Course Design

Course design is the foundation for all education. It is important to weave content with motivation, as well as find ways to engage students and encourage critical thinking.

More on Making Groups Projects Work for Online Classes

Posted on February 23, 2015 by Sarah Bleakney

A recent article adds to our developing knowledge of how to more fully support the success of group assignments and projects. 6 Online Collaboration Tools and Strategies For Boosting Learning details six strategies and six tools that can head off the frustration that can be associated with group learning.

As this article details, the six strategies include: 1) defining the expectations and purpose of group learning activities early in the semester (such as in the syllabus), 2) providing explicit instructions and direction for assignments (such as objectives and due dates), 3) keeping groups small enough to ensure consistent participation, 4) monitoring to assess when intervention is appropriate, 5) defining “etiquette” and expectations for group norms, and 6) devising assignments and projects that directly relate to the course’s topic and include relevant real-life examples.

The six tools suggested in the article include: 1) ProofHub, 2) MindMeister, 3) Google Docs, 4) BigMarker, 5) SlideRocket, and 6) Skype. These online collaboration tools can enable students to communicate more effectively, brainstorm assignment-related ideas, and simultaneously contribute to and develop documents and presentations.

Reaching Reluctant and Resistant Students

Posted on February 4, 2015 by Sarah Bleakney

Wondering how to reach students who seem checked out? Two recent blog posts provide suggestions and guidance for how instructors can reach students who might be reluctant or resistant.

As The Reluctant Learner argues, students who are reluctant learners can appear unmotivated. However, often that lack of engagement comes not from low interest, but fear of failure and learned helplessness. Instructors can reach those students and inspire participation by incorporating self-reflection and scaffolding learning into smaller chunks – both can build learners’ self-confidence and aptitude. The author also suggests instructors convey their passion and enthusiasm for course topics, set high but attainable expectations, and create a collaborative environment.

Strategies for Preventing Student Resistance provides suggestions for how to reach students who might resist teaching strategies. To do so, instructors can find ways to increase “instructor immediacy” by reducing the “social distance between themselves and students.” Social distance can be reduced via eye contact, learning students’ names, and otherwise closely interacting with students. Research suggests that fostering this immediacy reduces student resistance and increases motivation and learning. And, as explaining the value of learning activities can persuade students to more fully embrace them (i.e., to not only complete activities, but to want to complete them), instructors might also consider delineating rationale and explanation for their teaching strategies.

Encouraging Full Participation in Groups Projects

Posted on January 30, 2015 by Sarah Bleakney

For all of the excellent reasons to include group projects in courses—including how they can better prepare students to collaborate in the workplace—instructors can find them challenging. A primary challenge can be ensuring that all members of a group fully and fairly contribute to project submissions. One technique to resolve that challenge is to have students provide feedback on the performance of the members of their group; knowing that their group project grade will be influenced by peer feedback can be enough to inspire students to stay engaged throughout the semester. Qualtrics can be a great tool for gathering that feedback (UF has a campus-wide account).

Want some other ideas? Students Riding on Coattails during Group Work? Five Simple Ideas to Try provides suggestions for how further tackle the challenges of group projects. These suggestions include designing group projects into phases with multiple deliverables, which allows instructors to track how effectively groups are functioning throughout the semester. The author also suggests allowing students to have input on the project’s topic or focus, which can increase and maintain their level of engagement. Instructors might also consider incorporating individual submissions that relate to the group project, such as critical reflection assignments. In addition, the author suggests providing the opportunity early in the semester for groups to get to know each other and establish the norms (including roles and responsibilities) that will guide their collaboration. Finally, instructors should find ways to empower students to solve inter-group challenges, while also expressing a willingness to intervene when necessary.

Supporting Effective In-Class Discussions

Posted on January 26, 2015 by Sarah Bleakney

As the author of Effective Ways to Structure Discussion points out, class discussions (whether online or in person) are most effective if they are structured by a “protocol that guides the interaction.” To support students in having effective face-to-face discussions, the author recommends three techniques.

  1. Starter and Wrapper. In order to fully and effectively participate, students need to understand the purpose of a discussion. The author recommends framing class discussions by kicking things off a with a question or comment and then wrapping up with some final analysis and comments. In addition, the author suggests that students can be the ones assigned to provide these starters and wrappers.
  2. Save the Last Word for Me. This discussion strategy involves building discussions around quotes drawn from course readings that students didn’t fully understand, which they then take turns submitting. The rest of the class offers their analysis, interpretation, and response to that day’s quote, enabling all students to develop and refine their understanding of that topic.
  3. Time for Reflection. To prevent instructors from unwittingly dominating in-class discussions, the author suggests incorporating time for students to reflect. Offering this quiet time after class discussions allows students to reflect on their understanding of that day’s topics and develop questions and talking points for future discussions.

Encouraging Critical Thinking

Posted on December 4, 2014 by Sarah Bleakney

As Unlocking the Mystery of Critical Thinking details, “most faculty don’t know what critical thinking is or how to teach it.” While we assume that critical thinking is an inevitable product of teaching any complex and demanding topic, that is not necessarily so. As the author argues, instructors must “explicitly and intentionally design their courses” to develop students’ critical thinking skills.

As the author explains, research affirms that for a course to promote critical thinking skills, it must incorporate interpretation or analysis, as well as evaluation or judgment, of content that students have had time and opportunity to master. The author provides suggestions for how to ensure that students meet the “eight standards for critical thinking,” which include clarity, precision, and logic.

One way to explicitly and intentionally design a course to promote critical thinking is to provide students with the opportunity to tackle open-ended questions and problems via a variety of assignments and activities, such as simulations, debates, and roleplaying. In addition, students’ development of critical thinking is also promoted when they receive feedback, such as through peer review. Finally, the author suggests that instructors strive to model critical thinking skills for students.

Making Groups Projects Work for Online Classes

Posted on November 19, 2014 by Sarah Bleakney

Group projects can present a variety of challenges for both instructors and students. However, they can also offer a myriad of benefits, particularly for online courses, that make them well worth including. A three-part series—1) why group work is necessary, 2) strategies for effective group work, and 3) student perspectives on group work—will get you thinking about the whys and hows of incorporating group projects.

Why We Need Group Work in Online Learning details the various benefits of group projects for online projects. The author makes a strong case that group projects provide an active learning experience that allows students to develop the skills in collaboration necessary to excel in their careers. Strategies for Effective Group Work in the Online Class provides a variety of strategies to support effective online group projects. These include setting groups early in the semester, limiting group size, and encouraging teams to use online collaborative tools (such as the Collaborations tool in Canvas). Good, Bad and Ugly: Student Comments on Group Work in e-Learning outlines successful evaluation and outcomes for online group projects. The author details what students liked best and least about group projects, which could prove useful in heading off challenges that can arise with group projects.

Beyond Papers and Exams, or How to Creatively Approach Assignments

Posted on November 13, 2014 by Sarah Bleakney

As the author of Could We Be Doing Better with Our Assignments? argues, assignments are “vehicles through which students learn course content.” Are your course assignments—the papers, exams, quizzes, and homework you have students complete to demonstrate mastery of course concepts—the best method to assess learning?

If you’re ready to take a more creative approach to assignments, you might find the over 50 reader-submitted suggestions found in the Comments section of this article inspiring. Suggestions include a mobile scavenger hunt, group project mock court, and a visual discussion board of pictures students take that illustrate course concepts. Click on the above link to get inspired!

Improving Student Participation in Online Discussions

Updated on April 10, 2014 (originally posted on January 28, 2014) by Sarah Bleakney

Online discussions are an important component of any course, whether it is online, on-ground, or somewhere in between. They provide a venue for student-student and student-instructor interactions, potentially enriching course communications and increasing course engagement. However, many instructors can find effectively incorporating discussions a challenge.

A recent article, Structure and Expectations Can Improve Student Participation in Online Discussions, suggests ways you can improve your students’ participation in discussions. You might also consider the types of discussion prompts used. Discussion Board Assignments: Alternatives to the Question-and-Answer Format details approaches you might use for discussions, such as debates and role-playing, while “Post once, reply twice”: uninspiring online discussion boards and what to do about them has suggestions for how instructors might apply problem-based learning principles to them. In addition, you might also consider assigning student to be moderators, as detailed in Encouraging Online Learner Participation.

Perhaps you have tried online discussions and get plenty of participation, but face issues such as conflict and tangential or unsubstantial contributions? Tips for Overcoming Online Discussion Board Challenges provides a variety of solutions worth considering for scenarios you may have or might face. Another great resource—especially for the visually-oriented—is an infographic, Why aren’t your students participating on the Discussion Board? Its flowchart format guides instructors through troubleshooting their approach to online discussions.

Faculty Focus – Special Report on the 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching

Posted on October 30, 2012 by Tawnya Means

Teaching online for the first time is a little like trying to drive a car in a foreign country. You know how to drive, just like you know how to teach, but it sure is hard to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road...you’re not quite sure how far a kilometer is...and darn it if those road signs aren’t all in Japanese.

If you’d like to better understand the “rules of the road” for online teaching and learning, 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education is the perfect guidebook.

Download the Faculty Focus report.

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100 BRY
PO Box 117150
Gainesville, FL 32611-7150
Phone: 352.392.2397
Fax: 352.392.2086

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