Friday, March 18, 2011

Improving Student Learning

Can screen capture improve student learning? Before we answer that let me define what I mean when I write screen capture: it is when you record all activity done on your computer screen, potentially with audio, and share it through an external website. Screen capturing is literally recording what you are doing on your computer screen and sharing it. I've blogged about my favorite screen capture freeware tool, screencast-o-matic, but there are several available to choose from. What I want to tackle with this blog post is less about how to screen capture or what resources there are; I would rather discuss what the potential benefits are. Are there benefits? That is a fair question, and my response would be there are. To be candid, I am a proponent of screen capturing in an online environment, even though I do recognize potential drawbacks, so my focus here will be to promote its benefits because I believe they outweigh the drawbacks.

Consider relying on screen captures to provide supplemental and remedial information. This will free you up to focus on higher-order learning in your discussions and assignment feedback.

Screen capturing allows you to develop course content and add your personality, personalizing the online environment for students. Having content recorded allows students to record, pause, and playback information. This allows time for reflection and contemplation.  Essentially you are creating on demand instruction that is becoming increasingly mobile.

What types of content are viable screen capture options:
  • Instruction on how to complete an assignment, or clarification over an activity, are a beginning point. Even though you have your assignments written out in your syllabus, recording the instructions and adding more detail through explanation adds another level of information for students. Besides, if you think about it when you teach on-ground you don't just have students read the syllabus and call it a day. You go over the content with them to delve deeper into the purpose of the assignment or activity, so why not do that online?
  • Demonstrate an activity, dissect an assignment, display a sequence of activities, and/or convey to students how the material threads together from week to week.
  • Review of course concepts, reading materials, and/or supplemental materials. The importance of this is that it allows you to bring in your interpretation and explanation of a particular subject and topic. At Baker students are expected to cover a fair amount of material in a condensed amount of time, anyway you can aid students in retaining essential concepts and explain how they correlate to course objectives will increase retention. Screen capturing allows you to bring your voice (literally) into the online classroom.
 The last thought on this is that screen capturing will provide some flexibility to duplicate what you may have successfully done on-ground in an online course. Recently we had an instructor interview someone via a screen capture to bring them into their online course as a guest speaker; we've also had someone create entire video sequences over how to work through college algebra equations to build a support video library. It has had a positive impact on students. With minimal technological skills you can be screen capturing and, I feel, greatly enhance the online environment.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Online Retention

I read an article this week in Campus Technology titled "Strong and Steady Wins the Retention Race" (for those interested in the article click here). The article, written by Angela Naginey, Director of Retention at Cal Lutheran University, outlined steps taken to improve student retention.  Naginey's article provides a brief background into the creation of her position within the university and conveys the principles and recommendations she has employed. Many of Naginey's assertions are logical and reasonable, so it made me think about the online environment. How can we at Baker do better to retain online students, or is it even possible? There are some variables outside the scope of online instructors, such as recruiting and initial orientations, but then there are some variables online instructors can directly address. In a previous blog I discussed how to engage online students, which I think relates to retaining students as well, but for this post I want to present specific strategies for the purpose of retention. Ultimately, once students enter the online environment instructors become the first line for implementing best practices in retention. The university still has an important role with its internal support, but the instructor is often the first line of communication. With that said, what are some ideas to consider implementing in your online course that blend with our students and Moodle?
  1.  Do you gauge your student's abilities early on? Particularly with writing or math? Assigning a short assignment in week one or two, informal or formal, provides a beginning assessment point. From there you can evaluate direct areas of needs, provide direct feedback to those areas, and monitor them for the duration of the course. In the instance a student has multiple needs, this is where we can work them to obtain extra assistance, or build a focus plan for them that sets up obtainable benchmarks. Something subtle like this early on can alleviate frustrations later on in the course and build a positive relationship with students that can aid in retention efforts.
  2. Do you ever survey your students after a couple of weeks to get a feel for where they are? I would always suggest adding a forum in Moodle where students can ask questions, but have you ever considered adding a survey or choice option (both available within Moodle) to gain a sense of how students are coming along? Particularly if you've taught the course before and know of trouble spots for students, then it may behoove you and the students to pose a survey or choice question in Moodle about their comprehension or progress in a particular area. From that you can target a lecture to better explain that area or hone in on assignment feedback that prepares students for the potential difficulties. This process of coaching students along can assist with retention.
  3. How do you build an online community in your class? A constant found within studies of student attrition in online environments is the lack of community, or feeling of isolation. How do you combat that within the confines of Moodle and Baker's policies? Have you thought about it at all? Maybe in week one have a forum available for students where they are asked to say something brief about who they are as a student and person, and you reply with some tidbits about yourself. Add an introductory audio piece where your personality can come out.It should be brief and doesn't have to necessarily be course related. Do you do an icebreaker in week one? I realize that many of our cohorts, depending on where you teach in the program, are familiar with one another, so use this as an opportunity for them to get to know you. Do you put your picture in your Moodle profile? Giving students a visual image of who you are can assist in making a better connection (besides, all those smiley faces begin to drive me nutty after a while). How accessible are you; more importantly, how accessible are students for one another? Do you ever assign peer work outside of learning teams? Incorporating a peer activity where a student is forced to step outside their learning teams is an ideal way to expand their support within a cohort. Small steps such as these can go a long way in reducing the isolation feeling students sometimes have and cultivate the feeling of online community.
  4. How do you champion student success? Often as instructors we are immersed in critical assessments, where we focus on what is wrong in order to improve our students. But, how do you give accolades to students that succeed? Do you merely give a "nice job" comment? Do you present their work to the class? Do you go into detail about which aspects were done well, so they can capitalize on those and continue to develop them? It is vital we critically evaluate students, but it is just as important that we give them their earned acclaim as well. Particularly if you are aware of hurdles they've overcome in order to reach a certain point, boosting their confidence makes the accomplishment personal and recognizable.