Enriching learning through collaboration

Online learning is sought after for its perks–convenience and flexibility are chief among them.  However, it is not without its challenges.  The lack of interaction and socialization could deter some students from attempting this type of learning experience.  Palloff and Pratt note that “the online environment can be a lonely place…students and faculty alike report feelings of isolation when working online” (2007).   Collaborative activity can help diminish those feelings of isolation by “purposefully connecting learners with one another through various learning activities”  (Palloff and Pratt, 2007, p. 158).

Respond to the following:

Collaborative activities are often incorporated into the curriculum for online courses.  Group work facilitates learner-to-learner interaction which can enrich the learning experience.  There are some challenges associated with collaborative work in the online setting.  Give 2 challenges and offer a strategy for addressing those challenges.  In light of those challenges, is it worth it to incorporate collaborative assignments into the coursework? Why or why not?

Post your initial discussion input by Wednesday.

By Sunday, read through your colleagues postings and respond to 2 or more of them by:

  • asking a question
  • elaborating on a point they raised
  • offering a suggestion from personal experience
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Learner-to-learner interaction provides another layer to the educative experience. Photo from leapagency.com

Access the discussion post rubric here.

Reference:

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Plagiarism Detection and Prevention

These insights were gleaned from a video of industry experts, Dr. Palloff and Dr. Pratt discussing effective methods for dealing with plagiarism in distance education.

  • What plagiarism detection software is available to online instructors?

Tools like Turnitin, Duplichecker and Paper Rater are available to instructors.

  • How can the design of assessments help prevent academic dishonesty?

The instructor should design robust assessments that require depth of thought as opposed to one-word answers.  These assessments should require an application of the concepts at hand so that the instructor can observe the student’s individual thought process.  This type of design deters academic dishonesty because word-for-word plagiarism of this type of assignment would be very easily detectable.

  • What facilitation strategies do you propose to use as a current or future online instructor?

I like Dr. Pratt’s method of allowing collaborative work even for cumulative assessments.  I would employ a similar practice encouraging students to use any resource that they deem valuable and relevant.  Facilitating becomes less critical with the types of expository writing assessments I previously discussed.

plagiarism-Bart

Image retrieved from Watchdog.org.

  • What additional considerations for online teaching should be made to help detect or prevent cheating and plagiarism?

Instructors should preempt any cheating or plagiarism attempts by empowering students–that is making them aware of resources like the institution library and/or writing centers.  These resources can ensure that students have a working knowledge of how to properly cite, paraphrase etc.

Reference:

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Plagiarism and cheating [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Impact of Technology and Multimedia

Here is a brief examination of the impact of technology and multimedia in online learning environments.

  • What impact does technology and multimedia have on online learning environments?

Technology has a very prominent role in online learning environments.  It is the avenue through which the content is presented, demonstrated and or delivered.  Boetticher advises that an instructor in an online environment should “focus on essential tools and build your…course around those tools” (2010, p. 57).

  • What are the most important considerations an online instructor should make before implementing technology?

An online instructor should first examine the content, give some thought as to how that content would best be communicated, and then select tools which lend themselves to that.  She shouldn’t seek to implement tech tools simply because of their availability and He should devote time to the mastery of those tools.

  • What implications do usability and accessibility of technology tools have for online teaching?

I think its a foregone conclusion that tech tools would be incorporated into an online learning experience.  Ideally the tools should be chosen wisely and be seamlessly integrated into the experience with the instructor having a mastery of the tools and anticipating any usability and accessibility problems students might encounter.

  • What technology tools are most appealing to you for online teaching as you move forward in your career in instructional design?

I am definitely in favor of any tool that helps lessen the transactional distance (the theory of Transactional Distance states that as the level of interaction between teacher and learner decreases, learner autonomy must increase) thus aiding and facilitating the learning progress.  That said, I’d make good use of audio and video lecture resources and synchronous collaboration tools.

The use of technology is integral to the online learning experience–it can either positively effect the course by providing stand-ins for face-to-face elements or it can negatively effect the course if the tools are convoluted and tax the cognitive process thus taking the learner’s attention away from the material at hand.

References:

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Culatta, R. (2013) Instructional Design Retrieved from http://www.instructionaldesign.org/models/transactional_distance.html

Setting Up An Online Learning Experience

The following responses have been derived from the resources listed in the bottom of the post.

  • What is the significance of knowing the technology available to you?

It is important to know the technology available to you so that you are able to apply the right tools to achieve what ever instructional effect you want. The Boetticher text submits that while getting acclimated with all of the applications at your disposal might be daunting and take some time, “these tools make it possible to design almost any experience that you [may] have designed for your face-to-face environment” (p. 58, 2010).

  • Why is it essential to communicate clear expectations to learners?

It is essential to communicate clear expectations to learners so that they can approach the course and proceed with confidence.  The text explains that “unambiguous guidelines…make a significant contribution to ensuring understanding and satisfaction in an online course” (Boetticher, p. 55, 2010).  If the learner doesn’t know what is expected of him it is highly likely that he will have a hard time finding focus and very unlikely that he’ll arrive at the learning outcomes.

ID course creation pic

  • What additional considerations should the instructor take into account when setting up an online learning experience?

The instructor should understand that just as a f2f course is dynamic and might change as a result of student’s needs or other factors, online course “[go] through a gradual process of refinement” and it could take “about three cycles of teaching a course for it to be fully developed” (Boetticher, p. 63, 2010).  They should bear this in mind as they set up and implement an online learning experience as that awareness and responsiveness could contribute to making the course that much better.   I discussed the importance of clear expectations, the text also lists “presence, community and patience” (p. 53, 2010) as essential themes for course beginnings.  The instructor should make it clear that he/she is present and available; they should be patient with learners who may be new to the online experience and the increased responsibility that the learner assumes and they should foster an environment rich with discussions and ideas.

To successfully launch an online learning experience ample thought should be given as to the type of environment you are facilitating.  Is it inviting, challenging and exciting or flat and impersonal?  As the experts in the Launching the online learning experience video submit, the first couple of weeks are very critical in guarding against attrition.  Providing engaging icebreakers, coming across as approachable, human and knowledgeable are all key factors in laying the foundation for a solid course.   I learned that the introduction and icebreaker elements of the course are integral pieces of the course machinery and shouldn’t be approached as throw away bits.

Resources:

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

Video: Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Launching the online learning experience [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Community building and effective online instruction EIDT 6510 Course

The following observations were gleaned from viewing a video in which instructional design industry experts discuss and highlight the benefits of creating an online learning community for facilitators of online learning experiences.

Online learning communities significantly impact student learning in that they facilitate a deeper learning experience than a more instructor-centered approach would.  The peer to peer dynamic present in an online learning community allows for exploration of concepts within a forum where students both challenge and support each other in the learning process.  The instructor does establish his/her presence and it is clear that he/she is an integral part of the community but in order to provide for a transformative experience the instructor coaches from the wings so that students can construct their own knowledge.   Student satisfaction is positively impacted because they feel that they are apart of a dynamic exchange where their input is valued and expected.

The essential elements of an online community are a facilitator who understands his/her role as a source of guidance, learners who are engaged and make professional contributions to the community and a clear focus and purpose.  It is essential to online community building that each involved party has a good sense of their responsibility to the course.  The vitality of the community depends on the level of investment and engagement of the participants.  This engagement contributes to the sustenance of online communities.  Online communities are also sustained through meaningful support from the administrators of the program where the course is utilized.

Community building has a strong correlation to effective online instruction.  A thriving online community where guided participants interact and share their observations as they learn and reflect on new concepts leads to stronger learning outcomes and increased self direction.  This increased initiative can result in participants bringing even more insights and observations to share within the community resulting in richer discussion and deeper learning.

The video resource really drove home the importance of the instructor adapting the ‘guide on the side’ versus the ‘sage on the stage’ stance.  This element–the instructor guiding and coaching rather than lecturing–is essential to the co-constructed knowledge process and is the bedrock upon which a strong and effective learning community is built.

 

 

My experience with ‘scope creep’

In a past position I was charged with re-vamping an hour and a half orientation for a small non-profit to make it more engaging and have it incorporate elements like knowledge checks and small group discussions.  The executive director and I sat down to outline and discuss the key components and the deadline and I began the work shortly thereafter.  Going forward we had bi-weekly check-ins where I presented status reports and I had the understanding that a proof-of-concept  would be required of me about half-way in.  It was at the half-way point, where I furnished the ED with storyboards and content outline, when the ED shared a new vision and expectations with me.  These elements were beyond the scope that we had initially discussed and would certainly cause me to miss the deadline and budget targets.  The ED wanted to add online material to supplement the face-to-face orientation and she wanted to incorporate  a mini-training on a software system that the employees would be required to use on the job.  This added so many layers and required more resources–both finance and human.  Looking back, I would have drafted a formal MOU and would have deferred to it every time the ED wanted to pile on demands or suggest additions that could not feasibly be completed in the allotted time.

Scope-Creep

Tools to help with cost estimate & resource allocation

I found these two sites that help with cost estimation.  One was developed by The Center for Learning Technologies at Old Dominion University .  It features a spreadsheet that allows you to plug in your project information and receive cost estimates.  It is really comprehensive and has pages for each element and breaks those pages down into a division of labor among the producer, designer and tech. person.   The tool allows you to get figures related to your project based on how many hours of course content you are charged with delivering.  I would use this tool to help me get clear on the resource allocation.

The other resource is a website compiled by a seasoned Instructional Designer called nwlink.com.  It has a wealth of information (links to other resources, spreadsheet templates, toolkits) on the process of creating a budget and it offers some guidance to less experienced designers (noting the costs of overlooked expenses like stock photos etc.).  I would use this resource to help me develop the line items of my budget.  This resource is ideal for a novice ID because it gives some rough estimates (i.e. “Course is five days or less, then 3 hours of preparation for each hour of training”) and the ID can get a feel for whether their estimates are reasonable.

Resources:

Clark, D.R. (2014). Estimating Cost and time in instructional design. Retrieved from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/costs.html#tools

 

 

Modes of Communication: When reading between the lines gets blurry

This assignment called for us to observe an instance of communication through 3 different modalities; email, voicemail and face-to-face.  The following are my observations regarding each of the attempts at communication:

Email:
It seemed that I was sensing panic and impatience from Jane but I also sensed that she was making an effort not to sound too alarming and accusatory.  However she did sound mildly irritated.  Her email left me wondering; Did she copy others on this email in an effort to drum up charges against Mark’s work? Could this email be used in a smear campaign?

Voicemail:
The voicemail came across as more of a personal touch.  I sensed Jane’s concern and anxiety over the missing pieces she needed to complete her own work but in hearing her voice it wasn’t overtly confrontational or accusatory.  Still there was room for doubt.  Was she angry but just exercising restraint?  Is she gearing up to make Mark look bad? 

Face-to-face:
There was more warmth conveyed in the message. It was clear that Jane wasn’t to the point of anger or  irritability but she was extending her co-worker the professional courtesy of interfacing with them to voice her concerns over his adherence to the timeline.

This exercise confirmed my suspicion that despite your best effort to craft the pitch perfect email it can really never go over as well as an audio or visual interaction–preferably face to face.  In the professional realm, my preferred mode of communication is email because it allows me to get messages quickly to multiple people…that and I like the idea of having a paper trail documenting any exchanges.  This activity has helped me realize that I need to be more open to face-to-face exchanges and employ them wherever possible as it decreases the chance of things getting lost in translation.

 

Lessons learned from a project post-mortem.

I was a team-member for a project which my organization would under-take annually.  The planning and preparation for the “go live” date would generally start in earnest 4 months out from the event (I frequently submitted that it should be more like 6 months out but it fell on deaf ears).  The project is a fund raising event and the team includes a marketing and PR person, a volunteer manager, a fund and resource development person, SMEs who contribute as advisers/consultants and the Executive Director/project manager.  The fund raising event in question was a success in some senses–feedback we received from the public was glowing and favorable.  But it was a failure in some respects; we fell a shy of our fund raising goal and we failed to fine tune some of the processes that we intended to pay close attention to that time around.  The timeline was just too cramped and left no room for iterative development, just full steam ahead even if the process wasn’t airtight.

What contributed to the success was the team’s awareness that presenting a united and polished front to the public was paramount.  Even if there were holes in the roll-out (i.e. one sponsor’s logo wasn’t included on the t-shirt, we under-shot the amount of shirts needed and had to send some participants shirts after the fact) we worked over-time to make sure that the good experiences outweighed the bad and everyone had a good time.

One thing that contributed to the failure was that we did not devote enough time to the planning of the event.  It was the 8th year of the event and the PM felt like some processes could be skipped and were on autopilot but that kind of thinking led to re-work, rushing and oversights.   I think back on the questions from the Project Management Minimalist and one really resonated with me because it is centered around an assertion that I (and several other team-members) put forth early on in the conception phase–we need to bring in another team-member, an event planner because the PM was inundated and distracted with the wearing of that particular hat.  Question #5  of the post-mortem review asks “could we have completed this project without one or more of our vendors/contractors? If so, how?” (Greer, 2010, p. 43).   In my opinion we definitely didn’t have any fat to trim but we desperately needed to consider adding a member to the team.

The Summary & Checklist: 10 steps to project success (Greer, p. 45) lists “Estimate time, effort, and resources” as the 5th step.   A more careful and comprehensive discussion  around these items would have undoubtedly made the project more successful as it would’ve beeen made clear that we needed more time and we needed to acquire other resources (event planner) so that the PM could have the support in that area and not be the only accountable.

Reference:

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Distance Learning Course Reflection

Even though some semblance of distance learning has been around for some time (mail and television correspondence courses), in many circles it is still perceived as a new-kid-on-the-block whose effectiveness has not been proven tried and true.  It is, however, a force to be reckoned with because of the value it holds for the stakeholders involved.  For students it offers a convenience and flexibility without which they may have been barred from study in a traditional setting.  The distance learning option has economic implications for institutions and may allow them to cut overhead costs.  That said, distance learning doesn’t currently enjoy an entirely favorable reputation but I predict that in 10 to 20 years it will be fully assimilated into society and will be de-stigmatized.  I think Instructional designers play a pivotal role in bringing about this change and should consider it a personal mission to an impetus for continuous improvement in the field of distance education.

Even if it only took a few years to integrate the technology needed to facilitate distance learning into every institution, it would likely take a few more years to get everyone on board with its implementation.  This would take more than just installing hardware and software and the like, this would require getting buy-in from key people who would be willing to sing the praises of distance education.  It would require these change agents making cases for the merits of distance education.  I think this sort of momentum is in the works now and in the near future distance education will be looked upon as equivalent to traditional education.

Instructional designers can help fuel this momentum by being very transparent about what it takes to produce effective distance education experiences.  Wherever possible, we need to get the message across that distance education is not simply traditional classroom content dumped into an online container but that it is the product of processes and analyses aimed at providing the learner with a meaningful educative experience.

I plan to be a positive force for continuous improvement by seizing every teachable moment and illustrating the difference that great distance instructional design makes.  I plan to add my voice to those who advocate for implementing distance learning options and proudly proclaim that I received my quality education from a respected and accredited institution—via an online distance program!