As many of you who know me are aware, I’m heading into my dissertation phase….so guess what? No more writing. Not for a while anyway. I’ll be writing for the next 18-24 months – so between work and teaching and my doctorate, I need to concentrate heavily on that piece of paper! I hope you’re all with me…sorry if you were a regular reader. But priorities are priorities See you in a couple of years!
August 10, 2009
July 13, 2009
Pick a number between 01 and 09. Got it? Multiply the number you chose by 9. (You may need a pencil or calculator for this…) You should now have a two digit number. Add these two numbers together. Subtract 5. Take this last number and correlate it to a letter of the alphabet. (1=A, 2=B, etc). Think of a country that begins that letter. Now think about the 2nd letter of the country’s name. Think of an animal that begins with that letter. Got one?
You now have a problem. There are no elephants in Denmark! (Impressive, eh?) So, approximately 94% of you came up with that answer. The rest of you probably had an ostrich in the Dominican Republic, but it’s a crap shoot at that point.
Do you think that attention getter is creative? I do. Audiences like it – if you can get them to participate. The payoff is when they realize you “read their minds” and they try to deconstruct it. But regardless of the math behind the trick, it’s a pretty creative way to get people invested in you as a speaker.
Creativity is a passion of mine. I am a big believer that we do not teach, nor do we encourage creativity in our classrooms. (Tell me you’ve watched Sir Ken Robison’s talk at TED on this subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY) Yet, what talents do we read about in newspapers, magazines, and journals that are said to differentiate successful businesses, inventions, or even countries? Innovation is often touted as what makes one business successful while another one fails. Inspired design is often how inventions are described. The United States likes to talk about our resourcefulness, imagination, and out of the box thinking that helps us stay ahead of other countries with regard to science, defense, and technology. But if creativity is so revered, and if innovation is what will change our future, why don’t we build an infrastructure of creative thought for our students?
I used to believe that educators were creative. I thought you had to be innovative to find ways to inspire and motivate while teaching foundational principles. But after 15 years in and around educators at all levels, I’m not convinced of that anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are some tremendously imaginative people out there teaching and assessing our students. But, the percentage of creative people in education is probably the same as the percentages in industry, business, and the military. (I’d guess that percentage is around 5%.)
Don’t get me wrong. I think everyone has the propensity for creativity. Or at least a majority. But without those skills and attributes being nurtured by someone along the way, most people just do as their told and that creative inclination dissipates. Think about it – you are in 2nd grade and you’re asked to draw a picture of a farm. You grab your crayons and a big piece of butcher paper and start to work. A purple sun here, a blue barn there, a flying tractor that can transform into various vehicles – all in all a pretty imaginative farm! But then your teacher comes over and asks what you’ve done. They explain that our sun is yellow and that a typical barn is red. “Why?” you ask. No answer is given. It should be red because it should be red apparently. And of course tractors don’t fly. That’s just silly.
The end. Game over. Your attempt at something fun, cool, interesting, and creative was squashed and you soon understand that in order to succeed, you need to do things the conventional way. You need to follow the pack to show that you have learned.
Obviously, this is a super simplified example and I mean no offense to 2nd grade teachers. This could have been any level with any project. And therein lies the problem.
Think about what I call the triangle of teaching and learning. You have two foundation points – the outcome and the assessment. Then you have the tip of the triangle – the learning asset. (I am growing tired of the bastardization of words like “learning object” which now mean so many multiple things to different people, we can’t have an effective conversation anymore.) But let’s talk about each point.
The outcome: this is a constant. It should not change unless it becomes out dated. An outcome of students demonstrating writing skills or reading skills comes to mind. (Of course, the level of specificity is an important conversation – but one for another day.)
The assessment: this may change from term to term, class to class, or group to group, but essentially this stays the same for one instance of teaching. In other words, you should assess all students in the same way to promote fairness. (Ex: Don’t use a test for one student and a paper for another student.)
The learning asset: this is where teaching creatively can come into play! How you get your students to the outcome can (read: should) vary within the same class / term and beyond! The learning asset may be a lecture, a widget, an exercise, a powerpoint presentation, a video, etc. (Creativity should be modeled!)
However, it’s the assessment that we’re talking about here. While you don’t want to change requirements for assessment on a student by student basis, what about trying this. Give your students the option to demonstrate understanding and application in their own way?! If your assessment gives the freedom for students to explore their own creative ideas in terms of submission – and as long as the objectives for the assignment are met – imagine the culture of creativity AND assessment you would be creating!
For example, most instructors ask for a paper on bigger, complex items. Why not ask for a presentation? This may be a paper, but it might also be a video. Students could use Zentation to combine a video with a powerpoint. They might even create a model on Excel or using another software that demonstrates the objectives creatively.
What about asking students from the start what ways they would like to promote themselves in terms of your outcomes and objectives? Creating a democratic classroom in addition to a creative assessment culture is also powerful! Students get to take more and more ownership of their learning and you get more and more ideas for future teaching modules!
Why not start assessing students through gaming devices? Games are powerful teaching and learning tools – and the assessment combines formative and summative effectively. There are a number of games already created online or in books, but you can certainly make your own (demonstrating your own creativity!).
There are ways to promote creativity. There are things we should do to suggest to students that innovation, invention, and inspiration are both valued as well as something we can develop! Think of the ramifications for our businesses, our culture, or our country around this powerful concept. While we believe ourselves to be decent problem solvers, this may lead to a whole new generation of problem finders (which is typically considered much harder…). Assessing creativity can happen. It can make learning more engaging. It can lead to stronger connections between content and application. It can happen. Good luck and good teaching.
Want to know more about creativity? Want to inspire your team to think outside of the box? Contact Jeff at email@example.com for more information!
June 15, 2009
I just got back from Australia…what a confusing place that is! They use dollars, but not the same dollars as the US (obviously). They are 16-18 hours behind my beloved Mountain time zone, depending on the time of year. Australia uses centigrade, so when I asked what the temperature would be one evening and heard, “10-15″…I was hosed. I was asked several times if I was staying in the CBD, to which I incorrectly answered, “No, I’m staying at the Hilton…”
But at the end of the day, all of the differences aside, one thing seems to be universal – even down under. Education is in trouble. Talking to educators ended up in the same conversations I have in the states, just counter-clockwise. They’re worried about quality, outcomes assessment, education dollars, and authentic curriculum just like we are in the states. Australian teachers have problem students, problem parents, and problems with administrators just like teachers in the states. Administrators have difficulty with rogue teachers, consumer minded students, and whether to go online with all programs, just like the states. In fact, it seems that we’re all in the same boat for just about every major, educational trend I know of.
So I have to ask…WHY? Why do so few countries seem to get it right? Why are there so many problems? Why aren there so few innovators and visionaries leading the (correct) way down a path towards enlightenment?
Luckily, I have an answer. It’s simple, really: argumentum ad antiquitatem is what it’s all about. Yep, a simple fallacy in reasoning is the culprit behind decades of inaction and fearful speculation. The appeal to tradition is paralyzing education around the world…
Ok, so maybe it’s not just that simple, but listen for a moment to my reasoning. If you look at most scholars who gauge educational relevance, they’ll put it somewhere between 3 and 5 decades late. In other words, educators still teach out-dated theories, practices that nobody uses anymore, and terminology that few “real world” practicioners understand. On top of that, most teachers use methods that are years behind, we force students to learn the ways in which we learned, and we ignore brain research instead focusing on antiquated learning theory.
So you may be sitting there getting frustrated by these comments. If so, odds are that you are 1) a teacher guilty of this (99% likely are…) or 2) an innovator who wants desperately to change things. Well friends, I’m with the innovators. For example, it still amazes me how few, traditional teachers accept the Internet as a viable way to educate. Is it best in every situation? Of course not. Is it better than on-ground teaching in many situations? Absolutely. I can show you rich, authentic, meaningful digital assets that will measurably enhance learning. Of course it’s scary too. It provides a level of accountability that educators aren’t necessarily used to. Data mining is changing the face of online education and the measures / assessments brought with it are going to cause tremendous angst for some instructors. I’ve been in meetings where teacher’s union representatives have flat out denied the viability of online education explaining, “…we’ve never needed to teach that way before…” (yikes)
So you want a fix? Ok – here’s one. Call your Congressman – talk to your local school board – write our President. It will take a small portion of the education budget and some guts. But here we go…
Offer X grants per state for innovative education ideas. Something like 3 schools per state would likely work. One should be elementary, one should be high school, and one should be at the college / university level. The key is in the proposal – it has to be “out of the box” and it has to be adopted institution wide. What would “innovative” look like? Well, I don’t know exactly. The beauty of innovation is that it draws from the collective brain trust. BUT, one key aspect of the proposal would be measurement. How do you measure success? That question has to be answered farily and justly in order to receive consideration. For the opponents of NCLB, this gives them the opportunity to create their own measures. For the proponents, they can use the metrics already in place if desired. But real measurement must provide the outcome.
Let me give one example to get the ball rolling. How about the New City School in St Louis? This is a school where every student has a DEEP understanding of HOW s/he learns. As a result, diversity is embraced without being forced. Collaboration becomes second nature to these kids. And all the while, they see how they BEST learn, while figuring out how to mitigate their own lack of learning styles. In other words, they learn practical application of authentic tasks & assessment – what better way do we have to prepare students for the real world? THAT is innovative.
So, we get 3 schools per state to “pilot” a program for 1, 2, maybe even 3 years. Do you know what we get when we’re done? 150 case studies. We get 150 stories of success or failure. We see what might work, what likely wouldn’t work, and what we should consider rolling out to dozens…heck, to hundreds of schools. It might involve new ways of designing curriculum, different textbook configurations, innovative projects, new uses for technology, providing students with unique tools, or a myriad of other ideas.
We have always been a country that embraces innovation and creativity. While that’s not easy for big business or our government, as a country we still idealize the concept that a new way of doing something may be effective. (Obviously we have to be cautious of the fallacy of novelty…that’s another blog.) So let’s put our money where our mouths are. Let’s let educators put up or shut up. I believe in my heart that there are some creative, innovative educators out there with some potential solutions to our education crisis. Let’s give them a stage to present their ideas and potentially shine.
So would this “fix” education? Probably not. We’re talking about a system that has problems from top to bottom. Just look at the problem with cafeteria foods as it correlates to learning, obesity, and focus (http://www.jamieoliver.com/school-dinners). But, might this start the ball rolling to get more and more of our students educated in a system that creates a more competetive employee! At least I think it might.
So let’s see. I read article after article in INC., WIRED, NEWSWEEK, FORBES, and dozens of other publications about how to tap into innovation and creativity. Why don’t we start modeling and (therefore) teaching it to our students right now? It could lead to education reform that helps us financially, academically, and systemically. Creativity could lead us to a system of education that prepares students for a real world future…whatever continent of our world they may happen to reside in.
Would you like to talk about innovation in education? Want to learn how to both teach and assess creativity in your students? Contact jborden@jeffpresents for more information!
May 19, 2009
Q- How was the training you did in Hawaii Jeff? A – It was like every other training I’ve ever done…about 72 degrees under florescent lighting…
Wow, is that unfunny. Ok, it’s mildly amusing. But, it’s also the craziest joke I get to tell on any kind of regular basis. Why? Because I work in an office for a multi-billion dollar conglomerate. You see, funny to me isn’t funny to my employer – one of the 100 most ethical companies in the world. Actually, what’s funny to most of my colleagues is a violation of dozens of HR rules, codes of conduct, and probably Miss Manners as well.
Many of you know that I perform stand-up comedy. I don’t do it as often as I used to, but I got the chance to perform a few weeks ago at an open mic night and I killed! Why? Because I wasn’t anywhere near my office and I was 99% sure nobody from my office would hear me. I got to tell jokes about all kinds of HR violations and the place erupted. I believe as a people we need that outlet. We need to laugh at sex, communication, bodies, race, stereotypes, stupidity, bosses, gender, drugs, and hundreds of other non-political correct things. Yes – I truly believe this is a need people have…
So, I’m a man without a country; a comic without a mic; an employee with a self-imposed gag order. And it’s tough – believe me! I see ridiculously funny things every day. The reason The Office is so funny is because we all know people like that. Well guess what? My office has characters even funnier than the tv show! We have it all – sluts, know-it-alls, dufi (plural of dufus?), hard workers, non workers, bad parents, gas passers, and about 250 more! And who can I tell these crazy stories too? My wife.
My wife thinks I’m funny…at least to a degree. But the humor is sometimes lost on her as my punchline has to wait for my daughter to finish screaming, “OLIVES” seventeen times from her high chair. The big delivery just isn’t as funny with a fidgeting baby in your hands who is trying to smear you with minestrone.
True, there are the few – the pantheon – who are willing to snicker quietly as you express your deepest, inner-most thoughts. They may even see your tit for their own tat. But there’s always that fear that they’ll rat you out. Or, the notion that someone will still hear you through the same paper-thin walls that have allowed me to hear marital infidelity, spousal arguments, and 1 nervous breakdown.
It’s not like my speaking allows me to vent – I have no catharsis when I present for education groups. I have to tell you – that is one of the toughest crowds in the world! I’ve spoken with some other amazing comics and they agree – teachers are hard to make laugh. Besides, most educators don’t hire me to be funny – they want to be inspired, motivated, and forced to gain perspective. That’s cool – I can do that too. But I sure do miss going on a rant about how ridiculous it is when people “Reply All” in an email just to say, “Thanks!” I wish I could break out my, “Stuck in a women’s bathroom” routine for people. I would love it if I could talk about how ludicrous it is to say there are no stupid questions without making the audience uncomfortable…(Professor, I just saw the price of the book. Will I need to actually buy that this term? - Professor, I’m going on vacation next week to hike with my buddies in Alaska. Am I going to miss anything? COME ON! That’s comedy gold!)
But that is not the world I live in. I can’t bring up the fact that our spam filter doesn’t prevent all of the enlargement emails from coming my way. Nor can I tell anyone that most of them are from my wife…OUCH! I can’t afford the uncomfortable silence when I share my favorite student quote: “I like many other men, like to surf the net and watch sports. I’m looking forward to this class…” (See why we need to teach proper use of commas?) I can’t pass along seriously bizarre YouTube videos like these: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnOyMSEWNTs – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7b5CKSqlz60&feature=related – What the…? How can these not make you laugh at the sheer absurdity?
So I will continue on suffering in silence. I will watch humorous situation after goof-ball premise surround me and not say a word. But the day I quit…watch out. I might get escorted from the building but I’ll be laughing all the way…
Need to hire a funny guy? Looking for an entertainer with humor AND substance? Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info!
May 10, 2009
“In God we trust…all others bring data.” Edwards Deming’s comment about the importance of numbers as they relate to action is poignant, no? But there are a number of other sayings that likely have as much weight when discussing the use of actionable, statistical information. My personal favorite: “Numbers don’t lie, but liars use numbers.”
I work with education organizations regularly. Some are extremely interested in metrics while others think they are just good to know. Some educators are scared to death of the ramifications of numbers while others are just scared of the unions that don’t allow numbers to be used in conjunction with supervision.
I get it! Numbers are only as helpful as the test, the measure, the conclusions, and the variables that make them up. For example, I was recently in Dairy Queen. (Mmmm…Mint Oreo Blizzard…) The girl took my order of 6 items – I was buying for a family night. However, when I tried to hand her my credit card, she held up her hand. “We have this new system that tracks how long it is from the order being placed to completion,” she explained. “So, we don’t open the cash register until the order is almost done…it impacts our reviews and how much we get paid.” With that, she began to fill my order. With 1 dipped cone left to go, she ran my credit card and completed the transaction. Very smart.
See, numbers are only meaningful if they measure meaningful data. But, we always have to remember that anytime people are assessed (or paid) based on numbers, they’ll figure out a work-around. It’s not hard. For example –
At my day job, we work with a number of institutions who want to use activity data by faculty to ensure quality. (I know, there is an automatic fallaciousness there, but I’ll go on.) So, they ask my company to write reports to pull time spent in gradebooks, time spent in discussions, number of characters written in comments boxes, etc. However, faculty soon realize that they are evaluated based on that information and change their behaviors to meet benchmarks. They will open their browser on a discussion page and leave it for an hour. They will begin writing lots of fluff in the gradebook comments because it’s all about word count, not quality. I’ve even seen where they ask students to email projects for a “first glance” by the teacher, only to have them submit them to the Dropbox later – this makes the turn-around time for grading much less. Etc.
There are several problems at work here. First, the assumption that this data is “the answer” is flat wrong. It could definitely be a starting point to ask more questions, but whether or not someone posts to all gradable items in an online course is a silly metric. (Did you know that most of students won’t click on anything they received 100% on? But many teachers are forced to write something anyway…) The second problem is that the metrics aren’t “real” – essentially the argument that opponents use against NCLB. The data is lacking too much context – the numbers are too forced. Finally, there is the variables issue. With the number of ways to evaluate an assignment, teach a student, learn from a teacher, etc., one set of numbers can’t possibly include it all. For example –
I evaluate students with an audio tool (www.audacity.com) for their speeches. As I watch the speech, I record my thoughts for them. I get very positive feedback on this. However, in a system where my gradebook comments are scrutinized, I would be in trouble. We have school administrators who ask us to write reports checking to see if a teacher has copied comments from one student to another. Well, in this scenario with the audio file, I write EXACTLY the same comment in each grade box. It says, “Please listen to the following mp3 file from your instructor…” etc. Is the text comment personal? Nope. Is the attached audio file? EXTREMELY. But, my variable of a unique grading technique would throw off the numbers…
As I conclude, I’ll admit, I’m not a numbers guy. I’ve become more so as a manager and executive, but ultimately I believe more in context. I’ve met leaders who are numbers oriented. My old boss wouldn’t step off the train track unless you could prove through a math equation that a train was indeed going to kill him! But the key is not about the numbers as much as the way you generate them, the measures you use, and the conclusions / inferences / assumptions you draw from them. Very little shows causality when you measure people. So be careful with your metrics – be cautious with your data. Numbers can give you tremendous power but they can also create all sorts of trouble…
Would you like more information about actionable data for your school? Need some help distinguishing good metrics from bad? Contact jborden@jeffpresents for more information!
May 6, 2009
Letter to the Coures Editors – Part II: In my travels and dealings, I have seen thousands of online courses. Some courses are brilliant, while others leave much to be desired. Unfortunately, there is still a significant number of what I call, “Text Under Glass” – essentially courses that are all reading with little to no interactive content. Likewise, there are courses where the instructor has no presence – no immediacy, no communication, no evaluation…no teaching! I have also seen courses that aren’t really courses – they are incomplete from the traditional concept of a course. So, for these last two blogs, I’d like to present my letters to course writers. These letters are meant to both motivate and call out. See what you think.
Dear course author –
I saw one of your courses the other day. Whoops! It’s hard to know where to start in trying to explain the numerous problems I saw, but I’ll try to take a stab at it.
Let’s start with the pretty pictures…perhaps you might want to rethink grabbing any old photo from Google images and tacking it on a page. It’s especially helpful if the picture actually has something (anything) to do with the content you are discussing! But not to worry, there weren’t that many pictures anyway, so at least there won’t be many to fix. (Although the different colors of your paragraphs seemed to match the pictures sometimes – how great for your class of ADHD students!)
Of course, not much in the way of images suggests that you had a lot of text. That would be like saying the Titanic took in a lot of water. Take some direction from our Instructional Design friends – less can be more! The Word documents you converted to html pages were…well, they were probably exactly what you designed them to be – notes! YOUR notes. Not meaningful content or substantive comments, but notes to help guide your own understanding. Do you know what good your notes are to me? Let me try to help you. Here are my notes from a lecture on Objectics:
Objects and Artifacts. Function and aesthetics. Presidential debates – going back to Kennedy / Nixon. Colors = context culturally.
I have several more lines, but I hope you get the idea. This also translates to PowerPoint slides. I finally get the saying: Death By PowerPoint. This is because your slideshow had no power, nor did it have a point. I’m guessing that’s because some were your notes, while others were publisher slideshows. You do realize that the 200 slide presentation was designed for face to face consumption? As well, it is probably best edited down to a manageable grouping. Finally, the keywords your students see really need to be sentences as it generates a LOT more meaning.
Don’t get me wrong – the educational integrity was there! You are obviously a master of your subject matter! (Read: I would NOT want to play Trivial Pursuit against you in your degree area!) As well, you took great care in providing feedback to your students on their final paper. It’s a shame you had to mail the papers back to the students – there are ways to capture that information electronically! But the rigor in your course was intense for sure. Discussions, essays, tests, literature reviews, bibliographies, definitions pages, and other assignments would surely help students know more of the material by the end. (That’s assuming they made it past week 3, right?) But you had a lot of sources and resources to give a mosaic of content – albeit in only one or two formats.
That said, it might be time to rethink the amount of work and time your students are spending in the course materials. Perhaps adding a few group assignments would be good. After all, most workers find themselves in teams once they leave school. If you believe the current literature, this happens more than ¾ of the time! So perhaps it’s time to teach them skills they’ll need even if they aren’t specific to your discipline. I know, I know, you aren’t a “small group” instructor. (Unless you are a small group instructor – and in that case – good for you – you are salt of the Earth!) But students need help tying the pieces of their education together just like humans need help tying together anything. When someone becomes very sick, they may tie together diet, medicine, exercise, mental calm, environmental toxicity, and dozens of other pieces of life. Why shouldn’t we teach them how to best live their lives once they’re out of school? (Perhaps that’s why teachers always refer to graduation as going into the “real world” – hmmmm.)
Oh, here’s another tip. Directional text. Your students don’t automatically know what to do or where to click next. So, it’s probably a good idea to let them in on it, rather than making it some kind of secret club or game. Speaking of games, why note embrace the full power of the online medium! Gaming is powerful – it increases retention, comprehension, and engagement. These things are well documented. So, instead of transferring your face to face (F2F) lectures to digital lectures (or walls of text), perhaps transforming your content to fit the new medium is a good idea! Instead of needing a test in every unit, perhaps a group exercise is called for. Why not include a simulation, a game, or a real-world exercise and have the students simply reflect on it? You don’t even have to make it up completely – there are thousands of free resources on the Internet that have pre-made learning assets. So, if you aren’t feeling particularly inspired or creative, find someone else who was and who also put their content up on the web for anyone to use…free!
Lastly, it’s time to figure out learning outcomes. I don’t care what you call them – here’s how I view them. Course objectives (specific tasks) suggest or “prove” course outcomes (standards in k-12). Outcomes suggest mastery, proficiency, or competence of program goals. Goals, ultimately can imply institutional values. That’s it – four levels. Objectives, outcomes, goals, and values – figure out how your content maps to those and you are well ahead of many of your colleagues (both online and F2F).
So, my friends, I’m left wondering what to do next. I don’t want to offend all of you with good intentions, but it’s time to get in the game! I realize that most instructors are not taught principles of education – mapping to standards, how to create immediacy, PBL, what is authentic assessment, etc. – these are concepts that are foreign to most college level teachers and loosely understood at the k-12 level. (By the way, I realize there is a contingent of you who are researchers and not teachers. I realize you are teaching 1 or 2 classes per term because you have to, not because you want to. This blog is not for you. To you I beg – find a GREAT graduate assistant and force them to research education in addition to teaching your load…) Learning styles mean little in terms of student understanding and even less in terms of curriculum creation. And that is a shame. (I’d call it more of a travesty really.) My suggestion? Go back to school. Pick up an instructional design class. Check out a teaching effectiveness conference. (And actually go to the sessions – don’t just hang out by the pool or the bar….I’ve been to your conferences and I know how you are!) Buy a book on teaching, instructional design, or curriculum mapping. And for the sake of all that is holy, invite quality speakers to perform your inservices. (If you need one, I happen to have a million dollar idea…) But leave the committee chairs and community business leaders off the luncheon schedule for a while. Promote good learning, effective teaching, and sound pedagogical strategy. Hold teachers accountable to outcomes, problem based learning, effective use of Bloom’s taxonomy, etc. In other words…promote quality education.
Want to hear more about building a better course? Need some help finding a balance between standardization and effective teaching? Contact email@example.com for more information!
May 1, 2009
Letter To The Coures Editors – Part I: In my travels and dealings, I have seen thousands of online courses. Some courses are brilliant, while others leave much to be desired. Unfortunately, there is still a significant number of what I call, “Text Under Glass” – essentially courses that are all reading with little to no interactive content. Likewise, there are courses where the instructor has no presence – no immediacy, no communication, no evaluation…no teaching! I have also seen courses that aren’t really courses – they are incomplete from the traditional concept of a course. So, for the next two blogs, I’d like to present my letters to course writers. These letters are meant to both motivate and call out. See what you think.
Dear course developer –
I saw another of your courses today. Yikes! I’m not completely sure I would consider a course at all, but accreditors don’t seem to know the difference, so I guess you’re covered. Why wasn’t it a course, you ask? Well, it consisted of about 3-4 pieces of content every week. The basic outline went something like this:
Content Item #1 – labeled Readings: Here you told your students what pages or chapters of the textbook to read.
Content Item #2 – Discussion: Here you had a discussion area with a pre-populated discussion topic for the “instructor” to facilitate.
Content Item #3 – Assignment: Here you asked the student to submit a 5 paragraph essay on most any topic. The creation of a product (I’m assuming) gave you the feeling that you were assessing a higher level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Content Item #4 – Quiz / Test: In the weeks that had tests (not all did), the questions were purely recall, suggesting that memorization of terms from the textbook was essential.
That’s it. Don’t get me wrong – your course has plenty of structure and instructional design. And standardized nomenclature is a very good thing for an online course. When students click on “Discussion” they know exactly what you mean. The stock photos and newspaper like pages were easy to read, especially since there really wasn’t anything more than directions item after item. As well, your outcomes and objectives were impeccable. They weren’t necessarily important or practical, but they were spot on in terms of what you presented. You obviously mapped program goals to learning outcomes to course objectives – this should make for a great report to show accreditation groups or internal reviewers. However, when it comes to differentiation (Educational Variance), curriculum integration, immediacy, and lots of other important, academic concepts, you’ve missed the boat.
You may have noticed that I put the word instructor in quotes above. I know that seems harsh, but essentially the course that I saw from you made the teacher an overpaid grader – s/he wasn’t teaching anyone anything. For example, if the instructor asked a poignant question in the thread, students had absolutely no reason to answer that question. The explicit grading rubric, in and of itself a great thing, was clear. As long as students responded to the pre-populated topic and X number of their peers, then the student would earn all points for the week’s discussion. So, perhaps you would allow the instructor of the course access to add in a few quiz questions so as to keep students accountable to the expert you’ve hired to teach. Nope. The instructor was not allowed to add any assessment to the course. Only the development team could do that. So I say again, your course had no need for an “instructor”. (Other than the fact that accreditation requires it I guess…)
But where was the rest of it? If a traditional course, requiring contact hours + homework asks 45 hours of a teacher / student’s in class plus 3-5 times that outside of class, how does this course work? If ALL content is coming from the textbook, isn’t the textbook the teacher? Is that really the best education our students can get? No practical, real world instruction from an expert – but just textual theory from a bunch of graduate students who work for a PhD? Don’t get me wrong – I AM a doctoral student and I work my tail off to gather research and assemble journal articles. But my ability to write a textbook today would come from the last 15 years of communication teaching AND experience – I would not have been effective at that during my Master’s program!
Perhaps there is a shortage of quality instructors? People who you don’t trust to teach effectively? Surely there are ways to police that though. I know how hard it is to keep tabs on adjunct faculty teaching in the face-to-face classroom – I managed over 50 at a time when I coordinated public speaking at MSCD. But online is a different story, isn’t it? You see every communication, every thread, every document, EVERYTHING! You should be able to tell if quality instruction is happening. So I’m guessing that’s not it.
Hmmm. I guess it comes down to creativity, teaching, and other academic principles. The lack of web 2.0 concepts, the surface development of learning community, and the trust of content over teaching suggests a business decision, not an educational one. I’m reminded of a keynote address I heard recently by Dr. Mark Milliron. He said that research shows the #1 influencer of student success is a teacher. He also noted that the next 5 educational elements that influence success, when totaled, don’t equal the percentage of relevance a teacher has. Not standardized outlines, not repetitive agendas, and definitely not content. (Libraries have been around centuries yet we still need teachers to effectively teach us how to classify, interpret, and apply it, no?)
So, my friends, I’m left wondering what to do next. I work with many of you – I KNOW many of you. Some of you are excellent people with (uninformed) hearts in the right place. (I also know some “educators” who really only care about the profit involved. I have no problem with you – everyone has to make money and furthering education in the process is fine by me – but this isn’t for you. You’ll likely see this as silly and altruistic. No worries – find another blog.) But how do I fix this? It IS fixable after all. Content doesn’t have to be boring. Learning doesn’t have to exclude practicality, originality, and context. Learning doesn’t have to happen in a vacuum. Rigor is okay when accompanied by scaffolding, core knowledge, and scholarship. I know it might weed out potential unmotivated customers, er…students, but that’s okay too. Not every class is for every student and school isn’t for every person at every stage of life. Life-long learning doesn’t have to be formal – informal and nonformal learning are at work too.
Well, I’ll keep on speaking. I’ll put out the word and see if any of it sticks. I’m cynical, but not without at least a small degree of hope. Things can be changed. There IS a happy medium between the course I described here and the course created by a faculty member who is either uninformed or lazy. And the person who figures that out…watch out. It will change education as we all know it.
Want to hear more about building a better course? Need some help finding a balance between standardization and effective teaching? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!
March 22, 2009
I’m funny. At least I think so. My daughter thinks I’m a hoot too. Give me a nerf and a good head shot…she’s on the floor laughing. But when my household is compared to a sitcom, my wife doesn’t think of me as the comic relief. I’m not the star of the show. After my daughter (of course), the spotlight falls on my wife. At least that’s how she sees it. If only she saw what everyone else does…that I’m hilarious in my own head!
I recently came across a journal article about employer perceptions of online degrees. The first lesson I teach my speaking students is something we should all take note of. Perception Determines Reality or PDR for short. I’ve blogged about it before. But it’s extremely true. It doesn’t matter what IS true – it only matters what you BELIEVE to be true. Heck, even in a court of law it doesn’t matter what you think – it only matters what you can get a jury or judge to believe to be true.
So, the perceptions of employers is an important element to study. Now, I know some practicing distance educators who would be annoyed if not outright angry at the thoughts and perceptions of this group. I hear them at conferences making fun of people who don’t “get it” and how we’re really the enlightened ones. I read blogs from the ivory tower that frustrate me for their lack of practicality and conventional wisdom. (Sigh)
I don’t buy into that though. I think it’s my job as an educator, a policy maker, a businessman, and an online advocate to help mold the perceptions of others into what it should be! Here are some highlights from the research article:
| Throughout the empirical studies, as well as Carnevale’s (2005, 2007) popular media articles that cite empirical studies, potential employers gave the following reasons for their reticence in accepting online degree credentials:
· lack of rigor,
· lack of face-to-face interactions,
· increased potential for academic dishonesty,
· association with diploma mills,
· concerns about online students’ true commitment evident from regularly venturing to a college or university physical location, considered by some to be an important part of the educational experience.
On the other hand, some themes emerged from the empirical study literature and popular media supporting employer acceptance of online degree credentialing. Conditions that could influence online degree acceptance in the hiring process were:
· name recognition/reputation of the degree-granting institution,
· appropriate level and type of accreditation,
· perception that online graduates were required to be more self-directed and disciplined,
· candidates’ relevant work experiences,
· and whether the online graduates were being considered for promotion within an organization or if they were vying for new positions elsewhere or in a new field.
As I look at that list, I’m not surprised. Anyone who teaches online should have considered one or more of those points along the way. I’ve had students actually complain to me because my class wasn’t as “easy as they thought it would be.” Cheating in the online arena is probably the easiest target by doubters, even making its way into the Higher Education Reauthorization Act where schools are being required to “prove” that the student is who they say they are. As frustrating as this mindset is (since there is no evidence that cheating happens more online than on-ground), it is still reality.
Likewise, the other issues are real perceptions too. While I can (and do) debate them all the time, the findings aren’t surprising. I was at a curriculum meeting for one of our big for-profit schools last year. They brought in industry experts and outsiders to look at the curriculum for a specific program and makes recommendations, suggestions, etc. The issue of online courses came up and the room got very excited! Business owners and entrepreneurs were extremely concerned that the employees they would hire did not have any “real school” experience. But, rather than feel frustrated or dejected, I tried to take that opportunity to share the value, rigor, and potential for online classes. I became an “e-vangelist” for the event.
And that is the ultimate advice I would give here. For some people, they will never believe an online education is possible. Forget them for now – the closed minded don’t have a place at my table today – I’m too busy working with people who are willing to listen and learn. While I have and continue to teach both online and face to face, I realize there are pros and cons to BOTH mediums. But just because there are cons to F2F teaching doesn’t mean it should go away. Likewise, online education has its place – a prominent place – in our educational future landscape. I think that my job is to show the promise, the potential, and the real-world application available today in this format. My job is make my perception your perception. Then, together we’ll determine a reality that makes sense.
The last thing I’d mention about online courses and degrees is this. There is no distinction made on a transcript for an online vs on-ground course. (And there shouldn’t be.) Just like there is no distinction made about the instructor’s credentials, how the student did vs their peers in the class, etc., there is no extra measure listed on a transcript. So, at the end of the day the argument doesn’t really matter too much. Just about every college student graduating by 2010 will have taken an online class. It’s estimated that by 2020, half of K-12 education will be delivered via distance. And nobody will know the difference…
Want to hear more about online learning? Need some suggestions for creating a great online course, program, or curriculum? Contact Jeff at email@example.com for more information!
March 17, 2009
For anyone at the conference who attended my session – here you go! (This link will be good from 3/16 – 3/23 on YouSendIt)
Conference Presentation: How Virtual Learning Environments Could (And Should) Help Learners.
February 16, 2009
Hi, I’m Dan Burrows. No, actually I’m Chase Larson. Ok, in reality I’m Suzy Patrick. I have been asked a LOT lately about how schools are going to deal with the new Higher Education Act of 2008. There is a very small paragraph in the 1200 page document that gives schools using the Internet a new directive. Prove that your students are who they say they are…
Ok, so forget the 27 year old student from a large, prestigious, R-1 institution I met on a plane who told me about how he paid for college by pretending to be rich kids. He would take the entire semester as that person, turning in work, taking tests, etc. Only one instructor in 8 years asked for ID which was easy enough to fake – school IDs aren’t Driver’s licenses after all. And, forget about the statistics that show ALL students (K-20) are cheating in record numbers on tests, papers, etc. Forget that any on-ground student could have a brother write a paper, a sister take a test, or a friend create a portfolio. And don’t get me started on twins!!! (Evil mimeographs…)
How would the Government like schools to do this? Of course, there will be entrepreneurs who will come to the rescue! It will cost a boat load of money, but they’ll try to help.
For example, one company uses credit-based questions for online students. When you login to the class or a test, the message says, ”You claim to be Jeff Borden. Jeff Borden lived at one of the following 4 addresses. Which one?”
Or another company that is using webcam technology to randomly capture images of students in a testing situation. They compare the instant photos to known photos of the students taken during registration and see if someone else is taking the test.
Of course both of these are easily cheatable for someone who really wants to. Just sit off camera or have the real person answer the questions as their friend types in the answers…
Another company feels they have it figured out. They provide a small globe that looks like a mini-disco ball. It captures finger prints, has a webcam, and a microphone. If anything unusual happens in the vicinity of the camera, finger prints are asked for, images are taken, and sounds are recorded. Big Brother 2.0! (Securexam – the company with the ball – costs the student about $150)
Other companies are using algorithms around student typing or average speed of answer to check for problems.
Some teachers have tried to figure things out on their own. A few phone calls throughout the term helps them determine if a person really understands the concepts they claim to. Checking for patterns with writing styles and skills in math are how some instructors are bridging the gap.
But ultimately it comes down to this. People will always cheat. You can make it as hard as you want, but people will do it. Remember the group who helped doctoral candidates cheat on the GRE? Encoded pencils gave answers to the paper based, highly secured test for years before they found out. (I wonder how my doctor did on his entrance exams…?)
People will always find a way around the rules. There is a group of people who cheat just for the thrill of cheating! Others are so pressured from various places they feel it necessary. And on and on…why people cheat is another blog article.
I guess I’m trying to say to Congress…take it easy. Policing is just going to cost a lot of money and make a lot of people who finally have access to education fail. Let’s look at real answers and solutions, not just knee jerk reactions to fear. It doesn’t have to be like that!
Ok…soap box #1 out of the way for 2009. Hope you enjoyed the rant. See you next week when I tackle the financial rescue package…
Want to hear more about online education? Interested in real solutions to cheating and plagiarism? Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!