WORKSHOPPING A SOLUTION
WHY IS THIS CHALLENGE IMPORTANT TO AN INSTITUTION’S ACTIVE LEARNING INITIATIVE? DO YOU HAVE AN EXAMPLE?
Kiho: Let me give you a perspective from a small urban institution, a small liberal arts urban institution. This is somewhat unrelated to the the academic mission, but really we are constrained by space. We are ensconced in a neighborhood where they are really belligerent when it comes to expanding the footprint of the university, both in terms of the undergraduate enrollment and so we have to maximize our ability to work with students and so online is one opportunity. So the limitations on number of classrooms that we have really points to online learning where students could be either on or off campus but not having to utilize on campus space. This is an important part of our strategy to maximize our capacity to work with students, both undergraduate and graduate students. That's one the reasons why we think this is important.
"From a small urban institutional perspective, we are really constrained by space and online learning is one opportunity to maximize our ability to work with students."
Patrice Prusko (facilitator): Anyone else looking at online or blended as part of that strategy? I know that space is a common issue. I'm wondering if anyone else might be looking at or already have implemented a similar strategies.
Don: So we do here at UCF. I know we're big, and a lot of people remind us of that, but the challenge we have is space as well. We do not have enough physical space to put all of the students that we have and in fact, about 40 percent of our student credit hours are generated online. We have some programs that are entirely offered online and if it weren't for that online component of what we do, we would be probably two thirds the size that we are now. Because we do so much online we've been very intentional over the past 15 to 20 years about not only faculty development but ensuring expectations among the students when they come in, they know what they're getting into, they understand that the quality level is there. In some cases we often hear that the online classes are harder than the face-to-face classes. When we look at student success outcomes as measured by grade, our blended courses are up at the top, but only a few points behind them are face-to-face and entirely online courses. Both of those two being pretty much neck and neck with each other with grades as a success measure.
"when we look at student success outcomes as measured by grade, our blended courses are up at the top, but only a few points behind are F2F and entirely online courses."
Yanling Sun: This is Yanling from Montclair State University. We are facing a similar issue Don just mentioned regarding physical space. This year at Montclair the Provost’s office is starting to encourage large classrooms and large electronic classrooms as well. The partial reason is about space concerns and that also raises some concerns about learner outcomes concerns as well. It's quite a challenge to run 200-seat classes and so those classes are not blended or hybrid, they are actually face-to-face classes. I'm working with several faculty members to provide pedagogical recommendations to those classes. Like one of particular recommendation related to putting active learning in place. How to make instead of just lecturing, provide a lecture on how to make the learning spaces more active. How do you engage your students? A lot of times actually these are conducted online. The entire class is divided into different groups, to after class or before class discussion, or group work or project work, things like that. The discussion space or collaboration space and the faculty feel frustrated managing those classes. So it make me also think, it sounds to me it’s not quite effective to run an entire 200 student class in face-to-face the entire time. Could it better to run blended or hybrid formats for those large lecture classes? So I'm unclear where we're working with multiple such a type of classes. Hopefully for next year we can find some recommendation. Those type of classes, not only pedagogical perspective and also formats is the better face to face or hybrid.
"It sounds to me it's not quite effective to run an entire 200-student class in face-to-face the entire time. could it be better to run blended or hybrid formats for those large lecture classes?"
Patrice: Thank you. I'm wondering, I know sometimes when we think of active learning, we immediately think about physical learning space. How might we think about active learning when the learning space is a fully online classroom. Is that a challenge that your universities have been looking at?
Yanling: At Montclair, active learning activities or strategies have been pretty well implemented in online courses. I would say for online program courses, we do have several online, fully online programs, all of the courses are designed by our designers, through the collaboration with subject, faculty members, and during the design process we make sure we implemented the learning activities and strategies from the beginning to the end. We do also have faculty development programs as well. It's not required, we’re a union campus. They wanted to make it required but we're not there yet. However, all of the faculty members who are hired to teach online program courses are strongly recommended to take our faculty development programs. With that said, the online learning initiatives or strategies are implemented better in our online programs courses and assembled into the individual online courses. At Montclair it is not a required that all the individual courses that are part of those traditional programs, not in the fully online programs, that are not required to be designed by us. But an individual faculty member can actually take advantage of our services, have their courses either we designed their courses and we'll make sure those run new strategies to be implemented. We have our own pedagogical model for online courses. We have our own online course template as well. We also have course review process which is, with the faculty members, a strong designers and also academic, a representative from their own department or program.
Patrice: Well thank you. Does anyone else want to share if they have a strategy with fully online courses and active learning or your thoughts on why the challenge is, is it important at your university?
Mike Goudzwaard (Dartmouth College): This is Mike at Dartmouth. I would add to the space challenge, not just the amount of space but locations since we have a rural campus. I think that holds true for any institution that is trying to reach students and learners that are not physically located at their campus for whatever reason. I think one reason that it's important is that students will be working in these blended environments and maybe I'll go meta for a moment and take our group as an example. We do some work together, when we're at conferences together, but we're often working remotely and I think there's an intentionality, through this activity to have it be an active meeting strategy so that we're all getting input and Brian is getting multiple perspectives from the group.
Kim Pulford Westemeier (American): Yeah, that's similar to what I was going to say in that the online environment has several unique advantages that can really push the active learning into a whole other level. So an example would be a separating the participants of a class into different groups and so it feels more personalized and it's also less overwhelming. It feels like they're not getting lost because a lot of these classes ended up being these foundational classes where it's their first semester, second semester in school, and so like there's an aspect of student retention in here too, but I think that even having a blended or flipped in our model allows for more interaction between students and they are able to contribute more of their knowledge to the class as well.
What might success look like?
Patrice: Moving onto our next question, what might success look like? So if we were able to solve this challenge for Brian, what might success look like? Some of the things that we talked about and the challenges were space issues. We might ask, does anybody have any thoughts on how we might define success from the standpoint of solving the space issue?
Katie Kassof (American): I know that it's not so much of a problem now, but a few years ago a lot of faculty were using virtual computing options in the classrooms and there wasn't enough bandwidth to make it possible, let alone trying to do other collaborative like using online collaborative software. Our IT department has actually worked very hard to beef up the infrastructure and now like every classroom has its own Wifi router or hotspot. So they have a lot better connectivity. They can do these active things. They can use wireless projection and stuff, but that was an infrastructure piece that had to be worked out, network engineering to be able to have these things in the classrooms and have them work more reliably.
Patrice: Thank you, Katie. If we think about some of the things we discussed about online learning and talking about increasing access for students, and some of the issues related to student drop-off or students not completing. If were to incorporate active learning into online courses to help with some of those things, what would be important? What would be important to you as you're measuring success? if you were to incorporate some type of active learning intervention into an online or blended course, what are some of the things you might think about if you were collecting data or, trying to come up with a way to measure success?
Kiho: This is Kiho from American University. For us, I think retention is. I mean, one of the things that AU prides itself is the idea that faculty and students have very strong touchpoints and connections and that is reduced when students are taking online classes at increasing rates. We want to assure that pushing students off into the online space, does affect the retention rate.
"We want to assure that pushing students off into the online spaces does affect the retention rate."
Butch: I want to second that. Of course, at my institution, retention and ultimately completion are ongoing goals that we struggle with because we lose a number of our students. The online learning was particularly brutal in the initial phases where we had huge failure rates in terms of completion. We've worked to improve those, but I mean, the importance of this, shouldn't be underestimated, especially for institutions like mine. You don't mind me storytelling just for a moment. The last online class I taught, I asked the students, why are you taking this online as opposed to, basically showing up at one of our 23 different campus locations across the city, Houston area. The first six people that answered that questions said the following, "I am a single mother and the only way that I can attend college and do better for my family essentially is that if I am able to take this course in this fashion," and they were all from underrepresented populations. So as necessity, this dictates that we have to be able to be successful in online learning environments, active learning techniques and active learning practices are a lever that we can use to help accelerate and enhance the success rates of these students because they're going to be more fully engaged. So, that’s what I got.
Patrice: Thank you. Has anyone incorporated online courses for their residential students are either from a sense of, I'm thinking about like a sense of wellbeing for students. One way to measure success might be if we were to offer some online courses, would that give students more options? And we have a lot of students who maybe are working a job so they can afford to go to school or might be an athlete. How might we measure the impact just on student wellbeing, and also I was thinking about graduation rates. So for example, if it's a class that is fills up very quickly, if were to offer the fully online courses that might enable students to graduate on time or sooner because they can get the courses they need, especially for transfer students. If nobody is thinking about student wellbeing from that standpoint is anyone else measuring success by retention rates, persistence of underrepresented students or just access and equity.
Don: Well, we're certainly looking at all of those things. Our online students and blended learning students tend to stay on board longer, better than others, better retention there. Our freshman retention rate just crossed 90 percent this past year. We're pretty pleased with that and looking at some of the programs we've got related to online and making sure that we've got access. Yeah we're, I mean, everything we do is geared towards retention, a better representation, etc, whether it be face to face or online.
"Our online students and blended learning students tend to stay onboard longer, better than others, with better retention rates."
Patrice: Before we bring Brian back into the conversation, does anyone else want to share anything, an example at your school or a wondering, maybe something that you're thinking that this discussion has made you start to think about?
Don: I've got something I'd like to share that actually one of our engineering faculty is really keen on. He's and I've got something I can show here in a second too. His challenge is that he teaches sometimes in large classrooms, 300-400 students, sometimes it's small classrooms, but he's really keen on getting them to work together in groups. With engineering students, that isn't always an easy thing to socially engineer. He has found a solution that actually works really well and we've been looking at it for awhile and kind of wondering what other applications it might have . Is anyone familiar with Etherpad? Okay. It's basically an online note pad system that allows multiple people to be working on a document at the same time. It's a lot like google docs, but it comes out of Mozilla. I'm pretty sure it's the Mozilla project. Our faculty member started incorporating this into his classes sometime ago.
Don: Okay. Let's see if I remember how to do this. He explains how he uses Etherpad here really quickly, but essentially what he does is create multiple of these little groups and then has the students break into groups and start doing problem solving together through the text. One of the great things about it is they might be sitting next to each other in that large classroom, or they might not, but they're still working together in a group. He and his teaching assistants are monitoring these because they're also part of these groups. They're watching each one of these conversations and he can jump in at anytime and give suggestions. Like for instance, here, are they taking care, are they using the correct units as they're doing their equations. He can see how the conversation flows, etc. He's found it extremely useful and the more that he uses it, the better improvements he has seen on student grades later. Obviously, you've got a record here of what they've done, how well they've done it. At the end of it all they have everyone has everyone come out and someone, the person, the group that got the answer correct first comes up to the front of the class and kind of explains how they got it and goes through their thought process. It really kind of gets the students working together collaboratively, but it also gets them to engage with the rest of the group later. He's worked it out so that, if I recall correctly, and it's been awhile since I've talked to him, but, there's always a concern some people are going to work better than others in the group. He got some pushback when he first started doing this from the students who were the better students, hey, I'm going to be carrying these other folks, this and that. Each group, elects or votes on, an MVP if you will, and that person gets a bonus point or two for the project so that gives them some incentive to all work towards it. If there is one who is doing more work, they get recognized for that too. It occurred to us that this works particularly well in some of the large classrooms and he's got video of them doing this kind of group work and you can see sometimes they're sitting together. Sometimes there's one person spread out, depending on how the room works. There's no reason you couldn't do something like this synchronously in an online environment either. So, just some things to think about. Maybe the tools that we're using in our physical spaces would translate to our online virtual spaces if we just think differently about how we're asking them to come together and work together. Now if the course is supposed to be asynchronous, and in the state of Florida by law, no more than I think it's 20 percent of the content can be synchronous if it's an online course. That doesn't mean the students can't work together synchronously on problem solving. So, I mean, there may be some creative ways to use this. The group can show how they work together, the faculty member or TA's can see how they did that group work, and then find some way to do some kind of call out or sharing towards the end too. So it's just an idea. He's very energetic and excited about what he's done with this and I thought it was something that I would bring up to this group in thinking about this problem too.