OTL301 Post 4 – Interview Time!

For this post, I interviewed the instructor who was assigned to me as my senior on-line faculty member. She has taught on-line continuous courses for a number of years and was kind enough to offer her perspective. I asked her the following questions:

  • What strategies do you use to promote community and connection in a continuous entry course?
  • What strategies do you use to facilitate integration (integrating new knowledge into previously held knowledge) and resolution (triggering new questions about the material and its relevance to other subjects/aspects of life; resolution of previously held questions) of the course material?
  • Are there any specific digital tools that you use to support your students integrate and expand on their new knowledge?
  • Are there any areas with which you struggle when delivering a continuous entry course?

One of the key points that came from this interview is that promoting community, connection, integration, and resolution within a continuous enrollment course is a struggle! Because everyone is at different points in the course, videos you post and discussion questions you ask may not be relevant to each student. If you don’t have a lot of students registered for a period of time, then discussion can be almost non-existent and they have to scroll back to answer a much older post; the person who posted it may no longer be enrolled in the course or may have moved on from that section and not bother to answer. The instructor I interviewed mentioned that she’s found discussions are more involved when participation counts for part of the final course grade (thankfully, this is the case in my course!) and if that’s not the case, she suggested posting discussion questions similar to what students will encounter on the final exam (and letting them know that this is the case).

I was anticipating that the instructor would state that involvement in discussions was the area with which she struggled the most so I was surprised when she answered that what she struggled with the most was getting students up and running in the course and then keeping them on-track to actually complete the course. She suggested sending them a welcome email as soon as they register. This is something that I already do. I also will send them (future tense because I don’t yet have any students who have reached this point) an email letting them know when they are halfway through their allotted completion time and again when they have 1 month left to complete the course. Something I hadn’t contemplated which she suggested was that in addition to sending them a welcome email, to try and connect with them again after 2-3 weeks if you haven’t heard from them (and to continue to do so for 6-8 weeks). I haven’t been monitoring who has logged on to the course website and who hasn’t, so I think this is something I will begin to implement. One other thing she suggested which resonated with me was to send correspondence to both their TRU and personal emails because often the less engaged students don’t even realize that they have a TRU email account!

I’m glad I had the opportunity to interview this instructor – it helped me to feel confident about some of the things I was already doing and opened my eyes to some new approaches!

OTL301 Post 3 – Designed Alignment

One of the intended learning outcomes for my on-line course is: Critically assess research studies on human resilience to identify and discuss the findings and the limitations of the research as well as areas where future research is needed.

One learning activity that is aligned with this outcome is the writing of a short essay that evaluates the research on resilience. Students are asked to critically think about the research they’ve encountered throughout the course – how that research has evolved, key issues in the field, and areas still in need of research. They are also asked to explore and expand on their own personal thoughts/opinions about the topic – the areas they find most interesting and surprising.

I think linking topics you learn about to your own life experiences and personal thoughts/opinions helps foster the critical thinking process.

A second learning outcome for my on-line course is: Describe some of the practical applications or interventions suggested by the research on human resilience.

There are written assessments (i.e., short answer and essay) which ask the learners to consider and evaluate specific treatment programs/interventions. In addition, throughout the course, students are asked to participate in several web discussions – they must post their own discussion and they must comment on the discussion posts of others learners in the course (comment in a way that moves the discussion forward). I believe some of these posts, although not directly asking them about interventions, get them thinking about intervention possibilities, which I hope will help them evaluate the intervention programs that they learn about in the course readings. For instance, they are asked to discuss why they believe it is important to study resilience (here they start to think about the importance of varying aspects of resilience and their potential for application in intervention programs). Another post they are asked to submit requires them to find research on protective factors (related to resiliency) and discuss whether they believe these protective factors could generalize to other areas of adversity (and why or why not). Protective factors are one aspect that successful interventions must focus on, so it starts the students thinking along the lines of intervention design.

OTL201 Post 5 – Integrating Social Presence

2 concepts that have impacted my thoughts on student engagement and retention + a question: I was surprised by the research findings that various modes of media delivery (paper & pencil, projector, PPT, video, animation, etc.) do not have a significant impact on success in the course. I was not surprised that certain types of media increase student engagement more than others but I would think that as student engagement increases, so does success in the course. A question I have is, “what is the relationship between level of student engagement and successful completion of a course?”

I was also impacted by the definition of social presence as not only creating relationships (i.e., who is the real person behind the computer?) but also as identifying and promoting the academic purpose of the learning environment so as to facilitate a group identity…this notion that academic goals should precede the development of social relationships. I hadn’t really thought in terms of one building off the other like that, but it makes sense. If you can create a group identity, then this should facilitate the formation of personal relationships.

My rationale for implementing 1 or 2 course facilitation strategies to increase student retention and engagement: Two strategies I’d like to implement are the creation of a FAQ section and some tutorials to discuss key course concepts. I want to use these strategies so that students feel supported and motivated (i.e., create a safe learning environment). I also hope that the FAQ section will create some structure (students check this area to see if their question can be answered before emailing me).

2 goals I’d like to achieve regarding social presence and creating effective educational media: I’d like to increase my social presence by posting an introductory video and posting 1 tutorial per module (there are 4 modules) which would include a brief discussion of a key concept with an invitation for them to post comments and ask questions.

I’d also like to create a FAQ document. To do this, I will use questions that I receive from students via email and questions that I see in their posts. Because I am new to teaching this course, this document may take a bit of time to put together…thus far, there have been few questions.

OTL101 Post 5 – Reflections

I’ve chosen to showcase Post 2 because the idea of students as facilitators of their own learning really struck a chord with me.

The various levels of learning and levels of feedback were really useful to explore. I was aware that there were different ways to learn and different types of feedback to give, but had never contemplated a formalized typography.

As a result of the OTL101 course, I have a number of questions! I want to know how I can help my students reach a higher level of thinking/learning – specifically, how I can best guide them into the integration and resolution phases of the Practical Inquiry Model. I’m also wondering how I can best create a safe and comfortable environment so that my students feel at ease sharing their opinions and giving answers to questions even when they aren’t confident of their answer. I liked the idea in the feedback article that we learn best from our errors.

In terms of goals, I want to revamp my learning objectives in my course outlines so that they reflect a higher level of learning, and I want to tweak my assignments and classroom activities so that they are also reflective of a higher level of learning.

OTL101 Post 4: Feeding Up, Back, and Forward

I have always considered feedback to students as vitally important to their current level of learning and the level of learning that they wish to attend. I spend a great deal of time providing feedback to students on their assignments, and believe I do a good job of attaining the various levels of feedback described in the article. Students often thank me for the detailed feedback that I give them on assignments. I was happy to read that level 4 (the self) isn’t a hugely effective level of feedback because I don’t typically generate feedback at this level yet I’ve often felt like perhaps I should – now I know it’s okay not to!

Something I learned from reading the article was that feedback isn’t just through comments on assignments. I hadn’t thought about the value of students making errors while answering questions in class and I will certainly aim to create a classroom environment which fosters a feeling of comfort and safety so that students can be at ease answering questions even when they don’t fully know the answer.

OTL 101 Post 3: Reaching for the Depths – Deeper Learning Outcomes

1. What are the intended learning outcomes of the course? Do the learning outcomes reflect high-level cognitive skills or low-level skills?
The learning outcomes for my course (Psychology of Resilience) are:

After you have completed the work in this course, you should be able to:
a. Define “resilience” as it relates to psychology.
b. Describe protective and risk factors at the levels of the individual, the family, and the community.
c. Explain how individual, family, and community protective factors can increase resilience (i.e., act as buffers) in at-risk individuals and populations.
d. Describe some of the practical applications or interventions suggested by the research on human resilience.
e. Critically assess research studies on human resilience to identify and discuss the findings and the limitations of the research as well as areas where future research is needed.

I believe learning outcome “e” is reflective of high-level cognitive skills – asking students to critically assess the material and to reflect on and hypothesize about ideas for future research requires the use of relational thinking that can be applied to different situations.

That being said, I believe that learning outcomes “a – d” are more reflective of surface level understanding. This is the higher, multistructural level, but surface nonetheless. Having students describe and explain is good because it leads to students identifying more than one relevant aspect of an idea, but it does not necessarily generate understanding or an ability to create a coherent relational model of these ideas (as depicted in the SOLO model).

2 & 3. How is student learning assessed in the course? In what ways are the intended learning outcomes and the assessments aligned or not?

Students are required to submit 4 assignments, post a series of web-based discussions, and complete a final project exam. Each of the 4 assignments is divided into sections.

Part A asks questions with a pre-formed correct answer (e.g., defining and describing terms and suggestions made by the authors of the papers assigned as course material). Although it’s important for students to understand the key concepts of the course, this is reflective of surface learning. However, it does relate to the learning outcomes, specifically outcomes “a – d.” In addition, there are a number of questions in each Part A that asks students to apply concepts on a broader scale than what they’ve read in the assigned readings. For instance, having them imagine a certain scenario and then asking them which concept (e.g., “x, y, or z”) would apply and why, and asking them to make links to other concepts. This is reflective of learning outcome “e” (i.e., deep learning) because it asks them to reflect on aspects of a number of concepts and hypothesize/theorize about the application of these concepts to a new domain.

Part B of each assignment, well as the Final project is essay-format. These essays are most reflective of learning outcome “e” (i.e., deep learning) because they ask students to connect concepts/topics, to reflect on them with by suggesting their own ideas, and to critically analyze statements that are made.

The web-based discussions, seem to me, to be reflective of learning outcome “e” (i.e., deep learning) because students are asked to connect their ideas to those posted by other students – to reflect their own thoughts, to critically analyze what others have posted, and to make connections and new suggestions based on the relationship between concepts posted.

4. Re-word some of the learning outcomes to reflect deeper learning:
“After you have completed the work in this course, you should be able to: Define “resilience” as it relates to psychology.”
Re-wording: “After you have completed the work in this course, you should be able to: Have an integrated understanding of resilience and be able to critically analyze its application to various topics within psychology.”

“After you have completed the work in this course, you should be able to: Describe some of the practical applications or interventions suggested by the research on human resilience.”
Re-wording: “After you have completed the work in this course, you should be able to: Compare and contrast some of the practical applications or interventions suggested by the research on human resilience as well as generate your own ideas for interventions that would be worthy of research.”

OTL101 Post 2: Musings on Cognitive Presence

Something that stood out to me is that although I recognize that I often learn from my students (in a face-to-face context…I’ve yet to teach on-line), I think that I’ve neglected to recognize how much students learn from each other. The article certainly indicated that the teacher plays an important role as the facilitator and yet, the students are also facilitators of their learning process.

For the teacher, I think one of the most important steps in creating a learning environment that promotes cognitive presence is in the design of activities and discussion questions that promote reflection and discourse. It’s not just about having activities that rely on factually-based answers, but rather activities that broaden one’s perspectives and encourages one to think outside the box – to amalgamate information from a variety of sources, including one’s own personal experience.

I concur with some of the statements made by other bloggers for posts “101 #2”, that the focus must be on higher order thinking processes and an emphasis on community that encourages debate, problem-solving, and idea integration.

My question is, “How do we best guide students into each phase of the Practical Inquiry Model?” I’m especially curious about tactics to guide students into the integration and resolution phases because these seemed to have the least amount of engagement in Garrison et al.’s study.