Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Be There and Be Aware

Many authors have pointed to what is known as "presence" as an important component of any successful online course. Presence is that special perception that the instructor is there with and for the students as they learn in a distance course. Lehman and Conceicao (2010) discussed presence in terms of "being there" and "being together." For distance courses, this suggests students perceive the instructor as interested in individual learning and that there will be interactions with others in the environment. To support this idea, let's look at Moore's work (1989). He suggested three distinct types of interactions: learner to content, learner to instructor, and learner to learner. These interaction types form the backbone of what we know as presence. The intentional design of activities to explore content and materials is one way to encourage students to interact with the content. Communication between the instructor and one or more students is often what is described as learner to instructor interaction. Students working in groups and responding on discussion areas promotes learner to learner interaction. From the student's perspective, it seems as if the course has been built for them, that the instructor and others are there to assist the student, and that the technology assists the process.

Three dimensions of presence (cognitive, teaching, and social) have been suggested. Cognitive presence is seen as a combination of expert content knowledge coupled with an environment where communication is used for engagement. Teaching presence is the intentional design of instructional activities and environments to achieve stated educational objectives or outcomes. Social presence is about intentional steps allowing the instructor to project their personality and presence across distance to virtual students. Work by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) looked at presence from a community-building view. These authors also expanded the notion of types of presence and actively began to research the impact of presence on the Community of Inquiry model.

Humans are primarily social animals. Some experts say that learning is a social process. Presence is important since some studies have shown a relationship between the students' perception of the level of instructional presence and the students' perception of satisfaction with the instructor and the course. Additional studies suggested instructor presence was a much stronger indicator of perceived learning than peer presence. For both face-to-face and distance education, student contact with faculty, both in and out of class, appears to be a crucial factor in student motivation and persistence. We see instructor presence as one way to develop improved and increased contact between students and instructors. Remember, instructor presence includes cognitive, social, and teaching dimensions. The successful combination of all three dimensions creates a strong instructor presence in a distance course.

Students perceive strong instructor presence as if the instructor is beside them, guiding them in ways to improve their individual understanding. Students also perceive strong instructor presence as caring and compassionate. The only way students will know you are present in the course is for you to intentionally leave evidence of your engagement in the course. Your goal is for students to associate Announcements, feedback, comments on discussions, blogs, and wikis, and email messages with you. You want your username to appear regularly in the course in a variety of locations.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Importance of Examples for Online Courses

Give considerable attention to the use of examples in the distance course.  The initial examples that are associated with a concept are used as the benchmark for future judgments about the concept. (Svinicki, 2004).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

TWU Online Instructor's Quote of the Week

"Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also." -- C.G. Jung

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two Ways to Organize Content

When and where certain instructional strategies are used makes a difference. The order or sequence of instruction has a bearing on what is learned and how it is learned. One of the first choices you will make is to present an overview of the topic or to present detail on the topic leading to a finale. For purposes of this posting, we will term one the Overview approach and call the other the Climax approach.
The Overview Approach presents the big picture of your topic. It can be used to describe the field in general or be used to describe major sub-divisions in the field or textbook. The Overview approach is used to provide context and structure to the remaining instruction on the topic. You provide the general overview and then supply details that are connected to the overview. The Climax Approach deliberately presents details of the field leading to some conclusion or finale. Each approach can be used to achieve specific, but very different, learning outcomes.
The Overview approach is very useful if your intent is to build a structured knowledge base on the content. Since the focus of instruction is on where details fit into the structure of the discipline, students have structured organizational holders in which to group most details. Most learning theories support a structure where students can begin to insert details gained during instruction.  The highly structured Overview approach is particularly useful for novices, until they gain a sufficient knowledge base. The Climax approach favors a greater use of higher order thinking skills. Many studies have demonstrated that students with some prior knowledge on a topic favor this approach.
Either approach can be used in conjunction with a textbook. As the content expert, make deliberate decisions about how you organize the chapters in the textbook to support your organization of the topic. Most textbooks present a defined amount of content with a particular beginning and end within a chapter.  Most textbooks do not do a particularly good job of connecting content to an Overview or Climax approach. This is fertile ground for you to use your creativity to organize content in ways that aid retention. Most novices do not know the large overarching structures that permeate most fields and they do not know how the fragmented content presented in textbook chapters connects to these structures. This is a wonderful opportunity to deliberately teach those structures and demonstrate how you think about the content.
There are numerous ways to craft Overview or Climax activities into distance courses. Perhaps you begin with an overview of the content in general and then provide overviews for each learning unit or module. Perhaps you conclude each unit or module with a climax that provides rationale and connects the various pieces of content presented in the unit or module. You might consider providing a topical outline for each module in your course. You might use probing questions on a discussion forum or in a blog assignment to foreshadow the climax and encourage students to anticipate the conclusion of the module or unit. Be creative and design activities that help students see the connections between certain elements of the content.
Reference:  Svincki, M. (2004). Learning and motivation in the postsecondary classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Views on Learning: Two Major Views in Three Centuries

The Human Brain
In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, serious attempts were made by the scientific community to study the human mind in earnest. This early work moved from introspective descriptions of thoughts to the study of observable behaviors and the stimuli associated with these behaviors. Behaviorists, following the empiricist tradition, assumed learning was the process of forming connections between stimuli and responses. Learning motivation was thought to be driven by drives and by the availability of rewards and punishments.

Early behaviorism, with a focus on observable behaviors and stimuli, was limited when studying less observable behaviors like understanding and reasoning. Behaviorism moderated somewhat and began to allow hypotheses about unobservable mental processes while retaining a data-driven perspective.

In the 1950s, the field of cognitive science emerged, due to more sophisticated understanding of the complexity of the human species. Cognitive science approached the study of learning from an interdisciplinary perspective, used new experimental tools, and developed new approaches. This field contributed to our understanding of the social and cultural contexts of learning. The study of learning came to emphasize learning with understanding. This approach acknowledges the importance of foundational knowledge (facts) while probing “usable knowledge.”

Inquiry into the application of foundational knowledge to novel situations brought ideas of “ways of knowing” into the study of learning. Humans come into any learning situation with pre-existing knowledge, skills, and beliefs that influence how they organize new information. This pre-existing knowledge may be accurate or full of incomplete understanding and misconceptions. Humans are not passive learners by nature. New developments in the study of learning also emphasize active, self-directed learning as important. Learners should work toward understanding what they know and what they do not know to grow as a learner.

Bransford, J., Brown, A, & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sixth Annual Online Educator Symposium

Register today for the Sixth Annual Online Educator Symposium that will be Thursday, August 23 from 8:30 a.m. – 1:45 p.m. on the Denton Campus.  Remember - the event is free, and lunch will be provided!

All participants will be able to network and reconnect with colleagues, get updates about Distance Education at the University and learn more about the innovative practices of some TWU faculty and staff members. Attendees will be able to  hear 17  presentations and see posters about:
·       Creative Uses of Technology
·       Faculty Showcase
·       Research in Online Education
·       Student Success
·       Teaching and Learning

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Makes a Bad Rubric?

Tierney and Simon (2004, ¶ 5) suggest that many rubrics are flawed due to a lack of consistency across the performance criteria descriptors. Performance criteria reflect the "dimensions of the performance or product that is being taught and assessed." These authors recommend that the performance criteria should remain consistent from level to level. Simply, the attributes listed in each criterion should be the same across all levels of quality. Another common mistake that causes a lack of consistency across the criteria is the use of excessively negative language to describe categories on the lower end of the quality continuum and excessively positive descriptors for the opposite end of the continuum.

  1. Avoid imprecise language.
  2. Avoid negative language.
  3. Establish valid categories.
  4. Match criteria to task requirements and goals/objectives.
  5. Use observable behaviors or product characteristics.
  6. Use clear language that students can understand.
  7. Difference between levels should be clear.

Tierney, R. & Simon, M. (2004). What's still wrong with rubrics: Focusing on the consistency of performance criteria across scale levels. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 9(2). Retrieved from http://PAREonline.net/getvn.asp?v=9&n=2 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Test to Gauge Potential for Success

The SmarterMeasure Learning Readiness Indicator is a web-based tool which assesses an undergraduate learner's likelihood for succeeding in an online and/or technology rich learning program. SmarterMeasure indicates the degree to which an individual student possesses attributes, skills and knowledge that contribute to success including:

 - Self-motivation
 - Time-management skills
  - Self-discipline
 - On-screen Reading Rate and Recall
 - Persistence
 - Availability of time
 - Ability to use a laptop, printer, software, and the Internet
 - Typing speed and accuracy

SmarterMeasure is a tool that allows self-assessment of strengths and weaknesses. The report also generates a list of resources to help students improve their study skills; however, SmarterMeasure is not intended to be used as a screening tool for admission or enrollment.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Backward Design Process

Man bending backward

Teachers have traditionally used lesson planning to prepare for teaching. Many of the lesson planning approaches lean heavily on a sequential planning process. This process may include components such as:

  1. the title of the lesson
  2. the time required to complete the lesson
  3. a list of materials needed for the lesson
  4.  objectives
  5.  the set up (anticipatory set)
  6.  instructional approaches (often a combination of presentation and guided practice)
  7.  independent practice activities
  8.  assessment
We often find that these planning approaches depend heavily on the stated objectives for the lesson. Currently, the phrase "student learning outcomes" is often used interchangeably with objectives. Objectives typically list what students should know and be able to do at the conclusion of a lesson. In most lesson planning, objectives are generated very early in the planning process and used to focus the planning process.

The Backward Design process (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) places a slightly different spin on lesson planning. Rather than using the objectives to drive the development of the other parts of the lesson, the Backward Design model uses these other components to drive the development of the written objectives. In other words, rather than writing the objectives first, they are written at the end of the process. In the backward design process, the instructor defines the end results of the lesson first. What students should know and be able to do is important but these are defined within the context of what successful products and processes will look like upon completion. Knowing how successful products and processes will look helps to define the assessments that will be used for evaluation. Defining how the products and processes will yield evidence to support how well students demonstrated their learning. This leads to learning activities that can be customized to support students' needs.

Instructional, behavioral, and performance objectives have been around for a long while. Robert Mager has argued for the use of objectives to drive instruction for over thirty-five years. Those in the Performance Improvement and Education fields have known for a long time that objectives serve to focus instruction.

However, these same experts also realize that objectives must be supported by sound instructional and assessment strategies. It is important to realize that objectives will not improve learning by themselves. Merely inserting objectives into a course to meet various general goals (i.e., IE, Quality Matters, departmental, College, etc.) rarely changes instruction. Objectives are only one tool in the lesson planning or design process.

The problem with objective-driven design is that it should have worked by now. With almost 35 years to perfect the system, one would think that almost all public school teachers and higher education faculty would have adopted the system long before now. They have not. Objective-driven design assumes the instructor knows exactly where they are going with their instruction. Working in the real world indicates that this type of planning efficiency is rare. Most instructors have a general idea about the direction of instruction but do not systematically plan a lesson so rigidly that flexibility is lost.

The use of a general direction for instruction fits well with the backward design approach. Instructors define the expected products and processes as the outcome of the course. Working backward from these outcomes, instructors can more easily plan specific activities to support success on these final products and processes.


Monday, June 18, 2012

The Importance of Goal-Directed Practice

If you do the same things over and over, you will get the same results. General practice strategies may increase the number of repetitions on some skills and tasks but rarely do little to change mastery. Deliberate practice on specific skills serves as a predictor of continued learning in a field or hobby. Focus the practice sessions on the improvement of a specific goal, skill, or criterion. The amount of time spent in deliberate practice predicts continued learning in a field.

To begin, clearly communicate the learning goals to students. These goals should support students in what they need to do to learn. It is also important to identify an appropriate level of challenge for students. Practice that is too easy or too hard appears to do little to alter mastery.

Feedback to alter practice is important. Three important features (content, timing, and practice) seem to govern the effective use of feedback. Feedback on content should clearly and specifically focus on the knowledge and skills you want students to learn. You also want to provide some indication on their status toward the stated goals or objectives for the lesson or course. You should clearly indicate what the student needs to do to improve their performance. Time your feedback to when it will do the most good. It is usually more useful to have feedback sooner rather than later to help students progress toward a goal or objective. Provide additional practice opportunities for students while communicating progress and directing subsequent efforts. Always communicate specific aspects of a students' performance related to a goal or objective.

Monday, June 11, 2012

TWU Online Instructor's Quote of the Week

“Because learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do.” -- Umberto Eco

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Identify the Important Things to Learn for Student Success

Students need to know what parts of your instruction are most important. It is very easy for students to get lost in the details of your instruction. If you consciously identify the important elements for the students, you are providing the structure to which they will attach details. Students need you to provide this structure, identify the connection between these elements and the big picture view of the content, and to provide the rationale for why they should focus on these elements. Helping students to understand the overall structure and the important pieces of that structure allows you to discuss with students how you expect them to progress in regard to skill and knowledge development.

Most instructors are very good at delivering oral cues to identify the most important parts of their instruction. You will hear phrases such as “The first major point is…”, “Note this point…”, “This point is very important for understanding…”and “This point will be on the test.” These oral cues help focus student attention on the important elements. Distance educators should be more intentional about writing cues and directional language in their courses. This should help focus attention on major points while excluding details.

Some additional ways to identify important elements in a distance course include:
  1. Use bold text to identify important elements
  2. Use numbered lists
  3. Use headings to identify important elements
  4. Provide an outline of the material to give a big picture view
  5. Insert intentional pauses in the material to allow the student to process information

Svinicki, M. (2004). Learning and motivation in the postsecondary classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Monday, May 14, 2012

Less May Actually be More

student overwhelmed (Microsoft.com)
There has been an explosion in the amount of content that is seen in courses. More and more content is being pushed to students at all educational levels. Talk to almost any parent with school aged children and they will tell you about encountering content that is entirely new to them or that they did not see until college. As new information becomes available in disciplines, this information is almost immediately available on the Web. New information forces textbook publishers to redistribute content to keep textbooks from becoming too large for use. Supplemental content, learning activities, and test banks regularly accompany college textbooks. It is rare when there is not enough available content for a particular course. In fact, it is far more likely that too much content is readily available for students.

With all of this available content, it is logical that content experts saturate their courses with content. The content expert, almost by definition, knows a great deal of content and loves to expose others to the content. Content experts often come from doctoral programs that are rich in content. In some programs, reading one or two books a week is the norm. Almost all of these programs feature copious amounts of readings. In many of these "content saturated" environments, there is an almost singular focus on the acquisition of content. Participants often receive little or no instruction on how to teach others this content. Although we try to stay away from general statements, it is fairly safe to say "content experts routinely create other content experts. Content experts do not routinely develop and create experts on teaching the content."

Content experts, with little grounding in teaching methodologies, often cram courses with content. Unfortunately, they often expose others to so much content that learning may be impacted. In many cases, it is possible that vast amounts of content come at unsuspecting students at breakneck speed because there is so much content and only so many weeks in the semester. The phrase "an inch deep and a mile wide" accurately describes this superficial coverage of vast amounts of content. Almost no content is covered in a great amount of detail. You might also heare this discussed as a "coverage" approach, implying that the intent is to cover as much material as possible. As instructors, we all seek some level of transfer. We want students to learn something and then be able to apply this knowledge to other situations. The ability to transfer concepts and skills learned in one setting to a novel setting demonstrates a more sophisticated level of understanding than the ability to regurgitate factoids for a test. To take what we know and use it creatively in another setting or for another purpose is the type of learning we want for all students. Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000, p. 58) state "...attempts to cover too many topics too quickly may hinder learning and subsequent transfer." Whitehead (1929) mentioned "...let the main ideas which are introduced be few and important, and let them be thrown in every combination possible (p. 2).

Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000, p. 31) stated:

An understanding of fundamental principles and ideas appears to be the main road to adequate transfer of training. To understand something as a specific instance of a more general case -- which is what understanding a more fundamental structure means -- is to have learned not only a specific thing but also a model for understanding other things like it that one may encounter.

Bruner (1960, p. 31) observed that teaching specific skills or topics without grounding them into the larger context of a field was uneconomical. He went on to say that such teaching made it difficult for students to generalize from what was learned to what might be encountered. He also suggested that information learned in this manner would not be retained.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

30 Seconds to Determine if an Instructor is Helpful

In a study done in 1993 (Ambady & Rosenthal) 13 college teachers were videotaped and then these tapes were edited into one master videotape. Each teacher was presented multiple times for very brief exposures (approximately 10 seconds) on the master videotape. A panel of judges reviewed this master and rated each teacher for teaching effectiveness. These ratings were compared to the end-of-semester student evaluations. “On the basis of observations of video clips just half a minute in length, complete strangers were able to predict quite accurately the ratings of teachers by students who interacted with them over the course of a whole semester (p. 435).

In a replication of the original study, the authors used 13 high school teachers. One master videotape was developed in each instance with multiple very short clips of the teachers. Researchers were able to replicate the results of the previous study with this different sample of teachers.

In a third study, the time each teacher appeared on videotape was adjusted. On one master videotape, each teacher appeared 3 times for five seconds. One the other master, each teacher appeared three times for two seconds. “These analyses show that there were no significant differences in the accuracy of judgments based on video clips 10s, 5s, and 2s in length. In addition, there were no significant differences in the accuracy of judgments for the two samples of teachers” (p. 438).

Researchers found “that the ratings of complete strangers based on very thin slices of teachers’ nonverbal behaviors (video clips from 2s to 10s long) predicted with surprising accuracy the ratings of the same teachers by people who had substantial interactions with the teachers (students and supervisors, for example)” (p. 438).

In discussing the significance of the study, Ken Bain (1994) suggests “…students, with long histories of dealing with both highly stimulating and discouraging teachers, may develop an ability to guess quite accurately, even after only a few seconds of exposure, which professor will advance their education and which will not” (p. 14).

If students form impressions of teaching effectiveness based on very brief exposures, distance educators should pay particular attention to the tone and design of all initial activities in the course.


Ambady, N. & Rosenthal, R. (1993). Half a minute: Predicting teacher evaluations from thin slices of nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64. P. 431-441.

Bain, K, (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Monday, April 23, 2012

TWU's Plagiarism Prevention

One of the reasons why students plagiarize is because they're asked to write papers about subjects for which they are not experts. Since they are effectively incapable of creating their own sophisticated verbiage about the subject, they become inclined to borrow other peoples well-formed phrases. With this in mind instructors may want to encourage students to write at their level or provide low-stakes writing assignments that help them formulate their own verbiage before weaving these assignments into a culminating holistic document, free of "plagiarism."

However, TWU and many college campuses uses the plagiarism-detection software, Turnitin, which is a management and assessment product suite for written assignment that integrates with several course management systems including Blackboard (Bb). The suite is comprised of three products that work together:

2.GradeMark, and

The suite is a sophisticated browser-based product that adheres to HTML 5 standards, utilizing JavaScript (as opposed to Java), which reduces the minimum system requirements required to use the software. Being a web-based product, it is not up to the user to make decisions about upgrades to the software. The developers upgrade on their own schedule, and the user has no choice in accepting the changed functionality. If you are an instructor who is interested in using the software as a tool to help educate students on ethical writing pracides, then it is worth visiting the Product Updates page from time to time to understand how the product suite is evolving.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Texas Distance Learning Association 15th Annual Conference, April 15-18, 2012

The TXDLA Conference will be held at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel in Dallas, TX, on April 15-18 this year!  The workshops are specifically designed for distance learning administrators, designers, instructors, producers, programmers, consultants, trainers, technicians, help desk supporters, and anyone who wants to come and learn, teach, or mentor.  If you would like additional information, please visit their website at http://conference.txdla.org/

Monday, March 26, 2012

Did you find time to disconnect over Spring Break!

“Daily exposure to high technology – computers, smart phones, video games, search engines like Google and Yahoo—stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains while weakening old ones. Because of the current technological revolution, our brains are evolving right now – at a speed like never before” (p. 1).

Small, G., & Vorgon, G. (2008). iBrain: Surviving the technological alteration of the modern mind. New York: Harper Collins.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Distance Education's Spring 2012 Snapshot Report

by Leslie Lindsey, Instructional Designer, Office of Distance Education

At the start of every semester, the Office of Distance Education publishes a "Snapshot Report" with updated information about TWU's online and blended degree programs and courses, student demographics, and online semester credit hour production. You can find the Spring 2012 report here, and previous reports are posted on the Distance Education homepage.

For Spring 2012, did you know:
  • only 53% of all TWU students take at least one online or blended course? That means fully 47% of students take only face-to-face courses,
  • that TWU does not offer any fully-online bachelor's degree programs? The closest the university does offer are five different degree completion programs online, all through the College of Arts and Sciences. (You can find a list of TWU online degrees and certificates here.)
  • nearly two-thirds of TWU students enrolled only in online courses are completing a graduate degree?
  • approximately 60% of students taking an online or blended course at TWU are under 30 years old?
  • close to half of TWU's online and blended classes have fewer than 20 students? Only 5% of online or blended classes have more than 50 students.
  • over 40% of students taking an online or blended class at TWU live in the Metroplex?
  • less than half of one percent of students in an online or blended class at TWU live outside the state of Texas? And of those, the overwhelming majority reside in Oklahoma, Arkansas, or Louisiana.

And remember:

  • a fully online class is defined as one in which 85% or more of the planned instruction takes place online, including class meetings in Wimba or virtual conferencing.
  • a blended/hybrid class is defined as one in which a majority -- greater than 50% but less than 85% -- of the planned instruction occurs online, with a specified number of on-campus meetings.

What have been some of your preconceptions or stereotypes about online students or classes at TWU? Were there any surprises for you from this semester's Snapshot Report?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Let the Group Do the Work

Move communication on discussion board forums away from the individual model toward the collective model by requiring groups of student to communicate and collaborate in the Groups area. Once consensus is reached on the content of the posting from the group, one member posts the item to the Course Discussion area. Inform students that you will look in on the groups. It is helpful to add a participation dimension to your grading rubric for discussions. You spend your time responding to these collective posts in the main area.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Everyone Believes They Know How to Work in a Group

In this blogger series on group work, the Office of Distance Education takes a look at how group work should be managed.

Guidelines and rules should promote interdependence rather than independent work within the group.

Required reporting allows the group to see problems early in the process.

Groups should have guidelines for behavior that all in the group agree upon.

Group work must fit the skills and abilities of the group.

Groups must feel that the work is divided fairly among members and that all activities support the product.

The group must own their guidelines and division of labor.

Group decisions must be supported by the members of the group.

Full participation is a requirement.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"I Hate Group Work and So Do My Students"

This was said by a faculty member. They are certainly welcome to their opinion. Here is another viewpoint.

Instructors who:

“…continue to emphasize one-sided lecture methods are violating an important principle of our brain: Essentially we are social beings and our brains grow in a social environment. Because we often forge meaning through socialization, the whole role of student-to-student discussion is vastly underutilized. When used properly, cooperative learning is highly brain compatible. Talking, sharing, and discussing are critical; we are biologically wired for language and communicating with one another” (p. 93).


Jensen, E. (1998). Teaching with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Online education is not yet the disruptive innovation it needs to be: Looking through the lenses of "the job to be done".

Guest Blogger: Carissa Enright, RN, MSN, PMHNP, Associate Clinical Professor, Clinical Coordinator for BS Nursing Students, College of Nursing, T. Boone Pickens Institute of Health Sciences - Dallas Center

 The “job to be done” is one of the constructs that come out of Disruptive Innovation. I am not familiar with business management, so the recent panel discussion about technology was my introduction into the idea of disruptive innovation made popular by Clayton Christensen from Harvard Business School. By looking into how the rapid development of new products has allowed some companies to grow and thrive while others became obsolete, Christensen developed a new business concept. Basically, an inferior product can supplant a better product if it meets the job the consumer needs done. This is true in all sorts of industries, not just technology. Therefore, in this blog I will focus on the industry I am familiar with – online education.

As an early adopter of online education, I have enjoyed the challenge and excitement of finding a new way to reach students. The endless hours of teaching myself to solve common problems in new ways is fun and productive time. But I know that my peers do not share this joy – instead they resist.

When the computer first appeared on my desk, the technology frightened me and, along with most of the faculty, I felt resistance to learning how to use them. But I soon learned to use the new technology to do jobs that computers are good at. This was a disruptive innovation that eventually made typewriters obsolete. Faculty embraces online technology that improves their research and the ability to publish their work.

So, the question is: If the faculty who do not choose to teach in the online environment are not resisting the technology, why are there still so few of us adopters?

Before I go into more detail about how to look at this through the lenses of disruptive innovation, I would like to share a couple of YouTube clips. The first is probably the easiest visual representation of the “disruptive innovation” business concept. You can see it here: http://youtu.be/DaKgMcFP4Mo

The faculty who do not come to our presentations, the ones who ignore this blog and who even distrust online education are those “non-consumers” at the bottom of the diagram in this video. These faculty members are ripe for disruptive innovation.

The other YouTube video that I think is instructive belongs to 6-part series of Clayton Christensen as he explains his concept of the “job to be done” in a presentation to the 2009 ECS National Forum on Education Policy conference. The series starts with this clip: http://youtu.be/ddtBiOo7uME

The series is rather lengthy and if you want to skip through the introductions, set your curser around 8 minutes into the video. That is where Christensen introduces the concept of “job to be done.” This is the new concept I want to focus on because I think there needs to be a change in marketing online instruction to faculty who have not adopted the modality.

Just like in the “milkshake” example Christensen describes in the video, surveying the faculty for those things that would improve the online education product, is the wrong approach. Let me explain what I mean by this. We have a product: on-line education. And the consumer of that product: faculty with expertise to share. To market this product to this consumer, we have asked the question: “Why won’t more faculty learn to use these advances in education?” According to Christensen, that is the wrong question.

Instead, we need to ask: “What job does the faculty want the product to do?” It may seem obvious that faculty are interested in meeting the learning needs of a new generation of technology-savvy students. But is that true? I do not believe that is the job the faculty needs this product to do.

What jobs do faculty need done?

One job is to deliver information. How many years have we been saying, “The lecture is dead?” Yet, when we go to conventions, when we pay to hear guest speakers, what are they doing? How can we really believe the lecture is dead when it appears to be an effective way to deliver information? When I am standing in a classroom looking into the eyes of my students, I know I can deliver information. Sure, the online environment allows me to use different tools to deliver information, but why change what already works? It is no surprise that there is resistance to changing an age-old method of delivering information.

Another job is to evaluate student learning. Faculty sees the online teaching environment as particularly hazardous in this regard. There is an obsessive need to prevent the student from cheating. When I listen to faculty talk about on-line education I hear a lot about the many new ways students use technology to defraud the faculty. A major hurtle in getting faculty to accept and adopt online education is how to address this fear.

But the most important job that faculty wants done is to improve their use of time. I have talked to more than one faculty member who said to me, “I am hoping I will get to retire before I have to learn any more software programs.” When faculty members have to divide their time to conduct research, teach and give service to their community, where is the time to learn a new model and method of teaching? I think faculty are waiting for the product that produces time.

Simply put, the late adopters and non-adopters of online education are waiting for online education to do a job it is not now doing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bain's View of Teaching

As we come up for a breath of fresh air after a frenzy of start-of-the-semester events, we can now concentrate on the main task at hand: Teaching!

There are several different ways of thinking about teaching. One approach looks almost entirely at the actions and behaviors of the instructor. In this approach, instruction is viewed as something that is provided to students. This approach is often characterized in ways that assume that learning cannot take place unless some type of teaching has happened.

In a study conducted by Bain (2004), he suggested highly effective instructors in higher education “thought of teaching as anything they might do to help and encourage students to learn” (p. 49). Bain points out that these instructors paid attention to creating an environment for learning. They also found teaching to be “an important and serious intellectual (or artistic) act” (p. 49).

Bain considered four questions in characterizing this view of teaching. From these questions, we can see a complex and rich approach to considering teaching.
  1. What should my students be able to do intellectually, physically or emotionally as a result of their learning?
  2. How can I best help and encourage them to develop those abilities and the habits of the heart and mind to use them.
  3. How can my students and I best understand the nature, quality, and progress of their learning?
  4. How can I evaluate my efforts to foster that learning? (p. 49)
 Great questions to consider as we continue in the sememster! Define, in your own terms, what students should know or be able to do as a result of your teaching. Define your actions to help students achieve those goals. Think carefully about what feedback students need to understand how they are progressing. Consider how you will know if your efforts are successful.


Bain, K, (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why Course Announcements are Important

Announcements can be used in a variety of ways to push important information to students in a single course. Announcements are one way for you to communicate to everyone in the course. In online and hybrid courses, announcements are the equivalent of standing at the podium and giving general information to the class.
Announcements are an important communication tool because they allow you to “write once so many can read.” This allows you to provide general information from a single location with the assurance that all students are receiving the information. 

  1. Use Announcements primarily for time-sensitive information (emergencies) and to talk to the entire class (general information).
  2. Develop a routine to post general information Announcements.
  3. Query your class about options such as pushing Announcement via email. This is a good feature for certain students and an annoyance for others.
  4. Learn how to “pin” an Announcement to the top of the Announcements page to control the order in which Announcements appear to students.
  5. Don’t use Announcements as your only communication tool in a course.
Announcements, along with email and/or discussion board responses, will support the importance of interaction in online learning and teaching.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

TWU Online Instructor's Tip of the Week

Can you believe the semester begins in less than a week? Not only are faculty/instructors arriving back from winter break, but many are making last minute adjustments to their online course shells.  Here is a quote to remember while you prepare for the upcoming semester.

“Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors” (87).

Remember to manage your time wisely and stay focus on the outcome.

Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

TWU's Distance Education Resource Spotlight: TWU ID

TWU ID is an online teaching and learning resource written and edited by the instructional design team and housed on PBWorks wiki workspace.  TWU ID is not intended to be an exhaustive resource or a replacement for help pages written or distributed by ITS, ISS, Help Desk, etc.  The instructional design team maintains this resource to provide faculty and students access to resources designed and developed from a pedagogical rather than a technical perspective.