Reflection after Incubation…

Part 4 – Back to work and reflection

Idea Notes Addendum (new thoughts are shown in green)

Videos:

  • Go through each chapter in the textbook and pick out 1-2 “sticky” areas and create short videos where I walk through a process or technique to help students better understand a particular technique – include actual coding.
    • Review the help discussion forum in each class to identify the “sticky” areas that students are asking the most questions about and use those discussions as video topics. I can keep a video library and provide links to the videos as needed from semester to semester.
  • Ask students to provide 1-2 areas in the chapter reading that they would like more clarification on. I will choose the 1-2 most popular areas based on student input and create a short video.
    • This requires input from the students, they may not have time in their schedule, and I may receive limited responses. I don’t plan on doing this.
  • Create generic videos that I can use throughout all of my online courses demonstrating how to submit completed work, accessing the web server, and interacting with the web server, which are common practices and requirements across all the courses in the program.
    • This is very doable, will benefit the students, and can be used for all courses not only a single course.

Student Support:

  • Assemble a document that contains all the support services offered at the college that can be distributed the students: (learning centers, career services, counseling & academic advising, disability/special services, Financial Aid, Reading & Writing Studios, Veteran and military services, health and benefits assistance, child care resources, and food assistance through the food pantry).
    • The document will include the name of the service, location (if applicable), and a contact name, phone number, and email.
    • The document will be emailed out to the entire class as well posted within the online classroom.
      • The college may already have a document like this so I can check there first before creating my own.
      • There is a tutor for my courses so I can include the tutor’s schedule at the start of each semester and post that in my online classroom as well as send it out via email.
  • Offer online office hours for students who cannot make it to on campus office hours.
    • This will be offered during a set time each week – all students welcome from multiple sections.
      • In order to do this, I first have to decide on which conferencing software to use (considering Zoom), type up instructions for the students, and then test it out.
    • Offer Individual online assistance (by appointment) for any personal issues and/or program advising.
      • See note above.
  • Advertise workshops at campus that promote student success.
    • Post announcements in the online classroom and send the information out to the class via email.
      • This information is already available at the college so I can simply link to it from within my online classrooms.
  • Share job/internship information within the virtual classroom and via email.
      • This is something that would be made available to students whenever I am given the information; it’s not something that may occur every week. It’s very easy to do with an email or link to an external website.
  • Encourage on/off campus study groups.
    • These are set up and managed entirely by students.
      • I won’t be involved in setting up the study groups; this will be the student’s responsibility. However, I can offer suggestions and sent out an email to the class with recommendations.
    • Offer meeting suggestions such as the campus Learning Centers or the Student Centers (at both campuses).
      • For meeting online, I can enable the chat feature in the online classroom so students can interact synchronously.
        • This is simply a setting in the college’s LMS.

Making a Personal Connection:

  • Conducting “optional” online meeting sessions during the first week of class and half way through the course to connect with students.
    • In order to do this, I first have to decide on which conferencing software to use (considering Zoom), type up instructions for the students, and then test it out.
  • Invite students to follow and connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
    • This information is present in my contact information but sending out an email to the class inviting the students to connect with me may be effective and also serve as a reminder.
  • Holding an online meet and greet – get to know the students and they can get to know me.
    • In order to do this, I first have to decide on which conferencing software to use (considering Zoom), type up instructions for the students, and then test it out.

Summary

Connect by Senjin PojskićWhen I started the process, I found it very easy to start jotting down questions, thoughts, and ideas based on my problem of practice. As I got to the idea notes section and as I was writing, I kept thinking to myself, “I need to narrow my focus, I can’t possibly do all of this at one time.” Reflecting on the information that I wrote down, I realized there are so many variables in this problem that I don’t have any control over and those variables are a big component of the problem. In order to wrap my head around this problem, I decided to break down the ideas into three main categories: videos, student support, and making a personal connection. From the main categories, I then tried to create subcategories – I was really trying to make sense of it all (actually, I was trying to determine a pattern – cue our previous week’s readings). As I’m writing at this very moment (after my “mind break”), there may only be a single category, student support, and everything else could easily fit into that single category. Yes! Did I just have a “profound insight”?

I’m a big fan of taking mental breaks and do it often. It’s usually in the form of exercising. I will be jogging outside or walking on the treadmill and an idea will hit me! I have learned to try to have paper and a pencil handy, or I add voice memos on my phone so I can record the ideas. Before reading the article from Psychology Today, I thought it was odd that this kept happening to me – 95% of my ideas/solutions come to me when exercising. Whew! I feel better now knowing that it’s just my mind getting “unstuck”.

References

Pojskić, Senjin. (2011, June). [Connect, Jigsaw, Strategy] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/connect-jigsaw-strategy-1586220/

Advertisements

Prime your Mind!

Part 2 – Prime your Mind: Actively work and think on your problem
Brain, mind, & psychology by ElisaRiva

My PoP (problem of practice) is to increase student retention in online courses.

  • Questions you are struggling with:
    • How do I narrow my focus? There are so many variables that affect my PoP.
    • How do different learning styles play into this?
    • What can I do for the students who are not prepared?
    • How do I find a possible solution when “life” gets in the way? Family responsibilities, illness, etc.
    • How will I be able to track progress?
    • Did I ask the right questions in the student survey I created?
    • Should the focus have been more on the students rather than the online environment and online classroom?
    • How important are personal connections in an online environment?
  • Issues or variables that present a problem for you:
    • Age groups, different ethnic groups, learning styles, family responsibilities, job(s), course load, student motivation, support systems, time management skills, available resources (e.g., computer, Internet connection, textbooks), finances.
    • Narrowing my focus.
    • I originally thought my teaching style, the online environment, the arrangement of materials in the online classroom were the problem but research is pointing to the different obstacles in a student’s life.
  • Thoughts you are kicking around in your head on your problem:
    • My PoP has too many uncontrollable variables.
    • My colleague sent me this article: “Why aren’t there more Michigan community college graduates?”
      • The above article (http://on.freep.com/2lnU17u) states: “Realistically, what keeps people from completion is not just on-campus issues,” said Mark Yancy Jr., the Applebaum Family Campus Coach at Henry Ford College. “There’s so much more going on in life that can cause problems.”
    • I feel I’m on the right track with my PoP, I just have to find a way to effectively execute my ideas .
    • Ask others for their opinion.
    • Am I the only teacher that experiences higher drop rates in the first week of class and the middle of class?
  • Possibilities, ideas, or solutions that have entered your mind:
    • Creating short videos that focus on sticky areas within the weekly chapter readings.
    • Enabling the chat option in my online classroom so students can meet online and chat with each other.
    • Recommend that students that they can attend a class session on campus for the same course.
    • Promoting tutoring services.
    • On/off campus study groups arranged and conducted by the students
    • Holding an online meet and greet – get to know the students and they can get to know me.
    • Offering online office hours in addition to the on campus office hours
    • Holding an optional online meeting session during the first week of class and half way through the course to connect with students.
    • Creating group activities to promote collaboration and build a support system.
    • Host a “webinar” type of session where I go over a topic and students can participate by asking questions or just watching – record the sessions so students that can’t attend can watch at convenient time based on their schedule.
    • Advise students through email, office hours, etc. about the web program and its courses.
    • Advertising and providing information within the online classroom and/or via email highlighting the student services on campus: learning centers, career services, counseling & academic advising, disability/special services, Financial Aid, Reading & Writing Studios, Veteran and military services, health and benefits assistance, child care resources, and food assistance through the food pantry.

Idea Notes

  • Videos:
    • Go through each chapter in the textbook and pick out 1-2 “sticky” areas and create short videos where I walk through a process or technique to help students better understand a particular technique – include actual coding.
    • Ask students to provide 1-2 areas in the chapter reading that they would like more clarification on. I will choose the 1-2 most popular areas based on student input and create a short video.
    • Create generic videos that I can use throughout all of my online courses demonstrating how to submit completed work, accessing the web server, and interacting with the web server, which are common practices and requirements across all the courses in the program.
  • Student Support:
    • Assemble a document that contains all the support services offered at the college that can be distributed the students: (learning centers, career services, counseling & academic advising, disability/special services, Financial Aid, Reading & Writing Studios, Veteran and military services, health and benefits assistance, child care resources, and food assistance through the food pantry).
      • The document will include the name of the service, location (if applicable), and a contact name, phone number, and email.
      • The document will be emailed out to the entire class as well posted within the online classroom.
    • Offer online office hours for students who cannot make it to on campus office hours.
      • This will be offered during a set time each week – all students welcome from multiple sections.
      • Offer Individual online assistance (by appointment) for any personal issues and/or program advising.
    • Advertise workshops at campus that promote student success.
      • Post announcements in the online classroom and send the information out to the class via email.
    • Share job/internship information within the virtual classroom and via email.
    • Encourage on/off campus study groups.
      • These are set up and managed entirely by students.
      • Offer meeting suggestions such as the campus Learning Centers or the Student Centers (at both campuses).
        • For meeting online, I can enable the chat feature in the online classroom so students can interact synchronously.
  • Making a Personal Connection:
    • Conducting “optional” online meeting sessions during the first week of class and half way through the course to connect with students.
    • Invite students to follow and connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
    • Holding an online meet and greet – get to know the students and they can get to know me.

Take a break…let it incubate.

References

ElisaRiva. (2017, February). [Brain, Mind, Psychology] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/brain-mind-psychology-idea-hearts-2062057/

PoP Define Mode: Part 2

Problem Statement

As an online web programming teacher, my PoP (problem of practice) focus will be on examining student retention in online courses and to identify the various obstacles that may inhibit success. I am using the Introduction to Web Programming online course that I teach as the focal point and the students within that course, as my target audience.

This semester I am teaching three sections of the introduction course with a total of approximately 63 students. The student demographics include ages ranging from high school juniors to adults in their fifties/sixties, a variety of different ethnic groups, and the male students greatly out number the female students in all three sections (19 females to 44 males respectively) – this is very common in the IT related courses at the college and the industry itself. The student population includes many of the following variables, usually with multiple variables applied to a single student: taking a full-time or part-time course load, working full-time or part-time, holding one or multiple jobs, family responsibilities (children), caretaker for parents, grandparents or other family member(s), Federal Aid recipients, various income levels, varying GPA scores (we are an open enrollment college), commuter college (no on campus housing), various ethnic backgrounds, language barriers and special needs requirements.

The number of possible variables that can play a role in student retention in online courses makes it difficult to pinpoint an exact single cause as to why some students are successful and some students are not successful in an online environment. I believe that being adequately prepared, possessing strong time management and organizational skills, goal setting and having a strong support system both at home and at the college play an important role in success. The direction I want to pursue with my PoP is to examine the different obstacles students are facing in online courses and focusing on those obstacles that I as a teacher, can assist with overcoming. Areas that I want to examine are: providing online support with course content (e.g., how-to videos, help discussion forums, etc.), providing online office hours (examine online video conferencing tools), develop an online support community in each course where students can share with each other (discussion forums), encourage study groups on campus, and look into possible course offerings and/or workshops that may provide students with information on study skills and time management techniques. My goal is help students feel prepared for their online course and to make the online classroom environment portray a feeling of community and support so that everyone can be successful and succeed in achieving their goals.

PoP Define Mode: Part 1

Define Mode Activity

Part A: 5 Whys? Root-Cause Analysis

  • Why 1? Retention is lower in online courses because students are not prepared to take an online course.
  • Why 2? Students are not prepared to take an online course because they lack the necessary resources such as a computer, textbook, or a reliable Internet connection.
  • Why 3? Students lack the necessary resources because they may be living on a budget or fixed income and can’t afford the resources.
  • Why 4? Students may be living on a budget or fixed income and can’t afford the resources because they may have come from a low income family environment, lost their job, waiting on financial aid money, or may have fallen on hard times due to family or personal emergencies and responsibilities or illness.
  • Why 5? Students may have come from a low income family environment, lost their job, waiting on financial aid money, or may have fallen on hard times due to family or personal emergencies and responsibilities or illness because the circumstances may have been inherited, the result of a lengthy government process (financial aid), or circumstances beyond on their control.

Part B: Why-How Ladder

View the Why-How Ladder online here.

Why-How Ladder: To prepare students to be successful in an online course.

Part C: POV (Point of View) Want Ad

Web programming teacher seeks goal-oriented, prepared, and busy students interested in successfully completing and earning a good grade in an 8-week online college course!

  • Willingness to commit to an approximately 18 hour weekly time investment and read, study, and learn the course material.
  • MUST have access to a reliable computer and Internet connection. This may include spending time at a library or using Starbucks or Panera Bread’s free Wi-Fi.
  • MUST be able to purchase the course textbook and engage with the material. This may include highlighting, adding notes to pages, dog-earing pages, or applying sticky notes to pages to mark important content. Colorful highlighting, colorful sticky notes, and creative note taking are recommended.
  • MUST have a hectic schedule that includes one or more of the following: a full-time job, multiple jobs, family responsibilities, a full-time course load at a college.
  • MUST be prepared to learn a full semester of content in half the amount of time. This includes working on assignments during work, during other courses, at odd times during the day or night, and on vacation.
  • Self-motivated, goal-oriented individuals with good time management skills and a desire for success and accomplishment in advancing their education or learning a new skill, is recommended.

Fun with Words & Problems

This week we were tasked with inventing a Sniglet out of something that we have noticed or encountered in our everyday lives. A Sniglet is essentially a word that doesn’t have a dictionary meaning.

Scrabble Letters by BruceEmmerling

A Few Sniglets:

  • Cursorpounce (kur ‘sore pounce)  – The erratic pouncing movement of the mouse cursor when typing on a computer keyboard. This behavior may occur if your laptop has a very sensitive touchpad.
  • Day 7 Techno Crash (dāy sev in tek nō krash) – A computer or Internet connection that crashes every Sunday night.
  • Flourogunk (floor ō ‘gunk) – The residual toothpaste around the cap of the toothpaste tube.
  • Smillow (smil ‘low) – A smashed pillow that is losing its stuffing.


The Problem, Reframed Problem, and Solution

The next task assigned for this week was to state a problem, reframe the problem, and then provide a solution.

For the web programming courses that I teach, the students use and interact with a web server to develop, test, and then submit their completed work each week. Interacting with a web server is an outcome of the web programming program and a necessary skill for students working in the field. Since this is an integral part of each course as a way for students to develop, test, and submit assignments, having a reliable web hosting environment (e.g., 100% uptime guarantee, routine backups, and monitoring) and customer support (24/7/365) is crucial. Last year, the web server that was used for the courses at the college, failed. The server was no longer operational for two weeks prior to the end of the semester and we ended the semester without a web hosting environment. Immediately, the blame traveled to the IT staff and their inability to efficiently manage the web server and provide the necessary customer support to investigate and respond to the issue quickly.

Following the semester’s end, the IT staff had an opportunity to research the reason(s) why the web server may have failed. They looked into possible networking issues and then examined software and hardware issues. The research indicated that it was a complete hardware failure caused by very old outdated equipment. Further research indicated that there were actually two hardware failures during the past two years, which ultimately lead up to the web server becoming nonfunctional. The server was being “patched” with old refurbished components in order to keep an outdated piece of hardware functioning without spending a lot of money.

So the real issues behind the web server failure, was not the inability to manage the server (software installations, routine backups, etc. – that was all in place) but rather money was not being allocated to upgrade the server in order to keep it operational and up-to-date and the IT support staff did not have the manpower or resources to investigate the issue(s) in a timely manner.

The solution to the problem was to purchase web hosting services from an outside vendor that provides 24/7/365 support, a 100% uptime guarantee, a safe and secure hosting environment, and the ability to monitor and manage hardware and software system failures immediately and then respond accordingly . The fee for these services is minimal compared to the high cost of maintaining a dedicated IT staff at the college and the cost of maintaining up-to-date web server software and hardware and monitoring services for a computer that is housed on campus. Since this solution was put into place, everything has been running smoothly and the faculty, students, and administration are very pleased. The original problem seem to point to lack of involvement and disinterest where in fact the real issue was due to limited manpower, resources, and outdated equipment.

References

BruceEmmerling. (2014, January). [Scrabble Gameboar] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/scrabble-game-board-game-words-243192/

Student Retention – Empathy Mode

Students: photo by StartupStockPhotosThe topic of student retention (student success) often comes up in conversation or as a topic of discussion during the online advisory committee meetings or faculty meetings that I attend, with an emphasis being on online courses. Why is this? Why does the conversation also circle back to online courses? Sure, student retention is important in traditional on campus courses as well, but in a non-traditional type of classroom environment with different classroom dynamics, may bring about a different set of obstacles for students to overcome which may contribute to lower retention in online courses. The focus will be on exploring ways to improve student retention in online courses and identifying the various obstacles that may inhibit success. I have chosen the online Introduction to Web Programming online course that I teach as the focal point.

In beginning to examine the issue of student retention, I engaged in the following empathetic techniques listed below in order to better understand my target audience – the students.

  • Experience prototyping
  • Character profiling
  • Student Survey
  • Research
    • Institutional Research and Planning (*MCC)
    • Discussion with the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (*MCC)

Experience Prototyping

I registered for the UX501x Introduction to User Experience course from the University of Michigan through edX. I wanted to experience a different online course environment where I was not familiar with its layout. I wanted to try the “experience prototyping” empathy technique since it sparked my interest during this week’s reading. My focus (no pun intended) was on how a student with a low vision disability may interact with an online course and access its materials. I removed my reading glasses, which made things very blurry and difficult to see, and proceeded to navigate through the course (listed above) and its materials.

Some Observations:

  • It took me a great deal more time to move around the course and through the materials simply because I had to keep zooming in on different areas within the online classroom within the web browser (thankfully web browsers have built in zoom in/out options).
  • When I had to interact with my keyboard (zooming in/out) it took me a little more time to complete things. I can type without looking at the keyboard but when I have to input numbers and use special characters, I tend to look at the keyboard to be sure my fingers are on the correct keys.
  • I was able to view the course videos in full screen so I could easily see them without my glasses. I did notice that when viewing the video in full screen mode it fills your browser window (which it’s intended to do) but you have to use the browser’s back button to return to the course content – not easy to see without my glasses.
  • The discussion forums in the classroom were easy to use and familiar. Using the browser zoom in feature allowed me to easily participate and read other’s responses.
  • The handouts in the course were made available for download in PDF format which you can then use the magnifying feature in Adobe Reader to more easily view the content.

Character Profiling

I was able to receive some basic demographic information from the Institutional Research and Planning department under the staff section of the *MCC website. Based on the demographics and my personal interaction with my students, I created three different character profiles using Popplet: Online Student 1, 2, and 3. I included the following focal points in the character profiling from which I built upon:

  • Basics (employment status, age, gender, race, marital status, children, credit hours, major area of study, etc.).
  • The Journey (education costs, financial aid, GPA, education background, etc.)
  • Identification Factors (external conflicts, etc.)
  • Personality Traits (student/teacher interaction, quality of work, etc.)

If interested, click on each image to review the character profile.

Student Survey

In order to get direct feedback from the students currently taking my online course, I created a 10-question survey using SurveyMonkey and emailed the survey link to my students. In a short email, I explained to the students the purpose of the survey and thanked them for their participation. I asked questions of them in order to gain some insight on their familiarity with taking online courses, their success on setting up a connection to the web server (a course requirement and integral part of the course), what they felt was the most difficult activity the first week of class, and the usefulness of the lectures I provide within the course. I also wanted feedback regarding some of the ideas that I’m considering incorporating into the course: how-to videos, an online “meet and greet”, an on campus demonstration of setting up a web server connection, and a new way of conducting online discussions.

The online survey can be found here.

Research

I wanted to include information and demographics directly from the college so I began my research by contacting the Director of the CTL (Center for Teaching and Learning). I was directed to a list of documents from the Research and Planning department located on the *MCC website that included both college and student statistics along with basic student demographics and I also received some spreadsheet data via email as a starting point for discussion. In addition, I was provided with a contact at the college that works within the Research and Planning department that may be able to provide me with specific reports and data pertaining to the online courses that I teach – particularly the course associated with my problem of practice. I will be contacting the department to see what can be provided to me. In addition, I plan to review online case studies and articles pertaining to student retention in online courses (to be included in my final report).

Learning Outcomes (to date)

There are a few things that really stood out to me while engaging in the process of becoming empathetic and learning more about my target audience.

  • I recognized the importance of organization, navigation, and easily accessible content within an online classroom. This became very apparent to me during the experiencing prototyping session.
  • As I was reviewing the college/student demographics and creating the character profiles, I started to become one with each student character profile that I created. I began to see possible obstacles during their educational journey, their aspirations, and background information that may affect their success. I got “lost” in the experience.
  • Reviewing the survey responses to date, there were things that really surprised me and things that did not. A lot of responses alluded to the convenience of online courses and how they work well with their work/personal schedules. I had thought students were having difficulties with setting up a web server connection the first week of class but the survey responses suggest otherwise. I was also under the impression that the additional lecture material wasn’t being viewed, and again the responses indicate differently.
  • This the first time since I have been employed full-time at the college (7+ years), that I actually visited and reviewed the documents from the Institutional Research and Planning department. Actually, I never knew the documents even existed on the website.
  • I also had a very informative conversation with the CTL Director and gained valuable insight. One of the suggestions that was made was to decide on how to define “retention” as it relates to student success because it can be defined differently.

The empathy mode of the design thinking process is very powerful and an ideal place to begin my exploration into ways to improve student retention in online courses and identifying the various obstacles that may inhibit success.

*Macomb Community College – http://www.macomb.edu

References:

StartupStockPhotos. (2015, January). [Computer/Communication] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/students-startup-start-up-notebooks-593323/