Tag Archive for 9x9x25

MENTORING STUDENTS IN ONLINE FORUMS

This entry focuses on the care in mentorship we professors have the duty to provide students participating in our online courses. From the professor’s viewpoint, starting at the time of the beginning of the course (or before) we can open the roster of grading page and see our list of students. If we have a Discussion Board thread where students introduce themselves, their brief writings about themselves, and perhaps a photo and favorite YouTube music cut (suggestions from one of my colleges), are nice ways to get to know the students beyond the grading page of just their name and grade progress. The grading page is still the place I go to most often in my course pages, as verification of material progress is still a main role of mine even while students go through the materials I have positioned or prepared for them for the basics of learning. So we get to know our students somewhat amid these various means; how then do we mentor, and be about as effective as if we were all together in person?

There are several angles worth exploration. The first I’ll address is “rescuing students;” for online, how to help them finish an online course when they stop participating, which will usually lead to an “F.” The effect is similar to a student ceasing attendance in a brick-and-mortar class, and it takes an equally sharp eye to catch in an online classroom. As you grade others’ weekly or modular work, you realize there’s a short blank line of cells where the indicator of submitted work should be. For some online course pages, you may be able to see the last time the student opened and viewed it. What makes this detection even more complex is in courses where students may turn in work late; it is hard to tell when they have really stopped efforts in your course.

Sometimes you cannot do much; institutions often require a student be dropped if the student did no participation in the course in its first week, among other reasons as a measure to minimize possible financial aid fraud. But if the institution site includes your student rosters with their phone number, you can call them at appropriate hours to speak to them – or, if there are no numbers available to you, an email advisory. If several drop anyway but you save one or two students who were about to drop the class, it is worth the total effort. After the first week, professors can continue to pursue students who “fall off,” though if students have dedicated academic advisors, I email the advisor to ask them to contact the student.

More frequently, students want and appreciate help with only slightly lower stakes; clarification and encouragement that they can succeed in earning a grade reflective of their mastery of the material in the final, end-of-course project, or the overall course itself. We designers of the courses tend to forget sometimes that there will be those who lack confidence and feel for a while that they just can’t do what you have structured for them. Others are not sure why assignments, or even the course itself, are structured as they are. Indeed, the course may make more sense to the scholar who has had a chance to explore associated literature on the topic or field, and for students, this usually has not happened yet, except in other courses. For these reasons, and to effectively answer questions or clarify minor points of all kinds, I recommend the following that I try to do: answer/respond/open a dialogue quickly.

When a student email arrives, I seek to find the answer (it is best to check what you think that is!) and reply in the same day, often immediately so I do not move on to other activities and forget. If an exam malfunctioned, I will not go away from my computer until I have cleared it or otherwise fixed it, and sent a reply – the student may be pressed for time and waiting. For courtesy’s sake in general, I answer queries of all kinds, including career advice if asked. I do the same with calls – my goal is to resolve an issue that I assess should be rapidly, and confirming what I did. These are not novel ideas, but in fact guidance from all my institutions where I work to serve well the students and help them have a fair opportunity at taking on the course’s challenges.

These offerings all pertain to when the course is underway. Of course, before the course’s start date and while preparing, a professor can design professor’s notes, announcements, add videos that carry a point, and sort what is presented to the student on the course pages with the strategy of maximizing the chance of a positive reaction and motivation to explore what is offered within the course. All of these techniques of effort, deliberate or on-the-spot (virtually), support the value that our students deserve the most conscientious learning experience we can provide – we just have had to learn how to do this online.


Infobesity???

infobesity2

A student shares this information with me which I thought it was fascinating. It deals with information overload.

The internet is almost 25 years old and already every 60 seconds:

160 million emails are sent.

1500 Blog entries are made.

98,000 tweets are shared on Twitter.

694,445 Google searches are completed.

695,000 Facebook status updates are posted.

6,600 photos are uploaded to Flickr.

600 videos are uploaded to You Tube.

The sheer volume of information which is available to us is truly amazing, but perhaps our technology has surpassed our ability to effectively consume so much information. Researchers tend to agree that it’s not the volume of information that is the problem; it’s our inability to organize and process it all without experiencing “information overload, or what neuroscientists like to call “cognitive overload. In recent years, technology strategists have even compared information overload to physical obesity, dubbing it “infobesity. Just as our eyes are sometimes larger than our stomachs, our interest can be significantly greater than our brain capacity.

I teach both online and FTF classes and utilize Blackboard for all my classes. Students submit all their work on Blackboard and receive responses from me on Blackboard as well. We have students who chose sometimes not to attended regular FTF lectures, but continue to turn in assignments or submit any other work required in Blackboard.  Levels of understanding of the subject matter will obviously will vary and logic should show the FTF students benefit from having a fuller educational experience.

So how can we help prevent students from becoming victims of this notion of infobesity? How do we help students remained focused without getting through college learning  the art of “skimming”, you know, that’s when you just learn enough of what your instructor wants you to know. We skim the textbook, skim the information found on the internet, like the proverbial husband who always is being accused of not reading the instructions on a home project, he’ll just “skim it”, because he doesn’t need all that other stuff, until he realizes he missed something.

We are so easily districted these days with Facebook, Twitter, You Tube videos, and the last goes on and on. Based on research pertaining to distraction and learning, it was stated that today’s students have shorter attention spans than previous years. This recent PEW study found that a majority of teachers (87%) agree with assertion that “today’s digital technologies are creating a generation of short attention spans.”

So the dilemma continues because we as educators rely on those digital technologies. We contribute to this notion of information overload. Presentations become better, more visually interesting. Students stay more interested if there are visuals, especially incorporated in your lecture presentations. It’s about keeping your audience interested and engaging and technology allows for this to happen, but let’s not forget the role of the instructor, the captain of the ship, the headliner of the show, where the buck really stops in regards to teaching. Spending an entire class and having the opportunity to look into your students eyes and speak to them face to face is the ultimate kind of technology, the human kind.

I find that breaking up my class  with one lecture using PowerPoint presentations and then alternating the next class, talking about the subject matter in a much less formal approach with no use of any technology, just an old fashion “chat and share” about the subject matter. This usually turns into more of a forum for questions, because as we all know, no “proper” student would interrupt the professor in the middle of a visual/technological presentation, now would they? Obviously, I’m kidding about the proper student thing, but does shed more truth than not.

The above model works for me and I think for the students as well. There is no getting around technology, but how we affectively use it to enhance learning is the real challenge and perhaps provides the solution as well.


Why ECE?

Across the country, momentum is building for creating stronger systems in early childhood education. In the past ten years, we hear more politicians, business leaders, teachers and families speaking out  in favor of expanding access to high-quality early childhood education programs. In Arizona, we are currently implementing much-needed strategies to ensure that by age five, children are ‘ready for school and set for life’. Through First Things First, the 2006 voter approved initiative, Arizona is committed to improving the lives of young children and families.  With the growing body of research available regarding  the importance of the first five years of a child’s live, this work is critical!

Access to high-quality experiences impacts the lives of millions of children by improving school readiness, which is essential to later academic success and high achievement. The general public may be immune to hearing the term ‘high-quality’…but what does that really mean?  Being ready for school is much farther reaching than knowing their ABC’s and counting to 10. Research shows that trusting early relationships, being showered with rich language, as well as intentional play and exploration cannot be underestimated in supporting a young child’s development.

Criticisms, however, are often based on misconceptions about early childhood education. Because high-quality early learning is exceptionally important to the future strength of our nation, it is imperative that we get the facts straight.

 Child care and Preschool are too expensive?

While the upfront price tag for high quality early care and education might give some people sticker shock, investments in young children pay for themselves over time in the form of reduced costs associated with grade retention, special education, and crime. In fact, studies show that children exposed to high-quality early childhood education:

•Are 40% less likely to need special education or be held back a grade
•Are 70% less likely to commit a violent crime by age 18
•Have better language, math and social skills, and better relation-ships with classmates
•Have better cognitive and sensory skills and experience less anxiety
•Score higher on school-readiness tests.

 It doesn’t really matter who takes care of little kids?

The body of research demonstrating clear benefits from positive early care and preschool experiences are well-established. Two well-known longitudinal studies were among the first to establish the long-term and far-reaching impacts of early childhood education: the HighScope Perry Preschool Project; and the Carolina Abecedarian Preschool program. These studies provided intensive interventions and showed not only immediate academic gains but also benefits into adulthood, such as reduced need for public assistance, lower crime rates, and higher earnings.

The scary thing is, with all of research and knowledge that is known, we are still underfunding undervaluing those that are most effected.  As a start, Arizona is launching a quality improvement/rating system, so that early care and education programs can receive coaching and incentives to improve their programs.  Families will be able to receive financial assistance to enroll their children into the most highly rated programs.  College scholarship programs are also now being made available to caregivers and teachers to support them with the knowledge to improve the daily practice of their most important work.  Many of our ECE students are working for minimum wage, with or without a higher education certificate or degree. We must value higher education requirements for those that care and educate those young minds for it is imperative they are knowledgeable and effective each and every day. They need to feel like professionals, be valued and compensated for their critical role in preparing children for school and life!

The results are in! Early Childhood Education is a critical component to a healthy, thriving society.  Do what you can to support young children and their families……at the least….express your support when you vote!


Humans Don’t Do Optional….

Our Faculty Association President Vikki Bentz sent out a recent email that ended: "If you have time, come, listen, and learn how our college operates at the governing board-level.  I will be there to represent you, but a strong faculty presence lets Board Members and the Administration know that we care about what happens at all levels of the college." At the last campus update forum a couple of weeks ago, very few faculty attended even though someone obviously tried to schedule it at a convenient time for faculty participation.

The mantra among people working with first semester college students is "students don't do optional." We have seen this at Yavapai College. Even though research across the nation has shown that new student orientation, visiting advisers every semester, and student success courses contribute to student completion rates,  most students will not voluntarily participate in programs design to help them succeed. Thus, each institution has to decide what, if anything, is worth requiring of students. What will benefit the students the most? What combination of programs will increase retention and persistence the most?

I have observed that students aren't the only ones who don't do optional; very few faculty do optional either. It must be a common human condition.  Someone said 20% of the workers do 80% of the work. If we look around campus, this same ratio seems to apply. We faculty all participate in one committee, maybe two, but beyond that only a few take up the torch of any given issue. Thus, 20% of the faculty seem to be doing 80% of the faculty representation, including promoting and supporting faculty issues. Although we don't want anyone mandating more participation from us, we don't volunteer for much either.

Trust me, I am not accusing anyone without looking in my own mirror. I think this lack of participation reflects our common humanity, rather than any personal lack of commitment to our job. We all have plenty of work to do within our own classrooms if we want to provide the best learning experience for our students. Going beyond that can be difficult depending upon the amount of preparation and grading required in our disciplines. But I find it interesting that those who have the most to do tend to be the ones who are willing to do more and who are asked to do more because of their diligence and commitment. The same faces are seen at most meetings, and year after year the same people are participating in the Institutes. Meanwhile, almost every semester we have trouble getting a quorum at our Faculty Association meetings, and we scramble to get enough representation on our standing committees.

There will always be the few who rise to the occasion, or the crisis, to contribute personal time and effort. In history, they are the names we admire, such as Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa. The few, even if they remain nameless, are the ones who make an impact, who provide the impetus for change.

But I wonder. What would happen if more of us did just a bit more for the common good of our institution, whether that be toward faculty, instructional, or student issues? Would it make a difference?


Shooting for Buy-in

“We knew they wouldn’t stand a chance,” Student X said.  “The training we gave them was shit.”  
Class was long over and a conversation about total institutions had naturally led to the military, and from there to ISIS and the current situation in Iraq.  Student X was a vet and spoke freely about his time in the Army.

“We’d give them their shiny new M16, aim ‘em at some makeshift target, and say shoot.  They’d then blow through a few magazines and we’d call it good.”

“That’s it?” I was incredulous.

“Yep.  No range.  Nothing about sighting-in or how to maintain the weapon.  We didn’t want them to know too much.”

“Because of deserters?”

“Yep.  Why would I want to train an Iraqi soldier today who might change his mind and decide to shoot me tomorrow?”

“Weren’t you an officer?  What about your orders to train the new Iraqi army?”

“I was an NCO –in the dust with the grunts.  We went through the motions but given the reality of our world, actually filling that boot on the ground, we weren’t exactly motivated. It’s no wonder they’re getting beat so bad.  We didn’t train them at all.”

A feeling of resignation and distant anger took hold of me.  It was top-down thinking at its best and a common failing of any large institution.  Those in charge, in this case remote politicians and generals, conceive an idea and make a decision.  This plan of action is then kicked down the chain of command for actual implementation.  Thus, a strategy devised in Washington by high level officials must be executed in Iraq by those on the very bottom of the totem-pole.  These sad-sack individuals, living the reality of the conflict, naturally have their own ideas and opinions about what needs and should be done.  Given the vast discrepancy in rank, geography, agency, and personal safety, these ideas are often quite different from those of their far-off superiors.  So, as Student X says, they go through the motions.  They do enough to look busy and avoid getting in trouble, then call it a day.  A report then travels up the long chain stating that Iraqi soldiers were trained today.  This is not true, but because it is properly filed and sent back up through the ranks (like some vast game of telephone) it gains a sort of organizational reality.  After a few months of these reports the politicians and generals at the top assume their plan has been implemented. 

Large institutions are predicated on this sort of magical thinking.  A linguistic imperative is made (in the beginning was the word) and physical reality is then expected to conform.  Now, if this change was anticipated immediately, no one would buy in.  However, because the command is uttered by a figure isolated by his/her own authority and expected to be carried out by distant minions, a seemingly efficacious fantasy is sustained:  “I told them to train the troops.  They said they trained the troops.  Therefore, the troops must be trained.”  Sadly, the devil is in the details. 

Given his position Student X can’t really be blamed for this failure.  Nor can the generals and politicians be judged for believing these generally honest and hard-working soldiers.  Everyone involved, including the tragic Iraqis, is simply a victim of institutional thinking.  

So, why am I relating all of this in a blog ostensibly about education?  Because, for better or worse, we teach within institutions.  The stakes are, admittedly, lower, though perhaps no less important when looking at the long-term health and well-being of our nation. As teachers we occupy a unique role in the hierarchy of the institution.  We have administrators above us relaying commands and expressing expectations, and below us are our students, to whom we relay commands and express expectations.  This makes us the fulcrum of the institution and ideally positioned to combat the perils of institutional thinking. 

We do this by seeking to understand the “boots on the ground” reality of the students –what are their challenges, hopes, and fears?  In turn, we ask for them to buy-in to our vision of what needs to be accomplished.  Working in close conjunction (and this is key) we can then pursue implementation together and track results. 

When looking to our administrators, we must demand the same.  Invite them into our reality, share our goals and concerns and then seek to develop an institutional vision together with broad, vertical support.  If a teacher feels understood and believes in a president’s plan, it’s likely to succeed.  But if not . . . well, we might as well just call it a day.