely feedback means that assignments are graded as quickly as possible to communicate academic progress to students. Without this feedback, students can quickly lose focus and become lost.

Modeling online participation was already alluded to in establishing a presence in the online discussion. Teachers need to set the example of proper online behavior/participation as determined by the institution. This can mean such things as frequent logins, messaging, discussion, and providing feedback.

Completing all these behaviors as already mentioned can help students with the motivation to complete a course. A main factor in poor performance online is the student feels isolated and alone and simply does not see any reason to finish a course.

Course Manager

The course manager role involves providing content for a course. Examples may include videos, text, links, etc. In this role, you maintain the maintenance of a course and make sure it functions properly.

Over time, it is common for an online course to have a breakdown in functionality. This means that you need to check the technology employed in a course periodically in order to ensure that the course is in proper working order. This is not hard, however, if you do not enjoy the technical aspects of online teaching you could struggle with this.

Subject Matter Expert

Naturally, if you are teaching a course you are an authority in the field that you are teaching. This means having a deep knowledge in you and staying abreast of the latest developments. Students are coming to you to develop expertise so you must possess this first.

Expertise can demonstrate through the development of activities, learning experiences, and assessments. If these things align, they will provide the students with a comprehensive knowledge of the field and convince them of your expertise. Expertise is not only knowledge of one’s field as it also depends on your ability to communicate efficiently.

Mentor

Mentoring involves advising students, This can involve academic and at times even personal matters. For academics, a mentor needs to advise students on studying, class selection and seeing how the current course is preparing students for the real world.

For personal matters, it depends on the context and the openness of the students and teacher. In the online context, the willingness to give life advice is useful in establishing connections & relationships with students. These relationships are critical to making students comfortable in a distance setting.

Conclusion

The many roles of online teaching can seem overwhelming. However, with practice, we can all learn to juggles these hats in a successful manager to support and help online students.

Developing an Online Course

Online course development is becoming more and more popular every day. In this post, we will look at one approach to designing a course and there are at least 5 steps involved

  1. Needs analysis
  2. Learning objectives
  3. Assessment
  4. Learning experiences
  5. Evaluation

These steps are essentially a modified version of Backward Design.

Needs Analysis

The purpose of a needs analysis is to determine the concerns the stakeholders have regarding the course you are developing. You take these concerns or “needs” and try to meet them in the course. For example, parents might be concerned that their kids need to develop problem-solving skills. This means that in the course you design there should be elements of problem-solving to meet this need.

How to conduct a needs analysis is a topic in its self. The primary goal is to collect data from stakeholders and this can be done through surveys, interviews, observations, etc. For those of you who are familiar with accreditation, it is often required that your institution do a site report before the visitation. This is done in part so that you know what you “need” to address to make your institution better.

Learning Objectives

Learning objectives identify what the student will do to learn. How many objectives to make depends on such factors as the needs analysis, the length of the course, general requirements, and the views of the teacher.

The main point to consider when making objectives is that they involve the student doing something to learn. If you, the teacher, are doing something then this is not an objective for the student but for you. An entire post on the details of learning objective development was already written at this blog and is available.

Assessment

Assessment is the evidence of mastery of the objectives This can take the form of assignments, quizzes, tests, exams, papers, projects, etc. that are used in teaching. Most forms of assessment that are done in a traditional setting can also be completed in an online setting. The challenge is having the teachers think a little differently.

For example, many teachers struggle with having students do presentations online. However, this can be achieved by having students record their presentation and then provide a link inside the LMS for the teacher and or other students. You can even embed the link in a forum and have the teacher and students provide comments within the forum.

Quizzes are another concern for many teachers online. Instead, of using quizzes for a grade teachers can use quizzes to get feedback in terms of their understanding. For example, a quiz can be developed just for learning and not for correct answers to help students prepare for future assessments. By removing the points there is no need to worry about cheating.

Learning Experiences

Learning experiences involve content delivery to learn new material. Examples of this in a traditional classroom can include such things as lectures, discussion, readings, etc. In the online setting most forms of learning experiences can be reproduced.

For example, video lectures can duplicate traditional lecturing. In addition, forums can be used to duplicate discussion. The purpose of the learning experiences is to experience learning. This means that active rather than passive learning should be the goal if practical.

Evaluation

Evaluation has to do with getting feedback about the course to improve it. Most courses at the tertiary level already provide some sort of way for students to give feedback about the course and the teaching.

Conclusion

Course development is a key skill in online learning. A teacher must know what the major concerns are from the stakeholders and address these concerns as they develop the objectives, assessment, and learning experiences of the course. If you are successful with this it is then necessary to determine what the students think about the course. This is the process of improving and developing a course

Getting Faculty Online

There are similarities between teaching face-to-face and teaching online. We all can tell that both involve teaching. However, online teaching is a new context in which teaching takes place. Therefore, some basic adjustments need to be made to have success in the context of online learning. This post will try to clarify some of the things faculty may need to know before they can teach online successfully.

What is Excellent Teaching?

One of the first things I try to clarify with teachers I am trying to support is to point out what excellent teaching looks like in a traditional classroom. I do this because many teachers at the tertiary level have no formal training in teaching. This often means that if they are good at teaching it is at a subconscious intuitive level. Teachers need to know what excellent teaching is because they need to duplicate this when teaching online.

Excellent teaching includes the following traits

All of these traits have been explained before. The goal is to make teachers aware of these traits and to duplicate them in the online context.

Online Empathy

Another experience that online teachers need is the experience of being an online student. This will allow the teachers to understand what the students go through when they are trying to learn in this manner. This experience also helps teachers to realize what they need to do as they teach online

Being a student first also allows for teachers to learn by doing. Many of us struggle to learn through presentations. Therefore, consider guiding your teachers learning experience through the use of such activities as being an online student first.

What to Teach Them 

There are many different topics and ideas teachers need to learn about when moving to online instruction. Below is only a partial list

The list above are things that most teachers are already familiar with. However, the difference is the context. As the online leader, you need to provide the institutional answer to each of these topics. Otherwise, your teachers will find their own answers which can lead to administrative chaos as everybody starts to use different platforms and ways of teaching online. This places a heavy burden on the students as they have to use multi-platforms because they have multiple teachers.

All of the topics above were discussed in prior posts and videos on this blog.

Conclusion

Moving faculty to online teaching is a tremendous challenge. It requires a look of work and sacrifice to find ways to move teachers online in a way that they are willing to cooperate to see success among students. Despite this, teaching online has quickly become a standard in education and teachers need to take notices of this.

Terms Related to Online Education

In this post, we will look at several terms used in the field of online education that are commonly confused and even at times misused. The purpose is to try and clarify these terms for times when details matter.

Online Learning

Online learning is the general mother term for all the other terms referred to in this post. Online learning encapsulates distance learning, e-learning blended learning, and virtual learning.

Online learning is simply learning that takes plus via technology over the internet. This is a broad and vague definition and essentially captures almost all learning over the internet. This is not to say that this is wrong. Instead, if we want to better communicate are intentions as educators we may need to be more specific at times.

Distance Learning

Distance learning is often seen as the same as online learning. The main difference is that distance learning is focused on students that are geographically separated from the institution that is offering instruction.

This essentially means that distance learning was a marketing term to attract students far from the university or institution. Again, this is not to say that having such a term is bad. Rather, the goal here is to explain the source of the many terms that are used in this context today.

E-Learning

E-learning is traditional education happening through an electronic medium over the internet. With e-learning, there is normally a student-teacher relationship in which they interact with each other. Online learning in general does not require this. The students and teacher may also be in the same physical space, such as a campus, but still teaching and learning online. This would not meet the definition of distance learning.

The term e-learning is also commonly associated with completing a degree or some sort of set curriculum. The planning can be rigorous and there are clear start and end times in terms of progress. For example, most e-learning experiences involve the use of a learning management system such as Moodle, which provides a framework for course delivery. In other words, e-learning is often more structured then general online learning or distance learning.

Blended Learning

Blended learning is a combination of any of the examples above with traditional classroom instruction. However, blended learning is generally associated with e-learning. This means that there is some combination of face-to-face and e-learning happening in a particular educational experience.

The ratio between face-to-face and e-learning will vary based on the course, teaching style, student preference, and other factors. For example, some teachers use the e-learning aspect of their course only for posting learning materials and not really for instruction. Other teachers flip their classroom and post lectures online and have discussion and feedback take place during class. There are lots of different flavors to this experience and finding the right combination is something every educator should explore.

Conclusion

Even though it is common for people to mix these different terms when speaking about education in an online context there are times when it is important to know which term to use. Naturally, there are other terms and even other definitions concerning this topic but that is a conversation for another time.

Challenges with E-Learning Implementation

Many, perhaps almost all institutions are wrestling with the implementation of e-learning at their campuses. This means that change is already here or at least coming. Generally, change does not work at the organizational level. Leaders talk about change, workers listen and agree but never do it, and the leaders never follow up with the implementation of the change.

In this post, we will look at several reasons why change implementation may fail in the context of e-learning implementation.

Change for What

Many times, leaders will try to bring in e-learning to provide evidence of their leadership rather than for a practical purpose. This leads to the implementation of complex technology and pedagogy without clearly establish goals/objectives. If there is no vision for e-learning there is little hope for success.

For many, e-learning is being forced upon them because of the rapid changes in the world today. Even though many have to teach online if there is no coherent plan in terms of what are the objectives of this experience people will wander about causing educational chaos with their students.

Resistance from Organization

When it is time to implement change, people love to talk about it. However, when it is time to implement and do things differently people often will quietly disappear and or disobey. This is because moving from theory to practice is difficult for people who already have a way of doing things.

The simplest way to deal with this problem is to have in place clear metrics to make to provide feedback in the implementation process. When progress is stalled it will be clear where the problem is and what should be done. When problems arise a mitigation plan must be enacted to get the organization back on track. This may involve things as unpleasant as holding people responsible for their actions. Having clear objectives with measurements can prevent a lot of this when people know that their behavior is being tracked and recorded.

IT Tools

Another unique problem with e-learning is the temptation to just teach the teachers all the latest technology and send them on their way. This is commonly done at the behest of the local IT experts at the institution who often believe the more technology the better.

More technology is often better for IT lovers but not for teachers. Learning every tool in Moodle or Blackboard is overwhelming. There are often 5 different ways to do everything and this is confusing for the average non-IT person. This does not even take into account the students’ need to learn the technology on their side. A simplified approach o learning just enough to get started is better Interactive videos are fun and can be engaging but perhaps a simple video with a forum is a simpler approach for a new teacher.

This is yet another instance in which having goals and objectives can prevent overzealous IT lovers from wrecking the e-learning implementation. Of course, those who are more comfortable with technology can do more advanced things. What is needed is a minimum expectation of what teachers should be doing in the e-learning context, not a maximum.

Conclusion

The ideas presented here do not all apply specifically to e-learning. Despite this, whenever we want to bring change, we have to have clear goals, a way to measure success, and to avoid the excitement of over adopting technology.

Pros & Cons of Agent-Based Modeling

In this post, we will look at the pros and cons of Agent-Based Models (ABM). ABMs are a common modeling tool use in computer simulations and can model some rather highly complex systems with little coding.

Pros

One strength of ABM is its ability to model heterogeneous populations. By heterogeneous we mean a sample in which the statistical properties of distribution are the same in different parts of the distributions. This is a key assumption in EBM and there are statistical tests that have to be done to assess that these assumptions are met.

ABM also allows for the discrete models rather than continuous models. Many actions within an ABM environment are “on or off” actions. This means that either they completely happened or they did not happen at all. EBM can have partial actions or outputs that would not make sense in the actual world. However, there are some ways around this through the use of a categorical dependent variable in an EBM. However, even in this situation, the EBM decision to pick on action over another is based on probability which can be less than 100%.

For ABM, another benefit is that the researcher does not need to have an understanding of the aggregate or big picture behavior of the phenomenon. These behaviors emerge from the rules that are developed by the researcher. With EBM, a strong understanding of the aggregate behavior or pattern is needed because statistics generally focus on aggregate patterns and not individual deviations from the aggregation. The exceptions to this my be unsupervised machine learning in which pattern discovery is the primary goal.

This leads to another point in that ABMs can incorporate randomness into the model since they do not know the patterns to expect. EBM tends to be deterministic, making it hard to account for randomness which is literally called error.

Lastly, ABM allows you to see a model develop over time because the data is generated during the simulation. Often, but not always, this is not possible with EBM as the data is already collected prior. this makes it hard to experiment with different scenarios

Cons

One of the strengths of ABMs is also their weakness which is that ABMs are not beneficial when dealing with homogeneous data. If the statistics in the distribution are all similar there is no need to identify individual agency or behavior. ABMs are focused on the differences in the individual and how these contribute to system patterns.

ABMs can also be computationally expensive. Each agent is moving about and demanding calculations from the CPU. When this number gets too large it can lead to a computer seriously slowing down. However, as technology improves this is less and less of a concern.

A final criticism of ABMs is there use of free parameters. Free parameters are essentially variables that the researcher must set to a specific value before running the model. In machine learning, these are called hyperparameters. Whether free parameters are a weakness or not is somewhat controversial since all models have certain things they assume in order to run.

Conclusion

This post examined the pros and cons of ABMs. In general, as one famous statistician said, “all models are wrong but some are useful.” This same principle applies to the use of ABMs.

Motivation in E-Learning

This post will provide some ideas on how to engage students online in a practical way. Therefore, there will be no discussion on theoretical ideas but rather some ideas for best practice that might work in your class.

Be Organized

An online course must be well designed and structured. This is even more important than when teaching in person because it is hard to rearrange an online course in the middle of teaching. By organized it is meant that there is a coherent and consistent layout of the course. In addition, there are clear objectives for what the students will do as well as some way for communication to take place between the students and the teacher. This will vary from institution to institution but it needs to be agreed upon and adhered to within a course.

If a course is disorganized it can be highly demotivating for students. This is because the students shave to spend all their time trying to figure out what the links do, what the directions are, how this or that works, etc. This is one reason why a course should be peer-reviewed and or beta tested by students before it is used. This feedback can help to determine what makes the course disorganized so that solutions can be developed.

Get there Attention

A course can be well-organized but boring. This is also a problem and is similar to a well-prepared lecturer who puts you to sleep with their delivery. Perhaps the next step in online course design is finding ways to engage the students. This can be done by making the course visually appealing through the use of pictures, colors, and other forms of visual stimuli. Remember that the visuals need to serve some pedagogical purposes and not only an aesthetic one.

Interaction is another way to improve engagement. This can happen through developing multimedia such as interactive videos in which students respond to questions during the video. In many LMS you can assign the responses to the videos points that count towards the grade.

One more tool that can help is developing thought-provoking questions for forums. For students, the more controversial generally the better. By developing questions that challenge students thinking it may help to get them to invest mentally in the course as they look forward not only to your response to their post but also to the responses of other students. When students discuss and learn without you is when a course can be considered motivating.

Make it Fun

Fun can happen in many different ways. Interaction is essentially one form of fun. Other ways to make a course fun can include using humor. This can happen when communicating with students or through how the course is setup. You have to be careful with humor as it can be a double-edged sword because what is funny to one person is an offense to another.

Games can also be incorporated into an online course. Some authoring tools include games that can be employed such as H5P. Another approach would be to point students to educational games at other websites that are related to the course.

Having a good time knows no age limit. However, the younger the more important that there is some joy to the learning experience. Therefore, be sure to include ways for students to enjoy themselves especially for the younger ones.

Something inline with games but not really a game is gamification. Gamification involves putting in a game like feedback into the course. Examples can include being awarded points and or medals for completing various tasks in the course. This can be highly entertaining for students and it is amazing what even adults will do to earn one more point or badge by completing a forum.

Communicate

Communication may be the most important tool for motivation in an online course. Through the bridge of communication, the teacher and students can develop relationships with each other. This means that a teacher needs to send messages to students and respond to messages from students promptly. Failure to do so will be highly demotivating for many students as they are seeking guidance and not getting it.

Feedback is another critical tool in communication. When students complete assignments they need to know how they did and quickly. Therefore the teacher must communicate academic progress through marking assignments and posting grades. This allows students to make corrections to their mistakes and lets them know that someone is monitoring their progress.

Conclusion

The tips mentioned here are only scratching the surface of motivating students online. You must find strategies and techniques that work for you and your students. However, the ideas mentioned here will at least help to get you started.

Intro to Agent-Based Modeling

Agent-Based Modeling (ABM) is a computational approach to modeling reality. ABM is not new having a history dating back to the 1960s. What is new is that the average computer often will possess the needed computational power to use ABM for modeling purposes. This has led to an explosion in interest in ABMs.

This post will introduce ABM and some terms associated with this field of research.

Terms

The term agent-based modeling (ABM) has a lot to it that we need to unpack first. The word “agent” in this context means a computational object that possesses specific actions and behaviors. An example of this might be a car in traffic or birds flying together. These examples will make more sense later.

A model is a description of a process, event, or system. Models are developed to explore a phenomenon because the model can be manipulated to extract understanding. Specifically, a computational model takes inputs (variables) and manipulates the inputs in an algorithm like way. This allows for the prior mentioned experimentation but also for the ability to communicate quantitative results differently than a traditional mathematical equation.

With our knowledge of agents and modeling, we can now say that ABM is a computational model of agents and their interaction with an environment created by the researcher.

More Terms

The rationale behind ABM is the idea of emergence. By emergence, it is meant that when agents interact patterns begin to “emerge.” For example, cars travel together leading to traffic jams and birds fly together in flocks. The pattern of a traffic jam and a flock is only possible when the agents (cars and birds) interact with each other in each system.

Emergence can be seen from two different perspectives. Integrative emergence is the observer knowing the behavior of individual agents but trying to determine patterns or see the “big picture” of the system. For example, you know how cars drive in traffic but you want to understand the patterns of a traffic jam.

Differential emergence is the opposite. It involves the observer knowing the general pattern or big picture but wanting to determine the behavior and actions of individual agents. For example, you know the pattern of a traffic jam but want to learn how individual cars drive in a traffic jam.

A common error people make when looking for emergence is something called deterministic-centralized mindset. This view holds there is no randomness in a pattern and that there is some form of a controller of the pattern. For example, someone is responsible for the traffic jam, or there is a leader among the birds flying in a flock. From these two examples, you can see that it is more common for people to err on the side integrative emergence in that they see individuals responsible for the patterns rather than the system.

Pros & Cons

ABM allows people to explore the complex phenomenon in a hypothetically way. It is possible to generate large amounts of data in a computationally cheap way. In addition, many people find the results of an ABM to be easier to understand because knowledge of calculus is not required. The removal of math seems convenient but equations offer a compact explanation that ABM is not able to duplicate making this a disadvantage.

Among supporters of ABM, there is a small tendency to over-promise the capabilities. There is an argument that the development of ABM is similar to the switch from Roman to Arabic numbers during the Middle Ages. This is unlikely to be a fair comparison because the switch in number systems had a tremendous practical influence in everyday life whereas ABMs might be useful for scholarly like people but not a more practical person such as a plumber or entrepreneur.

Conclusion

ABMs allow researchers to experiment with various scenarios in a highly cost-efficient way. Modeling system with agents provides an approximation of reality that was not possible before. All approaches to uncovering reality have their flaws. However, ABMs providing a unique contribution to research today.

Making Videos for Online Learning

Making online content is difficult. Without the interaction of the classroom, it’s easy for students to lose focus and struggle. However, with some basic help, teachers can make some small changes to their delivery approach to make videos that are more engaging for students.

Your Teaching Style

Before preparing your videos for your online class, you need to be honest with yourself about your teaching style. You need to ask your self how interesting you are as a teacher. The temptation is to think that you are an interesting and engaging teacher. However, personal experience has shown me that most teachers are terribly boring when they have to lecture in person and they are even more boring when they have to teach through a video online.

It is not a criticism if you are a boring teacher. Knowing this is important because it shapes how you approach the delivery of content when teaching online. An interesting teacher will be able to do things online that a boring teacher could never do.

If you cannot determine your style of teaching, you can consider the following options

  • Recording your face to face teaching and watch it
  • Examining course evaluations from prior teaching experiences.

If you choose to record yourself, ask yourself if you would really pay attention to what the teacher is saying if you were a student? If the answer is no, you need to determine what it is that is such a turnoff.

Guidelines

Once you know how engaging you are as a teacher, keep in mind the following to developing engaging online videos.

Keep it Short

Online videos should be between 10-15 minutes give or take. The reason being is that longer videos begin to put students to sleep and shorter videos become irritating because you always have to click for the next video. Another reason is that through watching television, people are already trained to pay attention for about 10-12 minutes at a time because that is how long a segment of a tv show lasts before a commercial break. If you talk for much longer than this you are not meeting the students’ preconceived expectation for how long they should receive content.

Whether you are closer to 10 minutes or 15 depends on how engaging you are as a teacher. A boring teacher should speak for 10 minutes or less while engaging teachers can go beyond 15 minutes because they know how to connect with their audience.

A general guideline to help you with timing and your PowerPoint slides comes from a Japanese presentation technique called PechaKucha. In this approach, you share 20 slides and talk for 20 seconds on each slide. This leads to a total presentation time of 6minutes and 40 seconds. This approach helps a presenter to talk less and show more which helps with engagement

7 minutes might be too short for your presentation. The point is not to adopt all the rules of PechaKucha but to use it as a guide to shape your presentations. Generally, you don’t want more than 30 slides in a presentation as things begin to bog down when teaching online.

More on Powerpoints

Powerpoints are a useful tool. However, the problem is that everybody uses them and this can be torture for students. If a student is taking 5 classes, he or she is probably experiencing 5 PowerPoint presentations every day. This is highly disengaging because of the ubiquity of PowerPoints.

An alternative to a PowerPoint is to use an on-screen whiteboard. This can be something like a simple paint app or an online tool such as Microsoft Whiteboard. By drawing are writing the concepts on the screen while recording can help to keep students much more engaged. This is due at least partly to the mental break students get while you are drawing/writing.

Of course, you can also have too much of a good thing. For example, if you are teaching math, it can be torture to have to wait for the math teacher to finish writing down the equation before solving it. In such situations, pre-written content can help to keep the video moving.

Naturally, I do not have to mention how you need to avoid reading your PowerPoint slides. Slides should be short and bulleted and should serve as a reminder of what you want to say rather than as a reading prompt.

Communications

There are also some tips for communications. You want to avoid highly formal language. This is because people tend to get lost when the language is dense. This means using 1st and 2nd person rather than third, which means speaking directly to the audience. When you talk directly to someone it forces them to pay attention at least a little bit.

A second suggestion is to avoid too many details. Experts love to share their expertise. However, most of our time is spent with non-experts. Therefore, every detail about every theory and concept is not always necessary. The amount of detail needs to match the expertise of your audience. College freshmen need fewer details than grad students. Generally, no matter what you are teaching, there is a good chance that the students will have another opportunity to learn it. This means it is not necessary to tell them everything if it causes them to fall asleep.

Whenever possible, try to wrap the content in a story. Storytelling is engaging and helps people to have a contextual frame in which to remember details. The stories don’t have to be that creative. It could be as simple as a story of when you first learned about the topic you are lecturing about. The point is to mix the theory with some form of reality that people can relate to.

Lastly, asking questions can also be beneficial. Of course, you will not be there to hear the response. However, when you speak directly to the audience and ask them what they think they have to pay attention to. If possible you may be able to make your videos interactive, which would allow you to post questions students can respond to during the video.

Beginning Middle and End

This is probably obvious but keep in mind that you need to introduce what you will talk about, present what you are talking about, and then summarize what you talked about. Many teachers can sometimes skip this. Doing so can lead to confusion for students at times.

Conclusion

Making videos online can be difficult. However, some basic tools can help a teacher to develop efficient and interesting content. It’s important to understand how you teach so you can maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses as you help students.