Are Your Online Students Distracted By Things Online?

distractedBeing online in a course (or just being online) offers lots of online distractions. There is so much else you can do - Facebook, YouTube, shop, check email. When a student is online in your course and the LMS activity log is telling you that they have been in the course for 6 hours, do you really think they have been working on the coursework for 6 hours?

A recent study found, not surprisingly, that limiting distractions can help students perform better and also improve course completion. In a paper, “Can Behavioral Tools Improve Online Student Outcomes? Experimental Evidence From a Massive Open Online Course,” (Cornell Higher Education Research Institute) this month, the author looks at the online behavior of 657 students in a nine-week MOOC on statistics offered by Stanford University.

Students were assigned either to a control group or to use one of three online time-management tools with different approaches: commitment, reminder, and focus.  the committment tool was the one that had "statistically significant" positive results. Since the tool blocked extraneous surfing, it seems to have improved course completion, homework submission, and scores by making time on distracting sites less enjoyable with the software in place.

One surprise for the author (Richard W. Patterson, a Cornell doctoral candidate in policy analysis and management) was that the students who were most likely to benefit from the commitment tool were the ones who self-reported as being most concerned with their work and grades.Patterson had expected the the weakest or least-prepared students would be the main beneficiaries.

Anyone who has taken or taught an online course knows that good time management is very important to success in online courses.


Maker Spaces and Libraries

In my preparation for presenting at the Connecticut Education Network's Annual Conference on May 15, I have been getting more into the maker movement and makerspaces.

My presentation is on "Flipping Professional Learning" but it is paired with one on makerspaces in libraries and my flipped activity for participants is from the makerspace world.

Makerspaces are frequently found in libraries. A makerspace is a place where people come together to design and build projects. Makerspaces typically provide access to materials, tools, and technologies that individuals probably don't own (such as a 3D printer and scanner) and allow for hands-on exploration and participatory learning. They are also known as fablabs (as in fabrication), hackerspaces (but don't think only of computer code) or tech shops.

The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement goes back a lot further - maybe centuries back. Your grandparents were probably DIY'ers out of necessity. But makerspaces strive to be more than workshops with tools.And libraries have evolved to be more than just collections of books. Libraries as community centers for people to gather and work together makes them a natural place for makerspaces. Those spaces are being reconfigured around broader learning and research needs and less around the management of a print collection.

Makers might be writing and illustrating a e-zine, creating an Arduino to program a robot, screenprinting t-shirts, or creating model houses with a 3D printer. Besides offering tools and equipment that are too expensive or specialized for most people to own, these spaces also provide a gathering place for like-minded makers who can mentor and collaborate.

As The Makings of Maker Spaces: Space for Creation, Not Just Consumption says “Maker spaces in libraries are the latest step in the evolving debate over what public libraries’ core mission is or should be. From collecting in an era of scarce resources to curation in an era of overabundant ones, some libraries are moving to incorporate cocreation: providing the tools to help patrons produce their own works of art or information and sometimes also collecting the results to share with other members of the ­community.

The maker movement rose out of hacker and DIY cultures and moved into community centers, church basements and libraries. But as the maker movement migrates into higher education, engineering schools have been a natural place for maker spaces, but in the best cases colleges are taking a more multidisciplinary approach. The space can be a meetup for artists, musicians, writers, engineers, architects, entrepreneurs and computer scientists to exchanges ideas.

Makerspaces: A New Wave of Library Service: The Westport (CT) Public Library  from ALATechSource


Coding As Literacy

Some K-12 educators are integrating computer coding into non-computer subjects such as English and art to develop the skill as a type of literacy.

Using block-based coding programs (such as Scratch to express learning by coding interactive media, or App Inventor to create mobile applications that can actually be used used by students in their classes.

"Although technology has flooded America’s schools, interest in computer science courses has not kept pace, especially among girls and underrepresented minorities. While states discuss if and how to make computer science a required course, many educators want to inject coding into all sorts of courses, from science to art to English. They’re not just out to prepare the next generation of technology workers. Their goal is far more expansive. They want to turn coding into a new kind of literacy — a fundamental applied skill, a mode of inquiry and expression — that everybody should know. One of the biggest challenges for computer science advocates is that many kids simply don’t see why coding matters, in a world of preloaded software and the vast resources of the Internet."  (via    The Hechinger Report)

Of course, students are still taking computer science and Advanced Placement classes and doing Java coding, but those numbers don't compare favorably with other STEM AP courses. Enrollment in computer science at the college level has also been declining despite the fact that everyone considers computers and technology to be ubiquitous.

The College Board is working on a new, project-based AP “computer science principles” course (set to debut in fall 2016) in which students will use coding to address real-world problems.


Aren't Teachers Also Instructional Designers?

Instructional Design in Educational Settings from Kenneth Ronkowitz

A colleague at the college asked me if I would do a presentation to his class about how instructional design might fit into educational settings. It's a class that is made up of students in our teacher prep program, and also students that are studying professional technical communications. It's an odd blend. The communication students are unfamiliar with teaching and the future teachers have no background in topics such as instructional design. My presentation discussed how instructional design differs from designing lessons as a teacher. Although the two fields share some things - and it would be good for each to know something about the other field - they have different skills and goals.

I started with some textbook definitions: "The term instructional design refers to the systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources, and evaluation. An instructional designer is somewhat like an engineer." (Smith, Patricia L., and Tillman J. Ragan. Instructional design. New York, NY: Wiley, 1999.)

Teachers focus on tasks/learning opportunities for students. Educational learning designers design “documents and describes a learning activity in such a way that other teachers can understand it and use it in their own context. Typically a learning design includes descriptions of learning tasks, resources and supports provided by the teacher.” (Donald, Blake, Girault, Datt, & Ramsay, 2009)

I asked AREN’T ALL TEACHERS INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNERS? My short answer is "No." Teachers designing lessons (Learning Design) focus on the individual lesson/session -> week -> unit. They are often not involved in the decision-making process of what the content will be (textbooks, units etc.), although they are the subject matter expert.

In contrast, instructional designers (ID) have a more global focus, often driven by performance goals. They work with subject matter experts (SME) who provide the content. (In some smaller companies, the ID may also be considered the SME.)
If you look at job ads for instructional designers, you will find most positions are in the corporate sector, though colleges employ IDs. There are a few situations where the two worlds cross, such as an ID working for an educational vendor like Pearson.

The instructional designer's responsibilities include having to participate in product ideation, innovation, and iteration; synthesize and apply academic learning theory to product features; create design schematics in conjunction with UI designers; participate in the learner validation, and subsequent iteration, of schematics into design specifications and patterns; contributing to other design, development, research, and evaluation tasks, as needed.

In smaller companies, you may have responsibilities for managing a content management system, graphic design, video or visual design elements. You'll notice that it does not include providing content or being the SME.

The skills that an ID needs to identify to a potential employer and evidence by viewable projects and products include a deep and demonstrated knowledge of learning design principles; experience synthesizing and applying research from the learning sciences to product design in clear, tangible, documented ways; an understanding of various adaptive models and characteristics and their impact on learning; understanding of evidence-based, learner-centered design processes, techniques and tools; experience participating in the design of learner interfaces and learner experiences.

The skills noted in job ads are often very specific – “Captivate 6+” - but resumes should always be (and in my experience in reading them, often are not) specific. “Experienced in using Agile/Scrum methodologies in dispersed, cross-functional teams” is a more useful description than listing Captivate. (Students don't seem to realize that listing Microsoft Office or even PowerPoint and Excel is pretty much useless to a search committee.) 

In anticipating interview questions, an ID should be ready to answer what tools or methods they would use for creating design schematics and specifications; conducting validation testing with learners, instructors, administrators and experts; conducting formalized acceptance testing, usability testing and pilot testing; increasing participation in a complex technology systems with numerous stakeholders and requirements.

The formal education or equivalent experiences that you find in ID resumes vary widely. A graduate degrees in instructional design is the obvious degree. We also find evidence of candidates that have knowledge of software and UI design practices; experience gathering and applying peer-reviewed scholarly research and user research; instructional design and UCD testing experience; classroom teaching or training experience; experience in the research-based design of adaptive technology, software, or digital learning products (adaptive learning systems e.g., Bayesian Nets, cognitive modeling, machine learning) and applicants with backgrounds in Learning Science, Cognitive Psychology, Computer Science, Educational Technology, Educational Psychology, Human Factors, Artificial Intelligence, or Learning Analytics.

In an ideal world, teachers would have a background in learning theory and instructional design theory, practice and tools. They would also have input into the higher levels of curriculum design. Instructional designers in that ideal world would have more than just a student view on how learning is designed in academia. They would be able to bridge the learning styles established in K-12 with those of undergraduate courses, to graduate to professional learning.

One another side-note I discussed was about online learning: An article I referenced for the class was "Lesson Planning: The Missing Link in e-Learning Course Design." So much of the instructional designer's work these days is for developing online learning and training. "Lesson planning is not a typical topic in instructional design courses and programs, although education courses and programs always include it. Consequently, few IDs without education backgrounds know how to develop lesson plans. Though developing a lesson plan for e-Learning is similar in many ways to developing a lesson plan for instructor-led learning, there are also differences. IDs need to remember that there is no instructor present in self-paced e-Learning, and simple as this sounds, it does take some getting used to. This concept is especially difficult to grasp for experienced stand-up trainers and facilitators who are new to designing instruction."

My slides for the presentation are online and a streaming video capture of the session is also available.


Is Flipped Learning Disruptive?

It seems that every year a new "disruptor" is identified as what will transform education into some version 2.0. These disruptors - MOOCs, competency-based degrees, open everything, unbundling the degree, flipped learning and reaching back to online learning - have all had some impact, but none has brought down the familiar classroom, school or degree in high schools or colleges.
Perhaps all of these disruptors are "flipping" over education and learning, and when we look at MOOC degrees that are not from colleges, we are really looking at education being overturned.
Robert Talberton in "Three evolving thoughts about flipped learning" considers three ways the flipped learning model has changed how he thinks about flipped learning itself.
Before he thought that the pre-class activity in a flipped learning model was about mastering content-oriented instructional objectives, but now he sees the pre-class time as time for generating questions.
First, he thought that students in a flipped classroom need to have some graded measure of accountability when they arrive at class (an entrance quiz, etc.) to ensure that they did that pre-class work, but now he thinks that accountability doesn’t have to look like a quiz.
His original thought was that in-class instruction in a flipped class should focus primarily on active student work with little to no lecture, but now he believes that the instruction should focus on two things: Answering questions, and engaging students in high-level tasks – and lecture can play an important role in both.
A study from Stanford also suggests that flipped learning is an improvement over a standard lecture-oriented model. It finds that it can be even stronger when pre-class work consists of open-ended explorations of concepts that precede a more text-based study of those concepts. They see this as “flipping the flipped classroom.”
Kris Shaffer feels that the "geographical flip" of doing at home what is typically done in class isn't as important as the "timing flip" of when we present explanation and activity.
How disruptive is flipped learning? As of now, not very disruptive. Put all the disruptors together into one new model - very disruptive.