Enrollment in online classes has grown steadily over the last few decades. Today, over 30% of college students enroll in at least one online course. In this episode, we discuss the evolution of and possible future directions of online learning with Greg Ketcham, the Assistant Dean of the Division of Extended Learning at SUNY Oswego.
- Acrobatiq – A spinoff of Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative.
- “Arizona Board of Regents: Learner-Centered Education Course Redesign Initiative: Final Report” – A summary of the results from the NCAT sponsored redesign of the introductory psychology class at Northern Arizona University, presented by Michelle Miller and one of her colleagues at an NCAT conference in Orlando that Greg and John attended in 2008 (or so).
- Bradbury, N. A. (2016). Attention span during lectures: 8 seconds, 10 minutes, or more?. Adv Physiol Educ, 40, 509-513.
- Coates, D., Humphreys, B. R., Kane, J., & Vachris, M. A. (2004). “No significant distance” between face-to-face and online instruction: Evidence from principles of economics. Economics of Education Review, 23(5), 533-546.
- Cogbooks – An adaptive learning platform
- Curriculum, Instruction, and the Science of Learning (CISL) PhD program at the University of Buffalo
- Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D. M., & Vaughan, E. B. (2011). Fortune favors the (): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, 118(1), 111-115.
- Duolingo – Language learning app mentioned by Greg.
- Gagne, Robert. Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction
- Instructional Design – Innovative Futures
- Learning Management Operating System (LMOS). (2005).
- Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) -collected EDUCAUSE white papers.
- Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon
- Student Attention Span – 2/14/2018 Tea for Teaching podcast episode featuring Neil Bradbury.
- “Sunrise Semester: Distance Learning Before the Internet” – NYU Archives – A discussion of Sunrise Semester, an educational television show that ran from 1957 – 1982
- Video Length in Online Classes: What the Research Shows – A Quality Matters resource, provided by Greg. This resource links to resources supporting the argument for shorter videos.
- Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Ascd.
Books used for SUNY-Oswego reading groups (referenced by Greg):
- Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick. Harvard University Press.
- Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons.
- Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds online: Teaching effectively with technology. Harvard University Press. (one of the books used in a reading group at SUNY-Oswego)
John: Enrollment in online classes has grown steadily over the last few decades. Today, over thirty percent of college students enroll in at least one online course. In this episode, we examine how online learning has evolved, and is continuing to evolve, to better serve student needs.
Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.
Rebecca: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.
Today our guest is Greg Ketcham, the Assistant Dean of the Division of Extended Learning at SUNY Oswego. Greg focuses primarily on programs serving adult learners. Greg is actively involved in Educause, the Online Learning Consortium, and the University Professional Continuing Education Association. Welcome, Greg.
Greg: Thank you, Rebecca. Thank you, John.
John: So today, our teas are…
Rebecca: English Afternoon.
Greg: Actually we were just joking about this before we started that I think we have to change the name of the show to “Coffee for Cognition.” So, I’m drinking coffee.
John: …and I am drinking Harry and David’s Bing Cherry tea.
Rebecca: It sounds like a mouthful.
Greg: Well, if you’re going to be giving a plug, I have to give a plug then to Recess Coffee because it’s my favorite coffee roasting vendor in Syracuse.
Rebecca: I say it’s a nice, local, upstate…right?
John: So you’ve been involved in online education for quite a while… since sometime last century…
Greg: You’re making me feel really old, thank you.
John: …both as a student and as an administrator. From your perspective, how has online education evolved over that time period?
Greg: Sure. That’s a really good question. Now granted, I really was not there at the dawn of time of online learning, I want to be clear about that. But, actually, as an outside casual observer… well, maybe I was…at least in terms of the late twentieth century…. because if we really think about what distance learning looked like before the advent of the internet, it was really what I refer to as ITV, Instructional Television. Sunrise Semester being probably the most famous example of that, that I think is still in production and out there for years and years and years out of New York City. And obviously, at the advent of time based on the technology, there was a one-way transmission of knowledge. To say that it was really education, It was not a bidirectional experience in any way. Moving forward into the 90s, with the advent of the Internet and shortly thereon, the World Wide Web, suddenly we begin to move into something that becomes much more bidirectional and I love these acronyms because nobody remembers them anymore: MUSHes, MUDs, multi-user domains that were largely text based, that kind of go back to the Adventures of Zelda, in a way, if we go back and remember that far back in terms of what an interactive game experience was like. So those were text based and as we begin to scroll forward, really to where we are today, the changes in the underlying technology change the kinds of interactions that we can have.
So, largely speaking, when I started, which was thirteen years ago here, we were really looking at online learning in a purely asynchronous form and really, of course, we said that was for learner convenience… which I think is still true. I think that’s the reason why it is asynchronous, because the typical online learner is an adult and is a part-time student… is juggling many things in his or her life and learning is a part of that… so, it has to be based on when it fits into their time budget. So where we are, compared to again let’s say 2005. 2005, we had limitations in our learning technology. It was largely text based so the forms and interaction between instructor and student were predominantly text based. Today, we’re at a point where those kinds of interactions can truly be multimedia. We can incorporate audio… we can incorporate video… we can have online chat sessions together… video sessions together. So we’ve really broadened our palette in the ways in which we can interact and communicate and create those learning spaces. That to me is a really big deal and I think I’ve become much more of a convert to these sort of multimodal means, being a student again.[Laughter]
Yeah, eating my own dog food as they say, right?….being the continuing adult learner… I’m actually a part-time learner in a doctoral program and it’s always good, actually, to flip the equation, if you can, right? To go from instructor to student and remember what the student experience is like, first of all. To be in an online course and go, “Oh God, really? This is what it’s like?” Now, that’s not true of all my online courses so far, I just want to be clear about that. But what I did experience was the fact that we injected group work into one course and, of course, I’ve never personally loved the idea of group work, period. But leveraging Google Hangouts, leveraging Google Docs, it was transformative in the sense that it really was creating a sense of community. That’s something we’ve always strived for in online learning and moving outside the bounds of that purely asynchronous construct– it was just truly transformative to me in my thinking about it. And as we move forward, I think we have these opportunities to leverage the technology and not be so trapped in the box of the tools.
Rebecca: What I’m hearing is… early on, even when it was online, it was still traditional correspondence classes, right? So, you’re corresponding… but now, it’s community…
Rebecca: …and I think the difference in those two words is really powerful… and even just thinking about what they mean.
Greg: I think that’s true, and it’s interesting because you’re seeing this right now in our media. I want to say “the media,” about our media that we consume about higher ed. Western Governors University, being on the leading edge of doing competency based education, it tends to subvert our notions of what online learning is…. maybe not necessarily true for Western Governors, but in some models, you’ve got kind of a pay-one-price, consume-all-you-can… it’s not bounded by the conventions of a semester. It’s not in the normal control functions of an instructor helping to manage the students ‘learning. So conversely then, the Department of Education at the federal level is saying, “You know what? This looks like a correspondence course, and if this is a correspondence course, then it doesn’t qualify for financial aid.” So there’s a lot of implications in there for us, in terms of thinking about the design of learning…. unfortunately, secondary effects that impact the student in terms of their financial ability to take the course. But, to your point Rebecca, I think the difference again between correspondence and community…. because traditional, fully asynchronous learning is always sort of time modulated and time delayed. It does look more like the conversation between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, right? There’s a lot of thought going on and there’s a lot of reflection going on, based upon reading which you’ve said, “I’m going to come back with a response,” but it isn’t necessarily dialogue…. and dialogue, I think, is part of a community because it’s really of the moment. Things build… things are reactive. I think that’s a potential change. Yes.
Rebecca: Seems like a way that you might be able to build mental models more effectively because the learners are interacting with each other much earlier on and they probably have more similar mental models then an instructor….
Rebecca: There’s a different relationship there that I could see how that could be really beneficial to help overcome some of the misconceptions and things that students might have because they come out a lot sooner.
John: But also with the introduction of more group work in online courses, even if the course is designed to be fully asynchronous, the work within the groups does not have to be, so that the student, as she said, could be using Google Hangouts soon or other tools and working collaboratively at times that they arrange within the group.
Greg: Right, and again, I think what you’re looking at is you’re beginning to model work flows in collaborative strategies that our students would use out in the world once they graduate. All of us do things across time and space that are outside the university with other colleagues. In how we approach that are those very same tools. So, why not expose them to your students early on? …and say “This is how it works. You don’t have to get together in the library every day… You really don’t have to.” The challenge tends to be when you’re blending a group of learners…. between the target audience, those adults who aren’t here, and our traditional students who are here…. because when you do propose an assignment to the students… it’s group work… what do they do? They say, “OK, let’s get together in the library at three.” ….and the student who’s not here has to speak up and say: “Excuse me, I’m a hundred miles away. I really can’t do that. Let’s think about some other method to make this work.”
Rebecca: I’m definitely a strong proponent of capitalizing on the idea that these are professional skills to develop. So, even in my non-online classes, I use tools like that for group work: Slack, and things for group discussions and things… and I think that when you frame that for students and help them realize that it is a professional tool and a professional opportunity, they do buy in… and so I think there’s a real positive in this online environment to encourage small groups and things to start using these tools because then they’re seeing how it’s going to benefit them in the future. Obviously, non-traditional students would catch on to that much sooner. We have to be probably a little more explicit with more traditional-age college students about the benefits, and that it is a professional skill.
Greg: I think so. I do think we have to move beyond the culture of the familiar uses of social media, which most of our traditional age students are very proficient in, into more professional uses of those kinds of technologies. So, it’s not just dropping “LOLs” all over the place [LAUGHTER], it’s communicating in a more meaningful and deep way…. and I think those are the skills that we’re helping them to learn in these kinds of online environments.
John: A lot of faculty, when they first start teaching online — and I started teaching online a couple decades ago… sometime last century, too… when they first do it, they tend to try to replicate what they were doing in the classroom, and then they discover that doesn’t work very well… and there are these rich tools out there that can make interaction much more effective. How do you work with faculty to try to transition them to alternative teaching methods, and things that work better online?
Greg: Right, when I did faculty development, in working with instructors who were new to online learning, I would pose a scenario something like this to them: “Okay, you’re very comfortable with standing up in front of your class and delivering the content and doing a lecture. Now imagine your students are next door behind a wall… they can’t see you…. they can’t hear you…. How are you going to teach them?” What you’re doing is you’re imposing those barriers of time and space right away to begin to reframe the conversation. and in reframing the conversation, one of the things that I found initially to be very helpful… It was pointed out to me by one of our colleagues here that I was actually espousing a very well-known design theory which is called backwards design (from Wiggins and McTighe, I believe)….and the notion is that we begin the conversation by talking about: “What are your students supposed to do at the end of this course? What is it that they’re able to do?” I rarely use the phrase learning outcomes because that sounds rather abstract, but if you put it in a concrete observable frame of “How do you know that they’ve learned what they’re supposed to learn?” “What are those artifacts?” is my favorite phrase. If we can start with: “What are they supposed to be able to do? How do they show me that they can do it? What are the artifacts? What are the outputs? Oh, those are the outputs?” Those are the actual learning activities. How do we scaffold them to those learning activities? What are the instructional materials and activities that precede that?
You deconstruct. You deconstruct what faculty think they understand about their teaching process. Faculty come in, many times, with the frame of thinking… truly about content delivery, which is perhaps not doing yourself justice in terms of your skills and what you really bring to the classroom, but if you think of yourself as simply as an amplifier and conveyor of content, then one of the things we do is begin to change that around… and discuss what a facilitator does versus a pure instructor. I think that’s part of it too.
Rebecca:I would imagine that you also have many conversations about audience… that we don’t necessarily have in more traditional face-to-face classrooms…. thinking about who are your learners? what do they come to the table with? and what are their other life responsibilities and things? To find that balance and how things might work.
Greg: Right. You do try to interject… to talk about what the audience looks like… and I think also Rebecca, to your point about audience behaviors and audience constraints we can discuss things that we are now gleaning from research. So, for instance, you may say to me: “Well, you know, Greg, I’m just gonna record my 55-minute lecture that I do every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday… and we’re good to go.”
John:…and a lot of faculty come in planning to do that.
Greg: Sure… sure… There’s my favorite animation out there… which still exists and I forget the acronym of that that animation program… there was like these little furry creatures and the professor comes in talks to the instructional designer and says: “Hello (in this very cultured British accent), I am going to teach my course online. I have recorded all of my lectures.” …and you have to break that down and you have to say: “Well, current research shows us that the attention span of what people are looking at, it’s probably about in you know six to ten minutes.”
John: Actually, we just did a podcast on that. We recorded it just a couple days ago, and it will be released just a week before yours. That research turns out not to really exist or not to really show that.
Greg: Can I retract that statement?
John: …but people have been saying that for decades. So, it’s one of those myths, like learning styles…
John: …and that Dale’s Cone of Learning….
Greg: Oh, yes…
John: ….that people just keep recreating.
Greg: …and you know how much I love Dale’s Cone of Learning. That’s just a fantastic fabrication… two things that are mashed together…
John: …including citations that don’t exist…
Greg: Mm-hmm. Exactly.
John: …and articles that were never created in journals that weren’t there.
Rebecca: Yeah. So, apparently the attention span stuff is too.
Greg: This is something, that I think, we have to all be aware of… that we’d like to refer to these things… and obviously I’m guilty of this too…
John: …and I have too.
Greg: ….without going out and stopping and asking ourselves: “Well, is this still true? Is this still current?” ….and we all know many people who will talk to us about learning styles and you just want to go: “Okay. Stop right there. Don’t say another word. Let me hand you this article from Daniel Willingham.” We do have to be careful about that, but I also think you have to look at it in the construct of, for instance… now I am doing this all the time at a personal level all the time…. I find this… and it probably says something about my mental state and how it’s devolving… but if I am watching even a Netflix video I will often throw it into 1.5 speed or 2.0 speed. I will do this with podcasts, and if anyone out there is listening right now, feel free… speed me up. I won’t sound any more articulate, I’ll just go faster… but we do this compression, because potentially we’re time challenged… potentially our attention spans are impacted. So, I do think we need to look at those kinds of behaviors. You can look at the log behaviors on the learning management system, and students are popping in and out… popping in and out…. popping in and out…
John: Which is good if they’re engaging in spaced practice.
John: …but that’s not always the case.
Greg: …may not be.
John: and there are issues. Even if there’s no magic attention span issue, there are issues with cognitive loads.
John: …and that chunking things into smaller more manageable chunks, especially for beginning students is really effective, and that’s where a lot of the online classes tend to be focused.
Greg: Exactly. Let’s go back to the typical statement about multitasking… multi-processing… A lot of the research on that is really much more granular in terms of the kinds of parallel tasks that can be effectively executed with multiple inputs versus this notion of “I’m facebooking and I’m in my course and I’m listening to a podcast….” because there’s obviously multiple inputs and we process all those things differently. So you can’t just crunch that and make a blanket statement about it. But, you can find fascinating things coming out there… out of cognitive science research… that says, for instance (I won’t get this right because I would have to go back and listen to this story)… but they measured the effects of retention of white text on a black video vs. black text on a white video, and there were significant differences. So, looking at that as an input and informing design-based practices when you’re creating this media is incredibly important….
John: …and part of the issue is when things are harder to read, students have to process it more and they end up recalling more of it. There’s even studies that show that if you use, and…
Rebecca: Just stop!
John: …if you use a really hard to read font, students will recall more of it later.
Greg: That’s fascinating.
John: It may not be a desirable difficulty, but it does result in more retention.
Greg: OK. So….
Rebecca: so but they might not read the whole thing, because it’s difficult to read….
Greg: So, conversely, are there any studies measuring the effect of…. let’s say, an easy friendly format that’s easier to read… and I’m thinking Comic Sans, obviously. What’s the impact there? Do we know?
Rebecca: Well, actually…
Greg: Can we do a study on that, ‘cause I would love to. [LAUGHTER] I would love to build a whole course in just Comic Sans.
Rebecca: There are some studies about Comic Sans, but they’re always in these isolated situations.
Rebecca: So, yes, the letter forms are more identifiable.
Rebecca: So, it actually does help some students for certain kinds of cognitive disability, because…
John: …including dyslexia.
Rebecca: Yeah, because the shapes and letters are really quick to identify so there’s a legibility that can come out…. However, does that help most students? Not necessarily… and does it help with a lot of content? Not necessarily… right because it might be okay for a small amount. As a designer, I just want to die.
Greg: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting…
Rebecca: None of those studies are done with design in mind at all… and so they’re really in these isolated situations. So, I would really love to see some of these cognitive science studies related to visual design with an actual visual designer… to see whether or not some of the things are actually beneficial.
Greg: I think that would be really interesting… and so to loop back on this… what we are trying to do is, in essence, create a learning environment for students that is: 1. easy to navigate… again, to the point of design, easy to find your way… find your way back again.. Will you re-enter that particular unit or module… and package it in such a way that it provides sort of a continuity of experience for the student? Beginning, with as we used to refer to him, high father Robert Gagne… Gagne’s “Nine Events of Instruction”… One of the things you do is, of course, you state what the learner is going to do… the advance organizer.. and the advance organizer helps focus the students’ attention as to what is about to occur in this learning module. This week, we’ll be covering this particular topic. You’re going to read this. You’re going to do these learning activities. By the way, this builds upon what we did last week by adding this. That last part is often what’s missing in an advance organizer.
John: …to create those connections.
Greg: Right. ….and that’s one of the things we sort of point out… because if you go back, and I recently read this… my world is shattered… people are just calling names… and saying Gagne was just an out-and-out behaviorist. Well, of course he was. I mean… in the context of the times, much of what instructional design theory looked like was based on the principles of behaviorism, because instructional design kind of goes back to World War II. It really emerged, I think, immediately after World War II, but given the needs of having to train multiple thousands of soldiers in a brief timeframe, it became obvious that there had to become a systematized way to develop and produce instruction.. . and that sort of behaviorist mindset carried through…really, I think, up until about the time when I was in graduate school somewhere in the 90s. There was this revolutionary… shocking… special journal that came out that posited that we should really be incorporating social constructivism… not just at the learning theory level but at the instructional design level too… and I think you sort of see that today, still, in this sense of community… in the sense that we now think truly of learning as socially mediated. It occurs within a group… so we think about what that looks like… and how we support that group of learners…. and that tends to be, I think, a transition point… a pivot point for us. Somebody was slamming poor Ben Bloom the other day. …again, because we’re really quantifying and proscribing what learning looks like in terms of those domains. The struggle, of course, is that we need to somehow define learning such that we have uniform measures of evaluation. If you took a purely constructivist standpoint… yeah, I think you would look at it and say: “Well, whatever you did was great, and if it doesn’t work… so.. well when we’ve got to put somebody on a continuum of a grading scale… and so that’s that’s the challenge. I think we always try to mediate.
Rebecca: We’ve been spending a lot of time talking about the role of instructional designers. Could you just take a couple minutes to explain what an instructional designer is, and maybe explain a little bit about what faculty could learn from instructional designers?
Greg: Sure. Instructional designers are somewhere between a unicorn and potentially a dodo. One of the fun things in life, if you actually are an instructional designer, is to go out into any kind of social setting and do the cocktail party meet and greet: “Hi, what do you do? I’m an instructional designer….” and people just look at you very very blankly and then you have to find ways to elaborate out in some way that makes sense to them. What does that mean? …and I had this problem with my parents… I had this problem with my children…. My children would go into school and they would say: “My dad works on computers, and he helps teachers learn how to use computers.” As an abstraction, it’s pretty close… pretty close…. but but not quite. My daughter… now actually, being a teacher, we now speak the same language. Yeah, she now goes: “Oh my God, that’s what you were talking about all those years…” like, yes, now you see… now you see… When I talk to you about Bloom’s taxonomy, you know exactly what I’m talking about… and…. so, really, instructional designers are, I would say…. one way to describe this… I’m not super fond of this description… is to say that they are learning technologists. We could say they’re learning specialists… we could say they’re learning engineers… we could say they’re learning designers… The focus, I think, is the fact that they are knowledgeable about the science and theory of learning. So, what an instructional designer brings to the equation, in working with a faculty member, is that perspective on evidence-based practice in learning. This is what the research tells us…. Oh, that research about video we’ll throw that out, okay… because you’re not up to date… but largely we try to stay up-to-date on the research… to say to faculty: “You know these are really the best practices if you’re going to engage in, let’s say, online discussion.” Because, back to what you said earlier, John, we may not be able to replicate the classroom, but let’s create an equivalent learning activity, right? Exactly.
Rebecca: …or a learning community.
Greg: …or a learning community, Yeah.
John: …and we should note that most faculty, especially those in older cohorts, were never trained in learning theory. They picked up what they saw their faculty do, and they come out of grad schools often where there’s very little or no emphasis on teaching or effective teaching… and they’re often told: “Don’t waste your time worrying about your teaching, focus on your research.” ….and having that sort of support can be really useful for faculty.
Greg: Right, and to be honest, it’s a very delicate conversation to have when you’re looking at someone who is, as we always say, you are the subject matter expert. I really know next to nothing about your discipline… but what I do know is I do know how people learn and I do know how to create effective learning experiences online and that’s what I’m here to help you understand. So we move away from any fears, any concerns that we’re here to challenge your notions of what you do in your discipline, because I don’t what you do in your discipline. By the time we’re done working together, I will know substantially more, which is the tremendously fun part of the job. You get to learn everything that everyone does here. Who gets to do that? We get to do that!
John:…Or if you’re doing podcast you can… and it’s fascinating….
Rebecca: It is.
Greg: It is fascinating. It’s so much fun. I just ran across, last week, this great study from a group called Intentional Futures, and they were really kinda trying to quantify what an instructional designer is… and they broke it down, I think, into four quadrants which I thought was incredibly useful to just share this out. So, the four primary roles of an instructional designer are: to help design learning experiences; to actually manage that production process of creating online courses or units of learning; to actually train the faculty, whether it’s discussion around pedagogy as we’re talking about here today or whether it’s the specifics of a tool set that the faculty wants to use; and most importantly, there’s the sort of Maytag repairman element that there honestly is ongoing support for faculty, continuing weekly… not just at the beginning of the semester… not just at the end when everybody’s trying to figure out why their grades don’t look right in Blackboard. [LAUGHTER] …although that happens. That’s right. We know that. We know when the peak calling times are, based on faculty work, but…. an ongoing effort to continue to help faculty throughout the semester and their teaching practice. So, that’s what happens. There’s a lot of one-on-one consultation with faculty, which again, is just fantastic in terms of creating relationships and getting to know people and getting to understand that subject matter…
JOHN :…and one other thing I think we could talk a little bit about is… we’ve been focusing mostly on online instruction and the role of instructional designers and learning new tools there, but there’s often a feedback effect that works to affect how people teach their face-to-face classes. The division between face-to-face and online is no longer quite as clear as it was thirty years or so ago.
Greg: That’s very true, John. In fact, I think, as we attempt to define the spectrum of technology enhanced learning, or technology supported learning, even those initial divisions that we created are really arbitrary today. Because, we would say… “Well, there’s ‘web-enhanced learning.’” I don’t even really know what that means…. but it means that somehow you’re doing something other just having students read out of a textbook, right? …and you’re doing something beyond just lecturing that somehow incorporates some instructional technology into that mix… and in the middle between web enhancing and fully online there’s this idea of blended ….which we like to call hybrid here, because we just want to be different… I don’t know… but most of the world refers to it as blended learning and in the K-12 domain they like to call it “flipping the classroom” because it sounds… I don’t know… you’ve got a psychomotor thing going on in there… it’s kinetic… I don’t know… but it’s the same thing… it is finding the correct balance between what occurs in the classroom and what occurs online and what we’ve seen… John, you’ve probably said this to me over the years… many faculty have said this to me over the years, unprompted… that they bring these things back into the classroom… and it isn’t necessarily just the technology of the affordances of the learning management system, but how you think about constructing that learning experience.
John: When I first taught online, I was using many of the same things that were very common at the time: these text mini-lectures and tests, and so forth… with weekly quizzes and discussion forums and because it was fairly new, there were a group of people in economics who decided maybe we should do a research project on that and we did… and we found that students really didn’t learn very much. In fact, they did a bit worse in the online courses than they did face-to-face. So, that forced all of us… but.. well a couple of the people there stopped teaching online in response, but others went and looked a little bit further into perhaps what might work. I attended some workshops. it was one actually given by Michelle Miller down in Orlando. I think you may have been there, too… at one of Carol Twigg’s workshops…
Greg: Right… right… right… I was in with you. Yeah.
John: She was using low stakes quizzing… and I started doing more research on that… and I introduced that in my online class and it worked really well, and student performance went up dramatically… and I’ve been doing it in my face-to-face classes ever since… and there’s a wide variety of things that I first tried in some of my online classes that have moved their way over…. and there’s not that much of a difference between the way I teach my face-to-face classes and my online classes.
Greg: Right, I mean it really begins to break it down and you begin to hopefully ask yourself the question: “Well, why am i standing up here spending the first half class restating the readings that my students should have read? Why shouldn’t I put up a quiz ahead of time to confirm that they read it?” ….but more importantly, and more valuably… use that as a diagnostic to find those fuzzy points in the reading and then let’s talk about that in class.
John: So you can do some just-in-time teaching. You don’t waste time on things that they do understand and you can spend more time on the things they don’t.
John: …and along those lines, one of the reasons for that issue that you mentioned about… going over things that they should have learned in the reading is that faculty who lecture primarily, often get into this situation where they tell students to do the reading… students come to class and they ask them questions about the reading and they find students haven’t done the reading… and in response they end up going over the reading… and then students realize they don’t have to do the reading, because it’s going to be gone over in class anyway… and then the faculty realize that they’re never doing the reading so they have to do it in class….
John: …and we get this vicious downward spiral in terms of expectations of both students and faculty — where students end up not learning as much as they could be if that time outside of class was more productively used.
Greg: Right. You see this, as much as you can take rate my professor with a salt mine, where the salt… one of the themes that you can find in there, is that many times students will say “you don’t need to buy the book, because the professor will tell you everything you need to know in class.” It’s exactly what you just described, John.
John: …which is generally a much smaller subset of the content that we’d like them to learn.
Rebecca: I wanted to follow up a little bit. We’ve been talking a lot about evidence-based teaching and the role of instructional designers, but how about the role of administrators? What role do they play in helping advocate for evidence-based teaching on campuses?
Greg: Well, I do think… given in our particular frame… in our particular world… we’re a comprehensive college, so presumably our primary focus is teaching and learning. Presumably, we are creating culture here that really values and places teaching and learning first… and I do think, honestly, what you both have done here… in terms of creating reading groups… in terms of bringing in outside, evidence-based, yet eminently readable texts for a faculty to examine together…. to go out and try those strategies together… I think that’s incredibly valuable that we are doing that… and then we have a culture that actually supports us doing that. I do think if we could shift the frame a little bit more in terms of faculty activity… not just simply publishing to publish within your domain, but perhaps publishing to show the effects of teaching and learning strategies in your domain connects it all together better in a way.
John: ….the scholarship of learning and teaching.
Greg: Exactly… and I just say that somewhat selfishly because I think we need more of that within the disciplines. Because we need to recognize where there are disciplinary differences and where certain strategies may be more effective than another is… and I think reframing the conversation at the administrative level about expectations for faculty in terms of publication could help us in that. That’s very easy for me to say since I’m staff and not faculty, so I can come up with all kinds of crazy ideas that exist outside of the culture… but recognizing that providing incentives locally to create actual research opportunities in the scholarship of teaching and learning, as John says. For instance, doing things with open educational resources… if we can then turn around and measure the impact in terms of learning… and we’ve actually seen quite a bit on that happening out there at the community college level so far. Can we replicate that? The challenge for us to replicate it, frankly, is that we have to create materials and learning experiences at the upper division level. It’s really super easy, I shouldn’t say that, it’s easier. It’s easier to create foundational course materials because they can be more widely shared and it’s much more difficult when you move into money and banking or other specialized economics topics, because… what’s the audience that you’re constructing it for beyond your own local audience? You have to assess the cost-benefit analysis of doing that… but I mean those are ways we can engage in that… if I ran the world.
John: Where do you see online education going in the next five years?
Greg: We know it’s not going away. I think that’s the easiest thing to say. We know it continues to grow. I think one of the things that we’ll see change more rapidly, at least I hope so, is to bridge the gap between how we are engaging learners in this construct… this horrible walled garden of the learning management system versus the learners’ world — which is mobile, and its social — and given the fact that our students are always on… always connected… always mobile… how do you move from the learning exchanges that are best played out on a big screen and the keyboard, If I want to break it down to the technological problems? I had this conversation a week or so ago. A learning management system vendor was asking me: “What do you want to see? What do you want to see in the learning management system in the future?” …and I said I would really like to see a way for you to think about this problem of mobile first… and if we can still think of discussion as a valid construct of engaging in critical thinking, then I want a way for students to easily do voice-to-text in that environment. It’s things like that. It’s things like thinking about how do we situate that, and how do you situate it if I’m in my car an hour every day each way? ….and that’s lost time for me in a sense. I can listen to our podcast which is really cool, and I can listen to other podcasts, but what if I could actually be interacting with my course while I’m in the car in some way? or if I was on the train? We have to really rethink what that delivery looks like and how we interact with things… and are there ways that augmented reality can be brought into this mix… again, through our phones… they’re with us…. they can do this overlay…. What can we do with that? Those are like the new frontiers.
Rebecca: In design, it’s actually an old frontier…. but it’s just applying it to this context. It’s user centered design.
Greg: It is and it’s totally understanding your user behaviors… the environment in which they live in and interact in… and it’s not a new concept.
John: But the technology has changed quite a bit… because now both iOS and Android operating systems have AR kits built in to make it easier to record and to implement AR.
Rebecca: …and really new. The AR kit on the iPhones just came out in the last few months.
John: …and similarly the Android one has just come out.
Greg: Yeah, and you know overlays like that… your voice assistance that we all have on our phones… are there other ways that those can be integrated in too? I think these are more interesting things… how you look at the challenge. The fact that you can create adaptive learning that works pretty well in an app. Duolingo is a pretty good and often cited example of an adaptive learning app for language acquisition. The challenge there, of course, is that that is one silo.
John: …and we don’t see as much of that. Carnegie Mellon was doing some great work on this over the last few decades.
John: …but there aren’t that many implementations. There’s cog books and one other publisher who started bundling some of these in packages but there’s not that many courses developed yet, and there’s still a ways to go.
John: …but that offers a possibility of having customized learning paths for students where they work on the things they don’t understand as well… and they build in all the best practices of learning… and we can get people to learn more efficiently once those tools are there. But, it’s still an early time for that.
Greg: It is an early time, and it’s somewhat beyond my skill set and your skill set to go out and just create that. It’s like saying I’m gonna go build an airplane. I have a friend who built an airplane, but before he retired he was an engineer, so he had the skill set to do that.
John: Cogbooks… and Acrobatiq (I believe is the other company)… have provided a framework for instructors to build that. But there’s still a lot of time… because you have to think about what area students might have problems with… and then build materials to get them past those problems… and there’s some pretty high fixed costs for doing that.
Greg: There are. That understanding a particular domain and understanding how you remediate in those weak areas. Whether or not AI can really, through machine learning, get there with us, I think is another thing. Because I tend to be a person who doesn’t subscribe to the model of the brain in a purely computational model. I think there’s a lot more, in the sense of mind, than just thinking about storage and retrieval. So, it is, I think, one of those great challenges to get through… and I do think, while you can build specialized apps that do that. the problem then becomes… as we know, what we deal with a lot is command and control as instructors… and by command and control, I really mean being able to understand and manage the learning… but having visibility into the learning and being able to assess the learning, where human judgment combined with some rubric development is necessary. So, centralizing all that together… one colleague argues that the worst thing they ever did in growing the learning management system was to add a grade book. Because you and I evaluate things differently, even if we live in the same world… even if we’re in the same domain… So, my grading schema doesn’t look like your grading schema… and you build this horrible, horrible, horrible, layer of complexity into the grade book to try to accommodate everyone’s variations… and so there’s one argument that says maybe we just need an app that’s just a grade book… and it just sucks in the data from all these apps that do what they do really well. That potentially… maybe… is part of what’s known as the next generation digital learning environment.
John: We’ve been hearing about that for decades.
Greg: Right… right?
Greg: …and it’s been another forever… I had conversations somewhere 8…10 years ago… very parallel to that… that was being framed as the learning management operating system at that time… and we were thinking about this sort of decentralized approach, loosely coupled, that through other structures and other communication methods like LTI… blah, blah, blah ….I won’t go down the rabbit hole with all these acronyms… but ways in which you could move the data around and share it across these varying systems… and we’re back to that conversation… and what the learning management system developers do with these inputs is the big question.
Rebecca: So, you have some pretty interesting visions for the future. What are you gonna do next?
Greg: Well, I really hope to complete my doctorate before I retire… that’s my major life goal.
John: That’s a great program, by the way. You’re in the program in Buffalo?
Greg: Yes. University of Buffalo… The acronym is CISL [pronounced sizzle]. Yes. Curriculum, Instruction and the Science of Learning… and I think that’s really fascinating that we’re now seeing programmatic titles that put the words learning and science together. So we’re really emphasizing that indeed you can draw upon evidence-based practice… you can examine the research and inform practice. It happens to be the only fully online doctoral program that SUNY offers. So, as a matter of convenience for somebody like me, it’s fantastic…. and it’s been a great experience… and it’s kind of brought me around to, again, examining some of these logical fallacies that we continue to carry around and when we’re done, I’ve got to go back and I’ve got to read up again on video and attention.
John: Neil Bradbury, by the way, is the person who did that, and I believe that will be released in mid-February.
Greg: Okay. Sometimes I get questions from on high in administration: “What is the most appropriate size for an online course in terms of seats?”
Greg: Yeah, well… it depends… in a graduate course in a seminar… yeah… probably five is right [LAUGHTER]… frankly… because it depends upon…. the context is everything.
John:… what they’re doing.
Greg: Right. When you break down and you try to do a literature analysis on class sizing, context is everything. So you can’t provide a universal rule or even a sliding scale to Deans and Provosts and say: “Well, it looks like this.” Not necessarily… but you take other constructs that again we tend to look at and know when our received assumed wisdom: effective discussion is three posts… the student engages in the question and they engage with two other learners. Well, why? What makes that effective? What does that have to do with anything? That’s an arbitrary number that somebody invented to generate activity. So, looking at what are the constructs that have been defined to actually promote critical thinking… and if we break critical thinking down into elements… into certain specific responses…. Couldn’t we create a better grading rubric that supports the evidence of that? ….and that’s kind of where I am Rebecca. I’m finding these new things to kind of come back and shake the tree with everybody… and where it’s most fun is shaking the tree with fellow instructional designers… who also teach…. and what do they say to me? They go: “I know what critical thinking looks like in my course.” I’m like… Really? Really? You’re saying that? Aren’t we beyond that? Actually, I had the discussion once here… way back when…. I won’t say what department… I won’t say who… but we were discussing the utility of rubrics in grading and the response I received was: “I don’t need a rubric. I know what learning looks like in my students.” Yeah, that’s fantastic…. really objective…. not subjective at all. That’s great…
John: …as long as students share that vision….however it may happen to exist at that time in that person’s head.
Greg: Exactly… Exactly… so I think what is next for me… I think it’s continuing to look at these things… continuing to examine what’s happening in research and bringing that back into our practice so that we continue to evolve as a community here.
John: It’s an exciting time. There’s so much going on out there.
Greg: It is. Definitely.
Rebecca: Well, thanks so much for joining us today, and taking some time out to talk instructional design with us.
Greg: Thanks for having me. Thanks for the coffee
John: That’s right…. we did have coffee here. But that’s because we had an early meeting prior to this. We normally don’t have coffee in our office.
Greg: You might want to think about a name change for the podcast… I’m just saying… [LAUGHTER]
John: We’ve been getting that sorta feedback recently.
John: Well, thank you.
Greg: Thanks again.
John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.
Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts, and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.