AT&T Award Winner

AT&T Award Winner

In April, my fully online graduate course, NEU 841 Medical Neuroscience, was awarded first place for the Best Fully Online category of the 2019 AT&T Faculty-Staff Instructional Technology Awards competition at MSU. It is an honor to win this award. I put student learning at the top of my priority list, and to be recognized at this level for my work is simply incredible. The award judges said the following about the course: 

The selection committee (consisting of experts in digital learning including previous MSU-AT&T Award winners) appreciated your well-designed, immersive technology choices. The judges appreciated the scaffolded nature of your course design. The design choice to create a digital syllabus, utilize Google Classroom, and offering open-book exams all help to make learning a priority for the students. The judges also recognized the focus on universal design and accessibility. The focus on design and accessibility really worked harmoniously to produce great experience for a diverse group of learners.

To view my 5 minute video describing the course, visit the AT&T Award website. 

The College of Natural Science also wrote about my recognition.

Transitioning from Google Classroom to Microsoft Class Teams

Transitioning from Google Classroom to Microsoft Class Teams

Google Classroom and I have a wonderful relationship. I love the functionality of Classroom since I use active learning assignments in a flipped classroom. Even in online classes, this structure works well. Using our learning management system to grade the problem set assignments was very clunky. I could share one document, though, and all the students could edit their own document, which was my goal. But then I discovered Google Classroom, and I had the ability to share one document, have each student get their own copy, make due dates, and schedule when assignments post. Additionally, viewing documents after submission was smooth and quick, making grading easy. Then after grading, I could return ownership of the document back to the student, so they could continue to make edits as they studied. Win-win all around!

Recently, though, Microsoft Teams came into my life in a non-classroom capacity. I was using it for faculty groups I was a part of and was really liking it. I noticed there was an Assignments tab, which led me to discovering that you could create a Team for a class, and I was intrigued. This was the beginning of my straying from Classroom.

Not only can Class Teams with integration with OneNote Class Notebook, allow me to distribute handouts and assignments to my class, including scheduling when assignments display and setting a due date (so the same functions as Classroom), but Teams has a number of other collaborative tools available. A Conversations tab lets students chat about the content. Integrated apps bring in other software like Flipgrid. I’m excited to see how the students engage with the material and each other in this digital space. You can check out my plans for the class by visiting the NEU 300 Digital Syllabus

I think Classroom is easier to navigate and use if an instructor only needs a system to deliver document copies for students to edit and submit. Although OneNote Class Notebook can also be used solo to share assignments, instructors cannot control when assignments are made available nor schedule due dates for the assignments. Due dates are possible when Class Teams is integrated.

For faculty that teach fully online and want increased student engagement, though, I think (hope!) Class Teams is going to be the way to go. I will definitely update how this change works out!

OLC Foundations Course – Finished!

OLC Foundations Course – Finished!

The OLC Foundations course is now finished! To complete the certificate, I need to take 3 week-long workshops and work with a mentor to finish the changes I have planned for my undergraduate online course. I think I’m going to take a two-part workshop on the neuroscience research behind learning and a self-paced workshop on giving effective feedback. I’m glad I signed up for the program. It was quite a bit of work, but I did gain some new perspective about my course structure and content and ideas for improvement.

Specifically, I really enjoyed learning about the Community of Inquiry framework. Although I had heard of it in passing prior to this class, I had never taken the time to actually dive into it. The second big takeaway for me was the conversations around discussion forums and improving student-student interactions. I am currently making some pretty significant changes to my discussion forums for my summer undergraduate course. Hopefully, they go well!

Managing Workload – OLC

Managing Workload – OLC

This week we discussed techniques for managing workload within online courses. One issues many online instructors face is the feeling that we need to be available 24/7. Without that structured face-to-face time of an in-person course, our students can submit work, ask questions, be online at any time. Setting boundaries for responding to students was a common thread throughout discussions. 

I actually feel like I do a pretty good job at managing workload. The technology I use helps quite a bit. Google Classroom makes distributing, collecting, and grading assignments relatively easy. I also do not grade for correctness on the weekly assignments. If students complete the assignment fully, they get the points. This is partly for workload management but more for student learning. The assignment questions are complex. I want to challenge them and force them to think about the content in a way different from the text, but it’s not a problem if they are wrong if they are putting in a serious attempt at learning the material. As long as they correct their misunderstanding with the provided feedback, they will gain knowledge from the assignments. 

The feedback provided to the students for all the weekly assignments is group feedback. I create and record lecture-style videos that give answers to all the questions in the activity. I tell the students that they are responsible for assessing their work, so they are supposed to go through and see if their answers are sufficient. Each assignment is usually about 40-50 questions, so I really can’t check every student’s responses. For them to get feedback promptly, this is the best strategy.

Overall, I designed my courses hoping enrollment would grow. 

 

Learning Activities and Assessment – OLC

Learning Activities and Assessment – OLC

Going through this week’s assignment covering learning assessments and learning activities made me realize that I blur the lines on learning activity and assessment quite a bit. I have a total of 6 course-level learning objectives for NEU 300.

Two of those are content-based and can easily be broken up into smaller unit-level learning objectives. Example:

  • Course: Predict results of experiments and manipulations based on neuroscience concepts and content presented in the course
  • Unit: Predict changes in ion flow and membrane potential when provided with ion concentrations and permeabilities, ion channel mechanics, electrochemical gradient information, membrane potentials, and/or equilibrium potentials

These types of objectives seem to fit well into the learning-activity-then-assessment model

  • Learning Activity: I provide assignments that cover specific experiments, students see how the experiments work and what the results are, I scaffold some prediction questions into the assignments
  • Assessment: Questions on the exams about similar, but new, experiments

However, the other 4 course objectives are less clear cut. For example, besides the objective provided here, I have two other objectives dealing with effective communication and teamwork. These will be assessed during the weekly discussion forum using rubrics that detail my expectations of science communication and being a good team member. So essentially the learning activity and the assessment are the same (the discussion forum). I usually scaffold my expectations a bit by being more lenient with responses and providing more feedback in the beginning of the semester compared to the end, but I wasn’t planning on adjusting the rubric from the start to finish of the course.

A similar design is found in this week’s assignment. I want students to practice metacognition and evaluate their learning each week. My plan was to ask the same questions every week – but now I’m wondering if that is really a good plan. Plus, what is the learning activity for this objective? Is the assignment itself the learning activity and the assessment? Is correcting their work using the review videos the learning activity? Is prepping for the exam the learning activity? Do I need to do more besides just repeat questions each week to help them learn metacognition? Will they get frustrated with the same questions or will it provide consistency that they will appreciate?

Course Improvement – OLC

Course Improvement – OLC

The OLC course is keeping me busy! After the learning community discussion, we began looking at rubrics for assessing our courses. MSU has a partnership with Quality Matters, so I have used that rubric before for course design and evaluation, but it was really great reviewing other rubrics as well. Some concepts exist in all the rubrics (e.g. alignment of objectives with learning activities and assessments), but each had some unique components. Also, OLC has a scorecard (i.e. rubric) for assessing programs as well, and it would be great to be able to begin looking at how Medical Neuroscience holds up. 

The first two weeks had such great resources, which we then had to use to create our course design and a syllabus. I am redesigning my undergraduate neurobiology course. The OLC project (a completed course) doesn’t have to be finished for a year, but I figure if I’m putting in the work now, I might as well use what I’m learning and implement it for my summer course. The course design had me reframing some of my course objectives – what DO I mean by communicate science “effectively” and how will I measure that? – leading to some major edits of course activities. I have never been truly happy with my discussion forums, so those are going to get a revamp. The upside is I hope it makes for better engagement in the course, the downside is I am going to have a ton of videos to redo <eyeroll>. 

This week we have been working on the syllabus. Even with a pretty well-structured syllabus to start with, there is new information the course wants included, the changes to my discussion forums and learning activities to add in, and little things like figuring out the schedule and when assignments will be due. Plus, like NEU 841, I wanted to make this syllabus digital. So I feel like I have done little besides syllabus work this week! But I know May-Casey will be thanking February-Casey down the road for all the hard work.