Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Saturday Academy Workshop

In today's presentation, I want to focus on one particular challenge for faculty - and that is to engage students through active learning - and thereby improve student learning (and student success).

This is a so-called presentation blog, and each blog posting deals with a separate topic that I would like to cover. Note that anyone can post a comment on any of the individual blog postings.

In the hands-on part of the workshop, we'll look at a few of these technologies in detail - see:


My goal is to have the workshop participants get a good sense of how to use a few Internet tools to improve student learning by making it more active - in courses ranging from face-to-face to blended to fully online.

Passive Learning/Active Learning

Despite overwhelming research (and common sense) that passive learning is less effective than active learning, many classes emphasize passive approaches.

Passive approaches emphasize:
  • Lectures
  • Readings
  • Watching video
  • Listening to audio
  • Observing demonstrations

Active approaches emphasize:

  • Interaction through discussion
  • Student-to-student interactions & faculty-to-student interactions
  • Student presentations
  • Group projects
  • Simulations
  • Problem solving

Passive Learning

Perhaps for us to discuss active learning, it is best to consider the common forms of passive learning. For centuries passive learning has been a favored approach of teaching at the unversity level. Faculty members would teach large groups of students in lecture halls. There would be essentially no interaction, no engagement, no active learning. Take a moment to view this video produced by Michael Wesch's cultural anthropology class last spring at Kansas State University. It explains well that passive approaches do not succeed with the 21st century student. More on the study here: http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/?p=119

Constructivism Online

The constructivist approach also strongly supports active learning. Based in social constructivism of the early and mid 20th century, this approach to teaching and learning suggests that we, as instructors, do not impart knowledge, rather we help our learners to build thier own personal knowledge. We can best do that through active learning.
  1. Knowledge involves active cognizing by the individual.
  2. Knowledge is adaptive, facilitating individual and social efficacy.
  3. Knowledge is subjective and self-organized, not objective.
  4. Knowledge acquisition involves both sociocultural and individual processes.

There are some great examples linked above.

Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Teaching

The now famous seven principles for good practice in undergraduate teaching published by Chickering and Gamson in the mid 1980s recognized the importance of engaging students through what we now call active learning approaches.
  1. encourages contact between students and faculty
  2. develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. encourages active learning
  4. gives prompt feedback
  5. emphasizes time on task
  6. communicates high expectations
  7. respects diverse talents and ways of learning

There are some fine examples in the original article (linked above).

Connectivism - a Learning Theory for the Digital Age

In 2004, George Siemens (now at the University of Manitoba) articulated a new theory that draws upon elements of Social Constructivism and other pedagogies while taking into account some of the special features of the digital age.

Most notably, Siemens posits that knowledge in the 21st century resides, not just in the individual's brain, but also in the networks that the individual has built (both social and electronic). Due to the exponential increase in information, we need to expand our repository to include other individuals and sites where knowledge may be accessed.

Bloom's Taxonomy Revised - Actively!

The American Psychological Association has a great resource (linked above) with some revisions that are tailored to our active learning pursuits. You will see that the highest order is now CREATE rather than evaluate and the term knowledge has been more aptly re-named REMEMBER.

The taxonomy circle is a most useful tool. Note that it combines the non-active roles of remember and understand - and separates out each of the active roles of:
  • Apply
  • Analyze
  • Evaluate
  • Create

It is in the higher orders of the taxonomy that we achieve active learning - and in which we can implement some of the new and evolving Web 2.0 tools to actively engage students.

Mode Neutral Pedagogy

There appears to be a new movement developing in which courses are designed as "delivery mode neutral." That is, that the design of on ground, blended and online classes can fully utilize the same tool set so that students can move from one mode to another. Even if distant students cannot move among the modes, this approach helps to assure that content and experiences in classes delivered through the different modes are equivalent. The article linked to the title of this posting is one of the first in this area.

Discussion Boards

At the core of most Learning Management Systems is the discussion board. It is not uncommon to average 100 posts per student in a semester class (20 students = 2,500 posts including instructor). The discussion board is where "the rubber hits the road".

Remarkably, when we asked a sampling of our online students what made their online classes special, most responded "everyone is heard" - it is not just the students in the front row, or the ones with the quick answer, or the teacher's pet. Every student posting in response to the common weekly discussion question is read and responded to by the instructor.

This link includes a rubric matrix for grading discussion posts.

Generating Engaged Online Discussions

In electronic environments, responses to ideas and texts are dialogic rather than solitary and foster ongoing written conversations among readings and readers. These guidelines should be adapted to course content, design, and emphasis, as well as to the type of electronic communication (email list, discussion board, or blog, for instance).

Digital Strategies

There are a number of technologies and strategies that facilitate active learning and the building of a learning community. Some of these include:
  • Small group projects - online anytime/anywhere facilitates students working together
  • Case studies - engaging students in applying the knowledge they have constructed
  • Collaborations - linking students from different classes (even universities) together
  • Journals - facilitate reflected and deep learning
  • Blogs - sharing creative work with larger groups (even the Web) for comments
  • Wikis - collaboratively building reports
  • Podcasts and SlideShare/SlideCast - adding audio and video to projects
  • Virtual guest speakers - live or recorded and responding to discussion board comments

The applications are many, but the principles are few - engage the student, facilitate knowledge building, tap the collective wisdom of the Web, encourage diversity, and enable discovery.

Web 2.0 Promotes Active Learning Online

Engage, interact, collaborate, construct, simulate - all are enabled by a myriad of FREE Web 2.0 applications. Here are 20 of my favorite applications:
  1. Blog http://blogger.com/
  2. Wiki http://pbwiki.com/
  3. Podomatic http://www.podomatic.com/
  4. Flickr http://www.flickr.com/
  5. Google Docs http://docs.google.com/
  6. Google Calendar http://www.google.com/calendar/
  7. GooglePages http://googlepages.com/
  8. Del.icio.us http://del.icio.us/
  9. MySpace http://www.myspace.com/
  10. Citizendium http://www.citizendium.org/
  11. YouTube http://www.youtube.com/
  12. Gliffy http://gliffy.com/
  13. Skype http://www.skype.com/
  14. Kartoo http://www.kartoo.com/
  15. Elluminate Vroom http://www.elluminate.com/vroom/
  16. Second Life http://www.secondlife.com/
  17. Twitter http://www.twitter.com/
  18. Digg http://www.digg.com/
  19. Xdrive http://www.xdrive.com/
  20. zoho http://zoho.com/
The linked video is another of Michael Wesch's - this one gives a good sense of how AJAX (asynchronous javascript and XML) and other Web 2.0 applications are changing the way we teach, learn, and live.

Transforming Pedagogy through Social Software

The advent of Web 2.0 opens whole new horizons to the ways in which we can engage and interact with students. The technologies create the possibility to more fully implement active learning. Through social networking tools, we can expand "connectivity, communication, and participation." In the article linked to the title of this posting, you will find a great discussion (with plenty of examples) of how the new online tools can create a new perspective for the pedagogy that drives our approach to teaching and learning. (note that the full article requires the free and simple registration at Innovate Online.

Social Networking Sites:


Sloan Consortium - Promoting Quality Online Education

The Sloan Consortium (http://www.sloan-c.org/ ) is an association of 1,500 colleges, universities, and other organizations committed to quality online teach and learning. The founder of the consortium, Dr. Frank Mayadas, is a good friend and colleague who has had an enormous impact on the development of online learning nationwide over the past 15 years. He is the program director for the online and blended learning initiatives at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; the Sloan Foundation has provided nearly $100 million to foster quality online teaching and learning.

Dr. Mayadas identified five key "pillars" supporting quality in online programs:
  • Learning Effectiveness
  • Access
  • Faculty Satisfaction
  • Student Satisfaction
  • Cost Effectiveness (institutional commitment)

All five of these pillars are necessary for a successful, high-quality, online program.

Rubrics for Quality

The award-winning Quality Matters program now keeps their rubric as a proprietary tool available only to members. But, up until 2006, it was available to the public at large. In eight key areas, the rubric sets best practices standards for the design of online classes.
  1. Course Introduction/Overview
  2. Learning Objectives
  3. Assessment and Measurement
  4. Resources and Materials
  5. Learner Interaction
  6. Course Technology
  7. Learner Support
  8. Accessibility

One additional area I encourage users to consider is the less-quantitative aspects of the class. How does the class promote affective learning and changes? Are attitudes and opinions cultivated?

An excellent, less-quantitative, rubric that addresses some of these areas is one developed by Chico State University:


Keeping Current

For daily updates on online learning, educational technology and emerging technologies, I invite you to visit the blogs aggregated in the right column:

Online Learning Update

Educational Technology Blog

Techno-News Blog

These blogs are published daily (365 days each year) by my colleague, Prof. Ray Schroeder, at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

On the Horizon - the Horizon Report!

Early each year, EDUCAUSE and the New Media Consortium produce a report on emerging technologies that are on the horizon - one year out; two to three years out; and four to five years out. This report is a valuable aggregation of new and emerging technologies that promise to impact education in the future.

Wonders of Wikis

There are a plethora Web 2.0 technologies - each has its own useful aspects. But, none has captured the attention of educators more than the Wiki. Borrowing the Hawaiian word for "quick" - the Wiki enables collaborative document creation online.

For educators, it provides a solution for the age-old quandary of group projects. Have you ever assigned group project only to be approached afterward and told that one student did nothing, or did the whole assignment? Wiki has the solution - a complete history is recorded - each contribution, each change, each addition, each correction is visible to all.

The Power of RSS

RSS is relatively little understood, but hugely important as a mode of online dissemination and syndication. In the simplest of terms, RSS is a web page written in XML that is commonly generated when content on a web site is changed. RSS aggregators are relatively small software packages that reside on the desktop, or in a browser, or at another web site that monitor updates at the RSS sites and make the new content available to the subscriber.

Though the technology dates back to the early versions of Netscape, this is only now gaining momentum as increasingly people are seeking a technological solution to keeping abreast of topics and areas of interest.

RSS Feed Aggregators

Linked to the header of this posting are more than 50 different feed aggregators - most are free, many download the feeds to your desktop, others keep the material online.

The two major browsers - Firefox and the newest version of Internet Explorer - both will grab RSS feeds and provide them to you in a drop-down list.

Oakley's Online Class at UIS

I teach a fully online course at the University of Illinois at Springfield - CS442 - "Internet and American Life". This course explores the impact that the Internet is having on our society. It promotes critical thinking and uses a constructivist pedagogy.

All undergraduate students are required to take a minimum of 13 hours in the Engaged Citizenship Common Experience (ECCE), a set of courses tied to UIS' heritage, mission, vision, and values. Most of the coursework in this category is interdisciplinary, and these courses provide a distinctive element to the baccalaureate education at UIS.

CS442 is in the ECCE category of U.S. Communities. Courses in this category aim to broaden students' knowledge about substantial, distinctive, and complex aspects of the history, society, politics, and culture of United States communities.