Author Archives: Dr. Darrin

Sum & Difference Rule VIDEO

Sum & Difference Rule

Distance & Displacement

This post will take a look at distance and displacement—two core ideas in classical physics.

To understand concepts such as distance and displacement, you first need to understand position. Position is the location of an object. When we are speaking of distance and displacement, this involves an object changing position. However, an object can only change position if it is relative to something else. For example, if a person walks 5 meters from their bedroom to the kitchen, this distance can only exist because there are two positions

  • The bedroom
  • The kitchen

The position of the person is defined by what we call a reference frame. The reference frame is a stationary object from which position is determined. In the example above, there are three positions

  • The bedroom
  • The kitchen
  • The walking person

The bedroom is the reference frame. In other words, wherever the walking person goes, their position is measured in relation to the bedroom. The kitchen is simply the goal destination or where the walking person is going.

Distance

Distance is a measure of the length of the path between a person’s initial and final position. In our walking example, the person traveled 5 meters from the bedroom to the kitchen. This 5 meters is the distance.

bedroom walk 5 meters to the kitchen

Displacement is a little more complicated. Displacement is the net change in position. In other words, displacement compares your final position to your initial position and determines if there is a difference in these values. For example, if we use the walking example again, the displacement is the same as the distance. This is because the person walked 5 meters and did not move anymore. Doing some simple math, we can calculate the displacement as shown below

Final position – original position = displacement

5 – 0 = 5

The person traveled 5 meters to the final position of the kitchen. The original position is 0 meters because the bedroom is where the person started at and is the reference frame.

The value of the distance and the displacement are not always the same. For example, if the walking person goes to the kitchen and then returns to the bedroom, we get the following numbers

bedroom walk 5 meters to the kitchen

Kitchen walk 5 meters to the bedroom

The distance travel here is 10 meters as we went 5 meters to the kitchen and 5 meters back to the bedroom. However, the displacement is zero because our final position and our initial position are the same in that we left the bedroom and came back to the bedroom. There was a change in the distance but not in the person’s position when the walking was over.

Scalar and Vector

Distance is a measure of magnitude (amount of) length. In this situation, only the magnitude is being measured, so this is a scalar quantity. In the example above, the person walked 5 meters. We know the direction, but this is not needed to understand that the person walked 5 meters

Displacement is a measure of magnitude and also direction. When magnitude and direction are considered, it is called a vector quantity. In our example above, the person walked to the kitchen and then walked backed to the bedroom. Walking to the kitchen could be considered a positive distance while walking back to the bedroom would be regarded as a negative distance. This is why the displacement is zero in the second example. Walking back and forth essentially cancels the values out.

This examination of motion is called kinematics, which is the study of motion without being concerned with what causes this motion.

Conclusion

Distance and displacement are foundational concepts in physics on which many other complex ideas are built upon. Therefore, understanding how things move in relation to space is critical to appreciate for students studying this subject.

Providing Feedback in an Online Context

Often feedback is automated in the online context. This can include the use of multiple-choice, matching, true and false, etc. Since there is only one answer, the computer can score it, and a highly ambitious teacher can even provide automated feedback based on the answers the students select.

However, a lot of assessment cannot be automated. This means that the teacher must provide feedback manually to such assignments. The purpose of this post is to provide strategies for providing feedback in the online context.

Feedback for Individuals

The ways to provide feedback for students at the individual level are similar to how you could do this in a face-to-face teaching setting. Here, we are going to provide online equivalents of standard forms of intervention.

After checking an assignment, a teacher can message a student to provide feedback. Most LMS have a form of messaging, so this should be possible. In addition, most LMS provide some way to provide feedback to all the assignments and activities in the system, which is highly convenient for most teachers. If this does not work, another option is to send an email. If email is used, you can also attach a rubric for the student. This is time-consuming but highly doable for the weakest at technology.

Among those who hate to type, recording short videos explaining how you marked the assignment can be highly practical. Often you can provide much more detailed feedback to the students. Of course, this is a little bit more technical challenge, so it may not be practical in all situations. However, you can show the assignment on your screen and do a play-by-play of the student’s progress.

Feedback for the Whole Class

Students often make the same or similar mistakes. Therefore, instead of giving individual feedback to each student, you can share feedback with the entire class. The tools mentioned above apply in this setting, as well. When marking assignments, you look for common mistakes and explain them to all students in one message or video.

General whole class feedback is highly time-efficient. It satisfies most students who are generally happy with a general idea of how they are doing rather than a detailed report of every shortcoming.

Other Options

Of course, you can do a combination of the two strategies above. For example, students who are doing well may only receive general whole class feedback. Then for struggling students, you may opt to provide more detailed feedback to help them pass the course.

Peer evaluation is also highly popular but challenging to do online. Just like teachers, students do not like to provide a lot of written feedback. It can also be challenging to monitor this process and make sure students are trying to help each other.

Conclusion

Providing feedback is essential, but it is highly time-consuming. Giving feedback can be even more tedious in the online context if you are trying to do it the same way as in a traditional classroom. However, making some small adjustments, such as giving feedback only to those who need it, can make this experience less painful.

Natural Philosophy

In this post, we will do a brief history lesson on the term natural philosophy and the branches of sciences that sprang from it. From there, we will look more closely at the world of physics

Natural philosophy was a catch-all term for the study of nature. Some of the fields associated with natural philosophy include biology, astronomy, and even medicine. With time, as knowledge grew, various subjects began to be spun off from natural philosophy into their own separate area of expertise.

For example, the subjects under natural philosophy have been divided into the natural sciences such as zoology and botany, and the physical sciences such as chemistry and physics.

Physics

The term physics comes from the Greek word “phusis,” which means nature. Therefore, physics is the study of nature or reality because nature is what many people consider to be real. Physics, in particular, has been further divided into classical and modern physics.

Classical physics covers the topics and discoveries of physics from the Renaissance until the end of the 19th century. As such, classical physics covers what the average person encounters in their day to day life and can be understood intuitively. The explanations that classical physics provide must fall under the following assumptions…

  1. Matter must move at a speed less than 1% of the speed of light or about 3,000,000 meters per second.
  2. The objects dealt with must be large enough to see with the naked eye.
  3. Only weak gravity, like earth’s, can be involved.

Again, this is where life is for most of us. Classical physics must be understood before trying to understand modern physics. Modern physics throws out the three assumptions above with two main contributions, which are the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

Einstein’s theory of relativity states that the measured length of an object traveling at high speeds is shorter than an object at rest. By high speeds, we are talking about faster than 1% of the speed of light (this is breaking the first assumption mentioned above). For example, time, which is a measure of change, moves slower for an object traveling above 1% of the speed of light compared to an object at rest. This means that if you could travel this fast, you would age slower than someone at rest. Gravity can also affect time as satellites in space have to readjust their clocks to sync with the earth. This is called dilation.

Quantum mechanics deals with the very small, which is breaking the second assumption. We are talking about objects on the atomic and subatomic levels. The rules at this level are often bizarre because these tiny particles can travel almost the speed of light, thus breaking assumption 1. As such, this area of physics has its own distinct rules.

Conclusion

Natural philosophy is perhaps a term that many people are not familiar with. This is because the term has been chopped up and divided into many different branches of science. Within the sciences, even physics has several subdivisions as people continue to learn more about the world around them.

Pros and Cons of Live Streaming Teaching

Online teaching is all the rage now. This has led teachers and institutions to try and determine how to support students in the online context. One solution that many individuals and institutions are adopting is the use of live-streaming their classes. In this post, we will look at the pros and cons of live-streaming classes.

Pros

One advantage of live-streaming your teaching is the authenticity of doing this. Here you are live trying to instruct and connect with your students. This is hard to do in a prerecorded video, which should generally be perfect because there is time to fix problems. With live-streaming it is similar to the classroom in which all the warts and flaws of the teaching experience are there for everyone to see.

Another advantage of live-streaming instruction is the chance to address and communicate with students in real-time. This allows you to address questions while they are fresh in students’ minds and provides an opportunity to get to know one another. Again, this personal touch is not possible when making prerecorded videos.

Cons

Technical issues are probably the biggest problem with live streaming. Technology is impressive but often unpredictable. The microphone you’ve been using for weeks all of a sudden does not work. The internet connection is down or slow. Or maybe the students cannot see or hear or even cannot log in if required. All these things and more can happen when live streaming. In addition, these are all problems that need to be solved in a matter of minutes before students get distracted or give up with learning at that particular moment. If you do not have a strong technical background, it can be impractical to wait for IT to come to the rescue as you struggle to figure out what is going wrong.

To do quality live streaming incurs a moderate to high cost. You will need a microphone, streaming software, camera, and more to do this well. If you only want to sit in front of your computer, this will lower cost and quality. However, if you’re going to move around the room while teaching, you will need cameras that can follow you and a microphone to pick up what you are saying.

If moving through the classroom is a goal, you will need a cameraman to man the camera. In addition, if you want to interact with the students, you will need someone keeping track of any chat messages coming in through your platform or whatever messaging system you are using. If you are only sitting at your computer and live-streaming, it isn’t easy to keep track of the messaging and chats while teaching at the same time. Even a system that notifies you of questions is hard to notice because you are focused on your content. Of course, you can just let students jump in when they have a question, but this may not be practical for large classes.

The point is that quality live-stream comes with a cost. Sitting in front of your computer is much more cost-friendly than moving about in a studio or classroom. However, if the live-stream is going to be good, there will be some financial investment in equipment and software

Engagement can be challenging with live-streaming. The temptation is to lecture for the time that everyone is together. Teachers do this despite knowing that lectures are horrendously dull. If the lecture is prerecorded, students can skip around or play it back at double speed, which is beneficial for the faster students.

The engagement issue means that the teaching has to be good. This means having clear lessons, high expectations, and a strong knowledge of the subject. If you are sitting in front of your computer, it means you need to know when to show the content and when to move the camera to show your face. Cycling back and forth like this helps keep students awake rather than only showing the content or your face. Visualizing ideas by making pictures also helps. By drawing ideas using some software, it helps to keep students engaged.

The final problem with live streaming is something that isn’t the teacher’s fault, which is time zones. If students are spread out all of the country or world, this means there is no convenient time to live stream. I have heard of cases of students having to watch classes at 1 am because of live-streaming. This was hardly convenient for them.

This implies that live streaming may be limited to specific geographic regions near your institution. Of course, if you allow students to watch the video later, this will solve this problem. However, the option of watching the video latter means many will skip the live stream for the convenience of watching it later. Sadly, for many students, watching the video later means never watching it at all.

Conclusion

Live-streaming is for pros. If you are new to this, you need a lot of help, or you need to develop your technical skills to handle emergencies. You also need to make sure that you can teach in an engaging way, so people do not start surfing the net while trying to teach. This is an excellent tool for a particular type of teacher, and anybody can live stream and do a lousy job. For most of us, we need the flexibility of prerecording to iron out whatever problems we face when trying to transition to online teaching.

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.