Sunday, December 13, 2009

Standards for Online Instructors

Most instructors/faculty have gone through some type of training to teach face-to-face classes. The goal is to prepare them to present course content in a pedagogically sound manner and hopefully introduce and give them a chance to work with multimedia. Not so for many if not most online instructors. I would hazard to guess that most instructors who are presently teaching online, never took a course or had training on effective online practices. As institutions began gravitating towards offering online courses many instructors were asked to teach these courses because an instructor was needed for that course or an additional section. Many institutions online offerings have organically grown from a few courses to many without their faculty ever being required to know and learn that f2f and online courses have differences in best practices. There are more differences than the ones provided below, but the lists lay out the basic concepts.

Face-to-face courses are generally:
- Synchronous
- Communication takes place after class or outside of class during instructors set office hours. Sometimes email is used
- Lecture based, sage on the stage model
- Paper-based materials with some multimedia
- More spoon-fed content. Learners do not need to be extremely self-motivated
- Question and answer time during class
- Papers may be required
- Some online resources may be included
- Tests and quizzes determine the bulk of a grade

Best-Case Online courses are generally:
- Asynchronous
- Communication takes place 24/7. Instructors continually interact with students and students can ask questions via email or discussion threads when needed and instructors get back to them within 24-48 hours.
- Independent/self-motivated learning experiences
- Digital text-based and targeted multimedia content presentation
- Utilize discussions to stimulate communication, engagement, develop critical thinking skills and become more fluent in the subject matter. Discussions are use to measure students learning
- Papers are included as a means to evaluate students understanding of concepts
- Online resources are included to provide extended learning opportunities
- Tests and quizzes are secondary methods to evaluate student knowledge and are used more to allow students to see gaps in their knowledge

An instructor who has taught f2f classes then migrates to online without proper training may still try to use the f2f methods causing all manner of issues. I have witnessed instructors: Mailing all students CD's and communicating exclusively via personal email rather than use a learning management system, Using only course packs for course content and allowing students to read and take tests when they want allowing students to finish a course in a week or two of a 12 week course, Refusing to use discussion threads because they don't think there is anything to discuss in their course, Swearing up and down that their methods are effective even when shown research that disputes it, Making students meet at a specific time to listen to their lectures, Relying almost exclusively on quizzes and exams and going so far as to require proctoring of tests, and the list goes on. When I see courses of this type I shudder to think of the lack of rigor, student to student communication and collaboration, student to instructor communication and mentoring, resistance to any change in pedagogy, and the list goes on.

At some institutions teaching online has become a way to make an extra buck. Some time ago at a faculty orientation I attended, I was new and unknown to the group. I had one instructor who set down beside me say "If you want to make easy money, then teach an online course" and he went on to elaborate on how much there was to be made. I was appalled, but kept silent until I was introduced as the person who would be helping to provide needed standards for online teaching and learning. Needless to say that faculty member was a bit embarrassed.

Teaching online is neither easy or quick. Studies have shown that it takes just as much if not more time to teach online and changing mindsets and practices is sometimes like trying to get sheep back in a pen when they've all been allowed to wander where they choose. if you've ever tried herding sheep without a skilled sheepdog, you know it's downright impossible. Sheep will follow the lead sheep even if they head in the wrong direction. You get the idea. Change is always difficult and sometimes scary to some. We get comfortable where we are and can resist even good changes.

The premise of this post is to bring forth the idea that there should be a set list of standards that online instructors and courses should adhere to. Whether they are nation state or institution wide is the question. Whatever the case this is a call for dialogue on providing quality and consistency in online courses.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Student Readiness for Online Learning

If we make it they will come......
That may be the mantra of educational institutions concerning online courses. Many students sign up for an online course then find that they are ill prepared to learn in this venue. The may have a dial-up connection, or an older computer/software. They may not be comfortable using a computer. Perhaps they really don't have the organizational skills or the self-motivation that are so critical to learning online. This is not only frustrating for instructors, but of course the student who may provide negative feedback to an institution about their online experience. In addition the drop out rate or failure of students is a consideration

One of the things I've noticed when perusing different institutions is that some are offering information and quizzes that help potential learners evaluate whether online learning is a good fit for them. Some are just text based and others utilize some visuals. This got me to thinking how I could assist the institution I am working for to provide potential online students with important information about online learning. My plan is three fold. First a multimedia intro that gives a visual and audio overview of key elements with a suggestion to take the online quiz to see if they have what it takes. The quiz I'm formulating is based upon some of the best questions I've seen used at other institutions. It is self-scoring and will provide potential students with where their strengths and weaknesses are concerning online learning. The last component is that of an interactive mock-up of the institutions learning management system (LMS) to allow those who are interested to get a hands-on idea of how to navigate the online courses and how they are organized. It has been suggested that a mandatory course to familiarize new online students with the venue be included. This is up for discussion at present.

In addition I have suggested that all potential instructors be required to take an online course designed to evaluate their readiness to teach online. My plan includes having all current instructors take the same online course to make sure everyone has the needed skills and practices to be an effective online instructor. There is much debate on this proposal and some current instructors disagree that this is needed. Instructor readiness for online instruction will be something I want to explore and write about in the near future

The major challenge I face at this time is that not all courses have the same look and feel. The online program has grown and evolved without a lot of consideration given to an organized and professional appearance. I'll save this topic for my next posting.

Funding for institutions of higher education is shrinking and future funding, at least in Ohio will be measured by success points or the success of students. This in itself is reason to make sure students are prepared to learn online. It will be interesting to see if any other institutions follow a similar model as the one I am working on and how effective this will be in preparing or weeding out students who wish to learn online.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fall Into Best Practices

As Fall deepens and foliage regales us with a wash of intense colors and earthy smells, we know the seasons are changing, ever moving through a cycle. Next year's Fall may resemble this years, but if you pay close attention it is different each year.

This brings me to best practices in online education. As educators we should be continually improving how we teach, mentor, and provide effective and engaging learning experiences. This doesn't just happen, it takes place by conscious action. Whether we seek this improvement or it is suggested or required, having a plan for improvement is critical to improving your online or face-to-face class.

One issue I see for instructors is that many review their course/s and think they have to make lots of changes all at once. While this is a noble undertaking, it is better to set forth a two or three year plan for improvement. You might start with the challenges are your students having on a regular basis and how you might improve their success at grasping and assimilating difficult concepts. Having a plan not only assists in improving your course/s it give you a path to follow. You can see where you began, how far you've gone, and where you should go next.

Plans are meant to be fluid and open to change. Perhaps you began in a certain direction and found once you were further into it that a component did not provide the expected results. This is the time to review your plan and see what may be changed to better assist instruction and learning. Having the expertise of an instructional designer can be of great value as someone skilled in designing learning environments and content can provide you with avenues not previously conceived. Many institutions have instructional design departments that can assist instructors with the creation of content. This is a great help to many faculty members who find they do not have the time or inclination to learn multiple software programs in order to create interactive content.

So whether you've been teaching for many years or are at the beginning of your career, remember to make a plan for improvement. As new research sheds light on best pedagogical practices and new media use, standing still is actually moving backwards. I encourage you to make a plan however modest to continually improve the way you teach and ensure more success on the part of your students.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review of Goals...Education, Fitness, & Multimedia

Every year near my birthday I set down and review my goals from the prior year to see just how much progress I have made and whether they have changed. This year is no different. My goals are usually realistic and I do not make too many of them.

The major goal I had last year was to be ABD by the end of the summer....annnnd...a very pleased me can check this off my list. I have worked very hard to get to this point and am basking in this major accomplishment!. Now it's on to my dissertation which is to be my goal for the coming year. I don't expect to be done in a year, but just make progress towards the end....a finished and approved dissertation.

Another goal was to get into better shape physically. Like many people who pursue a higher degree while working full-time, finding the time to exercise becomes challenging. Sufice it to say that my condition has deteriorated. While not exponentially, I was more fluffy than firm. Something I have not mentioned in my blog so far is that I was very close to obtaining certification as a personal trainer a few years back....before I began work on my Master degree. I've went from being full of energy, lean and muscled, comfortable in my own skin to feeling more tired and honestly a bit frumpy. I was in the gym strength training 3 x a week and walking 5 miles or more 3x a week as well. Well the good news is that even though I am up at 5:30 to get ready for work and make my 1.5 hour commute to work, and have about three hours each evening to take care of home and personal tasks, I am working in a half hour 3x a week to strength train and another half hour 4-5x a week to walk. After a couple of false starts I am proud to say that I have lost a couple percent of body fat and gained muscle over the last year. My goal for this coming year is to reduce that body fat to 20% and continue to build muscle.

My last goal was to continue to become more fluent in Adobe Flash and video production and editing. On all fronts I have completed this goal. My Flash skills now include a basic knowledge of Action Script and I am more familiar with my Sony HD video camera capabilities, and video editing in Premiere. My goal for the next year is to continue to learn more Action Script, delve deeper into Premiere, and become adept with After Effects.

So how do my goals relate to online learning? First of all getting my Ph.D. in instructional design for online learning is a no brainer. The more I know about this subject the more I can be of assistance to institutions of higher learning. Becoming more fit figures into instructional design as I continue to learn more about the body mind connection, motivation, and how using proper form in strength training is a learning process. When you work to repeat a proper movement and finally do it without thinking about it, you have assimilated that information. Online learning is about connecting prior knowledge to new information, motivation and engagement, and learning how you best learn. The last goal is part and parcel to what I do as an instructional designer and multimedia specialist. I must continually hone my skills in this area, keep abreast of new developments, and ascertain whether any new technology is worthy of application to online learning.

Perhaps you have your own personal goals. These are important to not only move forward, but to see where we started and where they have taken us. Life is a journey and I am enjoying the experience.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Online or Face-To-Face Learning?

For some time I have been wondering just how many instructors prefer to learn online or face-to-face (f2f). In my daily work I see that most of the learning opportunities I create/offer and assistance/troubleshooting I give are gravitating towards the virtual/online environment. Fewer and fewer instructors are attending f2f events and requests online or more online resources and training have increased.

I find that when I work for an institution, the administration wants me to work on-site. When I suggest that most of my work takes place online and that I work remotely a couple days a week the reaction is almost always immediate no. The rationale I get from an administrator is usually: 1) Instructors need someone to be available on-site so they can get the assistance they require, or 2) It is their policy to not allow employees to work remotely/from home. The first response is understandable, but without basis in fact. The second is more an old tradition that has not kept up with now standard electronic communication and the web 2.0 world.

Speaking to the first point, when I first begin as a consultant their is an influx of interest from instructors and more f2f meetings and attendance of learning/training sessions. However, within a few weeks to a month most of the f2f interaction has moved online. F2f interaction becomes spotty, the phone rings less and less and email requests for assistance and help with learning increases. When someone requests help, most of the time it can be accomplished via email, directing them to online resources I've created or linked to, using online conferencing software to conduct a session, or taking with them on the phone. If that does not suit their learning need we schedule a meeting in which the questions can be answered or subject matter can be learned. I plan on conducting a survey to gather data on online and f2f instructors on a number of questions including learning mode preference. If I can get the survey deployed by December, I should have the results interpreted by February or March.

Now to the second point. I find it almost amusing that while most higher education institutions offer teaching and learning opportunities online, they do not allow staff or in my case instructor to faculty to do the same. If instructors can teach and students learn remotely, why cannot those who work almost entirely online do the same? Taking into consideration that those who work with proprietary information may be excluded from the group, it just makes sense that those whose job it is to assist with primarily online curriculum and who spend most of their time communicating virtually should be able to work remotely. Personally I get just as much done or even more than when I'm on location. A recent study found that employees that work remotely end up putting more hours into their job than less (I'll locate this study and post the reference).
Environmentally speaking it saves resources and money. An institution uses less electricity, heat, and office space, and the employee spends less time and gas commuting thus having more time to accomplish their job.

This paradigm shift is slowly happening, but most often the worry is that workers won't really be working. The mindset erroneously is on-site = productivity. Closer to the mark is that managers will have to change how they oversee those under them. The fear is if someone can work remotely, then just who am I going to monitor, and will my employer need me? When most of the overseeing is based on stopping by an employees office/cubicle or scheduling f2f meetings, it gives the impression of work getting done.
To make the transition to remote workers, mangers and administrators must establish "Trust" within their workforce. In essence, I trust to you work when you are saying you are and you trust me to keep you informed. Productivity can and should be judged by work accomplished rather than physical presence. Productivity over presence is the catch phrase of remote workers. As to managing employees, meetings can be held online and most communication will continue via email and phone as it presently is and web 2.0 applications can be fully utilized. It's the same work, the same chain of command, just a different mode of communication and collaboration.

So, have I missed a salient point, or major issue? Let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Heat up learning with planned targeted multimedia

So, you've got that first online course and all the content is there, but it's mostly text-based and rather ho-hum. You're worried that your students will be bored and would be embarrassed to let anyone else see it? Its not that you haven't worked hard to make sure the content is rigorous, and have made discussions on critical topics an important component... it just lacks content that would help learners with difficult concepts or encourage further engagement. You may have lots of great ideas, but little what do you do?

Targeted multimedia with planned implementation to the rescue! Most faculty I talk with are limited for time and although they may want to include more media and interactive content, they just can't seem to do it all. This is why a yearly plan for each course you teach is a good idea. It not only allows you to think about updating the curriculum, but also to enhance learning by including one new media piece. Make a five year plan and each year review the course's effectiveness and see where the problem areas are. if students are having a problem grasping certain concepts, think about choosing one or two and creating a learning component on just those areas.

Now if you have the luxury of having an instructional design department on your campus, you can provide the ideas and content and work with them to craft something that will be reusable. if you are on your own in this regard, find out exactly where the sticking point is and find the simplest way to create the media. It most likely doesn't have to be complex and you might not need expensive tools to accomplish it. Don't make it harder than it needs to be... just choose the media you can use or learn quickly and run with. Here are a few ideas: Perhaps a simple powerpoint including voiceover, A screen capture, Short video/webcam, or even a simple pdf with in depth explanations and visual examples.

Research by Paivio (1986) and Baddeley (1998) suggest that humans process information better when both auditory/verbal and visual/pictoral information is paired together. This is called dual channel or dual coding. if this theory holds true, using only one media mode may not be taking optimum advantage of this input. Low & Sweller (2006) and Mayer (2006) suggest that the use of narration works better than text when used in conjunction with graphics. However, if you provide too many media modes it may cause confusion and cognitive overload for learners. To reduce essential overload in the modality, visual channel narration can be substituted for animation (Mayer, 2005, Mayer & Moreno, 2003)


Baddeley, A. D. (1998). Human memory: Theory and practice. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Mayer, R.E. (2005). The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. E. & Moreno, R. (2003) Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.

Paivio, A. (1986). Mental representations: A dual coding approach. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Too many technologies for communication?

Technologies for communication, collaboration, social networking, and career building are plentiful. I have a presence on Facebook, Linked-In, Second Life, and Shelfari. I Twitter, and post on this blog and another one entitled Instructional Zen, which is focused specifically on instructional design for online learning. The dilemma is each of these tools are separate entities and I often wonder, wouldn't it be nice to have each of my favorite online technologies in one place and with one connected interface? Sure, I can and do use iGoogle to and Google reader to help organize all my tools and feeds, but am hoping someone will come up with a more full featured and customizable product. One that will allow me to go to one web page to access all the content I want in a way that makes sense to me. If you know of anything out there or on the horizon share it with me.

As a post script you've most likely noticed that my posts have been fewer and farther between. Life, work, and school have consumed much of my time. Once I have finished my comprehensive exams my posts should be more regular. Until then, I will post as I have time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tips for Smaller Web Video Files

More and more training is composed of online interactive components and the use of video. What is of concern is that if the video is not properly compressed it can take forever to load and play. One thing you don't want is a frustrated user who has to wait for the video to load or to have it stop playing multiple times because the loading has not kept up with the player.
Many of the video editing software have great tools to help you export video to web friendly formats, but some of the presets don't always pare the file down as much as it should. Here are a couple things you should look for when exporting or saving video for the web:
1. Average video whether Standard Definition or High Definition is shot at 29.9 frames per second (fps). Average Web video fps should be around 20 fps, so make sure that you choose a lower fps. It's always good to try several beta saves at different rates and test them to see how they load and look on the web.
2. Most people don't know that stereo audio is a big space hog. When video is taped it usually is in stereo and that it takes up nearly twice as much space as mono. Unless you really need the audio to be in stereo, opt for a much smaller file by choosing mono from the options menu.
3. Lastly, if you want to pare down that file even more, consider using a Flash Video encoder. My video workflow for web goes as follows. First I export my video for web using a lower fps and mono settings. Next I import my video file into Flash video encoder. After it is encoded i import the file into Flash and publish as a swf and html file and upload it to the web.

By following these simple steps you can make your video files much smaller and make it easier to view them on the web. Hope this tip has been helpful and let me know if you have any helpful tips to keep those video files from getting out of hand.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Educational Technologies and Online Standards

As an instructional design consultant who is passionate about effective learning, I persistently learn new technologies and evaluate their suitability for learning. However I find my vision for many applications is at present can be limited by the available technologies, and the time and cost needed for development. Even with all the choices we are presented with I sometimes feel like the early instructional researchers setting at a mainframe with keypunch cards generating simple questions and answers. The radical evolution of technology provides us almost unlimited possibilities to develop and disseminate learning, but much technology assisted learning and training seems to fall short of the mark. Is this due to our vision, the technologies themselves, or the relative infancy of understanding how individual human beings learn? Even with all of the research into how we learn as humans, we are still for the most part limited in our understanding of this complex process. We have powerful tools at our disposal but our present knowledge of learning does not allow us to fully utilize the technologies we have.

All the assistive technologies aside, we must first have a foundation upon which to build learning and training. At present we are still steeped in the tradition of the factory, sage on the stage model of learning. No matter how far we have come technologically much online learning I have encountered in my work is unfortunately an electronic version of this methodology. Quite frankly I have been appalled by the lack of standards for teaching and online education and have many unanswered questions. Among those are:
• Have institutions adequately planned and prepared migration of face-to-face classes to the online venue?
• Have many institutions rushed to provide online education just to keep up with the pack or to provide increased revenues?
• Who still believes that the paradigm of the face-to-face venue can/should be applied to the online one and why?
• Who is watching over the online education henhouse and why must we do so?
• Should the accrediting body require standards for ALL courses that are online or continue to allow institutions to choose example courses?
• Is our accrediting body equipped to properly evaluate online courses?
• Who is overseeing the quality of the courses and who decides what is good and what is not.
• Should there be standards that instructors must meet in order to be accredited to teach online?
• Should the institutions themselves formulate and implement standards or should this be the function of an accrediting body?
• Is how instructors present course materials and use or not use the capabilities of an online learning platform a part of their academic freedom?
• Can an instructor who is a subject matter expert in a particular area, but with little training/education in online instruction teach in this venue as they please, or must they learn and apply proper pedagogies/andragogies and technology tools?
• Should faculty be required to become technologically fluent and learn how to teach online/follow those standards before being allowed to teach online? …and the list goes on…

In addition there is the continuing obstacle of lack of understanding of technology as a tool for learning and not the solution by organizational heads in business and education. Yes, it is certainly an ID consultant’s job to educate their clients, but when they come to the table set on a certain direction and filled with ill-informed passionate enthusiasm for a specific direction it is incredibly difficult to dissuade them from continuing on this path. It is akin to stopping a freight train. No matter how much of an expert you are saying an idea is a bad one does not make way for open communication and problem solving. Key to changing these misconceptions is to ask why they have chosen the particular solution, then laying out the better possibilities, which may or may not include some of their original idea. If those in charge are open to alternative ideas and see you as an expert minds may change. If the potential client is still stuck on using an inappropriate solution the consultant must either delicately try to provide information that would present their case sufficiently as to change their minds, decide not to take the job, or ethics aside go with what they want even if it means going against better judgment and developing instruction that is less than stellar or that will be found to be ineffective. If every institution would acknowledge that researched and clear standards for learning are as important as those in place for running the business, the process of designing training and education would be simpler for those who must develop and use it.