Growing as an Online Instructor

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By Tyler Isbell

Lou Holtz is the only coach in NCAA history to lead six different football programs to bowl games. Of these programs, the most memorable is Notre Dame. Including a win at the 1988 National Championship, Coach Holtz led the Fighting Irish to bowl games for nine consecutive years and finished eleven seasons with a 100-30-2 record.

Although his performance at Notre Dame serves as the crown jewel of his coaching career, it also serves as one of his biggest regrets.  In a commencement speech to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Holtz shared this from his time at Notre Dame:

We took a program on the bottom and we took it to the very top… We put it on top and we maintained it.  That’s the thing I regret the most.  See, there’s a rule in life that says you’re either growing or you’re dying.  The tree’s either growing or it’s dying.  So’s grass. So’s a marriage. So’s a business.  So’s a person.   Doesn’t have a thing to do with age.  My birthday candles cost more than the cake.  It has everything to do with trying to get better (Inspire Bingle, 2017).

Holtz admits that he became complacent with where he was as a coach and where his players were as a team.  He believed that they had arrived and simply needed to maintain their success: no risks, no improvements, no drive, and no growth.  It would only be a short period of time before their success quickly passed away.

Regardless of your level of experience, past success, or confidence in teaching off or online, it is important to remember that no one has arrived.  The rule in life that applies to trees, grass, and football also applies to planning, designing, and teaching online. For those that seem to have it all together, this might be a disappointment.  For most everyone else (including me), this is an encouragement that trying new things and making mistakes is only a part of the growing process to becoming a better instructor.

Today’s  ‘Small Teaching Online’  Tip: “Cultivate Your Online Teaching Practice.” 

Gardens rarely sprout and prosper without cultivation. The same is true when it comes to your online (and offline) teaching abilities.  It’s essential to “find ways of impassioning yourself so that you don’t become stale in your online classes” (Darby & Lang, 2019).  Strive to care for and work on your online courses with the same dedication you have for your in-person classes – we want ALL of our students to learn, earn a degree, and successfully begin a career, regardless of modality or location.  In other words, making time to grow is also making time for your students to grow. These small strategies are great ways to foster positive change in your practice:

  • Take an online course – All teachers were once students, and their personal experience often shapes how they approach instruction. Taking an online class, whether it is for credit or for a personal interest, is an excellent way to see what works (or what doesn’t work) in the online classroom. Being an online learner will help you build empathy for your own online students.
  • Look for and ask for exemplars – Examples can inspire you or model strategies that work for other instructors and students.
  • Start small, but continue to try new things – Build confidence and mastery by trying something new each week or term. Incremental growth is still growth and will help you avoid burn out.
  • Seek quality certification for your online course design and teaching – OLET offers in-house training and workshops geared towards best teaching practices and course design. Sign up here.
    • In-person Trainings, such as our upcoming Canvas trainings and instructional video trainings.
    • Online Faculty Training (OFT):  This four week completely online training course allows you to study and exercise best practices as you create your own course.
    • Course Design for Today’s Student: A three day workshop that investigates student needs and how an efficient and effective online course can be developed. Individual feedback and support is provided to participants after the workshop until an actual course is completed.

References 

Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San   Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Inspire Bingle. (2017, September 15). Lou Holtz – Silver spoon motivational speech | University of Steubenville [Video file].  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfoQBmNW_JQ

Tyler Isbell is an OLET Instructional Designer & Trainer

‘Small Teaching Online’: Small Changes, Big Impact

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By Tyler Isbell

‘Small teaching’ is an approach to improving instruction based on the belief that “minor modifications to our teaching can have a major impact on student learning” (Lederman, 2019).  Essentially, effective improvement is made when faculty make small changes to their teaching based on research.  This small change approach allows instructors to avoid the overwhelming pressure of complete overhauls or time-consuming restarts.

Based on James Lang’s approach from Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, Flower Darby presents the micro-actions you can take to design, facilitate, and motivate so that your online class is a huge success.  The name of her recently released book is Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes.  Her book is divided into three sections: Designing for Learning, Teaching Humans, and Motivating Online Students (and Instructors).

Today’s Small Teaching Online Tip: “Online Classes are Not Slow-Cookers.” 

Your new online course should NOT resemble your favorite slow-cooker recipe (Darby & Lang, 2019).  Students need more than a quick set up and then a few days to cook the material by themselves.  Most students will not thrive in such an environment – They did not sign up to take an electronic correspondence course.  Students need to feel a connection with their instructors (and with their peers) in order to feel supported in their learning and avoid being discouraged from finishing the online course.  Here are some ways to build your teacher presence in the online classroom:

  • Show Up for Class – Schedule time several times each week to visit your course as if you were attending in person.  Make announcements (this can even be scheduled to help you be present when you cannot be present), answer questions, respond to discussion boards, and give feedback.  With Canvas, your responses may be text, audio, and/or video – more on students hearing and seeing you in the next point.
  • Reveal Your Personality – Students want YOU.  They want to know that you are there and that you are a real person.  Use the ‘About Your Instructor’ page in the template to share more about you, including a picture and a welcome video.  With Canvas Studio within the LMS, you do not need any third-party software to shoot, edit, and share a webcam or screencast video.  CBU faculty members who participated in the Online Faculty Training (OFT) course this summer had the opportunity to create their own welcome videos within Canvas.
  • Design and Teach for Cultural Inclusion – Create a safe learning environment for ALL students.  Make your expectations known and demonstrate how students should interact with you and with other students in the online classroom.  Consider how ethnic or cultural contexts might shape your students’ experiences in your course.
  • Convey Caring and Support – In the same way you want your student to know you are a real person, remember that your students are real people, too.  There are many obligations and commitments that each student must meet.  Consider offering every student an opportunity to receive a deadline extension or an opportunity to revise an assignment if something unexpected occurs.  Think of ways you can “checkup” on each of your students individually.  One faculty member requires her students to meet with her individually at least once during the term.  She prefers a face to face meeting, but offers a web conferencing option for students that cannot meet in the same physical space.

References 

Darby, F. (2019, April 17). How to Be a Better Online Teacher. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from: https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-online-teaching

Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lederman, D. (2019, June 26). Small Teaching Online. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/06/26/bringing-small-teaching-online-classroom

Tyler Isbell is an Instructional Designer & Trainer for OLET

How Do We Decide What to Believe?

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By Anne Guetschow

“What is the relationship between information and knowledge? How do we decide what to believe? How do we go from being presented with a claim like, ‘Using instructional design skills and educational technology will improve student learning’ to evaluating and deciding to take that on as part of our knowledge? As you know, even the best theories are subject to revision in light of new information.

So, even though you’re being presented here with the best knowledge [OLET] has available, it might turn out that some of it is false, it’s very likely to turn out that it’s at least INCOMPLETE. When presented with a claim, how do we decide whether or not to believe it and, more generally, how do we maximize our chances of coming to have knowledge and of believing those things that will give us the best understanding of the way things are?” (Source: Bob Bain).

Is There a Way to Get to the Truth? 

With information coming at us from so many directions these days, it’s difficult to know what to believe. We need tools to help us deal with information so we can be discerning and selective. How do we develop skills to become better believers? How do we achieve balance between accepting too much on the one hand and not accepting enough on the other?

There are such tools. To illustrate what they are, we are borrowing from a free Massive, Open, Online Course [MOOC] called, Big History. They call these tools, “Claims Testers.”  Let’s take a look at how expert Bob Bain explains what Claims Testers are and how to use them.

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Claims Testers

Critical thinking involves testing claims using all the tools at our disposal.

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These are the four ways that humans test claims (according to Bob Bain):

  1. We use our intuition, which helps us determine which claims we want to investigate.
  1. We rely on authority because none of us can master all disciplines, and as modern humans, we’ve come to rely more and more on collective learning to share both information and the burden of collecting that information. Of course, the source should be reliable and credible.
  1. We use logic, which is our mental capacity to reason, infer, and synthesize information; it allows us to sift through claims to determine what, if anything follows from our initial beliefs.
  1. We use evidence to test claims against verifiable information that allows us to gain knowledge. We look for what evidence is available and weigh how strong it is to support or refute a claim.

Help your students hone their critical thinking skills by testing claims using their intuition, authority, logic, and evidence. 

For information on the Big History MOOC, visit: https://www.coursera.org/learn/big-histor

Anne Guetschow is an Instructional Designer & Trainer with OLET.

Teaching Problem Solving Skills To Novice Learners

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By Anne Guetschow

I have heard at least one CBU professor ask about ways to teach problem-solving skills to novice learners. Because of this wonderful question, I am sharing several guidelines I think will start to provide some answers.

These guidelines are practical tactics to improve student learning that have arisen out of research on Cognitive Load Theory.

 “Cognitive load theory has its modern origins in experiments conducted by Dr. John Sweller at the University of South Wales, Australia, in the early 1980’s. Today, cognitive load theory has grown into one of the most widely recognized sets of proven principles governing learning and instruction in the training profession” (Clark, Nguyen, & Sweller, p. 1-2).

If you have not heard of Cognitive Load Theory before and your instructional practice includes teaching problem-solving skills to novice learners, it might be time to sharpen your saw. This article is a good place to start doing that.

“Many training professionals will recall the recommendation to shape their instruction around the ‘magical number of 7 plus or minus 2’ in order to avoid overloading their learners. Cognitive load theory is the 21st Century update to that maxim. Cognitive load theory is a comprehensive and proven instructional theory that illustrates ways to reduce unproductive forms of cognitive load and at the same time maximize productive sources of cognitive load that lead to efficient learning environments” (Clark, Nguyen, & Sweller, p.xvi).

Click here to watch a brief (4:19) video that describes Cognitive Load Theory.

I have also curated a white paper entitled “Tactics to Improve Student Learning” developed for CBU professors wishing to learn new ways to help students learn more efficiently. You can download the entire white paper here: Tactics to Improve Student Learning

But if you want to just drill down to the most relevant aspect of this white paper to problem-solving tactics, there is one particular chapter from the white paper you may want to read.

The chapter, “Does Practice Make Perfect?” presents four research-based guidelines for improving students’ problem-solving abilities that take less time than the traditional method of immersing students immediately into doing practice problems. For novice learners who need to devote working memory capacity to building new schemas, working many practice problems slows learning by overloading working memory.

Guidelines 17 – 20 provide proven alternatives that may just lead to dramatic improvements in students’ problem-solving abilities.

Click here to read the Does Practice Make Perfect Chapter

Reference 

Clark, R., Nguyen, F., & Sweller, J. (2006). Efficiency in learning: Evidence-based guidelines to manage cognitive load (Pfeiffer essential resources for training and HR professionals). San Francisco, Calif.: Pfeiffer.

Anne Guetschow is an Instructional Designer & Trainer for OLET