Wednesday, January 8, 2014

MOOCs and Correspondence Courses

This morning, there was a Letter to the Editor in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled, "MOOCs: Glorified Online Correspondence Courses?" Now, I've spent a lot of time over the last year thinking about MOOCs and have given several presentations on the implications of MOOCs for community colleges. I'm a big fan and I think that MOOCs have many appropriate applications for both learners and teachers. They are not, of course, exactly like taking a face to face class with a small group of people on a formal college campus.  That, according to most critics, is their problem. This really annoys me. Like any  online learning, the goal of a MOOC should not be to identically replicate the face to face, campus experience. We already have that, why duplicate it online? The goal of any online instruction, whether traditional or MOOC, should be to move beyond what we can effectively do in the classroom, taking advantage of technology to move teaching and learning to the next level.

Ok, rant finished.I generally don't read articles about MOOCs anymore because they just make me mad. But this one caught my eye. Why? Because, this time last year, Seattle Central launched its first MOOC on the Canvas Network.  I was the instructional designer for the course. Seattle Central is the only community college in Washington still offering correspondence courses. I think correspondence courses, done well, have a lot to offer learners. The learners think so to - we have robust enrollments in our correspondence courses every quarter.

So, last year, we took two of our correspondence courses and converted them, essentially unchanged, into MOOCs. They were also a big success, with hundreds of students enrolling each term. Our instructor, Nate Weston, just won an award for his work on the MOOCs.  So, I was curious to see what the Chronicle letter writer had to say about correspondence and MOOCs.

Sadly, it was nothing. Correspondence was never mentioned again after the title. The letter went on to be exactly the type of MOOC idiocy that I try to avoid by not reading articles on MOOCs.
So, don't bother reading that letter. Do rethink old misconceptions about any kind of learning that does not exactly duplicate the campus experience. Rather than asking yourself, "How can I do this thing that I usually do in the classroom online?", ask yourself "How can I take advantage of the tools I have available to help the students meet the same outcomes in innovative ways?" That question is bound to have a better answer, for both your students and yourself.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A More Perfect Quarter

I am always a very optimistic person. I'm convinced that each quarter is going to be better than the last and, in many cases, my optimism is justified.  But, inevitably, there are always lots of things that don't go quite as well as I might have wished.

This quarter, for example, my desire to gamify my class just didn't happen. It ended up being too hard to do in the time I had to do it. The tools are not yet ready for easy implementation. I could have done it, but it would have taken a lot of time, not just at the beginning, but all quarter long. I knew if I was spending time on that, I wouldn't be spending time doing other stuff that needed to be done, like updating my readings (which also didn't happen, and I can't even blame the games!)

Yesterday, I read an excellent article on ProfHacker, one of my favorite blogs, about planning for the upcoming quarter using a thought experiment of thinking through what the perfect quarter would look like and the steps you need to take now for it to look that way.

I love this idea because, as you might guess, I like to plan. But, I'm also perfectly capable of planning away the time that I should actually be doing something useful.  Now is the perfect time to have some fall quarter thought experiments and plan for a more perfect fall.

Do you have any tips for fall quarter planning?  Share them in the comments.

Time Travel to Plan Your Semester by Natalie Houston, Aug 13, 2013 on ProfHacker

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


As I review the various pages of my course, I am working to make sure everything is accessible. I went to a great workshop on accessibility in Canvas at the Washington Canvas Users Group conference in March.  The presenter, Terrill Thompson from the UW, said there were 5 key things that faculty could do to make courses accessible. One main one was to use headings instead of changing font sizes for emphasis and headers (here are my notes from that session). This seems pretty easy to do, I just have never really bothered to do it. So, as I'm revising my pages, I'm making sure everything uses headers.

I'm pretty good at using Alt Tags to identify images, but I'm trying to be more descriptive, not just describing the image, but explaining why I bothered to put the image. For example, instead of just saying "cat", I might say, "image of a cat illustrating how much people like to nap."  Now, if you were visually impaired, which one would be more useful? Exactly!

Also, and most painful for spontaneous me, I'm trying to write scripts for all of my videos. I put the script in each of the PowerPoint slides or write the script with screen shots to serve as an alternative to captioning, which is just too time consuming for me to tackle. From a pedagogical perspective, the hearing impaired person is still getting the content and I insert cues to note where slides or screens change.

Now, when I am less than one week out from the start of the quarter, this can seem like a bit much. But really, when am I ever going to have adequate time to do this? Never. So, now is as good a time as any. Here's to more accessible courses.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

If you want to learn more about Gamification. . .

If you want to learn more about gamification, there is a seminar and a related MOOC coming up in a couple of weeks. I signed up - maybe I'll "see" you there. Thanks to the ITC Network for these announcements.

Free Webinar: Game Elements for Learning (GE4L)
June 26, 2013 - 2:00-3:00 p.m. eastern time

What if you could build a course as a game, using native LMS features? What exactly are game elements for learning? How can the elements be applied to teaching? Do they add value to learning?

To answer these questions, Academic Partnerships Faculty eCommons presents a micro-MOOC, Game Elements for Learning (GE4L). Kicking things off is a free live webinar, hosted by Kenneth C. (Casey) Green of The Campus Computing Project, who will moderate a lively conversation with Dr. Gerol Petruzella, Coordinator of Academic Technology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Dr. Petruzella will discuss his experience designing, building, and teaching an introductory philosophy course as "Dungeons & Discourse," a quest-based roleplaying game.  This webinar is part of a professional development micro-MOOC, Game Elements for Learning (GE4L). GE4L introduces participants to game elements for teaching and learning through sharing, game elements, discussion, and participation in self-selected methods. For more information about the micro-MOOC, visit

MOOC - Game Elements for Learning
from Academic Partnerships
July 1, 2013 to July 29, 2013
Cost per student: Free

Gamification is the integration of game elements into a non-game setting — such as building online communities, education and outreach, or building educational apps. When used meaningfully, game elements can enhance the learner’s experience in an online course. In this professional development MOOC, you will learn how to utilize common game elements like collecting points or resources, quests, avatars, levels, social graphs to engage online students. The course covers the following topics: Introduction to Gamifying Your Course, Game Thinking and Dynamics, Game Elements, and Applying Gamification to your Course.

  • Provides video lectures
  • Provides opportunities to interact with the instructor or students
  • Uses discussion forums
  • Contains external social networking participation or elements
  • You will not be given a final grade in this course
  • Intended for educators or professionals

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gamifying my class - Part 1

The only really new thing I'm going to try this summer is to gamify my class. Gamification is basically making elements of your class like a game as a way to get students to spend more time with the course material and to motivate them to do things they might not otherwise have done. It is also a non-grade way of rewarding students. Plus, it makes learning fun.

Now, I should confess that I am not a gamer. I don't play Angry Birds, I don't play Words with Friends, I never played Farmville. It's not that I have anything against gaming, it is just that, on the rare occasions that I have a few spare moments, gaming is not what pops to the top of my list of things to do. I have, however, watched my son and husband and their huge devotion to games. I see other people putting a lot of energy into earning points and moving up levels. I am fairly convinced that this will motivate at least some of my students to engage in class more than they otherwise might have.

So, step one was to read up on simple ways to gamify a class. I included some of the articles I read below. I've decided to have a badge based system, where students can do three kinds of tasks to earn badges, similar to a merit badge that one might earn in the Boy Scouts. Here are the three kinds of tasks, as suggested in A Teacher's Guide to using Badges in the Classroom by Keith Sorensen:
  • Specific badges - basic tasks aligned to course outcomes. I'm thinking thinks like mastering the basics of Canvas, making substantive discussion posts on 5 days during a week, adding a website review to our course resources and the like.
  • Random targets - random tasks aligned to course outcomes. I'm thinking getting question #7 right on 3 quizzes in a row, finding a mystery icon that I hide somewhere in each module, etc.
  • Challenging targets - really hard stuff. I'm thinking reaching 100 people with your service learning project, having a viewing of a class related movie attended by 50 people, etc.

Now, once one earns the badges, what then?   In Education Levels Up! – A noObs guide to Gamifying your Classroom , Mr. Daley suggests letting students level up, earn experience points, and earn rewards. This all sounds like a bit much to me. I'm thinking of having some basic rewards like, earn 3 badges, get a late pass, earn 10 badges, get to drop an assignment, earn every badge and your grade will  go up one grade point. Daley also suggests earning class dollars for spending on rewards. I'm also pondering that idea - let them earn points for each badge and the points can be used to buy the rewards - giving the students a bit more control.

The next thing is how to organize this. All of the articles I read recommended Class Badges. I signed up. It's pretty basic and it seems like if I went with anything more complex than adding up badges, it would be more work for me. I then checked the Canvas LTI page for something that would plug right into Canvas. I actually found a couple of options including Open Badges and BadgeStack.  I like the idea of Open Badges, as I saw a great presentation from them at the Open Education conference last fall. I'm going to check that out. I also like the idea of whatever I use hooking right up with Canvas. BadgeStack required working with their development team, not an option 2 weeks out from the start of the course.  I'm going to a pre-conference session at InstructureCon on LTI's, so I should be a pro by next week.

More later as I continue to investigate gamifying my class.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lesson Planning

In my ideal mind, I plan classes months out, with great thought and time. In reality, it is usually rather rushed, very close to the start of the next quarter. I'm two weeks out now from the start of Summer Quarter on June 24. Next week I'll be at the national Canvas conference InstructureCon  in Utah for most of the week and probably not getting a lot done on this class, so I really need to do some serious work this week if I want to implement some of my new ideas.

Over the weekend, I worked on my lesson planning template. As you may know, I spent the last two quarters teaching in the Education School at Seattle U, a class called Adult Education Methods. The class really stressed the importance of lesson planning in order to implement important aspects of teaching like Universal Design and the Kolb learning cycle, which appeals to adult learners with concrete experiences. It also stressed the importance of summative and formative assessment and critical thinking.

My Global Studies really needs a complete revamp and building it upon carefully planned lessons seems like a good idea, rather than the random compilation of good ideas that it currently is. So, I'm crafting a lesson planing template that I think will work for me.

This week's goal is to write the lesson plan for each of the 8 modules and to set the visibility dates in my Canvas class. I'll also write to my students with my summer welcome letter to get them preparing for what is to come.

As always, if you see something in my materials that is useful to you, please feel free to use and modify.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The planning cycle begins again

It's that time again - Summer quarter is right around the corner and fall quarter will be here before I know it. It's time to get serious about course planning. When I started this blog this time last year, we were just learning we had adopted Canvas. Now we are deep into the pleasures of this new Learning Management System (LMS). I am really a huge fan of Canvas and love how it is constantly adapting to our needs, getting better and better every few weeks.

One of my favorite parts of this time of the year is thinking about what my focus will be for the new quarter. For my Global Studies Environment class, which I teach every summer at Highline, I hate to say it but this class needs a complete overhaul.  I love what I have there, but several of my favorite readings are dated, environmental problems that were pressing, like the global food crisis, have passed into being everyday miseries instead of headline grabbing events.  Thinking around climate change has matured.

I don't use a textbook.  Instead, I've gathered together a huge selection of articles from our library databases and open educational resources (OER).  One of the challenges of teaching with OER is that I have to stay on top of the readings and make sure everything is current - I can't rely on the textbook publisher to do it for me. That means rewriting all of my quizzes, recrafting essay questions, creating new discussions.  This is a ton of work, but it is work that is worthwhile. Students regularly comment on how relevant this course is and a good portion of that is because I craft the content to what matters to my students. Plus, the students don't have to buy a book and save a lot of money. They like that too :-).

Additionally, I want to think about gamifying my class, which is the process of incorporating game like rewards into the course.  I also want to make the class more personal for my students, allowing the selection of a book or movie to report on and having a class journal.  Whenever I add work, of course, I need to think about what I'm going to take away. This is already a robust class and, in keeping my student workload in mind, I need to maintain balance.

I have to be realistic, though. I am a part time instructor and am teaching this quarter in the graduate school at Seattle U.  I only have so many hours to give to indulging in course planning (which I genuinely do enjoy).  So, with the genuinely pressing need to overhaul the summer class, trying new things might have to wait for fall and my American Government class.

What new pedagogies are you thinking of indulging in this summer? Share your thoughts in the comments.