“Go on a field trip!”¹: An opinion piece – Anita Helmers

Magic School Bus book cover

As a student at the elementary and secondary level I always looked forward to day-trips to the zoo, the museum, or to a provincial park. Honestly, who wouldn’t be excited to be out of school for a day?

Regretfully I reflect back on my earlier field trips and can say I only appreciated them for the opportunity to get out of the classroom and took for granted the educational purposes. It was not until beginning my undergraduate career that I gained an appreciation for field trips and their educational experience (although it is still nice to get out of that lecture hall).

At the university level, field trips are few and far between for many students. But why is that? Field trips at the university level can offer hands-on “real-life” opportunities for students to, as Ms. Frizzle says, “Take chances! Make Mistakes! Get Messy!”¹ Field trips are an opportunity to put to practice the theories taught in the classroom. Field trips, as a teaching method, should be used to expose students to the realities of their surrounding environment and provide a safe, low-risk space to learn from experience.

I am not suggesting that professors take students to the Moon in a Magic School Bus; professors do not even need to take students off-campus. As a student in the School of Planning I have been taken on field trips across Ring Road to Laurel Creek to learn about water testing; I have travelled to North Campus to learn about soil horizons; and I have toured campus learning how to classify trees. The main goal for field trips should be to enrich students’ educational experience and to further exemplify the theories and concepts covered in class. Without wandering around campus staring at trees I would have never fully understood which elements of a tree to focus on in order to classify it. Or, I would have never had the low-consequential experience of cross contaminating my water samples from Laurel creek. Field trips should be used as a stepping stone from classroom to “real-life”; a step that is cushioned to allow for chances, mistakes, and a safe space for failures before the professional world.

I have also been spoiled with the opportunities to travel off campus – this is not something every university student can say. I was given the chance to explore Spongy Lake, the Distillery District in Toronto, Liberty Village in Toronto, and Guelph’s abandoned Correctional facility, to name a few places. Through these field trips I have learned ecological processes, planning practices such as adaptation, and the reality that I have so much left to learn before entering the professional world. I can say that without being exposed to the realities of my surrounding environment, I would enter the Profession of Planning with utopian, unrealistic perceptions of how cities develop.

So, although the University of Waterloo does not have a bus that can transform into a spaceship, a submarine, or even an alligator, students still desire hands-on experience and the chance to “get out there and explore!”¹ I ask that University professors consider field trips as a teaching method that is feasible for all disciplines. Whether you simply take students outside to study tree species or you take students across the country to practice the French language, any and all exposure counts towards an enriched education.

¹ “The Magic School Bus ™.” Magic School Bus | FAQs | Scholastic.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.

Image provided by xmoltarx under the Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike” license.

VoiceThread Project: Call for Participation — Gillian Dabrowski

voicethreadAre you looking for ways to engage your students in learning? Consider partnering with the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) and the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) to pilot a new instructional tool in Waterloo’s on-campus and online classes: VoiceThread.

You may be interested in learning about the pilot if your goal is to engage students in any of the activities below:

  • Idea sharing and interaction
  • Community building
  • Social learning
  • Peer instruction
  • Critical reflection
  • Presentation practice
  • Digital literacy skills building
  • Language practice

What is VoiceThread?

VoiceThread is a media-based discussion tool. A key feature of VoiceThread is that it enables you and your students to create digital presentations and make them the centre of a discussion. Presentations can include documents, images, PowerPoint slides, audio, or video. Students attach comments to the presentation using a keyboard (text), a microphone or telephone (audio), or a webcam (video). Discussions are asynchronous, meaning students are not online at the same time.

Why use VoiceThread?

Penn State’s Use Case Introduction gives several examples of why instructors use VoiceThread:

  • On-campus, create digital presentations on difficult to comprehend concepts and processes. Students can review content multiple times and ask the instructor questions on specific slides.
  • Enable students to present knowledge and research digitally. The class benefits from exposure to a multitude of topics. The presenter benefits from practice articulating themselves verbally and peer feedback.
  • Actively engage students in online lectures by prompting them to comment on specific slides or respond to questions posed within the presentation.
  • Increase your online instructor teaching presence and build online class community by initiating weekly kick-off discussions.
  • Create an online ‘seminar’ course experience where students grapple with heavy readings together in both written and verbal formats.

Pilot Details

The VoiceThread pilot is scheduled to run from Winter 2017–Winter 2018. Faculty who participate in the pilot will receive a VoiceThread account linked to their LEARN user account and a course site. Training and support for the pilot will be supported by CEL, CTE, and LEARN Help. Faculty participants and course participants will be asked to provide feedback via survey response, panel discussion, and interview.

If you would like to volunteer to be a part of this pilot, please contact CEL’s Gillian Dabrowski, gdabrows@uwaterloo.ca, or your CTE Liaison with the following details:

  1. Name
  2. Course information (CourseID, name, section) and expected number of students
  3. A description of how you will use VoiceThread in your course to support student engagement and assessment. How might VoiceThread help solve a problem you are experiencing with discussions or assessment as you currently use them?

More Information

References

Gao, F. & Sun, Y. (2010). Supporting an online community of inquiry using VoiceThread. In C. Maddux et al. (Eds.) Research Highlights in Information Technology and Teacher Education 2010 (pp.9-18). Chesapeake, VA: Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE).

SAM vs. ADDIE and 5 other takeaways from Madison — Tonya Elliott

madisonThe Distance Teaching and Learning Conference held in Madison, Wisconsin, has been running for 32 years and is the largest and longest-running distance education conference in the USA.

I’m writing this blog from Frank Lloyd Wright’s gorgeous Monona Terrace after 3 full days of #UWdtl keynotes, presentations, demo booths, ePosters, and discussions.  I was one of 4 Canadians who attended and presented to a room of 45 people about the online STEM/Math work we’ve been doing at Waterloo.

It will take me some time to fully digest everything from the conference, but here are 6 takeaways that immediately stood out.

1. Most instructional design models are some derivation of ADDIE (analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate), but ADDIE’s applicability to digital environments has been under scrutiny for some time. Other instructional design models are emerging, such as Allen’s Successive Approximation Model (SAM), shown below, and McKenney and Reeves’ problem-focused Education Design Research (EDR). Their books are referenced below and I now have two new books on my Amazon wish list!

ADDIE design model2. Learning analytics are becoming more prevalent and the potential to better understand our learners with concrete data is awesome. Learning analytics happens at three levels and each level involves both understanding what’s happening and sharing the information with students in a way that’s useful for them.  Here are the levels:

  • what students are doing today/have been doing in the past,
  • where students are likely going (using predictive modelling), and
  • where students have the potential to go/what is their optimal path.

Unfortunately, nobody at the conference had concrete examples about implementing levels 2 and 3 in any great depth, but I enjoy thinking about analytics in these three parts.

3. Some institutions spend a lot of money on remote proctoring services like Examity.  Math or other courses that can’t easily require students to complete their timed work electronically are trying out things like requiring students to position their web cameras downwards towards their papers and hands.  Unsurprisingly, privacy issues are surfacing. For example, same -sex options are now required at some institutions after female students reported being uncomfortable having unknown male proctors watching them work in their bedrooms.

4. You’re more likely to get buy-in for new initiatives if you start small. People are almost always willing to let you pilot something, and pilots can quickly and easily turn into beta versions.  If a beta version works out for a project, it’s almost always seamless to fully implement (and find funding for) it.  This path is much more efficient than trying to find approval for or fund something “big”.

5. Hooks are necessary: courses and classes should start with stories, problem questions, or other “hooks” instead of a bulleted list of outcomes.   Similarly, rather than nicely wrapping up a class, they should end with another “hook” to get students thinking about the next class.  Cognitive psychologists refer to this process as an open-loop.

6. Wisconsin’s recently launched Online Teaching Experiences site has been very well received and their site analytics reveal that the most popular part of their site is the instructor videos. I wonder if, in addition to our Instructor Community of Practice, CEL should investigate/create (digital) resources and videos for our fully online instructors.  Would this kind of resource be valuable at Waterloo? I’d love to hear our online instructors thoughts about this (so please email me your thoughts – tonya.elliott@uwaterloo.ca).

References and resources

Course Design Broke my Brain – Crystal Tse

Aaron Silvers Attribution

I took Course Design Fundamentals a few weeks ago, and it broke my brain – in a good way! I have taught before, but this was a great opportunity for me to revisit the course that I’ve been teaching for the past few years from a fresh perspective.

Here are a couple of my take-aways from this workshop that lays out the best practices for course design:

  • Alignment, alignment, alignment – between the intended learning outcomes for your students in the course, the course activities, and the assessment of students’ learning. It was great to have this connection made explicit. However, it was also a jarring experience as some of the concepts I wanted my students to learn were not made explicit in the activities the students engaged in. Time to remedy that!
  • Concept maps for your course are tough to make! I had never created one before for my course and was at a loss at first of how to structure it and what the main concepts I wanted my students to get out of my course. A bit of brainstorming and lots of sticky notes later, I finally fleshed out the main concepts. Two of them were actually not about course content. One was about helping first year students transition to university life (e.g., coping with stress effectively, how to study and take tests). I spend my first lecture telling students about my own experiences as a first year student – that it’s difficult and stressful, but that this stress was temporary and would soon be overcome. I revisit this point by telling stories of my own failures and successes, talking about healthy living, and checking in with students throughout the term. Another way to help with students’ transition is to build community in your classroom so students have support networks they can draw on in times of stress and uncertainty.
  • The other concept was to encourage metacognitive skills (i.e., how to encourage students to reflect and think about their own learning). I do different lecture wrappers (e.g., one minute summaries where students spend a minute writing about the main take-away from the class and what questions they still have that can be addressed in the next class). CTE has a great tipsheet on strategies you can use to encourage self-regulation in students’ learning that can be quick and don’t require a complete overhaul of your course. There are also many evidence-based strategies based on psychological research that can help students study more effectively and engage in more critical thinking.
  • Thinking more about incorporating students’ own experiences into the course in addition to my own perspective. Students come with a wealth of prior knowledge and life experiences that can be drawn on. In the past I have solicited students’ anonymous comments about a topic in the course (especially one that can be particularly controversial or sensitive) prior to class so they are ready for discussion. I’m excited to do this more!

 

Image provided by Aaron Silvers under the Creative Commons “Attribution” license.

Online Math Numbers at Waterloo, and Comparative Judgments as a Teaching Strategy — Tonya Elliott, CEL

math equationOnline Math Numbers

If you weren’t already aware, here are a few numbers about online math at the University of Waterloo:

  • The Math Faculty has been offering fully online courses since Fall 2003 and, since that time, has offered 55 unique online courses to more than 21,000 students
  • The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC), with support from the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) and local software company Maplesoft, was the first group on campus to release a large set of open educational resources (OERs). Called CEMC courseware, the OERs include lessons, interactive worksheets, and unlimited opportunities for students to practice skills and receive feedback. At the time of this post, the resources have received over 1.8 million hits from 130,000 unique users in 181 different countries.
  • In 2015, the Canadian Network for Innovation and Excellence (CNIE) recognized CEMC, CEL, and Maplesoft for their OERs through an Award of Excellence and Innovation.
  • The Master for Mathematics for Teachers (MMT) program has the highest enrolment of all the fully online Masters programs offered at the University of Waterloo. MMT and CEL staff who work on the program were one of three teams from Waterloo who won a 2016 Canadian Association for University Continuing Education program award.
  • Maplesoft is using a focus group from Math, CEL, and CTE to develop a new authoring environment that will specifically target the needs of online STEM course authors. It is anticipated that this tool will be released in early 2017 and, over time, should save development costs by 50%.
  • The Math Faculty, together with the Provost’s office, has dedicated $1.2 Million over the next three years for additional work on online projects; over 90 course development slots allocated by CEL have already been filled.

These numbers are some of the reasons Waterloo is considered a leader in the area of online math education.

Comparative Judgments

From June 19 – 22, a small group from Waterloo and I joined an international team of mathematics educators to discuss digital open mathematics education (DOME) at the Field’s Institute in Toronto. Lots of great discussions happened including opportunities and limitations of automated STEM assessment tools, integrity-related concerns, and practical challenges like lowering the bar so that implementing fully online initiatives isn’t the “heroic efforts” for Faculty it’s often viewed as being today. Of all the discussion topics, however, the one that got me most excited – and that my brain has returned to a few times in the month since the conference – is using Comparative Judgement (CJ) in online math courses.

colour shadesThe notion behind CJ is that we are better at making comparisons than we are at making holistic judgments, and this includes judgments using a pre-determined marking scheme.  It doesn’t apply to all types of assessments, but take this test on colour shades to see an example of how using comparisons instead of holistic rankings makes a lot of sense. Proof writing and problem solving may also lend themselves well to CJ and three journal articles are listed at the end of this blog for those who would like to read more.

Here are some of the questions I’ve been pondering:

  • Are there questions we aren’t asking students because we can’t easily “measure” the quality of their responses using traditional grading techniques? How much/when could CJ improve the design of our assessments?
    • Example: Could CJ, combined with an online CJ tool similar to No More Marking, be used by students in algebra courses as a low-stakes peer assessment activity so students could see how different proofs compare to one another? Perhaps awarding bonus credit to students whose proofs were rated in the top X%.
  • Which Waterloo courses would see increases in reliability and validity if graders used CJ instead of traditional marking practices?
  • How much efficiency could Waterloo departments save if high-enrolment courses used CJ techniques instead of marking schemes to grade exam questions or entire exams? Could CEMC save resources while using CJ to do their yearly contest marking?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions yet, but my brain is definitely “on” and thinking about them. I encourage you to read the articles referenced below and send me an email (tonya.elliott@uwaterloo.ca)  If you like the idea of CJ, too, or have questions about anything I’ve written.  If you have questions about Waterloo’s online math initiatives, you’re welcome to email me or Steve Furino.

References

Jones, I., & Inglis, M. (2015). The problem of assessing problem solving: can comparative judgement help? Educational Studies in Mathematics, 89, 3, pp. 337 – 355.

Jones, I., Swan, M., & Pollitt, A. (2014). Assessing mathematical problem solving using comparative judgement. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 13, pp. 151–177.

Pollitt, A. (2012). The method of Adaptive Comparative Judgement. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy, & Practice. 19, 3, pp. 281 – 300.

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Blackboard image courtesy of AJC1.

 

 

 

Working outside the box

Over 70% of our courses offered on-campus use LEARN to some extent to manage course content and communications and to support online learning activities. Data extracted from Waterloo’s LEARN system can provide us with the details of which courses are using its various built-in tools, such discussion forums, quizzes and rubrics. This data can give us a preliminary snapshot of our innovative courses that use instructional technologies.

However, this snapshot is incomplete because we are currently unable to identify blended courses that use external instructional technologies, such as Piazza, Twitter, peerScholar, Diigo, Top Hat, mobile apps, and so on. As a result, we have not been able to document the full extent of courses that are innovative by virtue of the technologies that they employ to support active, student-centred learning. Such technologies often offer learning opportunities that are not otherwise available, but tracking these non-LEARN instructional technologies is challenging and had not been attempted in the past. However, we know that many instructors are working outside the box. girl looking over a box

Innovative Instructional Technologies Project

This spring the CTE Faculty liaisons, myself, and the SID Emerging Technologies, Dr. Mark Morton, embarked on a project to gain a fuller understanding of the extent of use of instructional technologies outside of the LEARN environment on campus. CTE’s work in this area supports the Outstanding Academic Programming part of the current strategic plan, with the goal to “to expand the appropriate use of technologies to enhance students’ learning experience”. Our first step was to send a request to all instructors to indicate whether they were using Twitter, Quizlet, TopHat, IF-AT cards or Dropbox and to identify tools they were using in categories such as Google tools, polling tools, blogging tools, wikis, or screencasting tools. Many instructors replied and we have started to build a picture of the number and variety of external tools that are being used across campus.

What we found

Over 50 different tools were identified by instructors. Piazza, Google Tools, Camtasia (a screencasting technology), Dropbox (the external Dropbox, not the Learn one) and Twitter were the most frequently mentioned, and the categories with the most variety of tools were presentation tools, blogging tools and polling tools. Screencast-o-matic, Explain Everything, WordPress, MediaWiki, SurveyMonkey and Doodle are just a few of the tools that instructors are integrating into their teaching and learning activities. We will continue to collect information on the many and varied instructional technologies that are being used across campus. We will also be adding a new section to the CTE website in the fall outlining the objectives instructors have for using some of these technologies (for example, dissemination of course content, supporting group work, fostering a community of learners, etc.) as well as identifying  “friendly contacts” for specific tools (instructors who are willing to talk to their colleagues about how and why they are using these technologies in their courses).

As we look to the future and how technologies will enhance students’ learning the trend seems to be towards a more modular or LEGO-like learning ecosystem rather than an LMS, but we may already be there as more courses use a diverse, and likely dynamic, set of technologies for a variety instructional purposes.

photo credit: t whalen via flickr cc

What do students value in online courses? — Dina Meunier, Centre for Extended Learning

CAUCE CNIE logoWhat do students value in online courses?

I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 CAUCECNIE joint conference here in Waterloo from May 30 to Jun 2. There were many interesting sessions, including a keynote by Marc Rosenberg describing Learning Ecosystems and another by Ken Steele highlighting the latest innovations in teaching and learning. A panel interview led by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities examined how provincial consortia, including our own eCampus Ontario, are promoting an environment of innovation in higher-education technology-enabled learning.

One session I particularly enjoyed presented the results of an online student survey at Wilfrid Laurier University. WLU surveyed students who had recently taken one or more fully online courses and asked them what they valued most in an online learning experience. The top three responses related to online course design were:

  • a well-organized course syllabus;
  • clear course expectations and requirements; and
  • a well-organized course structure (for example, information presented in manageable chunks, segments or modules).

As far as online teaching was concerned, students most valued:

  • fair and consistent grading of assignments and exams; and
  • clear and meaningful feedback on assignments and exams.

It seems to me that these values apply equally to face-to-face, on campus courses and to blended courses as they do to fully online courses. In fact, these items are closely aligned with Chickering & Gamson’s seminal work, Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. Furthermore, the results of this survey remind us that overall, students are searching for high quality in online education, a recommendation clearly articulated by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance in their recent policy brief:[1]

“At the heart of this policy is a focus on the quality of online learning.  It is crucial that the same standards of quality that apply to traditional, in-classroom courses apply to fully-online courses as well. Ideally, instructors should be capable of teaching an online course as effectively as they would a traditional class.”

But how do you know if your course structure is well-organized or if you have clearly articulated course expectations online? Here are 3 suggestions:

Are there other ways you can ensure quality in your online course design and in your teaching? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

[1] Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (March 2016). Policy Briefing: Online Learning.

Dina Meunier is Associate Director of Online Learning, Centre for Extended Learning, University of Waterloo