Moving toward content immersion

21 11 2015

Over the past 15 years, online learning has experienced a paradox.  As video streaming speeds have increased and bandwidth limitations have decreased, students are increasingly less likely to watch long instructional videos.  In fact, data gathered from the viewing habits of thousands of MOOC students show that the average time students stick with an instructional video is six minutes – regardless of the length of the video.

In 2007, advances in streaming speeds made it feasible for me to start creating and sharing “lecture tidbit” videos with my online students.  I had a (then) cutting edge (and expensive) home set-up with a microphone headset, wired Wacom tablet, white board drawing program, and Camtasia screencasting program.  My videos averaged 15-20 minutes long.  Students told me they watched them over and over.  Those videos are still accessible and active.  The last time a student told me they watched one of them “over and over”?  At least three or four years ago.

It’s time for a change.

I’ve started to replace the videos.  I’m shooting for concentrated bursts of information, no more than two minutes long.  I’m making the videos part of narratives – more of an immersive experience – embedded within storyline presentations, allowing for not only instruction – but also practice and self-assessment activities.  My first overhaul has been my pharmacology med math activities.  Formerly, the activities were static Power Point and worksheet based.  Now, they are dynamic.

2015-11-17 11.59.10The new activities use video and practice embedded into Articulate Storyline presentations.  Storyline is a pricy program, but Office Mix, a free Power Point add-on, has some of the same rudimentary functions (including self-assessment quizzing).  Other than Storyline, the tools of the screencasting trade have decreased in cost and increased in ease of use and access.  I record video on my phone, using the native camera app.  I have a small flexible tripod for demos.  For whiteboard videos, I use the Vittle video app on my iPad – no dedicated drawing tablet required.  Both Vittle feed and camera app videos upload seamlessly into Storyline. And Storyline, an HTML 5 publishing product, avoids the device limitations of Flash.

Once published, students can access the activities from both desktop and mobile devices. My old Camtasia videos, uploaded to the LMS, were only available on LMS-compatible devices.  Since my college uses an outdated non-mobile  LMS, that was a limitation.  Over time, I had transferred some of the videos to YouTube to increase accessibility. But, YouTube does not allow for interactivity. Storyline activities can be hosted both within and outside of the LMS.  I maintain my own domain and website for maximum flexibility, but most schools will also provide server space to host the activities.

Online education is a field where the only constant is change.  One of the things I love most about working in this area is exploring all of the ways to help maximize student learning.  Moving from text to video in 2007 increased student engagement.  I anticipate that moving to an interactive video/skills mix will provide even greater levels of immersion.

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FTP and servers and file structure – oh my!! #yesican @articluate #onlineed #FileZilla #commodore64

3 10 2015

Something I’ve picked up from my mom is the mantra “If other people can figure out how to do this, so can I”.  From the outside, we may seem different.  She buys drills, tears down walls, and builds closets and banisters.  I buy software, tear down curricula, and build interactive learning activities.  If you ask my mom why she tears down walls and fiddles with a design until it works, she’ll tell you it’s because she enjoys building things that people can use.  Although our tools are different, our goals and motivations are the same.  I, too, enjoy building things that people can use – I get that from my mom.  She’d tell you we’re not alike, but we really are.  (Yes we are, mom!)

Back in the early 1980’s, I was obsessed with programming on my Commodore 64.  My interest continued through college, where I encountered the Mac HyperCard and PC DOS worlds.  In the 90’s I left home for the military, got married, had kids, went to grad school… and by the time I had time to think about programming again – the tools of that trade had exploded beyond what I could quickly assimilate.  So, I focused instead on the tech I needed for my career.  I mastered Excel data analysis and Power Point motion tracks.  As a teacher, I became the queen of animated Power Points (yes, I was that 90’s stereotype).  In 1999, I was approached about teaching within the emerging online platform, WebCT.  I jumped at the chance! Two of my favorite things – tech and teaching – combined into one?  Yes!!

In the 2000’s, I dove into screen casting – recording lectures for my online students with my trusty Bamboo graphic tablet and whiteboard program.  It was cutting edge to be able to deliver video lectures at the time.  But, in the tech world, new quickly becomes passé. Recently, I have wanted to gain experience with interactive animation to update my content delivery.  I have my own website and I’ve done some rudimentary interactive programming there, but I wanted something more robust.

This past week I published my first interLRSC medmath1active Articulate Storyline quiz activity.  The program has a bit of a learning curve, but there are videos to help.  It’s enough like Power Point that it was fairly easy going.  Until… I couldn’t get the output to upload to my website.  And… there were way too many files to upload individually and keep in order.  And… my web hosting service wouldn’t unzip folders.  So, I got frustrated and walked away for a few days.

Then, as I looked through pictures of my mom knocking out walls and building a closet from scratch, I realized that just like her – if other people can figure this out, so can I.

So, I started researching ways to bypass the program file transfer protocol (ftp) that wasn’t working.  I came across FileZilla, and memories of an ill-fated attempt to set up a Moodle server about 10 years ago came back to me.  I downloaded the software, pulled up some help files, logged into my web host server, transferred the files, got very nervous, and… IT WORKED!!!  I started yelling my version of “Eureka!” through the house, got called a nerd by my son (who was playing video games at the time – the son of a nerd), and posted my joy on Facebook 😉

As they used to say on a famous 80’s TV show… “I love it when a plan comes together!”.

My first project:  http://www.mycozynook.com/215math1.html  More to come soon – I’m addicted now!





Learning pyramid – myth, fact, or somewhere in between? #learningpyramid #onlineed

19 09 2015

When I asked my incoming high school science students to describe their favorite activity in science class,  the majority said “labs” (specifically, labs that involve fire and/or chemical reactions).  A handful of students each year, however, said “taking notes”.  In explanation of why they enjoyed that activity, they nearly always replied “because it’s easy – you don’t have to do anything”.  Yikes!

This week, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an essay in which a researcher claims that learning by lecture is “an illusion of learning”.  I completely agree. [1]

I taught high school for seven years.  I’ve also taught college for 25 years, split relatively evenly between online and traditional course formats.  During my high school teaching years, I made it a point to rarely lecture for more than 15 minutes in any class period.  When teaching college, my face to face courses had a heavy lecture component and my online courses contained lecture videos.  The majority of my face to face college years were spent teaching non-traditional night courses – typically in 2.5 hour blocks.  It was not unusual for me to lecture for 75-90 minutes for each course, two courses back to back each day.  The students expected it, I was used to it – that’s the way college works?  Right?

No.  So much no.  I am a talented lecturer with an entertaining manner and a soothing voice (so my course evaluations say).  But, still – so much no.  Researchers have repeatedly claimed that passively watching lectures is the least effective way to learn.  It is truly just an “illusion of learning”.  We know this.  It makes intuitive sense. So, why do we do it?  Money is one reason – colleges can maximize income by putting a few hundred students in one room with one lecturer.  Another reason is “that’s the way it’s always been done”.

ntl_learning_pyramid

Learning Pyramid. Creative Commons License attributed within blog.

So, what works?  Those opposed to lecture as a primary learning tool typically use the “learning pyramid” to support their position. [2] The learning pyramid contains a variety of teaching and learning methods arranged hierarchically.  The pyramid claims that the least content retention occurs as a result of lecture and the most content retention occurs from teaching others.  However, the picture is not that clear cut.  The amount of retention, as determined by studies, depends on too many variables to give a strict percentage value for every situation.  Retention in a given situation depends on age, subject, prior learning level, and a host of other factors.

Some researchers have found that practice tests and distributed practice allow for the best method of retention.  [3] That would make sense if teaching to a test.  But, what about applied, long-term, retention?  Additional research supports the idea that repetitive practice also helps to facilitate long-term learning. [4] Perhaps that contributes to the “teaching others” portion of the learning pyramid?  After all, teaching others is, at its core, a form of repetitive recall of information.

During my time in grad school at the medical school at the University of North Dakota, the basic medical curriculum was switched from a lecture-based to a problem-based learning environment.  After graduation, I worked for a term as a facilitator in the 2nd year med student program.  That learning environment, born from research and maintained through a record of continued academic success, cemented my belief that a lecture-heavy curriculum was not the best learning environment.  However, I did continue to lecture in my own courses throughout the 90’s – primarily because of a pervasive “just tell me what I need to know” attitude among my students and evaluators.  As an adjunct, I was dependent upon student evaluations for my continued employment, and students of that time were fully invested in the “illusion of learning” that lecture provided.

Now, as the Millennial generation tide rises within higher education, the attitude towards lectures is beginning to change.  Millennial students have been raised on cooperative learning and “just in time” instruction.  If they need to learn to change a tire or bake a soufflé, they go to YouTube.  They have choices, and they want experiences.  Educational institutions that don’t meet their needs and work to their strengths will be sitting with empty lecture halls within the decade.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”  The Socratic method of learning is at least as old as, well… Socrates. And, although, lecture didacticism can also trace its roots back to Ancient Greece, didactic presentation, in the Victorian era, came to be known as insulting – essentially, boring.  [5] So, why, all these years later, do so many schools still default to lecture halls holding hundreds of students?  Primarily, maximum bang for the buck.  Lectures aren’t about education – they are about money.  The best of them are highly entertaining – they pack in the students (and their tuition dollars).  During my undergraduate years at the University of Illinois, there was a lecture course commonly referred to as “silly civ”.  The highly entertaining professor of that three credit humanities course was able to pack in over a thousand students.  Although I didn’t take that course, I did take biology in the same auditorium – with 700+ other students.  That’s some big bucks right there.

So, how do we do it differently?

A couple of years ago, I went through the process of taking a long, evaluative look at my curriculum and content.  I wrote an OER textbook for my Concepts of Biology course, switched the bulk of the points to discussion and the midterm and final to short answer format.  I made all of the unit multiple-choice quizzes short and repeatable – low stakes.  This year, my fall enrollment in that course more than doubled from last fall. It actually maxed out and went into overload.

This year, I am writing another OER textbook, this one for introductory pharmacology, also in combination with revised content.  Currently, my content in that course is presented through reading assignments and in batches of lecture videos, each 15-20 minutes in length (too long).  I am working through eliminating those long videos and converting the content to a series of shorter videos, animations, and interactive Articulate Storyline self-assessments.  It has become a massive project, but it’s an exciting one.  It’s time for a change.

Educators have known for decades that personalized, scaffolded, integrated, “just in time” instruction is the key to learning and retention.  The Millennial generation won’t just expect that type of education, they’ll demand it.  As they should.

  1. Wexler, Ellen. In Online Courses, Students Learn More by Doing Than by Watching. http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/in-online-courses-students-learn-more-by-doing-than-by-watching/57365
  2. Atherton, JS. Learning and Teaching; Misrepresentation, myths, and misleading ideas. http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/myths.htm  (with Creative Commons license for image)
  3. Dunlosky, John et al. Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology. http://psi.sagepub.com/content/14/1/4.full.pdf+html?ijkey=Z10jaVH/60XQM&keytype=ref&siteid=sppsi
  4. Karpicke, Jeffery D. and Roediger, Henry L. III. Repeated retrieval during learning is the key to long-term retention. http://memory.psych.purdue.edu/downloads/2007_Karpicke_Roediger_JML.pdf
  5. Repp, Charles. What’s Wrong with Didacticism? http://www.academia.edu/2940819/Whats_Wrong_with_Didacticism







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