Promote Student Engagement by ‘Personalizing’ Your Online Course

Personalized Learning

The Glossary of Education Reform defines student engagement as:

the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their learning

Personalized LearningIf the above is true, then there are many ways an online instructor can impact the attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion of students. This particular blog post deals with how personalizing an online course can increase student engagement. When an online instructor and students can invest more of themselves in an online course, the satisfaction levels reported by those same students will go up.

This particular view of online course personalization will be broken into 5 areas:


Placing Yourself in the Course

Place Yourself in the CoursePrevious posts on this blog have focused on instructor presence in the online course. We’ve talked about establishing routines to ensure prompt feedback and instructor availability. This particular practice revolves around something a little more superficial, but important nonetheless.

Students in an online course like to feel that they know who you are. A text-based introductory paragraph or post in a “getting to know you” discussion forum may not fully encompass who you are to the student. Why not take one small step and add a picture of yourself to the course. You may already be familiar with the best practice of establishing a Virtual Office in your course where you can answer student questions. Why not add your photo and contact information in this same area and personalize your office.

Here at SHSU, Blackboard allows you to set up a Social Profile that places your picture wherever you interact in a course (discussions, blog & wiki posts, grade center etc..). If your students feel like they “know” you, they are more likely to reach out to you and less likely to drift off into obscurity.

The logical next step in this progression is for you to utilize video to connect yourself to your course and your students, but that is a post for another time.


Allowing Students to Place Themselves in the Course

Online StudentsIn online courses it is easy for students to believe that they operate in a vacuum. They punch their ticket fulfill obligations, and never get a good look at who is on this learning journey with them. Allowing students to place themselves in your online course begins to build that learning community that encourages students to be successfully engaged.

Why not have your student find a way to place their image in your course. Have them attach/upload/insert their picture as part of an introductory activity. Some Learning Management Systems like Blackboard, allow students to create their own Social Profile that includes an image and biography. After the profile is created the student’s face appears in the course roster, grade center and course activities (blogs, wikis, discussions, group activities etc..).

Having student/faculty images in your online course allows a more cohesive integration of group activity and shared learning.


Allowing Students to Personalize Their Learning

Personalize We know that student satisfaction goes up when they feel like they have some “skin in the game” when it comes to their learning experience. The challenge for many online instructors is figuring out how to incorporate student content-building or contributions to the online environment.

A good first step is to find out what they know and what they want to know more about. You as the instructor will define the boundaries from which they will pick, but a survey or KWL* assignment is a great way to start out a course.

*KWL – What do you know? What do you want to know? What have you learned?

You can also provide an element of continuous improvement in your courses by having your students journal each week or at an interval of your choosing. The journal entry could serve 2 purposes:

  1. Provide a graded assignment where the student reflects upon what they learned during the week.
  2. Allow the student to tell you what the high points and low points were of the previous unit of study.

The journaling activity will allow you to make course corrections (pun intended) during the course rather than finding out where you might have some issues when the course is finished and evaluations are in.

There are other methods for involving your students in this process. The scenarios are numerous, but here are a few ideas:

  • Have your students come up with the academic integrity policy for the course to increase buy-in. They can use a wiki or discussion board to share ideas around defining plagiarism and academic honesty.
  • Create an assignment dealing with constructing a study guide for the final and allow your students to contribute questions.
  • Use peer evaluation as a method for grading discussions and other assignments.


Feedback Early, Feedback Often

FeedbackProbably the most important way to ensure your students believe that you are personally involved in their learning is to provide prompt and frequent feedback. Think about how you feel when someone gives you kudos on a job well done or even coaching on a subject where you might need assistance. You feel like someone took a personal interest in something that you were doing, right? Students feel the same way about the feedback you provide via the course.

Here are some options:

  • Make feedback part of your daily routine as an online instructor
  • Change up how you provide feedback (text/audio/video)
  • Post a weekly announcement recapping the last week’s activities and previewing the current week.
  • Too many students to reply to discussion posts? Provide 1 summary post per discussion giving kudos and challenges when needed.
  • Schedule “office hours” where you can provide synchronous feedback a ’la chat or webinar when needed.


Personalization without Confusion

Sometimes in our desire to create a learning environment that is personal and engaging for the learner, we can add a layer of confusion that can separate the student from the learning experience we are trying to create.

So before we go tech-crazy or jump into a fun idea feeding frenzy take the following into account:

  • The Main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. If the personalization/engagement does not comport to the learning objective, then don’t do it!
  • Keep it simply single. Add one new wrinkle to your experience at a time. Don’t heighten student anxiety by adding lots of tools/tech that they’ve never seen before.
  • Don’t play Hide & Seek with course content and activities. If you started out putting content and activities in a certain order, stick with it!

Here are some quick and easy ways to provide personalization without confusing the issue:

  • Use images to introduce content/topics and break the monotony of the text monopoly!
  • While keeping the same routine/order of a unit of study, utilize different activities to differentiate the way students interact with the course.
  • Change up how you deliver content to students. Introduce a discussion activity a ‘la webcam recording or provide an audio introduction with assignment instructions that contain bonus points for those who listen.

These five methods of personalizing the online learning environment don’t have to all be done at once. As with most of the best practices on this blog, we encourage you to take it one step at a time. Remember if you feel overwhelmed, then odds are your students will too! Hopefully you will find your students paying more attention, being more curious, showing more interest, bubbling over with optimism and being passionate about their learning.

Have Students Invest in Academic Integrity in Your Online Course

Academic Integrity WorldeOne of the biggest challenges facing distance learning today is ensuring academic integrity. There are an overwhelming amount of blog posts, scholarly articles and stories in the Chronicle covering this topic. Let’s clear the air now and state that there is no absolute, sure-fire way to eliminate cheating in your online courses, just as there is no way to do it in your face-to-face courses. However, you can educate your students about academic integrity as part of their course activities, thereby ensuring that they understand what expectations you have of them in regards to academic integrity in your online course.

Here are some examples:

  • Have students submit an assignment, blog post or journal entry on how they would define academic integrity.
  • Have students use their own words when describing the course’s academic integrity policy.
  • Provide a discussion assignment where students can discuss the importance of academic integrity in online courses.
  • Have students “sign-off” on the course’s academic integrity policy stating that they understand what the policy means and how it pertains to them.
  • Utilize a course wiki and have students create the academic integrity policy (have specific requirements).

Having students invest in the academic integrity of your course will go along way towards having them make good choices when it comes to academic decisions in the online environment.

#bestpracticemonday – Encouraging Academic Integrity in Your Online Course

Academic Integrity - Photo of Student CheatingOne of the biggest challenges facing distance learning today is ensuring academic integrity. There are swaths of blog posts, scholarly articles and stories in the Chronicle covering this topic. Let’s clear the air now and let you know that their is no absolute sure-fire way to eliminate cheating in your online courses, just as there is no way to do it in your face-to-face courses. There are however, strategies you can adopt and methods you can employ that will assist in making it extremely difficult to do so. We will cover 5 ways to encourage academic integrity:

  • Get Students on the Record
  • Original Discussion Posts
  • Pool Your Resources
  • Multiple Measuring Sticks
  • Use the Tools Available

GET STUDENTS ON THE RECORD

The president has the Oath of Office, doctors have the Hippocratic Oath. We all have oaths or agreements that we sign our name to that guaranty a certain behavior on our part. One underutilized best practice in your online courses is to have your students go on record stating that they will maintain academic integrity while taking part in your class.

Whether you use a Mark Review Status, a discussion forum for a publicly stated pledge or an assessment where they put into words their commitment, having students go on record stating that they will have academic honesty is a good idea. This activity assists with your course expectations and helps to make crystal clear the academic integrity policy in your course and for the University.

Note: You can also make access to your course content contingent upon them “signing off” on the academic integrity agreement.


Discussion Forums GraphicOne of the best communication tools used in online, hybrid and face-to-face courses is the discussion forum. The benefits of forum use are widely published in academic circles. Some examples of these benefits are:

  • allowing the student to reflect and respond thoughtfully to a discussion question
  • allow them to apply that same kind of critical thinking to a peer’s posting
  • enables students who might not otherwise responds in a live classroom environment to have a “voice”

As envelopes are pushed in the distance education arena, we are discovering some things that need to be addressed. Having taken a few online courses for my Master’s degree and in working with faculty in their courses, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to some student postings in what are supposed to be well reasoned, interactive back-and-forth discussions.

Copy Paste GraphicStudents are waiting to see what their colleagues post and then creatively copy-pasting their own discussion board posts. Instead of doing the leg work of coming up with their own thoughts about whatever it is they are supposed to be posting, they are rehashing their colleague’s posts. There are thoughts as to why this may be happening, but that is subject for a different day.

The challenge then becomes one of encouraging the interaction and critical thinking you want in a discussion board while maintaining the academic integrity of original thought. Blackboard now offers a check box when setting up Discussion Forums that ensures that discussion Participants must create a thread in order to view other threads in this forum.

By checking this box, you force the students to make their posts, completing the first part of the discussion assignment (the part when you want them to reply with their original thoughts) without being able to view the posts of fellow students. This solution does not have to be utilized on every discussion forum in your course, but can be leveraged for when you want to ensure the student’s thoughts are original.


POOL YOUR RESOURCES

Question Mark for Pools GraphicQuestion Pools are a longstanding best practice when it comes to ensuring academic integrity in your online courses. Question pools are inventories of questions that you may use across all of your assessments. The ability to select questions from a pool or pools in your online assessments gives you the flexibility you need to ensure a fair assessment. Over time you create a large amount of questions for you assessments. Imagine storing all of those questions together so you can draw from them whenever you want for your assessments.

In Blackboard, question pools allow for Random Blocks of questions and Question Sets.

Random blocks are groups of questions that can be presented in a random fashion determined by an instructor. You create random blocks by:

  • Finding and selecting questions
  • Deciding on the number of points per question
  • Determining the number of questions to display to the user

A question set is a collection of questions retrieved from selected tests and pools. From this set, you specify how many questions to display. The specific questions displayed are randomly chosen each time the test is taken.

For each question set, you can specify:

  • The pools and tests that it will draw from.
  • The type of questions to draw from.
  • The number of questions to draw from.

MULTIPLE MEASURING STICKS

Measuring Sticks GraphicAfter reading the mountain of anecdotal evidence on the Internet about students cheating in online courses, you might be tempted to just throw your hands up and stop before you start! Measuring student success is not something that is done just by looking at scores on objective tests. You should use multiple measure sticks to gain 360 degree view of your students.

Change the percentage that tests a worth in your overall grading schema. Look at their participation in group activity, discussions, papers and other activities to determine how they are doing. Get a feel for your student’s “voice” by looking at their work over more than 1 assignment. If you are concerned question the student over the phone or via video chat in Collaborate to determine the real extent of their knowledge.


USE THE TOOLS AVAILABLE

Toolbelt GraphicBlackboard has/partners with tools that can help you work to foster academic integrity in your course(s). Using a combination of these tools will assist you in throwing up road blocks to cheating and get your students in the routine of making good decisions when it comes to “playing it straight”. Let your students know up front (via your syllabus and/or an expectations document) what tools you will employ to encourage them to contribute honestly in your course.

Examples of these tools:

  • Respondus Lockdown Browser
  • ProctorU (live remote proctoring service – additional fee involved – payable by your students)
  • Question Pools
  • Randomized Questions and Answers
  • Tegrity Remote Proctoring (Records student’s screen + web cam)
  • Turnitin Assignments (check for plagiarism)

Introducing Turnitin for Ipad

SHSU Faculty can now grade Turnitin assignments submitted via Blackboard on the iPad.  iPad users can visit the App Store to download the convenient app.

Turnitin for iPad

In order to grade the Turnitin assignments submitted via your Blackboard course you will need to generate an access code that you can use to connect the Turnitin App to your Blackboard courses.

How to Generate your Turnitin Code

  1. Log into Blackboard @ SHSU
  2. Open any submitted Turnitin Assignment and access the Turnitin document viewer (the view that shows you the originality report) for the assignment.
  3. Click the iPad button to get the access code (lower left).

 Get Class Code Button

  1.  Click Generate Code

 Generate Code

  1. Copy the code or write it down.
  2. Go to the Turnitin for iPad app and tap the Access Code tab.
  3. Paste or enter your access code and tap the Add button.

Add A Class

Note:  Each class you want to add requires a unique access code.  To grade Turnitin assignments from other courses, you will need to:

  • Go through steps 1-4 above to get the access code for each class.
  • Open Turnitin for iPad
  • Tap the User Profile button (upper right)
  • Choose Add Class with Access Code
  • Enter the code and tap Add

For more information and helpful how-to’s, visit the Turnitin support page here: http://turnitin.com/en_us/training/instructor-training#ipad

BbWorld 2013 Session – Respondus Monitor & LockDown Browser: Protect the Integrity of Online Tests

Nick Laboda, Senior Account Manager
Respondus

    Challenges with online assessments

Digital cheating
Accessing external resources
Protecting exam content
Student identity
Flexibility & convenience

    Respondus LockDown Browser

Students cannot:
Print
Capture screen content
Go to other websites
Access other applications

Instructors apply LDB settings for exams
Integration via Bb building block

LDB is a client application, web-based installation
Installed to local computer
Windows & Mac compatible
Supports any settings in a Blackboard exam
Increases completion rates for online exams, since students cannot exit the browser without completing the exam

    Respondus Monitor

Companion product for LockDown Browser
Uses webcam & video technology to record student test session

Same integration component
LockDown Browser client is the same
LDB has to be used
Administrator manages settings from Respondus.com
Videos stored on Respondus’ Amazon cloud server

Enabled in-course in the same manner as LDB, both tools are managed from the same area in the course
Both can be enabled at the same time
Startup sequence is list of events that occur before the recording, such as showing ID, a photo of the student, environment check and additional instructions (exam specific instructions)
Webcam check is required to make sure the webcam is working before they begin
Video Review option from dashboard lists roster, with information about time taken, time spent, location (webcam or lab)
Shows video frame previews from random points, entire video can be reviewed and marked reviewed, or flagged, comments can be left

No recording window is up, adds an icon to LDB that indicates they are being recorded
Student can provide feedback on their experience afterwards

Users of LDB have 200 free seats annually (1 seat per student per course)
Seats can be purchased in increments of 100
Students pay option $10/use

Moderating Posts in Discussion Forums? Now there is an ORIGINAL thought!

Discussions Forums GraphicOne of the best communication tools used in online, hybrid and face-to-face courses is the discussion forum. The benefits of forum use are widely published in academic circles. Some examples of these benefits are:

  • allowing the student to reflect and respond thoughtfully to a discussion question
  • allow them to apply that same kind of critical thinking to a peer’s posting
  • enables students who might not otherwise responds in a live classroom environment to have a “voice”

As envelopes are pushed in the distance education arena, we are discovering some things that need to be addressed.  Having taken a few online courses for my Master’s degree and in working with faculty in their courses, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to some student postings in what are supposed to be well reasoned, interactive back-and-forth discussions.

Students are waiting to see what their colleagues post and then creatively copy-pasting their own discussion board posts. Instead of doing the leg work of coming up with their own thoughts about whatever it is they are supposed to be posting, they are rehashing their colleague’s posts.  There are thoughts as to why this may be happening, but that is subject for a different post.

The challenge then becomes one of encouraging the interaction and critical thinking you want in a discussion board while maintaining the academic integrity of original thoughtForum moderation presents itself as a workable solution.  Forum moderation allows the instructor or designated reviewer to approve the post before it is seen by the rest of the class.  So, with this in mind here are the steps to promoting original responses in discussion board postings:

  1. When creating the forum be sure to ensure that your force moderation of posts.*
  2. Assign a due date for the creation of discussion threads in response to your discussion question.
  3. Do NOT publish/moderate the posts until after the due date.
  4. Turn off post moderation once the due date is reached (you can also disable the ability of the students to add new threads)
  5. Have a separate due date for replies to original postings.

By following these steps, the students make their posts, completing the first part of the discussion assignment (the part when you want them to reply with their original thoughts) without being able to view the posts of fellow students. Then, when you open the discussion back up for reply the are free to build off of each others’ ideas and continue to interact.

This does entail a little more work on the part of the forum moderator (professor, instructor, TA), but can really go a long way to ensuring the integrity of student discussions.  This solution does not have to be utilized on every discussion forum in your course, but can be leveraged for when you want to ensure the student’s thoughts are original.

*Some Learning Management Systems do not have the ability to moderate posts, so another solution may be in order.