Wednesday, June 29, 2011

REFLECTING ON ONLINE INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES

("MeisterLabs", 2010)
As this Online Instructional Practices course draws to a close, I have been asked to reflect on the course and how it will affect my professional practice as a way to demonstrate my learning.

How would you characterize your attitude toward best practices for online teaching and the role they will play with future design and teaching opportunities? How, if at all, has your attitude changed throughout this course?

Best practices for online learning are subtly different than those for traditional classrooms. Many principles, such as social and collaborative learning are the same, but they are accomplished in different ways than in a traditional classroom. The foundation of an effective online course is establishing a learning community between learners. (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010a) Learning activities that worked well in a classroom may or may not translate effectively in an online environment. Those activities that do not translate well need to be replaced. Sometimes the effectiveness of an activity may not be obvious. Trials of online training are a good way to determine the effectiveness of activities. Exit surveys are a good way to determine what material needs review and changes or replacement with other activities.
One best practice I have gained from taking this course has been understanding the value of exit activities such as this reflection assignment. Exit activities at the end of a course serve to reinforce the important principles that were learned, and provide one last opportunity for learners to incorporate principles into their personal conceptual framework. (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010a) Another best practice skill that I have improved as a result of taking this course has been the development of community-building activities. I have already found applications for ice-breaking skills I have learned in this course.
How do you see online instructional strategies blending with the instructional design process? How does it apply to the instructional design context?
Online instructional strategies such as asynchronous forums for discussion, logged chat sessions for synchronous collaboration, wikis for group projects, and videos and games to provide learning activities for visual and tactile learners are all tools in the arsenal of an instructional designer creating online instruction. No one strategy will meet all needs of various kinds of learners, but combinations of different types of activities can provide enough variety to enable learners to construct their own meaning and understanding of learning objectives. (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010b)
An instructional designer must choose from a variety of learning activities, those activities that will meet the needs of the greatest variety of learners, however the final responsibility in meeting the needs of individual learners rests with the learners, who must adapt those activities to their own learning styles. Successful learners take an active part in the construction of their own learning. Instructors serve as “mentors” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010b, p. 23) in guiding learners to construct their own understanding.

Whether you are planning to design or facilitate online learning, what skills and competencies would you like to further develop?
It is clear to me from personal experience as a homeschooling parent, and from classroom activities in this course, that designing online assessments is currently my weakest area. Fortunately, my next course, “Assessments in Online Environments,” was designed to focus on strengthening assessment skills. I look forward to taking that class. Other skills I would like to improve, although they are currently my strongest skills, are my game development and general multimedia development skills.

P
rovide a specific example of how you will apply what you’ve learned to your current job or to a job you anticipate having in the future.
As a result of taking this course, I will be giving appropriate consideration to purposefully building learning communities out of my groups of online learners. I will be continuing that process throughout the course, even as I gently loosen the reins over the weeks, and eventually take on a less active roll with my classes, as they become more comfortable with taking charge of their own learning. (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010c) 

References:

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010a). Ten best practices for teaching online. In The online teaching survival guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010b). Theoretical foundations. In The online teaching survival guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010c). Phase four: What's happening, themes, and toolls: Pruning, reflecting and wrapping up in the closing weeks. In The online teaching survival guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
"MeisterLabs". (2010). Mindmeister. [Mind-mapping software]. M√ľnchen Germany: MeisterLabs. Retrieved from http://www.mindmeister.com

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Plagiarism

Pirates (My daughter and friend dressed as pirates)
Plagiarism Detection and Prevention

From time to time, various classes in the course I am taking at Walden University require me to write blog entries as a way to demonstrate my ability to apply what I am learning to a practical issue. In my current class,” Online Instructional Strategies,” I have been asked to write about plagiarism detection and prevention.

As I considered the issue of plagiarism for this post, I reviewed the Walden University Student Handbook’s (
2010) section on academic honesty. It defines plagiarism as the “use of intellectual material produced by another person without acknowledging its source.” (“Student handbook”, p. 244) The following descriptions were quoted from the handbook verbatim:
  • Wholesale copying of passages from works of others into an assignment, paper, or discussion board posting, or thesis or dissertation without acknowledgment
  • Using the views, opinions, or insights of another without acknowledgment
  • Paraphrasing another person’s characteristic or original phraseology, metaphor, or other literary device without acknowledgment (“Student handbook”, 2010, p. 244)
The handbook adds a section on the use of one’s own previous work. The rationale for prohibiting the use of one’s own previous work is the need to insure that students are continuously building upon previous learning. As previous topics are reviewed in successive courses, it is natural that short references to previous work will be appropriate, but the University expects those references to be documented according to APA guidelines, as any other reference would be documented, and substantial use of previous work requires prior approval of the instructor of the course.

One of the perils facing online instruction is a perception that plagiarism is a greater problem for online students than for traditional classroom students, however actual levels of plagiarism appear to be similar for both modes of instruction (Palloff & Pratt). Rates of plagiarism have been difficult to quantify, due to lack of a standard method of detection. (Jocoy & DiBiase, 2006)


Plagiarism detection software has recently become a popular tool to quantify incidents of plagiarism and to restore academic integrity for students and institutions. Boettcher and Conrad (2010) list three websites that provide plagiarism detection for use by students and teachers:
Another way to combat plagiarism is with the use of assessment methods that rely on application of learning rather than parroting of information. When students must apply what they have learned, the benefit of cheating is eliminated. Students want credit for their own work, and tend to have no motive for presenting the work of others as their own. (Palloff & Pratt)
Personally, I’m concerned that automated detection software can be too easily circumvented by resourceful, but lazy students. I’m tempted to illustrate what I mean by suggesting a few simple ways alterations of text could be automated using existing online tools, but it may be best to withhold those specific ideas. Any automated security software can be thwarted by other software. Encouraging students to “test” their own work for inadvertent plagiarism risks educating students about how to circumvent automated plagiarism detection. (Kaner & Fiedler, 2008)
I don’t find fault with instructors using software like TurnitIn as a tool to flag possible plagiarism, but software solutions are not perfect, and should be used with caution. I do not believe students have any need to use it at all. Software can return false positives when students use long phrases that are specific to a discipline. Automated methods exist which can reword direct quotations to prevent plagiarism software from recognizing them. Perhaps a more suitable method for detecting plagiarism might be to design software that recognizes patterns of grammar, and can flag documents that employ a patchwork of writing styles.
As a student, I have never been concerned about accidental plagiarism. In high school, I was taught to use index cards for research, writing a bibliographic heading on each card, and a paraphrase of the material I wanted to use. Having done my undergraduate work in the pre-computer era, I used the same system for research papers in college. I have always been proud of my ability to paraphrase and digest material, and I have long appreciated the usefulness of paraphrasing as a means to construct and verify my own understanding of the material I am studying. In fact, I frequently paraphrase and digest lectures as part of my note-taking process.
I still use this method in my research today. Although computer text files have replaced note cards for the most part, I still use note cards when I take lecture notes. I also rarely cut and paste anything. My writing process begins with an outline of assignment requirements. I write my own ideas about each assignment objective, and then I go back and find the citations that support what I have written. Sometimes I elaborate on what I have written by copying a section of material I had previously paraphrased. The result of my writing process is prose that I am confident is 100% original. Consequently, I have never bothered with anti-plagiarism tools to look for inadvertent plagiarism. I do not believe my method could allow plagiarism to happen.
However, there is one aspect of Walden’s definition of plagiarism that does concern me. While I don’t believe I have ever quoted myself verbatim, I often use the same words to express my ideas when I express those ideas again later. When I write about a topic I have written about before, I go back to that prior work to find citations. My writing is generally completed before I look for citations, and it is written in a style appropriate to the current context.

References:

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). Phase one: Tips for course beginnings. In The online teaching survival guide (pp. 73, 74). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


(2010). Code of conduct. In Student handbook (p. 244). Minneapolis, MN: Walden University. Retrieved from http://catalog.waldenu.edu/content.php?catoid=23&navoid=2589

Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by Adult Learners Online: A case study in detection and remediation.
International Review of Research in Open amp; Distance Learning, 7(1), 1-15. Retrieved from http://content.ebscohost.com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/ContentServer.asp?T=P&P=AN&K=21656952&S=R&D=ehh&EbscoContent=dGJyMNLe80Seprc4yOvsOLCmr0meqK9Sr6m4TbGWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGss0q1qK5IuePfgeyx44Dt6fIA

Kaner, C., &
Fiedler, R.L. (2008). A Cautionary note on checking software engineering papers for Plagiarism. IEEE Transactions on Education, 51(2), 184-188. Retrieved from http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=4455465&isnumber=4512114&tag=1

Palloff, R., and
Pratt, K. (n.d.). Plagiarism and cheating [Video file]. Retrieved from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Impact of Technology and Multimedia

The illustration is a computer screen with edges blurred and darkened, and the center washed out and bright with low text contrast, illustrating the difficulty I personally have with using computer screens. What is not clearly illustrated in the picture, is my own use of very large letters to overcome the problem, and the effect that has on how text sometimes fails to wrap properly, or how controls such as buttons and tabs can be completely hidden.Impact of Technology and Multimedia
From time to time, various classes in the course I am taking at Walden University  require me to write blog entries as a way to demonstrate my ability to apply what I am learning to a practical issue. In my current class,” Online Instructional Strategies,” I have been asked to write about the impact of technology and multimedia to online learning. 


What impact does technology and multimedia have on online learning environments?


Technology impacts learning in a number of ways. It can focus attention or distract attention. It can bring out the best in people who normally may be too shy to contribute in a standard classroom, but it can also create social distance between learners, and stifle the creation of a learning community in a classroom. (C
onrad & Donaldson, 2004) In the final analysis, online learning is just a vehicle delivering instruction. It has strengths and weaknesses in comparison with other vehicles. Perhaps its greatest strength is its ability to supplement traditional learning, and to provide more ways to reach more learners. (Neuhauser, 2002)


What are the most important considerations an online instructor should make before implementing technology?


The most important considerations in designing instruction are the needs of the learners, and the educational objectives to be accomplished. Meeting the needs of learners means establishing a social learning community that will give learners the confidence to work together, and providing clear direction that will enable learners to take charge of their own learning. (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010) It takes a lot of time and careful preparation, with adequate supplemental learning resources to meet the needs of every student. In a face-to-face classroom, my personal guide to success is to over-prepare, insuring there will be at least twice as many learning activities than I actually expect to use. An on-online classroom is no different. Learners need a variety of learning activities, and in the beginning, they need a lot of direction. Some learners will need help to start using online learning tools. Some just need to know the teacher is available in case they have difficulty. Another principle is to keep technology limited to what is familiar to both the learners and the instructor. Do not try to introduce several new technologies at once. Add one or two new technologies when it is second nature for the group to use the tools they already have. (Boettcher & Conrad)


What implications do usability and accessibility of technology tools have for online teaching?

I have a vision impairment. After two retinal reattachment surgeries, I have large blind spots in my peripheral vision, which the brain hides by creating an illusion of sight based on what it expects to see. The effect is a narrow range of vision in which reading is possible. Another side-effect of the surgery is that edges of the retina that were not reattached, float into the peripheral areas sometimes obstructing my view, while catching light from unusual angles, out of focus, and causing difficulty with contrast. The illustration above was designed to simulate how I see. It is a computer screen with edges blurred and darkened, and the center washed out with too much light, and with low text contrast. What is not clearly illustrated in the picture, is my own use of very large letters to overcome the problem, and the effect that large font sizes have on how text fails to wrap properly, or how navigation controls such as buttons and tabs can be completely hidden in badly designed web sites.

When designing online instruction, it is important to consider whether learners who are color-blind will be able to see screens that appear readable to most students. It is important to verify that that font sizes are proportional and that forms can be resized for vision-impaired learners. In many cases, verifying that instruction is accessible to learners with disabilities is required by law. Photographs must have alternate descriptive text for learners who use readers and cannot see pictures on the screen. Flash presentations that may not be accessible to blind users, need to have a transcript available. Just verifying that pictures and videos have alternate text available, or that fonts have relative sizes like “large,” and are not specified as a particular point size, may not always insure that a web page is readable to a person who is vision-impaired. Actual testing of learning materials using screen readers, resizing forms and choosing alternate color schemes is necessary to insure accessibility. (Burgstahler, 2006)

What technology tools are most appealing to you for online teaching as you move forward in your career in instructional design?

I am most impressed with the value of online assignment calendars, discussion forums, email, and online videos. Other collaboration tools such as wiki’s, blogs, video logs, and interactive games can be useful also. I also feel that learner use of spreadsheets and graphing tools can be important means for promoting self-discovery of relationships between data.

Synthesis

Clearly the most important principle I have learned since I started working on my degree in instructional design and technology, is the value of social learning, and how to create a learning community online, through careful direction by the instructor in the beginning, through “getting acquainted” activities at the beginning of a course, and through graded use of discussion forums throughout at course.

Much of the value of online learning is the flexibility it provides to learners to fit learning into their lifestyles. I expect to see more electronic books used in online courses to increase the portability of those courses. Text books and assigned articles should be available for direct download to a variety of electronic readers. In the future, I expect to see more discussion forums in online courses, with some of those forums becoming less formal, and more accessible to mobile devices. There will always be a need for some formality in courses, so that students are able to give proper credit to sources. Possibly future mobile “chat” software will provide a convenient utility for posting citations in chat messages.


Resources:

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Burgstahler, S. (2006). The development of accessibility indicators for distance learning programs. Research in Learning Technology, 14(1), 79-102. doi:10.1080/09687760500479753

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2004). Engaged learning in the online environment. In Engaging the online learner: Activties and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley amp; Sons, Inc.

Neuhauser, C. (2002). Learning style and effectiveness of online and Face-to-Face instruction. The American Journal of Distance Education, 16(2), 99-113. Retrieved from http://www.personal.psu.edu/khk122/woty/LearnerCharacteristics/Neuhauser%202002.pdf