PowerPointless

overhead projector
There is probably one of these gathering dust in a classroom near you. It still has its uses.

PowerPointless. I really like that as the title of a presentation on the use of "slides" (even if it's Apple's Keynote instead of MS PowerPoint). We all know that it can be much abused, and yet it's in the majority of classrooms. You probably ask your students to do presentations. They get graded. What do you do to make their presentations better?

In the past few months, I've seen three mentions of assigning students (grades 7-20) to give a 90-second demo presentation. It doesn't seem tough. A script for one would be about 150 words, about one page of text. How much can you say in 90 seconds?

The point would be to force students to think about focus & polish and cutting out wasted time, words and images (or props).

What can you do in that amount of time? The very briefest of intros. Define the topic, problem or goal. Work through clearly defined steps. Multitask - talk and demo simultaneously, leading into the next step a beat before you actually do it. Do the steps build upon the previous one? Have a definite finish. Leave a slide or graphic up at the end with your name, demo title, etc. - end with the traditional intro.

Something this short can be scripted/storyboarded without it being a huge undertaking.

There is actually an event called Demo held twice a year where executives from 70+ companies get 6 minutes to do a product demo to an audience of venture capitalists, analysts, and journalists.

Check out:

  1. Video archive from previous Demo events
  2. Guy Kawasaki on How To Get A Standing Ovation
  3. Behind The Magic Curtain (demos with Steve Jobs)
  4. Tips for Successful Public Speaking from the Toastmasters.org
  5. Presentation Zen - a good blog to subscribe to

The Rules of Engagement

online courseI was reading an article with suggestions on how to get more social media engagement on the same day that I was doing a Quality Matters (QM) review of an online course. The QM rubrics ask a reviewer to consider student engagement. Social media marketing and higher education may seem very different, but the engagement objective is certainly shared.

I decided to walk through the article's suggestions with an eye to online courses to see how much crossover I would find. 

The article says there are three rules of engagement for social media: Be Consistent. Ask Specific Questions. Include an Element of Fun.  I'd have to say I would like to see all three true in online courses. 

Having come from the K-12 world before higher ed, I learned quickly that consistency in my teaching was critical. That was true about lesson presentation, grading, discipline and all the rules that are on the syllabus and that come up throughout the year. Consistency builds a kind of trust in student expectations. It helps avoid situations where you might be accused of treating some students better or worse than others. My middle school classroom had a pretty much daily routine that became so natural that when I did depart from it my students immediately noticed it. That can sound a little boring and occasional "inconsistencies" and spontaneous teachable moments are certainly also needed.

As a reviewer of online courses, I try to put myself in the place of a new student in the course and I often find that instructions for assignments and even discussion questions are just not very clear. Ask Specific Questions is very important. Teachers know that a question in a classroom such as "Are there any questions?" or "Does everyone understand that?" are terrible ways to elicit responses and a terrible way to check on learning. 

Including an "Element of Fun" sounds great and yet I know that if I suggest that to many professors I will get a doctoral stare from them. Sadly, I have learned that there are too many teachers who think that real learning should NOT be fun. In fact, they seem to associate suffering with learning, as in the equally stupid mantra of "No pain, no gain." The best learning experiences are enjoyable ones. That's why gamification became a hot topic in education. It's not that everything in a course should be like playing a video game, but what makes games on and offline engaging should certainly be considered.

Create a Club-Like Experience. "Club" isn't the right word in education, but online you will often hear that you need to build an online "community." Social media sites are very good at this. They gain followers who check sites every day, post, like, and comment. Isn't that what you want in your online class community? 

I always tell the faculty that they need to personalize their courses and that they need to have a social presence there. Video is a great way to do this with things like a syllabus and course walkthrough video using screen capture and your voice. You should also let students see you. The experience shouldn't be like hearing a voice on the radio that you can't attach to any actual human. A short (less than 5 minutes) welcome video for the course is easy to record using anything from your phone to whatever your school provides. It can be shot in your office or from your couch. But what if it is a video of you at the park with your dog, or you in your lab on campus? Either is more interesting and would also present another side of you.

Beyond the rules, there are also many tips and suggestions to increase engagement. One suggestion is to encourage conversations with audience triggers. The "trigger" term might trigger things associations like pain points. These sparks(?) for conversation have nothing to do with the topic of your content or your primary value but use the personal likes/dislikes of your audience. Of course, you first need to know those likes/dislikes. Then, you can use hobbies and other interests, such as movies, pets or sports, as a pathway to content. (This might be your entry into "fun.")

Using visuals is hardly new in presenting in face-to-face situations but it is still lacking in many online courses that are very text-based.  (BTW, putting text on PowerPoint slides is NOT visual - even when you insert some gratuitous clip art.)

There are plenty of articles on increasing engagement online ( a few below) but I am suggesting that you also look to how engagement is encouraged online by advertisers, game makers and the stars of social media.



https://www.d2l.com/blog/7-tips-for-increasing-student-engagement-in-online-courses/

https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/news_item/ten-ways-overcome-barriers-student-engagement-online/

https://www.wbtsystems.com/learning-hub/blogs/9-ways-to-increase-online-student-engagement 

https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/student-engagement-how-to-help-students-succeed-in-the-online-environment/

https://community.canvaslms.com/thread/16033-student-engagement-in-an-online-course

 

Welcome to the Microcampus

workspace

A college "campus" is a rather general term these days. I'm working on designing courses for a "virtual campus" which is an extension of the idea of a campus without borders that emerged with online learning. There are small schools that may lack a robust campus library, student union, or residence halls, but what if the campus has no classrooms? Is it a campus?

I recall reading about students studying at a remote institution but they were "hosted" by a local learning center. Stephen Downes wrote about a Triad Model where the triad was composed of the student, the instructor, and the facilitator. The facilitator helped bridge the distance between instructor and student. Ideally, this online learning situation would include a community online but also offline (on site) with peers and instructors. I saw this idea re-emerge with MOOCs where students used a distant course but met at a site for that community support.

Neither of these models of learning really gained widespread use in any fully robust form that I am aware of. There is a newer version using the term "micro-campus"

A micro-campus will offer support and coaching. If offers access to tools, from high quality printers, even a 3D printer or others that students can't afford. It can provide meeting space and project rooms. In a non-academic setting, this sounds like co-working spaces

An article on The Chronicle (subscription required, unfortunately) talks about the University of Phoenix, the University of Washington, and the Georgia Institute of Technology using experimental, storefront-sized “micro-campuses.” I'm sure they looked at places like WeWork for ideas, also some not very academic setting such as Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores. The college micro-campuses might be located at the ground-level space of an apartment building. They are meant to be where students are located and in the community.

The examples of University of Washington’s Othello Commons in Seattle is 2300 square-feet at the base of an eight-story apartment building, A “Foundations of Databases” course meets there one night a week to help local residents develop basic IT skills.

Georgia Tech's distributed-campus "atrium” in midtown Atlanta (near the main campus) was still a work in progress when the article was written but feels very Amazon, including an app to interact with the space.

Are these true "learning spaces" or extension sites, satellite campuses or is the micro-campus really a new kind of space?

Return to the One-Room School

one-room class
I don't know that anyone wants to literally return to the one-room schools of the past. This one is from 1940 in rural Kentucky, USA. But the concept may have present day applications.

According to Wikipedia, one-room schools were once commonplace throughout rural portions of various countries, including Prussia, Norway, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain.

In these rural and small town schools (some of which literally used someone's house), all of the students met in a single room. A single teacher taught academic basics to different aged children at different levels of elementary-age boys and girls.

I imagine that younger kids were hearing some of the older kids' lessons and older kids could get some remedial lessons when the younger kids were being taught. I think that could be an interesting model of learning. I also think it would be a challenging teaching assignment. It's a topic I delve into a bit deeper on my other blog.

Any debate about whether to group students by age or ability is hardly a new one. Terms like "performance-based" "ability grouping," "competency-based education" and "age-based instruction" pop up in lots of article, papers and dissertations. Classes and schools have been created around these ideas. And they still are being created - perhaps for different reasons than those that brought the one-room schools of the past into existence.

What is a school without grade levels? I read about a number of contemporary schools, including a district in North Dakota, that felt a drive to teach competencies meant eliminating age-based classrooms.

Back in 2016, I read an article in The Atlantic that asked "What If Schools Abolished Grade Levels?" Their panel concluded that sorting kids by age or ability creates problems.

What are some reasons to consider this approach to education?

In traditional classrooms, the learning is likely to be too fast or too slow for a good percentage of the students.

Rather than using "seat time" (students progressing through school based on the amount of time they sit in a chair), base promotion onward on mastery of competencies and skills.”

Allowing students to learn at their own pace, including progressing more quickly through content they truly understand.

Those sound good. Are there any potential problems with this approach?

Grouping by ability rather than age could increase social interruptions. Having taught middle school and high school, I would tell you that there are some big differences between a sixth grader (typically 11 years old) and an eighth grader (at 13). Even more dramatic would be a class with two very good math students that are 12 and 16 years old. I actually saw that happen several times when middle school students were allowed to go to the high school (or even local college) for advanced classes. I know it works on television for Doogie Howser and Young Sheldon, but maybe not so smoothly in real life. Maturity, socialization and self-esteem are all considerations. 

Scheduling and assigning courses for each student becomes more complicated. 

But even if you question the pedagogy of this approach, what about the andragogy? When we train adult employees or our returning adult undergraduates and graduate students, how do we group? Do we put the 45 year-old woman working on her MBA separate from the 26 year old? Of course, we do not. Through some screening or admission processes, we often put learners in groups based on ability. For example, an employee is brand new to the software so she will go in level one training whether she is 22 or 55 years old.

The old one-room schools were primarily for the lower elementary grade levels, and they very much were products of economics, supply and demand, and necessity. Perhaps, new one-room schools would also work better at those levels rather than at the high school level. We already see some of this arrangement informally or just be accident in higher education and we certainly see it in training situations. This might be the time to reexamine the formal use of ability grouping at different ages and in different situations.