What’s in a name?

I’ve been thinking lately about some of the terms that we use to describe various forms of teaching with the Internet. It seems to me that we use these terms somewhat interchangeably, at least in the literature about teaching online.

The Sloan Foundation published definitions of types of online courses that I have seen most often in the literature:

  • Online courses (80% or more of content delivered online)
  • Blended or hybrid (30-79% of content delivered online)
  • Web-enhanced (1-29% of content delivered online)

This breakout was initiallly helpful for me because it helped me to understand that there are different degrees of online-ness in courses.  I soon started to wonder, however, about the real difference in a course with 79% of content online versus a course with 80%.  Are those really courses really in separate categories?  Also is a course that has 20% of content delivered onsite, is that really a fully online course?  Is content delivery the key goal anyway?

I like Ko and Rossen’s distinctions based on coures activities rather than content delivery. It helps me to clarify at least in my mind Web enhanced courses really may only have support materials offered online, whereas blended requires both onsite and online activities.

What works for me then is to think of fully online courses as those that truly occur all online, without onsite meetings; blended courses as those that use both online and onsite components; and web-enhanced courses as, well, pretty much onsite courses that have attending and supporting materials available online, with maybe the occasional online activity.

So here’s the one that is currently stumpping me: the flipped classroom. From what I’ve been learning about it, the idea is to have the content delivery done online, likely in the form of a video lecture, as homework, and to bring the activities or the homework into the classroom.  I’ve read articles that suggest that the flipped classroom is a form of blended learning which would imply that some activities/interactions with others happen online, and I’m not sure that’s the case. Is the flipped classroom really a form of Web-enhanced learning?
Photo credit: Gatheringzero

It may sound like hair splitting, but it seems to me that the terms we use are important. They can potentially help us to communicate and to understand each other, or alternately if we are using the same terms to talk about different things or different terms to talk about the same thing, well it seems to me like the language could potentially contribute to misunderstandings. Isn’t it important for us to share a common language so that we can really discuss the issues?

In and out of the box

I like to think of myself as an outside of the box kind of thinker, whether I really am one or not. Rightly or wrongly, I do think of an LMS as a box. Indeed, the first LMS I ever heard of was “Course in a Box.” So I initially thought I would like teaching online courses or modules better without an LMS.

The first time I taught online (way back in 2004), I actually taught two courses: one in the box (with WebCT) and one out of the box, just out there on the Web, so I had a direct comparison of two different approaches. (I thought I’d blogged about this experiences previously, but now I can’t find the post! If I’m being redundant, many apologies everyone!). While they both had some good features and they both had some challenges, when push comes to shove, the one I liked the most was in fact the one outside of the box. I liked my DIY approach (incidentally I developed the course with the full support of our Faculty Resource Center and around 6 staff members who took care of different things like art, music, video, programming, etc.– very DIY on my part) 😉

Because I don’t want to be put or kept in a box, Lisa Lane’s article Insideous Pedagogies really resonates with me. I think absolutely the tool drives many decisions. I absolutely think that the default settings drive some pedagogical decisions. I may not be getting this right, but it seems a form of functional fixedness that limits not only what we really can do but also what we think we can do.

So on a soapbox I’ve been, raging against the machine, in this case the LMS. And then one day, a student asked me if I could post the syllabus for an onsite course in our then LMS, eLearning. I said no thanks, that I didn’t use an LMS, but that I’d happily email it to everyone. In a different course, a student asked me if I could post my ppt (which I don’t use often, but when I do, there’s a good reason for it!) in our LMS. I said no thanks, because I wasn’t using an LMS, but that I’d happily email it to everyone. In a different term, some students asked me whether instead of emailing my readings, which I did in large part because I was using open source readings and wanted them to simply be able to click the links rather than retyping them, I could post them to our LMS (BB by this point). Another student request was whether instead of linking student blogs to my blog, I could post all of the URLs in BB. Over and over and over time have come the requests for me to use my LMS. I started to wonder: what gives???

Did I jump in the box and start using an LMS? You betcha! But not before talking to the students to figure out what on earth was the deal. In addition to trying to stay out of the box, I also was trying to use technologies that they use in their real lives. Email, blogs, and so forth. Trying not to impose one for which they would have little other use. I could not figure out why on earth they seemed so into the LMS.

What I didn’t realize was that they use the LMS, and they use it _often_. In many classes, over many semesters, over years. They simply know it. They are familiar with it. They like it. They go back to it after the semester ends (I tend to leave things open). They want some commonality across their educational experiences, their educational tech. In short, an LMS is in fact tech that students use in their real lives, their real educational lives. It finally dawned on me that using one could be helpful to them.

I have found what is the most useful for the students I teach is to put resources on the LMS. Having a syllabus there, having readings there, having links there, it all provides a central repository of information. So an LMS can serve an important function. (Discussions, reflections, games, etc. so far seem to work better outside of the LMS; perhaps I will learn otherwise at some point).

So for now, as I’ve apparently always been, I’m both in and out of the box. I’m ok with that.

Schrödinger's cat in a box
Photo by Michael Rosa

Time and teaching online

I’m working on a book chapter about time and teaching online. In this chapter, I consider the way in which time changes when teaching online. Some of the themes I see are these:

Amount of time: The amount of time you spend teaching online is likely increased. Even if it is the same amount of time as you would spend onsite, it at least feels like it is an increase in teaching time.

Fragmentation of time: When you teach online, rather than having a block of time dedicated to teaching (3.g. 1.5 hrs two times per week), the time is much more fragmented (e.g. 5 minutes to answer an email, 30 minutes to develop a 5 minute video, later 10 minutes to post an assignment, later 30 minutes to respond to discussion boards, with spaces in between the activities), so teaching is stretched over a longer period of time

Siphoning of time: The strectched time occurs over a longer period, so we may be less efficient. That means that time that could have been spent for other activities (researh or service) is lessened.

I think these are themes I see in the research anyway. Do research and practice align in this case? Do online teachers experience these changes?

I’ve been thinking about how to manage such changes effectively. The materials provided by POTCERT this week are very useful. I also found these videos from the Sloan Consortium:

Part 1:

Part 2:

While I thought these were useful, I thought it was interesting that they also felt quite long to me! I wanted text so I could move more quickly through the information…and thus make better use of my time!

I chair dissertations.

Lots and lots of them.  The last time I checked, I had 8 students signed up for dissertation research with me in a single term.  That’s actually down a bit…

I’ve known for some time that I need to somehow streamline the information that I share with students. I always worry that I provide some information to some students but forgot to give others with the same information. There is just so much to remember to tell them!

For that reason, I was determined to make my assignments for PedagogyFirst, weeks 15 and 16, count.  It was my chance to do something that actually could benefit dissertation students! If I was going to take the time to develop a screencastomatic and an FAQ, which I probably wouldn’t normally do for the blended types of courses I’ve been teaching lately, I wanted them to be useful.  Not to mention the fact that it would be nice not to have to say the same thing 8 different times in one semester!

The challenge was that making it useful meant that I had figure out how to post this information. It didn’t fit in which the blog structure I had developed. Did I need a separate blog?  Did I need to add pages to the one I had?  How do I even add pages to pages?  I found even thinking about it daunting.

I don’t know if I made the right call, and I may well change my mind down the road, but I decided ultimately to add pages to my existing blog, in large part because I’m not sure I really blog enough to make another one work!

So here is my main page with three reconsidered/reconfigured pages.  The one called Major dissertation information contains new content that I developed for this assignment. In the section titled parts of a dissertation proposal, I embedded a screencastomatic in which I demonstrate how to use ERIC to find empirical research articles.  I also developed an FAQ to include.

I would be truly pleased to have suggestions for other information dissertation students might need as well as suggestions for other questions they might have!