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12
Feb

Mini-Bytes. Try Before You Buy

Photo: Great Falls College MSU

I learned about an interesting way to increase student online enrollment from the eLearning team at Great Falls College Montana State University today at the ITC eLearning conference in Tucson. They discussed how students are often reluctant to sign up for online courses because they’ve never done so before and don’t know what to expect. That coupled with the fact that some students sign up for online courses and are not properly prepared to be successful in the online environment. The eLearning departments solution was the creation of Mini-Bytes. “A Mini-Byte class is a free 2-week sample of an online course. Instructors that teach the full 16-week watch over the courses and interact with the students who can sign up at any time.” Students get to try before they buy. That’s a great idea.

I think that if students could actually see what the expectations are for an online class and experience the look and feel of a course, they would have a better idea of what the online class will be like. They can then make an informed decision about whether online is a right fit.

However, many times great ideas get mired in red tape. How could GCC or Maricopa capitalize on an idea like this? First, we would have to get past the whole registration aspect. With our no late registration mandate, this is not possible. Strike one. Next, we would need to get faculty who teach online to be willing to open a 2-week portion of their online course and allow for open enrollment. Canvas permits this easily; however, the idea of having a random group of students in a 2 week course that faculty would be responsible for engaging with is not easy. Faculty working for free? Strike two. If the numbers were small, it might be possible to persuade a few. But would there be a broad enough spectrum of courses available for students to taste?

Another problem I foresee would be course consistency. As the former eCourses faculty lead for GCC, I know first hand how challenging it is to get all departments on board with a consistent look and feel for online courses even though we subscribe to Quality Matters. I would imagine taking an online English course would be much different from taking an online math class. Although maybe that is not the purpose of the mini-bytes. Maybe they are course specific which makes sense. Therefore, we would need to ensure that department online courses have a consistent look and feel. I know in English that is what we strive for, but it can be a challenge.

Overall, I like this mini-bytes concept and clearly one college, Great Falls College, has made this work for them. I guess I will implementing innovative ideas in Maricopa were easier.

 

9
Feb

Sabbatical: Supporting Data-Driven Decision Making With Educational Data Analytics Technologies

I’m happy to say that I was awarded a sabbatical for the 2018-2019 academic year. The fancy title of this post will be the focus of my sabbatical. It should be a grand ole dandy time, and I’m looking forward to spending my time doing and learning something new. If you’d like to read more about my sabbatical, I posted a few key points below.

Abstract: Learning analytics is a new and developing field. There is a growing literature base around learning analytics and its impact on student grades and retention. Although learning analytics is still at a relatively early stage of development, there is convincing evidence from early adopters that learning analytics will help to improve outcomes. It only makes sense that Maricopa would want to tap into this new field. Learning analytics has been defined as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs” (Sampson, 2016). Maricopa with its use of Canvas LMS and SIS has an overabundance of data that goes unused. Becoming a data analysis authority will enable me, as a full-time faculty member, to help support data driven decision making at GCC using education data analytics technologies, which includes Canvas Data Portal.

Goal(s) – what the sabbatical will accomplish. A vital aspect of data driven decision making is Data Literacy for Teachers, which is the primary goal of this sabbatical, to empower myself to use data in the decision-making process, so that I can help support data driven decision-making at GCC using education data analytics technologies. Data Literacy for Teachers “comprises the competence set (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) required to identify, collect, analyze, interpret, and act upon Educational Data from different sources so as to support improvement of the teaching, learning and assessment process” (Sampson, 2016). Our LMS, Canvas, produces a lot of data that presently is not being used. By becoming a data analysis authority and more knowledgeable in Canvas Data, I will be able to help support other faculty and administrators with data driven decision making at GCC using these data analytics from Canvas.

Objectives – steps to achieve the goal(s). The objectives for this project mostly follow the competency set (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) required for Data Literacy for Teachers. They are required to identify, collect, analyze, interpret, and act upon Educational Data from different sources. There are several steps involved in this project.

  • Identify and learn about big data, analytics and data analysis.
  • Identify and learn about Canvas Learning Analytics.
  • Learn about Canvas Data Portal.
  • Learn how to collect the data from Canvas into various tools for analysis.
  • Learn Data Analysis to discover what the right questions to ask will be.
  • Learn how to interpret learning data to predict and influence outcomes (act upon).
  • Assess and identify which BI Tools schools are leveraging to analyze data.
  • Create/Find a collection of example queries that use Canvas Hosted Data to answer questions; queries that could be very useful to solve problems at GCC (act upon).
  • Create awareness guides and a workshop for faculty on Canvas Learning Analytics.
  • Create a resource guide for district CTL’s on Canvas Data Portal.
  • Get Canvas Data Portal turned on in Maricopa.

The only objective I’m worried about not accomplishing is the last. It can be a challenge at time getting things with in Maricopa accomplished, but I’m up for the fight.

29
Sep

Online Editing Tools – Benefit or Crutch for Students?

Writing today is almost a completely online or computer aided experience. Students are composing in word processor programs as well as online in programs like Google Drive or directly in Canvas. While most of these text editors will probably have built in spelling and maybe a grammar checker, a more robust dedicated editing tool can find hidden errors that are easily missed on a standard text editor, and there are many of these tools available on the web for free and for pay. During my summer project, time was spent using some of these editing tools to discover which make best use for students and studying how these programs work to discover if in fact they are accurate and how accurate they are. Although most of the programs are expensive for students, three stood out as being accurate and useful for students.

I am officially hooked on Grammarly; however, I did cancel my membership after my 3 month trial period. It’s just too expensive to justify even though the service was good. And the free version still offers features that are usable to me and others.

This small project gave me the time and the motivation to dig in and see if any of these tools are useful, which I discovered that they are. I discovered their usefulness for students, and learned how to use them for my own benefit. I spend half my day writing, so this is useful for me too. Doing this project also helped me increase my knowledge of tools in which I can share in my role in the CTLE where I’m responsible for delivering innovative workshops for faculty, so I’ve shared these resources with the English department and colleagues who are constantly asking me about these different tools. I now have a working knowledge of these specific editing tools. It’s been awhile since I’ve research and written anything. As community college faculty the opportunities are not abundant. In fact, the last time I did any research and writing was when I was a MIL fellow. It’s good practice to indulge in scholarly endeavors even if they aren’t as heavy as a dissertation study. It keeps the mind sharp and keeps you current in your field. So for me partaking in this small project was doing that for myself. Read moreRead more

9
Mar

Is It Time for Happy Hour Yet?

That’s a pretty relevant question. It is Thursday, and the To-Do list is fairly long. So why not shirk all responsibility for 30 minutes or so and blog about happy hour? Sounds good to me. Happy hour is the obvious choice for this week’s writing prompt for Write6x6Building Relationships. How do you build relationships with faculty, staff, and students on campus? How important are these relationships to you?

First, I’m going to point out the obvious. There will be no happy hour with students, but everyone else is fair game. It’s the perfect way to build relationships. When I left South Mountain Community College 8 years ago, one of the pluses on my Pro/Con list for leaving the college was building relationships and community. I have some wonderful friends at SMCC and built some long lasting relationships, but not many of those relationships went beyond the boundaries of the college. I just felt like if I was going to spend 6 hours a day with people, I should be friends with those people outside those boundaries – at least some of them. So I left. I felt like a bigger campus, more people would open up those doors. And I was right. I went from having 6 faculty in my department to 40. There might have been more at SMCC if I counted the Reading faculty, but I didn’t really know of any of them. But you get the idea.

Everyone is busy, and teaching schedules can be chaotic. It’s difficult to build relationships when you never see the people you work with. So I made it a habit of walking the halls and spending time in my office beyond the required 1 hour office hour, just so I could connect with my peeps. After a while, I quickly learned that I was never going to get much work done when I was in the halls of 05. I spent my time there popping into offices, talking with colleagues, answering questions and generally just chilling.  It was a great trade off. Not everyone agrees with that sentiment, as there were plenty of closed doors in the hallways.

But there are also many happy hours. Meeting up off campus allows for people to feel free, be more relaxed, and open up a bit more about how things on the job are really going. It gives us all a chance to problem solve together and brainstorm ideas. But it also builds stronger relationships. I work with a bunch of awesome people who travel to conferences for professional development together, submit proposals for grants together, work on projects together, and of course, attend many happy hours, dinners and gatherings in our own homes together. We’re just one big kumbaya song.

24
Feb

How to Combat Fake News

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Fake News BBC

Studies show that students have ‘dismaying’ inability to tell fake news from real news. Fake news stories can have real-life consequences, so it behooves us as educators to teach students how to fact-check the news and get the facts. We’re offering a workshop in the CTLE this spring on Fake News. The workshop will be a lesson in fake news that can also be used with students.

For the workshop, I’ve compiled a list of resources to help you and your students understand the fake news epidemic better, and the workshop will cover:

  • What is fake news?
  • How is fake news and “alternative facts” a problem for society?
  • Where does fake news come from?
  • How to check news and use fact check sites.
  • How to avoid fakes news on social media.
  • Best practices for questionable sources.

One source in particular that I found useful was False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources by Melissa Zimdars which offers a huge list of fake news sites and the following tips.

Tips for analyzing news sources:

  • Avoid websites that end in “lo” ex: Newslo (Newslo is now found at Politicops.com). These sites take pieces of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading “facts” (sometimes for the purposes of satire or comedy).
  • Watch out for common news websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources (remember: this is also the domain for Colombia!)
  • Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
  • Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
  • Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).
  • Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.
  • Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.
  • If the story makes you REALLY ANGRY it’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue. Thanks to Ed Brayton for this tip!
  • If the website you’re reading encourages you to DOX individuals, it’s unlikely to be a legitimate source of news.
  • It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Sources such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.
  • For more tips on analyzing the credibility and reliability of sources, please check out School Library Journal (they also provide an extensive list of media literacy resources) and the Digital Resource Center.

If you want more resources and information about fake news, sign up for one the two sessions below:

18
Feb

Evaluation Plan for Faculty Can Be Fun. Really.

© Laura Strickland/MyCuteGraphics.com

So I’m a member of the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) committee again this year. As a member of this committee, I have agreed to be a mentor for a probational faculty member that needs to comply with the RFP requirements. When I heard about these new requirements for probationary faculty, my first thought was, thank goodness I’m not probationary. I don’t want to have any part of that. Well, it turns out no one can really escape PAR. Even us old residential faculty, as all the newbies are required to have mentors. And with so many new faculty, pretty much everyone who is not new is a mentor.

The Maricopa Community College District implemented this new peer assistance and review model (PAR) for probationary faculty about 4 years ago. Faculty are considered probationary for 5 years. Under this new model, probationary faculty are assigned a residential faculty mentor to help guide them through the process to becoming residential (tenured). As part of the PAR, probationary faculty have the opportunity to document their professional growth, mentor evaluation, administrative evaluations, and student evaluations in a Google Sites template.

I actually ended up with two pretty awesome mentees. Both are excellent teachers and fun to work with. The best part is they make being a mentor fairly easy. I’m going to share my recent evaluation of one although evaluation isn’t quite the right word. It was more of an observation with feedback. Evaluation indicates the making of a judgment about the value of something; assessment. I’d like to believe all teaching has value, and it’s really not up to me to judge someone’s value or their teaching. I like to observe and then give feedback. Lucky for me what I’ve observed has always been inspiring.

Recently I sat in on an after class review session and the room was full. My first observation was how does that happen. Students stick around for a study session after class? The whole class was engaged. They were divided into groups of 2-4 and it appeared that they each had an assigned topic to cover. As the instructor called on each group, students were prepared with their information. Some reading from notes or slides; others reciting information from memory. My mentee was encouraging and peppered the whole class and group members with questions. Students volunteered answered. Whether they were correct or incorrect, they each received the same kind feedback that the answer was correct or incorrect. It didn’t seem punitive if the answer was not correct. Someone else was just called on to provide a different answer. The whole session was positive and encouraging. I was inspired, and I wasn’t even a student in the class.

It’s really good to see good teaching, but the best part is there is no one way about it. Every instructor brings her own touch to the classroom, and we can all learn by observing how others get the job done. Turns out that this whole PAR thing might not be such a bad thing after all.

9
Feb

Need a Grammar Checker? I Want to Find Out

Writing today is almost a completely online or computer aided experience. Students are composing in word processor programs as well as online in programs like Google Drive or directly in Canvas. While most of these text editors will probably have built in spelling and maybe a grammar check, a more robust dedicated editing tool can find hidden errors that are easily missed on a standard text editor, and there are many of these tools available on the web for free and for pay. I decided that maybe our students and even faculty and staff might benefit from some of these tools, so I wrote a summer project proposal to research it this summer.

My goal for a summer project is to spend some time using some of these editing tools to discover which make the best use for our students and for us. I also want to study how these programs work to discover if in fact they are accurate and how accurate they are. In addition, I’d like to research whether these tools actually benefit students by teaching them to become better writers or if they are simply a crutch. With this knowledge, I’d like to develop a plan for how best to use these programs with students so that the tools can be more of a teaching aide than a tool that makes corrections only for students. So my proposal includes academic research, activities that can enhance my professional knowledge and expertise, as well as field research to learn innovations. 

I think this will be great way to spend my time this summer, so I plan to complete this project over a 4 week period during the month of June. Did any of you submit a proposal? I’m curious how you plan to spend your summer if you did. 

6
Feb

In Search of My Inspiration. How Do I Expand Beyond?

I have to admit I’m borderline burnout, but what keeps me going these days are the people I work with on a daily basis. My inspiration comes from all of those faculty and staff who take the time to better themselves and be the best they can be and utilize the CLTE to help them with that. I can’t be a slacker around these folks. Oh no, so I’m inspired to step my game up and help provide the services they need, and it reminds me of why I’m doing this job in the first place. It’s easy to forget at times.

So the last thing I need to be doing right now is agonizing over a journal post, but I’m inspired to do so because of the 10+ posts already posted on Write6x6.com from last week. They are my inspiration to post, to share. They are my inspiration to complete a tedious FPG application for an upcoming workshop. My inspiration to schedule FMS training in the CTLE. My inspiration to send out yet another announcement about what we have to offer, knowing very few will bother to read it. But it’s that few that inspire me.

Recently I attended a district event at SCC called TechTalks. It’s a TEDTalks type of event where 8 speakers talk about their experience with using technology in their life or work environment. These talks are very inspirational, but on this particular Friday I had every legitimate excuse to not miss work and not attend. I’m so glad I didn’t give in to any one of those excuses because that’s all they are is excuses. Attending TechTalks rejuvenated me. It inspired me. It made me want to go and do ALL those things those speakers talked about. I wanted to understand data, play with virtual reality, create portfolios for my students, create OER, and even make a music video despite my lack of music and movie making skills. I was inspired. Again by my colleagues in Maricopa. I’m so glad I didn’t pass up this one of a multitude of opportunities to be inspired because what good am I to you, my colleagues, my students if I’m not inspired to do my job?

19
Jan

Hello 2017 Let’s Get This Blog Going

Occasionally everyone needs a good excuse for not doing certain things they’ve promised they would do. I know I have a few up my sleeve. I’ve always loved blogging. It sounds so much better than saying I love to write, which I’ll deny vehemently. Don’t tell my students. But blogging is different. I just love it. But I haven’t blogged consistently in the last two years. The time frame of my slacking off coincides with when I took over as CTLE Director at GCC, so yes, I’ll use that as my excuse. But blogging as been calling me lately. I’m feeling disconnected from the world of technology. I haven’t played with a new tech tool in a while, but I’m inspired to jump back in. I even bought some toys recently. So I’m coming back. My next posts will be about my new VR Headset and the set of Kindle Fires I purchased for the CTLE. Now what’s a girl to do with those? We’ll see. For now, I’m off to go read some blogs. I’ve got some catching up to do.

Happy 2017 – Let’s keep our heads up.

6
Sep

Improving Retention in Online Courses Takes Work, But Do Retention Techniques Help?

I’ve been teaching online now for 18 years. Makes me sound old, especially since so many instructors are brand new to teaching online. Well times have changed, students have changed, and the technology we use to teach online has changed too, not all for the better. What I mean by that is students have different expectations of what online learning is and most mistakenly believe online courses will be easier for them to complete. As an online instructor, this is often difficult to deal with especially if you’re set on improving retention in your courses. Over the years I’ve developed some pretty standard processes to help with this, but more so lately I’ve found that those strategies are reaching directly to the student and not necessarily the course design. However, I’ll preview a few of each in this post.

First, students need to be aware of what the expectations are for the online course up front and preferably before the course begins. This way students will have an opportunity to learn what is expected and make a wise decision to continue on or drop and add an on-ground course. As a policy for our English department online courses, we open the courses 3-7 days before the start date. We also send a welcome letter to students outlining the expectations of the course, which generally discusses expected study time each week and advice on what it takes to be successful in the online course. Here is an example letter here. I’ve had a few students opt out of the class after reading the letter and taking a look around the online course.

Another retention technique is to include an orientation in the first week of your course. The orientation will give students early on a taste of many of the kinds of tasks they will be assigned to do throughout the course. Having them experience these things early on with low stakes makes doing these tasks later on much easier. It also ensures the instructor that all students know how to do what is expected when it’s time to do them. I require students to complete the orientation within the first five days of the course in order to remain enrolled in the course. If they don’t complete it, they are dropped as a No Show and get a full refund.

The orientation includes things like Read moreRead more