Be Prepared

“Students think online courses are easy” is a common refrain heard from faculty in the Office of Distance Education.  The truth is online courses are hard.  They require specific skills to be successful.  How do we help students be prepared for that reality?  If you are a faculty member looking for ideas on how to help students be prepared for the rigor of online learning or a student who wants to make sure they are as prepared as they can be for an online course consider these resources from the Office of Distance Education.

eLearnReady

eLearnReady is a free web-based set of questions that evaluate a users readiness for online learning.  Developed by a group led by Dr. Corey Lee and Dr. Natalie Abell this tool asks students 40 multiple-choice questions covering 9 success factors.  Upon completion of the questionnaire, a user receives an email with their results along with resources and suggestions for improvement in each factor.  Anyone can take the questionnaire at any time.  It is an excellent self-assessment tool.

Faculty who want to collect course-wide data on all of their students using the tool need to create an account through which they issue invitations to students to participate in the survey.  Using the tool in this manner allows an instructor to see class-wide areas of weakness or strength and target instruction accordingly.

West Chester University faculty who are interested in incorporating this tool into their course should contact their assigned instructional designer for support and use ideas.

Orientation for Distance Education Students

A more involved option for preparing students to be successful is our Orientation for Distance Education Students.  Here is a 40 second introduction video:

Faculty must request access for their courses each semester they wish to use the orientation by contacting their assigned instructional designer. Students interested in completing the orientation on their own should contact Distance Education Support to gain access.

Tech Tip Tuesdays

Every Tuesday during the fall and spring semesters, the Office of Distance Education produces a short video on a new technology or tip for using a technology.  These are a great way to stay current and learn new skills.  You can see the full playlist of videos below.

Distance Education Support

Finally, faculty and students can always contact the Distance Education Support for assistance with anything related to distance education.  If you are struggling with something related to distance education, contact support.

Support can be reached by phone at 610-436-3373 or email at distanceed@wcupa.edu.  Hours are usually 8:00 am to 8:00 PM Monday through Thursday, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm on Friday, and 12:00 to 8:00 pm on Sunday.  Be sure to check the Office of Distance Education website to confirm the current hours.

Don’t be fooled into thinking online courses are easy.  Prepare yourself by making sure you know what it takes to be successful.

Hands on Science Labs for Online Students- We can do that!

“How do you provide an authentic laboratory experience for science students in online education?” the associate dean asked me during our new staff orientation.  Knowing that this was a very common question posed by science faculty, I paused for a moment before mentioning the only answer I knew at the time, that there were a number of computer programs and websites available that would simulate various science laboratory experiments. The associate dean listened politely then said, “Those do have some value, but it still isn’t the same as a real lab experience.”  Recognizing that the dean was right and not knowing any better, I let the point drop and we moved on to other topics.

Fast-forward a year later and now I would say the associate dean is only partially right.  Here is why. For introductory online science courses there are options to use:

  1. Home kitchen labs which make use of everyday materials found in your kitchen to conduct simple experiments that still provide the hands-on experience.  These experiments are limited to what students can find in a kitchen and must remain relatively safe to conduct in a home setting.
  2. Commercial lab kits which can be sent directly to a student and contain everything students need to safely conduct a number of laboratory experiments just as they might in a regular face-to-face on campus lab course.  These kits offer the ability to do more than kitchen labs, but are still limited to experiments that can be done safely in a home setting.
  3. Remote controlled robot based labs where students from off-site control robots which manipulate the experiment materials in an on-site laboratory.  This type of lab allows students to participate in slightly more complex and hazardous experiments without needing to be on campus. This type of remote lab costs more then the other two options and can sometimes require additional training in how to use the robots.

If you were paying attention, you may have noticed what I described is for introductory science courses.  At this time, there are not yet great solutions available for the more complex and advanced scientific experiments conducted in upper level laboratory courses.  Virtual reality tools hold some promise to eventually be a possible solution; however, they need to become more affordable and realistic before they will be a viable solution.

So where does this leave us?  If you are a science faculty who is interested in developing an online science course, but has been stuck on the laboratory component, come talk to us here in the Office of Distance Education.  As this article has demonstrated, there are solutions available.  We are eager to work with you to find the right mix of laboratory options among those listed here and other possibilities to develop an online laboratory course that does provide an authentic laboratory experience for science students.

 

 

Getting the Soil Right

How does a faculty member benefit from working with an instructional designer?

Working with an instructional designer gives you access to a vast array of distance education knowledge and expertise.  In a typical month a designer will work with an average of 20 faculty across the University,

  • seeing the activities they use,
  • the tools they incorporate,
  • the challenges they face,
  • and the solutions we develop.

If you work with an instructional designer, you gain easy access to the expertise and knowledge of all of those individuals.  You also gain access to the knowledge and expertise that instructional designers acquire when they attend learning events, like the 2016 D2L Fusion conference, which I just attended this past week.

In the spirit of connection and information sharing, I tried to encapsulate the value of this experience for you, the reader of this blog.  At first I took the analytical approach:

  • 1 moose selfie
  • 2 days of conference
  • 4 general sessions attended
  • 9 breakout sessions attended
  • 100 tweets (yes I counted my #d2lfusion hashtag tweets)
  • 1000 + attendees to interact with
  • way too much coffee

But numbers really don’t do the conference justice.  Next, I considered some of the questions raised and answered through the breakout sessions.

Why online education?

As Jon Becker (@jonbecker) said during his presentation on Connected Learning, “Because the internet is awesome.”  While true, he went further arguing that it enables Connected Learning with the instructional and design benefits like renewable assignments and the ability to cultivate wonder in students.

Why should I care about Universal Design in Learning (UDL)?

Because as Tom Tobin (@ThomasJTobin) said, “UDL is access no matter what the circumstances.”  He encouraged faculty to think about +1.  Add just one more way for the students to access the information or be engaged or demonstrate their understanding.

Why use gamification principles?

Because when done right, it can inspire enjoyment, engagement, and experimentation through the creation of challenge, choices, and consequences.  (Gamification presenters enjoyed their alliteration.)  Said another way, gamified courses create feedback loops where students get to keep trying to overcome learning challenges, receiving feedback each time they fail, until finally they reach mastery and succeed.

Yet questions didn’t capture the value of the conference either.  Finally, I considered the conferences broadest themes.

D2L used the theme “We Love the Way You Teach,” during the conference, but I prefer the message delivered from the two keynote speakers, Sir Ken Robinson and Angela Maiers.  While they each took a different tact, the core of both messages was the same.   Ken and Angela believe that every life matters.  That each person has unique gifts and talents that deserve to be in this world. That the role of an educator, of a teacher, is to help students recognize their value and bring it out into the world.

As Sir Ken Robinson was articulating his idea of human worth he argued that we need to change our educational system from one that is industrialized, focused on output and yield to one that is organic, that celebrates diversity and encourages mutual support and protection.  As he discussed his idea of organic education, he made an analogy to organic farming saying, “If you get the soil right, the plant will be fine.  It will flourish.” For some reason, that idea of “getting the soil right” stuck with me.

As educators, how do we get the “soil” right, so our students will flourish?  What makes up the “soil” in education?  Is that “soil” different in an online educational environment?

I don’t have easy answers to those questions, but I do know that we here at the Office of Distance Education are committed to getting the “soil” right when it comes to distance education. I also know that getting the soil right is impossible without you, the faculty.    We need you.  You matter to us.  So connect with us and benefit from easy access to expertise.

We make better “soil” together.

A Surprising Benefit of Creating Your Own Video Captions

Creating captions can be is a tedious process.  It seems like every time I create captions for a video, I find myself wondering, “is this really worth it?”  I know captioned videos provide many positive benefits to student learning which are more than worth the investment of time into the captioning process, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover another, more personal benefit to captioning my own videos.  Captioning can help you improve your public speaking.

Typing a word or phrase into your video caption track for the 7th time in the last 30 seconds makes it easy to identify those words and phrases that you say a little too often.    Trying to line up captions to the audio also increases your awareness of the use of filler sounds like “um” and “ah” between thoughts.  As the cartoon G.I. Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle.”  I found that once I identified those repeating words and overused filler sounds, the next time I was speaking I could focus on eliminating them.  When you find yourself dreading the creation of video captions, remind yourself of all the great benefits your students will reap from having them as an instructional resource and then think about how the captioning process is going to help you improve your speaking abilities.

If you want to learn more about how to create your own captions in Camtasia, I recommend you watch the webinar my colleague, Marc Drumm recorded in the Fall of 2015 on Captioning Your Course Videos.