We shall not cease from exploration…

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A lovely card I got from a friend on my birthday- she knows I love hummingbirds

…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I do not recall when I discovered this quote by T. S. Eliot, but it was long time ago. And it still speaks to me, both in scientific or life explorations. Particularly, it applies to the ONL191 journey.

I came to the course with curiosity about Problem Based Learning, which was for me the least known territory. After being many years in the digital space teaching and collaborating, as well as taking and designing online courses myself, I did not expect to get major aha moments in that area. Indeed, while I noticed and appreciated the care taken with the course design, most of the elements were familiar.

The FISH process intrigued me. Focus-Investigate-Share based on an online document. Wondered how could it be done without confusion and overlapping research. But then, again, it worked. We met synchronously, and amazingly, each of us saw something different when looking at the scenario. I realized how narrow my vision was when looking at it…or maybe not narrow, just looking at it from my perspective based on my experiences, culture, background, personality, you name it. Each of us, each individual, brought in the richness of their lives when looking at the same scenario.

The group process also concerned me a bit in the beginning. Yes we had a connecting week, but besides exchanging a couple of slides about ourselves, we still did not know much about each other, and in the beginning the meetings were a bit steely. But, after a few weeks, we started to get the hang of it. As in any team, we have different personalities and as such bring in different contributions, all valuable. If everybody was a cheerleader, we would not get quality control. If everybody was detail oriented and meticulous, we would miss the big picture. And so on. But, just as in a flavorful meal, the different flavors of our personalities meld together into our very colorful FISH documents and final products.

And being responsible for a topic and struggling with technical issues made us humble and empathetic. If things did not work, that was ok. And most of us had things coming up…family emergencies, travels, delays, conferences…we communicated it and we tried to solve it. And if you think about it…IRL (=in real life) getting a group dynamics work may take quite a time. And we did it online! By seeing each other on video for 1-2 hours per week (or less)!

This is my final official ONL191 posting, and per the rules, I should put some literature references to support what I shared, that is the importance of the “human touch.” Funnily enough, my university just had an online training to improve retention, and a lot of it was about 1) early warnings, and 2) early interventions. For the latter, we had to design empathetic responses. Oh, and positive feedback was suggested for high performers! Our group was very generous with praise and gratefulness overall.

Thank you, ONL191! Hope to join you again, maybe as a co-facilitator?

References

Cuseo, J. (2012). Student Retention: The big picture. Retrieved from https://www.se.edu/dept/native-american-center/files/2012/04/Student-Retention-The-Big-Picture.pdf

Lehman, R. M., & Conceição, S. C. O. (2013). Motivating and retaining online students: Research-based strategies that work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Why be normal?

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Millennial anti-theft device, aka the stick shift

This is not a deep posting on science education. It is just a Friday commentary about some of my weird things.

I drive a manual transmission car. Here in the States. Not only that, but when I finally decided to look for a new car last year, as my trusty (manual) Toyota Matrix passed the 200k mile mark, I knew the main condition for the new car was to have a stick. As a result, my car shopping became very simple. I test drove TWO cars (a Subaru and a Jeep) and loved and chose the Subaru right away. Which makes me part of a dying species in the US. Quirky and eccentric. In fact, almost like part of a cult. Why? Not sure I can explain. Automatics just bore me. Driving a stick makes a commute interesting.

In 2011, as I was getting into more video and photography stuff, I went from PC to Mac. I clearly remember my trepidation when I started that MacBook Pro (the same I still have) up, and the joy when everything worked right away. I never looked back after that. The machine has worked all these years as a charm, of course with all kinds of upgrades, and refuses to fail. So I have no excuse yet for a new one. I also got into iPads, and love my current one with the Apple pencil. But. But. I refuse to get an iPhone. In fact, I am stubbornly committed to pure Android phones. Had the Nexus 5, then the Nexus 7, which sadly died on me. I am on the Pixel 3 now. Now, does it makes sense to have an Android phone when everything else is Apple? Probably not. I do know the reason here. “You cannot own me, and I do not want to commit to one system.”

At the end, probably it has to do with surviving in an ever-changing world. To be prepared. To be able to handle different systems and navigate diverse ecosystems. Few days back I was showing a powerpoint trick to my 20-year old research student, and he said “You are much more techie that I’d give you credit for.” Bless his heart, I actually felt quite proud. Of course old dogs know lots of tricks, right? But I think being non-conventional and yes, contrarian, can give one some advantages in life. More tricks to learn along the way. Happy weekend, y’all!

Designing for Online and Blended Learning: FLIP

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A (digitally) flipped graffiti from Buenos Aires

This week’s scenario was about an instructor who is excited about online learning and wants to get started with a course of her own:

“I am keen to design my own online or blended learning course … I think I must …try to illustrate in a visual way what a good online or blended learning design could look like. I wonder which activity, module or course I should choose? “

My first thought was “Oh, my sweet summer child,” something Old Nan from the Game of Thrones books says to the Stark children. Meaning, you have not known the terrible winter yet. Online learning can do indeed amazing things. It can also be awful if not designed well. And when starting on the path, as in all innovations, there is always a curve of pain. No matter how much we follow the design principles and do our best, it takes some time to “get” online learning well.

Our group came up with lots of great thoughts and ideas about online course design, centered around the community of inquiry framework. My contribution was much more focused, related to a specific subtype of blended learning called flipped learning.

“Flipping” a classroom sounds quite logical: let’s put the repetitive content online and let’s do active learning in person. However, there is a difference between “flipped” classroom and “flipped” learning, per the Flipped Learning Network, a respected community of practice. They define flipped learning as a pedagogical approach where “direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”

The website is chock full of information, tools, research, and all kinds of ways to learn about FLIP. In this blog posting, however, I would like to share briefly my own experience flipping a general biology course. My colleague and I started with backward design- what did we want students to be able to do at the end of each topic?- and scaffolded the material accordingly. Lectures were recorded in palatable (less than 15 minutes) chunks. Low stakes quizzes were assigned to the recordings to make students watch them. In the classroom, we had short lectures to address particularly challenging topics, and designed a variety of hands-on, inquiry-based activities. Our classrooms became noisy (because students were asking questions and discussing with each other) and dynamic. They chose a research topic of their interest, but had to discuss it with their peers. Liberated from the tyranny of long lectures, the instructors were able to interact more with the students, and go deeper into the material. Online discussions helped interactions between students. And…seems like students learned more also. This study was recently published.

Although the flipped classroom method has been in use for more than 15 years, it still has no unified theoretical framework or methodology (Bishop & Verleger, 2013; Zuber, 2016), and it continues to present widely varied implementations across educational settings and academic disciplines (Bishop & Verleger, 2013; Estes et al., 2014; Lage et al., 2000; Uzunboylu & Karagozlu, 2015; Zuber, 2016). So, I am not surprised that there are still lots of questions around what “flipping” means.

So going back to the original scenario…I would not start fully online. I would start with a flipped section (not the whole course). In fact, no need to record lectures right away- there is plenty of good quality material already available that just needs to be curated. And I would always have surveys and some kind of assessment to compare how students are doing. It is an iterative process, and it will take a few times to make it work right.

References

Barral, A.M., Ardi, V., Simmons, R.E. 2018. Accelerated Introductory Biology Course is Significantly Enhanced by a Flipped Learning Environment. CBE Life Sciences Education, 17(3) https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.17-07-0129

Bishop, J., & Verleger, M. A. (2013). The Flipped Classroom : A Survey of the Research. In Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education (p. 23.1200.1-23.1200.18). https://doi.org/10.1109/FIE.2013.6684807

Estes. M. D., Ingram, R., & Liu, J. C. (2014). A review of flipped classroom research, practice, and technologies. International HETL Review, 4(7).

Flipped Learning Network. (2014). What Is Flipped Learning ? The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P. Flipped Learning Network, 501(c), 2.

Lage, M. M. J., Platt, G. G. J., & Treglia, M. (2000). Inverting the Classroom: A Gateway to Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220480009596759

Uzunboylu, H., & Karagozlu, D. (2015). Flipped classroom: A review of recent literature. World Journal on Educational Technology, 7(2), 142. https://doi.org/10.18844/wjet.v7i2.46

Zuber, W. J. (2016). The flipped classroom, a review of the literature. Industrial and Commercial Training, 48(2), 97–103. https://doi.org/10.1108/ICT-05-2015-0039

Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning

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Facing a new day and a new topic

Topic 3 of the ONL191 course was difficult. For a number of personal circumstances (myself included) only a few could participate in each synchronous lesson. The ones I participated in included interesting and thought provoking discussions. Two major issues came together, the collaborative and the online aspect of learning. How to make them work at the same time is quite a challenge. Another aspects that was touched on, but not deepened during the second meeting I attended was the fact that participants are very different- there can be cultural and/or language barriers. So there is no one list of things to do- there are lists of best practices, and which ones are applied depends quite a bit from the context of the group.

Personally, I struggled to find my niche in the conversation, but Anne saved me when she suggested I could draw from my experience teaching and facilitating online to contribute.

Now the funny thing is, most what I know about facilitation of groups is not something I have learned as a scholar. For more than 10 years I have facilitated conflict resolution workshops inside prisons and in the community as a volunteer, and along the way learned many tricks of bringing people together. Most of them have to do with finding what is shared among participants, listening and communication skills, and practicing empathy. I soon realized that those skills were useful in my teaching, and started to apply them in the classroom.

There are numerous variations of exercises like the one shown in the video, in which participants share aspects of their lives and relate to each other. In real life you would start with less sensitive statements and as group trust grows one introduces more personal topics.

Some of those tools can be applied and even enhanced online! One of my favorite icebreakers for online introductions is asking students to post a picture that is meaningful for them and share why, then ask others to comment. Some students will post pictures of themselves or their families, others will post about favorite places or activities. But it is amazing how much can be learned from one picture and the story that goes with it. People posting kid pictures immediately connect with each other, as those who have similar hobbies or traveled to the same places.

For online social presence I learned a lot from Michelle Pacansky-Brock. She has consistently worked on bringing awareness to the importance of community building online, and the tools to achieve it.

So, I confess, for this topic I worked my contributions a bit backwards- I started with the tools I use and then went looking for scholarly references to support them. Luckily I did not have to search too far- in an excellent review of online course design, which I go back regularly by Jaggars & Xu, there was plenty of discussion about the importance of social presence in online courses. And this blog posting about online collaboration by Terence Brake (thank you Anne for the tips) covers both practical (structure, timing, recording) and more social aspects such as language and inclusiveness.

At the end, I felt again the need to learn more about these emotional/social aspects, which tend to get into the field of psychology and learning. This topic coincided with a busy schedule at a conference and then a few days of unwinding visiting family, so I feel quite accomplished that I could even make it!

References

Openness and OER

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Flowers in 2 colors…metaphor for commercial and OER. Author’s picture.

Yesterday a friend of ours came to visit after a 2 month trip to different countries of Europe- he is very cosmopolitan. We chatted and shared our enjoyment of wide-ranging stimulating conversations on multiple topics. He because he had met a lot of interesting people during his travels and I because of ONL191. Seriously! One of the most enjoyable aspects of the course is when we have our zoom meetings and we look at the same prompt and come up with many different ideas.

As the topic lead for topic #2: Open Learning – Sharing and Openness, I thought this would be much easier than Topic 1 about digital literacies. Hah! The collective brain of group #10 sprung into action and suddenly we had multiple threads going. Yes many of them were overlapping, but they were still distinct. That included looking at people’s attitudes to change, at different types of open (e.g. Creative Commons) licensing, open journals, open textbooks, quality…it is Saturday afternoon here in California and I am still collecting the material from my group members.

Helena Loof from my group brought in the Pencil analogy for adoption of technologies and I love it. I hope I’m one of the sharp ones…feels like it. On the other hand I have been very slow with OERs, and this week’s topic has been a bit of soul searching as to why. And to help that, I decided to focus on OERs for teaching, specifically textbooks. They are in vogue- check out this report by Seaman and Seaman (2018).

http://www.e-learn.nl/media/blogs/e-learn/quick-uploads/p1238/hewlett-pencil-metaphor.jpg?mtime=1450618533

Disclaimer: in my university, I have the responsibility of being a “Course Lead” for a number of courses, most of them high volume and taught by multiple faculty. So a decision to adopt let’s say an OER textbook for the course is not only affecting my course, it affects all the faculty teaching the course. And that’s when things get complicated.

Textbooks are more than just textbooks. The pure content of basic chemistry or anatomy is probably not going to change a lot between any type of book. But do I or any of the other instructors have time to actually read the OER book to be sure everything is correct? Don’t we love the instructor companion sites of commercial books where we can download the slides, figures, and testbanks that go with the book so we do not have to prepare them ourselves? Research indicates that many faculty cite lack of trust in the quality of OER material and lack of ancillary resources in OER textbooks as their barriers to adoption (Hassall & Lewis, 2017).

Except that we still have to. The courses I have taught for many years now, I have chopped down much of the unnecessary content coming from the publisher material, corrected and improved the test questions, curated videos, recorded materials, made much better presentations…probably spent more time on fixing the commercial content than I would have needed to start from scratch.

And then of course, is the thorny issue of quality (Delgado et al, 2019). Do the writers of OER materials have the time and motivation to rigorously proofread their work and keep it to date? Another aspect that was not discussed widely in our group was accessibility. Do OER materials comply to requirements that the materials are compatible with screen readers for visually impaired students? Are all audiovisual materials close captioned or transcribed?

Of course the main question is, does the use of OERs benefit our students? One of the main reasons to use them is cost (Griffith et al, 2018;Martin et al, 2017). Commercial textbooks are expensive, and it is known that many students do not buy or even rent the books. Just by providing access to materials should in principle improve student learning. However, studies are fuzzy and conclusions hard to decipher (Johnson, 2018,Judith & Bull, 2016)

Personally, I love the idea of using OERs but am held back by many of the aspects discussed above. It is my hope that creative solutions can be made to combine the openness and low/no cost of OERs with stability and support.

In one of my courses, an online nonmajors general biology course, we reached a good compromise. Through negotiations with a smaller commercial publisher, we got a very discounted price for 6 month access to their product in an electronic format. The product is embedded into the LMS and charged as an additional fee, so all students have access to it from day 1. This product is more than the book- it has adaptive quizzes, which are very popular among students, animations, videos, and a rich testbank. Instructors are free to use additional OER material. For me, this combines the best of the 2 worlds- the support and reliability of commercial publishing with the flexibility and freshness of OER.

Indeed, the supposedly “narrower” topic did balloon into a many-headed Hydra. I do enjoy how an open-ended prompt can bring so many different perspectives. Once done, I’ll update with the finished Prezi presentation. Until then, stay tuned!

UPDATED: here is the link to our Prezi- enjoy!

References

Delgado, H., Delgado, M., & Hilton III, J. (2019). On the Efficacy of Open Educational Resources. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning20(1). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/3892

Griffiths, R., Gardner, S., Lundh, P., Shear, L., Ball, A., Mislevy, J., Wang, S.,
Desrochers, D., Staisloff, R. (2018). Participant Experiences and Financial
Impacts: Findings from Year 2 of Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

Hassall, C. and Lewis, D.I. Institutional and technological barriers to the use of open educational resources (OERs) in physiology and medical education Advances in Physiology Education 2017 41:1, 77-81

Johnson, S. (2018, October 11). Does OER actually improve learning?EdSurge.

JUDITH, Kate; BULL, David. Assessing the potential for openness: A framework for examining course-level OER implementation in higher education. education policy analysis archives, [S.l.], v. 24, p. 42, mar. 2016. ISSN 1068-2341. Available at: <https://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/1931>. Date accessed: 30 mar. 2019. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.14507/epaa.24.1931.

Martin, M., Belikov, O., Hilton III, J., Wiley, D., & Fischer, L. (2017). Analysis of Student and Faculty Perceptions of Textbook Costs in Higher Education. Open Praxis, 9(1), 79-91. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.9.1.432

Seaman, J. E., & Seaman, J. (2018). Freeing the textbook: Educational resources in U.S. higher education, 2018. Babson Survey Research Group. [Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0]

The Importance of Culture in Learning

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Space and place

The first topic in the ONL191 course is Online participation & digital literacies. Both the introduction to the topic and the related webinar asked us to reflect on our digital identities and experiences. And the PBL scenario for the topic brings a student who is not very familiar/comfortable with online technologies and is apprehensive of an online course he/she is enrolled.

As I prepared for studying the materials provided, I found myself in an interesting spot of the digital Visitor-Resident continuum proposed by White & LeCornu (2011). While I consider myself a quite comfortable resident of the digital space (more in some places than others), I “need” to physically interact with the material in order to be able to retain information. In the old days of paper I would highlight and write notes on articles and book pages. For videos or audio I need to take notes- otherwise the information just passes me by. So that’s what I did: lots of highlights on the articles and notes on my iPad using the Apple pencil. Old habits die hard.

What White & LeCornu proposed is an improvement over the currently rather maligned “digital native” vs “digital immigrant” dichotomy coined by Prensky. The digital visitor vs resident terms are defined as a continuum both in time and in scope. This flexibility allows for both longitudinal changes and variation in usage across multiple platforms. Reasons for variations may be multiple, from brain development to technological “geekishness or even age.

The article fits well with my own experience. I consider myself a bit on the geeky side, therefore I was never shy to try new things. The learning curve from those first personal computers to the internet and then mobile devices has gone for many years, but it has been a steady uphill. However, moving from “digital” as a tool to place and then to space…that was a major change. It happened in 2011 when I joined Twitter as part of the “Building Online Community using Social Media (BOCSM)” course by my dear friend and mentor Michelle Pacansky-Brock. I was hesitant for a while, and feared being “out” there with a public profile. Michelle was gentle and encouraging, I decided to give it a go, and the rest is history. For me Twitter is an invaluable source of information (and for the echo chambers and the ugliness, I have gotten quite good at zoning those out).

But this is where the topic scenario and my own experience converges: I was apprehensive of a new tool (which was taking me to an unknown place/space). Why did I give it a go? Why did I succeed?

The response is manyfold, of course. The course design provided a safe space and a supportive community by allowing the participants to share reflections, stories, and pictures. By the time the Twitter assignment came we were already comfortable blogging. The instructor was supportive and encouraging. And somehow all that worked with me and for me.

So as we as a group move from Focus to Investigate, I know where I am heading: looking into the cultural aspects of our digital identities and learning of best practices to support students coming from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. Through a course I recently took with Michelle, Humanizing Online Learning, I became acquainted with the book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond. While the book is mainly for K12 teachers, I am finding it a very useful reading.

And am also reading Doug Belshaw’s book on digital literacy, a framework that was mentioned during the webinar. I like the 8Cs of digital literacies, and particularly how he places “cultural” at the top. He says “Focusing on the Cultural element of digital literacies can be transformative and empowering. In a similar way that learning a new language can give individuals a new ‘lens’ to view the world, so having an understanding of various digital cultures and contexts can give people different lenses through which to navigate new and familiar spaces.”

References

Belshaw, D. (2014). The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. Retrieved from http://digitalliteraci.es
Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students.
White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).

On the student side of the great divide (and some PBL thoughts)

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White Rim Trail in Utah

I teach online a lot. In fact, I am teaching online now- a non majors general biology lab course. Students do some hands-on labs at home, and they also complete virtual lab experiments and simulations, watch videos, write lab reports, and post and comment on discussion boards. So being at the same time a student in the ONL191 course is quite interesting.

There are students who reach out a week before class starts with concerns or questions. There are those who never email or say anything on the live sessions. Some will write long and detailed emails. Others prefer to text (I have a google number for this). Once in a while there will be a student who wants to talk or have a face to face online meeting. Just yesterday I had an online meeting with a student who is on a Navy ship somewhere far away to clarify a technical issue. It was strange and at the same time touching to connect in spite of the distance.

So I am looking at myself now, starting the ONL191 course. How do I behave? I am eager and also a bit worried. It is ok now, but come April, I will be attending a conference and traveling. So I want to do as much as possible now that I still have some bandwidth. My main focus will be problem-based learning (PBL).

Although I did my doctoral studies in Linkoping University, I never practiced PBL. By the time I spoke enough Swedish to teach, my time was almost over. So one of the aspects that really interests me in the course is getting more acquainted with it. Here in the USA I have met PBL people- they tend to be more in medical and dental schools.

The ONL191 course has plenty of references listed, and I have downloaded a few of them already, but first thing I do is try to connect with existing knowledge. This is, in fact, the third step in Gagne’s 9 events of instruction: Stimulate previous knowledge.

Went into my Mendeley library folder of teaching articles, and searched for PBL. Few articles popped up, one of them a review I have used before, D’Avanzo’s article on changes in biology education since the publication of the groundbreaking Vision and Change report in 2011. The article gives a nice introductions to PBL, and the points to a network to coordinate the case study and PBL networks for biology. The website, however, seems quite inactive since 2012, so I do not know what happened there.

And this is it for tonight. More PBL reading coming tomorrow, this time more updated!

References

  • D’Avanzo, C. (2013). Post-vision and change: do we know how to change? CBE Life Sciences Education, 12(3), 373–82.
  • Gagne, R. (1985). The Conditions of Learning (4th Ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

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