My Manic Moodle Muddling and Multiple Motivations

In this module we are being asked to blog about who we are, what has challenged us in the course, what we have learned and how we have applied it to our course designs. In my last post I discussed the challenges of decision making about course “chunking,” and my thoughts on that as a veteran Instructional Designer with extensive multi-LMS experience. I also discussed in several previous posts about my goal to gamefy the course design, while simultaneously maintaining motivation and engagement for different levels and skill sets of a community college student population. In this post I would like to expand on what it is like to be a learner: learning Moodle, learning gaming strategies, and being a student in this course in general.

Being a student in this course

I have been asked repeatedly by faculty friends and others during my tenure as an ETAP grad student why I am taking these courses. The easy answer would be that I want to get a degree in the field in which I have been working for almost 30 years (education/teaching) with a focus on what is most exciting to me (technology integration and online learning) – in other words get “credentialed”. But that would not completely explain why I have doggedly chipped away at this degree for almost 10 years now.

While I train faculty in a 12 week class every semester, that closely parallels this course, I find that I am regularly updating the materials and rethinking the multiple strategies presented to my trainees. What I find most challenging about that is the not infrequent resistance to learning a new teaching strategy that I encounter on the part of some trainees. This has been true in every institution that I have been training faculty. I once had a trainee who was a lawyer tell me that teaching is teaching and just because it is online does not mean you have to do anything different – and she truly believed that. I know that is not true, and I know there is an extensive body of research on how students learn in different environments, and I know that more research is done every year. I believe the more we know and the more questions we ask, the better able to remain flexible, dynamic and progressive in our teaching strategies. I know that if I can be the “designated learner” for theory, practice and technology, I can help faculty strategize more effectively and appropriately for their discipline and course level. The ETAP courses I have taken over the last 10 years have given me dedicated time to dig deeper into the research, reaffirm the foundation concepts I have, and most importantly learn new things from new research as well as fellow students and the instructors. Rather than sit back and feel like I have already learned everything there is to learn, I actually look for different approaches, challenge my own assumptions, get cool ideas from other students, and practice peer teaching presence with an eye toward bringing this back into my own training. This particular course is helping me understand how my faculty trainees who learned to use Moodle are thinking about the tools, and how best to help them conceptualize a different LMS and make the transition.

Learning Moodle

Within the first week of this class I realized I could make a big list of documents, create a few forums and assignment drop boxes, maybe a few quizzes and be done. Those components seemed simple enough. But I also noticed that every time I got a grade, I got an email telling me my grade was changed to “F” – so probably basic tools were not as simple as I thought. Then I looked at documentation to see how some of the tools worked, what the lexicon for the product was, and how I would need to adjust my work flow. My first impression was, “Wow – this feels like something pieced together by a committee!!” Then I realized, oh yeah – it was – a committee of thousands because it is open source. And like many (but not all) open source products I have used, I see very elaborate tools and settings to do some pretty detailed stuff, and some glaring basics that are just simply not sexy enough to warrant attention. For instance, table display. There really is no excuse in 2014 for a web based product not to be able to display basic html table code properly. Or for it not to be more urgently addressed (I researched the reporting history, which is long). Many helpful members of the global committee have workarounds. My favorite? Go to the code for every individual cell in your table and use the Advanced  tools to change the properties, with subsequent suggestions for using find and replace on the code. How about just fixing it?

Annoyances aside, I have a dilemma. I don’t know how the more advanced interactive tools work in Moodle and yet I want to structure the course in such a way that I can collect data to gamefy and score. I call this the “chicken and egg” design dilemma when working with my trainees: How to design a course with unknown tools. If we teach all the tools they won’t be remembered when the content and interaction actually get designed. If we build content we may find that we have used the wrong tool as we get further into the process. The solution so far has been a very basic, very flexible template that allows faculty to “hang” stuff around the course as they see how things work. I tell them to “trust me” because at about week 5 they will know the basics of how the tools work and will suddenly rethink the entire course, including ways to break apart the template into something that works better for them. And here I am in essentially that “week 5” sweet spot of knowing just enough about Moodle to be dangerous.

I have spent a great deal of time in the Moodle documentation, and I can see that I will need some pretty complicated tools to do what I want to do. And that the lexicon is totally unfamiliar, the processes very hands on with few presets that I recognize, and an overall zeitgeist that is pretty cool, but will take some time to master. Fortunately for me I am working with a course I already taught and do not have to develop all the material, just revise and retool some of it. But I am thinking I need databases for much of what I need to do and they have been very challenging. I have created a few, but still don’t have the core concept internalized well enough to use it effectively to meet my goals. (Frankly, I can’t imagine what others in the class with no LMS background are going through.) I want to build a functional course using the tools effectively. I know how to do that in about 5 other LMS environments as well as basic web sites, but Moodle is slow to reveal its secrets. I have no doubt I can do it, but can I do it in a few weeks?

Learning Gaming Strategies

Gaming strategies are a totally foreign concept to me. I don’t play games (unless an occasional Words with Friends on my phone counts). I don’t play or watch sports. I am not competitive. I don’t care about badges, leveling, points or winning. But I DO like the pace and flow of working through a challenge in steps and succeeding over obstacles and experiencing “Fiero!”. So I can relate on the basis of internal motivation, and personal success.

I don’t know if my gaming strategies will actually work because they are mostly theoretical, except for my experience with the quizzes I currently use. I do know that even if I learn about a game strategy, I try to figure out how it parallels and replicates engaged learning. I am finding significant overlap and using those components as starting points. For example, “leveling up” and “failing up” are two ideas from gaming that are exactly what is happening with my multiple attempt weekly quizzes. I just didn’t know at the time that it was a proven game strategy.

I also just changed all my modules to Quests. I tend to think of my entire course as a WebQuest anyway, and I suddenly realized that expanding that concept will create more believable social dynamics and goals for leveling up and earning badges and points. Or for those who are intrinsically motivated, a more authentic inquiry based process.

Conclusion

The pieces I am trying to bring together in this course as a student, and in the course I am designing, are coming from a past I am challenging in as many ways as I can, decades of teaching I am critically sifting through in my mind, new research I am finally getting the time to study closely, and a fairly comprehensive knowledge of systems. Frankly I do not recognize the course and structures that are emerging as I work. It is almost like sitting outside myself and watching it happen. Every piece that goes together generates another idea or connection. Now all I have to do is figure out how to make it actually work.

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Modules, Modules everywhere! Why and how to get there?

By now everyone in the class knows I am struggling with the use of Modules in my course design. I am more specifically struggling with the concept that 15 weekly modules is any more frightening or overwhelming to students than 7 2-week long modules. As I indicated in my assignment of submitted structure, I tried valiantly to cluster my topics into 2-week long modules, but it was an arbitrary additional level I could not justify and I felt it would confuse my students. Additionally the exemplar courses were not much help in convincing me of the efficacy of clustering this way as they use different tools, or actually have weekly modules disguised as parts of a 2-week module.

In Beth’s art history course audio interview she states that she has 2 discussions per 2 week module that “sometimes overlap”. This sounds like weekly module discussions to me, as well as a perfectly appropriate amount of time for an undergraduate student to be contemplating one of many topics in a survey course. Both Beth and Steve indicated they had created their multimedia presentations with quizzes in them – nesting the feedback loop – and that they created these because the text book was too advanced for their undergraduate students. The standard texts from which to choose for art history are written at a level that should be appropriate for college work. My institution uses them and I, like Beth and Steve, see a challenge in helping students understand what they are reading. They chose to replace with video that had fast feedback loops and quizzes integrated. I chose iterative standalone quizzes that encouraged time on task.  I could have created a 2 week long module and put 2 weekly parts in it, but I think we are all in agreement that our population needs as much help as we can provide in managing content. So again I conclude that a 2-week module structure with 2 weekly parts is just another layer that could confuse.

Other exemplar courses use text heavy content and discussion forums and perhaps a 2-week period of time  is necessary for those modes of intake and output. But I am trying to build in “flow” and “fiero” which will require more discrete and smaller chunks of activity and different tools. It will also require smaller cycles of achievement that can be made visible to students as they progress.

I have also had great success with a one week long discussion window because my discussions are usually debates or “Teach the class…” activities. As Alicia and I discussed in this week’s discussion of teaching presence, asking students to teach the class is a more complex and deeper level of engagement with the material than simply asking students to demonstrate knowledge and context. I also have to point out that 33 students posting for 2 weeks becomes overwhelming for all of them. Community college students are generally a diverse group in terms of reading and writing skills, and an iterative opportunity to try their hand at teaching the class 14 times rather than 7, provides more opportunities for growth and feelings of improved performance and mastery. Which in my gamefied course will be critical. Leveling up is a key concept in this design.

I have also had the opportunity to work with 2 Moodle users in my day job. As trainees learning to build their own online courses in a different LMS, I have been able to help them make the shift from Moodle more effectively. This involves as well, understanding what they are trying to do in Moodle. In the one case, the course was created for him at Empire State by CIDs. He simply teaches it. The course has 7 modules, each with a part A and a part B that are – you guessed it – 1 week long. And part A and part B of each module are different topics with different quizzes and different discussions. He has not experienced any negative feedback from his students seeing weekly activities. When I asked why he thought these were set up like this, he assumed it was for the convenience of students seeing 2 weeks of work at a time. Otherwise he had no idea.

One of the things I am beginning to wonder about is how many of the structural imperatives derived from the SLN research are in fact artifacts from the limitations of the SLN modified Lotus Notes platform, upon which the research was based. I can’t help but notice the limited use of Angel LMS tools in our exemplars and how much they seem to be replicating the Lotus Notes structure, rather than taking advantage of rich web environments and the innate power of the tool. I recall in my early SLN days trying to find out why faculty were being told to close past modules as they moved forward in the course. It was being presented as a pedagogical strategy but did not make any sense to me. The course content once presented seemed an important aspect of the course to keep perpetually available to students. Finally after talking to many people I got to the bottom of the problem. I found out that because students tended to forget which discussion space to use it became a recommended practice to close earlier modules so the discussions were not available, because there was no way to close just the discussions themselves within a module. Judith Boettcher points out that “we shape our tools and our tools shape us”,  This seems like a very obvious example of this brain-based research revelation.

Alex asked me earlier in the course how I felt about the implied/imposed pedagogy of LMSs. Having used many of them (teaching, system admin, student on WebCT, Angel, Blackboard, SLN, other home made systems) I can say that they all begin with certain assumptions, unique and similar at the same time. Understanding the assumption, the zeitgeist if you will, of any one of these systems, and then pushing the flexibility of the tools as much as they are capable of, is part of what I have had to do as my job since the 1990s. Being the “designated learner” who figures out how to do 10 different things with the same tool in order to support a variety of faculty teaching strategies is a fundamental component of being an ID.  Interestingly I have watched faculty in the early days complain that they could not modify the tools enough to meet their pedagogical needs (generally not really true once they worked with an ID who knew the tool) to now complaining that they are too complicated to learn (as they are more like true authoring systems). In both extremes the point is missed. What have we gotten used to as our previous tools shaped us, that we need to let go of in order to shape and use the new tools? And what is our responsibility as regards mastering the use of tools – our level of digital literacy – in a digital age?

Are we being truly objective about the relationships of tools, systems and possibilities? Are we truly acknowledging the environment in which our tools will now appear – 21st C web 2.0 visually rich and interactive? Why am I posting 2nd or 3rd tier information in the key navigation real estate of my course web design? Might this have something to do with how previous tools shaped the pedagogy presented? My other trainee this summer made a stab at using Blackboard to recreate a Moodle course he had created for a community college in the Berkshires. He struggled (and actually is still struggling) with concepts of heirarchy, web navigation design, nesting, and meaningful “chunking”. The zeitgeist of Blackboard is a mystery to him and his thinking has been shaped by the Moodle tool -although on a very basic level as he is not very tech savvy. Even with a blank template that presents a simple Blackboard structure using the basic tools and navigation, an exemplar course that he is participating in and my cognitive apprenticeship approach to his training, it is going to take him another full semester to grasp the basics and make the switch. Our first encounter with tools appears to be our most powerful and  pervasive. My personal solution, not open to many faculty, has been to use every LMS I can get my hands on and deconstruct them.

I have had to let go of many robust automated connections within a course structure while using Moodle – something I also experienced with Angel. For some the automatic creation of a grade column when a test, assignment or grading tool is deployed in Blackboard is an imposition or assumption. For me it is an intuitive convenience. In Angel and in Moodle I have to let go of previous assumptions and work more as a craftsperson with a deeper understanding of the tool. In Moodle, as I apprehend the zeitgeist of this tool, I am seeing some very powerful opportunities that are my new challenge, and about which I will write my next post. First a bit more research and experimentation, as the nomenclature, assumptions and logistics of Moodle are excitingly brand new to me.

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Boettcher, J. 2007. Ten Core Principles for Designing Effective Learning Environments: Insights from Brain Research and Pedagogical Theory. Innovate 3 (3). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=54

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Leveling up in a Community of Inquiry

(late 2nd entry for Module 3 category)

Knowledge acquisition
I had intended to write my second Module 3 post on why I am focused on knowledge acquisition strategies, but found a request in my assignment feedback from Alex to blog about my badge scheme and its relationship to the CoI model. So, I will say only briefly about knowledge acquisition, that I have come to the conclusion it is not just a low rung of Bloom’s taxonomy destined to be valued less than higher order thinking skills. Rather it is what makes the upper rungs possible. And while teaching facts, basic concepts and simple skill sets can be done well, and even made interesting, it often is not. But if you watch how people play multi-user immersive games like World of Warcraft, and you see how they accumulate basic information and skills and then are forced to apply it right away to level up, and you hear how much they know about the tools and the environment and how excited and happy they are, you have to think about what is really happening. It is clear that acquiring basic concepts, facts and simple skills can be really exciting when they are used right away to solve problems, build stuff, overcome obstacles or earn power. This is the power of that lowly rung on Bloom. This is building a foundation that leads to higher order thinking and doing. So another post will have to address more details on this particular point, as I would now like to respond to Alex’s request that I blog about my badge scheme, making my thinking visible to the class.

Leveling up with CoI Diagram
First I invite everyone to check out this link to my MindMeister diagram of the badge scheme. A few things to keep in mind:

  • I can’t link directly to my diagram with diigo because it requires an account, but I have put the main site there for all to try out – very cool
  • it is a social site and you can leave comments, collaborate and make additions – great for working in groups
  • if you click on the little circles that have stripes in them in the big labels  – those are explanatory notes about what I am doing – so click on them, please! Don’t be shy.

What was I thinking? Actually this is very much related to the knowledge acquisition concerns and opportunities I have been reflecting upon lately. I wanted to get students engaged with the art history material in such a way that they acquired the necessary facts, then used them to understand more complex concepts, and then applied their conceptual understanding to specific “problems” of modern art history analysis. I have found that iterative, challenging, and visually rich quizzes have been the most favorite part of my classes for some students, and most felt they learned more because of the way they were set up. This related to what I had learned about games and the “failing up” to success. Most of the students kept taking the tests over again, and going back to the text for information, spending increased time on task and feeling like they accomplished something when they finally got that 100. End of semester surveys indicated that they felt they learned more from taking repeated quizzes and rereading the book, than from just reading the book. The surveys also indicated that when there was no quiz, 40-60% did not read the book. The fact that some did not read the book was fairly obvious in the discussion forums and I also saw more plagiarized or paraphrased web material creeping in. So how to capitalize on that? Gamefy the whole course!

How to gamefy and still maintain a proven framework for learning? I did not want to create a programmed learning, self paced course – although some day that might be a fun thing to try. I wanted to build a gamefied course that reinforced the spheres of interaction and promoted social, teaching and cognitive presence fostered by a course design based in Community of Inquiry. Somehow games and CoI needed to be integrated.

Badges are ubiquitous in social media environments and could add a gamefied and visual reward structure. Visual evidence of progress in a course is an important concept I’ve learned, but first I had to decide what the badges would be for.

Some literature indicated that gamefied courses were merely courses with fancier “gold stars”. But I disagree. I think that leveling up and/or earning a badge, can encourage certain behaviors. Especially if the students can choose what badges to go after or find their own path. Additionally, replacing grades with badges would not work for everybody – for instance I myself have no desire to earn a badge of any kind for any reason. And I am sure I will have students with totally intrinsic motivations for learning that would need those badges to be incidental to what they would be doing anyway. So this gave me two ideas about badges: make them a choice and include regular course work in the leveling up process. Then, be sure that a student could get a badge by playing to their strengths through the course material and/or by adding badge specific activities that could earn them points in their particular strengths.

Levels were the next challenge! How to level, what levels represented, and in what categories? It occurred to me that I wanted badges to encourage behaviors. And the behaviors I wanted my students to engage in were social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence, because that would lead to more learning. I roughed out a draft of what course activities would correspond to those spheres and looked at what I had and what I could add. I realized that social presence would be increased with opportunities for collaboration.  Teaching presence would be enhanced with opportunities to guide each other in inquiry as well as present material to each other. And cognitive presence could be enhanced with opportunities to contribute to bodies of knowledge, demonstrating knowledge and performance levels. I identified spheres I felt were weak in my existing course and thought of ways to enhance those. I also wanted the lowest level to be non-perjorative. So there are no “stinker” or “loser” badges.

The badges and levels  (see diagram) are:

Social presence: Leader badge (levels: Leader – A, Organizer -B, Volunteer -C, Participant -D, Observer -F)

Teaching presence: Guru badge (levels: Guru – A, Mentor -B , Adviser -C, Helper -D, Audience -F)

Cognitive presence: Art Historian badge (levels: Art Historian – A, Curator -B, Docent -C, Visitor -D, Bystander -F)

Linking badges to specific course activities came next! I already had a gamefied challenging quiz each week that I gave a (tentative) new name “Perpetual Quiz”, my forums were already called “Teach the Class with Your Own Examples” (which I stole from my math faculty who use something they call “Trip to the Board”), the final project is a jigsaw assignment, and extensive structural assists (which I realized are equivalent to game rules in some cases) were in place to support student achievement and time on task.

Next I took the optional activities that I had, such as the study guides, and made them collaborative and worth leveling points. I got this idea from an experiment I tried in my History of Fashion course where I had them collaboratively create a review guide for the midterm. That was really successful so I thought it would be a good weekly badge activity that would promote knowledge acquisition as well as conceptual understanding. AND I decided to add a required confirmation component, so that when you post something you also have to confirm somebody else’s information is correct. This way they are responsible as a group for the accuracy of the study guides. I will start them off with a study guide answer of my own that will include some errors – first student to post next will have to identify what is wrong with my answer.

Then I added a glossary because I admit I was intrigued by the collaborative glossary tool built in to the Moodle product. I have found that students struggle not just with the new discipline specific vocabulary but often with basic English vocabulary.  For example I once asked my students to discuss what it means to view something consecutively and simultaneously as it seemed a tough concept. I discovered they did not know the words consecutive or simultaneous so had never actually gotten to the conceptual challenge at all. So I will have them define and explain how the word was used in the text book. This gives students an incentive to look up words they do not know and share what they learn.

A tool that is interactive and multimedia capable and can be used by individuals or groups is the Speaking Image Wiki. This tool allows complex annotation of images with everything from simple notes, to full wiki pages, to video, audio, etc. and can be done in layers. It is a beta product online and to be really robust I would need to get licensing and put it on a server on my campus, but first the beta. I used it in the past with mixed results, but have been told by the programmers that the new version is more stable. Also, this is a product that in its licensed version is used by museums around the world. It is also a social media site. So I would like to use this wiki image annotation tool as a choice for students who want to try it instead of writing to the discussion forum in just text. They could do a more visually rich and interactive annotation that would get them looking directly at the image in detail and annotating with analysis and explanation. It is not hard, but has a small learning curve, and if they embedded their results in their “Teach the class…” post they could get extra XPs for doing both. If they do it as a group they could get XPs for collaborating. If they don’t do it they still can get an A in the course by writing a good forum post.

Most importantly, with visually rich and interactive tools, I want to move away from discourse being narrowly defined as text-based asynchronous “discussion” over weeks. I’d like to see a richer, more visual, more manipulative opportunity for communicating information that is more in keeping with the world they live in and will or do work in.

My next challenge! How do I do this? What tools do I use and how do they work? I see from my research and experiments that Moodle has some very powerful tools, and also tools that are plugins we do not have. There are many ways to create badge point accumulation but I am not sure how to determine which tool to use. I have to spend more time with the technical side which is always the challenge. But as I mentioned in a previous post, to keep it simple yet rich for students I need to take responsibility for learning the tools that make it work smoothly.

(3) late

“Io sono una donna”

I am a woman – in ITALIAN! Yes, in less than a day I am speaking Italian (well, just a little) because Alex turned me on to DuoLingo – the coolest and most fun educational game I have ever touched, seen, listened to and talked to! Yes, all the senses engaged and my mind soaking up basic vocabulary and grammar while having fun. These little skills will build. And then I will put them together to make bigger skills such as actually conversing. And eventually I hope to express an original and complete thought to another person in grammatically correct sentences. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to analyze the nuances of texts and conversation in scholarly Italian works. Which brings me to the topic of this post.

For module 3 I need to discuss why I do what I do, and in an attempt at coherence I will also do some response to module 2 which ties in to this ( I know, I know – it won’t count – but it will to me because I have to think it through) as I discuss what I learned about organizing and designing for online courses.

In the last module we looked at exemplar courses that we are still looking at this module. For me they were very familiar. The ones we could tour were in Angel and they looked very much like the courses they were based on in the old SLN Lotus Notes product. Linear, text based, some diagrams and tables – I see Rob is using some publisher links to hopefully some good language interactives that hopefully have some images. These courses are lean and mean machines for learning. No distractions, lots to read and write, based on solid CoI framework, and their bones are evident. So we can all learn solid design and pedagogy by looking and listening to the interviews. Some of them are nearly 10 years old but still solid at the core.  But I came away with some of the same questions I had the first time I looked at these courses 10 years ago in lotus notes.

  • Why so linear?
  • Why so text heavy?
  • Where are the visuals?
  • Where is engaging web design?

While I know from experience Rob’s prodigious teaching and design skills, if I dispassionately compare his front page to my little DuoLingo app I’m afraid he is not looking very competitive or compelling. It’s 2014 – why are we making these kind of courses?

Some of this has already been addressed by Beth and Steve. They started making video with narration and embedding contextualized quizzes. Their work has evolved with the tools available – which for them was critical as they teach art history. Now everyone can enjoy their SmartHistory/Khan Academy content – including my students who use them regularly. But I remember my lotus notes training and trying to find someone to show me how to get images into what was essentially a document exchange business product. I was used to an LMS which was graphically rich, and I also had been using basic web design tools for years. At some point Beth hosted a session on the importance of using images in the course environment – YES!!!

Now, listening to Steve and Beth discuss challenges of navigation for students, keeping things linear, and using less hyperlinking, I had to mentally review my design experiences, the evolution of tools and the choices we all make about structure and student experience. Then I thought about Moodle – linear, text heavy, cluttered front pages – and can see that I want to make Moodle do more than what I see so far. I want a more visually engaging, well designed graphic experience for my students. I want to use images to guide and compel but not confuse. I want to foster visual and design literacy. I want to make sure my course looks like the interesting and engaging web environments they see in games, web sites, advertising, periodicals, and mobile apps while not overwhelming them. I don’t want my students landing on page after page of text and skimming because they are immediately bored and turned off. I want images and activities to compel them to read what is there and really examine the prompting images and moving to the next thing.

Too often I see that LMSs and other educational tools are underutilized by faculty with limited understanding of what they can do with technology. And on the flip side there are those that try to use every tool in the toolkit and make a crazed patchwork of activities that is very confusing. Often a trainee will say to me “I want to keep it simple” which is actually not what they want. They want to complicate the process of teaching online by not learning how the tools can automate, support and differentiate instruction, giving them more time to work directly with students. They are overwhelmed by the nature of contemporary web based tools and they think in terms of documents and printing and physical texts. The 2014 Horizon Report documents that lack of digital literacy is a fundamental issue with faculty in higher education and I face this challenge every single day on the job. I worked with someone for 3 semesters until one day I said – “you know, a URL – every web page has an address”. He replied “I didn’t know that”. Instructional Designers who work with faculty that make their own courses may find that there is a huge learning curve and a small window of opportunity.

Which brings me to why I do what I do and what I have learned. I began my investigations for this course with an interest in enhancing interaction with faster and more dynamic feedback loops, increased collaboration and gamefying. I know that this will require that I  learn more complex tools in order to keep it simple for my students. The technology needs to be transparent – not boring. I work daily to help faculty realize that the tools can do a lot of the grunt work of managing a course if they just learn them and use them effectively. Because I discovered the graphically rich, adaptively hyperlinked, multi-sensory interactions of games, I know that effective use of tools to craft engaging activities for students is possible – learning will take place and it will be valid and fun. The best example being my new addiction DuoLingo. Somewhere between the ponderous lists of topics, documents, linear structures, text based discussions  and clunky interfaces,  and the equally off-putting sensory overload of misguided graphics, arbitrary sounds, and things that go “boom” and “click”, is an elegant approach to course design that could resonate with my students and engage all their senses. I am collecting resources on that, shared in diigo and below.

The other component, besides visual engagement, that is so critical to my thinking now is acquisition of a factual knowledge base.  This past week my first 6 week class wrapped up and an email from a student reinforced my belief in my super hard weekly quizzes as well as much of what we are learning in this class about a teaching presence. She wrote:

“I’ll tell you now – what I loved was the broad range of material that supplemented the text in a significant ways. I would have liked more of your lectures, though. … The quizzes and exams were very challenging, not bad, just saying; if not for open book I would have failed, but I may have learned the most by taking them than by simply reading the text”

The evaluation survey came back with the same general theme – they love the quizzes. And the quizzes are very visual and conceptual and … did I mention hard? And they learn from them. They are questions – hard questions that make them learn the facts to answer. And they are graphically rich. Some are image maps they have to click on (which I don’t see in Moodle unfortunately).

I do what I do based on detailed student evaluations, institutional student feedback surveys, and a firm grounding in CoI through my early work with SLN. Everything I do is based on interactions. And everything I want to do with new strategies, needs to be consistent with the CoI framework of interactions – but more elegant, contemporary and dynamic. There are now many ways to be socially present, as can be seen in Alex’s ETAP course. And there are now many ways to automate presence and interaction and focus faculty and student interaction in areas that count because of the tools in and out of LMSs. My students want to hear my take on things, “more of [my] lectures”, but they appreciate the building blocks of the automated quizzing to learn the factual knowledge necessary for those lectures to have meaning. They want the substance – the meat – they get excited when they know things and can apply them. I want to make this even more engaging and inviting.

Which will be my next post: why I am so focused on factual knowledge and my reflections on the readings in relation to that. Stay tuned dear readers.

Design links of interest to all:

5 Visual Design Strategies that Promote Student Retention

The Power of Visual Grouping

Gamefication Shows the Learner Visible Signs of their Learning

Graphics and Learning

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