August 2011 Archives

Thank you all!

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This program was outstanding! A good summary was provided by my wife, when I brought home and showed her my Transform group picture. She said: "Looks like you were surrounded by very nice people and had a lot of fun!" I would add: "and learned a lot as well". I wanted to share one other thing: at the Madison conference I met some of my former students, who now are leaders in the learning technology field at the U of Illinois. They told me that they are looking up to the U of MN as a model of how faculty's learning technology-related efforts should be supported. I was surprised to hear this, because my recollection of the UIUC was that they always were on the cutting edge in computer science and learning technology. But now I agree: UIUC or other universities, known to me, don't have anything as good as TREKS. I hope the college will continue to support this excellent program in the future.

The end...until next time

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I'm glad for the opportunity to have participated in this workshop. I has provided the impetus and ideas for me to implement an idea that's been rattling around in my head for a while, but which I haven't been able to think of a good way to do.

I'm also happy to have met colleagues who are as interested as I am (or even more interested) in student learning and good online teaching. The ideas they've generated have been very helpful to me and I've already been thinking about how those might be applicable to my courses and teaching.

Thanks for Everything

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Wow, I was very impressed by what my colleagues have planned for the upcoming year. This was an incredibly eye-opening experience; my head is certainly spinning. It was nice to have to come up with a plan to make me think of how these newly learned technologies can be used in my already established practice. The feedback from my peers and the IT staff was very helpful. It's helpful to know the things that I can implement easily and quickly and those things that need a second thought. I have a feeling my wish list may pared down a bit. It's also comforting to leave this week with a feeling of support. Thanks for everything.

Almost done!

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Several things have changed since a few weeks ago when we had our first introductory session. It doesn't look like I'll be teaching any online or hybrid courses soon, but I have learned about several tools that I think I can use to enhance the blended courses that I teach now. The project that I intend to work on, creating an assignment in which students will create a "digital argument" is something that I've been mulling for some time. This workshop was probably the kick in the pants I needed to actually create it.

The End is Just the Beginning

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Eight days of work has brought me to the beginning. I am finalizing the plan for the course and will incorporate several new tools on Moodle as well as begin to use a blog in the class. The more time intensive components will be to create several short word and image videos to introduce concepts in the course by next Spring. Looking forward to hearing about what others are planning for the next year.

Such a luxury!

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I feel like the time we have set aside for this has been tremendously valuable. I have done so many things that I feel will really enhance the experience for my students. My classes went fine with the hybrid method this past summer and I could easily create the Health portion of my curriculum in a hybrid format and the classes would run, but with time spent during the TREKS program and the collaborations and conversations with the others have really created a much better curriculum...and it has created excitement for me which hopefully will transfer to my students.

I hope Jerry gets his dishwasher in before the wedding!!!!

Moving Forward

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I seem to be mostly troubleshooting so far..which is actually exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be able to play and learn (and fail) with technologies. I feel as if I am closer to creating a few great things!!!!

Forums, Blogs, and Wiki's

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Today the focus shifted a bit for me. Rather than focus on imagining a complete new hybrid course, I am looking at additional tools I can include in my course next semester that support moving towards a partial hybrid course in the Spring and a more robust hybrid course in a year from now.

In the courses I teach, an overall goal is to have students become partners in the educational enterprise through sharing their personal knowledge and beginning to help to analyze and synthesize data that we collect in the class.

Today, I have thought through how I can use both forum discussions and blogs to support this goal. I am now working on how to create good forum discussions questions that can elicit rich stories from students about particular everyday lived experiences. The students would post these stories to a small group forum discussion. They would also read and comment on two or three other stories in their group and well as analyze all the stories posted from their group and write up a synthesis of where the stories converge and diverge that they would bring to class. In different small groups they would share what they learned about the stories from their group and listen to others talk about what they learned. As a group in class, they will be asked to write a final paragraph to post on the blog that provides some insight into the weeks focus. By posting a paragraph to a blog, I can use the blog as additional data for future semesters.

I have begun to plan using these new tools next semester. I will use these to begin to build more online sessions for the spring and then finally, a more robust hybrid course in the fall 2012.

Another fruitful day

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Yesterday the copyright session was very useful, but also created information overload. I expected more information on using materials, found online, etc. Today all activities were useful. Daniel and I made a good progress in discussing my project and my course development plan. Caroline's session with specific demonstrations of tools, available on Moodle, was especially important for me and helped me to identify right tools for my course.

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Thanks Caroline! Starting to build some great discussion groups and developing my "on-line presence". I'm tired. I need a nap.

The number of tools available to support presenting content online was incredible. It was wonderful to gain a sense of the possibilities of what can be done and begin to work towards my goal of creating a rich learning opportunity for distant students.

I am continually going back and forth between listening to the content being presented and also thinking about how and if it supports the type of learning experience I want to create online.

I am still questioning whether learning is a focus on content or if it involves more than this? Over the last two days the focus of the discussion has tended to emphasize content. In my field, it is not only about content and content mastery but also perspective shifting and opening up different ways of orienting towards the world, other people, especially young people.

I do believe that this can occur in an online environment and these concerns relate more to my longer term project of creating a fully online course rather than the hybrid course, but it still remains how to translate these into online.

My muddled mind

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My thoughts and plans since beginning this program have been changing and I'm not entirely sure where I'll end up. One thought I have right now is to be able to make quick screencasts that incorporate the drawing of pictures and the writing of equations. These could be used to supplement a F2F physics class by providing some quick tutorials that students who are confused about a certain point could access. They could also be used in a similar way to supplement an online class. One of the big obstacles in my mind to setting up something like this is finding a good tool with which I can draw semi-decent freehand pictures. I would be terrible with a mouse, a trackpad, or a ball, so I think some kind of pen-using-tablet input might work. I know that other people out there have done similar things, so it's just a matter of finding the right combination of hardware and software to accomplish this.

In terms of a step after that, I think it might be neat so have such an input device that could be used remotely from the computer. I could use it in lecture while walking around the room and not be confined to the space in front of the board. Sort of a remote smartboard. Naturally, everything could be captured and stored for later. Any ideas about that?

Oh, and another idea. Sound recording of lectures can be poor with a laptop's built in microphone. Are there relatively cheap remote microphones that can be connected through USB or something like that?

Fruitful Day

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The information was very valuable for me today. I have thought of new ways to create assignments using Camtasia...and maybe not what it was really designed for but in a way that will benefit my students (I hope!). I also appreciated the time with the fellows to ask questions..I got some troubleshooting done which will enhance the marketing of my program and also will be useful as I revise and/or create assignments.

The copyright presentation was very eye opening to me. It was nice to actually hear from an expert on this issue. It has always been an unknown to me and though I was always cognizant of copyright issues, I never really knew if what I was doing was within the copyright law. I am not sure I have more answers now, but I do feel better educated about it.

I hope to begin to revise my current hybrid program and begin to develop my new online/hybrid courses in the last three days using some of the technology from the conference and these past two days (and more as I am exposed to it).

Great day!

Presenting Content Online

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I feel that Camtasia and the use of Digital Stories are definitely tools I want to use. I only wish I didn't have to leave for another meeting today so I could have played around a bit. The examples of the presentation tools posted on Moodle are very helpful and will allow me to revisit the various models and come to some solid conclusions about what best fits my needs. I also believe that since I am in the first stages of redesign, I need to keep it simple ss it can be quite overwhelming. However, it's still important to think about what I want my course(s) to look like in the long term.

A response to Interactivity

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I think this was Ross' post. This also surprises me when I think about learning in my own field of physics. The apprenticeship model, with its reliance on learner-instructor and learner-learner interaction is such an integral part of effective physics instruction that I wonder how this theory of interaction equivalence can apply here. This was one of the sessions I had thought about going to, but I ended up going somewhere else instead.

Ready to create

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Before the Madison conference, I wasn't sure at all about what I wanted my course(s) to look like. After the Madison conference, I had a better framework of how I really want to structure my courses. I've decided on incorporating a blended model into the courses that I teach here on the Twin Cities campus. Since I act as adviser to most of my students, I still think it's important to be physically present in class and build a relationship with them even if they don't think so. However, there are so many great tools out there that I feel it is necessary to begin to trickle them into my courses in order to make the content better. There is one course that I deliver to U of M Crookston that is entirely on-line, and I feel that developing that course is moreof an immediate need. Throughout the day today, I created a list of the tools I want to incorporate in my on-line course for both synchronous and asynchronous teaching/learning. I also suspect that much of what I develop for the full blown on-line course for U of M Crookston can be implemented in my other courses as well. I'm looking forward to work time. When ideas pop in my head, I feel the need to get going.

A lot to think about

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Today certainly gave me a lot to think about in terms of course design. I had heard a lot about course design principles and such previously, but always in terms of the design of a face to face course. It will take me some time to digest this information in the context of online learning and to figure out how it applies here.

I think a great tool that should be integrated into UMConnect is some kind of speech recognition system. Having to type, especially long replies, is a real drag when it comes to online discussions. I'd probably be more participatory if I could just talk and the words would show up.

Another thing I think I need to think about more carefully is what are the different expectations that students bring to an online course as opposed to a F2F course? We know that the way that student frame the activities in a F2F course affects what they learn and how much they learn in a F2F course. For an online course then, what do students expect to get out of the different activities? What do they think the point is? What do they think they're supposed to do? All questions I'll have to think about in the design of a course.

Interactivity

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There was an idea that emerged during the Madison conference that I am still carrying with me as I begin planning both the hybrid course and the on line course. I attended two presentations where the focus was on interactivity. In both presentations, the three types of interaction were presented and discussed. These include learner--content, learner--instructor, and learner--learner interaction. The surprising insight from the research is that more is not necessarily better. What the research found is that if you do anyone well, you can obtain similar learning outcomes even without either of the other two.

This challenged my own opinion about the value of learner--learner interaction and learner--instructor interaction. It also raises possibilities about the design of online courses. If I can design a course that supports high learner--content interaction, this will support learning outcomes as well as if the other interactions are included.

I still am trying to figure out what they mean by learning outcomes as this could change my own perspective again. At the conference they talked about learning outcomes as being measured through end of the course exams. I wonder if similar learning outcomes will result when the course is based on practice development and mastery rather than knowledge mastery?

I was impressed by a project at Argosy University to standardize an assessment of all their courses, matching course objectives to program outcomes, designing assessments that are a natural part of the class, but also useful for determining whether or not students are meeting the objectives. This is pretty much what I think the U of M is trying to do with its Student Learning Outcomes. The difference is that Argosy is a for-profit institution with no tenure and standardized courses. Whatever one may think of the quality of their courses, I'm really impressed by what they've done in terms of institutional assessment. That's probably one way in which standard colleges and universities will never be able to compete with for-profits--they can move fast.

There was a presentation on e-Coaching from some Ohio State folks. Looking backwards (20/20 hindsight), their problem and solution was obvious. The challenge was teaching students to interact productively in chats in online courses, since students do not naturally interact productively, nor do they get better at it over the course of a class. From the research literature on cooperative grouping, this makes sense. Most students do not know how to work productively in groups unless they get some kind of training. What type of training helps with this is well-known. After implementing coaching on group work with their students, there was an improvement. Another illustration of the non-triviality of transfer.

Random note: Several of the sessions that I went to during this conference seemed more like sales pitches than conference presentations. As I noted before, it really depends on the role of the person giving the presentation.

Last day of the conference

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Yesterday, I saw a couple of demonstrations where someone had built a virtual world for an environmental science course that students could navigate and interact with a limited number of avatars to complete various assignments (such as investigating the cause of a fishkill). This plus the people who programmed a biology laboratory in second life have gotten me interested in the possibility of creating a physics lab in second lab. This would enable physical science courses to be delivered online. I know that there are already simulations where people can move lab equipment around on a blank screen, but this would be somewhat more realistic and immersive. The big question is: Is it worth it? Do students learn much more in an immersive environment than an artificial one? There is already research showing that students can learn more from a circuits lab enacted on a computer than a real life circuits lab, so this might be a possibility. I need to check out the research on immersive environments. My guess is that no one has really assessed such things for student learning (at least of anything more than recall or enthusiasm).

I was a bit disappointed with Quinn's talk at the conference. All of the educational stuff he talked about was more than 20 years old. Why are we still talking about this? Shouldn't we have moved past this already and be talking about more advanced stuff?

One of my disappointments in general with the conference so far is that there is very little on assessment of student learning in online courses. There a lot of stuff on various things that one should do: how to put your voice and presence in an online class, how to engage students, how to find resources for cool things you can put in your class, etc. But no evidence as to whether or not this actually results in student learning. I suppose online courses have been around for a long time and maybe the research base is out there, but so old that people no longer talk about it. I will have to check that out. I had been expecting more sessions on actual educational research studies, though.

Two things I've noted: (1) The conference presentations are a good case study of how difficult it can be for people to transfer skills from one context to another. Most of the presenters are educators with degrees in some field of education. However, the quality of the presentations is pretty uneven. Some are very good--very organized, with explicit and clear learning objectives for the participants. Others are really not very good at all. (2) When trying to decide if I will find a session useful or not, looking at who the presenter is can be a good guide. If the presenter is an instructor like me, I will often find the presentation more useful than if the presenter is a corporate something or other or an academic administrator. I guess people tend to focus on an audience of people who are like themselves. It took me a while to figure this out because I just came from a conference of physics teachers where everyone was like me, so this was not an issue.

Still, I'm quite interested in this virtual lab thing. Definitely something to look into and possibly the focus of a project for this upcoming year.

Distance Ed conference

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Morning of the second day. Yesterday was interesting. I went to a workshop in the morning about Quality Assessment and Quality Assurance. I don't think I heard anything that I hadn't before, but it is always nice to hear about familiar things put together in a different way or in a new context. There was an example from the Open University of Hong Kong regarding their quality assurance process for their online courses. It was quite comprehensive, involving multiple levels of planning and review between the initiation of an idea for a new program to the delivery of the individual courses in that program. Looking at that, I found it hard to believe that such criteria could be implemented in the U.S., where instructors are used to having much more freedom to design and deliver bad courses. There was also an example from the UWMadison engineering program, where they have an online engineering business degree. It sounds very successful, probably aided by the fact that in engineering, there is already a community consensus (and much experience) on how to insure quality in their products. I have reservations as to whether such a model could be implemented in another field (such as education), in which there is no such community consensus.

A second workshop I went to was about ARGs (Alternate reality games). Unfortunately, I was no able to get much out of this one. The workshop started at 1 p.m. and by 2:45, I still had no idea what an ARG was like (my guess is that very few other people in the room did either). I knew things about ARGs, just not what it was like to play one. I wish we had started the session by playing a short ARG (which the presenter did have, but for some reason did not have us go through).

The talk this morning by Lee Crockett was very thought-provoking. I really enjoyed his message. There were a few things about his presentation that bugged me from a physics point of view, however.

(1) I don't think chips are ever going to get to $0.03 each, just on cost of raw materials.

(2) The Nokia phone that he mentioned as being charged by ambient radio waves also set off alarm bells in my head. It seems as if the idea came out in 2009, however, there has been nothing about it since. Probably the technology to do this idea is not there (and might not ever be there). The amount of energy in ambient radio waves is extremely small and non-directional. This is a physics limitation, not a Moore's law kind of thing. I think probably solar will turn out to be a much more practical and quickly realizable solution.

(3) The nano spiders that are 4 nm in size also "bugged" me. Well, not so much the idea, but the picture. Four nm is about the width of 40 atoms. There's no way you make something that looks like the picture he showed in 40 atoms. In fact, anything only 40 atoms wide is going to look like a blob or a stringy thing (what they actually look like). A good non-technical summary of the technology can be found at http://www.nature.com.ezp2.lib.umn.edu/nature/journal/v465/n7295/full/465167a.html
Fairly limited in function right now, but promising for the future.

Aside from these quibbles, I think his message is well taken.