Trends in Online Learning – April 2014

I was recently invited to participate as a panelist in a Blackboard webinar discussing results of study of 200 senior education leaders from universities across the U.S. exploring trends in learning management systems and online learning and engagement strategies. The webinar archive is available here via Blackboard Collaborate as well as YouTube.

In addition to commenting on the findings from the study, I was asked to try forecasting the future of online learning at my institution, in which I briefly touched on a few trends related to online teaching and learning at NIU (discussed below) that I see continuing.

Growth in online learning plateau

It’s unrealistic to expect the exponential growth that we’ve seen over the past decade nationally in students taking online courses to continue indefinitely. Rather, I believe we are going to begin seeing a plateau and stabilization in the growth of online learning in the coming years as online modes of learning become commonplace and are no longer perceived as “new” but are rather just part of the fabric of higher education.

New niche programs to meet student demand, targeted at students in region

I anticipate that we’ll see our institution develop new niche programs to meet student demand as well as market demand, targeted at students in our region. With the majority of our current online students currently within the Northern Illinois region and trends toward students preferring to enroll in online programs from institutions within a 100 radius, I envision that new programs that we develop will be tailored to students in our Midwest area.

Online programs to attract new students, increase revenue, and improve retention

Online programs will be one means for attracting new students, increasing revenue, and improving retention. Given the heavy competition in the online learning space, institutions will be well-served to identify their competitive advantages and clearly communicate these advantages to prospective and current students. I see some fantastic opportunities for institutions to leverage emerging learning analytics and outcomes data combined with new models of student support services online to see retention rates among online programs be equal to or even superior to traditional face-to-face retention rates.

Coherent online strategy and financial model is critical for buy-in from institutional leaders

In conversations that I’ve had with chief online learning officers and leaders at institutions that have vibrant online programs, it’s clear to me that a coherent institutional online strategy and financial model is critical for gaining buy-in from institutional leaders. Our institution is currently in the midst of a significant internal budgeting overhaul as we look to maximize our available resources to make academically responsive and fiscally responsible budgeting decisions.

Investment in central support infrastructure needed to scale current offerings

As we look to scale our current offerings, investment in centralized support infrastructure is needed. Our institution has taken a very decentralized approach to this point and left majority of development and support of online programs to individual colleges and departments. While this has provided a great deal of autonomy, duplication of efforts and inconsistency often results when each separate college or department tries to build their own infrastructure. For many aspects of online program development and support, we can be more efficient institutionally and offer a better online learning experience to our students by centralizing many aspects of the online program infrastructure to maximize expertise and resources. What specific support is centralized varies by institution.

Focus on student career success

With our current institutional keystone goal of student career success, we are aligning all our resources and efforts in focusing on this goal of ensuring that students leave NIU prepared to make and impact and be successful in their career. I forsee online learning as being one avenue by which we are able to make available to students high quality, engaging, and flexible learning opportunities that fit their busy lives. Especially for adult learners who have families, jobs, etc. and are seeking to improve their career or perhaps change careers, I see online programs as being a key component of our full complement of program offerings.

Articulation agreements with other institutions

We are continuing to focus on developing articulation agreements with other institutions that bring added value to the NIU education. An example of such an agreement is a recent reverse transfer pact that NIU signed with a local community college that was hailed by Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon as, “a student-centered reform that should be implemented at campuses across the state.” Basically, this agreement allows eligible NIU students who transferred from nearby Kishwaukee Community College without associate’s degrees to earn the two-year degree using credit from NIU courses. If for any reason a student then must stop-out for a period of time while finishing their undergraduate degree, they will have an associates degree credential. Students want a hassle-free transfer process and to receive credit for the work they do. Agreements like this and others will make it even easier for students to incorporate educational opportunities from multiple institutions.

Mix of online and blended/hybrid programs

I see a mix of fully-online as well as blended/hybrid programs to be offered in the future at NIU, where the benefits of a synchronous, face-to-face experience can be coupled with the flexibility of online delivery. An example is a new interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Health Sciences recently approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education that is scheduled to launch in 2015. This program will be a hybrid program, consisting of fully-online courses with several on-campus face-to-face intensives each year. This blended/hybrid approach provides many benefits for faculty as well as students.

Accelerated courses (8-week terms)

I also envision growth in the number of accelerated online courses (those of different lengths then the traditional 16-week semester). From market research that we’ve done, many fully-online programs geared toward adult learners have taken an accelerated course model with students taking fewer courses at a time of shorter duration. For example, instead of a part-time student of taking 2 courses each lasting 16 weeks, students take 2 8-week courses back-to-back, focusing solely one 1 course at a time. There are some obvious benefits as well as challenges when moving to an accelerated course model, but studies are beginning to be published reporting student learning outcomes in accelerated courses as comparable, and in some cases superior, to the semester-long course.

Faculty continue to develop own content for individual courses, instructional designers to assist with online course development in programs

We will continue to see the lines blurring between online courses and those web-enhanced and blended courses where faculty are utilizing online technologies in the delivery of their courses. In many cases faculty at NIU will continue to development their own content for individual online courses, but I see instructional designers skilled in advanced technical and development skills as assisting with online course development for online courses that are part of a cohesive online program.

Ongoing faculty training and support is essential for success

Finally, ongoing faculty training and support will continue to be essential for successful online program offerings. No matter whether faculty are developing the content and building courses themselves or if instructional designers are building courses, faculty still need to be trained not only on pedagogical best practices for teaching online, but also need to keep current in their technology skills. LMS features change rapidly as do the software and technical processes that institutions employ in their online offerings. We need to be equipping faculty for continued success.

What trends do you see in online learning at your institution? Your comments are welcome!

Undergraduate Students and Educational Technology Infographic

When it comes to college students, technology is not only critical to learning, it’s an essential tool for communication and a means of engagement. This infographic presents which educational technology is most important to undergraduate students and how it helps their academic experience and achievement.
Undergraduate Students and Technology 2
Source: e-Learning Infographics

Tips for Assessing Student Learning Using Blackboard

The online assessment tools of Blackboard can be utilized to facilitate meaningful and memorable learning activities for students. These online assessment tools include: surveys, test, quizzes, and electronic submission of assignments. What are the most efficient and effective uses of the Blackboard assessment tools? What recommendations exist for reinforcing academic integrity and providing meaningful feedback? During this online workshop offered 3/26/14 we sought to answer these questions and share tips and best practices for assessing student learning using Blackboard. The workshop archive may be viewed below.

The following is list of tips and recommended best practices for assessing student learning using Blackboard discussed in greater depth during the workshop archive. Please feel free to leave a comment and add your tip(s) to the list!

General Online Assessment Tips

  1. Avoid high-stakes objective assessments online
    When developing online assessments in Blackboard, it is important to consider the security of the exam and to make every effort to remove opportunities for students to cheat. Blackboard does not inherently prevent students from printing the questions of an exam or copying and pasting the questions to word processing application for printing.
  2. Have students complete a practice version of any required online assessment to become familiar with the technology
    Your students may or may not have ever completed an online assessment. Don’t assume that they are familiar with how to complete an online assessment. Offer a sample or practice version of the type of assessment you plan to require to allow students the opportunity to become familiar with the technology.
  3. Deploy assessment link(s) in the same folder as unit content
    For ease of access for students, consider keeping links to assessments with other instructional content for a given unit. Basically, create a folder for each unit and include in that folder all the information items, instructions, and links to the assessments so students easily find them.
  4. Reuse and re-purpose assessment types once configured in Blackboard
    While course content changes over time, you may be able to reuse some of the types of assessments you use among courses. For example, a pre-course survey might be able to be reused in multiple Blackboard courses. Whenever possible, look to reuse created assessments by either copying and exporting/importing from one Blackboard course to another.
  5. Provide meaningful feedback to students
    Studies have shown that among the most valued elements of any course are the interactions that students have with the faculty member. Providing meaningful feedback to online assessments is a great way to foster teaching presence in an online course.
  6. Remember there is no guaranteed approach to prevent cheating online
    When developing online assessments in Blackboard, it is important to consider the security of the exam and to make every effort to remove opportunities for students to cheat. While there are a few tips for making it more difficult to cheat, the current version of Blackboard does not inherently prevent students from printing the questions of an exam or copying and pasting the questions to word processing application for printing.

Surveys

A survey within Blackboard is a non-graded assessment tool that records answers anonymously. Blackboard will record when the survey is taken but will not associate answers with an individual user; no individual feedback can be provided for a survey.

  1. Use the Survey tool in Blackboard whenever you want to gather aggregate responses from students
    The survey tool is a simple way to gather feedback from students at the beginning, middle, or end of the course. Also, if introducing a new pedagogical approach or tool, consider conducting a survey of students to gain their perspective on overall effectiveness.
  2. Remind students that surveys are anonymous
    Surveys can be especially useful to gain authentic feedback from students, especially if they are reassured that their feedback is anonymous. Remind students that you can’t see their individual responses, just a confirmation of whether or not they completed the survey.
  3. If survey is more than 5 questions, consider displaying 1 question at a time
    For large surveys, they can be more manageable for students if displayed 1 question at a time rather than all at once.
  4. If desiring to share findings with students, copy/paste results into Word to post in Blackboard
    While there currently is no easy way to automatically display aggregate results from a survey to students, the results that you see as an instructor can be copied/pasted into a Word document and then posted in Blackboard for students to view if desired.

Tests/Quizzes

The Tests tool in Blackboard is the tool to use for automatically graded assessments. Scores are automatically added to the Blackboard Grade Center. Faculty have several options for creating tests, including typing into the question-by-question format provided by Blackboard, copying and pasting questions into the Blackboard format (which allows one to work offline and take advantage of the word processor’s spell check), and uploading questions in a pre-established format. The term “test” is used in Blackboard to refer to any graded assessment (formative or summative) consisting of more than one question.

  1. Format questions in MS Word and import using CSI’s Blackboard Quiz Generator
    When transferring existing assessment questions from Microsoft Word to Blackboard, consider using College of Southern Idaho’s Blackboard Quiz Generator. This tool was developed to help you create quizzes for Blackboard. It allows you to type up the quiz offline in a program like Word or Notepad and not have to go through the trouble of making long quizzes via the Blackboard web interface. Simply follow the documentation provided for formatting existing questions and then copy/paste into the generator’s text box. Simply type or paste your quiz in the text area and click the Create Quiz button. This will produce a zip file that you can import into the Pool Manager in Blackboard.
  2. Add test questions to pools for easy reuse and expansion
    Creating question pools in Blackboard of questions provides added options for question reuse as well as the ability to export questions for reuse or repurpose in other courses.
  3. Check with your textbook publisher to see if they offer question pools for your textbook
    Some publishers now offer electronic pools of questions organized by textbook chapter that are pre-formatted for Blackboard.
  4. Create tests from random blocks of question pools whenever possible
    To further deter cheating, create online tests that pull questions at random from question pools. This not only further individualizes each student’s assessment, but also makes it very easy to expand the possible questions included in future assessments. Faculty can simply add more questions to the question pools to in effect expand the possible questions to be included in the test(s) built from them.
  5. Pay attention to test options when deploying
    Creating a test in Blackboard is essentially a 2-step process: 1) Build the test; 2) Deploy the test. After deploying the test, be sure to modify the test options to match the desired assessment experience. (e.g. timed test; 1 attempt, customized feedback)
  6. Randomize questions
    Among the many test options, choosing to randomize the questions will ensure that each student will be presented with the quiz questions in a random order.

Discussions

  1. Provide clear expectations for how discussions will be assessed
    Asynchronous discussion online via the Blackboard Discussion Board is a very well established approach to assessing student learning online. Be very clear to students at the beginning of the course what the expectations are for the online discussion and how their contributions will be assessed.
  2. Use Blackboard discussion grader; grade by forum, not thread
    Blackboard’s discussion grading capabilities allows for easy collection of student contributions to a forum and for assigning a score for student posts. When enabling discussion grading, select the option to grade by forum as Blackboard will then only add a single column to the grade center for the forum rather than columns for each thread. It is highly advised to avoid grading by thread unless for a very specific discussion where students can only reply to instructor-created threads.
  3. After entering scores for contributions, enter comments directly in the Grade Center
    The discussion grading in Blackboard 8 only allows for faculty to add grade with a score but not enter any comments. However, after entering the scores for contributions, comments can be added to the scores at the corresponding column in the Grade Center.

Assignments

  1. Use the Assignment Manager in Blackboard for collecting student work electronically
    The Assignment Manager in Blackboard enables users with the role of Faculty or TA in Blackboard to create Assignments in any content areas and post them for Students to complete. Creating an assignment automatically creates an item in the Grade Center that holds all the submitted student assignments.
  2. If desiring specific formatting, provide template with assignment instructions
    When creating an assignment, attach to the assignment any instruction or template files students are to use in completing the assignment. Doing so, students won’t need to search other content areas within the course to find the needed files.
  3. Download submitted assignments for offline viewing/grading
    Details for viewing and downloading all submitted assignments are available here.
  4. Enter feedback electronically in submitted files & return to the students via the Blackboard Assignment
    There are two approaches to providing feedback to submitted assignments within Blackboard: 1) Enter feedback in the comments box back to the student for the given assignment; 2) Attach a revised version of the file submitted by the student that includes comments directly in the file. Consider what format of feedback would be most helpful to your students as well as be most efficient for you to provide. Many faculty find that entering feedback directly in submitted files, either using simply a different color of text or an advanced commenting feature such as the Track Changes option is MS Word is the most efficient approach to providing detailed feedback.
  5. If attaching feedback to assignment, remind students to view attached file(s)
    It may not be obvious to students that feedback is available in the attached file(s) that have been returned back to them. Simply enter in the comments box back to the student that the attached file contains feedback.

SafeAssignments

SafeAssign is a free plagiarism prevention tool that allows for you to protect the originality of work and ensure a fair playing ground for all your students. SafeAssign is integrated with Blackboard and prevents plagiarism by detecting unoriginal content in students papers within your existing teaching and learning environment. SafeAssign can also further deter plagiarism by creating opportunities to educate students on proper attribution and citations while properly leveraging the wealth of information at their disposal.

  1. Use SafeAssign for substantial written assignments
    For any original writing assignments, consider using SafeAssign instead of the Assignment tool. Complete details are available here.
  2. Inform students in the syllabus of the requirement to use SafeAssign
    As the faculty member, you can choose to require the use SafeAssign in your course. Consider including a statement in your syllabus in accordance with your institution’s academic integrity policy notifying students that their written work will be checked for plagiarism.
  3. Create draft version for students to submit to first to self-check their work
    Draft versions of SafeAssignments are created in nearly the exact same way as regular SafeAssignments are. Faculty can choose to set up SafeAssignments as drafts, allowing students to submit papers without storing them to the institutional document archive. Otherwise, if students were to submit the paper again, it would have a 100% match against itself.
  4. Make originality reports viewable by students
    It’s helpful to remind students of the benefits to using SafeAssign by ensuring that they are able to view a copy of the originality report that SafeAssign generates for their submitted assignment. They’ll be able to see the same originality report as the faculty member should there be any issue.

What additional tips do you have to share about assessing student learning using Blackboard? Leave a comment and share your tips!

For archives of other online workshops offered by NIU Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, visit our YouTube channel. Follow Jason Rhode on Twitter @jrhode

The Elusive National Online Opportunity

Despite assumptions of a boundless national market, online learning is mainly a regional endeavor. This infographic by Eduventures highlights some key building blocks of a successful regional online strategy.

National Online Market Infographic

Moving Towards Education 3.0 Infographic

A Framework for Moving Towards Education 3.0 Infographic

Why should educators spend their time recreating Education 1.0 using technology at the substitution and augmentation levels when there are tools, techniques, and opportunities to modify and redefine educational technology integration for a richer, more engaging Education 2.0 or 3.0?

For more info I highly encourage you to read SAMR as a Framework for Moving Towards Education 3.0