ITC 2012 e-Learning Conference, Day 1 – Morning

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Long Beach, California after the first day of conference sessions. I decided to skip the last set of sessions for the day in order to do a full debrief of the information I took in during the day. With a keynote by Gardner Campbell, a debate about online education, and several concurrent sessions, I’ve definitely been re-inspired in my professional life. One of the biggest downsides to this inspiration is that I can only use the things I’ve learned if and when faculty want my assistance. I can’t use most of these things because I want to. Let’s see if I can provide a recap…Gardner Campbell keynote. Gardner Campbell is one of those names that you have to know in this field. As the director of innovative technologies at Virginia Tech, he is right on with the topics at hand. During his talk, Campbell compared teaching to a Skinner box, with the levers being grades, credits, etc. The biggest take away that I sort of knew but never acknowledged, was that learning outcomes should also include the things that you don’t directly teach students. Quality education should include not only the topics that you set out to teach your students, but also the things that they learn on their own, during the education process. Gardner called this idea “double-loop learning.” During his presentation, Gardner talks about the unlimited possibilities of online education and referenced the virtual choir, directed by Eric Whittacre (video below). Session 1 – Challenges and Opportunities in Hybrid Courses. As the first concurrent session of the conference, I was slightly disappointed. The presenters ended up being a panel who talked about their individual experiences of hybrid learning. The room was rather large and due to the popularity of the subject, I sat in the back of the room, making hearing pretty difficult. The instructors didn’t really talk about things that were new to me, which was unfortunate. The presenters made quite a few generalizations that I disagreed with, including “students prefer fully online courses, rather than hybrid format.” One point that I did commiserate with was that listing hybrid course offerings is something that many institutions haven’t adequately tackled. When students go to register for classes, they think that the course is either fully online or fully face-to-face. The presenters were all from Coastline Community College and they have set times for 2 days per week and then list a third day with TBA as the time. They suggested a way to fix this problem is to put a set time for that third day. I’m not sure that this solution would solve the problem, because students would then think the course is fully face-to-face. I don’t know that there is a good answer to this solution quite yet. There were a few questions asked by the audience that I thought stood out:

  1. What institutional support is needed for hybrid/online courses? This is a topic that I was hoping they’d talk more about than they really did. The only aspects they provided were that science labs would require more support than a typical lecture course. There was no mention of faculty training or certification to ensure that they are qualified to teach online. I know my current institution doesn’t have a certification process like this because of how decentralized online education is, however I can definitely get on board with some sort of training for faculty. More about this to come later in the post.
  2. How do you handle assessments? It was only a matter of time before this question came up, and low and behold, it did (in the first session, no less). The presenters completely dodged the question and left it alone. I think the presenters lost some credibility due to this. I may be preaching to some of the choir here, but stop giving multiple choice tests if you’re concerned about cheating! It’s all about application and higher-order thinking (Bloom’s Taxonomy) that proves when students have mastered the topics. Recall is not in considered higher-order. Okay, I’m off my soapbox now.

Concurrent Session 2 – Building Community in a Fully Online Class. This session was completely opposite from the previous. The presenter was engaged and I loved the things she talked about. One of the criticisms that instructors have when you propose them teaching online/hybrid is that you lose student engagement and/or sense of community. Barb Mathieson (Capilano University) definitely proved that wrong. She talked about many of the tools that she uses to create community online. The first thing that got my attention were the enrollment caps. In Capilano’s face-to-face courses, the enrollment is capped at 35 students while online courses are capped at 30. To create community, she uses tools like EyeJot to send video emails to students, WizIQ for synchronous communication (instructor-student and student-student) and for remote screen sharing. She also creates groups of 3-4 students and lets them set up times when they meet, rather than dictating those requirements to students. Lastly, she has students create the test questions and then has students grade the answers to the questions they came up with. Done after giving students a copy of Bloom’s Taxonomy, she is incredibly surprised by the test questions each term. I think that these ideas are great, but getting buy-in from faculty is always going to be the hard part. One participant did ask how much time she puts into the course and she chuckled – clearly it’s a lot of time.That’s it for now, I’ll post again about the afternoon sessions next!

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