Views and Reviews on the Elements of Good (Online) Courses

online learnerThe second half of the 2019-2020 school year was abnormal. It's hard to imagine a grade level where teaching and learning will return to what it was a year ago. The most obvious change has been around using online learning. This summer there have been many stories about schools K-20 making plans for this fall. Some of them announced that they will be primarily online. It's a hedge bet that the situation with COVID-19 will be improved and that there will be some classroom face time.

The three approaches schools have considered are 1) start the fall semester fully online  2) go back to "normal" physical classrooms with social distancing, masks and disinfecting 3) some hybrid of those two approaches.  

But schools also need to consider the "reviews" that are being made formally and informally about the online learning that happened in March through June 2020. Those reviews are coming formally by journalists and educators and informally by students and the parents of K-12 students.

K-12 parents have found themselves spending more time working with their children on schoolwork. That might make them appreciate how hard teachers work - or they might decide that online education is a waste of time. When you hear non-educators talk about the qualities of a good online course, they are often talking about the qualities of any good course.

College students' parents don't usually figure into the equation, but now I'm hearing parents say that they are reluctant to have their child go into a classroom and unwilling to pay $25-50,000 for an online curriculum. When parents are paying for school directly (rather than through taxes), they are more likely to feel they should have some control on how their money is being used.

Those qualities mentioned include:

  • The course is engaging and challenging.
  • It invites students to participate, motivates them to contribute and captures their interest and attention.
  • Open educational resources are prioritized over expensive textbooks
  • It is interactive - teacher to students and also student to student.
  • It is not just an information dump, but it does provide meaningful readings, lecture videos, and resources.
  • Students receive personalized feedback, support and guidance.
  • Students feel they are part of a learning community. 
  • It involves students in “doing” — not just watching, reading and writing papers.
  • And finally, this high-level combination of qualities - a course is informed by issues of equity and justice and takes into account social, political and cultural issues, including students’ backgrounds and socioeconomic circumstances.

Looking at that list nothing jumps out as being ONLINE. If you do break out the responses teachers, students and parents gave that are online-specific, they fall under two categories: the availability of the technology; the preparation to use the technology.

The Chronicle did an article titled "In Their Own Words: Here’s What Professors, Chairs, and Deans Learned From Remote Courses This Spring." They looked for words that were most often used in the responses to their survey. One keyword they found in their responses was "flexible." Here are 3 of those responses:

“Be extremely flexible. Don’t expect complete guidance from the administrators; make your best guess as to what is going to be. Most importantly: By adopting many online-learning concepts and best practices in advance, I was prepared to go online at a moment’s notice. This helped immensely.

“Flexibility was key in the transition. I chose to be more lenient with students than I am in a traditional classroom. If we stay online I will once again become more rigid, but I feel this semester was exceptional for everyone, and it was critical to be understanding.”

“You have to be willing to learn to teach virtually and have compassion and empathy with your students. Learn to be flexible and challenge your teaching skills. Covid-19 has changed how we will teach in the future.”

They also found - unsurprisingly - that faculty need a lot more support to teach online than expected.

“Many faculty have resisted true development in pedagogy, but that’s unavoidable now.”

“As a faculty, we should have been more proficient in distance education before the move to online. This was a wake-up call for all of our faculty that we did not make this a priority.”

“Some faculty were really unprepared to work with technology."

“I was very impressed that our faculty who already teach online were willing to step up and help their colleagues who were unfamiliar with this modality.”

 

Contact Tracing for Misinformation

Since January 2020, COVID-19 has been the main topic of news. Despite attempts to keep health information accurate, misinformation has been put out from amateur and speculative sources all the way up to President Trump.

Facebook has been blamed along with other social media sites for allowing misinformation to spread. himself. Many websites from traditional media to social media have been trying to connect people to accurate information from health experts and keep harmful misinformation from spreading. It is a difficult task, even with the best technology, to monitor millions of users creating content every second and even more often reposting other information.

Facebook has said that they have directed over 2 billion people to resources from the World Health Organization in their "COVID-19 Information Center" and via pop-ups on Facebook and Instagram with over 350 million people clicking through to learn more.

When a piece of content is rated false by fact-checkers, they reduce its distribution and show warning labels with more context, and they can use similarity detection methods to identify duplicates of debunked stories. 

I heard on an episode of the Make Me Smart podcast that Rep. Adam Schiff (not a Facebook fan) asked other tech giants (Google, YouTube, Twitter) to follow Facebook's example by contacting users who’ve interacted with misinformation. 

This is a kind of contact tracing for misinformation. In public health contact tracing, staff work with a patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious. The public health staff then warn these exposed individuals (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible.

In public health or online protecting patient/poster and contacts is important. Generally in health situations contacts are only informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection but are not told the identity of the person who may have exposed them.

YouTube announced it would add informational panels with information from its fact-checkers to videos in the US, an expansion of a program it launched in India and Brazil last year.

Twitter introduced its COVID-19 content policies earlier this month, which require users to remove tweets with content that includes misinformation about coronavirus treatments or misleading content meant to look like it’s from authorities and recently updated their policy to encompass tweets that may “incite people to action and cause widespread panic, social unrest or large-scale disorder,” such as burning 5G towers.

The Post-Pandemic Campus

empty classroomAn article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (unfortunately, "premium" for subscribers even in these pandemic days) is called "How Should Colleges Prepare for a Post-Pandemic World?" by Brian Rosenberg. His general advice is to "anticipate and plan for change rather than merely hope that it will not arrive." Change has arrived.

This article may be for higher education but almost all of these thoughts apply to K12 schools too.

Here are my highlighted excerpts with some commentary:

  • College is staggeringly expensive. Students and their families are going to be hard hit. Plus, colleges that have lost enormous sums of money will be attempting to recap but from families that have lost income and savings: Most colleges will need to provide more financial aid and possibly fewer services with fewer people.
  • When the lockdown is over there will still be a period of voluntary separation. With no vaccine, many people are still going to be hesitant to travel, return to campus, interact in groups in classrooms and labs. I suspect there will be more gap years than in the past.
  • Distance learning was forced upon us. Some of it was fine. It had been fine in many courses before all this. Some of it was lacking. It was done in a panic without much time to prepare and with faculty and students were not ready for it and never wanted to be online before. Schools need to really evaluate what worked, what didn't work and what they will change next time this kind of longterm disruption occurs. And it will.
    What courses and subjects can use the online model to be less expensive but still highly effective? Of course, most schools still charge the same for an online course as a face-to-face one, so there is no savings for students.  way to teach. Can a hybrid model of in-person+online lower cost? These are not new questions to ask, but too many schools have still never addressed them - and the answers may be different in 20121 than they were in 2019. 
  • Is distance learning "good enough" in a world of sharply diminished resources? The author suspects that for many students and families the answer will be yes. I agree.
  • So, how should schools prepare for the post-pandemic world? It is better to anticipate and plan for change than merely to hope that it will not arrive. One change might be rethinking the traditional academic calendar - "which is almost unique in its inefficiency."  The author suggests the "simplest way to lower the cost of college" but it is not the easiest way - eliminate the long breaks and make it easier for students to graduate in three years.

Everything Online Is Not Open

open access
 Open Access promo buttons - photo by biblioteekje, on Flickr

Here's my point upfront: Not everything online is open. 

This is the story of an image and a blog post that are mine and that have found their way online in other places. 

I post a lot of things online - mostly articles and images. Almost all of that is marked with a Creative Commons License. That means that with few restrictions you can use and reuse the resources. This blog is labeled in that way.

CC license

But the Open Everything movement of the past three decades has created a generation and an incorrect assumption that everything online is open.   

I found a photo of mine that I had used online in another place. It was the two Buddhas image shown here and I found it on a well-respected Buddhist journal website.

It also shows up in other places. One simple Google image search turned up 10 instances of it being used and it can also be found on other sites. I'm actually pleased to see it used and properly attributed for others to see.  

Buddha phone latte

The really important distinction is that in the case of the Tricycle journal using the photo (as you can see above), they have credited me and linked to their source which is my Flickr site. That "attribution" is part of the CC license I used. That is the way open is supposed to work. Other people have reused the image (which I did clearly mark for reuse) too but without attribution. And others after them have then reused it having no idea where the image originated and whether or not it is open for their reuse. (Another Flick example is at the top of this post.)

I have also seen other mages of mine used in places online without attribution. In some cases, they were images I did NOT license as open (such as an image on Instagram or Facebook). I'm not a professional photographer who makes a living from my images, but there are people who are and obviously this is a critical issue for them. Watermarking images, disabling right-click downloading and using smaller, lower-quality files are some ways they might try to prevent copying. But it's so easy to grab a screenshot of anything online that it's impossible to fully prevent it. Plus, you have to spend a lot of time tracking down where your images are being used and pursue misusers.

When I use free and open images from others (Google allows for that kind of search and there are many sites such as pixabay.com), I still doublecheck to see whether I need to attribute a creator or site. On that popular image sharing site, they have a Pixabay License and it also states when you download an image that it is is "Free for commercial use. No attribution required," there is an opportunity for you to give attribution. I always tag the image name with "pixabay" and I usually will still give credit. For one thing, I want others that see it and know that it's not my work and that they too can legitimately use it. The site tells you that "Crediting isn’t required, but linking back is greatly appreciated and allows image authors to gain exposure." You can also "tip" the creator with a donation. Pixabay, Wikimedia, Flickr, YouTube, and others will give you the correct code to use for attribution and perhaps even for embedding. An example is at the bottom of this post.

I have Google Alerts set for lots of words and phrases. For example, I get updates about the appearance of my name, Serendipty35, and serendipity35.net appearing n the web and I check out the sites. It's always nice to see someone linking to the blog or mentioning me in a positive fashion. It is a lot less appealing to find posts plagiarized and in a few cases, the entire posts feed being fed into some other site as its content.

As an educator for 40+ years, I have always included lessons in the proper use and citation of sources for all kinds of intellectual property. It's a lot more difficult since the Internet came into being because the copying is so much faster and easier. Educating users in and out of school and of all ages about the proper use of reusing content is a lesson that should never end.

open sign pixabay

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay