Tag Archives: digital programs

Thumbs Up for Blended Learning

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

Blended or hybrid learning has come a long way from its original concept of brick (classroom) and click (e-learning) in 1999. Just using some media with students doesn’t make it a blended approach anymore.

Now, blended learning is usually described as the integration of adaptive courseware yielding learning analytics and face-to-face learning situations such as class lecture, tutoring, or discussion groups to advance learning. Penn State professor Ike Shibley advocates for blended learning:

“When you see how well blended learning fits with established pedagogical paradigms, creating a synergistic blend of what works best in face-to-face and online, the question becomes why wouldn’t you want to at least try it?”

Maybe because we still have to dispel some myths about blended learning:

Myth#1 Blended learning isn’t as good as traditional approaches.

On the contrary, research confirms that blended learning is more effective than on-line learning alone or class learning without technology. A 2010 US Department of Education meta-analysis of 84 studies  (79 with higher education or adult learners) concluded that blended learning is much more effective in achieving learning outcomes than face-to-face instruction alone.

Myth #2 Blended learning requires less faculty.

Not true. The 2010 study cited above found that students using courseware received more “learning time and instructional elements” than those who didn’t use courseware.

When instructors use courseware learning analytics on individual and group progress to inform teaching, they spend less time in front of the classroom, but they spend more time in targeted communication with students.

This aspect of quality blended learning became clear in a recent pilot program with courseware in math at New Jersey’s Essex Community College.

In the one-year pilot, less students passed in the blended course than in the traditional course. Lack of legitimate faculty involvement was cited as one of the major contributing factors to the pilot’s shortcomings. Essex CC thought they could just use graduate students to teach segments of the blended course. According to Douglas Walcerz, a  program consultant, “We underestimated the skill that you would need as a teacher to deliver that content.”

Myth #3 Blended learning creates more ongoing work for instructors.

As happens with most changes, startup takes time. Once instructors take the plunge, however, teaching a blended course is no more time-consuming than teaching a traditional course.

How much time it takes to make the transformation also depends on which approach you take. Instructors who create all of their online materials will do the most work.

That’s why in her insightful post, Blended Learning on the Ground: Advice from College Educators, Jennifer Spohrer advises against starting from scratch. She suggests instructors new to blended learning “stand on the shoulders of giants” and use pretested online products from education technology companies as the foundation for their courses.

Finally, there are added benefits to blended learning (see previous blog, What’s a Seventeen-Year-Old to Do?) including those articulated by learning and development professionals in a 2013 survey:

 …it’s critical to foster lasting learning. It helps ideas stick and creates an air of accountability that is critical to learner success.” “Blended solutions deliver customization and focus on individual needs which traditional methods just can’t match.

Formative Assessment in a World of Learning Outcomes

Consider this scenario: You’re teaching language arts to a middle school special ed class. The learning objective is to write a story about making something. While you go through the provided writing sample about children building a clubhouse, your students get more excited about the clubhouse than writing a story. They ask to build a clubhouse. Do you make them write the story or do you let them build a clubhouse first?

If you go with the clubhouse, you’re delaying writing the story and you may not have time to fulfill all the learning objectives embedded in your curriculum. On the other hand, if you decide, as I did, to build your lesson on your students’ spontaneous enthusiasm, you are choosing to write in additional learning objectives involving commitment, collaboration, and problem-solving before writing the story. And, you must alter your teaching plans to achieve them.

My decision was based on formative assessment or assessment for learning. Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam wrote the classic definition of formative assessment in 1998:

….the term ‘assessment’ refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes ‘formative assessment’ when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet the needs.

This definition holds true for higher education even though Wiliam’s continuing work is with teachers in K-12. He emphasizes that many strategies can be successful as long as we remember “the big idea is to use evidence-based learning to adapt instruction to meet student needs.”  I encourage you to watch his exceptional talk, Assessment for Learning, below:

Education technology offers us valuable tools for assessment. Evidence-based programs can quickly adapt instruction based on feedback from student learning. These programs also help instructors alter their class instruction because aggregate data is available in real time. (see my earlier blog, What’s a Seventeen-Year-Old to Do?).

But there is a downside. Since, like all effective formative assessment, adaptive learning programs tie instruction and feedback to learning outcomes, the learning outcomes in adaptive programs are predetermined Formative assessment means changing student learning pathways–more material for a struggling student; less for an excelling student. But all pathways lead to the same goal.

The movement for student competencies and consistency in higher education also rests on predetermined learning outcomes. While these trends have merit, we need to be cautious and not allow them to get us entrenched in rigid practices, deterring instructors from going “off-script” and tapping into students’ enthusiasm and innovative ideas–these, too, are worthwhile in the learning environment. (When you look back, isn’t it the off-script instructors who influenced you the most?)

As we develop and use technology to get more precise evidence-based snapshots of student progress, we need to build in flexibility so that formative assessment based on student feedback can modify learning outcomes as well as learning pathways.

If You Give a Student a Cell Phone…

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

With the increase in digital distractions, interest in how we pay attention has grown. Although researchers continue to delineate definitions, most agree with the early psychologist, William James:

Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.

Attention is really selective attention.  We consciously or automatically choose which things to ignore and which to focus on. You are more likely to pay attention to something that affects you, interests you, or has deep meaning.

What we pay attention to is contextual and subjective. At a play, we think it’s important to focus on what’s happening on the stage without distraction. If an 8-year-old points out that there’s a man behaving oddly in the next row, he will probably get shushed. But these days, if he makes the same observation as his mother rushes him to catch a train or plane, Mom will probably pay attention and report it to security personnel.

Attention is the gateway to learning, to remembering and processing information. Instructors competing for student attention isn’t new. Remember when we thought all students were taking notes, but many were doodling, or writing love letters, or passing notes to other students? Remember when daydreaming was a common class distraction?

Cell phones may just be a more efficient way of channeling wandering attention. Researchers have shown that students texting/posting on their cell phones while watching a video lecture tested more than a grade level below their phoneless counterparts. They suggested that instructors discuss cell phone use policies with their students. That’s a start, but it doesn’t get to contextual factors that may contribute to cell phone distractions.

If, as the Pew Research Center reports, 93% of 18-29 year old smartphone owners use their phones to avoid being bored, maybe we should consider that having students listen to long lectures is not the best way to hold their attention. Even I’ve been known to check my cell phone during the most inspirational TED Talk.

Distraction can work in the opposite way as well.  A student who tunes out biology to check Instagram, may also avoid the boredom of waiting on line at Chipotle by accessing their course online. And, with Acrobatiq, the professor standing behind them can evaluate how their students’ progress.

While helping students think about how and when they use cell phones, educators need to expand opportunities for students to accomplish a wide variety of goals from communication to graduation with mobile devices. Formats such as blended or hybrid classes using digital learning platforms can lessen student distraction. Some instructors are already incorporating education apps into class time as part of the curriculum.

Mobile device programs will not replace all forms of teaching. They are meant as an active way to promote student learning by using the technology around us.

Multiple Choice Questions

A multiple choice question begins with a stem or lead-in that is addressed by a correct response chosen from a list of alternatives. Writing a good multiple choice question that elicits an answer based on knowledge, not guessing or misunderstanding, is an art. For example:

Who was the twentieth president of the United States?

  1. Rutherford B. Hayes
  2. James A. Garfield
  3. Chester A. Arthur
  4. Grover Cleveland

This question tests recall of the twentieth president. The stem is parsimonious, including only the ideas and words necessary to answer the question. The “distractors” are parallel, possible answers–all presidents from around the same time. Compare to this question:

Choosing the first president of the United States was a tremendous responsibility. He would set precedents for subsequent office holders. The Electoral College unanimously elected George Washington who had led the colonies to victory against the British. James Madison, who was married to Dolly, was the fourth president. Who was the twentieth?

  1. James Brown
  2. LeBron James
  3. James Garfield
  4. James Bond

In this question, the stem is overwritten with information you don’t need to answer the question correctly. Irrelevant information may be testing your reading comprehension more than your twentieth president knowledge. Even if you know the correct answer, you may get it wrong because you can’t get through the reading.

The distractors are implausible. If the correct answer is embedded in a group of possibilities that are totally outlandish, you will get the right answer not because you’ve learned it, but because you can use general knowledge to eliminate the others. That’s a bad question.

If written correctly, a multiple choice question can be very effective at proving mastery in Bloom’s elementary cognitive categories of remembering and understanding, and to a lesser extent in the third category, applying (see previous blog Learning Objectives in Higher Education).

According to Cathy Davidson, educator Frederick J. Kelly introduced multiple choice tests in 1914.  They were intended to improve the equality of grading. Teacher bias as well as individual differences such as wealth or poverty would not prevent a student from being graded correctly. Multiple choice questions also made grading less time-consuming for teachers, freeing them to do more instruction. Incorporated in standardized tests, multiple choice questions allowed us to compare student proficiency in different areas of the country. Good goals, right?

Don’t we share these goals today: To evaluate students without bias. To give them equal opportunity to learn despite where they live or learn. To free instructors to have more time to teach and interact with students. So why are multiple choice questions criticized so much?

Davidson says it’s because we try to use multiple choice questions in areas where they don’t work such as

….problem solving, collaborative thinking,  interdisciplinary thinking, complex analysis, the ability to apply learning to other problems, complexity…creativity, imagination, originality…

Demonstration of these types of learning, Bloom’s applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, requires more than picking out the right answer if there even is a “right” answer. Kelly created multiple choice questions to measure basic skills important to twentieth century American work and citizenship. He admitted that they only tested “lower-order” thinking.

Extending the multiple choice format to measure higher-order thinking results in many flawed questions. Piled one on top of the other in repetitive quizzes or long tests, these ill-conceived items become anxiety-provoking, deadening experiences for students. In this context, they are weak indicators of student learning achievement.

Through digital programming we have the potential to create robust profiles of students showing how they process, retain, and apply information. This gives us the opportunity to approach the challenge of assessing student performance from a fresh perspective, one that may even use testing rarely. Let’s start by identifying the problem we want to solve: How do we make sure that students have learned what they need to learn to be successful in the world?

Now to test your understanding:

Which statement best describes this blog writer’s point of view?

  1. Multiple choice questions are easy to write.
  2. Multiple choice questions test critical thinking.
  3. We should rethink how we assess learning.
  4. We should never use multiple choice questions.

I Say Sitzfleisch, You Say Grit

With all due respect to my education professors in graduate school, most of what I know about learning and teaching came from my mother who never went to college. She told me that the key to success is sitzfleisch. Sitzfleisch is a word that comes from the German, literally, sitting on your ass.

In English, sitzfleisch is the ability to focus on a task whether or not it is engaging for the amount of time needed to master or complete it which is not necessarily the amount of time you want to spend on it. Yes, all of that. According to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, 

Sitzfleisch is sort of the opposite of Ants In Your Pants. The amount of sitzfleisch you’ve got will directly influence how much work you can produce. How long can you stand it, to sit there and push through? Inspiration is beautiful, imagination divine, and we all love soaring dreams. But sitzfleisch? Ass meat? THAT’S how you write your novel. That’s how you compose your symphony. That’s how you paint your masterpiece.

Nowadays, a great deal of research is being done on sitzfleisch only it’s called grit and self-control. Psychologist Angela Duckworth, leads the research in this area. This is how she defines these terms:

Self-control entails aligning actions with any valued goal despite momentarily more-alluring alternatives; grit, in contrast, entails having and working assiduously toward a single challenging superordinate goal through thick and thin, on a timescale of years or even decades.

Duckworth’s work is ongoing. She is proving in study after study that self-control or grit or a combination of both, is more highly correlated to success in school and life than IQ and talent. So, of course, now everyone wants grit and self-control especially for their children. How do we teach them grit?

Duckworth admits she doesn’t know–yet. She says that Carol Dweck’s growth mindset (see previous blog post, Failing is for Everyone) may be one of the ways to get there. In growth mindset, when the process of learning is explained to children, when they are told that success means hard work and pushing through failure, they stay the course.

Being aware of the learning process helps prepare us for its challenges. People who are gritty not only know that they can “push through,” they have strategies to shore up their staying power. Next time you have “ants in your pants” try one of these actions:

  • Look at how much you have accomplished and how much further you have to go. Then, make realistic goals for yourself.
  • Give yourself a moment to think about what pushing through now will get you in the immediate future (time for dinner with your significant other? freedom to kick back and relax?) or in the long run (a condo in the city? worldwide recognition?)
  • Call a friend to complain to for a few minutes. Make sure it’s a friend who empathizes with you and values your succeeding. (Not the friend who says, “I hear ya, screw it, come party with us!”)

The more you practice grit and self-control, the easier it will get, and the more successful you will be.