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Online learning at Penn State continues to grow. A whopping 42% of our resident students have taken an online course. Predictions are that the number of online students will continue to increase and as a result, we are thinking of how to best help faculty in their transition to online instruction. One tactic is to encourage mentoring of new faculty and last fall the Faculty Engagement subcommittee of the Penn State Online Coordinating Council and the Schreyer Institute piloted an online mentoring program for those new to online teaching (http://www.schreyerinstitute.psu.edu/onlinementor). The intent of this effort is to provide instructional support for those teaching online and to create opportunities for networking with others teaching online.
The online mentoring experience is intended to last a semester and is, first and foremost, a collegial relationship. Through the mentor's personal guidance, the protégé can question and explore online teaching strategies and expectations. Dialogue drives this relationship, but the mentor can also review online course activities and interactions. What is needed and how to go about getting those needs are met is something that is left to the devices of the mentor and protégé.
What do you think --- would a mentor be helpful to you as you begin teaching online? Or would you like a mentor even though you have taught online? By engaging in a mentoring relationship, you can ask questions, share comments, voice concerns, dissect instructional strategies, and feel connected to someone else who has walked in your shoes.
Tell me and I may forgetShow me and I may rememberInvolve me and I will understand.
Consultants at the Schreyer Institute have just returned from the annual conference of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD). One of the speakers at the event was Michael Wesch. He teaches cultural anthropology at Kansas State University where he studies social media and its effects on society. Dr. Wesch may be familiar...His class's YouTube video called A Vision of Students Today went viral several years ago. His talk at this year's POD conference was one of the most inspiring and hopeful messages I've heard in a long while. He talked about our need to instill 'wonder' in the 'Age of Whatever.' The talk didn't begin with optimism, but it ended that way.
There were two parts of his message that I think have important implications for faculty in higher education (not to mention for teachers, parents, mentors, etc. everywhere). The first is that we must give students what Wesch called 'the gift of big questions.' It's true that students ask the small ones...Will this information be on the test? How long does the paper have to be? But our job is to get them thinking about the BIG questions, the ones that inspire a quest for knowledge, understanding, and application. The small questions don't change the world, but the big questions can.
The second big message for me was related to the first but focused more on technology. If we inspire wonder and big questions, then technology becomes an invaluable tool for communicating, information seeking, information sharing, and problem-solving. If we fail in this regard, then technology is essentially just distraction. (Interestingly, the other plenary speaker at the conference was Alex Soojung-Kim Pang who spoke about the Distraction Addiction. His book by this title is due out next year.) When wonder and big questions drive social media interaction then Facebook, for example, becomes a means of social change, not a distraction from learning.
This is not rocket science. It's not new information. But Wesch's was a poignant--and for those of us in the room, graphic--reminder of what's at stake and why it's important. It was also a hopeful message, if we can inspire in our students a sense of wonder by giving them the gift of big questions, then their thinking and their engagement with technology find purpose.
- Quizzes - short, regularly scheduled reading quizzes provide motivation for students to read. In some instances, these quizzes might be weekly, and worth a very small number of points. In addition to quizzes, some instructors have success with short reading essays, also worth a small number of points.
- In-class discussions - integrate active learning elements, like in-class discussion, into your course. Students felt more compelled to read before class when they knew the instructor might call on a random student to answer a reading-related question. Some students even cited the use of i-clickers in class as a motivating factor when deciding to read.
- Vary reading assignments - students understood the value of text books, but also appreciated various viewpoints, case studies and other sources of reading materials throughout the semester. Students especially appreciated readings that were current, and also readings that illustrated practical application of content being covered in class or the textbook.
- Stress long-term benefits - students often read only with short term benefits in mind, such as grades. Instructors should emphasize the long-term importance of course readings, such as being more knowledgeable, having a deeper understanding of a topic, the ability to draw connections between seemingly disparate topics, be better prepared for interviews and the ability to apply a wide range of knowledge to existing challenges.
- Repeating the book - this was one of the primary reasons students did not read. If an instructor lectures directly from the book, students often decide not to read because they can get the same information in class.
- Enthusiasm or interest in the topic - students cited a lack of interest in the content by the instructor as a reason not to read. This might be challenging for some instructors, especially if it's the 50th time they are teaching the same course. Students will quickly pickup on instructor disinterest in the material, and it might impact their interest as well.
- Surprise quizzes - this was a tricky point to unpack. Students cited quizzes as a motivating factor, but some flavors of surprise quizzes seemed to demotivate students. For example, when an instructor 'threatens' a pop quiz each week, but never gives one. On the other hand, some students indicated that instructors that give one surprise quiz each week (I know, that doesn't sound very surprising) acts a motivator to read. To build on this example, it might be that the instructor teaches MWF, and gives a short quiz on one of those days each week based on the readings.
I always believe that students learn when they are willing to learn and to take the responsibility of learning. However, it does not mean that the role of the instructor is not important. I think instructors still play an important role in students' journey of learning. Instead of training students to be passive learners, instructors build an environment where students are eager to learn actively, facilitate students to think and explore, and create opportunities for students to transfer what they learned in class to real life situations.
Here are two articles on key principles and strategies of active learning from Faculty Focus written by Maryellen Weimer. You may want to take a look at these principles and strategies and see if any of them fit in your teaching style and your students' learning needs.
The articles are here:
Five Key Principles of Active Learning
Active-Learning Ideas for Large Classes: Simple to Complexhttp://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/active-learning-ideas-for-large-classes-simple-to-complex/
So what does this mean for instructors? Should we test our students on the first day of class to learn what is their preferred learning style then proceed to twist and contort our every lesson so as to accommodate the visual, the kinesthetic, the auditory, and the every-other-style learner? Certainly not. Should instructors simply teach as they wish, since attending to students' reported learning styles apparently doesn't make a difference? Not recommended either. The fact is, it's not so simple.
Perhaps the answer is in moderation and mix. In Mary Ellen's summary of the research, she reminds us that, while students may not differ in their learning styles, the students are, nonetheless, different. It seems to me that it's on the basis of differences that do exist and that do matter that we should consider modifying our instruction. We should alter our instructional approaches when doing so would make a difference for students with different levels of prior knowledge, interest, or ability (the research, Reiner and Willingham_2010.pdf, says these matter).
Unless we base our pedagogical decisions on characteristics such as these, we risk making our lectures more visual but failing to attend to gaps in prior knowledge. We risk creating elaborate hands-on projects while failing to recognize important disparities in aptitude across the class. We risk altering our instruction in ways that are not comfortable to us and still not successfully motivating the learners in our classes.
Crystal Ramsay and I are collaborating with Assistant Professor Michael Tews in the School of Hospitality Management. Michael, an energetic and enthusiastic professor, is questioning the impact of fun on students' learning. While at first glance, this may seem like a trivial topic or perhaps one that is best left to the gaming enthusiasts, I'm finding it a perplexing issue. We have begun by looking deeper at how fun is defined in higher education and we are exploring how to measure it.
As a preliminary step, the three of us each asked a group of students to think about a professor they've had in college and to describe three things that he/she did to make the class fun. The class of aerospace students I queried provided a range of responses with hands-on learning, humor, and relating topics to everyday life topping their lists. They also shared some that got me thinking. For example, several mentioned that they found it fun when a professor starts class with a fact trivia or an airplane of the day. Doing something like that gains their attention as suggested by Gagne's Nine Events of Instruction. One student noted, "The professor was a likeable person who wants to teach" and that made me wonder why we have professors in our classrooms who don't want to teach. Several of the students listed they found it fun to be able to set their own learning goals with one student stating it this way, "Classes where the teacher lets you learn the way you want to learn." One professor has one a day a week for "gripe day" so that students can voice their agitations with the class or life in general. Doing so leads to a release of anxiety and with the professor's coaxing; students get to figure out possible solutions as well as sometimes see the silliness of their dilemmas.
I find it very telling to listen to students and I'm looking forward to hearing more as we make progress with this study. In the meantime, I am going to get back to the fun of thinking about teaching and learning.
I learned a little bit about the Flipped Classroom when I was working on the Lecture Capture Research Starter Kit. This morning when I was surfing the Web, a blog, Flipping out? What you need to know about the Flipped Classroom, written by Andrea Zellner caught my eye. After reading and browsing more articles and websites about the Flipped Classroom, I feel this is something worth trying and using in the class.
We know that too much teacher-talk is not good for students' learning and usually make students feel bored and this is why I really like the idea of flipping the whole classroom and homework - Delivering online lectures that students can access outside of class (e.g. home) and moving homework into the classroom. Instead of giving an hours-long lecture in the classroom and making students be passive listeners and learners, the instructor interact with students more and have personalized contact time to facilitate students' learning based on their specific needs. Because students have watched lectures outside of class at their own pace, they go to class with basic concepts and questions. Students can ask questions and/or involve in discussion to get clarification and be ready to participate in classroom activities to apply what they learned from the online lectures to cases.
Some people concern about the impact of online lectures on students' attendance, some people think the Flipped Classroom can only be used in limited disciplines, and some people worry that students may not watch online lectures before the class. However, several studies found that the availability of online lectures did not impact on students' attendance and many students reported that interaction with the instructor and classmates helps their learning. Also, many experienced Flipped Classroom teachers from a variety of disciplines, such as sciences, math, history, and arts, have shared their successful experiences. In addition, we need to remember that students' learning is not only the instructor's task, but also the students' responsibility, so we should help students learn to take their own responsibility of learning.
For more information about Flipped Classroom, here are the article and a website:
Flipping out? What you need to know about the Flipped Classroom
The Flipped Class Network