Training the Blended Learning Instructor

In the Blendkit 2014 MOOC this week, the work is focused on integrating the online and face-to-face (f2f) portions of the course.  It is key that the two complement and build on each other.  However, it is the instructor at the f2f level that must be most prepared to do that integration.  The online course is typically set up and structured so all students, regardless of instructor, are provided with the same resources and assessments.  It’s what happens in the classroom that should be the focus of the blended learning instructor training.  Many adjunct instructors are professionals with little to no educational background (outside of what they themselves experienced in college).  They must be taught and mentored how to recognize what concepts need more focus in the classroom and what to do to address them.  By working in conjunction with the online course, particularly using formative assessments, the instructor can identify these concepts ahead of time.  It’s those activities that are done in the classroom that must be targeted in the training.  What groups activities can be done to get students working and discussing those items that they struggled with?  It is in the classroom where the flexibility and individualization of learning can occur within the blended learning environment.  Having a mentor/instructional coach work with the instructor/s on a weekly basis to do the planning of the weekly classes could be extremely beneficial that first time the instructor teaches the class and then regular check ins after that.  Meeting with the instructors of these blended courses as a small group may also be very helpful to everyone involved as they could develop a professional learning community, mimicking what they are trying to do in their courses.  Course visits to evaluate how the activities are going would also be important by the mentors as well as the other instructors.  This way the students and the instructor are receiving the optimum educational experience and the full integration of both online and f2f components of blended learning is achieved.

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Interactions are the key, before content

After attending this week’s webinar for BlendKit2014 (a MOOC course on blended learning), I was struck by a comment made about focusing on the interaction rather than the content when designing these types of courses.  As I only design online courses at the moment, I think we can do a better job by focusing on the same things.  Our process has SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) first providing unit overviews and objectives, then readings and resources, and finally assignments.  I have worked to map course outcomes to unit objectives to assignments so there are no disconnects and the course is fluid and cohesive.  I’m wondering if the readings/resources step should come after providing assignments since I agree that the focus should be on interaction whether student-student, student-instructor, or student-content.  If we can design rich assessments of the learning objectives we can then focus efforts on finding the most useful resources for those assessments, using them as guideposts along the way.  For the concrete sequential person I am, course design is challenging my “big picture” perspective and getting me out of the details and more into the planning – which is where it should be, especially in the beginning.  The details will take care of themselves once that big picture blueprint is in place.

BlendKit2014 Course on Blended Learning

I’m working on a MOOC right now through the Canvas Network called BlendKit 2014. It’s a course on understanding Blended Learning implementation. I’m learning a lot about online course design as well. There is an excellent exercise I’ve started using for mapping course outcomes with unit objectives with assessments. This can be an eye opening exercise to do with existing courses as well as helpful for course development to let the Subject Matter Expert understand how everything should be/is connected before the course goes live. Has anyone used a specific tool to do this type of mapping or to communicate it with those responsible for the course content?

What is a curator?

Recently I heard one of my colleagues use the term curator and then I read an article by Marcia Devlin, Online learning calls for new set of skills http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/online-learning-calls-for-new-set-of-skills-20121022-28156.html#ixzz2A9HYOy48 where she states:

The role of educators as “sense makers” is becoming increasingly critical. The educator has begun to move from being the creator, holder and deliverer of knowledge to being the aggregator of knowledge and the guide and facilitator of learning.

When I looked up what a curator is in education, I discovered that it is exactly what Ms. Devlin is describing – an aggregator of knowledge.  It is very common when teaching online classes (whether higher ed or K-12) that the content cannot be modified in the course.  Teachers must find a way to collect (curate) the latest developments and provide them to students.  One way I have also discovered is to use Scoop.it, specifically designed to provide links to articles and information students would find useful.

How do you provide additional content to your students in your online course/s?

Understanding Weighted Grades in Blackboard

You can set your course grade to be weighted based on categories and/or individual assignments.  Categories group the different types of assignments.  You can then assign a percentage weight to each category or assignment.  When a category is used, the individual assignments in the category are weighted equally.  For example, if you have 5 discussion forums and this represents 20% of the grade, each forum is worth 4% of the grade.  It is only when you want the individual assignments within a category to be weighted differently will you weight each assignment rather than the category.  In terms of the calculations to confirm the weighted grade, the fewer number of weights, the easier the calculation.

For example, in your syllabus, you may have discussion forums worth 20%, papers worth 40%, a midterm exam worth 20%, and the final exam worth 20%.  These are your categories: discussion forums and papers.  The midterm exam and final exam are weighted as individual assignments.   When you create your forum and paper assignments, assign each to the appropriate category.  Set up the correct weights in the weighted column in the Blackboard Grade Center and it will automatically calculate the weighted total.  If this column does not exist, consult your APM to have it created.

Sometimes, it may appear when you look at the points and the weighted column value that the weighted value does not reflect the points accurately.  This is entirely due to the assignment of the weights.  You cannot add up earned points and divide by total points to get this value.  Weighted grades have to take into consideration the weights of each category.

This is how the weighted grade is calculated to arrive at a final percentage.

For each category, add up the total points earned and the total possible points.  Since not all assignments in the category may be completed, only include the ones that have scores, including assignments for which the earned grade is zero (any ungraded assignments will not have a numerical score).  Divide total points earned by total possible points and multiply by the percentage value.  This gives you the number of percentage points that this category contributes to the final grade.

For example, using a forums category, a student may have earned 25 points out of a possible 30 points.  The category is worth 20% of the grade.  The calculation becomes (25/30) x 20 = 16.67.  This means that the student earned 16.67 out of the possible 20 percentage points.

To calculate an interim grade comprised of some but not all of the categories, you must calculate the points that the student earned in each category involved.  Add them up then multiply by the result of 100 divided by the total percentage points involved.

For example, assume the student earned 16.67 points for forums weighted at 20% and 25 points for papers weighted at 30%.  Adding these points together, you get 41.67.  Since this is 50% of the final grade, we have to multiply this 41.67 by two to get a grade out of 100.  Therefore the calculation becomes (16.67+25) x (100/50) = 83.34.

To arrive at the final grade, calculate the points earned by the student in each category and add them all up.  That will give you the final percentage out of 100.  No further calculation is required.

You can see that using weights makes the calculation of the interim or final percentage grade more complicated and requires some work to verify that the percentage is correct.  However, it can allow for a fairer grade for the student based on weighing the effort/importance on each type of assignment.

The Power of Feedback

I received permission to share this from an instructor in one of my training courses:

In sixth grade, I was not only very short, but spindly and uncoordinated. My least favorite class was gym, where the teacher was one of those stereotypical “drill sergeant” types. One day we girls were playing softball outside while the boys’ gym class exercised nearby. I was up to bat. I quickly made two strikes and then hit the ball so weakly that it was immediately picked up. I never made it to first base. In a disgusted tone that I can still hear in my head, my instructor loudly berated me as the puniest, weakest little thing she’d ever seen in her life

I felt completely humiliated. I was sure that everyone, including the boys, was laughing at me. As a result, I found ways to avoid taking my turn at bat (or participating in almost any organized sport) throughout my years at school. I never improved at softball, for example, and avoid team sports to this day.

For those of you that work in a role where you have to judge the performance of others, be it at a school or in an office building, please be extremely conscious of the impact of your words.  There can be far reaching and extremely damaging results.  Just think of how a positive and constructive response could have made a difference for this person in the other direction.

Have you ever had feedback that was particularly damaging or uplifting in your life?