Flexibility is Key When Teaching Online


As the new year and new term kick off, I’m facing a great deal of time in front of a computer for the next few months. I’m co-teaching Introduction to Learning Technologies for the GMCTE, which includes a blended face-to-face and online component for on-campus registrants and a purely online open course for everyone else. At the same time I’m taking an online course in qualitative methods for my PhD and taking the four-week long online workshop through BCcampus on adopting open textbooks, which directly connects to both my work at the GMCTE as well as my PhD. That’s a lot of screen time, even for me.

I’m trying a balancing act around all of this, plus the rest of my work at the GMCTE, a reading course for my PhD and family life, while trying to carve out just a little bit of “me” time to keep my sanity. I’m not unique and I’m not asking for pity. I’m simply giving you an example of what an online learner may look like.

SturmanWorkshop-024-130302Whenever I speak with instructors about teaching online I stress the importance of flexibility. Frequently students taking online courses, especially at the graduate level, are working full-time jobs. They may need to do their course work in the evenings or on weekends. They may live in different time zones that may put them an hour off of your schedule, or maybe 12 hours off. They may work shift work. They may only have access to the course from a work computer or a library. English may not be their first language so it might take them longer to complete readings and post to the discussion forums, or the time for reflection that online courses can offer compared to face-to-face may make it easier for them to communicate with others. This is also true of any students who may be reticent for one reason or another to speak up in face-to-face classes.

It’s important to remember, as an instructor of an online course that you need to take care of yourself as well. If you have a large class or even a lively small class, discussion forums can become daunting. Students often have expectations that you are always connected, something that face-to-face students seem to expect more and more these days as well. Make it clear in your syllabus as to when you’re likely to reply to students emails, discussion posts and even phone messages. Some instructors will reply at almost any time, while others keep stricter online “office hours”. Pick what’s going to work for you, but keep the needs of your learners in mind.

The GMCTE offers a four-week online course on teaching online that covers these topics and provides practical solutions to many of the concerns that instructors teaching online may have. The instructional designers at the GMCTE are also well versed in teaching online and would be happy to meet with you one-on-one to discuss a course you’re teaching or are considering teaching.

Website Launched as Hub for All Things Open at USask


We’ve been posting a lot on this blog lately about all of the open initiatives happening at the University of Saskatchewan, as well as initiatives elsewhere that are available to faculty and graduate students at our university. There’s been the adoption of an open textbook for a class of 100 students, the piloting of the open source platform Mahara by the College of Education for ePortfolios, and now the launch of the first open course from an academic unit at the U of S with registration opening for Dr. Ken Coates’s Circumpolar Innovation through Canvas.

Open USaskGiven the growing list of open initiatives, and the long-running support and education around open access journals from the Library, a new Website has been created to act as a hub for all things open at the University of Saskatchewan. open.usask.ca contains links and information to resources related to open textbooks, open courses, open access journals, open source software (including some developed at the U of S) and Creative Commons.

Please don’t hesitate to let us know what you think of the site, if you have any questions about any of the included initiatives or if we’ve missed something that you feel should be included.

Adopting Open Textbooks Online Workshop


BCcampus is offering a free, online four-week workshop for those interested in adopting open textbooks or just interested in learning more about them. The workshop sessions will run from January 12 – February 6, 2015. Each week will have a new topic including:

  • What is open? What is an open textbook?
  • Creative Commons Licenses
  • Institutional Readiness
  • Find, Evaluate and Modify Open Textbooks

Additional information and the registration form can be found here.

In addition, the BCcampus Open Textbook project will now offer $250 to faculty or graduate students who teach at post-secondary institutions in Saskatchewan and Alberta for reviewing open textbooks in their collection. For more information about this initiative, please see the Call for Reviewers.

If you are at the U of S and have any questions about either of these opportunities, please contact the GMCTE.

GMCTE to Offer Intro to Learning Technologies Course Through Canvas


In the fall of 2013 I was preparing to offer a new course through the GMCTE on learning technologies for instructors at the U of S.  The cap on the course registration, given that it was a blended online and face-to-face course, was set at 15. Since we are advocates of open education at the GMCTE we decided to open up all of the resources on a WordPress site. We further decided that we would allow people to “register” for the open course to receive weekly emails and they could list their blogs to make sure that I or someone else in the GMCTE would read their weekly posts related to the course. Jim Greer dubbed our course a TOOC for Truly Open Online Course because all of the resources carry Creative Commons licenses allowing reuse and the resources remain open almost a year later on the WordPress site.

There were ten people who completed the 13-week blended version of the course while we had a total of 328 people register for the TOOC when it was first offered last January. Throughout the course, only about twenty of those people asked to be removed from the course mailing list. A program evaluation of the TOOC was completed and you can read it here.

Currently, Ryan Banow and I are revising this course to re-offer it again this coming January. While we will be teaching it again to an on-campus blended cohort, we are also offering the TOOC, this time through the Canvas open course network. Both courses will run for ten weeks and the TOOC will include discussion boards instead of blogs and, while we had three guests come in via Google Hangouts in the last offering, we are planning to have a Google Hangout for at least nine of the ten weeks this time around.

If you are a member of the faculty, staff or are a graduate student at the University of Saskatchewan you are allowed to register for the blended course or the TOOC through Canvas. If you are not any of these, you may register for the TOOC, which is free and open to anyone.

John Boyer touches Down on Tuesday at the U of S


Sometimes, the time is right to reach into the past for a “re-post”. Now is such a time to look again at the February 24, 2014 post by Susan Bens since we are in the wonderful position to be hosting John Boyer at the U of S on Tuesday, October 7.   He’ll be speaking from 2:30 – 3:30 in the GSA Commons on the very structure of assessment he uses in his huge, blended course on World Regions.

Check out this event, and other events appearing under the Academic Integrity Awareness Week Banner.


What? A Menu of Assessment Options?

By Susan Bens
I have recently come upon a few interesting ideas about the conditions we create for assessment in higher education, especially with respect to deterring academic dishonesty. Standing out to me right now is a 2013 book I’ve been reading by James Lang titled “Cheating Lessons.” This book provides inspiration, encouragement, and practical advice to teachers in higher education. Lang’s premise is that cheating is an inappropriate response by students to environments that convey an emphasis on performance within the context of extremely high stakes and where extrinsic motivators overpower the “intrinsic joy or utility of the task itself” (p. 30).Slide of a Weird Grading System

Lang points his readers to an innovative assessment practice I found quite intriguing. Professor John Boyer, in his apparently infamous World Regions class of 2,670 (!) students at Virginia Tech, affords students maximum flexibility in assessment. He structures a multi-choice assessment system that pushes students away from performance orientation and instead puts the responsibility on students to choose ways of demonstrating their learning via a point system. I highly recommend a visit to Boyer’s web page for more information on his innovative approach at http://www.thejohnboyer.com/new-education/.

Open Textbooks Easily Available Through BC Project


There has been a growing amount of talk around the U of S, and higher education in general about open textbooks. These are digital textbooks that are freely available to learners and customizable for instructors.

Open Textbook ProjectTextbooks are expensive, something particularly clear to first year university students. This fact has had a shift toward open textbooks a priority of University of Saskatchewan Student Union President Max FineDay’s since his first term. The provincial government has also this issue on its radar as evidenced by the Saskatchewan government signing a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on the creation of open educational resources with Alberta and British Columbia.

There are several commons concerns expressed about the adoption of open textbooks. In terms of adoption there are concerns about quality and a loss to access of resources frequently provided by publishers when traditional textbooks are adopted.

BC has been leading, at least Western Canada in the area of open textbooks through the BCcampus Open Textbook Project. There are currently more than 60 open textbooks listed on the OpenEd Website from twenty-four disciplines including Accounting, Biology, Chemistry, English, Math, and Psychology. Textbooks listed there can be used by anyone free-of-charge (digital versions) and instructors are free to make any modifications they wish to the text, as long as they attribute the source and, in turn, make available the revised work with an open license. Students in BC do have an option to buy printed versions of the books at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks.

Texts available through the site go through a peer review process (the criteria can be found here) and, for several of the books you can read the reviews of instructors in those disciplines. The Website lists ten books that have received review scores of four or five out of five from these reviewers. Ancillary materials including instructor slides are available for some of the texts as well.

Some of the texts were created in BC, while many listed on the OpenEd site were chosen from other other open repositories including OpenStax

BCcampus is actively looking for authors, reviewers and open textbook adopters. If you are interested in adopting, creating, or contributing to an open textbook, or you simply want to know more about this option, please contact us at the GMCTE.

How Do We Define Success in an Open Course


A version of this post was originally published on Heather Ross’s blog on June 24, 2014.

ToqueIn June I attended the Society for Teaching and Learning In Higher Education (STLHE) conference in Kingston, Ontario. As part of the conference I presented, along with Nancy Turner and Jaymie Koroluk (University of Ontario Institute of Technology), a poster about the Introduction to Learning Technologies (ILT) open course that the GMCTE offered earlier this year. During discussions around our poster as well as in other sessions related to open courses, I had a number of conversations with colleagues about just what is “success” in an open course.

Completion rates are often used as measures of success by administrators and the media, but is that really a fair measurement? Open courses, whether we call them MOOCs  (Massive Open Online Courses) or the TOOCs (Truly Open Online Courses) that we’re advocating at the GMCTE, aren’t like traditional face-to–face or distance courses in that students don’t pay tuition, there are no prerequisites for entry into the courses and no formal credit is given to students. Why do we try to measure success in open courses using the same metrics that we use for traditional courses when they are so different (of course the argument can absolutely be made that rates of attrition in traditional courses shouldn’t be measures of success either)?

While I was at the conference, an article appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education about a new paper out from a study conducted jointly by researchers at Cornell University and Stanford University looking at types of engagement in “Massive Online Courses”. The authors of the study argue that there are five types of participants in open courses including Viewers (watch the videos), Solvers (complete assignments without watching videos or reading lecture notes), All-Rounders (do at least some of both), Collectors (download for viewing materials later) and Bystanders (they registered, but there’s no evidence that they did anything in the course). I think that these categories have merit and provide a more nuanced picture of participants, taking us beyond simply grouping everyone into those who complete and those who don’t.

Very few people completed all of the assignments in ILT, so if we looked at completion rates as the measure of success, then this course was a failure. If, however, we look at different metrics another picture emerges. After the course ended (it’s a truly open course so all of the materials are still open) we sent a survey to the 300 participants and 15 percent completed the surveys (yes, I know it’s a very low response rate, but it’s an open course and most people may have been ignoring my emails by the end). Of those who completed the survey, 81.3% said that they applied what they had learned for their own professional development and 69.6 percent said that they shared what they learned with colleagues and / or students.

Learning technologies are constantly changing and as such, I saw it as important that there should bean increase in participant comfort and skill in using a variety of types of tools rather than developing expertise in use of specific ones. A key success of the course for me was therefore the response to the survey question regarding the effect the course had on their comfort level with learning technologies; 55.3 percent reported a moderate increase and 21.3 percent said they experienced a considerable increase.

Of course the low rate of response does mean we have to interpret these results with caution, but the data does add to the argument that success for these courses shouldn’t be measured by how many students do all of the work. I’m currently completing an overall program review of the course for one of my Ph.D. courses and will then be revising the course for another offering next January (watch for details about the course dates and registration to appear on Educatus in the Fall). We’re also working with Ken Coates, the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and the Director of the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development on an open course that he’ll be teaching early in 2015. Both courses will provide us with valuable information on what students actually do in an open course, as well as how they define success for themselves.

Educatus Taking a Summer Hiatus

Throughout most of the year a new post is added to this blog at least twice per week. We understand that many of our readers, as well as much of the staff at the GMCTE take some time off in the summer. This summer, the Educatus blog will be taking off about six weeks before returning with our usual schedule of postings in mid-August, just as we and the rest of the University of Saskatchewan community are busily preparing for the new academic year. Have a great summer. See you August.

Are You a Digital Immigrant? Probably Not


About a decade ago I started hearing about this idea of “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”, terms coined by Marc Prensky (and frequently repeated by such speakers and authors as Don Tapscott) to describe generational differences between technology users. In his 2001 book Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Prensky argued that “Our students today are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.” (Presnkey, 2001). He went on to argue that the rest of us (I wasn’t quite 30 when the book came out) will never be quite as good at technology as those young “natives”. Even then I was skeptical of what he was saying, and the research and literature since then seems to confirm my suspicions (Mark Bullen at the Commonwealth of Learning has been researching and tracking other research in this area for several years).

When we assume that students know everything about using technology because of their year of birth, we’re making a big, and wrong, assumption. Even if they know how to shoot a video and upload it to YouTube (and many of them don’t), do they know how to determine a credible Website?

And the flip to that is also a problem. When we assume that anyone who may be older than 30 doesn’t know how to use technology, or can’t learn to use it now because they didn’t grow up with it, we are again making a wrong assumption. Unfortunately, too many people have been hearing that they are digital immigrants or that they are simply too old to be trying out new technology, and they have come to believe it themselves.

We do a great disservice to people of all ages when we continue to operate under the premise that there are two distinct groups.

In her recent book It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens, danah boyd (yes, that’s how she spells her name) wrote:

“Rather than focusing on coarse generational categories, it makes more sense to focus on the skills and knowledge that are necessary to make sense of a mediated world. Both youth and adults have a lot to learn.”

My colleague Nancy Turner recently pointed me towards an article and video by David White where he makes the case for a different perspective. White argues that individuals aren’t digital natives or digital immigrants, but rather that they fall on a continuum between “visitors” and “residents”. This continuum is not about what you know about how to use the technology (or your ability to learn to use it), but rather your views on what technology is for and the ways you use it. Do you “go online” to look up information or do you go to connect with others and share? Do you watch YouTube videos or do you watch some and post some? If you use the Internet for anything, White argues,  then you fall somewhere on the continuum and it’s not about what generation you’re part of.

I work with a number of instructors across a wide range of disciplines. I can tell you that they span the continuum of visitors and residents depending on what they work on. One may teach online, but is uncomfortable with Twitter, Facebook or even blogging, while these forms of technologies are not outside of his or her knowledge grasp. Someone else may never have touched Blackboard, but they are excited to integrate a variety of learning technologies into courses. And yet others pleasantly surprise me that they are already using wikis or Twitter or other such forms of social media in their teaching and could teach me a thing or two about this.

In the following video, White walks us through how to map where we fall on the continuum. Note that you may fall in different places for your professional life than for your personal. This is also something that you can walk through with your students to help you, and them, to help you decide on appropriate teaching strategies or assignments.

Course Design Institute Being Offered as ‘Flipped’ Workshop


Course Design ProcessFor several years, the GMCTE has offered the Course Design Institute (CDI), a four to five-day intensive workshop that walks instructors through the development or redevelopment of one of their courses. This May, the CDI we be delivered in an entirely different format than in the past by “flipping” it to provide participants with more hands-on work time.

While in the past, participants attending all day for the four to five days during a single week, this offering will require participants to attend three Thursday mornings over three weeks in May. They will also watch videos and complete assignments outside of these meeting times. They will post their assignments to the discussion forum where they will receive feedback from the facilitators and fellow-participants.

The CDI is built around the resources on our Course Design Process web page and includes videos and other materials related to learner and context analysis, developing learning outcomes, creating assessments, deciding on teaching strategies and evaluating and revising the course that they develop.

Participants who qualify are also eligible for a $1,000 grant to assist in the development / redevelopment of their course.

Spots in the CDI are limited to 10 participants and applications are now being accepted. For more information about the CDI, the application and the grant, please see the CDI Web site.

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