Should Online Classes Be Fun?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

There’s fun as comic relief, then there’s fun as passion.

The first is temporary and a diversion. In the classroom, it’s the seventh-inning stretch in a long lecture. The piano stairs (see the video below) falls into this category, a diversion from the dreary commute from one point to another in a big city. The jokes in an otherwise long and boring speech, too, are diversionary, sugar coating for a bland or bitter pill. The assumption is that the speaker has a captive audience that requires some form of relief.

The fun that makes the most sense for education is passion. Think of our personal interests, joys, hobbies. These aren’t haha funny. They’re aha fun. And the interesting thing is, we don’t need comic relief in these pursuits because they’re inherently engaging, absorbing. We lose ourselves in them. In a word, this type of fun is what Dewey calls “educative.”

When we have passion for something, we have an insatiable hunger for all there is to know about it. My son, growing up, wasn’t the best student, but I never worried because I knew he was bright. Even in grade school, he knew all the NBA teams and players and was an expert on MJ and the Bulls and, later, Kobe and his Lakers.

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What’s Wrong with MOOCs: One-Size-Fits-All Syndrome

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

The Malaysian government is taking steps to “make 30 per cent of higher education courses available as massive open online courses (or MOOCs) by 2020” (Financial Review, 2 Oct. 2016). The MOOCs are free, but there’s a fee for assessments that grant credit for courses taken at other universities. From 64 courses in 2015, the number has grown to 300 this year.

The down side, as I see it, is that they’re relying on a single MOOC management system (MMS) — in this case, OpenLearning, which is based in Sydney. This shoehorning of course design and development into a proprietary box is a clear sign that the Malaysian administrators don’t have a clue about MOOCs.

This problem of overreliance on an MMS is endemic in the vast majority of universities that are tiptoeing into MOOCs. It’s the same mindset that tosses all online courses into a single LMS. If this one-size-fits-all approach were applied to F2F courses, professors would be outraged by this brazen violation of academic freedom.

The web is an infinite frontier with limitless resources for creating a wide range of MOOCs. In contrast, boxed platforms being hawked by non- and for-profits such as Coursera, edX, and OpenLearning don’t even begin to scratch the surface of possibilities. Jumping whole hog into one of them is to automatically accept an MMS’s limited views of what a MOOC can be.  Continue reading

A Successful Public Health MOOC: Interview with Dr. Satesh Bidaisee

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

One Health, One Medicine: An Ecosystem Approach was a five-week public health MOOC offered by Dr. Satesh Bidaisee1 at St. George’s University, Grenada, in summer 2016. The course attracted 582 students from all over the world and was especially popular with students from the Caribbean, United States, and even Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.

Among the 582 who enrolled, participants, or “students who took at least one graded activity in the course,” numbered 98, which is 17% of the total enrolled. Of the 98 participants, 52 completed the course. Completion is defined as achieving “at least a 50% in the course, which required them to get full participation and quiz credit and at least one additional exercise (case or presentation).”

Calculated in this way, the completion rate among participants was 53%, four times the rate in previous years. Of the 50 students who completed the survey, 98% rated their overall experience in the course as good or excellent. To the question “Would you be interested in pursuing a degree from St. Goerge’s University?”, 82% answered yes. Of this number, 30% preferred online courses, 16% preferred on-campus classes, and the remaining 36% had no preference either way.

Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, St. George's University, Grenada.

Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, St. George’s University, Grenada.

ETC: How would you explain the high rate of completion for your MOOC?
Bidaisee: The key factors were: (1) A user-friendly online course management system, SGUx, which is built on the EdX platform. (2) Accessible course team. (3) Interactions with students through live seminars, live office hours, discussion blogs, Twitter communication. (3) Case study reviews, peer-review evaluation of student-produced seminars. (4) Focused course topic and content on One Health, One Medicine.  Continue reading

How Can Technology Enhance Language Learning?

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Second language acquisition as a body of research looks at various aspects of learning and teaching languages other than one’s native language. Most people probably think of this as foreign language teaching and learning. Because of the complexity of language learning and teaching, this field of research covers a wide range of issues from the order in which learners acquire grammar and vocabulary in the language they are studying to what the most effective teaching methods and strategies are. As learners and teachers alike seek more effective and efficient ways to teach and learn languages, technology use has grown.

Perhaps technology use for language learning began back when people used record players to listen to and repeat what was on a record. In the 21st century, the opportunities for using technology has grown enormously, ranging from podcasts you can download to interactive activities on the Internet where you can practice all aspects of a language.  These activities range from short texts to read and answer questions about to full-length courses taught over the web. With mobile technology, learning apps enable the learner to study anywhere, anytime. Each of these types of technology-assisted language learning comes with its own strengths and challenges for the learner and the developer.

In his blogpost, “How could SLA research inform EdTech?,” Scott Thornby suggests that the developer or user needs to ask some questions based on second language research about how an application may fit into the language learning process to determine its effectiveness for learners’ specific needs. He lays out what he calls 10 “observations” from second language research. Then he formulated questions, related to each observation, which ask how technology can enhance language learning. His questions focus on how adaptive the software is to different types of learners and to an individual learner’s history as well as how it addresses the complexity of the language. Thornby also suggests asking how well it gives opportunities for meaningful input and output as well as how well it provides feedback.

However, in the long run, I think the most important question he poses is “Is the software sufficiently engaging/motivating to increase the likelihood of sustained and repeated use?” After all, no matter how good it is from a pedagogical standpoint, if the software doesn’t engage the learners, it will gather dust on the virtual “shelf” as surely as those records from days past have gathered dust on people’s bookshelves.

Creating Community: Part 3 – Hard Conversations in an Online Classroom – ‘Heart of Darkness’

Judith_McDaniel2_80By Judith McDaniel with Tim Fraser-Bumatay, Daniel Herrera, and Ryan Kelly1

Thinking about Heart of Darkness

The questions we were left with at the end of the Othello discussion included one that came up again later in the course. I asked, how do we know what we do not know — or how do we know we have a cultural bias/perspective in order to shed it? We usually don’t, except for our relationship to others and their perspectives — when we can say, Oh, right, I missed that. And I rarely hear students say, Oh, sorry, I was thinking like a white person or thinking like a patriarch. So we need to know the context in order to think intelligently about our own constructed world-views, don’t we?

Herrera Kelly Bumatay McDaniel

Daniel Herrera, Ryan Kelly, Tim Fraser-Bumatay, and Judith McDaniel.

Along with the Conrad story, we were reading an article by a professor who advocated banning it as a racist text. Ryan found this account amusing. “While he cites the fact that Heart of Darkness is racist and offensive and because of that he no longer sees the value in teaching it, what resonates from this piece is actually his point that proves the opposite. He describes how marked up his book is and explains how each time he read the novel as a student he found new things to underline. The time, the place, the teacher, and the lens changed, and as each did he was able to look at the novel in a new way and gain a different piece of valuable insight into it’s meaning….”

“For me,” Ryan continued, “this is the true test of a novel’s worth. The reason we reread things in the first place is because we always notice more the second time around. Once we generally understand the plot of a story we can focus on other elements and find deeper meaning, and Heart of Darkness seems to be one of those stories where those deeper meanings are fluid and can change with the times. While it may be true that Conrad was a racist, I don’t think that’s enough to invalidate this text.”  Continue reading

Creating Community in an Online Classroom: Part 1 – Getting to Know You

Judith_McDaniel2_80By Judith McDaniel with Tim Fraser-Bumatay, Daniel Herrera, and Ryan Kelly1

Is it possible to get a “real education” from an online class? Several years ago a professor from the University of Virginia published an opinion piece about online education in the New York Times and insisted that it was impossible. “You can get knowledge,” he continued, “from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning.”2

I teach literature in a fully online Master’s program. My students enroll from all over the United States and from overseas. Our asynchronous discussion forums give students an opportunity to interact, to be thoughtful in their responses to my discussion prompts and to one another. I find the online classroom to be stimulating, diverse, and creative. It is different from a face-to-face class experience, but it can be different in ways that enhance student learning through the creation of an online community.

Herrera Kelly Bumatay

Daniel Herrera, Ryan Kelly, and Tim Fraser-Bumatay

I am joined in writing this article by three of the students who have just completed their Masters degree in Literature and Writing in this online program. We have created an article that has two parts. In the first we talk about building community and how that happens, how students from very different backgrounds begin to interact, enjoy one another, challenge one another. In the second part of the article, we recreate some of the conversations we had about difficult subjects and difficult texts. We talked about race extensively when we read Othello and Heart of DarknessContinue reading

CFE 2015 Faculty Showcase at UNC: ‘Teaching Less in More Depth’

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 5th annual Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) Faculty Showcase at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This event is indispensible for those who want to gain a concise overview of emerging trends, proven approaches, best practices and innovative experiments in Carolina. CFE organizes the gathering to offer faculty an opportunity to learn more about specific instructional techniques or technology from their peers. For many attendees, showcase talks are the spark that ignites interest in considering changes for courses they teach. It also serves as a reminder for faculty to make use of the many instructional design and pedagogical consulting services the campus has to offer.

The day provided a chance to hear firsthand about the capabilities of the University’s Makerspaces, how teachers use Google Earth’s Liquid Galaxy display and Lightboard, which is currently being built on campus. What makes the showcase an exceptional learning opportunity for instructional designers is the mix of cutting edge technological innovation and low- or no-tech tips and tricks – be it gender neutral language, better writing assignments, role-play or reflective teaching practices and course evaluation. The showcase event closed with a presentation format I particularly enjoyed: Five-minute-long introductions to a variety of topics and projects with the explicit invitation, “Steal my idea!”

mary-huber 2The keynote speaker, Mary Taylor Huber, consultant at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, characterized the CFE event as the “greatest illustration possible” for the theme of her talk, “Building an Academic Commons Through SoTL.” Huber stated that the relationship between teaching and the institutional environment has changed noticeably over the past decade. Teaching is increasingly recognized as a valued academic activity in both general public debates and in the scientific communities. “Teaching is on a fast train,” explained Huber, and pointed out several catalysts for change: diversity, technology, new pedagogies (i.e., undergraduate research, service learning), authentic participation and educational research. Throughout the day, many examples of exceptional teaching brought these concepts to life.  Continue reading