This is the 6th in a series of blog posts outlining the collaborative process of designing an online course for the first time from scratch. You can read the other posts here.
At this point in the course development process the instructional designer role (Heather) had shifted to providing more general guidance and support while the faculty member (Anne) focused more intently on loading content into the Canvas course site. As such, Heather adjusted to follow the faculty member’s lead in terms of when the pair meant face-to-face via Zoom and what work took place asynchronously via email.
Anne shared some grade scheme adjustments that needed to be made that the Heather planned to add to the course site after a few clarifying questions were answered. Questions had to do with how participation grades would be calculated on a weekly basis to clarify what items would be graded in Canvas vs. what items would be manually entered in the Canvas gradebook. View more information about how the Canvas gradebook works here.
In addition, Heather suggested coming up with a weekly communications plan that could actually be drafted prior to the start of the class. This concept had been discussed earlier in the development process, but the more extensive content creation provided a better mechanism for following through on this topic. The intention of the weekly communication would be to set up and reinforce the weekly course structure outlined in Canvas to try to avoid any confusion that might surface as the class schedule filled with assignments.
Anne also expressed a need to share assignment details much earlier than originally planned to help the students put all the pieces together — which resulted in some content reorganization. The faculty member was very comfortable with Canvas and completed all of the content edits for the week. Heather found that her time was being spent in a more advisory/clarification role at this point in the process vs. at the start of the project when design skills were most regularly used.
Moving forward the team anticipated meeting on a face-to-face basis more sparingly as needed and increasing the frequency of email or asynchronous communications moving forward so that we could use our time most efficiency.
“…learning technology is most useful when it is designed to meet specific needs and contexts” (p. 164).
I read sentences like this and I sometimes wonder…does that really need to be written? Is this an a-ha moment for anyone? Are we still doing things in classrooms without thinking about why we are doing them?
Unfortunately the answer (as most students would attest) is a loud YES. Informally I’ve spoken to many students of all ages who’ve expressed frustration with an activity that is taking place in their class that they don’t understand the reasoning for. It doesn’t make sense to them why they are doing what they are doing and in too many situations – they don’t feel comfortable asking why.
One of the reasons I really enjoy working at the intersection of education and technology is that technology makes it more difficult to do anything without having a reason for why you are doing it and a methodology for sharing this with students. I think of it as the ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment. These moments happen with traditional teaching methods too, only it’s more challenging for a student to ask “Why are you lecturing this content? How do you expect me to process this material?” because lecturing as a teaching method is normalized within our society. It looks like “good teaching”, it’s familiar, and has been used for decades. However, it’s much easier to question a new methodology because it lacks this normalization – which is actually a really good thing. It forces educators to be more critical of and deliberate with their approaches to learning and teaching because they need to be ready to explain them.
When students are asked to create a web site to share their papers on – the emperor has no clothes. What’s the purpose of the extra work here? What are you trying to accomplish in this medium – and does it work? If you can’t answer those questions meaningfully – you are missing the why.
Assignment: Create a poster of your research using Illustrator. No additional info given.
Assignment: Create a podcast of your interview. No additional info given.
However, each of these assignment has a potential ‘why’. The key is in the description and assessment of the assignment.
A web site – can be used to strengthen persuasive skills in a multi-modal context. Teach and assess your students on the variety of ways that visual and navigational elements can impact someone’s understanding of a new concept. Added bonus? – Integrating digital and information literacy skills into your curriculum.
A poster – can be used to distill the most salient points of your research into a format that can be consumed by someone with limited knowledge of your academic area. Creators need to consider what is common baseline knowledge in a set population and adjust the description of their work to target that audiences’ pre-existing knowledge.
A podcast – can be used to tell a story using first-hand accounts. Podcasts also lend themselves to helping students examine the power of narrative and specific examples in helping audiences to connect to complex topics. Creators can layer in storytelling and analysis to draw a more nuanced and personal argument.
In each of these examples what is most often missing is a more specific breakdown of what the assignment is trying to accomplish. Often this is hidden under the guise of “engagement”. Using a new mode of communication will allow my students to better engage with the content. While that’s often very true – we still need to explain how and why.
This explanation can help on many levels. The authors point out that
“Whether technology is motivating to people is likely to depend on the learner, the task, and the learning context” (p. 173).
The authors also reference 5 stages that creators often move through: 1. Identify or find a place where creation is happening, 2. Lurk or watch what’s going on, 3. Begin to make small contributions to creations, 4. Create their own material, and finally 5. Begin to lead the creation of materials (p. 175). This is important information for teachers to be aware of. It indicates that taking time to familiarize oneself with the process of creation is not a quick or single-step process. For authentic creation to take place, students must be given time to assimilate to creation environments.
No technology has a defined outcome. In fact, “there is considerable evidence that use of a single instructional technology can lead to different outcomes when used by different learners in different contexts” (p. 194). The “why” is so important and it’s more difficult to avoid explaining why you choose to use a certain technology than why you have chosen to lecture today. We should be asking and answering the ‘why question’ for both actions – but for now technology seems to be the home of “why”.
In chapter 7 the authors examined how learning in school would be impacted by the points discussed earlier in the book. Some of the most outstanding points are summarized in quotes below that focus on the experience of school for different students.
“School is a cross cultural experience” (p. 136)
“A key dimension of creating equitable classrooms involves building a classroom environment where all students’ ideas are valued” (p. 141)
“Third spaces: social environments that emerge through genuine dialogue between teachers and students” (p. 142)
The concept of “third spaces” particularly stuck with me. In my experience, creating a third space was often the only way I was able to establish trust with my students. Until they felt that I truly cared for them as individuals and was interested in what they had to share, we made little progress. Logically this makes sense to me, particularly for students who may have lost trust in an education system. It’s a signifier of the importance of interpersonal communication and empathy as teacher qualities.
Discipline Specific Learning
This chapter also focused on discipline-specific learning and the differences between “ways of thinking and intellectual challenges” within different areas (p. 143). It seems to me that this is an area that could be explored at great depth and after doing a little research I found an article titled “Decoding the Disciplines: A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking” by Joan Middledorf and David Pace in New Directions for Teaching and Learning in 2004. In this article the authors outline seven steps to overcome obstacles to learning that include:
“What is a bottleneck to learning in this class?
How does an expert do these things?
How can these tasks be explicitly modeled?
How will students practice these skills and get feedback?
What will motivate the students?
How well are students mastering these learning tasks?
How can the resulting knowledge about learning be shared?”
“Decoding the Disciplines: A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking” by Joan Middledorf and David Pace
If we work to put ourselves into the place of the learners we can see how important these steps are. Middledorf and Pace point this out explicitly:
“We need only imagine ourselves in a learning situation that is unfamiliar to us–a first lesson in knitting, a new computer program, or the grammar of a foreign language–to realize that simply hearing a lecture on a complex process is rarely sufficient to permit us to actually perform the task and to imagine it with dozens of other new procedures”
(Middledorf and Pace, 2004, p. 7).
This chapter emphasizes how much we expect and how much we need of our teachers. We need them to be both experts in their field, and individuals who possess the ability to empathize and connect with students who have experienced life in a complexity of ways that is never reproduced the same.
Putting it into practice – tips for applying this information in the classroom
Consider one way that you can create a third space in your class. Is this something that you already do, and if so – is it effective? Devise a strategy to establish rapport individually with all your students.
Begin to work your way through the seven steps to overcome obstacles to learning. Identify the bottlenecks within one class that you teach. How can/do you address these?
Evaluate and reflect on any strategies that you use or have used in the past to address these issues. What is working well? What needs to be improved? Use these reflections to fine tune your practice in the next semester.
“Motivation is also increasingly viewed as an emergent phenomenon, meaning it can develop over time and change as a result of one’s experiences with learning and other circumstances” (p.111).
This makes it a challenging concept to pin down to a neat set of bulleted points to follow. However, it does not mean that learner motivation can not be impacted by a teacher’s actions. This chapter connects motivation to several components of a learners’ beliefs and values including
A growth vs. fixed mindset
A sense of belonging
The value of a task to a learner (based on interest, connection to learner identity)
Learner interest (personal or situational)
Intrinsic motivation has a strong impact on learners as well. Autonomy, competence, and psychologoical relatedness all play a role in motivating learners. (p.115). Conversely the impact of external rewards on learning is strongly contested with some believing that “External rewards…may also undermine the learner’s perception of autonomy and control” (p. 115). However, others point out that external rewards like praise can positively impact learning if they focus on interest, encouragement, and guiding learner progress (p. 116). It’s also important that praise focus on effort vs. ability.
Putting it into practice – tips for applying this information in the classroom
Incorporate self-assessments and goal setting into the introduction of the course to enable students to integrate interests and strengths into their plan for the course.
Include community building activities like peer review and pre-assessment into your course structure to reinforce a sense of belonging among the group. Use office hours to get a better read on students’ sense of belonging as the course progresses. Make adjustments as needed based on this feedback.
Ask students to monitor and share their progress towards personal goals and next steps based on this progress throughout the course.
Use the information collected in steps 1 and 3 to help direct feedback to guide learner progress and their effort towards meeting those goals
Iterative knowledge building, learning and knowledge-related biases, and the value of “desirable difficulties” and elaborative interrogation are only four of the topics covered in this chapter but they are more than enough to focus on for this blog posting.
“…memory traces with common elements [that] are simultaneously activated and linked, knowledge is expanded and memories are iteratively reworked” (p. 86).
A web of connections to present and past experiences underscores all of the work that learners are doing to make meaning of new pieces of knowledge.
Me as a novice learner. Strawberry Shortcake was my alter ego.
“…studies underscore the active role of the learner; that is, even young children do not simply accrue knowledge from what they have experienced directly but build knowledge from the many things that they have figured out on their own” (p. 87).
Expertise comes with many benefits and is most often seen as an asset in any environment, but although experts can organize their knowledge more efficiently and effectively, they also often have learning biases which are “implicit and unknown to the individuals that hold them” (p. 91). A learner’s initial level of knowledge can also impact their interpretation of new knowledge (p. 92). Biases can have both positive and negative consequences. They can:
“Undermine the acquisition of new knowledge and skills” (p. 91)
“…blind individuals to new evidence” (p. 92)
“Promote well-being and health” (p. 92)
“Refine perception and serve to blur distinctions within categories that are not meaningful” (p. 92)
Desirable Difficulties & Problem Based Learning
Some of the desirable difficulties or “useful challenges” that are identified in this chapter as the best ways to positively impact learning include:
Interleaved and varied practice
Summarizing and drawing
Explanations: elaborative interrogation, self explanation and teaching” (p. 98)
Problem based learning can also present useful challenges to learners and the learners point out that this learning technique “…instills in learners flexible knowledge use, effective problem-solving skills, self-directed learning, collaboration and intrinsic motivation” (p. 94).
Putting it into practice
So how do you apply this to the classroom? Here are a few ideas:
Have students start a unit of study with a self reflection of what they already know about the topic. Use this as a starting point for them to examine as they move through the unit of study so they actively identify ideas/concepts that are disputed or different than what is being discussed and studied in class. Encourage them to examine why that is. Where did the original understanding come from? Is there some truth there?
Identify content in your class that students need to know quickly in order to access other knowledge. Definitions and calculations often fit nicely into this category, however you could also use this activity with a topic like connecting the correct genre to a piece of writing to help students become more comfortable with identifying and differentiating between different genres of writing. Using a quiz mechanism return to this practice of retrieving the correct answer/classification throughout the semester using different examples and questions. By spacing out these practices you will further strengthen students’ knowledge and retrieval skills
Design a problem based unit of student that requires students to explain and teach complex topics to support their proposed solution. This activity has the added benefit of providing potential presentation and public speaking practice. Like this — SO AMAZING!!
What’s up next?
Next week we’ll take a look at one of my favorite topics – motivation.
In this chapter the authors explore the ways that learners use different processes to put the pieces of learning together. The authors refer to this as “orchestrating learning” and explain that it is comprised of three core parts: 1. metacognition, 2. executive function and 3. self regulation (p. 70). Some of the findings in this section that were most intriguing to me included:
Development and Decline of Executive Function
“Components of executive function develop and decline in neither linear nor binary (all or nothing) fashion” (p. 72).
Since so much of learning is built on a structure of building skills over time, it was interesting to consider that this is not the timeline on which all components of executive function get stronger or weaker.
Becoming Self-Regulated Learners
“Successful self-regulated learners have developed the skills and habits to be effective learners, exhibiting effective learning strategies, effort, and persistence” (p. 73).
The concept that learners can be taught methods to improve self-regulation is particularly exciting when I think about the world of online education where self-regulation is a critical component. This indicates that scaffolding in skills and habits to help students be successful, can be an effective way to address and correct deficits in this area.
My pumpkin…grown just a few years after I drew my first one.
I learned the most about memory in this chapter. As I read about the way that the brain processes, uses, and recalls memories I couldn’t help but think of some of my earliest memories and consider the reason why those memories are clearer than others. One of these memories is of drawing a pumpkin that was sitting on a big pink circle. I still have that picture. It’s tacked into my baby book and highlighted as my first piece of “art”. After reading through this chapter I wondered whether my memory of drawing the picture is strengthened or completely derived by the baby book entry.
To explain consider that the authors point out that the common conceptual model of memory as a “filing cabinet” is faulty. The authors explain:
“What the storage metaphor does not capture is the fact that learning actually involves skills for reconstructing memories based on past experiences and cues in the present environment” (p. 74).
“The representation is not a perfect copy of the world but rather a partial record of the individual’s subjective interpretation and perception” (p.75).
So it is entirely possible that my memory of drawing the picture is recalled from a partial record of the visual imagery in the book and the memories my parents have shared of that time.
Connecting Memory to Learners
I found the following three connections to educational contexts and working with learners’ memory to be most impactful in my work to support learning design:
“First undue weight should not be placed on any single assessment of learner’s knowledge and skills.”
“Second memories are reconstructed more easily in situations that feel conducive and relevant to the content of the memory” (p. 77)
“…help learners recognize and leverage their strengths in other contexts” (p. 77).
For example, many athletes can use their experiences playing sports to consider elements of physics (the movement of a ball) or interpersonal skills (teamwork and leadership).
Putting it into practice
Using the information from this chapter here are four action-oriented steps that you can take to integrate these findings into your curriculum to improve student learning:
Explicitly teach skills and habits to help students become successful self-regulated learners. For example, topics such as time management, discipline specific note-taking methods, and self-checks on understanding would all work towards this goal.
Use multiple assessments to measure student learning and use the information collected by these assessments to develop a more holistic understanding of the students’ strengths and weaknesses.
Make instruction relevant/connected to student experience in order to make it easier for students to process and remember course content. Presenting examples that feel familiar to students can help to achieve this goal.
Early in the semester have students self-assess their learning strengths and weaknesses and identify one step to work on to strengthen a weaker skill. Return to this work throughout the course and ask the students to reflect on their growth in this skill at the conclusion of the semester.
Next up is chapter 5 which focuses on knowledge and reasoning. As a parent – I’m particularly interested in the reasoning portion of this chapter!
Chapter 3 of HPL II focused on discussing different types of learning and examples to demonstrate that learning. It was fascinating to examine the different ways that learning occurs and apply those different types to various teaching methods.
My take-aways from this reading:
“…the prevalence of habit-driven acts shows that much of our behavior is not consciously chosen” (p. 39)
Remembering being a novice & perceptual learning
“It is easy to forget how dramatically people’s perceptions and actions can be changed by experience because once they have changed, the individual no longer has access to the earlier perception” (p. 44-45)
“The importance of perceptual learning for academic topics can easily be underestimated. One reason is that experts may not realize how much of their understanding steps from perceptual learning” (p. 48-49)
The impact of “critical and sensitive periods in development”
“The best-known example of a critical period is that for development of vision: without the opportunity for sight during certain periods of infancy, the brain will forever be visually impaired” (p. 57)
Brain Adaptation in Response to Learning
“The reciprocal interactions in learning between the dynamically changing brain and culturally situated experience form a fascinating developmental dance, the nuances of which are not yet fully understood” (p. 59).
“Individuals are not infinitely adaptive, but the extent to which they can rise to cultural expectations when provided with opportunities and support is impressive” (p. 62)
Novices, experts and messy closets…
I’m always intrigued by writings that explore the differences, weaknesses and strengths of novice and expert learners because teachers need to float in this space to really be successful. They need to have the expert in-depth knowledge of their discipline to provide context to facts and methods to help new learners make sense of new knowledge, but they must also remember what it was like to be a novice to be able to empathize and support their students.
Closet by Sofy Marquez, cc licensed on flickr at https://flic.kr/p/aDLzzs
I envision learning like a closet. If you throw facts at a new learner it’s like throwing clothes on the floor of a closet. You get a pile of junk that all needs to be sifted through to find one piece of information. If a teacher structures their content in a way that contextualizes each piece of information and works to connect it to other ideas and methods in their discpline, they are placing those clothes on sorted hangers. It provides a structure, or schema for students to more quickly and logically connect ideas and sequences in ways that make sense. An added complexity explored in HPL II is the way in which cultural schemas can impact knowledge creation and interpretation.
boy_stand_headphones by Tom Ray, cc licensed on flickr at https://flic.kr/p/4V6Zfm
Since I started working in Academic Technology five years ago interest in podcasting has remained relatively constant. Over the years we’ve worked to streamline processes and recommendations to make the process of creating a podcast as straight forward as possible. Podcasting is a great way to strengthen a student writers’ voice and encourage them to connect to new audiences in a conversational tone. It also provides a means to consider how ideas and concepts should be organized to tell a story to listeners as well as how reorganizing can shape or manipulate a message.
If you are interested in getting started with Podcasting here are some great resources to familiarize you with the process of creating and teaching the assignment.
“Learning does not happen in the same way for all people because cultural influences pervade development from the beginning of life.” (p. 22)
In this chapter the author’s dig into the concept of culture and how it impacts not only “what people learn but also how they learn” (p. 23). The impact of culture on an individual’s learning is vast when all of the components of culture are taken into account. The chapter covers topics including:
The role of culture in learning and development
Learning as social activity
The dynamic interaction of culture, biology and context
Social and emotional influences
Some of the most interesting takeaways:
The importance of early childhood education and childcare:
“A large body of work published before HPL I (but not addressed here) established that socialization practices – caretakers’ ways of interacting with children – shape how children learn, what they learn, how quickly they learn, and even what the developmental end point of that learning is (for everything from walking to how they interact socially).” (p. 24)
Cultural impacts on biology & childhood development:
“Human development, from birth throughout life, takes place through processes of progressively more complex reciprocal interactions between the human individual (an active, biopsychlogical organism) and that individual’s immediate physical and social environments. Through these dynamic interactions, culture influences even the biological aspects of learning.” (p. 28)
The impact of emotion on learning and motivation:
“People are willing to work harder to learn the content and skills they are emotional about, and they are emotionally interested when the content and skills they are learning seem useful and connected to their motivations and future goals” (p. 30)
As I read this chapter I couldn’t help thinking about how much of this content is driven by the very beginnings of children’s lives and how little influence our institutions of education have on those circumstances. It also reminded me of some work that has been done to identify the high return on investment in early childhood education. The Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania has collected some great research and articles about this topic here.