OTL301 – Post 6

Summarizing Your Learning

The most important lessons gathered from this course concern research in the area of social presence. This body of work is useful to OLFM’s in that it provides some pragmatic examples and suggestions that can be applied to improve the learning environment. Incidentally, this body of research in part refutes the claim of Marshall McLuhan that “The medium is the message.” In fact, there are indications that the academic purposes of the learning environment are more important than the medium itself whether that medium is text, voice or video.

I have a bit of a story to share. It’s about my early days as a classroom teach and my use of computers in the classroom. Hard to imagine a time when there were no computers, when classrooms contained chalkboards, and classroom handouts were printed on a mimeograph machine instead of photocopied or laser printed.

In 1980 in British Columbia, the Ministry of Education was running a pilot program to introduce computers into the classroom. I was part of that program. The computer we used was a behemoth – there was only one computer per school. It was an HP desktop machine with 4K of RAM memory that was wheeled from classroom to classroom. It had the computing power of a (very) small hand calculator – about 1/100000 of the memory in a modern computer. It came with an optic card reader and an attached printer that had clearly been adapted from an adding machine. Students programmed their assignment on optic cards and fed them into the card reader. Work could be save to standard cassette tapes or printed out on paper tape to be handed in for marking.

Fast forward a few years to 1985. At that time I was using Apple II computers with math and science practice programs in the classroom. These computers and associated software programs were being employed as learning aids to enhance learning in an face-to-face classroom environment. Classroom computers were being used as robotic tutors,drilling students on concepts and providing opportunities to undertake practice exams. I was also teaching Logo programming to groups of elementary school teachers as part of professional development workshops – definitely one of my most difficult teaching experiences.

All of this happened a decade prior to the availability of the public Internet and the beginning of online instruction. There was no training for these pioneering teachers. It was largely trial and error. We were almost totally on our own.

I’ve always been a traditional constructivist. A strong believer that students construct knowledge based upon their experiences. But social constructivism and the Community of Inquiry were new concepts to me. To be honest, some of it seems to be only half-baked. A work in progress, At present, more theoretical than practical. I wonder what John Dewey, always a pragmatist when it came to educational process, would make of the COI?

On the other hand, a good portion of what we have learned, in particular the concepts and techniques associated with social presence seems resonates well.  Some, like Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes and Garrison (2013) believe social presence is crucial to student success. I will definitely be introducing social as much as possible to improve my course delivery.

The WordPress platform represents a popular forum for two-way communication.  An early implementation of Web 2.0 technology. It’s a good way to experience the Web 2.0 paradigm and reach beyond simple text media and create mash-ups of text and interactive media. But WordPress is still just basically an enhanced text medium for those of us with limited creative skills.

Learning strategies are intended to enable students to become better learners. With adult students, including the students in this course, building upon the familiar context of work experience is a good way to acquire, analyze and summarize new information. Improving social interaction in the learning environment  is another good approach to enabling learners.

I’m all about enabling learners. For me, its the success of the student in the course is a large part of why I enjoying teaching. giving back to others in a meaningful way. I’m proud to be a lifelong learner and I desire to encourage the same in others.

A couple concepts that I would like to implement in my own practices are:

OTL301 – Post 3

Designing Aligned Learning Experiences

Intended Learning Outcomes

  1. Using point form, students will be able to explain the salient differences between a static and a dynamic web site using 5-6 points that contrast the differences.
  2. In 3-4 short paragraphs, students will be able to describe the key features of a modern operating system

Learning Activities for web sites

  1. From a developer perspective, the student will summarize in point form, using no more than 10 points, the development steps required to build: (a) – a static web site and (b) – a dynamic web site
  2. From an end-user perspective, the student will summarize the differences in the user experience between a static and a dynamic web site. The summary should be in point form. Create your summary using no more than 3-4 points of each category, but ensure that your points describe distinct difference.
  3. Finally, the student is to summarize salient differences between a static and a dynamic web site using 5-6 points that contrast the differences. As you have seen from the previous two activities, the difference between a static web site and a dynamic web site are very clear from a development perspective. But from an end-user perspective, the differences are far less evident. Think about someone you know who doesn’t know much about computing concepts, except as an end-user. Perhaps a parent or a friend. How would you explain to them the salient differences between a static web site versus a dynamic web site?Note to the student: This last question is a standard interview question for an intermediate web developer position. Many applicants struggle to provide a meaningful answer to this question, often descending into jargon in an an attempt to satisfy the interviewer. It’s not that the question is particularly difficult, but rather that it requires thinking logically to provide a meaningful answer. Please ensure your answer reflects logical thinking!

OTL301 – Post 5

Self-Coding Activity

  1. The self-coding activity was completed by revisiting all of the previous posting and attempting to categorize each by evaluating against a phase of the practical inquiry model. The majority of the posting could be categorized as triggering events, exploration or integration. A few of he posting could be categorized as encompassing the resolution phase.
  2. The only dilemmas that seemed to be resolved concerned student feedback. Some clear and effective methods of incorporating good feedback into online courses was presented. And approaches to effectively use these techniques were presented as well.
  3. In a future course I would likely try to approach my postings more critically, looking to deliver more posting that code as “integration” and “resolution”.
  4. Self-coding isn’t a simple concept to understand (or teach), at least not using the terminology presented by Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes and Garrison (2013).  Providing students with a simplified matrix and relevant examples might help convey the concepts behind self-coding. But it’s not clear to me that student self-coding is a useful exercise that leads to improved metacognitionon on the part of the part of the student. Not a productive use of student time in my opinion. But then I lean more towards the constructivist view of learning theory.
  5. WordPress as a platform was useful as an alternate mechanism for structuring information. If frees the writer from the more rigid structure of word processing software. It allows the writer to mix text, voice and video and to receive mult-media input from others. The WordPress platform does seem to encourage reflective learning although the technology is not all that intuitive to use. It will be interesting, both from a technology perspective and from an educational  perspective as to what product will supersede WordPress? What will be the next big Web 2.0 software product for collaboration?

OTL301 – Post 4

Interview Summary

The majority of my colleagues have left teaching. Well, that deserves more of an explanation. Actually it was I who left teaching and went into industry. In 1986 to be exact. Thirty years ago. I’ve now returned to teaching and am definitely enjoying the challenge.

However, most if not all of the people I began teaching with have retired. So finding a colleague to interview who has kept up with the modern advances in online education has been a bit of a challenge.

The following is an interview with Bob Barlow. Bob was part of the TRU Computing Science Faculty for 13 years (teaching face-to-face) and is now an OLFM teaching three continuous entry courses – COMP 1131, 1231 and 2231. Bob was also the developer for these online courses.

  1. Question: How do you promote community and connection in a continuous entry course?
    Bob: These are introductory and junior courses with very little opportunity for team-based projects. Students are in the process of actually learning the Java programming language, so it is essential that each of them do every piece of assignment programming as a solo effort if they are to become proficient. To provide some sense of community, the Discussions tool is used to give a common point where helpful hints and peer interaction are encouraged.
  2. Question What are your strategies for facilitating the process of critical inquiry, especially those leading to integration and resolution?
    Bob: For all the courses, the assignments give a lot of ‘hints’ to steer the students toward things not covered in the textbook yet are considered fundamental to the language feature or concept they are learning. For example, to program the calculation for volume and area of a sphere, the students are directed to look up the PI constant that is defined in the Math library. As the assignments become more complex, the students have to layer the concepts they have learned to date to build appropriate solutions.
  3. Question: What digital tools have you employed to support the process of critical inquiry in a continuous entry course?
    Bob: I try to use Blackboard as much as possible, especially the Discussion tool as mentioned before. Plus I tend to give as much detailed feedback as possible for the assignments, including suggestions for alternative approaches that they may investigate to develop a better program. The only other tool consistently used is email. At last count, I had students in 9 different time zones, so any synchronous communication or even telephone calls tend to be problematic.
  4. What are the questions that you have struggled with?
    Bob: The most difficult is having the students do enough practice actually writing their own programs. Only then do they really learn the Java language and the basic algorithms. This is much easier in the FTF versions as you would see them in a lab every week for a term. You can have a lot of exercises that are simple to mark and get a lot more reinforcement to the student. I have had a number of OL students do well on the assignments only to fail the final exam. As part of my feedback cycle, I had an email discussion with several and found that they only did the assignments, but ignored the lab exercises and practice questions since there were no marks allocated to them. So, they learned just enough to do the assignments but not enough to become as proficient as needed.   A solution may be to have a lot more submitted assignments, but my fellow faculty might then be making less than minimum wage for the amount of marking time required.

I’d like to thank Bob for taking the time to answer my questions. Bob raises some interesting issues and challenges regarding the challenges faced by online students versus time spent in the f2f classroom. Constructive feedback from OLFM’s to course developers may be one approach to facilitating development of courses that specifically address the challenges of online courses.



OTL301 – Post 2

Current Practices

  1. My viewpoint as to the value of effective practice has shifted with additional reading on topic of teaching presence. Effective practices like encouraging questions, focusing and summarizing discussion and confirming understanding aid in establishing an effective teaching presence.
  2. Most of the effective practices that I described in previous Posts related to the facilitating discourse component of teaching presence. For the Open Learning courses at least, the design and administration, and the direct instruction categories of teaching presence are, to a degree, fixed by the course designers. Individual instructors have the most latitude to affect teaching presence when it comes to facilitating discourse and to a lesser degree, in direct instruction. Anderson, Rourke, Garrison and Archer (2001) also describe a fourth category of teaching presence – technical support. They recognized that this fourth category would evolve as proficiency with technology improves and that some of this support would be outside of the teaching role. But as we has seen in this course series, with the rise of social media, some of these “technical support” tasks have converged with expectations for instructors in facilitating discourse.
  3. Teaching presence as a concept has been positively related in the research to student  satisfaction. Research has also shown a relationship between the concept of teaching presence and the sense of community, especially in online learning environments. For the online instructor, a high level of teaching presence, if based upon effective practices, should contribute significantly to a better learning environment for students.





OTL301 – Post 1

An example of an effective teaching practice relates to one aspect of my work as a doctoral student. Remote students in the program had the option to undertake three separate and distinct research projects rather than undertake the typical comprehensive exam process that is part of most doctoral programs. This was an advantage to me as I was working full-time, had family commitments and time allocated to academics was seldom contiguous. From an academic perspective, undertaking three research projects, each structured like a mini-dissertation was good practice and a valuable learning experience in preparation for undertaking the doctoral dissertation.

This experience was different from other project based coursework as the level of expectation was different.  In the research project, the focus was not so much on the problem itself, but on bringing structure to the problem following the scientific method. Evaluation of results was therefore at a much higher level than for typical course project work. And much of the project focus was upon critical reflection and deep understanding.

  1. The independent research projects were an effective practice for me personally as it made good use of my available time. But more importantly, the projects focused my efforts on the scientific process rather than upon the research results.
  2. This experience reminds me of teaching Chemistry to Grade 8, 9 and 10 students. In my experience, students were always rushing to the results stage of the experiment, ignoring the structure and process of the scientific method. In spite of constantly being reminded to follow the process, results were more important that the process. It is somewhat ironic therefore that at a later point in life, the teacher finds himself faced with the same issue – that the scientific method adds to the body of knowledge by following the method, not simply by publishing the results.
  3. One of the challenges with any project work concerns how best to showcase the work. Thinking back to being a student in elementary school or even as an instructor for higher-level courses where project work was assigned, three factors emerge – organizational skills, speaking ability and artistic ability. Without direction, one or all of these factors can shape how effectively the student is able to showcase the work. What I took away from Lesson 2 in this training program was that there exist practices that can be learned, by both instructor and student alike, that improves the level of engagement when attempting to showcase work. Useful information for the toolkit! Outside of the classroom, there are many occupations where delivering presentations is a requirement of the job.

OTL201 – Post 5

Post 5 – Integration

I admit to be somewhat surprised regarding the concepts learned in this course that have the greatest impact on student learning. In this module we learned that mixing text and graphics in a presentation is an effective as a means of holding student attention. Conversely, instructor created interactive media, a time consuming endeavor that would seem to have a great deal of potential as an effective learning aid, is not significantly better than other teaching aids that require less effort. As always, know your topic, introduce humour where possible, and address your students on a personal level are simple but effective approaches for facilitating better communications and improved learning retention.

Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes, and Garrison (2013) discuss practices that instructors can employ to improve social presence for distant learning students. These practices including posting video introductions to courses, setting appropriate norms for discussion forums, and providing clarity to students about requirements to complete the course.  In addition providing (some) flexibility as to how course outcomes are met is an important strategy for learners who may be balancing job, family and their studies.

Specific goals that I would like to achieve concerning effective use of media include:

  • Creating a library of libraries of useful graphics for presentations through targeted web searches (Specific, Achievable, Relevant)
  • Creating a few short (and well scripted) video tutorials for courses I am teaching (Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound)

Additional questions about student engagement and retention

  1. In the online classroom, where the student population interacts asynchronously, there will develop over time leaders and followers; how can the instructor effectively interact with these de facto leaders to facilitate a deeper learning experience for all students?
  2. What other Web 2.0 technologies can be used to augment the learning environment for independent study?

Answer to these questions may already have been explored in the last decade by the research community. it is my intentions to research some of the more recent educational research looking for answers to these questions.