TOMOOC Fishing in Week 4

Tanya, in Week 3 catch-up/ thank you’s & Techie Questions about Voice Messages (10/3/13), tested Veronica’s ideas re audio feedback on student papers/projects. She tried TurnItIn’s “new voice message tool,” “Adobe Pro’s voice embed tool,” and ScreenCastOMatic. Re the last, she says, “I’ve tried both ScreenCastOMatic options of QuickTimePlayer and WindowsMedia MP4s and AVI files. I’m also experimenting to find out if Laulima/Sakai limits the size of the attachment sent via Messages.  I think it does.”

Thanks, Tanya, for doing this! It saves me and others who are interested a lot of time and effort. My feelings re audio in this role is torn. On the one hand, I realize it does give a more human “face” to comments, but I’m not totally convinced that text doesn’t do the same, though in a different way via tone, persona, etc. On the other hand, part of the review process is to create a log of past performances to guide future growth and to measure growth, and for this, text is very efficient. The result is a performance continuum (or record) rather than isolated bits of feedback. I’d think audio comments, even if only a few minutes long, might take time to review — for the teacher as well as students. For example, I can scan a text transcript quickly for info I need, but searching a video or recording is a hassle. Thus, even if the technical issues could be worked out, audio recordings may not be worth the extra effort they require. When the purpose is to convey info on problems and strengths in a student’s paper, perhaps the best medium is the one that’s quickest, easiest, and most effective. However, this decision may be a matter of teacher preference, and buy-in may be a critical factor in student success.

Sara, in Week 4 Activity Post — 10/3/13, says, “I find that students don’t know how to think critically.” In the context of her post, I understand where she’s coming from. However, I don’t think she means that “students don’t know how to think critically.” Of course they do — but maybe not in the areas and in the ways that we deem important in our fields of study. The fact is, the vast majority of human beings are excellent critical thinkers. The key, for teachers, is to tap into that natural ability by helping students connect it to the teacher’s topics. Students may need to learn new labels for what they already do, and they may need to learn how to refine their thinking, but we shouldn’t forget that teaching is often reminding students about what they already know and showing them how to transfer prior learning to newer contexts. In short, ignorance is relative.

Sara mentions a problem in Dr. Elder’s session: “I felt like most of  [the] session was spent explaining what critical thinking was.  I was looking for specific examples about how to implement it into a training or class and how to engage student in that thinking.” Most teachers are familiar with critical thinking principles in F2F settings, so their interest is in implementation in online contexts. She leaves us with a comment that I’d like to echo: “I would still like to know what others do besides asking probing questions to encourage critical thinking in their students.  I know there must be more strategies out there that would reach out to a more varied audience of learners and I would love to hear about them.”

Ida Brandao, in “MOOC How to Teach Online” (9/28/13), says, “I must confess that I have great difficulty to follow synchronous communication, for professional reasons, for reasons that one forgets the timings. So, most of the synchronous events I watch as recorded sessions.” I’m like Ida. While I’m watching the linear real-time progression slowly unravel, I keep wondering, Couldn’t this have been provided in text, for me to review at my own leisure, at my own pace, in my own way? Then again, I may be asking all the wrong questions.

Julio C. Castro, in “Suggested Reflections (week 3)” (10/2/13), says, “It is a tricky situation when you have to put together teams of students who have not met before in a on-site course. But to do it in an online class, it is even more difficult. My take on this is that, even though many instructors practice this, the students have to figure out themselves how to pair up, the instructor only needs to create the right environment.” I agree that teamwork in an online class is “even more difficult.” I can’t help but feel that teamwork, like some other strategies (such as webinars), are carryovers from F2F learning contexts. In other words, in classrooms with 20-50 students, small groups or teams are a practical alternative to everyone shouting all at once. Online, the conditions are different, and the purposes for certain strategies that are useful in onground classes may not be as relevant online. Perhaps we ought to reverse engineer the practice of teams: begin with the purposes of teamwork then explore purely online strategies for achieving them. In this way, form follows function.

Julio, in “Activity Reflection (week 3)” (10/1/13), says, “It got me curious because I thought that maybe this is just some kind of resistance to the use of new technology or maybe there is indeed no foundation on the usefulness of this system in online learning. So, I think I have found a problem I liked to explore possible solutions to, that has really excited me.” Good point, Julio. My guess is that audio is simply not as efficient as text in forums. In discussion forums using text, we have a visual sense of the parts and the whole. If all were in audio, we’d lose that sense of location and finding and tracking individual posts would be baffling. Still, I applaud your spirit of inquiry and encourage your exploration.

Julio says, “I guess the big questions is whether discussion forums gain anything from implementing audio threads, here at UF there is no guidelines on how students use the tool, I think this time I will spend some effort on creating these guides to help students create a truly engaging community through voice and text.” I’d begin with this big question, too: Do “discussion forums gain anything from implementing audio threads”?

Leanne Riseley, in “Making Sense of Connecting with Learners and Creating Community” (10/1/13), says, “I created a new page with all of the technologies we use in the course on a single page. This page has video tutorials, resources, and links to tech support. In the past, I had the technology listed in my course syllabus and throughout the course modules, but now it is all in one place.” I slowly came to this “solution,” too. I use WordPress blogs for course info and developed a separate blog called “course resources,” a central location for info that’s repeated in all the separate course blogs. Course maintenance and info flow has become much more efficient.

Leanne says, “I’ve used teams in my online course for the last four years, constantly reviewing and revising the process each semester. A small change that I will be making –  I have always named my teams 1, 2, 3, etc. and encouraged the teams to pick their own names.” Please see my comment, above, to Julio re teams.

Mshin11, in “The best resources are your colleagues” (10/1/13), points to the Northern Arizona University site, an excellent resource for practical rubrics, for example:

Example 6: Wondering what you should do for the participation portion of our class?
What do I mean by a substantive post?

The following are some ideas to set the stage for substantive participation for the development of your critical thinking skills:

  • Ensure that the posting contributes to the overall discussion thread that is being developed. Your response must contain some reference back to the original discussion question.  Stay on track by always referring back to that original discussion question.
  • Try to use your posting to add value to the discussion. This is more effective than simply responding to meet a requirement.
  • Check to see that the posting expands on the main theme (in the discussion question, or assignment posting).
  • Make sure your posting is at least 75-150 words.

Other Ideas for Participation

  • Share a related experience.
  • Comment on others’ experiences.
  • Ask students questions about their ideas/experiences.
  • Consider an idea being discussed, and offer a different perspective on it.
  • Describe an interesting idea from the week’s reading, and explain what insights you gained from it.
  • Ask the group a question about the week’s reading.
  • Disagree (respectfully, of course) with a point that someone else has made.
  • Discuss a related issue on which you would like some feedback.
  • Describe how you have applied the recent course concepts to your personal/professional life.
  • Share another resource you have used as you explored the course topics.
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8 Responses to TOMOOC Fishing in Week 4

  1. Pingback: deanhcc

  2. Leanne Riseley says:

    I found your comments Julio’s thoughts on online teamwork interesting, causing me to pause and really examine what I do in my course and why. You stated “I can’t help but feel that teamwork, like some other strategies (such as webinars), are carryovers from F2F learning contexts. In other words, in classrooms with 20-50 students, small groups or teams are a practical alternative to everyone shouting all at once. Online, the conditions are different, and the purposes for certain strategies that are useful in onground classes may not be as relevant online.” I asked myself: Do I use teams in my online class because it is a carryover from f2f learning? For me, the answer is no. As I reflected on your statement, looked at why I use online teams and how it fits in with my teaching philosophy, I found that the primary reason I use teams is because it a real-world skill students need to develop, whether online of f2f.

    Our computer science advisory board communicated to the program that the skills most needed from graduates are “soft” or “professional” skills which include teamwork and communication. These employers say they can teach their new employees the technical skills with on-the-job training, but if they can’t work with others and can’t communicate, they are ineffective.
    Prior to working at the college, I worked in private industry where working on a team where the members were at a distance was common. In my current job, I am working on a grant where all team members in different locations with different time zones. We use Skype, BB Collaborate, Google Docs, Dropbox, etc. to work together on the project. In a similar way, shouldn’t we be exposing our students to teamwork by having them work together on projects? Shouldn’t they be learning online teamwork and collaboration skills in our courses where they can be guided in a facilitated environment?

    I definitely don’t have the answers to teamwork online. Similar to what Julio said in his “Suggested Reflections (week 3)”, one of the things I struggle with is putting together the student teams in an online class. I’ve developed a system, but am always open to making it better. I liked Julio’s idea of creating forums for students to start discussing topics of interest, but I’d like to get to the point where students form their own teams based on their interests…but not sure how to facilitate that…

    Enjoyed reading your Week 4 comments to others’ posts.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Leanne. Thanks for your thorough, thoughtful, and thought-provoking comments.

      Re “Shouldn’t we be exposing our students to teamwork by having them work together on projects? Shouldn’t they be learning online teamwork and collaboration skills in our courses where they can be guided in a facilitated environment?”

      The answer is yes, and I’m in 100% agreement with you.

      My concern is more with the how than the why, and it boils down to the question Julio, you, and I seem to be asking: What is the best way to teach teamwork and collaboration in online classes?

      If we reverse-engineer this, we’d begin with what a successful online collaboration might look like — at the end of the process. If the task is to come up with the best possible plan to solve a problem, then the final plan is really the best that the group, as a whole, could come up with. If it’s not, then the process, regardless of degree of engagement, is less than successful.

      How to determine if, in all phases, the best ideas are incorporated into the plan? Put another way, the question is, How do we ensure that the best thinking goes into a decision?

      One of the advantages of online is fluidity. Everyone can quickly and easily flow in and out of different conversations or threads. In conjunction with a microblogging platform such as Twitter, the separation between threads becomes even more transparent and everyone can easily keep up with what’s happening in multiple discussions via feeds. This fluidity and transparency create conditions that allow for the best answers to find their way to the most critical questions.

      However, if we box students into threads by teams, then the best answers and critical questions are limited to the members in the team, lessening the chances for a best fit between question and answer for the class as a whole. For example, one group may be able to come up with critical questions but fail to generate great answers; another group, great answers but for mediocre questions; and still another group, mediocre answers for mediocre questions.

      Cross fertilization is the critical process in thinking, and the ideal condition is to allow for optimal interactions. If student A and B have good answers that could mushroom into a great answer when combined, then the ideal condition would be to allow for them to mix. However, if they’re in different teams, the mix can’t happen and a great answer is lost.

      An analogy to this open vs. closed interaction model is a small team of scientists in Honolulu trying to find a cure for cancer X. If the task is restricted to members only, chances of success aren’t as good as if it were opened up to all the cancer X medical researchers in the world. The interactions without walls could create opportunities for the spontaneous mixing and remixing of ideas to ensure the best possible cure.

      In online learning environments, teams may not be necessary and may even be counterproductive. A single open forum comprising the entire class may be a better alternative, with students freely creating and flowing among different threads within the forum, participating where they will, much like the way TOMOOC is organized. Both you and Julio also seem to favor this sort of self-selection, and this may be the key.

      In the end, though, I believe students in online classes can become engaged in discussions and, as a result, generate higher levels of critical thinking while collaborating with classmates in threads that interest and excite them.

      These are just thoughts, and I may end up forming teams for specific purposes. When I taught F2F classes, small groups and teams were an essential pedagogy. Online, I’ve drifted away from them. It could be that team approaches, online, may be effective in some fields and not so much in others. But we’ll see . . .


      • Leanne Riseley says:

        Thank you for your responses…an interesting idea you presented about reverse-engineering, with starting at the end of the process. I had to think about your statement “If the task is to come up with the best possible plan to solve a problem, then the final plan is really the best that the group, as a whole, could come up with. If it’s not, then the process, regardless of degree of engagement, is less than successful.” After reading it several times and thinking of how this applies in my student teams, I agree. I believe, ideally, the final plan, if collaboration and teamwork are working, is the best possible plan. However, as you stated, if the process, which I’m interpreting to mean collaboration or teamwork, breaks down, then the final product is less than what it could have been. I have seen this happen in some of the student teams. If the teamwork isn’t working, the quality of the final product is not as good as it could be.

        You posed a question “How to determine, if in all phases, the best ideas are incorporated into the plan”…perhaps we could we put the responsibility on our students? Should we should be asking: How can we structure and facilitate an environment where students are critically assessing and incorporating their best ideas into their plan/project?

        I agree with your final thoughts regarding online teamwork and how it may be effective in some fields and not as much in others.

  3. Hi Jim,
    You are creating some outstanding artifacts that comment on other posts. You have taken Sarah Haavind’s ideas on summaries and landscapes to a new level.

    You created a summarizing artifact by portraying a “landscape” of multiple perspectives on the issues discussed this week. What a great example of how faculty and students can create artifact that comment on other learners thoughts and ideas.

    Thank you,

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Greg, and especially for the reference to Haavind’s article! You and your staff are setting the example for encouraging discussion via “landscaping” and I’m simply following your lead — not fully conscious of the nature of this strategy, i.e., until now. Haavind’s article is a must read for all online teachers struggling to grasp the difference between F2F and online learning environments.

      I really like the concept of landscape vs. summary: “If a moderator wants to help participants build meaning from their discussions, a more useful intervention would be to summarize by portraying a ‘landscape,’ which may include multiple perspectives on the issues discussed. Maintaining a suspension of judgment is critical.”

      An example of landscaping is: “As a few postings are made to the discussion, the instructor culls
      from the comments a theme or thread worthy of careful focus or deeper digging and holds it up for the group to consider.”

      I’ve been doing this recently, grabbing insightful quotes from student comments in discussions and tweeting them to the class. I had no idea it was a strategy, with a name no less — landscaping! It’s a simple gesture, sorta like writing a student’s comment, a brief sentence or less, during a F2F class discussion, on the chalkboard. You don’t need to say a word, but the message gets across to the class. I’m not sure what exactly that message is, but students quickly respond with more depth and are rewarded by seeing their thoughts written on the chalkboard. Gradually, the board fills up with quotes stretching across the entire front of the class. Like graffiti almost. During the discussion, students can then point to others’ comments, quote them, build on them, question them, make connections, etc. The result is a dynamic landscape of ideas generated by students rather than a summary focused on the teacher’s idea. After class, I’ve often seen students remain behind to copy some of the ideas from the board. (Similarly, in my online classes, some of the tweets end up as quotes in student papers.)

      It’s important to suspend the kinds of teacher comments that shrink rather than expand the landscape. Not saying anything is often best — or if the comment is a bit cryptic, perhaps clarifying its intent. The teacher’s role gradually fades to that of recorder while the students’ grows to that of landscape painter, idea generator, thinker. -Jim

  4. jennifershamsy says:

    Great comments..I like this term landscaping — nice to put a word with a concept. As for the paper-trail of voice comments – this is interesting. I have been using voice comments in limited amounts for student feedback on papers. Some students have been very thankful – others don’t respond. I always mix the voice comments and use text comments as well – so on those particular assignments there is quite a bit of feedback. I can only go with what I would think as a student if I were to put myself in their shoes since I have not actually surveyed the students about their thoughts on this topic. I as a student would appreciate the voice comments for two reasons a) it shows that the instructor is willing to take the extra time and is interested in my well-being and providing multiple layers of feedback – a sense of community and understanding that the instructor cares about my success (human touch) b) I think you can infer tone from voice comments that you cannot from text – is the instructor frustrated with my work, are they happy, do they sound like they are trying to find a positive in a sea of negative, are they passionate about their comments, etc? You cannot always derive tone from text and so I think that is useful. Thanks for your post.

    • JimS says:

      Jennifer, thank you for this opportunity to continue this dialogue on audio+text vs. text-only feedback to students. It involves a number of issues, and obviously some are more critical than others. For me, the most critical is the issue of presence, which is at once the bane and the blessing of online teaching and learning.

      One of the principles of presence is sensory bandwidth (SBW), and the argument here is that the greater the SBW, the better the communcation. From this perspective, a hierarchy emerges. At the top is F2F (same place, same time, in-person) interaction. At the bottom is asynchronous text.

      When we apply this hierarchical template to interactions between teachers and students, traditional F2F is at the top and async-text is at the bottom. In between is a continuum with varying degrees of sensory input. Theoretically, taste and smell would be part of the best practice model along with sight, sound, and touch.

      Based on this SBW standard, adding audio to text feedback is superior to text-only. However, video, which adds sight and sound, is even better. Thus, shooting a brief video of a teacher’s comment plus a text transcript may be better practice.

      Even better would be a synchronous (live) video interaction — and one-on-one would be suprior to one-to-few or many. And let’s not forget the text transcript, too.

      In fact, the best would be a private, F2F meeting between teacher and student — plus a text transcript. All the other SBW gradients are incrementally inferior, with text-only at the very bottom.

      This perception drives a lot of the technology that we equate with best practice in online teaching. In other words, higher ed institutions spend millions if not billions of IT dollars to optimize SBW in the belief that it is positively correlated to better learning.

      From this perspective, printed matter such as books are inferior to F2F lectures and videos, but they are acceptable when the author is unable to be at the same place at the same time. Thus, for maximum SBW, teachers ought to include, in F2F meetings, the experts they refer to in their comments. If that’s not possible, then their videos. OK, that’s absurd. Impractical. But that’s preisely the point.

      More is not always better, and less is not always worse.

      Jennfer, you mention the student’s perspective re receiving feedback, that if you were a student, you’d prefer text + audio feedback. As I stated earlier, if SBW is the measure, then video would be better — and a private F2F meeting even better.

      But I differ. If I were an online student, I’d prefer text feedback that simply and clearly tells me what my strengths are and what I need to work on. Listening to an audio of the same comments might be interesting the first time around, but to satisfy curiosity re the teacher’s physical voice rather than the info I need. After that, the text alone would suffice as more efficient.

      As an online student, the less-is-more (LIM) principle works best for me. Worst is having to commute to campus to meet privately with my teacher to get her/his maximum SBW feedback on my paper. Second worst would be a live video interaction. Third, a video replay of what’s already provided in text. Fourth, an audio playback of a transcript that I’ve already read.

      I don’t need to see or hear the teacher to detrmine her sincerity or caring. I assume that she is sincere and cares about me by the quality of her feedback, her attention to clear and useful communication, her accuracy in understanding my intent and the obstacles that prevent me from achieving it.

      In fact, as a student, I’d think it strange that the teacher wants to meet with me, F2F, just to give me the same feedback that she’s already sent me in text. If she explains that she wants me to get to know her better, to better appreciate the nuances of her comments to me, I wouldn’t know what to think. I’d probably apologize and cite my schedule as a problem and say that I fully understand and apprecite her comments in text.

      If she added an audio recording of her text comments, I’d appreciate the effort it took but probably wouldn’t listen to it.

      I guess the bottom line is that online is different, and a critical part of that difference is to unbundle the teaching process from its F2F environment and to rebundle it for the virtual environment. This is re-engineering, remixing, repurposing. And the mantra here is that what’s best for F2F isn’t always best for online.

      I realize I’m touching a sensitive nerve here in a lot of people and apologize in advance. My intent isn’t to upset people or to argue for argument’s sake but to “landscape” or open up a critical issue in online teaching.


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