Teaching Online: What Have We Learned?

On Friday, October 9, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted an online session, “Teaching Online: What Have We Learned?” where faculty were able to share and discuss best practices based on their experiences teaching online.  Mike Reese, director of the CER and faculty member in Sociology, and Allon Brann, teaching support specialist at the CER, moderated the discussion, structuring it with a few guiding questions as outlined below:

What is something you are doing differently this semester online that you will continue to do when you are back in the classroom?

Jamie Young from Chemistry described how he is using tools such as MS Teams and Slack to build classroom community. He anticipated students feeling isolated in an online environment, so he set up spaces for casual conversation for them to communicate and get to know one another. He said it has definitely encouraged and increased conversation among students. When asked how he motivates students to participate in these environments, Young responded that he made their participation a very small part of their grade. Young and his TAs make it a point to respond right away when students post to these spaces so that students know this is an active space and that they are being heard. This level of responsiveness has also helped boost participation. Back in the classroom, Young plans to continue using these tools for informal office hours.

Rachel Sangree from Civil and Systems Engineering shared that she has been holding evening office hours and what a difference it has made in the number of students who attend.  Acknowledging that it is sometimes exhausting, she stated that she sees more students now than ever before. When we’re back in the classroom, Sangree plans to continue to hold evening office hours, but perhaps not quite as late as she offers currently.

Alison Papadakis from Psychological and Brain Sciences described how she has adapted the “think pair share” active learning strategy to an online environment. Students are split into groups and assigned breakout rooms in Zoom, then use Google Sheets to record their ideas and notes while they’re in the rooms. This allows Papadakis to monitor the progress of students without having to manually drop in to each of the rooms. She is also able to add her own comments directly to the sheets in real time as students work on them. It was noted that separate tabs are created for each group in Google Sheets, so each group has its own space to work.  Initially Papadakis was concerned that students would feel like she was ‘spying’ on them and wouldn’t like this method, but so far the feedback has been positive.  Jamie Young shared a tutorial he put together on this topic: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uvRB38GHIKNaxQL-dN-9vpWgC43Yslssyz_jh2uPtno/edit

Francois Furstenberg from History shared how he is using the e-reader platform Perusall which allows students to collaboratively annotate their online readings. The annotations inform Furstenberg what parts of the readings students are finding interesting and are helping to shape the in-class discussions. He plans to continue using this platform when in-person classes resume. It was noted that instructors need to have copyright permission before uploading reading material to Perusall. If they have questions about obtaining copyright, they are encouraged to contact their university librarian.

David Kraemer from Mechanical Engineering mentioned that he mailed USB oscilloscope boards and a kit of devices to each of his students so they could perform “hands-on” experiments at home. He recognizes the value of these kits whether or not students are learning online, and plans to keep using them when in person classes resume.

Joshua Reiter from the Center for Leadership Education described how he adjusted his approach to assessments by breaking up large exams into more frequent quizzes throughout the semester.  Some of these quizzes were meant to be ‘fun’ quizzes for participation points, but he noticed that students were feeling pressured when taking them, defeating their purpose. Reiter changed them from individual to group quizzes, using the breakout room feature in Zoom.  Since then, he’s noticed a significant reduction in stress among the students.

 

What is something that you are still struggling with?

Several faculty members mentioned that their workload is significantly higher this semester as they do their best to recreate their lessons online.  Some feel like they are putting in three times the normal amount of preparation time and as a result, are experiencing technological overload, having to learn and keep up with so many tools. Many faculty mentioned that their students are feeling this way, too.  It was suggested that adding technology should be done in a purposeful way and that faculty should not feel compelled to use all of the available tools. Some faculty acknowledged that although it has been very challenging, they have learned a great deal about tools that are out there, and which ones seem to work better for students.

Similarly, a faculty member mentioned how difficult it is to multitask within the online environment; for example, keeping up with the chat window in Zoom while lecturing synchronously. Many faculty agreed, commenting that they feel pressured to keep up with everything going on and that it often feels like a performance. Someone commented that sharing concerns with the students helps to humanize the situation, while setting realistic expectations helps to take pressure off of instructors. One instructor mentioned how he purposely builds pauses into his lectures to allow himself time to catch up. Others mentioned that they use their TAs to monitor the chat window; if the instructor does not have a TA, he or she could ask a student.  Another general suggestion is to ask students what works best for them, instead of trying to monitor everything.

Academic integrity was another issue that came up. At least one instructor acknowledged multiple instances of students cheating since moving online, while others shared that they are concerned it may happen to them. A brief discussion followed, with instructors sharing strategies they use to try and mitigate cheating: using online monitoring tools, lowering weights of exams, making all exams open-book/open-note, and placing more emphasis on project-based work.

Some technical questions also came up, such as how to recreate an interactive whiteboard. The responses ranged from configuring Powerpoint in a certain way to using multiple devices. Jamie Young shared a tutorial he put together that uses Open Broadcaster Software (OBS): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JXptPGjnAOiqbpvrXJPGWDcbqE_l95C6Cm0moYpaelk/edit?usp=sharing  Faculty are welcome to contact the CER for help with this and other specific technological challenges.

Anything you would like to share with others?

A few faculty members shared how they are taking advantage of the online environment. Andrew Cherlin from Sociology mentioned how much easier it is to schedule outside guests, such as authors, since there are no travel arrangements, logistics, etc. to be worked out. He has had several guests this semester already. Cherlin also described how he has taken advantage of Zoom to meet with each student individually for about fifteen minutes to check in with them and make sure they are on track. He acknowledged that this is not practical for large courses, but it has been very beneficial to those in his seminar style course.

Lori Finkelstein from Museum Studies described how being online has reshaped her assignments. She usually has students go out into the field to different museums to conduct research. This semester, students are taking a look at what museums are offering virtually and whether or not they are successful, what seems to be working, what is not working, etc.

Lester Spence from Political Science is teaching a course with instructors from Goucher College and Towson University. Students from all three schools are collaborating together as they work on group projects, something that would not necessarily be possible in a face-to-face environment.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Building Community in an Online Course

Although a formal decision has yet to be made about the Fall 2020 semester here at Johns Hopkins, many instructors are beginning to prepare for the possibility of teaching online. Building community in an online course can be a challenge, especially if instructors are used to teaching in a face-to-face environment. The strategies below are meant to provide students with a sense of belonging, reduce feelings of isolation, and ultimately help keep them engaged throughout the course. 

Let students get to know you, take time to get to know them:

  • create a short video introducing yourself, including some personal details, not just academic credentials
  • convey enthusiasm for the course
  • create a survey asking students about themselves, their level of comfort with technology, what timezone they are in, etc.

Create opportunities for students to get to know each other:

  • use ice breaker activities: ‘introduce yourself’ discussion board forum, intro videos, etc. Relate the activity back to course content if possible (e.g,. “What is something innovative about your hometown?” used in an Urban Studies course.)
  • design activities that require student interaction: group work, peer review, etc.   

Create a safe and inclusive environment:

  • invite all voices to the room – listen to students, validate their points, and when possible, weave their examples into your lecture (Schmitt)
  • if possible, dedicate the first part of class to allow students to share challenges, coping strategies
  • if possible, hold some synchronous sessions to allow students to see each other
  • acknowledge and share your own struggles
  • remind students of the basic principles of netiquette when communicating online
  • facilitate a group discussion around setting ground rules and/or mutual expectations for dialogue and collaboration in class   

Communicate regularly/Be Present in the Course:

  • post daily/weekly announcements
  • send weekly email check-ins
  • remind learners about due dates, special events, share authentic news, share grading progress on assessments
  • encourage questions: set up a Q and A discussion board forum
  • make a commitment to respond promptly (daily, every other day) to student posts on discussion boards
  • consider using video in your communication with students at least some of the time, as they appreciate seeing and hearing directly from the instructor  

 

References: 

Schmitt, R. (2020, May 14). Fostering Online Student Success in the Face of COVID-19. The Scholarly Teacherhttps://www.scholarlyteacher.com/post/fostering-online-student-success-in-the-face-of-covid-19?fbclid=IwAR3v8lBQhOxT5fFU_q1HahnJVg6nCEvfGqeD_ZZHQ7gZHZkkH0LHuFGcX6g 

Amy Brusini
Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Navigating Grades During Covid-19 

Like many other universities nationwide, Johns Hopkins has made the decision to forgo letter grades this semester for its undergraduates. Faculty in the Krieger and Whiting schools have been instructed to use the special designation S*/U* this semester. On Friday, April 3, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted an online session, “Transitioning to S/U Grading.” Jessie Martin, Assistant Dean, Office of Academic Advising, and Janet Weise, Assistant Dean, Office of Undergraduate Affairs, provided an overview of JHU’s updated grading policy which was followed by a question and answer sharing session, moderated by Allon Brann from the CER.  

Highlights of the grading policy for both KSAS and WSE faculty include: 

  • All AS and EN undergraduate students will receive S* or U* grades for the spring 2020 semester(The asterisk (*) distinguishes this semester from a regular S/U grade given during past semesters.) There will be a semester-specific transcript notation explaining that students were not eligible for a letter grade.
  • This applies to the AS and EN undergraduate students regardless of the fact that they may be in graduate level courses or in courses offered by other schools. 
  • There will be an option to assign a grade of I/U*
  • Faculty may have students enrolled in their undergraduate classes who are grad students and/or from other JHU schools and therefore have different emergency grading systems.  

More details about the policy can be found here:
KSAShttps://krieger.jhu.edu/covid19/teaching/
WSEhttps://engineering.jhu.edu/novel-coronavirus-information/faculty-undergrad-grading-faqs/
(Note: the links are different, but the information is identical for both the Krieger and Whiting Schools)

Session participants shared strategies in terms of how to move forward with grading this semester, which are summarized below:  

  • Consulting the studentsOne faculty member shared how she consulted with her students to help decide how to move her course forward this semester. She facilitated student discussions and allowed them a say in how things would be adapted. The outcome: course work has been scaled back, but no assessments have been eliminated. For example, instead of students turning in a full assignment, they now have to submit a list of bullet points highlighting the main ideas, or an outline instead of a full analysis. Lectures have been replaced by students working in groups through Zoom and then regrouping as a full class to report outThe faculty member has been very pleased with the results noting that because students were involved in the decision-making, they are working even harder because they chose this path.  
    Another idea related to consulting students mentioned by a CER staff member is to ask students how they are going to demonstrate that they’ve met the goals of the course.  
  • Using technology to monitor students:  Another faculty member described how Zoom can take attendancerecord how many minutes students are on a call, and even how attentive they are during a sessionShe also mentioned the detailed statistics provided by Panopto (lecture capture software) that records which video recordings students have viewed and for how longWhile it is possible to incorporate this information into students’ grades, this faculty member stated she prefers to use these tools in a more informal way to monitor students and flag those who are not engaged. 
    A CER staff member mentioned additional ways faculty are using technology, including: 
    • Embedding quizzes inside of Panopto as a knowledge check while watching video recordings. 
    • Creating a Blackboard quiz that is dependent on students having watched a video recording or attended a Zoom session.
  • Alternate grading strategiesA list of alternate grading strategies shared by the CER that may be useful in adjusting your approach this semester or in future semesters. 
  • Specific S/U grading approaches: A list of approaches shared by the CER that might be worth considering as you transition to S/U grading this semester.

What modifications, if any, are you making in order to shift to S/U? We encourage you to share your ideas in the comments section. 

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

 

Enhancing Classroom Communication Through Slack

A few months ago, I posted about Slack, and some ideas for how it could be used in the classroom. In the article, I mentioned that JHU Professor Jennifer Bernstein regularly uses Slack to communicate with students in her classes. Since that time, we followed up with Professor Bernstein to find out more about her experience.

The following is a guest post by Jennifer Bernstein, Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education, Whiting School of Engineering, Johns Hopkins University.

The culture of the medical profession is continually evolving; issues ranging from the cost of health care to demographic changes are just some of the factors influencing the culture surrounding medical professionals in the United States. As an instructor in this field, it is imperative to keep things as current for students as possible. In my class, Culture of the Medical Profession, I am constantly integrating new content from the news, twitter feeds, Instagram, and other sources. When newsworthy items arise, which is multiple times per week, I need to be able to notify students about these developments quickly and efficiently. I also want to spark conversation among the students about these developments as they happen. In Blackboard, where much of my course content resides, the synchronous communication tools available do not offer me an effective solution to keeping students informed and up-to-date; I find posting new content in Blackboard cumbersome and time-consuming, and the chat areas offer little interest when compared with commonly used platforms like Twitter.

Most of the students in my Culture of the Medical Profession class are in the pre-professional program and are planning to go on to medical school, dental school, or some other clinical training program. One of the course goals is for students to explore challenges faced by health professionals on a daily basis and why they are relevant for students considering a life in medicine; following the ongoing conversations about these challenges provides students with an awareness of what issues they may face once they commit to the field. Another goal is to provide students with a platform to communicate their own thoughts and ideas about these issues with me and with each other. In addition to the benefits of being exposed to various perspectives on each of the issues, this exercise helps students learn to clearly convey their ideas and findings to various professional audiences. I need a tool that will accommodate both of these goals: a way to immediately share relevant current events and enable students to effectively communicate about them.

About three years ago, I discovered Slack, an online communication tool used for project management and information sharing. I was on a joint JHU-MIT research team that was using it and soon came to realize how easy it was to synchronously and asynchronously communicate and share resources with other members of the group. In particular, we had fun sharing relevant news items, commenting on those items, or leaving emojis when we were short on time. Slack seemed like a natural fit for my class so I decided to give it a try.

I created a workspace in Slack for my class, which was separate from my research workspace. Slack workspaces are organized into ‘channels’ which are similar to chat rooms dedicated to specific topics. In my case, I created a channel for each topic on my syllabus. The names of channels are preceded by hash tags (e.g., #mededucation, #costsofcare, etc.). Once the Slack space was set up, I walked students through the mechanics of using it. Many of them had used it before and/or currently had their own accounts because they work in research labs and other academic environments that commonly utilize Slack, so they caught on quickly.

I let students know at the beginning of the term that their participation in Slack would count towards their overall participation grade. Two to three times each week I posted articles, tweets, etc. and provided brief commentary on the relevance. I posted not only in whatever channel/topic we were currently studying but also across the other hashtags. Students almost immediately responded with their own articles, reactions, links, etc. Sometimes the online discussions were so lively that they continued into our next face-to-face class meeting. Students also realized they could have conversations with individuals, separate from the group, so there were often several side conversations going on at the same time.

Since using Slack, the level of engagement in online class discussions has been consistently high. Students post to channels on their own, unprompted. Many of the issues covered in class are controversial and not always easy to talk about face to face. Slack provides a safe space to discuss and consider various perspectives of these issues; I’ve noticed that it also gives the quieter students an outlet to participate more confidently.

Community building has also been enhanced by using Slack. In general, I structure my classes so that about half of the time is lecture-based and the other half is some sort of group activity. Because of their frequent interactions on Slack, students now get to know one another beyond the small groups they are assigned to during class. Out of class, they slack each other relevant articles, links, etc. pertaining to whatever project they’re working on.

Feedback from previous students about Slack has been very positive; because of the continuous, up-to-date exposure to various issues in the medical field and the opportunity to communicate about them, students report feeling much more confident and prepared for medical school interviews. According to students, interviewers have been very impressed with their knowledge, passion, and level of commitment.

A few of my previous students, now currently in their gap year or training, continue to participate in the course’s Slack space because they want to keep up with current issues. This has been extremely beneficial to myself and my current students.  As an instructor, it allows me to check in with them to see if there are any changes I should consider making to the course. For current students, it’s a connection to someone in the field, with an authentic perspective.

On the administrative side of things, Slack has definitely saved me time and frustration. It’s a snap to add/update links and notify students of any changes. There are also features that allow instructors to track student participation, if desired. Instructors can opt-in to an automatically generated weekly summary of usage statistics showing how many messages were posted, etc. There is also a powerful search feature in Slack which allows instructors to search and view posts made by individual students. If a discussion happens to get out of hand, instructors (as owners of a Slack space) have the ability to delete inappropriate posts and close it down if necessary.

Instructors have a range of options as they consider how to effectively communicate and share information with their students. Slack is working very well in my class of 19-25 students, but I recognize that it may not be the best tool for all classes. Instructors with large lecture classes, for example, might be challenged to use it effectively. Although I’m not there yet, I’m trying to figure out ways to use Slack in my other classes.  In the meantime, it challenges me to make sure students in Culture of the Medical Profession see the relevance of the class beyond just an academic exercise and realize its value in their life’s work and experiences.

Jennifer Bernstein, Lecturer
Center for Leadership Education, Johns Hopkins University

Jennifer Bernstein is a lecturer in the Center for Leadership Education and has 20 years of experience working on WHO-, industry-, U.S. government-funded research studies and clinical trials. She is an alum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and teaches a number of courses including Culture of the Medical Profession and Technical Writing.

Image Source: Pixabay, Jennifer Bernstein

Using Slack in the Classroom

If you aren’t already using it, chances are you have probably heard of the online communication platform known as Slack. Slack is a cloud-based software program that is used for project management, information sharing, individual and group communication, as well as synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.  There are free and paid plans available; the main difference between the plans is the number of messages that are accessible (10,000 with the free plan) and how many third-party tools are supported (10 with the free plan).  What began in 2013 as a mode for inter-office conversation between two business offices has quickly expanded to hundreds of workplaces worldwide as well as many classrooms.

With the number of existing communication tools already available, you may be wondering how this one differs and why you might consider using it. Slack is organized into ‘channels’ which are like chat rooms dedicated to specific conversations. Messages posted to a channel can be seen by everyone who subscribes to that channel or directed to specific individuals and kept private. Unlike traditional chat rooms which may be hard to follow, Slack supports threading, which allows participants to respond directly to posts within a channel without interrupting the overall flow of conversation. Slack integrates with several third-party services, such as Box, Google Drive, and Dropbox, as well as developer platforms such as GitHub and Bitbucket. It also has a powerful search feature, making it easy to find files and specific topics in cross-channel conversations.

Slack was designed with efficiency in mind, therefore communication tends to be succinct and streamlined. Generally speaking, participants write short, direct messages closer in style to a messaging app without the ‘formality’ often used when composing an email. While this lack of formality may take some getting used to, many students are already accustomed to this style which they frequently use in various social media apps and when texting. Also unlike email, Slack follows more of an ‘opt-in’ model, where users can join in on conversations they feel are relevant and ignore those that are not.  Settings are available to determine how often users are notified of messages being posted.

The following is a list of possible ways instructors can use Slack in the classroom:

  • Share information – Create channels for posting announcements, sharing articles, links, relevant content, etc. Students can immediately ask questions or comment on the post which could lead to a dialogue around a specific topic. This may help to engage students in the topic as well as build a sense of community in the class.
  • Manage group projects – Each group can have its own channel to collaborate, share files, and communicate with each other. Instructors can post resources for groups in their specific channels and periodically check in and offer assistance as needed.
  • Crowdsource class notes – Create a channel for students to contribute main ideas from notes taken in class. This could eventually be used to create a study guide.
  • Poll the class – Slack includes a free polling tool which can be used to survey students for a variety of reasons in real-time, during class, or asynchronously, outside of class. Polls are optionally anonymous.
  • Include experts ‘in the field’ – Invite subject matter experts and/or those working ‘in the field’ to Slack so they can participate in conversations and answer student questions. JHU instructor Jennifer Bernstein invites former students to stay involved in her Slack channels so that current students can benefit from the perspective of someone who has recently graduated and is now working in the medical profession.
  • Monitor student engagement – Slack provides an optional weekly summary of usage statistics, including charts and graphs showing how many messages were posted, files uploaded, etc.

If you decide to use Slack in a classroom environment, there are some considerations to keep in mind. For example, there is no FERPA compliance in Slack. Sensitive data such as grades and personal information should not be shared in Slack spaces. Instructors should be clear with students about what types of conversations are appropriate for Slack, and what might be better served in an email or face-to-face. Another thing to consider is the capability available to members (students) that are invited to a Slack space. Instructors may be surprised with the permissions and features available to students (i.e. the ability to create their own channels). Therefore, it is recommended that instructors familiarize themselves with the established permissions of Slack before getting started.  Finally, it may be worth noting that Slack is not a course management system (Blackboard, Canvas, etc.), and does not contain many of the features available in those systems, such as a gradebook, assignment creator, rubrics tool, etc. It may, however, provide an interesting, alternative means of communication in relevant situations as determined by the instructor.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image sources: Slack logo, Phil Simon: How I Use Slack in the Classroom

Lunch and Learn: Alternatives to the Traditional Textbook

On Thursday, October 25, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted Logo for Lunch and Learn program showing the words Lunch and Learn in orange with a fork above and a pen below the lettering. Faculty Conversations on Teaching at the bottom.the first Lunch and Learn for the 2018-2019 academic year. Marian Feldman, Professor and Chair of History of Art, Professor of Near Eastern Studies; and Joanne Selinski, Associate Teaching Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Computer Science; presented on Alternatives to the Traditional Textbook.

Marian Feldman started with a presentation on the Open Educational Resource (OER) she created several years ago for her courses on ancient Mesopotamian art [see slides]. She commented that Mesopotamian art may seem esoteric; not many people are readily familiar with the subject matter. Mesopotamian culture began in the 10th millennium BCE, centered in (but at times extending well beyond) what is now Iraq, and flourished in the Bronze and Iron Ages with the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Neo-Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian empires from the 3rd millennium to the 6th century BCE.

“Open Educational Resources are free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes.” (creativecommons.org) Feldman’s motivation for creating OER for her course stemmed in large part from the fact that there was no good textbook available. The only text, The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient (Frankfort) was published in 1954, and though new editions were released up until 1996, the material was not updated. In 2017, a new text, Art of Mesopotamia (Bahrani), was published, but at $90 a copy, Feldman plans to stick with the OER she developed as a free alternative for her students that is also more directly relevant to the materials she covers.

The OER has other value as well. When Mesopotamian art is introduced in a standard survey of art course, a $90 textbook is overkill, while the modularity of her OER works perfectly for an introductory approach. Feldman was also interested in highlighting these works of art in a time when many cultural heritage sites and objects in the region have been destroyed or are under threat. The OER as an open resource puts information in the public domain where it is easily accessible.

Screen shot of OpenStax CNX website home page.Feldman applied for and won Technology Fellowship Grants (2015 and 2016) from the Center for Educational Resources (CER) that allowed her to work with two graduate students in Near Eastern Studies, Megan Lewis and Avary Taylor, to undertake the project. The CER advised her on a platform for sharing the modules—OpenStax CNX at Rice University. From the website: “OpenStax publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks that are absolutely free online and low cost in print.” OpenStax CNX was a good fit because Feldman was not particularly technology oriented, and it offered a relatively easy-to-use platform. She also liked the “knowledge chunks” concept where content modules can be aggregated into a custom “text” for students. The platform uses a Creative Commons license and content is freely accessible to all.

Feldman and her graduate students created 15 modules over two years. Each module is stand alone, and many incorporate videos. The modules can be downloaded as a PDF—which students found useful for study purposes—although multimedia content such as videos is not viewable in the PDF. She noted that because the platform is open, she cannot track use by individual students to be sure that they are viewing the modules. However, end-of-course surveys of the students indicated that they had found the OER modules to be valuable course content. She received positive feedback from colleagues as well. The one complaint from students was that at times the platform was slow, particularly when playing multimedia clips and downloading materials.

There were challenges with creating the OER modules. Feldman acknowledged that it was a lot of work. All multimedia content—images, videos, interactive materials—had to be in the public domain or permission had to be obtained from the rights holders. There were some technological challenges with the platform. Feldman described it as “clunky” at times. The built in HTML editor was easy to use, but limiting for formatting purposes. She had hoped that having the students use the modules might allow her to do less in-class lecturing, but that was not the case.

Feldman has run some analytics on the modules, using Google Analytics, and discovered that beyond her own use (and that of her students), the modules have been viewed by others, but perhaps not as much as she might have hoped. Over a 12-month period excluding JHU use, the various modules were viewed between 6 and 150 times. There was a big spread on the IP access—viewers came to the site from around the world. The relatively small numbers of viewers for her modules on OpenStax CNX are in contrast to a TED-Ed Animation project she worked on during the same time period, targeted at the K-12 constituency. The Rise and Fall of the Assyrian Empire has received over a million views!

zyBooks website home page screenshot.Joanne Selinski introduced the audience to zyBooks, billed as an affordable, interactive, online textbook platform for STEM disciplines. Selinski is piloting the use of a zyBook for the Gateway Computing course she is teaching, although she had previously used a limited version of zyBooks in teaching a Java course. While zyBooks is not free, it is relatively low-cost, about $50 per student depending on instructor customizations.

Selenski noted that she had the opposite problem from Feldman—her field, computer science, is constantly changing and advancing so that texts become outdated quickly and must be updated frequently. Print texts simply can’t keep up with the changing curriculum. Moreover, courses are not standardized across departments and institutions, so a standardized text may not be flexible enough for adaptation to a particular curriculum. And, every instructor teaches standard courses differently, so there really is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all textbook. Thus the discipline has seen a move from print books to courseware on interactive platforms.

In Selinski’s experience, students didn’t read textbooks and she would have to repeat the information in class. Homework assignments applied the work done in class. Using zyBooks allowed her to flip her class model, with students learning concepts outside of class and doing applied work in class individually or in groups. She had wanted to flip her class previously, but didn’t want to use only videos for outside-of-class instruction. While she does use some videos as a supplement, zyBooks provided a great overall solution.

Selinski gave a demonstration of the customized zyBook that she developed for her Gateway Computing course. The modules are a mix of various types of demonstrations and exercises interspersed with fill-in-the-blank, true-false, and multiple choice questions. She finds that the quizzing while doing method is beneficial to student learning. There are challenge activities for students looking for more advanced work, but they are not required as in-class group work covers the challenge material. Everything is auto-graded. Selinski can choose which assignments will be graded. The biggest benefit is that students get introduced to the core material before they come to class.

Selinski noted that the company worked closely with her (and other JHU faculty in the pilot) to develop their texts from a menu of pre-created modules. She liked that zyBooks offers lots of options for customization. The interface is easy to use. She can add notes on the modules for specific instructions or to make comments. More advanced students can take advantage of extra materials. She was able to add a student who enrolled in the class late and change the deadlines/due dates for that individual. And, she can see who has done what in terms of the on-line work. Overall, zyBooks has great reporting features. Her one caveat was that students won’t do work unless it is required.

Because this is the first semester of use, she does not yet have data on student response to the platform, however informal comments suggest that students like it overall. She responded to student complaints that too much was required in the early part of the semester and reduced required material to some extent. She will like be more selective when using zyBooks next semester.

A lively discussion followed the presentations. There was a question about whether material from these alternative texts could be integrated into Blackboard, JHU’s course management system. In both cases, the answer is no, that these are separate platforms. Links to material can be provided in Blackboard, but the content resides on the platform—OpenStax or zyBooks.

Selinski was asked to elaborate on what students do during class time. Classes are small sections of 19 or fewer students, and she has a teaching assistant, so she can have them working individually or in small groups and oversee them all. Generally, there is an in-class assignment, activity, or problem to be solved that reflects the material covered in zyBooks. Sometimes students are working on paper, others times on their laptops, other times on the board. For some activities she may do a brief lecture for background before the students start working.

There were questions about the zyBooks platform, course development, and subscription model, and the availability of materials for students on both platforms after a course has ended. Selinski elaborated that zyBooks offers general texts that are updated frequently and can be customized by each instructor for their use. A course can be saved and copied for use in a subsequent semester. There is no sharing across institutions—another institution cannot readily see a JHU instance of a course. Students subscriptions are for the duration of the semester; after which they cannot access the course. They are able to download PDFs of content during the semester they are enrolled. Feldman noted that OpenStax CNX is by nature open and free accessible to anyone at any time.

There was some discussion about the benefits of interactivity, and there was agreement that modality should match the content being presented. As for print versus online, it is clear that it may come down to personal preference–some prefer reading online while others want a hard copy of a text. Feldman noted that the evolution of the Internet has led to a re-thinking of the concept of an intellectual canon for an area of humanistic study. The Internet allows a break from such narratives with inherent advantages and drawbacks. This has implications for how faculty teach and students learn. [See M.H. Feldman, Rethinking the Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Art in the Internet Age, Published Online: 2017-06-22, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/janeh-2016-0002.]

Finally, Mike Reese, Associate Dean of University Libraries, Director of the CER, and lecturer in Sociology, offered another alternative to the textbook that is free to students. In the courses he teaches he is committed to students not having to pay for textbooks. Instead he assigns materials such as e-books and research articles that are available to students through the library. This Lunch and Learn session demonstrated that there is more than one way to lower the cost of textbook materials for your students.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Sources: Web page screenshots

Consider the OER (Open Educational Resource)

I should first disclose that I am not a longstanding, seasoned user of online strategies in my pedagogy. In fact, aside from very basic use such as posting images online for my students to review, my first real foray into systematic, thought-through online pedagogical strategies began in the summer of 2015.

A stitched image showing the Ishtar gate of Babylon in full view. Pergamon Museum, Berlin.In my discipline, specifically the study of Mesopotamian art but more broadly art history, I see two somewhat different audiences for online resources: 1) students (or student-like users) looking for content about art history; and 2) educators looking for pedagogical support/sharing related to the teaching of art history.

With respect to online resources for student-like users, two main trends in online pedagogy are apparent: 1) how to recreate and/or enhance the kind of activities that take place in face-to-face teaching; 2) how to add to, that is do something different, from the kind of activities that take place in face-to-face teaching.

My own foray into online pedagogy was primarily aimed at student-like users, although a secondary audience of other educators is also relevant because of the open-access nature of my project.

The arts of Mesopotamia – the “land between the rivers” in what is today Iraq and Syria – represent some of the earliest complex artworks dating back to 3500. Works from intricately carved seals to sculpture offer a wealth of arts that inform on the social, political, economic, and religious spheres of multiple ancient cultures, including Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria. The cultural heritage of Mesopotamia is particularly threatened at the moment due to the current political situation in Iraq and Syria.

Teaching this material at the undergraduate level, however, is a challenge as there is no reliable, up-to-date textbook available; the most recent usable textbook dates to 1954 (H. Frankfort, Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient). Publication of a traditional, hard-copy textbook now is considered financially impractical.

In the spring of 2015, pursuing a Technology Fellows grant from the CER, I proposed a solution: to create on-line modules to be used in teaching my course Palaces, Temples and Tombs in Mesopotamia in fall 2015. These modules are designed as Open Education Resources (OER) using a pre-existing Internet platform, OpenStax CNX, hosted through Rice University, which promotes the production of small “knowledge chunks” in an open license venue. Materials for the modules consist of freely available content and content created by me and my graduate student fellows, Megan Lewis and Avary Taylor.

What is an OER? From the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation “Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”

OER modules of instruction permit multi-media and non-traditional formats for conveying information, including virtual reconstructions and walk-throughs, videos, and hyperlinking in addition to providing up-to-date informational entries for the ancient artworks. For my course, I envisioned these modules as a means of engaging students before actual face time in the classroom in order to concentrate on discussion and exploration of the complex conceptual aspects of Mesopotamian art and culture during class time.

Over the 6-month period of the fellowship, five different modules were created and posted to the website at OpenStax CNX. They were an enormous asset to the class, because they provided background information and discussion points that were up-to-date in their content and specifically formulated to align with my class lectures and discussion. The modules also included helpful videos and virtual reconstructions of the ancient art that provided a fuller understanding for the students.

The online modules were evaluated through an online survey, developed with the aid of CER, and available to the students through JHU’s Blackboard (learning management system). All 12 students completed the anonymous survey, which consisted of 5 questions. 83.3% of the respondents said the modules were “very successful” in providing information related to the course content, while the remaining 16.7% said they were “somewhat successful.” The responses to the other questions were also generally quite positive, with appreciation for the multimedia components and for the fact that the modules aligned well with the lectures. Respondents found least useful about the modules some formatting issues inherent in the platform we used, and a few noted that they were slow to download.

Beyond the student reactions, I have had positive responses from colleagues in the field who expressed gratitude for making freely accessible materials on Mesopotamian art available.

The one downside for me was that the OERs did not necessarily promote a higher level of discussion as I had hoped; the modules were still too close to a textbook in terms of how students interacted with the materials

There were a few issues that we faced in developing the content, one of which was copyright.  We had to rely on what was freely available online and that sometimes meant using videos that contained inaccurate material. We also had to work with the OpenStax CNX version of an html coding program that made certain things difficult to manipulate and constrained format in terms of relationship of image to text.

These drawbacks did not discourage me from using OERs. In spring 2016, I received an additional grant through the CER’s Technology Fellows program to produce more modules for my teaching with the assistance of graduate student fellows Megan Lewis and Avary Taylor.

The modules can be accessed through various search mechanisms on the OpenStax CNX website, including through the authors’ names: Marian Feldman, Megan Lewis, and Avary Taylor. They are:

  1. Cylinder Seals and the Development of Writing in Early Mesopotamia http://cnx.org/contents/863d1f28-bad9-42ab-a74c-c602256f9908@1/Cylinder-Seals-and-the-Develop
  2. Ur III: Continuity and Erasure http://cnx.org/contents/30f1bbbc-6341-4e2a-8d2a-53600a36a30d@1/Ur-III-Continuity-and-Erasure
  3. Late Bronze Age Internationalism and the International Artistic Style http://cnx.org/contents/98680d11-2374-4a98-aa91-d2708e2beff1@3/Late-Bronze-Age-Internationali
  4. Neo-Assyrian Palace Reliefs of Kings Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II http://cnx.org/contents/299a9d11-5c05-49c8-9844-6f042208b15c@1/Neo-Assyrian-Palace-Reliefs-of
  5. The Ancient City of Babylon http://cnx.org/contents/d49e45c8-931e-4dfd-a3e3-1d0dc0008d55@1/The-Ancient-City-of-Babylon
  6. Mesopotamian Votive Statuary from the Early Dynastic Period https://cnx.org/contents/k64PgmY0@1/Mesopotamian-Votive-Statuary-f
  7. Mesopotamian Cosmology and Mythology https://cnx.org/contents/OCYI18Df@1/Mesopotamian-Cosmology-and-Myt
  8. The Development of Sumerian Temple Architecture in Early Mesopotamia https://cnx.org/contents/Yip68Fa2@7/The-Development-of-Sumerian-Te
  9. Sargon the Great and the Charismatic Rulers of Ancient Akkad of Mesopotamia https://cnx.org/contents/4LSqiUv0@2/Sargon-the-Great-and-the-Chari
  10. The Babylonian Map of the World: A Portrayal of Mytho-Historic Reality https://cnx.org/contents/yM0T6acv@2/The-Babylonian-Map-of-the-Worl
  11. The ‘Victory Stele’ of Naram-Sin of Akkad and the Development of the Public Monument in Ancient Mesopotamia https://cnx.org/contents/YUbLWN2X@1/The-Victory-Stele-of-Naram-Sin

Marian Feldman, Professor, Departments of the History of Art and Near Eastern Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Image Source: A stitched image showing the Ishtar gate of Babylon in full view. Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Photo CC Radomir Vrbovsky, Wikimedia Commons.

 

A New Face in the MOOC World – An Online Art School Called Kadenze

New in the Higher Ed world was the announcement this week of Kadenze, a new company offering MOOCs in the arts disciplines. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Art Schools Go MOOC, With a New Online Platform (June 16, 2015 – Meg Bernhard), and Inside Higher Ed, Taking the Arts Online (June 16, 2015 – Carl Straumsheim), both ran articles on Kadenze.

Screen shot of Kadenze websiteThe Innovative Instructor has run a number of posts on MOOCs with a range of viewpoints – you can use the search box (above right) and enter MOOC to see them all. The three biggest players in terms of MOOC offerings are Udacity, Coursera, and edX. Udacity specializes in courses on tech and related skills, such as programming, app development, and how to build a startup. Coursera has a broad range of offerings, including courses in data science, public health, education, science, business, and more. edX also offers an extensive list of courses from many disciplines. All three offer their courses for free, but for added fees, certificates are available in many of the courses.

None of the big three however, offer much in the way of art, beyond a history of art course here and there. Kadenze was founded to fill that gap. From The Chronicle article: “The new virtual art school, called Kadenze, has already teamed up with programs at 18 institutions, including Stanford and Princeton Universities, to create a digital platform designed for arts courses. According to a company co-founder, Perry R. Cook, an emeritus professor at Princeton, the platform will be “multimedia rich” and allow students to create online portfolios, upload music files and scanned art, watch videos, and participate in discussion forums.”

Kadenze is offering courses for free, but has a fee basis for those who wish to receive grades and credit. Again, from The Chronicle, “Kadenze will initially offer about 20 courses on subjects including music, art history, and technology and art. Students will be able to enroll in courses and watch videos free, but they will have to pay $7 a month if they want to submit assignments and receive grades and feedback. Fees of $300, $600, or $900 will be charged for courses that are offered for credit.”

The initial set of offerings includes titles such as Careers in Media Technology, Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists, Major Mind-Blowing Moments in the History of Western Art, Culture and Art Making, and The Nature of Code. Teaching art to large numbers of students in an online environment will certainly present challenges, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on this experiment. Personally, I am thinking about signing up (for the free version, of course) for the course titled, Comics: Art in Relationship. Maybe Kadenze will have an offering that fits your summer personal development goals as well.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Screen shot of Kadenze website: https://www.kadenze.com/

From MOOCs to MOCs?

In January 2013, The Innovative Instructor wrote a post titled The ABCs of MOOCs, which attempted to provide an overview to the emerging and rapidly evolving phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses familiarly known as MOOCs. We have come a long way in a short time in regards to MOOCs. This post examines the evolution of the MOOC trend.

In an article by Laura Pappano dated November 2, 2012, the New York Times declared that 2012 was The Year of the MOOC. Within a few months during that year several companies had been formed by university partnerships (Coursera, edX, Udacity); University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan had been fired (and reinstated) in part due to her reluctance to rush onto the MOOC train (see: the New York Times, Anatomy of a Campus Coup by Andrew Rice); and Thomas Friedman, among others, had written about MOOCs “disrupting” the future of university education. Some pundits declared that brick and mortar universities were seeing their end of days.

But a year later, Clayton M. Christensen, a professor of business administration at Harvard, and coiner of the phrase “disruptive innovation”, presented a more nuanced view in an article co-written with Michael Horn – Innovation Imperative: Change Everything Online Education as an Agent of Transformation (New York Times, November 1, 2013).  “But for MOOCs to really fulfill their disruptive potential, they must be built into low-cost programs with certification of skills of value to employers. So far, only a few traditional universities have incorporated MOOCs into their curriculum, and only to supplement what they are already doing — like ‘flipping the classroom,’ with lectures watched from home.” And “As concepts and skills are taught more effectively online, it’s unlikely that face-to-face interaction will cease to matter.”

Certainly the promise of MOOCs – free education for the masses – seemed to herald an exciting new wave. Yet many of us in support roles in higher education questioned whether the reality would live up to the hype. Articles lauding the new revolution were short on economic analysis. MOOCs are being offered without cost to students, but are not without cost to develop. Getting a handle on the financial side can be difficult as production costs are often hidden. These include: faculty time for course preparation and delivery, videotaping and editing costs, time spent to “scrub” content for copyright issues, and faculty and/or staff monitoring time when the course is running. How many institutions can support large scale production of free courses with no monetary return on investment? For that matter, if Harvard or Stanford is already offering an introduction to computer science MOOC, does it make sense for Anystate University to do the same?

Moreover, the MOOC environment does not necessarily bring out the best in pedagogical practices. A lecture watched online may loosely equate with a face-to-face lecture in a large course, but neither experience is likely to top a small, active-learning-centered classroom experience.

It is not surprising that two recent articles took on a different tone. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Steve Kolowich wrote (April 14, 2014) an article titled 2014: The Year the Media Stopped Caring About MOOCs?. Kolowich identifies 2013 as the year of the MOOC backlash, and noted that “Coursera’s new chief executive, the former Yale University president Richard C. Levin, last month reiterated that the company’s MOOCs should be thought of as ‘additive to what universities are doing, not disruptive.’”

Meanwhile, Inside Higher Ed reported on April 17, 2014 that Udacity plans to begin charging students for MOOC course completion certificates, cutting MOOCs to MOCs (Massive Online Courses).

Diagram showing Gartner Hype Cycles

Gartner Hype Cycles. Jeremy Kemp: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gartner_Hype_Cycle.svg

Gartner, Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company uses a method called Hype Cycles to analyze emerging technologies. [See illustration above] Five phases in a technology life cycle are identified: 1) the technology trigger 2) the peak of inflated expectations 3) the trough of disillusionment 4) the slope of enlightenment 5) the plateau of productivity. It would appear from the recent press that MOOCs are experiencing the crash into the trough of disillusionment. It will be interesting to see a year from now if there is an upward trend towards enlightenment.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Jeremykemp at en.wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gartner_Hype_Cycle.svg

Two Keynotes – Part 2

In the last post, I wrote about a keynote presentation by Philip Yenawine, the co-founder of Visual Thinking Strategies. A second remarkable keynote address came during a half-day symposium, Peer to Peer: Engaging Students in Learning and Assessment, sponsored by colleagues in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (JHSPH).

Screenshot taken from Howard Rheingold's websiteHoward Rheingold delivered his presentation From Pedagogy to Peeragogy: Social Media as Scaffold for Co-learning remotely as seems appropriate for the person Wikipedia  describes as “… a critic, writer, and teacher; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing).”

Rheingold is a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in the Department of Communication where he teaches two courses, Virtual Communities, and Social Media Literacies. He is also a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley in the School of Information where he teaches Virtual Communities and Social Media. He is the author of numerous books including Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, [2002, Perseus Books], and Net Smart: How to Thrive Online [2012, The MIT Press]. He has given a TED Talk titled The New Power of Collaboration.

On the bleeding edge in terms of technology and thinking about the power of the human mind, Rheingold has long been an advocate and advancer of the collaborative nature of networked communities and communication. Rheingold spoke to the audience at JHSPH on the evolution of learning from lecture-based to learning-centered, self-directed, social, peer-to-peer, inquiry-based, cooperative, and networked models.

He started in the mid-2000s with the Social Media Classroom, a wiki-based site that acted as a place for communication and served as an asynchronous element to a face-to-face class he was teaching. In the process students, working in teams, became co-teachers. He promoted the use of blogs, and mind maps that provided students with a non-linear way of looking at materials and making connections between things. In an effort to reach out to different learning styles, Rheingold presented the course syllabus as a concept map, a Prezi, and on the wiki.

Since then we have seen a proliferation of peer-to-peer learning platforms such as YouTube and Khan Academy, as well as self-directed, peer-supported courses such as ds[digital storytelling]106. Since January 2011 ds106 has been taught at University of Mary Washington (UMW) and other institutions as a course for credit but also has at the same time been open (non-credit) to participants from the web (learn more about ds106).

Howard Rheingold’s Rheingold U. is a natural extension of this phenomenon.  “Rheingold U. is a totally online learning community, offering courses that usually run for five weeks, with five live sessions and ongoing asynchronous discussions through forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, and social bookmarks. In my thirty years of experience online and my eight years teaching students face to face and online at University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University, I’ve learned that magic can happen when a skilled facilitator works collaboratively with a group of motivated students. Live sessions include streaming audio and video from me and from students, shared text chat and whiteboard, and my ability to push slides and lead tours of websites.”

Rheingold asked, “What do self-learners need to know in order to effectively teach and learn from each other?” This question led him to the development of the concept of peeragogy (a collection of techniques for collaborative learning and collaborative work) and The Peeragogy Handbook: a peer-to-peer learning guide in the form of a wiki-based “textbook” created cooperatively. Of this Rheingold says, “I was invited to lecture at UC Berkeley in January, 2012, and to involve their faculty and their graduate students in some kind of seminar, so I told the story of how I’ve used social media in teaching and learning – and invited them to help me create a handbook for self-learners.”

Rheingold inspires us to rethink traditional teaching models, reminding us that not only do we learn best by doing, but also that teaching someone what we have learned reinforces our own knowledge.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources
Johns Hopkins University


Image Source: Screen shot from http://rheingold.com/