Technology with Purpose!

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 7/29/2016 9:57:13 AM

When instructors come for help with technology, their lead question is usually something along the line of, “how do I use this?” They want to know ‘how’ tools like Google Docs, Canvas, Camtasia, or Microsoft Office works so they can avoid what everyone has experienced in life: the tech failure! Activities and assignments that were ruined by crashing websites, equipment failure, or looking incompetent in front of others. While these are all valid concerns, the first question should not be, ‘how do I use this?”. 

In order to be sure you are using technology correctly to maximize learning, the first question that needs to be asked is, “why am I using this?” Too many times technology is an afterthought in planning and can actually distract from learning. Other times technology is used because instructors think, “they like using computers so I want to use technology.” Using technology with purpose gives the learner an experience with information that was not possible without the technology. So leading with the question of ‘why’ rather than ‘how’ leads to both better planning and better learning. Once planning and use of technology has purpose, it will have greater impact. 

Here are some ways to get started using technology for the purpose of learning:

  1. Collaboration in Real Time - There are excellent tools that allow learners to collaborate on projects that have changed the game on group work. Products such Google Docs and Microsoft OneNote allow project-based learning to be monitored, documented, and done outside of class hours. With more online learning it is a must that learners have a way to work in real time together and not have to be face to face. These products allow all participants the latest version of working documents and presentation. 
  2. Reflect and Share - Too many times ‘learning’ seems to be about acquiring knowledge and memory. Technology allows learners to interact with more materials, reflect on what they are learning, and share with others. Having learners create a blog and participate in discussions and blogs with other learners brings learners together and makes the application of the knowledge real. 
  3. Better Research - Technology has made research simple and efficient. In this day and age of “I’ll Google that,” gone are the countless hours of going to the library, searching the card catalog (remember those?), hoping the book was not checked out, dropping quarters in the copier, etc.. Now with databases you can turn up hundreds of resources and search those resources by key words all from the comfort of the local Starbucks. And remember the nightmare of knowing multiple citation and formatting styles, like MLA and APA? Google Docs can do that for you and build a perfect bibliography page at the same time. 
  4. Write, Rewrite, and Rewrite Again - Many of us remember a time when learning to write and research required a typewriter!  You submitted your rough draft and days later you got some scribbled noted in the margins from the instructor as feedback. Days like that are long gone now; most people never even start with paper and pencil when writing. Getting feedback, revising, and editing have all changed as well. With tools like Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365, and Draft learners are more involved in the writing process and instructors can give immediate and relevant feedback right in the draft of the document or project.
  5. Create Something New - Another paper to write? Another presentation to give? Another poster to make? All of these mediums are static and might lose their luster over time.  Learners should be challenged to create rather than just regurgitate. With so many technology tools learners can find more purpose if they can make a movie, create a song, build an app, or even design a website to demonstrate learning and knowledge. 
  6. Create a Digital Portfolio - Learning should be about growing and what better way to show growth than to be able to look back and see how you have grown as a learner. A digital portfolio allows you to archive work, look back over time, see what you have created, written and done, and see how much you have improved. Another benefit is when learners know their work will be on display, they will also take pride in what they do best and want others to see.

In the end, technology with purpose will only enhance the learning experience if used correctly. For further assistance in planning with purpose, please contact us at

Urgent - Time Sensitive...or not?

Posted by Hope Liu at 7/21/2016 9:58:04 AM

The role of time continues to be a topic of discussion in education circles. When it comes to learning – does time matter?

Time has played a historic role in education for quite a long time. Our K12 school calendar was based on the importance of time in an agrarian culture. School was discontinued during the summer because summer was the time for farming and crops. Further, the whole system of education has been heavily influenced by the idea of the Carnegie unit. Let’s explore a little more about the Carnegie Unit, shall we?

The Carnegie unit, actually evolved out of the need to create a pension system for college professors in the US. For college professors to be eligible for the pension, the college needed to standardize their entrance requirements by requiring 14 units, with each unit being a course lasting five periods each week throughout the year. (You can see where this is going…) However, the Carnegie unit was then re-purposed as a common metric mostly for administrative purposes and evolved into today’s credit hour. The credit hour was used to quickly expand education in the US because it was easily understood, transferable, and measurable. ( Currently, one credit hour is defined as one contact hour per week over a standard 15 week semester. Indeed, the currency of education is credit hours. The number of credit hours, which is derived from the number of hours you spent in the presence of your instructor, dictates your progress in education, which impacts your financial and vocational success.

As successful and important as it is to establish some sort of measuring stick for education, it’s time to re-think time.

How many classes did you skip in college? Did you pass those classes? What about attending a class that you KNEW was a total waste of time? Did attending help you learn? My daughter goes to a Montessori school (surprise, surprise). Montessori allows students to move in their own time through their own learning. Time is not important, but outcomes are. She has to demonstrate that she can perform the skill flawlessly before she can move on. Consider a freshman student taking math – math builds upon previous skills – if a student doesn’t master a foundational skill, he won’t be successful in the next. In that sense, the importance of time – I have to get through all 15 chapters of the textbook in 15 weeks – can be viewed as a detriment to learning. Similarly, that deadline of midnight for a term paper may prevent a student from one last editing round. I wrote my dissertation on Keller’s Personalized System of Instruction which focused on mastery learning and self-pacing in higher education in the early 1970s, so the debate about time and mastery learning and outcomes is clearly an old one.

While I may argue that the time to learn something is less important than the actual learning of something, I will also argue that we need to balance that with the application of the learning. While it may be ok to take 12 hours to learn how to direct traffic, no one wants to wait 12 hours in traffic while you figure it out. As educators, we have to consider carefully when time does matter. For example, a term paper due at midnight may teach students the importance of deadlines and submitting quality work before the deadline. This is a valued skill in the workplace. However, as educators, we also have to consider the timeline of learning. Are the students beginning, intermediate or experienced creators of term papers? What do we want to emphasize for the students in their learning?

As educators, our role is to judge what is important for students to learn throughout their learning process and that will always stand the test of time.

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

The Importance of Context

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 7/1/2016 10:04:11 AM

Recently my daughter announced that she had made the winning goal at her first soccer game! The initial excitement was great. Grandparents proudly sharing the news of my almost 6 year old daughter's amazing feat. Within 3 hours, my uncle asked me on Facebook where were the soccer pictures? I had to reply that I wasn't even at the first soccer game and I hadn't seen the winning goal.


Here's what was missing - the context. It was my daughter's first soccer game at her first day of soccer camp. It wasn't a competitive game -scrimmage may even stretch the truth. Without the context, this accomplishment was misconstrued. (None of this is to say that this was not a big deal. I was quite the proud mom, but maybe it's not on class with World Cup notoriety.)

Context counts in story-telling and in learning.

In educational psychology, I learned that where you study influences your success on an exam - the more similar the environments, the more likely you would perform well. In instructional design, I learned the importance of learning context analysis and performance context analysis. The learning context is where you are learning the new skill or knowledge and the performance context is where you are actually applying that new skill or knowledge. Again, the more similar they are, the easier it is to transfer the knowledge from learning to performance.

Which brings us to course/program design. What context are you designing for?

When I taught K12 teachers, many of them designed solely for the classroom - that is, after all, where they had to do the majority of their work and what they could control. Indeed, many K12 skills, knowledge and attitudes are easily transferable to a performance context (reading for example. You may teach it in the classroom, but the reality is that the kids are surrounded by opportunities to read and motivated to read in those situations - dessert menus for example).

However, we need to prepare our college and graduate students for a real-world context - a global context. When you think about your course, are your assessments, activities, projects designed for the learner when they leave the classroom? Are you thinking about where they will apply that skill beyond the controlled classroom? Are you creating opportunities for your learners to learn embedded in a context outside of the classroom?

Before you get too worked up, I am not criticizing assessments like quizzes, tests, or 20 page papers. I view those as necessary to support the eventual goal of the learner working outside of the classroom. In order to be successful outside of the classroom, learners need to know content information or how to critically think and communicate those thoughts. Just don't stop there.

It's hard. You may try to organize some sort of community learning project or internship and then find yourself thinking - where will the learners go? who will work with them in a meaningful way? how will I know? how do I get this approved? what about transportation? how do I measure learning? 

Even if you just move your thinking that the endpoint of learning/assessment is not within your control, you will start thinking about your course differently. Is it super important that they know the capital of Wisconsin is Madison? Or is it super important that they know how to find the capital of Wisconsin - or, for that matter, any capital? How can you bring the outside world into your course and take your course to the outside world?

At Stritch, we're going to try and do it with online programs. So wherever our learners are, that's where we want them to find an opportunity to apply what they've learned. We will be thinking all of those same questions but also things like - what about time zones? how do I know the partner is a legitimate partner? what about documents or legal issues? what about language barriers?

It's daunting, but it's important because we want our learners to be successful - at Stritch and outside of Stritch. Join us as we do this.

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!