Happy Thanksgiving from SCOL!

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 11/23/2016 9:39:30 AM

 As we pause this week to enjoy family, friends, food, and a bit of football, let us also remember and be thankful for those educators in our lives who have made a difference.  At the School of Continuing and Online Learning, our goal is to create excellent, meaningful, and relevant educational experiences for our learners, whoever and wherever they are.

We have written extensively about rigor, design, and facilitation.  We have discussed our ongoing initiative to encourage the use of the Quality Matters rubric.  We have talked about integrating active teaching and learning strategies into our pedagogy.  And we have highlighted why all of that matters.

As this holiday week rolls along, you will undoubtedly spend some time reflecting on the year you have had, the company you keep, and the future -- your future, your family's future, the country's future, the world's future.  Reflection is a powerful tool that helps us take stock of where we have been, where we want to go, and how we might be able to get there.  

As we teach and learn, we must also remember to tap into the powers of reflection.  For students, reflection is an indispensable component of learner-centered instructional design.  The act of reflecting demands critical self-evaluation:  it forces us to confront what we think we know or can do, what we want to know or to be able to do, what we don't know or cannot do.  For teachers, reflection opens up an opportunity for us to examine our own pedagogy and instruction.  Are we designing curriculum, instruction, and assessment in a way that promotes student learning?  Are we demanding quality and excellence from our students?  Are we demanding it from ourselves?

Without reflection, improvement is elusive, because improvement requires introspection and critique.  That process has to be both external and internal, from our superiors, from our peers, and from ourselves.  So, as you take time to give thanks and reflect on your 2016, think about how you can carve out space in your own educational practice for the same sort of deep, honest thought. 

Creating Standards for Online Course Delivery

Posted by Christine Dereberry at 11/1/2016 9:41:18 AM

No one would argue with establishing a list of standards that should be accomplished in order to complete a certain process. Standards are very helpful as they are used to set the bar for how a task or process should be completed and to what degree. Standards give individuals a target to reach and explicitly state expectations. However, by stating that there are online standards does that imply individuals feel compelled to meet those standards even if they are identified as a best practice? For example, suppose you were given a list of standards on how you are expected to facilitate an online course.  What would your reaction be to the following standards? 

Online instructors should be: 

  • well versed in effective communication and the learning tools within the LMS 

  • student-centered and flexible while maintaining and communicating high standards 

  • promote online dialogue to deepen the learning experience 

  • able to foster community virtually and facilitate collaborative learning among the students 

  • able to collaborate with students and the support systems at the university to further student success and participation 

  • able to project their personality through developing an online voice 

  • committed to the use of active learning within the online course 

  • committed to providing appropriate and timely feedback  

  • able to adjust the online course when needed by adding additional support to the instruction via the use of multimedia tools, including asynchronous and synchronous learning events, simulations, social media and other online instructional tools  

  • committed to helping students become successful no matter who they are or what experience they have 

The standards state what should happen in an online course around facilitation. So, how do you encourage faculty to adopt such standards? How should they learn about the standards and realize the importance the standards have for the success of our online students? Is the best course of action to be collaborative or punitive for establishing compliance with a set of standards? Where does training come into play when establishing standards? Who should communicate these standards as expectations to be followed?  

At the heart of all these questions lies the fact that the adoption of standards requires change and change is difficult. Change requires awareness that there is a need for the standards if things are to improve, communication on how we intend to improve, and buy-in from leadership to support the change. Change requires faculty commitment to attend training and apply the training to their online course.  

During our early adopter phase of implementing Canvas, we debated minimum standards on the requirements for creating a course homepage; after several months of discussion a minimum standard was approved. While no one was advocating that all courses look alike, it was agreed that certain information should be listed on the course homepage.  Yet, no one was in charge of ensuring this minimum standard was applied in all courses.  

Now that the School of Continuing Online Learning is in existence, there can exist monitoring for online courses to ensure quality.  To what degree is the university ready for this change? At this moment the School is ready to begin collaborating with the Colleges to define our work processes and standards. We welcome the opportunity to begin these conversations around online quality as we are committed to improving online learning at Stritch. 

A Change Would Do You Good

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 10/21/2016 9:44:57 AM

As we look forward to the official launch of the School of Continuing and Online Learning here at Cardinal Stritch, I keep hearing the chorus from the Sheryl Crow song, “A Change Would Do You Good,” play over and over in my head. As we move closer and closer to this work becoming a reality, there are always mixed feelings when you are preparing for change.

It seems like there two “camps” or types of people in how they react to change. One group seems to embrace change and sees it as a necessity to evolve and grow, and the other group seems to want to keep the status quo, leave things as they are, and not rock the boat. As Rick Godwin said, “One reason people resist change is that they focus on what they have to give up, rather than what they have to gain.” There are multiple other reasons people appear to resist change, particularly when change is complex, such as starting starting a new school.  Managing change correctly can lead to success.  If not managed well, it can lead participants to false starts, frustration, resistance, anxiety, and confusion. As you can see in the Knoster's (1991) model for managing complex change, there are many things to consider. Missing steps along the path to success will cause problems, and in the end will endanger long-term goals and outcomes. 

Vision - Creates the big picture and is needed by everyone so they have a sense of where the change is leading them. Without vision, there will be confusion and a lack of direction will take over. 

Skills - The need to identify knowledge, expertise, and training to move forward. Without the needed skills, the participant’s anxiety levels will rise and they will have less faith in the process.

Incentives - These can be intrinsic or extrinsic, but people always want to know, “what is in it for me.” These incentives may be additional payments, self-esteem, advancements in the organization, etc. Without participants having some incentive, they will see no reason to change and might become resistant to the process. 

Resources - Will extra staffing be needed, new physical resources, support networks, equipment and time given? If the resources are not in place, participants will become frustrated they are not able to make positive change. 

Action Plan - When the process is shared and understood, participants know what needs to be done to gain success. Leadership is committed, participants are energized, and everyone is moving forward. Without an action plan, participants feel they are on a treadmill, repeating behavior and wasting time. 

Success - Change is successful when a new culture is created. A new way of doing things, and a new way of operating takes place and becomes the norm. 

Change is difficult for people. As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when managing complex change. Missing any of these factors will cause issues. If you understand what causes these issues and plan for change, you can increase your chances of success greatly.  When you manage change successfully, people will call it growth. And after all, wouldn’t a little change do you good?



Knoster, T. (1991). Managing complex change. Proceedings from: TASH Conference. Washington, DC.

Persistence & Persistent Assessment

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 9/20/2016 9:48:16 AM

In previous posts we have talked extensively about the importance of building in formative assessment and opportunities for instructor and peer feedback to improve learning outcomes.  As a corollary, we might also argue that increased formative assessment and consistent feedback can drive retention and student persistence efforts. It stands to reason that students failing to complete work and falling behind in a course (regardless of modality) would ultimately presage course-level attrition and poor performance.  Students who fall behind may do so for a number of reasons:  dissatisfaction with the course, poor individual preparation or time management, unexpected life events, or expected life events.


These are fairly broad categories (and do not capture all possible factors influencing a student’s decision to persist), so let’s take each of them in turn and examine what we can do to build courses and learning experiences that encourage engagement and persistence.

  • Dissatisfaction with the learning experience:  Here is where we can have the most influence as instructional designers and curriculum specialists.  How are designing courses and programs to keep learners interested and invested in their learning from start to finish?  We know that student satisfaction with the online learning experience is a good predictor of persistence (see e.g., Levy, 2004).  How do we ensure that our learners are satisfied?  And how do we do that while maintaining rigor and quality?  We can start by creating learning environments that build meaningful community, that encourage consistent and timely feedback from instructors and peers, and that utilize formative assessment to gauge learner progress and achievement.  We can look to social presence theory to help us encourage robust, interactive learning communities (see Tu & McIsaac, 2002 for a primer).
  • Preparation & time management:  As instructors and instructional designers, we cannot control individual learner characteristics, but we can engage our students with clear course design, ongoing assessment, and timely feedback.  We need to make sure that students understand two things: what they will learn and how they will learn it (or how they will display their learning).  At each level (program, course, and module), we should highlight learning objectives, list important tasks and assessments, and outline our expectations.  We should also stress time:  how much time should you expect to spend each day, each week?  And then we need to remain diligent: be prepared to communicate with students who might be at risk of falling behind. Incorporating regular formative assessment will also aid in keeping students accountable for their own learning, while opening up opportunities for feedback.
  • Life!: Sometimes life gets in the way and it can be hard to keep up!  As a father of a two-week old, I know this feeling quite well.  Whether expected or unexpected, learners might struggle to manage the responsibilities and time demands of work, school, and personal life.  How we interact with our students during their stressful times can impact their decision to persist.  We should work to cultivate a genuine learning community and authentic relationships.  Reach out to your students regularly, provide constant feedback and encouragement, and work to build personal relationships.  When something unexpected occurs, work with those students directly to come up with an alternative solution.   Consider alternatives to a traditional week-to-week schedule wedded to the academic calendar. Be flexible, but outcome-oriented.


Levy, Y. (2007). Comparing dropouts and persistence in e-learning courses.Computers & Education48 (2), 185-204.

Tu, C. H., & McIsaac, M. (2002). The relationship of social presence and interaction in online classes. The American Journal of Distance Education16(3), 131-150.

Why Canvas?

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 9/13/2016 9:49:15 AM

In 2011, Blackboard announced their decision to sunset Angel which prompted Cardinal Stritch University to enter the RFP (request for proposal) process to locate a new learning management system (*LMS).  When we went through our RFP process in the spring of 2011, Cardinal Stritch University had four different Learning Management Systems come to campus and present their proposal/sales pitch. Stakeholders from across the university participated in the presentations and demos of each product and the participants used rubrics evaluate how easy common tasks would be in each system. The Office of Information Systems reviewed all of the technical documentation to identify which system would work best within our current environment and with our student information system, Jenzabar.  After collating and reviewing all of the results, the committee had a vote and it was unanimous! Canvas would be our next LMS.  We spent the next year programming the configuration of Canvas to ensure the launch in August of 2014 would go smoothly for all users.  

With the launch in 2014 the institution set a minimal usage requirement of a course homepage and link to the course syllabus for all faculty using Canvas at Cardinal Stritch University. Since our initial launch of Canvas we have seen a gradual rise in usage among faculty, staff and students. Now in 2016, Canvas is being used in almost 100% of our courses regardless of format. Final Grade submissions within Canvas was announced as mandatory for all faculty using Canvas beginning August 29th, 2016. Since our initial launch we’ve seen Canvas introduce many new features including draft state and the new user interface. Compared to other learning management systems, Canvas is a very young: Instructure, Canvas' parent company, started in 2008 and the LMS was launched in 2011. Canvas now supports over 2,000 universities, school districts and institutions worldwide. With such a strong growth rate you might expect increases in support issues or outages to occur. However, in the last twelve months Canvas has reported an average 99.990% uptime, which is outstanding. 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a day long Canvas conference for “Canvas groupies” like myself.  Our first keynote speaker was the Senior Vice President of Product & Customer Experience, Mitch Macfarlane, who gave a great speech on why we should buy Canvas. At first the speech bothered me because I thought we already have Canvas so why would you devote 40 minutes of our day to talk to us about purchasing Canvas. As the day went on I dismissed the keynote address and focused on what sessions I wanted to attend. Many of the sessions introduced me to new and exciting ways to use Canvas and to other features Canvas has in development (HINT: A NEW Quizzing Interface is coming!). Talk about feeling energized! So what makes a Canvas conference such a powerful experience? It’s in the way that people talk about Canvas and how they have a crazy desire to get you to love the tool as much as they do!  

As I reflect back to the keynote delivered by Mitch it occurred to me that each person presenting during the conference emulated the excitement and desire to talk about Canvas as much as Mitch did in his opening remarks. It was like they couldn’t wait to share what cool new thing Canvas could do. It reminded me of a parent who might be overheard saying…”My daughter can ride her two wheel bike now!”.  Every presenter was enthusiastic, engaged and asked the audience repeatedly throughout the day, “What would you like to see Canvas do next?” It was invigorating to see the interest the presenters had in us (the end users) as we discussed our challenges around certain features  or a lack of certain features in Canvas.  While Instructure may be a young company and Canvas a young LMS, I believe the company holds the user experience at the center of all decisions.  This reaffirms why I am 100% behind our original and unanimous decision to select Canvas. I can’t wait to see what new feature is coming next.

Beware of the shiny objects!

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 8/12/2016 9:54:38 AM

The NPR Education team ran an article yesterday summarizing recent research on the connection between technology and learning.  In short, a number of recent studies have found that increased technology usage does not necessarily lead to increased learning.  Contrary to conventional tech-laden wisdom, researchers discovered that more technology was, in some cases, linked to a decline in student achievement and performance. 

If you follow traditional educational news media and venture capital funding, you might be inclined to believe that educational technology was keeping our classrooms and campuses afloat.  Innovation and disruption will revolutionize how we teach and learn, or so the narrative goes.  In 2015 alone, nearly $2 billion flowed into the coffers of US edtech companies. 


Yet, for all of this investment, what have we gained?  If we can demonstrate a non-existent (or negative) relationship between the very technology that we trumpet and the student learning that we strive for, where does that leave us?  As NPR importantly notes, there are a number of factors contributing to these findings:


  • Poor planning and integration: look no further than the LAUSD's disastrous purchase and rollout of iPads and the ensuing fallout.  Many institutions are ill-equipped to deal with an immediate influx of new hardware and software.  They do not have the technical support staff to handle the inevitable technical hiccups and required maintenance, they do not have the project managers to see the project from initial funding to completion, they do not have the instructional support staff to ensure that faculty, staff, and students are sufficiently prepared to use the technology in a manner that encourages deeper learning and robust, rigorous assessment.
  • Poor incentivization:  the funding carrot, often tied to standardized test scores for K12 districts, can fuel poor short-term decision making.  Quick fixes generally do not exist.  Shiny new objects might temporarily distract us from an insidious structural issue impacting student learning.
  • Poor training and support:  whether it is a new learning management system, a new student information system, a new assessment platform, or a new multimedia lab, institutions often do not invest the resources and time necessary to train their faculty  on the why and the how.  Likewise, schools must be prepared to support their students at every turn, particularly online and blended learners.
  • Poor instruction:  no amount of technology can obscure poor teaching, poor instructional planning, or poor curriculum design.


Many K12 districts and higher education institutions are hamstrung by budgeting crises, enrollment shortfalls, and unforeseen externalities.  Regardless of learning modality, institutions must address these shortcomings to see results. And even then, we might not see the commensurate gains we have mistakenly associated with technological innovation in educational spaces.  

Educational institutions must be leery of drinking the edtech elixir: it is enticing, potent, and ubiquitous, yet expensive, dangerous, and ultimately unsatisfying on its own.  It would be hazardous and foolhardy to make it the cornerstone of your daily nourishment.  

Back to School!

Posted by Christine Dereberry at 8/4/2016 9:55:33 AM

As a kid that wanted to grow up and be a teacher, my summers were spent playing school so back to school time was very exciting for me. I used to love picking up my school supply list and making the trip to the store for notebooks, pencils and spirals, oh my. The only part I did dislike was the clothes shopping.  Now my own children look forward to picking out their school supplies but my dislike has changed from the clothes shopping to writing the check. We all hope these supplies will be put to good use and will aid in the important process of learning. Our college students, while they may not have a school supply list, do go out and buy supplies and they too want the supplies to be put to good use.

My job at the university is to help instructors effectively teach online. Our learning management system, Canvas, supplies a variety of tools to help instructors design effective and purposeful learning experiences for our students. Our adoption of Canvas has gone well and the majority of our instructors do use Canvas to support learning regardless of the delivery method. We’ve had Canvas for two years and for the instructor who has been here since we adopted Canvas, they’ve learned what they want to do in Canvas and the number of training requests I receive are minimal. So how do we keep the momentum of learning a real thing for our students if the momentum seems to have stalled for additional professional development requests regarding how to use Canvas?   

Is incentivizing the answer or badges or professional development credits towards promotion, rank, and tenure? What about mandatory professional development or learning goals for instructors that are tied to pay? How about enrolling all instructors in a sample course that they are required to attend? Are instructors motivated by a certificate which says they are qualified to teach online? 

In my humble opinion, the answer to what makes someone want to invest their time and effort in learning the skills needed to create a course that offers students an exceptional learning experience really comes down to two things: the person loves learning and they themselves have a constant desire to keep learning because they enjoy the challenge and/or the person remembers what it was like to have to suffer through an awful class that was boring, was a waste of their time and resulted in no new learning or skills. If you put both of these ideas together, I believe that inside of each of us is that kid who is excited for school to start and is ready with their supplies. When we look at our courses through the lens of the student, then the time and effort required is arbitrary because the desire is there to make a great learning experience for the student. So, who is ready to come to training?

Pokémon Go, or The Next Next Big Thing in Education

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 7/14/2016 9:58:56 AM

John Warner (@biblioracle) has a post up this week at Inside Higher Ed. on the newest viral sensation leading people to walk headfirst into trees while staring at their iPhones: Pokémon Go.  Yes, it is the return of those lovable Japanese creations from the mid-90s, except now you can catch them for real (kind of).  

For those of you not familiar, Vox has a lengthy explainer on the latest craze.  In short, the game falls under the augmented reality (AR) genre, whereby players experience elements from their physical world interacting with a virtual world.  Players download the Pokémon Go mobile app and traverse their physical surroundings trying to catch Pokémon. The mobile app relies on GPS data to position players and create virtual artifacts in real time.

Warner writes with tongue firmly planted in cheek, playing off the never-ending spate of articles predicting that "X" (e.g., radio, VHS, iPads, MOOCs) will change/disrupt/revolutionize education: "Five reasons why Pokémon Go is the future of education…1. It’s popular. 2. It’s fun. 3. It’s on phones and kids like their phones, so education of the future will have to be on phones."

Warner then serves up a friendly reminder that, no, Pokémon Go - or the impending rule of augmented (or virtual) reality - is not going to change education, just like the radio, the TV, the iPad, and the MOOC did not.  But what we can learn from our cute virtual monster overlords is the importance of the chase, the challenge, the adventure, and the process.  

Surely, the success of Pokémon Go will renew conversations rife with ed tech buzzwords: gamification, digital nativism, mobile learning, 21st century skills, et al..  Most importantly, someone, somewhere, will write - has probably already written - a thinkpiece with a carefully crafted narrative connecting Pokémon Go, millennials, entitlement, and American cultural decay.  I will not read this.

Yet, I digress.  What should we as instructional designers and educators take away from the Pokémon Go phenomenon? How should it influence our design and development? Not much, probably, except to inject a healthy dose of skepticism for lazy narratives about "what's going to change education!" and a reminder, as Warner urges, to consider learning as an iterative, continual process or pursuit, rather than a static, always quantifiable outcome.

We should not always dismiss trends and advances in technology as fleeting, or ignore popular culture because of ivory tower elitism or generational skepticism.  We can integrate tools and technology - and its unavoidable intersection with popular culture - thoughtfully and intentionally into our curriculum and instruction in a way that engages our students, encourages their pursuit of knowledge, and empowers them to make positive change in a broken world. But pursuit inherently implies that overcoming obstacles and dealing with failure precede triumph and success.  And what more is learning if not that.

Now, good luck, Godspeed, and may your journey be full of Pokéstops and visits from Pikachu.

What is a high-touch course?

Posted by Christine Dereberry at 7/8/2016 9:59:54 AM

When I train faculty on becoming an online instructor I usually divide the training up into two parts: the clicks and the why. Most faculty are so nervous about teaching online for the first time they want to spend the majority of their time focused on how to create content or just learn the clicks. By far this is the easiest part of the training as I know all the tricks for making the LMS do what I want it to do. At some point in the training the talk from the faculty shifts. They begin to wonder how will they know the students are mastering the content and how will they get to know their students as people when they mostly likely will never meet the students in person. They begin to worry about how to ensure their course is high touch and how they will personally connect with the students.  

This is when we start talking about why I ask them to include what I do in their course. As we start including various elements in the course I describe how each element enhances the student experience and why these elements will help them have a high touch course. This is the part of the training that is more fun for me as the faculty start to see why the elements will help connect them to their students and will ease both them and their students into this unknown environment and ensure all thrive.  

Now, suppose your university said your course needs to pass a standard rubric like Quality Matters. The rubric is very thorough and prescriptive about which elements need to be visible in the course. At first glance, the rubric could be interpreted as a giant to-do list of things that just need to be visible in the course in order to mark those items as present when scoring the rubric. Based on this interpretation, the presence of various course elements would contribute to the online course functioning “technically” like a quality course. However, having certain elements on a course homepage or included in the course syllabus isn’t what makes a course ‘speak to’ the student.   

In my last blog on alignment I explained how it’s vital above all else that the course outcomes align with the program outcomes, course objectives, learner activities, instructional materials, and course technologies and if this alignment isn’t present the course will not pass the rubric no matter how thorough the course homepage and course syllabus are.  

So, how do you keep the university happy when the request is made to make sure our courses are of high quality while at the same time keep the faculty happy with their need to provide a good experience for the students, which includes providing a "high-touch" online course?  

A "high-touch" course is one where the students feel the presence of the faculty in every facet of the course. The course design is such that the student experience is what drives every decision about every item placed in the course. Faculty who design through the lens of their students will create a course that has the following elements (many of the items below are included in the Quality Matters rubric):

  • Instructor creates a warm, personal and supportive welcome message in video form either on the course homepage or in an announcement. 

  • Instructor explains how to get started in the course and how the course is structured. 

  • Instructor explains how the course navigation supports the needs of the students.  

  • Instructor explains the best way for students to contact them and how soon they’ll respond.  

  • Instructor informs the students when they will be visible in the course so live interaction and questions can be asked. If the instructor will be offline for a time period, this is communicated as well. 

  • Instructor includes ways to build community and assists students in making connections with their peers. 

  • Instructors realize the first two weeks of the course is the most critical time to engage students as it is within the first two weeks that the students may drop the course if they feel unconnected to the instructor. The instructor monitors the time students are spending in the course and reaches out to students proactively if they see students who aren’t logging in or participating. 

  • Instructor records weekly video introductions to the week’s objectives, content, assignments, and assessments. 

  • Instructor explains the relationship between course learning objectives and competencies in the course. This is usually included in a Read Me First note at the beginning of each weekly module. 

  • Instructor provide a discussion so the students can introduce themselves and get to know their classmates. 

  • Instructor explains methods to the students for how to manage their time and track their progress through the course. 

  • Instructor provides instructional materials in various formats so the students can pick how they like to learn parts of the content 

  • The purpose of the instructional materials is explained so the students see how the materials are to be used to help them progress through the course content. 

  • The instructor designs multiple learner activities that encourage active learning throughout the course. 

  • The instructor has thoughtfully planned out how students will receive feedback in both a formative and summative way. 

  • Any large skill in the course is broken down into smaller more manageable pieces and include opportunities for the students to receive feedback on these pieces before submitting the larger project or paper. 

  • Any new technology in the course includes directions at the point of need for the students. The instructor is fluent in the technologies they require and can provide technical assistance should an issue occur. 

  • Instructor provides information to the students about how they can receive assistance in terms of disability, accessibility, technology, and academic support . 

For further assistance with creating a high touch online course, please contact

Better Feedback = Better Learning

Posted by Ed Price at 7/1/2016 10:00:43 AM

I am sure we all can remember at one point in school putting forth huge time and effort into writing a paper or report only to receive back a grade and a quick comment of “nice job!” While you were happy to earn that good grade, the only feedback you got from your teacher was a brief, empty comment. When you think about it, what did you learn from the paper-writing process? You wrote, the teacher read, and in the end you received a pat on the back and a “nice job”. Wouldn’t it have been a better, richer experience if you received feedback during the whole process of writing, making the process an ongoing learning experience?

Jane Pollock in her book, Feedback: The Hinge That Joins Teaching and Learning, discusses the small changes teachers can make that lead to meaningful and substantial student learning. The book gives many examples of how to improve student learning and provide robust feedback using Google Docs.  Let’s look at four levels of better feedback with Google Docs. 


Level 1 - Suggesting Mode in Google Docs:

Suggesting Mode allows a teacher to make ‘suggestions’ to a student’s work and not change the document. Students can then weigh the feedback given to them and make the changes they see fit themselves. Suggesting Mode is also a great tool for peer-to-peer feedback.

Level 2 - Add Comments in Google Docs:

When Adding Comments in a Google Doc, a teacher can give virtual feedback, similar to how you might provide verbal feedback in a face-to-face classroom. A teacher will highlight a portion of text in the document, then write comments correlating directly to that highlighted section. Typical comments might be, “What makes you think that?” or “Please give some supporting examples.”

Level 3 - Students Must Reply to Feedback:

Just making changes should not be the end goal. Remember we are looking for meaningful feedback and learning. When a teacher makes comments or suggestions, students should reply to that feedback, analyze the changes they have made, and reflect on what they have learned from the feedback and revision process. Making learning a circle, rather than a straight line, will provide a richer experience for all. 

Level 4 - Verbal Feedback (in a virtual world):

Everyone has experienced that email or text message that was meant one way, yet interpreted another. There are times when typing a response, suggestion, or comment just does not convey the full thought or feedback that is needed. So how do we leave vocal feedback when we're not face to face? Using Google Doc add-on Kaizena, a teacher can record verbal feedback on student work. This add-on allows a portion of test to be highlighted, then the instructor can leave a written or verbal comment. Kaizena also allows the student to upload voice comments into the document, thus creating a virtual conversation between teacher and student.

Want to learn more about Google Docs and how to use this tool in your teaching or personal life? Take our free Google Docs and Dive course. CLICK HERE to start!

What is alignment?

Posted by Christine Dereberry at 6/6/2016 10:06:34 AM

Imagine you are planning a camping trip. You’ve decided you want to camp for four days in Traverse City, Michigan to see the sand dunes. You’ve made an extensive list of supplies for the trip based on camping internet sites/camping books/and advice of your friends on what is needed for the trip and encompasses everything from tents, bedding, food, and clothing. Included in the planning was a map to Traverse City and an itemized list of activities, reservations for camping and places for sightseeing. The goal of the vacation is to enjoy a day driving dune buggies on the sand dunes. You are excited for a fun 4th of July weekend in Traverse City, Michigan.  After all the careful planning you ended up in a hotel in St. Paul, Minnesota and eating at a steak restaurant. What happened? The answer is a question of alignment.

If we take apart the planned vacation in terms familiar to those in education you end up with four stages in the vacation planning that weren’t aligned:

  • The goal of driving dune buggies on the sand dunes in Traverse City, Michigan was the objective of the trip.

  • Successfully making it to Traverse City, Michigan and driving dune buggies on the beach during the camping trip is the final assessment.

  • The research of sites/books about camping and the list of supplies needed for the trip represent the instructional materials.

  • Creating the map and the itemized list of sightseeing locations, reservations and activities are the learning activities needed to make the trip.

By ending up in St. Paul, Minnesota as the final destination it is apparent that the four stages of the trip were not in alignment; the objective, the instructional materials, learning activities, and assessment. Upon further investigation you realize the map you used was not to Traverse City but to St. Paul. In addition, the resources used to create the list of supplies were based on websites and books about St. Paul.

While the story above uses an analogy to make a point, issues with alignment of course objectives, assessments, instructional materials, and learner activities due occur. Misalignment of these four key course components is detrimental to the success of the learner reaching the stated objectives of the course.

The course design process begins with crafting the course objectives followed by outlining and creating the course assessment. When the objectives and the assessment are in alignment, the instructor has a clear picture of what they want the student to achieve after the course is over. 

Next, the instructor must locate the instructional materials that the students will consume in order to learn the course content which may include textbooks, PowerPoints, PDFs, videos, podcasts, instructor voiceover lectures, checklists, templates, and web content. The learner activities are then created, which utilize the instructional materials so that the progression through the activities will lead the student to create new knowledge, skills, meaning, and application of the new content. Lastly, as the learner activities are created, the instructor must state which objectives are linked to each learner activity and state how the activities and instructional materials will help the learner achieve the stated course outcomes and success on the assessment.

Alignment of these four parts of the course design are essential to the student’s success in learning the course content. For further assistance with course design, please contact

ARCS Model of Motivation

Posted by Christine Dereberry at 5/27/2016 10:16:38 AM

Four Actions to Gain and Keep Students Engaged

Every facilitator who works with students knows how difficult it is to keep their attention. In reading about various methods for increasing student motivation, my favorite technique was written by John Keller and is called the ARCS Model of Motivation. The model is very effective and is divided into four categories: Attention (A), Relevance (R), Confidence (C), and Satisfaction (S).

Attention: Effective planning, participation and variety throughout the lesson will increase focus and motivation.

  1. Active participation of all students.
    Applying active teaching strategies including collaborating with their peers, students are encouraged to become active throughout the learning process.
  2. Using humor.
    Including short humorous stories, videos, images during the session can assist with keeping the attention of the students.
  3. Introducing conflict.
    Presenting statements or facts that may conflict with the common beliefs will encourage discourse.
  4. Adding variety.
    Employ a variety of different strategies when starting a session, when introducing a new topic, when transitioning to a new topic or when you want the students to review or practice what was covered. Examples are virtual guest speakers, case studies, visuals, graphic organizers, videos, student response systems, Web 2.0 websites/apps and humorous trivia games.
  5. Practical application.
    Inform students of the practical use of the material in their daily lives by including real life stories or examples.

Relevance: Facilitators who work with students are encouraged to link new learning in multiple ways so students can relate to and make connections to the new information.

  1. Relate the learning to their previous experience.
    Assist students in establishing connections to new information and relating it to what they already know from previous experience.
  2. Immediate application.
    Motivation increases if students see a direct connection of how the information will equip them with new skills to resolve their current issues or to complete a task.
  3. Future application.
    Facilitators should communicate the WIIFM or the What’s In It For Me idea in every session.
  4. Model what you want them to learn.
    Setting an example and offering presentations by those who have successfully applied the particular piece of knowledge or skill presented will motivate students.
  5. Include student choice.
    Giving students’ choice upon their own learning path is recommended because students have an opinion on how they like to learn and process new information.

Confidence: Facilitators should employ various techniques to help students feel successful.

  1. Track progress.
    Provide a checklist where students can mark off what steps they have completed shows progress towards their goal.
  2. State objectives and prerequisites.
    Communicate expectations, objectives and how exactly they are going to be evaluated.
  3. Include constructive feedback.
    Feedback is essential in order for students to confident about the progress they are making with the content and what steps they should take to improve their skills.

Satisfaction: Students should feel a sense of accomplishment after completing the session.

  1. Well done.
    The learning process must present students with a sense of achievement and recognition of their efforts.
  2. Try out your new skills.
    Encourage students to use their new skills to solve real problems that the students value.
  3. Student feedback. Encourage students to provide feedback on how the session went by asking the students to complete an exit slip or a session evaluation. Be sure to include questions on the exit slip that elicit feedback on each of the four parts of the ARCS Model. Use the data from the results to improve the session for future groups of students.

This content was adapted from various websites related to the ARCS Model. For additional information on ARCS visit

Additional information about learning theories can be found at

The Lecture is dead! Long live the lecture!

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 5/27/2016 10:14:55 AM

We all are familiar with the lecture: it has a long, esteemed history not only in academia, but also in public life.  Powerful orators can motivate us to action, bring us tears, make us cheer uncontrollably.  They can also help us learn, allegedly.


Lecture as performance, lecture as politics, lecture as instruction.  We can trace the historical roots of the lecture trace back to early 19th century Germany and the role of the university and its faculty post-Enlightenment.  The lecture became a means of political engagement, an avenue to display one’s own knowledge and expertise, and a forum for public discourse (see Sean Franzel’s excellent book, Connected by the Ear, for a deeper dive).  Once firmly ensconced as the dominant pedagogy, the lecture went on to rule auditoriums and classrooms on college campuses throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (and most of the 21st).


That brings me to an article from NPR this morning on academia’s long-promised turn away from the lecture towards more effective active teaching strategies:


The large college lecture — the cornerstone of undergraduate education in America and much of the world today — is similar, [Carl] Wieman argues. “You give people lectures and [some students] go away and learn the stuff. But it wasn’t that they learned it from lecture, they learned it from homework, from assignments. When we measure how little people learn from an actual lecture it’s just really small.”


Carl Wieman is a Nobel Laureate physics professor at Stanford and is pushing for different approaches to instruction at the institution.  He has examined the research and correctly concluded that traditional stand-and-deliver approaches to teaching do not necessarily lead to learning.  So, what does the research say?


  • Passive reception of information does not generally lead to long-term retention of information.  Students may be able recall information for a quiz or test, but that does not necessarily equate to knowledge and learning.
  • In general we know that students need to do to learn.  They need to be actively engaged in their own learning, whether through in-class activities or out-of-class projects.
  • The doing needs to be frequent and varied!
  • Students need to fail to succeed!  Failure is a valuable component of meaningful learning.


Westervelt hits on many of the key obstacles to implementing active teaching strategies across higher education:  institutional inertia, faculty resistance, insufficient evaluation, and values and incentives.  Let’s take these objections in turn:


  • Institutional inertia:  Because of the long tradition of the lecture and its place in American (and international) education, it can be difficult to change hearts and minds.  Many faculty learned how to teach through observation and they probably sat through many a lecture.
  • Faculty resistance:  Planning instruction with new methods takes time and energy.  And teaching a new way takes courage.
  • Insufficient evaluation: How do we know that our students are learning?  Are we concerned about recent popular research (see., e.g., Academically Adrift, the well-known title from Arum & Roksa) that calls that into question ? Are we attempting to measure student learning and track student outcomes?
  • Values and incentives: What really fuels these aforementioned objections?  Do institutions truly value teaching and learning or are they merely paying lip service?  Are they being incentivized — through external donors, state/federal funding, competitive pressures — to value something else (like research, athletics, reputation) at the expense of the institution’s core mission?


These are vital questions that individual institutions (and higher education as a whole) must grapple with as we approach the second decade of the 21st century.  Students deserve an answer, and not from the lectern.


If you would like to learn more about active teaching and learning strategies for you instructional practice, contact us in the Office of Instructional Design.

On Formative Assessment

Posted by Ed Price at 5/27/2016 10:13:30 AM

The Power of Formative Assessment

One of the complaints from learners ‘online’ can be the lack of feedback and knowing if they are really learning. As last week’s blog, “The Lecture is dead! Long live the lecture!” discussed, many times online learning can become ‘lecture’-based in that learners are given readings to read, then post a response, or complete an assignment, only to be given a final grade with little feedback or input from the instructor.  Opportunities for good formative assessment can help guide both the learning and instruction. 

What is formative assessment?

The primary purpose of formative assessment in eLearning (or any learning) is to provide feedback learners can use to improve their experience and knowledge. In a nutshell, formative assessment looks at how learners are constructing knowledge and understanding during the process of learning. It can help us capture what is going on ‘right now’ in the learning process. Formative assessment should provide useful feedback to both the instructor and the learner. Summative assessments serve a different purpose in learning. Everyone can think back to examples of summative assessments like: final exams, cumulative projects, and standardized tests. These differ from formative assessments in that summative assessments tend to look more globally at the outcomes of instruction and learning over a longer period of time.

Instructors should keep in mind that formative assessments should benefit the learner as well as their delivery of content. To best do this, here are some tips to use formative assessments:

  1. Provide immediate feedback
  2. Identify measurable strengths and weaknesses
  3. Remember that formative assessments are “low stakes”
  4. Student progress helps direct learning and instruction


Types of Formative Assessment

Formative assessment can take many forms depending on the type of learning and instruction taking place. Here are some types of formative assessments:

  1. Goal checks
  2. One-on-one discussions
  3. Instructor observations
  4. Personal online learning logs
  5. Self-assessments
  6. Group presentations 

Select Tools for Formative Assessment

To make feedback and assessment more interactive and efficient, there are many tools that instructors can employ. Some of these to consider might be:

  1. Socrative
  2. Kahoot
  3. Zaption
  4. Backchannel chats (Today's Meet, Zaption, Ning)
  5. Google Forms
  6. And more…

In the end, low-stakes, focused, formative assessments will increase participants’ learning and growth. One of the greatest benefits of formative assessment, for both instructor and learner, is improved engagement in the learning experience.  If you would like to learn more about formative assessment strategies for you instructional practice, contact us in the Office of Instructional Design.

Effective Asynchronous Discussions

Posted by Christine Dereberry at 5/27/2016 10:12:34 AM

Discussion are one of the most used tools in online and hybrid courses. Discussion help students explore a topic with each other and construct meaning around content. Depending on what your objectives are and how you formulate the discussion prompt, you can hold a class discussion, a small group discussion, and even ask students or groups of students to share their presentations. Alternatively, discussions can ask students to defend positions, hold a debate, participate in role play, or the instructor may decide to switch roles and let students moderate the discussion.

Many instructors have experienced the "failed discussion." The students didn't really discuss the content deeply or student answers consisted of “I agree” or lacked any evidence to support their comments.  Students may wait until the just before the closing of the discussion to post which meant there was limited time for individuals to reply to others. Students may also do the “math” and figure out the effort is not worth the points they may receive. If you’ve experienced any of these events it is recommended you evaluate the quality and clarity of the discussion prompt.

When you create a discussion, consider:

  1. Is my prompt open-ended?
  2. Is there a hook to get the students interested in the topic such as a video or case study to watch prior to beginning the discussion?
  3. Will it allow learners to explore the topic from a variety of perspectives?
  4. Is the discussion topic naturally engaging/interesting/controversial, such that people are motivated to engage?
  5. Do I hold students accountable through a rubric for interaction with each other?
  6. Did I lead by example and participate in the discussion board and, also, hold students accountable?
  7. Did I make sure the prompt doesn’t have a correct answer?
  8. Are the instructions clear and explain specifically what is expected in terms of grammar, mechanics, or citing sources?
  9. Did I provide help documents on how to participate in a discussion?
  10. Did I consider how to foster and build community between the students so appropriate online netiquette is practiced within the discussion?

In order to increase clarity around your expectations for posting and replying to other students consider adding the following statement at the end of the discussion prompt.

I will not grade your participation based on quantity, but rather on overall quality and regularity (ie., that you offer regular and valuable contributions to the class discussion). Your comments should offer new insights, work to advance the overall discussion, and provide constructive feedback, critique, and praise your peers.


In order to receive full points for this discussion, you should follow these guidelines.

  • Are your comments expansive and relevant? Do you further the discussion in a meaningful way?
  • Did you respond to multiple peers and engage in multiple conversations?
  • Were you regular and valuable participation over the life of the discussion without monopolizing the conversation? You should consistently follow and add to the conversation over the course of the week.
  • Were you respectful and constructive in your feedback to your peers?

How might adding this type of statement increase the quality of the student’s posts to the discussion? Clarity in expectations is the first key element to ensuring a good experience for the students. The second key element is drafting the prompt itself. Instructors who can state how the discussion prompt aligns to the course and program outcomes and who can explicitly describe the learning achieved by the student’s participation in the discussion are more apt to avoid the failed discussion. The third key element of the process is the instructor’s presence within the discussion. Here is where the finesse or art of teaching is at play. Instructor presence includes everything from how often the instructor interacts in the discussion, the tone set by the responses of the instructor, the way the instructor directs or redirects the flow of the conversation, how the instructor encourages and engages with the students and how the instructor fosters a sense of a learning community among the students all play into the success of a discussion.

For more information on discussion boards, visit the following link: Fostering Critical Discussion (PDF)

What does an instructional designer do? Part Two.

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 5/27/2016 10:10:19 AM

In a previous post, we discussed what it is instructional designers do:  a “jack of all trades”, who can analyze, design, write, troubleshoot, communicate, create, and adapt.  Instructional designers work in a variety of settings with diverse groups of learners across time and space.  Regardless of where they work, IDs must all confront internal resistance, cope with external pressures, and overcome significant challenges to see their work come to fruition.

In an April 2016 report commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the consulting group Intentional Futures (iF) examined instructional designers in higher education: where they are from, what they do, what tools they use, and what barriers they face.  The findings confirm our “jack of all trades” characterization: IDs must do a little bit of everything.  iF created four broad categories to classify the work of instructional designers:  train, support, manage, and design.

  • Design: design new or redevelop old courses, create instructional deliverables, quality assurance

  • Manage: project management, policy improvement and promotion, work across service areas

  • Train: technology training, instructional training, facilitate professional development

  • Support: learning management system (LMS) support, faculty consultation

In fact, one survey respondent in the iF study remarked that the best IDs “are ‘aces-of-many-trades’, with authentic experience and training in all aspects of the process” (p. 10). 

Much of what IDs do is cross-categorical: they might be managing a large program development project that also requires their design and support skills.  Though this report was written specifically with higher education in mind, we can imagine how these categories might be just as relevant for a corporate trainer working on a new elearning initiative with a tight deadline and limited budget.

IDs in higher education and IDs in the private sector must both deal with obstacles impeding successful learning and training initiatives.  In the iF report, IDs identified major barriers to their work.  With a bit of linguistic substitution, we could create a similar list for the corporate ID:



Image adapted from Intentional Futures (2016), Instructional Design in Higher Education (p. 15)

Whether on a college campus or in a corporate office, all IDs must have a certain set of skills that they can draw on to train, support, manage, and design.  They must be able to handle organization-specific challenges that will undercut and jeopardize their best-laid plans.  And, they must be able to quickly improvise and adapt in the face of such challenges to create and implement successful learning solutions.


Using Google Slides for Interactive Instruction

Posted by Ed Price at 5/27/2016 10:07:42 AM

Back in April, we posted an entry titled, “The Lecture is Dead! Long Live the Lecture!” Yes, the lecture lives, so maybe the question becomes, how can we improve the lecture to make it better and more active for the audience? 

This month, in conjunction with National Teacher’s Day (May 3rd), Google released a new feature in Google Slides called Slides Q&A (or Presenter View). While Slides (Google’s web-based version of Powerpoint) often leads to unidirectional instruction (teacher to learner), with little to no interaction, this new feature will allow anyone to take their Slides and make them an interactive presentation. 

Google Q&A, when enabled in a Google Slides presentation, will allow the audience to submit questions to the speaker. Once a question is submitted, the speaker can instantly see the question and if they choose, answer it on the spot. Another feature allows participants to vote “up or down” on questions submitted. If you like a question asked, or have the same question, just click the thumbs up. Don’t like or agree with the question, click on the thumbs down. The speaker also has the ability to display the questions asked to the audience. 

Suddenly the “lecture” becomes more of a conversation with the click of a button. Anyone in the audience with a web enabled device is connected not only to the speaker, but can also see questions asked by everyone else in the audience. The static one-way communication is turned on its head: everyone in the room is part of the learning, questioning, and the teaching. 

Slides Q&A can be used by anyone with a Google Account since they also have access to Google Apps. So now you take that boring presentation for your next business meeting or convention and really connect with people. 

As for educators and students, there are many possible applications.  Students giving reports can now ask questions of each other. Students could ask questions to teachers in a whole new format, and at the same time teach them proper netiquette and interactions with others. This may give voice to the student who will not raise his or her hand to participate or ask a question.

The win here is not learning a new tool, but having a new, free, and interesting way to connect to  people and information. Want to learn more about Google Slides and Google Q&A? Try out our free Google Sheets and Slides class.