Friday, October 8, 2010

Why I Like Some Classes More Than Others

By Susan Codone

After 8 years of college teaching, I have learned that I simply like some classes more than others.  Not just the students, necessarily, but the classes themselves as a whole.  For these classes, I often find myself smiling as I heft my books and head down to the classroom, anticipating a good class session.  After some thought and a little reading, I’ve been able to capture just why I like some classes more than others—at least six solid reasons.

The first reason I like some classes more than others is simply attendance.  I like it when my students are there!  Those classes with the best attendance are more successful, in my experience.  In fact, an article by Nitsa Davidovitch and Dan Soen in the College Student Journal (Sept 2006) reports on a study conducted at an Israeli university.  Over 9,000 students were surveyed, and the higher the student’s class attendance, the more highly the student rated the instructor.  I generalize that to mean the students performed better as well.  Coming to class more often makes class better!

The second reason I like some classes better than others is the students’ participation.  Raymond Jones, writing in College Teaching (2008), says that class participation can be a way both to increase knowledge and apply it contextually, and that all students can benefit from other students sharing their insights.  When students participate regularly, the instructor is able to build on their knowledge because it is shared.  This makes class better!

The third reason I like some classes better than others is seeing the pride students take in their work.  When students work hard and are proud of what they do, they get more satisfaction from it as well as greater learning.  Pride is motivating.  Lisa Williams and David Steno, writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2008), say that most psychologists agree that pride is a positive emotion coming from achievements that can be attributed to effort and ability.  They also state that when someone feels proud about a recognized accomplishment, like a graded assignment, they may feel an incentive to “pursue further action in that valued domain”.  In other words, pride makes you continue to try harder.  I like it when my students feel pride in their work because it makes them want to continue doing well!

A fourth reason I like some classes more than others is the cohesiveness of the group – the sense of belonging the students have to the class.  David Kember and Natalia Li wrote in the International Journal of Lifelong Education (2001) that students who feel they belong to a class have better quality learning outcomes and find the class a more fulfilling and enjoyable process.  They recommend having personal relationships with students to encourage this sense of belonging.   In my experience, it doesn’t take much to generate this cohesiveness – just a little interest from the instructor and time for the students to get to know each other and the expected learning outcomes, and to commit to both.

A fifth reason I like some classes more than others is the common conversation that often springs up, both along academic lines and more personal lines.  As I become more familiar with the students, I begin to know the athletes and when their games are; I know the engineering students and their work in design, and I become accustomed to talking with them all about class material and their extracurricular lives.  Debra Myhill writes in Research Papers in Education (2006) that Vygotsky’s wrote this first – it was his belief that language is fundamental to learning and meaning and that this effect is at the center of any discussion of how classroom conversation can promote learning.  Myhill writes also of an “internally persuasive discourse” where students are encouraged to develop a range of speaking and listening roles.  This kind of discourse shapes learning, makes class more interesting, levels the playing field, and opens up opportunities for instructors to develop classroom conversations common to all students.

A final reason I like some classes more than others is when my students buy in to a common class purpose.  This is sometimes called engagement in the academic literature, and represents the process by which students invest themselves into a class.  Some schools try to understand this process better.  For example, Rachelle Heller, Cheryl Beil, Kim Dam, and Belinda Haerum write in the Journal of Engineering Education (July 2010) that at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, they surveyed 135 freshmen students to see how they would define engagement; 74 responded and half of those indicated that engagement is related to faculty involvement, their own interest in the topic, and their interaction with other students.  It is clear that students who buy into a class or are engaged with its content are more successful.  There are ways to foster this engagement.  I prefer to get to know my students, show them I am interested in their experiences, and try to convey my excitement for the topics I teach.  I am always gratified when they respond well to this, and it always makes me like the class even more.

Sometimes it’s hard to capture exactly what about a class makes it likable; you just know that you like that class more than others and you’re always happy to hold class sessions.  When students attend and participate, it simply makes our job easier!  Conveying content is facilitated by students who want to be there and who take part in class.  When students take pride in their work because of their expectations and those of the instructor, class is better.  When classes form into cohesive groups, communication is shared and students are happier.  When there is common conversation and a common class purpose, learning flows and everyone benefits.  And I like those classes just a little bit better!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coming Soon

I have a new post coming soon on Discovery Learning.  School has started and has taken my attention temporarily, but look for the new posting soon!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Google CloudCourse

by Susan Codone


Google's new release of CloudCourse, its new internal learning platform, hasn't drawn much press attention, but it is being tried out by both corporate and educational users.  Read Write Web reports that CloudCourse is built on Google's App Engine and is a course-scheduling tool, fully integrated with Google Calendar.  CloudCourse also includes approval processes, wait list management, and room and user profile information and can be synced with internal systems that users may have.  The intended audience for CloudCourse is the corporate e-learning market, but educators are taking a look at the application as well.

Read Write Web reports an interview with Irwin Boutoul, a software engineer at Google, who says that Google didn't design the system with universities in mind, instead building it as a course scheduling tool for business enterprises.  Nevertheless, Google would like to see universities pick up this platform and code additional features on top of it to make it more relevant to the higher education market.

CloudCourse does not yet contain all the functionality that will make it an alternative to the other LMS systems available.  Since the source code is open, businesses and universities are free to explore and build upon the application, improving it along the way.  Google itself says that CloudCourse allows anyone to create and track learning activities.  It also offers sync service, to sync CloudCourse to users' internal systems, room info service, to schedule classes in different locations, and user info services, to look up user profiles.  It was developed in Python, using the Django web application framework and the Closure Javascript library.

Irwin Boutboul and Phaneendhar Vemuru, the leaders of the CloudCourse software engineering team, say that they developed CloudCourse to:

  • Provide a course scheduling system fully integrated with Google services
  • Demonstrate what it takes to build an application using App Engine

By releasing CloudCourse as open source, they hope that developers may want to port or build enterprise applications on App Engine.  CloudCourse is available for download and you can join the CloudCourse mailing list.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mobile Learning

by Susan Codone

Mobile learning is a fast-growing phenomenon commensurate with the pace of mobile phone growth and other communication devices with Internet connectivity.  Originally, distance learning occupied this landscape, then e-learning, and now mobile learning is coming as a worthy successor.  Wikipedia defines mobile learning, or M-Learning, as any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies.

Yi-Shun Wang, Ming-Cheng Wu, and Hsiu-Yuan-Wang, writing in Investigating the Determinants and Age and Gender Differences in the Acceptance of Mobile Learning (British Journal of Educational Technology, 2009), say that mobile learning is the delivery of learning to students anytime and anywhere through the use of wireless Internet and mobile devices, such as mobile phones, PDA's, smartphones, digital audio players, handheld computers, MP3 players, and notebooks.  Wikipedia states that the term covers "portable learning" that is accessible from virtually anywhere; it is also collaborative in nature since sharing is almost instantaneous among learners using the same content. Instant feedback is another characteristic.

The Great Divide in Mobile Learning
Sanjaya Mishra, in a 2009 review of Giasemi Vavoula's book Researching Mobile Learning (British Journal of Educational Technology, 2010) writes that mobile technology can help us achieve the last mile of access to the Net and to a vast range of learning resources in digital form, and create digital bridges for access to education.  In contrast, David Caverly, Anne Ward, and Michael Caverly, in TechTalk: Mobile Learning and Access, write that there is a serious digital divide with mobile technology.  As the graphic shows, there is disparity between access to resources and the literacy required for using mobile technology.  But, this kind of gap existed when distance learning began and then when e-learning began to take over the marketplace.  Given time for the technology to develop and for users to find their way, this divide will shrink as the others did in the past.

Caverly, Ward, and Caverly report Morgan Stanley's research that 60% of the world's population had access to a mobile phone in 2008.  They go on to say that Internet-connected mobile phones are the primary means of wireless access for 68% of English-speaking Hispanics  and 65% of African Americans.  By 2020, Morgan Stanley predicts that mobile phones will be the primary connectivity device for the Internet, surpassing desktop and laptop computers.

Mobile Learning in Real Life
So now that we know mobile learning is growing fast, what's an example of how it works in real life?  Consider this scenario, adapted loosely from Are You Ready for Mobile Learning by EDUCAUSE.  On the way to work, a student listens to a podcast of his professor's lecture on his mobile phone, which also serves as an MP3 player.  When he arrives, he receives a text message on his phone from a fellow student who has questions about the class.  He replies, and realizes she is currently copying the text of the instructor's lecture off the course website to her USB drive to plug into her tablet computer.  They text each other about the question, then text the professor, who calls the student to answer the question.  Meanwhile, the first student Googles a term from the lecture on his mobile phone while talking to the professor.  He texts the other student with the answer, and then goes inside to start his day.  This is learning, but via mobile technology, always on the move.

Mobile Learning Pedagogy
The pedagogy for mobile learning is a bit different from that of the classroom.  Mobile learning requires that the professor use almost any means of pushing content out to learners and allow the learner to easily communicate with him and other classmates.  There no longer is one place for learners to go to get content or to be taught; multiple outlets for content exist so that learners can acquire it using the technologies that pace their lives.

There are two main considerations, pedagogically speaking, in mobile learning: content and communication.  Course content may be posted on a course website, perhaps hosted by the university or an instructor, or it might reside inside a learning management system, or LMS, that learners can reach online.  Sometimes mobile content may be placed inside a social networking program like Facebook -- a class could have a Facebook group, and classmembers can contact each other and the instructor within that group.  Or, content may be aggregated into an audio or video podcast, hosted on a website, in an LMS, or even iTunes.

Once the content is available via multiple outlets, the communication component kicks in.  The instructor may use a web meeting program like Webex with voice over Internet protocol and video feeds so that all learners can talk, be seen, and share documents and websites with the class.  Or, Facebook may be used for class communication.  Text messaging can be used to take attendance or do "exit slips" where learners text a summary of what they learned to the instructor.  Email and telephone are also used for communication.  So, there is a constant loop of content being pushed out to learners and communication via various devices and services to tie in learners to class activities.  Just as e-learning took learning away from the classroom, mobile learning is taking learning away from a fixed location.  The goal of mobile learning is to let learners interact with course resources while away from their normal place of learning, like the classroom or their desktop computer.

Limitations of Mobile Learning
There are some limitations to mobile learning.  Connectivity is sometimes a challenge; in addition, mobile phone screens are small, and they don't usually have much memory or processing power.  Input is sometimes slow on tiny keyboards, and limited memory and battery life sometimes force users to stop using technology for a time.   But since the key to mobile learning is using multiple devices to access course content, learners can usually find a way to maximize their resources.

Mobile learning is the newest and most exciting development in learning. By providing so many options for both learners and instructors, mobile learning greatly expands the canvas on which we teach and learn.  It's a foregone conclusion that it will continue to grow as technology develops more connected devices.  Morgan Stanley may be right; by 2020, phones may indeed be the most common way to connect to the Internet.  It will be interesting to see where mobile learning takes higher education in the next ten years.

Recommended Reading
1.  Are You Ready for Mobile Learning?  By EDUCAUSE
2.  International Association for Mobile Learning

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Scaffolding & Teaching (and Learning)

by Susan Codone

Scaffolding is an instructional concept that is often attempted and often misunderstood.  In preparation for this blog posting, I read many articles about scaffolding, most with the word scaffolding in the title.  At least four articles did not offer any definition of scaffolding, describe its origin in Vygotskian thought, or provide any examples of real scaffolding strategies, providing instead broad instructional events like "assignments" or "homework" as efforts that scaffold learning.

Defining Scaffolding
Let's start with some definitions so that we can place scaffolding in the right context.  In Scaffolding Emergent Writing in the Zone of Proximal Development (Literacy Teaching and Learning, 1998), Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong write that Jerome Bruner first wrote about scaffolding in the 1950's.  Rooted in Vygotskian thought (but never discussed by Vygostsky), Bruner defined it as the expert support provided by an instructor to facilitate the learner's transition from assisted to independent performance.  Bruner said that the scaffolds provided by the instructor don't make the task itself easier, but they make it possible for the learner to complete the task without support. 

Wikipedia's entry on instructional scaffolding describes it as representing the helpful interactions between the teacher and learner that enable the learner to do something beyond his or her independent efforts. The crucial characteristic of scaffolding that many people miss is that a scaffold is only a temporary framework that is put up for support and is taken away when the learner gains control of a task.  In An Approach to Reducing Cognitive Load in the Teaching of Introductory Database Concepts (Journal of Information Systems Education, 2010), John Bunch defines scaffolding as something that presents performance support as needed to achieve a goal, and then fades it away as the learner is able to achieve the goal independently.

Types of Scaffolding
There are two types of scaffolding identified in the literature -- hard and soft.  Brian Belland, Krista Glazewski, and Jennifer Richardson (A Scaffolding Framework to Support the Construction of Evidence-Based Arguments Among Middle School Students-- Education, Technology, Research and Development, 2008) define soft scaffolding as just-in-time support provided by a teacher or peer that helps students meaningfully participate in the performance of learning actions.  They define hard scaffolding as technology or paper-based tools that are based on anticipated student needs -- like videos of experts, computer-based help, etc; hard scaffolding is meant to augment soft scaffolding.

Scaffolding Strategies
The strategies used to scaffold learners are the heart of the theory and are how teachers can bring learners along to independent practice.  Many instructional strategies can be used as scaffolding as long as the teacher uses them to gradually bring learners along and then fades out their use as learners gain independence.  In Scaffolding Collaborative Exchange Between Expert and Novice Language Teachers in Threaded Discussion (Foreign Language Annals, 2009), Lina Lee discusses the use of social dialogue and critical reflection in threaded discussion as scaffolding techniques, saying that expert dialogue and feedback with learners offers expert assistance, reduces learner frustration, and increases motivation and cognitive growth.  Instructional strategies like these can be applied carefully as scaffolds to increase independent learning.

Other strategies for scaffolding include:

1. Strategies to solve novel problems
2. Development of mental models that generate multiple representations and visualizations
3. Problem solving strategies with specific steps learners can follow
4. Writing guidelines that serve as a formula for composition
5. Websites that offer additional information for learners trying to solve problems or generate written answers
6. Heuristics offering a framework for completing work

7. In math, using partially worked out examples that students complete with help
8. In literature, using guided role play and reenactments as connections with a story
9. In problem-based learning, using Socratic dialogue and metacognitive coaching to help learners question their understanding
10. In science, using expert modeling, question prompts, concept mapping, evidence gathering, helping questions

Done well, scaffolding and its gradual withdrawal can help promote cognitive growth and transfer of learning.  It can help students learn complex tasks and internalize procedures for solving problems.  Belland, Glazewski, and Richardson say that scaffolding should be systemic, motivating, and tailored to the ability of students.  Making the scaffolding explicit for students helps this process as well -- they should know they are being given support and should know when it is taken away.  Overall, scaffolding is an excellent strategy for structuring learning and making learners independent -- as long as it is done well and competently.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Effective PowerPoint Presentations

by Susan Codone

PowerPoint, and other presentation tools like it, is either the blessing or bane of most professors' daily work.  As a tool to project content, it has often been misused by presenters in a hurry or too uninformed of its features to use it properly.  On the other hand, it can be very successful when used well.  PowerPoint has its detractors, though.  Every article that I reviewed for this blog posting referenced Edward Tufte's 2003 article on the Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, and talked about his great dislike for bullet points, linear presentations, and simplistic presentations.  Tufte even called PowerPoint "content vacuous".  

There are other PowerPoint detractors in addition to Tufte.  David Brier and Kaye Vickery, in a 2009 articled titled "Perception and Use of PowerPoint at Library Instruction Conferences" (References & User Services Quarterly) listed their 5 top characteristics of bad PowerPoint presentations:

1. Speaker reads slides to audience
2. Overuse of text on slide
3. Slides use full sentences and paragraphs instead of bullet points
4. Text is too small to be read
5. Slides are hard to see because of color choices

Many of us have sat through PowerPoint presentations that were difficult to endure, for these reasons and many more.  But PowerPoint, used well, can be quite effective in transmitting important content to listeners.  Patricia Nemec and Anne Sullivan Soydan, in the 2008 Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal (The Medium Isn't the Message), write that PowerPoint has two main functions.  First, it is a visual aide supplemented by a spoken lecture, and second, it is a set of trainer notes that are a useful organizer and pacing tool.  Not only is PowerPoint good as a tool for presenters, it also can help listeners learn and remember better. Jo Mackiewicz, in her 2009 article Comparing PowerPoint Experts' and University Students' Opinions About PowerPoint Presentations (Journal of Technical Writing and Communication), associates Dual Coding Theory with PowerPoint, saying that PowerPoint is uniquely positioned to offer both verbal and visual content, thus activating both processing systems and enhancing memory.

So if PowerPoint can be used well, how can we become better designers and presenters?  One of the greatest minds on the correct use of PowerPoint is Jean-Luc Doumont.  In his 2009 book, Trees, Maps, and Theorems: Effective Communication for Rational Minds, he spells out clearly how to design and present excellent PowerPoint presentations.  I will borrow liberally from his work as I explain how to both design and organize slides and deliver presentations.

Good PowerPoint Slide Organization

Jean Luc Doumont says that presentations should answer five questions -- what, when, why, who, and where.  With a focus on the audience, presenters should be concentrating on what the listeners will be able to do after attending the presentation, not on the next slide.

Doumont recommends this slide organization -- title, attention- getter, preview slide, content, transition, content, conclusion, questions.  The title slide should do just that -- state the title and author's name.  Quickly following, the attention-getter slide is the one that really makes the very first impression on listeners and, obviously, gets their attention. Using a statement, question, anecdote, analogy, or visual, Doumont says that it also serves as an advance organizer, telling the listeners quickly what to expect from the presentation topic and getting them ready to learn.  

The preview slide is very important; this contains the "table of contents" or outline of the presentation.  This tells listeners how long the presentation will be and how many sections it will include.  The preview slide can also be used again as a transition slide throughout the presentation; whenever a new section is begun, show the preview slide with the completed sections grayed out.  This offers listeners a visual indicator of progress and tells them what is left in the presentation.  

The conclusion slide should concisely sum up the presentation, and the questions slide need not say "Questions" -- it could just contain an organizational logo, or some other symbol, and the presenter can just ask for questions.

Effective Slide Design

Doumont correctly says that poorly-designed slides reflect upon the speaker and compete with the speaker for the audience's attention.  Many times we place too much text on the slide, and then the listener cannot both read and listen to the text read out loud at the same time (Dual Coding again -- confusion of processing systems.)  Doumont says that if you aren't going to mention it, don't put it on your slide.  He says speakers make three common mistakes:

1.  Creating slides for themselves as memory aides with often cryptic text
2.  Making slides to double as a written report
3.  Copying text to slides without adapting it to slide format

Doumont says to include text, but a small amount, accompanied by a visual on each slide.  Write in a complete sentence and consider not using bullets, but tabs.  Illustrate your message as visually as possible, limiting the text used.  Use a light background with dark text -- projectors are stronger now and room lights are usually kept on.  Text should be in a sans serif font, with one typeface and only a few sizes.  Color should be used very sparingly.  Resist animations; they distract listeners from your message.

Presenting Slides

Doumont says that opening sentences like "Hello My Name Is" or "I am going to talk about fail to appeal to the audience because they lack a compelling purpose and are not motivating.  Instead, he says to start with a rationale and tell listeners immediately about the purpose of the presentation.  He says that listeners want to know why they should listen at all, and thus we should tell them -- and that we should talk about the topic (The system has three advantages...), and not about the speaker (I will present three advantages...).

Doumont recommends standing either to the left or right of the screen, whatever works with your right or left hand or how you have to advance the slides.  SpeakerFace the audience with shoulders, hips, and feet, and point to the slide with the hand closest to the screen. Project your voice to the back of the room, and elaborate on the slide, never reading the text to listeners who can read it themselves.  Maintain eye contact with listeners as you speak.  This means you should know your presentation material well enough that you don't have to look each time you make a slide transition -- slides should not be used as visual prompts.  When you make a transition to a new section, use the preview slide, but don't read it; let it visually tell the listener what's been done and what's next.  At the closing, sum up the presentation both visually and verbally, and then you're ready for questions.


PowerPoint is like many tools -- it is what you make of it.  By following these guidelines, you can make a credible, successful presentation that will be listened to and remembered.  You don't have to be an advanced PowerPoint user to use it well -- just one who follows good, solid guidelines and who cares more about what the listeners should get from the presentation than just getting through all the slides.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dual Coding Theory and Teaching

Dual Coding
by Susan Codone

Allan Paivio initially proposed Dual Coding Theory in 1971 to explain his view of how we remember pictures and words.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes Dual Coding Theory as one of the most influential theories of cognition in the 20th century. Paivio states that his theory of cognition has roots in the practical use of imagery as a memory aid going back over 2500 years (Dual Coding Theory and Education, 2006).  In fact, he says that memory is crucial to Dual Coding Theory because it is the basis of all knowledge and thought.

Paivio argues that there are two ways a person can elaborate on material.  One form of elaboration uses verbal associations; the other form creates a visual image to represent a picture or word.  Paivio says that pictures result in better memory and the potential of imagery is a more reliable predictor of learning than words.  Dual Coding Theory proposes two independent memory codes which together increase the chance of successful information retrieval.

Teaching with Dual Coding Theory
Richard Mayer, who has proposed the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, borrows the concept from Paivio that the learner possesses both a visual information processing system and a verbal information processing system (Richard Mayer and Roxana Moreno, A Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: Implications for Design Principles, 2005).  Both he and Paivio apply their theories in teaching by saying that whenever you teach a concept with words, pair it with an associating picture in order for your students to more easily transfer it from working memory to long-term memory.  For example, the two PowerPoint slides below illustrate this principle; the first is text only, while the second uses the most important text along with a relevant picture of what is being taught.

We all know that text-only slides are not as effective as a slide with text and a relevant picture.  In teaching, though, our use of pictures and text goes beyond teaching efficiency; by offering students both mediums, we open two channels into their working memories, thus laying down more solid neural pathways and making later retrieval much easier.  We make it easier for them both to learn and to recall information later when we use two channels of presentation.

Take a look at this screen grab from a medical e-learning course from Interact Medical.  This particular screen displays text on the left with an explanatory picture, including labels, on the right.  Now, medical education is very dependent on pictures, but this slide is actually more efficient than most; the text on the left "primes" the user to understand the picture on the right, and the picture confirms the message of the text. In the event the student looks at the picture first, the opposite effect occurs -- one pathway is laid down and the student next associates the text with the picture.  Both the visual and verbal information processing systems are invoked in the learner and the message of the text and the image both go together into working memory, linked by association as they eventually move into long-term memory.  The learner can then more easily retrieve the message by recalling the text and the picture, because both are linked by association in long-term memory.

Paivio says that images are more effective in both encoding into memory and retrieving from memory because an image provides a "'second kind of memory code independent of verbal code".  Mayer, in his research on multimedia and cognition, builds on Paivio's work by offering several principles of multimedia learning, the first of which is that it is better to present an explanation in words and pictures than solely in words.  Mayer says there is a multimedia effect consistent with a cognitive theory of multimedia learning because students shown multimedia explanations are able to build two different mental representations -- a verbal and visual model -- and build connections between them.

If you don't know what a kangaroo is, which picture is better?

Dual Coding Theory has great implications for teaching and learning.  Essentially, we do our students a favor when we offer multiple presentation modes to them while teaching -- we make it easier for them to acquire the  information, make associations, store it in working memory, transfer it to long-term memory, and then recall it later.  As professors, we can be better informed by the use of this theory, and our students will benefit.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Social Bookmarking

by Susan Codone

Social bookmarking is a Web 2.0 phenomenon that is growing site by site, with explosive growth in the last couple of years.  Most of us began bookmarking by designating sites we liked as "Favorites" in Internet Explorer.  With social bookmarking, instead of saving your favorite web addresses on your computer, you save them at a social bookmarking website, thus giving you access to them from any computer with Internet access.  This allows you to share, organize, search, and manage your web resources and look at those of others.

The key to this is in the word "social".  John Thompson, writing in the June 2008 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, (Technology: Don't Be Afraid to Explore Web 2.0) says that social bookmarking gives you greater capabilities than the original means of bookmarking -- you decide if you want others to have access to your links.  Peter Godwin, in New Review of Information Networking (2007), says that by "tagging", or assigning keywords to your links, you help link ideas and share resources with others (Information Literacy Meets Web 2.0: How the New Tools Affect Our Own Training and Our Teaching).  Thompson also says that the result of shared tagging is a "tag cloud", or a shared group of tags of different sizes representing different topics.  The size of a tag cloud can indicate its topical popularity.  Godwin says that this can strengthen searching power and increase understanding of topics.  In fact, the social bookmarking site (formerly tells users to tag bookmarks and "let collections emerge."


There are many social bookmarking sites, but let's look at the top three as currently positioned by their Alexa rankings (  Digg, or, is a social bookmarking site where people can discover and share content from anywhere on the web.  According to their about us page, Digg allows users to vote on content, letting the best content surface to the top by popularity -- in other words, users collectively determine the value of content.  With ten million users, Digg is "democratizing digital media".


The social bookmarking site StumbleUpon offers "stumblers" the chance to discover and share websites, with matches delivered based on personal preferences.  Pages are recommended by users with up/down ratings, and rather than using a traditional search engine, members (or stumblers) are taken directly to websites that match their personal interests and preferences.  StumbleUpon describes themselves as a combination of human opinion and machine learning.  With eight million users, StumbleUpon ( offers current collaborative opinions on website quality for their users.


Squidoo is an interesting website that allows you to gather your perspectives on topics into something they call "lenses" and publish them on the site.  Lenses are pages or overview articles that pull together everything you know about a topic and bring it to the attention to others.  Squidoo calls itself a publishing platform and a community of users and says they help you share your interests, build an online identity, and connect with other readers.  With more than 1,400,000 published lenses,  Squidoo is establishing itself quickly as a major web presence.  You can also make money from lenses; if you create a lens that gets lots of traffic, you can place Google ads on it and earn money.  Some Squidoo users are earning thousands of dollars monthly.

Social bookmarking sites offer many collaborative services for users to not only bookmark web services, but also share and manage their favorite sites with others.  The idea of creating a tag cloud and having popular topics emerge through user input is another factor unique to these sites.  Clearly, they are having an impact on the Internet based on their popularity, and it's certain that they will continue to grow.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Self-Regulated Learning

by Susan Codone

As professors, we’ve all seen the problem of underperforming students in our classes -- students who could do well cognitively and behaviorally but do not for a variety of reasons. We know the phenomenon of high D/W/F courses, especially those in math and science, where large numbers of students fail to meet requirements.Engaged Student In a 2009 article on concept mapping, Kyo You Lim, Hyeon Woo Lee, and Barbara Grabowski (British Journal of Educational Technology), say that college students are required to process a great deal of information, but simple access to this information doesn’t guarantee the creation of knowledge. Barry Zimmerman, who has written widely on self-regulated learning, wrote in 2002 in Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview (Theory in Practice) that few teachers actually prepare students to learn on their own.

Self-Regulated Learning

One solution to this age-old problem is Zimmerman’s work on self-regulated learning (SRL). Anthony Artino and Jason Stephens, writing in an article about adaptive and self-regulated learning in the summer of 2009 issue of the Journal of Advanced Academics, say that theories of SRL are used by educators and educational psychologists to better understand how successful students work and how they improve their learning. These authors call SRL “Academic Self Regulated Learning”, saying that self-regulated learners are active participants who efficiently control thoughts, feelings, and actions to improve learning.

Zimmerman (2002) states that SRL is self-generated thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are oriented to attaining goals. SRL involves more than knowledge of a skill; it involves self-awareness, self-motivation, and behavioral skills to implement learning appropriately. Joanna Garner of Penn State University, writing in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Psychology, compared executive functions of planning, impulse control, goal setting, self-monitoring, and motivational drive and found that when intact, these executive functions predicted cognitive strategy use, metacognition, and academic effort regulation – all tenets of SRL (Conceptualizing the Relations Between Executive Functions and Self-Regulated Learning). Garner visually described SRL this way:

Garner believed that self-regulation consisted of metacognitive strategies that lead to academic effort, and more affective elements that lead to motivation and volition to succeed.  Yet Zimmerman (2002) says that SRL is not a mental ability or an academic skill; instead it is a self-directive process by which learners transform their mental abilities into academic skills. Zimmerman lists three phases of SRL:

1. Forethought phase – where our interests lie
2. Performance control – where we apply cognitive and learning strategies
3. Self-Reflective – where we assign cause and effect to our actions

Zimmerman believes that these phases are what we all go through as we identify our interests, manage our cognitive efforts to learn, and identify causes for our actions.

Applying SRL In the Classroom

Theories are sometimes hard to apply in the classroom. Zimmerman and colleagues conducted an experiment in 2010 to investigate a semester-long classroom intervention designed to enhance SRL processes in at-risk math undergraduate students ((Zimmerman, Moylan, Hudesman, & Flugman, Overcoming self-regulatory deficits of at-risk math students at an urban technical college: A self-regulated learning intervention. Presented at the 2010 Research Conference of the Institute of Education Sciences). After the intervention, significantly more students in the SRL treatment groups passed the math course than did those in the control groups. Three interventions were used:

1. Instructor modeling of error correction

2. Guided self-reflection opportunities as part of formative assessment

3. Incentive system to reward subsequent attempts at learning

Here’s how Zimmerman and his colleagues implemented SRL processes in the at-risk students. First, the teachers purposely made errors in their content presentation and then modeled techniques to solve problems. Students were encouraged to come to the board and talk aloud their solutions – verbalizing the problems, their detection of the errors, and the way to solve them.

Every 3-4 days the students took a 4-5 question quiz. Before answering each question, students estimated their confidence (their self-efficacy) in solving the problem..Engaged Student They solved the problem, then estimated their confidence that they had solved it correctly (their self judgement).

The quizzes were returned along with a self-reflection form; on it, students could explain what they did wrong and needed to do to solve the problem correctly; then if they solved a similar problem correctly, they were given partial credit for the quiz (called incentive points). They also compared their self-efficacy and self-judgement scores on the basis of how they solved the problem. Questions were discussed in groups, and students practiced describing math strategies and procedures.The experiment was successful in proving that equipping students with SRL processes will help them succeed.

Not all of us can go to the depth of intervention that Zimmerman's experiment did, but we can implement methods to better equip students with SRL processes.  We can expand the amount of reflection that students do; we can let them estimate their readiness for tests and other academic challenges, and we can use class time to collaboratively explore areas that are difficult.  We can remind students to plan, organize, and manage their study efforts; we can explicitly model learning strategies that will help them succeed, and we can allow them to redouble their efforts to understand why they failed to succeed.  Self-regulated learning may not be a single skill, but it is teachable, and it is worth trying.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Video and Teaching

by Susan Codone

From the interactive videodisc series Jasper Woodbury by the Cognition and Technology Group at JasperVanderbilt toYouTube today, the availability of video for instruction has grown exponentially.  Elliott Masie wrote on March 2, 2010 that "the introduction of video into almost every aspect of our learning and work tasks is profound and disrupting."  He goes on to say that "Rising bandwidth, lowered equipment costs, ease of editing and growing expectations of learners will make video a profound component of our learning efforts going forward."

Sloane Burke and Shonna Snyder, writing in the International Electronic Journal of Health Education (2008) say that Internet-based resources like YouTube integrate relevant content and help students reflect on how to apply what they've learned.  In their article YouTube: an Innovative Learning Resource for College Health Education Courses, they say that as a teaching supplement, YouTube videos inspire and engage learners and " their digital learning style."

Ashley Falzetti, writing in Feminist Collections (2008) says that she seasons required texts with YouTube videos to provide content for denser theoretical readings (Reading YouTube, Contextualizing Theory).  Using YouTube for educational videos has proven to be more popular.  Martyn Poliakoff and Brady Haran created the Periodic Table of Videos, with a video for each of the 118 elements.  Since launching they have attracted millions of hits and won a 2008 award for excellence and education (Teaching Chemical Engineering, Feb 2009).  Even something as staid as pathology has found a home at YouTube, with the University of St. Andrews (UK) identifying YouTube as an informative and accurate source of histopathology learning (Medical Teacher, 2009).

Theory and Pedagogy

Theoretically speaking,  social learning theory by Albert Bandura Jasper
best describes what happens when we learn from video.  The Theory In Practice (TIP) Database states that Bandura's theory emphasizes the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of other people.  The most common use of social learning theory is through commercials; we watch them, learn from them, and often model their behavior by purchasing the intended products.  In much the same way, students can watch educational video and model the attitudes and behaviors they see.

Pedagogically speaking, the theoretical foundation for learning through video is constructivism and active learning.  Wikipedia says that active learning is really an umbrella term that refers to instruction that focuses the responsibility of learning on the students.  Since videos can be an extension of a one-way teaching method, the student is still a passive learner and in danger of cognitive overload due to dense video content (Lee and Sharma, 2008).  Active learning can compensate for these problems by engaging the student and promoting cognitive activity.  Group work and student discussion are important components of active learning.  Lee and Sharma recommend showing videos in short segments, with time in between for students to participate in group activities and discussions about what they have seen, and what they predict might be next.  Just allowing students to watch video without breaks for reflection and discussion keeps learners in a passive mode and inhibits knowledge transfer.

Personal Example

In my classroom, I teach engineering students about engineering ethics.  I have learned that a thorough study of past engineering disasters often results in learning about what ethical decisions should have been made.  One such example is the 1996 ValuJet 592 airplane crash in the Florida Everglades.  Flammable cargo was loaded before flight, breaking ethical and official airline regulations.  A documentary video exists on YouTube that is broken into five 15 minute segments.  These are ideal for viewing, followed by reflection, group discussion, and even debate on the ethical issues after each segment.

Other YouTube video segments I have used in class include the Bhopal chemical plant disaster, the Challenger and Columbia accidents, Three Mile Island, and the Kansas City Hotel Walkway Collapse among others.  Each time I use video in the classroom student engagement and attention are high, and I believe that learning occurs at a greater rate than if I were just to describe the tragedy or have the students only read about it.  The videos help the experience come alive for students who weren't yet born when the Challenger exploded.

Elliott Masie said that videos are becoming a large part of our learning process.  In the classrooms, videos can be used to bring life to experiences and help students engage -- as long as they are used well, with plenty of time for student reflection.  YouTube and other video-sharing sites make finding videos easy, and most professors are equipped with classrooms able to show video.  Videos make a great supplements to lessons; I encourage you to use them with your students today!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cousins of YouTube

by Susan Codone

YouTube is the preeminent video collection on the Internet, especially with its 2006 acquisition by Google.  According to Wikipedia, YouTube is the 3rd most visited site on the Internet behind Google and FaceBook and in 2007 it is estimated to have consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet did in 2000.  In May 2010, 14 billion videos were viewed.  Many videos on YouTube are educational in nature and can be used by professors as supplements to lessons.

But did you know that there are several other websites devoted to educational video, especially for higher education?  Marilyn Gilroy, writing in The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education (2009), suggests there are other sites who seek to find a better way to collect and highlight educational video content.  In her article Higher Education Migrates to YouTube and Social Networks, Gilroy describes YouTubeEDU, BigThink,  Academic Earth,, and iTunesU.  Another site, TeacherTube, also offers educational video for the secondary and postsecondary markets.  Finally, Gary Marchionini of the Open Video project describes an open source digital video library that can be used by researchers, teachers, students, and the public.

YouTubeEDU seems to be a loose collection of educational video posted by professors and other education professionals from around the world.  YouTubeEDU doesn't appear as a component of the YouTube menu, but a search yields educational videos titled YouTubeEDU.  Gilroy states that YouTubeEDU features lectures and other materials from many colleges and universities, including Stanford, Harvard, and MIT.

Big Think is a "global forum connecting people and ideas."  This site offers videos from leading professors, with special series such as the Top 10 Videos of the First Half of 2010, Life in 2050, and Sustainability, among others.  Broad video topical areas include Arts & Culture, Belief, Business and Economics, the Environment, the Future, Health and Medicine, History, and Science and Technology among many others.  According to their About Us page, Big Think says "We believe that not all information is equal. We believe that expertise is invaluable and should be shared."

Academic Earth offers online degrees and video courses from leading universities.  Its mission is to "give everyone on earth access to a world-class education."  Academic Earth most popular social science courses include game theory, communication and conflict in couples and families, introduction to psychology, financial markets, and the geography of U.S. elections.  According to their About Us page, Academic Earth is "building a user-friendly educational ecosystem that will give internet users around the world the ability to easily find, interact with, and learn from full video courses and lectures from the world’s leading scholars. Our goal is to bring the best content together in one place and create an environment in which that content is remarkably easy to use and where user contributions make existing content increasingly valuable."

According to Gilroy (2009),, or "The Smart Network", offers unedited videos from events at universities, think tanks, and conferences. On their About Us page, they say, "We gather the web's largest collection of unmediated video drawn from live events, lectures, and debates going on all the time at the world's top universities, think tanks and conferences. We present this provocative, big-idea content for anyone to watch, interact with, and share --when, where, and how they want." Current video topics on include the 2010 Wired Business Conference, choosing judges, the Supreme Court, the iPad, and Afghanistan.

Then, says Gilroy, iTunesU, with more than 150,000 lectures, presentations, videos, readings, and podcasts available for download dwarfs most other educational media sites. iTunesU offers institutions a single home for distribution of information to students and faculty. In fact, iTunesU offers content distribution, a custom site for institutions, public access to educational media, and internal access for institutions wanting more security. This is more than a learning management system -- this is a learning media system.

TeacherTube's About Us page says that "We seek to fill a need for a more educationally focused, safe venue for teachers, schools, and home learners. It is a site to provide anytime, anywhere professional development with teachers teaching teachers. As well, it is a site where teachers can post videos designed for students to view in order to learn a concept or skill." Teacher Tube offers videos, documents, audio files, photos, channels, communities, and blogs. The site appears to market more toward the secondary market, especially the home school community.

The Open Video Project is an effort to develop an open source digital video library for educators and students.  Gary Marchionini, in his article Video and Learning Redux: New Capabilities for Practical Use, describes it as a way to create and study an open source repository of digital video, using it as a testbed for research. The project came from the Baltimore Learning Community and representations the use of a digital library as a "sharium" for collaboration and contribution of materials and expertise.  The About Us page says that "The purpose of the Open Video Project is to collect and make available a repository of digitized video content for the digital video, multimedia retrieval, digital library, and other research communities. Researchers can use the video to study a wide range of problems, such as tests of algorithms for automatic segmentation, summarization, and creation of surrogates that describe video content; the development of face recognition algorithms; or creating and evaluating interfaces that display result sets from multimedia queries."

Clearly, YouTube is not the only player in the educational video and media market.  Other sites worth mentioning are SchoolTube, Discovery Education, Yahoo Video, and Google Video.  As we can see, there are many options available for educators, who must choose the one best suited to reach their educational and institutional mission.  Making that choice depends on the needs of students and faculty and upon the content to be taught.

Stay tuned for my next article on using video in the classroom!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Short Answer Questions: A Great Middle Ground

by Susan Codone

Short answer questions, no matter how well-formulated, cannot measure divergent thinking and subjective or imaginative thought.
Allan Ornstein, The ClearingHouse, 1992

Student Taking TestDid he really say that?  Did Allan Ornstein really just savage a staple of the test arsenals of many college professors, the short answer question?  Stronger than multiple choice, yet not quite as revealing (or time consuming to grade) as the essay question, the short answer question offers professors a great middle ground – the chance to measure a student’s brief composition of facts, concepts, and attitudes in a paragraph or less.  In spite of what Allan Ornstein says, the short answer question is indeed capable of measuring divergent thinking and both subjective and imaginative thought and is used widely by many professors.

Leave it to Wikipedia to offer a pithy definition of the short answer question – couching it as an “extended-response question with more than one right answer” or “more than one way of expressing the right answer."  The University of Wisconsin Teaching Academy calls short answer questions “constructed response”, or “open-ended questions that require students to create an answer.”   The Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign says that short answer questions allow students to present an original answer.  Going further, Karen Scouller of the University of Sydney, in an 1997 Advancing International Perspectives article, says that the greatest difference between multiple choice and short answer or essay questions is the measurement of surface vs. deep learning, indicating that longer-response questions tend to assess learning that is deeper and more tightly held in long-term memory.

Elizabeth Badger and Brenda Thomas, writing in Open-ended Questions in Reading, Practical Assessment: Research and Evaluation (1992), claim that a gradual change has resulted in teaching, with professors moving from teaching content alone to instead helping their students learn the ability to use and interpret knowledge critically and thoughtfully.  They recommend that assessment measure not just the product of learning (the content), but also the process students go through to acquire information.  Alexander Maxwell, a history professor from New Zealand, states in a 2010 article that methodological diversity in assessment is helpful, and says that in history, at least, the short answer question is very valuable (Assessment Strategies for a History Exam, or Why Short Answer Questions are better than In-Class Essays, The History Teacher).  The short answer question is well-positioned to capture both subjective and imaginative thought that occurs as students learn, as well as provide professors with a glimpse into the writing skills and idea expression of students.

Like all assessment items, a short answer question should clearly assess a specific learning objective.  It should ask students to select relevant facts and concepts and integrate them into a coherent written response. Question 1, below, is a typical example of a short answer question requiring such a constructed response.

This question, while a little long, sets up a scenario with an expert role, a community history, and an environmental problem and asks the students to use a specific problem-solving strategy -- the 4 A's (attain facts, alternatives, assessment, action) to frame a response, which can most likely be completed in 4-6 sentences, or one paragraph.

Question 2, below, is slightly more problematic because of a very common error in constructing short answer questions.

This question, while well-intended, actually asks two questions.  This likely will leave the student confused as to which question is more important.  Additionally, the student will have to write a longer response to answer both questions, leading this particular test question more toward an essay response than a short answer.  Short answer questions should always ask one clear question, rather than confusing the issue with multiple queries.

Finally, one strategy many professors use is to post a rubric or scoring guide in the test so that students will know how points will be distributed based on their answer.  Question 3, below, both shows such a rubric and demonstrates another common problem in short answer question development.

Note in this question, a scoring distribution is provided to the students -- not only do they know the question is worth six points, but they also know immediately that three points will be awarded for fully answering the question and two points for legibility, with the final point for spelling and grammar.  This tells them that not only do they need to answer the question completely -- they must also be neat and watch spelling and grammar.  Question 3 also demonstrates another common error -- writing questions that close off the extent of a student's potential answer.  Notice the second sentence -- "Do you think that two accidents..." -- what might the student's answer be?  Yes or No?  This is not the answer for which the professor is looking, but it might be the one given.  A better question would ask "How might two accidents be an acceptable level of risk...", in order to promote a more meaningful answer.

Ornstein (1992), who was more a proponent of essay questions than short answer in his article Essay Tests: Use, Development, and Grading, delineated a hierarchy of question verbs, as follows:

Type 1: Open  -- Why, How, Predict
Type 2: Directed -- Explain, Discuss, Examine
Type 3: Closed -- Identify, Compare, Contrast

According to Ornstein, Type 1 questions result in more meaningful answers, while Type 3 generate more specific, less creative responses.  So, whenever possible, even short answer questions should begin with an open verb, inviting students to be thoughtful and deliberative in their answers.

Short answer questions are a great middle ground for professors.  They are easier to develop than multiple choice and generate a more in depth answer as well.  Because of their brevity, they are easier to grade and they encourage student to integrate information into a coherent written answer, revealing much about what the student knows and how they express responses.  They can measure many types of knowledge when phrased correctly -- even divergent thinking and subjective and imaginative thought. Best of all, they can provide professors with a open window into student learning -- the real purpose of assessment.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Real College Teaching

by Susan Codone

Everyone has a favorite teacher.  I had two in college.  Both professors were always prepared, passionate about what they taught, and eminently practical.  Both were a great model of what a teacher should be and I adored them.  In fact, I've patterned much of my current teaching philosophy on their styles.  After I graduated, I sent one of my favorite professors this quote from John Dewey -- I felt it really captured his approach to teaching and I wanted to remind him of his importance to the world as a teacher.  During my college preparation, he was always engaged; he was always dignified; and I believe that he, and all of us who teach, is a prophet, bringing in the kingdom of God in the lives of whom we teach.

Maybe you’ll agree with Stanford Ericksen of the University of Michigan, who wrote that the public stereotype of a good teacher is a charismatic spellbinder who arouses listeners.  In his 1983 article Private Measures of Good Teaching in Teaching of Psychology, he says the other extreme is the mental disciplinarian who requires hard study and rote memorization for success.  I had professors of both stereotypes in college, but I remember little about them or what they taught me.

In 1993 another professor, Philip Tate, of Boston University, described two "worlds" of teaching that exist in our educational system.  The first world is made up of college professors and the second of elementary and secondary teachers.  Both approach teaching so differently that Tate assigned each a separate "world" of practice.  Tate, in The Two Worlds of Teaching (Journal of Education) describes professors as disciplinary specialists with a top-down instructional style whose only instructional mode is the direct transmission of knowledge.  He believed that knowledge was made up of large ideas held outside the mind.  In contrast, Tate says that secondary teachers work within an ethic of caring that rises above intellectual concerns.  They place their relationship with students just above teaching, which involves a very practical approach using a varied repertoire of instructional methods that they switch between easily. 

Tate contrasts professors with secondary teachers by saying that the latter are more "teachery" in nature.  Should college professors be more teachery – more instructionally varied?  More caring? Tate goes on to say that no one, college professor or high school teacher, who teaches without thought for how the students are learning will be successful, despite how teachery they are.

Much study has been devoted to effective teaching, especially at the college level, and organizations like the American Association of Higher Education and Accreditation and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching exist to further improve the field.  In 1987, Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson published seven principles of good practice in higher education -- a landmark list that has been studied and cited repeatedly by authors writing about good teaching.

Furthermore, in 1989 Kenneth Feldman published a meta-analysis of studies on student ratings of teacher quality in Research in Higher Education and identified 17 dimensions of teacher behavior that rated highly with student achievement.  Clearly, instructional behaviors and skills lead to effective teaching.  So, in short, there is research, lists of techniques, best practices, evaluation instruments, meta-analyses of research, and recommendations for good teaching that are readily available.  With all this research, what do we know about what makes a good teacher?  What defines a real teacher?  Why aren't there more really good teachers?  Why do most of us remember only one, or maybe two?

Peter Seldin, from Pace University, says the following in Improving College Teaching:

“…the argument has been raised by some that we still lack the final answer to the question of what constitutes effective teaching.  That may well be true, but the key ingredients of effective teaching are increasingly known.  We have no reason to ignore hundreds of studies that are in general agreement on these characteristics.”

As Seldin says, are all our questions answered?  Do we really know what makes good teaching?  In my experience, one issue is still unresolved.  Parker Palmer, in Good Talk about Good Teaching  (Change, 1993) talks about the privatization of teaching and says this:

"No surgeon can do her work without being observed by others who know what she is doing, without participating in grand-round discussions of the patients she and her colleagues are treating.  No trial lawyer can litigate without being observed and challenged by people who know the law.  But professors conduct their practice as teachers in private.  We walk into the classroom and close the door -- figuratively and literally -- on the daunting task of teaching.  When we emerge, we rarely talk with each other about what we have done, or need to do.  After all, what would we talk about?"

Technique, skills, motivation, relationships with students, content mastery, teaching skill repetoires -- all matter and are important because they prescribe effective teaching.  But we have to admit – we are a private profession, which can sometimes negatively affect our instructional effectiveness. 

open doorWhat do I remember about my two favorite teachers?  I remember openness. They taught with the doors open, and their office doors were always open.  They were open and reflective with us on their teaching, and they knew when we were learning -- and when we were not, they changed course.  Their openness led to personal relationships with many of us, and the ability to observe them not just as professors, but people, and to remember what made them great.  I hope that I remain open as a professor, and that one day my students may remember me.