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.

Driven by passion, he absorbed tons of information like a sponge via TV, newspapers, and magazines. He didn’t need a teacher. And this is the beauty of fun when it’s a passion. We become our own best teachers. We teach ourselves, or more accurately, we learn on our own.

We also become active participants, and my son played organized ball from elementary through high school. The fact that he spent much of his varsity years on the bench didn’t dampen his passion. Today, he still enjoys watching games and playing ball with his friends.

Think of your own passions. Golf? Travel? Cooking? Gardening? Reading?

Independent learning doesn’t mean we don’t seek out experts. We do, but on our own terms. We might read books on it, attend lectures or conferences, subscribe to periodicals. But we don’t need a teacher or a guide to tell us how to enjoy our passion. We already do, and decisions about what or how are part of the joy that we reserve for ourselves.

aha-haha

How to transfer this p-fun into the classroom? That’s the biggy.

Conventional wisdom says to use pull rather than push strategies, and this means using individual or group interest as a starting point. The common term for this is student-centered practices. The idea is to get students to personally buy into the objectives and lessons, to own them. This way, they’re learning primarily for their own sake and only partially for the teacher or the grade. The motivation is mostly intrinsic.

When motivation is located within the student, learning becomes largely self-directed and fun. In a word, passionate.

In composition, the variables we can manipulate are our assignments — readings, discussions, and paper topics. We need to come up with assignments that allow students to personally connect or engage with the class work, so they’re no longer doing a class assignment but a personal project.

In my English 200 (College Composition II) lessons, I’ve tried to set up a personal connection between topic and self to generate passion. For students who buy in, the results are terrific. For example, here’s a paper from earlier in the semester: “Broken Into Beautiful – Ishinomaki.”

These students were engaged in the learning activities that led up to their final paper. I read this as fun of the aha variety. They’ve made a connection with the objectives and class work and produced a paper that is personally passionate. Now, I have to figure out how to work the same kind of magic with students who don’t buy in and just go through the motions and churn out works with little or no passion. One strategy is our course publication that I use to feature exemplary student works such as the two mentioned above. These works are part of the course content that all students are required to read.
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Note: This article was prompted by a forum assignment in an in-service workshop I’m taking at Kapi’olani Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaii System. The completely online course, Teaching Online Prep Program (TOPP): Spring 2017, is being taught by Helen Torigoe and Marisa Yamada, instructional designers in the Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching and Technology (CELTT). The “Piano Stairs” YouTube video was embedded in their lesson plan.

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

Irritating Software Upgrades and the Spirit of ‘Gaman’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

With technology, experimentation and improvement go hand-in-hand, so we expect to pay a price. In some cases, such as drugs and cars, the cost can be horrendous. In others, such as software applications and operating systems, the cost isn’t as dramatic, but it can be irritating.

The most irritating in my current experience involves WordPress.com. The problem is they’re making changes piecemeal, and after many months, they’re still not done. In the interim, we, the users, are on our own. This means we’re forced to switch between the old and the new interfaces to complete tasks that were once simple and routine. The result is confusion and dozens of additional time-gobbling, mind-boggling steps.

For example, in the new composing interface, I can no longer insert links in text mode. I have to switch back to visual mode to do so. Compounding the problem is that WordPress sometimes seems to hang frozen for a while before switching between the two modes. A similar problem involves categories. In the old interface, I can no longer set categories. To do so, I have to switch to the new.

Very annoying is the photo insertion process. Photos posted via the new interface are no longer clickable for enlarged views. To make them clickable, I need to re-enter the same post via the old. And this is where irritation climbs to a whole new level. There’s no clear or simple way to switch back to the old.  Continue reading

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: Part 2 – Hard Conversations in an Online Classroom – ‘Othello’

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

The four of us are all teachers in face-to-face classrooms, and we have all needed to have difficult conversations about race with our students in those classes. Some teachers would maintain that it is “better” to have these conversations in person in order to monitor how the students are doing and ease them over the rough spots.

All of us have also been part of an online classroom in which we needed to have those conversations about race and ethnicity as we discussed Shakespeare’s Othello and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Is one format — online or in-person — better than the other? While our response won’t be definitive, we can say that our online discussion did succeed in creating an “immediate and vital community of learning” as we insisted in Part 1 of this series. And for each of us, the learning in this class carried over to the face-to-face classes we teach.

Herrera Kelly Bumatay McDaniel

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

Thinking about Othello

In addition to reading Shakespeare’s play, I assigned several critical articles that discussed race in the play. Kim Hall’s “Beauty and the Beast of Whiteness” and James Aubrey’s “Race and the Spectacle of the Monstrous in ‘Othello’” seemed to be the most provocative.

The issue of beauty, virtue, and monstrosity

The discussion prompt for the question about Othello asked whether Hall’s portrait of “beauty and the beast of whiteness” gave the reader a path into considering Othello as an Elizabethan might have seen him. Tim’s immediate response was “[Yes,] an in-depth look at style would tread upon the contextual setting of the play’s conception, for if one were to question why Shakespeare chooses words such as ‘beast,’ ‘horse,’ and ‘ram’ to describe Othello, it would inevitably lead to 17th century cultural opinions of Africans.”

Alongside that view of course is the parallel portrait of Othello as the most noble and honorable man in the Duke’s court. When Shakespeare introduces the “Moor” himself, he presents “an intriguing character who breaks from the stigma; he is calm, courteous, and even noble.”  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

Review of ‘Towards a European Perspective on Massive Open Online Courses’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

I was drawn to some of the articles in this special issue1 and found insights that I feel are worth mentioning. One that stands out is in Schuwer et al.’s article,2 in a summary attributed to Fairclough3: “MOOCs are perhaps best understood as ‘imaginary’… a prefiguring of possible and desired realities rather than a unified and coherent domain around which clear boundaries exist.”

Fairclough’s observation takes us a step closer to unravelling the MOOC conundrum. The expanding list of acronyms for different MOOC constructs should tip us to the fact that MOOCs are reifications, figments of our imagination or, more accurately, a specific set of ideas bundled in different ways. In short, MOOCs don’t exist.

By “don’t exist,” I mean they’re not a separate or unique specie. They’re simply a class in the genus online course. Add openness to a traditional online course, and you end up with a MOOC. By “openness,” I mean removing most of the formal trappings that we associate with college courses: capacity limits, traditional registration and pre-requisite requirements, tuition and fees, semester or quarter time frames, required textbooks, and grades and credits.

In other words, MOOCs are projected variations of standard online courses. As such, they represent the outer limits of what online courses could be. The point is that the issue isn’t MOOCs themselves but the innovative features that they present for possible incorporation in online courses.

In this context, Schuwer et al.’s warning that, “in the long run, a threat to MOOCs may manifest, if they are not well-integrated in broader university strategies and do not establish their own role within the university offerings” is only half correct. That is, for the open features of MOOCs to evolve, they must be integrated into existing online course policies and procedures. However, establishing “their own role within the university offerings” may not only be redundant but a costly failure in terms of the growth of 21st century practices.  Continue reading