Distance Education and Extended Programs has moved to 79 Bolton Road, Buies Creek, NC, 27506.
As much as we love technology here in the Distance Education Department, we do not believe that technology should replace the human element in the teaching and learning processes. Each class has an instructor for a reason and those instructors reason and infer things about their class that only they can do. Instead, we believe that technology should make teaching easier and more convenient in many aspects.
When an instructor sets out to design an online course, it would be impossible for them to use every piece of technology that is at their disposal. Part of the design process is deciding what technology to use in certain portions of the course. In fact, I would recommend learning to facilitate a few different types of technology and implement those into the course a little at the time. These technologies can be a bit overwhelming with all the new things that seem to appear overnight in the tech world.
Technology is meant to enhance our lives. It is meant to help us communicate better, learn better, and teach better. In order to do so, we must understand the technologies that we are using and having our students use in our courses. If we master a few technologies, we will feel more comfortable trying out new technologies for future courses. But if a technology tool is not helping students learn better or a professor teach better, then that technology needs to go. Do not be afraid to try and fail. It is all part of the process.
The important part of using technology is not that you use it just to check it off of a list. It is important to foster learning and enhance the experience of your students. If those things are happening, then you are using technology in the best way. If not, there’s no use in using the technology in the first place. As always, when choosing technologies to try out, make decisions based upon student needs and everything will work out for the best.
Instructional Design & Training Coordinator
For most faculty members, teaching online is not their first teaching assignment. The norm it seems is that most faculty come from a traditional lecture style environment hoping to translate the same style to a blended or online environment.
Here are some common translations gone wrong…
- I will record my traditional classes with Tegrity and post in Blackboard
- I will post PowerPoints and Discussions in Blackboard
- I don’t need Blackboard; I will post the syllabus for the students with all of the information that the students need
- I just need a little assistance entering this midterm and final in Blackboard
- The course practically runs itself
What is the problem with these ‘translation’ methods?
Recording Lectures: The issue is not recording lectures but the manner in which they are created and used. Tegrity is a great resource for recording lectures in or out of a classroom setting; however, this resource should not be considered the sole ‘interaction’ between the student and course content. Audio/video content in a course should be limited to between 2-7 minutes for optimal student absorption of the material keeping in mind that this is a completely passive approach to teaching which results in less information retained by most students (usually less than 20%). Tegrity is a tool that can be used successfully in blended and online courses when paired with an active approach to teaching such as hands on work or teaching others. Just think if recording a lecture was all there was to teaching then the best lecturer out there could take your place just once and save the University a pile of money over the long-term (insert sarcasm). The DECIDE Quality Rubric requires three types of content meaning that Tegrity or recorded lectures could account for one.
PowerPoints and Discussions:
While PowerPoints can be a great asset to a course, would you post PowerPoints in class and just flip through them without adding any notes, voice, discussion, examples, or otherwise? Absolutely not. Again PowerPoints can serve as another type of content but the DECIDE Quality Rubric requires three types. This also ensures that different types of learning styles are met (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.).
Discussions can be a good tool to increase interaction and assess knowledge. Best practices for a discussion include a specific rubric stating what information is needed. How many replies to other threads? How would you like the information presented? List? Paragraphs? Any word count minimums or maximums? Any different day requirements? Do you want students to rate each other’s posts? It also helps if the instructor is involved. This adds another ‘touch’ to your students to ensure that they feel engaged.
Posting Just a Syllabus
OK. Let me level with you. This is an actual class that is conducted online. This is NOT an independent or directed independent study. You are still the instructor-TEACH! A syllabus is a great guide for the student but it doesn’t teach them material or help them learn the material. What do you want the students to learn? How can you assess that they know what you have just asked them to learn? What activities will help them learn what you have just decided to assess? Asking these questions in this order can help you design a course using the backward design process. This process ensures that your content and assessments are engaging and contribute to the mastery of the student learning outcomes for the course.
Midterms and Finals
How can you tell if students are understanding the material in an online course? The midterm and final? If you have waited until then, you may have no idea that students are completely lost. Adding self-assessments and low stakes grading items to the course can give the instructor an idea of how the students are performing before the midterm and final. Examples can include ungraded surveys, automatically graded quizzes, discussions, blogs, journaling, and more.
This Course Practically Runs Itself
BIG NEWS: No it doesn’t. If it does, you are not engaging with your students but rather you are creating a passive place for your students to review material. The course and students need their teacher. It is true that a well-organized and engaging course will run more smoothly than one that is not intuitive and interactive but by itself-NO, never, ain’t gonna happen.
Teach. Teach with passion. Teach like you do in a classroom. Get a translator (Course Designer) to help you design your online and blended class to the same standards as your classroom. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Settle for DECIDE Quality.
Below, Distance Education has compiled a list of best practices for traditional, blended, and online instructors using Blackboard.
- Courses should be ready before the semester begins. Blended and online courses should be completely developed and released to students in Blackboard before the course begins. Most students that take blended and online courses do so because they are non-traditional students. Perhaps they already have a family or maybe full-time job; they may have both. Providing the full expectations of the course up front ensures that these students have the best chance at success. Fully developing your blended or online course also ensures that the design of your course is consistent through the entire semester and that sufficient planning for the entire curriculum is allowed.
- Transparency is king. Transparency in a blended or online format is necessary to ensure that the students can find information in the course at anytime. Information that you would normally give out in the classroom should be included in your course shell in Blackboard. The most important place for this transparency is the syllabus. The transparency focuses on the course work, schedule, communication expectations, due dates, netiquette, help options, grading policies, student expectations, learning outcomes, participation, and more. Transparency also helps Distance Education to ensure that blended and online courses across all campuses are comparable. This transparency is part of the DECIDE Quality Certification process at Campbell University.
- Only underline text that includes a hyperlink. Ensuring the design of your text is constant and ADA compliant is essential in Blackboard. Screen readers for students with visual disabilities as well as students with color blindness rely on ADA compliant text for readability.
- Use consistent fonts, font sizes, colors, and formatting. Using fonts that are too small, too large, or inconsistent (both font type and size) can cause eye strain. The default for Blackboard is set to Arial, size 3. Font color also plays a large role in design. Use font colors sparingly and ensure the contrast between the background color and the font color is high. Copying and pasting from outside of Blackboard can also cause issues with font presentation.
- Technology for the sake of technology is poor design. If you start with the idea that you saw X technology demonstrated and want to incorporate it. STOP. If, however, you seek a technology for the specific purpose of creating content to align with the student learning outcomes and incremental outcomes of the course, then PROCEED. And while you are at it, give Distance Education a call; we can help.
- Content does not have to be boring. PowerPoint, Discussions, Quiz. PowerPoint, Discussions, Quiz. PowerPoint…you get the point. Energize your course with some personalized content. Keep videos and recordings to 5-7 minutes. Engage the student. Active learning trumps passive learning any day. (Sorry, but this also means recording yourself in the classroom for 1.5 hours and posting it in Blackboard is not an acceptable course.)
- Remember you are still the instructor! Sure the publisher of your textbook may offer excellent supplemental material, but that doesn’t mean it replaces your instruction. According to Merriam-Webster, ‘teach’ is a verb. Do it.
- Document formats matter. Not all students have access to MS Word. Posting documents in Blackboard in a universally viewable format such as PDF is recommended. Students access Blackboard from a variety of different devices including laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones. Requiring students to upload documents in .doc or .docx format is strong discouraged. Offer several acceptable document types to ensure students can successfully submit work.
Attendance and Participation:
- Campbell University requires student attendance and documentation for all courses. Methods of documentation for blended and online courses can include: discussion board submissions, assignment attempt, test attempt, quiz attempt, self-assessment attempt, survey attempt, blog post, wiki contribution, journal entry, and more. Logging into Blackboard is not sufficient to demonstrate attendance.
- Courses do not run themselves. This isn’t the Ronco method of ‘set it and forget it.’ Remember you are still the instructor. Online and blended courses should include several types of participation and engagement including: student to student, student to instructor (and instructor to student), and student to content. Engagement and participation in blended and online courses is the key to retention.
Director of Distance Education