Problem of Practice Final Design Report

The culmination of the work completed in CEP 817 entailing the use of the Stanford d.school Design Thinking Process is included within my Problem of Practice Final Design Report for Increasing Student Retention in Online Courses for review: Final Design Report – CEP 817. It has been a fantastic journey!

PoP – Test Report

A journey through the design thinking process

The last mode on the amazing journey through the design thinking process is the test mode. It’s an opportunity to test prototyped solutions and gain valuable feedback from the users of your product and their interaction with your solution(s).

The Context & Users

As I worked through each of the modes in the design thinking process up to the final test mode, I have discovered that there are many variables that may affect student retention in online courses. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the student population at the college where I teach is very diverse and 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. Given this information, the user group for the test mode for my problem of practice (increasing student retention in online courses) focuses on students within my online basic web programming course. This is an introductory course and the first course within the web programming degree program at the college.

Prototypes Tested & Why

Two different prototypes were tested during the test mode. The first prototype included a video that walked students through creating their first web page. The second prototype included the process of using an online collaborative coding tool called Collabedit that allows for real-time collaboration among multiple users during a single session. A tutorial PDF document was created that explained how to access and use Collabedit and its features so the user has a basic understanding of how to join and participate in a collaboration session prior to joining the session.

Within both prototype solutions, I was testing the effectiveness of the tool, ease of use, ease of access, and its functionality to determine if these solutions would be beneficial to online students and if the solutions would provide the students with additional support options that could be used for learning and collaborating with both the instructor and their classmates within their online classroom. I also wanted to determine if these solutions provided value and support to the user and assisted them in successfully learning the course material.

The Test Protocol(s) & Design

The testing period for both prototypes ran from March 27 – April 2 respectively.  I designed my tests to be available over a week long period in order to give users enough time to participate. I also designed the tests in a way that they would be available in an online setting to simulate a true user experience since the audience includes users participating in an online course. The design intentions were to make access to the prototypes and providing feedback as easy, convenient, and user-friendly as possible.

The test protocol for the video included the following:

  • A video was created that walks through the process of creating a basic web page using HTML. This video uses information from Chapter 2 with the course textbook as a reference point.
  • The video was uploaded to YouTube and initially set to “Unlisted”, students were provided with the URL to access the video.
  • An extra credit assignment was created within my online web programming classroom that offered students points for participation in reviewing and providing feedback based on the video walk-through.
  • The assignment link within my online classroom provided the user with some basic background information, instructions for accessing the video, and a series of some general questions regarding the video.
  • The users were given a deadline for submitting their feedback (one week).
  • Feedback was submitted through a drop box within the online classroom and assembled and documented within a Word document at the end of the submission period.

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The test protocol for the online collaborative coding session process using Collabedit included the following:

  • A multipage tutorial was created that provides the user with basic information on how to access, use, join, and initiate an online collaborative coding session using Collabedit.
  • The tutorial provides instructions and screen shots documented the process.
  • Prior to joining a collaborative session, the user is supplied with the Collabedit tutorial document so he/she can prepare for the session.
  • I initiated the Collabedit session and invited the participant via email with some basic instructions and a URL that the user can copy/paste into their web browser to join the session.
  • The Collabedit sessions contained the HTML code the student participant needed assistance with and was present in the browser window upon joining the session.
  • The user was instructed to modify the HTML code within the session window and engage in conversation via the chat window during the session while we collaborated in real-time. The session lasted for approximately 45 minutes.
  • Feedback was submitted through email following the session and was based on a series of questions regarding the use of Collabedit.
  • Feedback was assembled and document within a Word document.

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Outcomes

I received very valuable and useful user feedback. I had approximately half of my online basic web programming course students participate and provide feedback regarding the video walk-through that I created. I was able to conduct an online collaborative session using Collabedit with one of my web programming students. A few other students that were interested in testing Collabedit contacted me but due to scheduling conflicts, they were not able to participate.

Some feedback regarding what users liked included:

  • I love the fact that the video is broken down line by line explaining in detail the function of each tag.
  • I liked that in the end a resource was provided that would help you if you had any more questions on different topics.
  • I do find videos very useful to help me understand concepts within programming I’m finding difficult.
  • I enjoyed this video! Videos are most useful when concise and focused on one topic. I think that makes it much easier to refer back to them when necessary.
  • I’m a visual and kinetic learner so reading doesn’t help as much as hands on or visual instruction.
  • This youtube video takes it a step further and shows you how to create elements within the instructions.
  • I like tips and tricks, for example when you mention white space in HTML code for debugging.
  • I liked how you went step by step and introduced the basics of the class.
  • The language used was easily understood and presented well.
  • I absolutely would watch videos like this where a topic is challenging.
  • While using this tool (Collabedit) I thought it was very useful and nice to converse with you while figuring out where my errors were.
  • I liked the fact that we could, literally converse back and forth and I knew where you were talking when trying to help me, it made this learning experience easier and was very beneficial.

Some feedback for improvement included:

  • I would prefer that videos be entirely optional and cover topics that are historically harder to comprehend and not on every single topic we cover.
  • I do feel that this video was a little long nut it is packed with information. My suggestion may be to separate it into many parts maybe, like mini videos that way they are more specific to one topic.
  • After watching the whole video to the end my one complaint is the text front is a little small.
  • I feel as if you could zoom or make the text font larger it would be more user-friendly and helpful
  • The use of the yellow cursor bubble was distracting and caused a blur on the parts of the code when you hovered over them.  A different pointer might work better.
  • Maybe add a definition of terms of the code tags that you used  at the end just as a reference.
  • I think the length of the video is acceptable, but so is shorter. As I said, I find these types of videos useful, but they are most useful when concise and focused on one topic.

Reflecting on the Process

After wrapping up the testing mode and reviewing the user feedback, I learned a great deal from the process. The first and foremost lesson I learned, is that it’s absolutely necessary to get feedback from your users – the individuals that are actually using and interacting with what you created. It has to fulfill their needs and “work” for them. It should provide added value and make it worth their time. I also learned that in a few instances, I missed the obvious and a feature that I thought would be beneficial may be become distracting if it’s used throughout the entire video. All the user feedback that I received overwhelmingly indicated and verified that the two support options that I prototyped and tested are definitely resources that students see as valuable, supportive, time worthy, and assists them in their understanding of the materials and topics within the course.

Going forward, I will continue to create short, instructional videos for topics that students struggle with and include a video link within each module of my 8-week online web programming course. To accompany the instructional video, a PDF will be provided that highlights the specific HTML tags and web page elements that are discussed within the video along with any additional topic-related references to additional online resources. I will also be posting the Collabedit tutorial PDF document within my online classroom and will make a formal announcement to my students and encourage the use of Collabedit for real-time collaboration with classmates and instructor assistance in an online environment. I want to create a very positive and supportive online learning experience for my students with the goal of increasing student success, confidence, motivation, and student retention in online courses.

PoP – Test Mode

Time to test!

My problem of practice continues to focus on exploring ways to improve student retention in online courses. During three of the prior modes in the design thinking process (empathize, define, and ideate), I have discovered a number of obstacles that may inhibit student success and decrease retention for students enrolled in online courses. One of the obstacles is the lack of support and assistance in the online environment where the instructor is not standing in front of the class lecturing, demonstrating, and available to immediately answer questions and provide assistance within a synchronous setting. For the prototype mode, I created two prototypes that focused on providing additional support and resources to students when it comes to learning weekly and fundamental course topics and offering assistance – the prototypes were tested by online students currently enrolled in my web programming course.

Approximately half of the students in my course participated in the testing process and provided feedback on the video that I created which walked students through creating their first web page (based on a hands-on exercise within chapter 2 of their course textbook). I participated in an online collaborative coding session with one of my students where we tested the use of an online tool called Collabedit for collaboration between students and students and their instructor. Prior to the collaborative coding session, I supplied the student with a tutorial PDF document that I created for accessing and using Collabedit and its features so the student had a basic understanding of how to join and participate in the collaboration session.

The purpose of testing the prototypes that I created was to determine if these solutions would be beneficial to online students and if the solutions would provide the students with additional support options that could be used for learning and collaborating with both the instructor and their classmates within the online classroom. If students know that assistance and additional support is available, they may be more likely to stay enrolled in the course, successfully learn the course material, and complete the course with the appropriate knowledge to continue on with their education with confidence and assurance.

PoP – Prototyping

I focused my prototyping efforts on three separate areas: connecting students to useful resources at the college via their online classroom, video code demonstration, and online code collaboration.

Connecting Students to Resources

During an email conversation with the director of the center for teaching and learning at the college, a couple of very useful resources were shared with me. One of the resources was an idea that presented itself during one of my brainstorming sessions only to find out that something very similar had been implemented into all of the online classrooms across the college. I won’t include my own prototype of the student resources area because to both my pleasure and amazement, it already came to fruition! I thought I would share a screenshot of the resources area since it was originally part of my problem of practice. Even though I didn’t implement a student resources area into my online classrooms (because it’s already there now), this is validation for me and confirms that I was on the right path with linking students to resources at the college.

A student resources link is located within the left-side toolbar area. When the link is selected, the user is taken to a Student Resources page within Canvas (the college’s LMS) where a list of available resources at the college is displayed. The student can click on any of the icons with the resources page and they will be connected to the appropriate area within the college’s website for additional contact information. Kudos to the Center for Teaching and Learning department at the college!

Student Resources Link within the college Canvas LMS.
Video Demonstration

The next brainstorming idea that I prototyped for my online classroom was a video demonstration of one of the Hands-On Practice exercises in the course textbook. One of the assignments during the first week of class is to create a simple course homepage using HTML. The video demonstrates the process of creating a web page along with explanations of some of the basic HTML elements that are used within most every web page. A useful online resource is shared at the end of the demonstration. My intentions are to upload the videos to YouTube and then create a link to the YouTube video from within the online classroom. For the purpose of this prototype, you can view the YouTube video below or watch it on YouTube at https://youtu.be/bx30gK5Ow4U.

 

Online Code Collaboration in Real-Time

The final brainstorming idea that I decided to prototype was the use of a free, online code editor that allows people to engage in collaborative coding in real-time. The tool I chose was Collabedit. Collabedit works directly within your web browser, no software or installation is needed. It’s also cross-platform compatible so Mac, Linux, and Windows users can collaborate with each other directly within their web browser. This tool would provide me with a way to provide online assistance to students who are having issues with their code or a way to do a quick lesson or coding explanation.

I prototyped a tutorial-type document for using Collabedit in PDF format. This PDF document contains some basic information along with a number of screenshots that visually displays the interface and process. I plan on providing a link to the Collabedit Tutorial within my online classroom in an existing module that is titled “Instructional Documents & Resources” so the students can easily download and review the document. I will direct the students to this document before the start of a Collabedit session so they have an idea of how the tool works and also how to create their own session and invite collaborators to the session. I’m hoping that with continued use in the online classroom, the tool will create a very positive, supportive, and useful learning experience for the students.

You can view the Collabedit Tutorial document here.

The prototyping process was enlightening. It allowed me to take an idea and create a user experience from that idea. The hardest thing for me during the prototyping process was trying not to refine it too much. I have a tendency to rework a project until it’s perfect and I will not display it until has been refined. I had to keep reminding myself that it’s a prototype, not the final product. What I found extremely beneficial, was the amount that I learned about Collabedit, the online collaboration tool, while creating a tutorial PDF for the students. By actually walking through its features and using the tool, I now feel more comfortable with using it as a way to support and assist students in my online classes. I’m really excited to try this out with my students and get their feedback. It was a prime example of learning by doing!

A “Tangible” Idea

Our Connected World…

Our connected world sketch.I decided to take the idea of “our connected world” and transform that idea into something both visual and physical – turning the intangible into something tangible so to speak. I made a smiley face out of some paper that I had lying around my house (putting my childhood skills to use) to represent a person at the center of a connected world. I used orange yarn to create a circle and on that circle resides a series of objects/devices that connect to each other either directly or indirectly. The blue yarn extending from each object/device connects the person to that object/device. Essentially, everything is connected! I work with technology on a daily basis so the idea of always being connected to something or someone is a reality that is very much present in today’s world.

The Connected World at my Home!

The process of taking an idea and transforming into a physical form was enlightening simply because I found it extremely easy to find items in my house that are part of a “connected world” in some way, shape, or form. I used 13 items to visually display the idea, but I could have easily found many additional items around my house. As I added an object to my “connected world” circle, I thought about how it actually played a role in the connection. For example, my Bose portable speaker is Bluetooth enabled which connects to the other Bluetooth devices in my house and the Xbox controller connects to my GoPiGo robot, which is also connected via Bluetooth to my computer(s) and Raspberry Pi. It’s amazing!

I never really thought about how connected these objects really were to each other and to me until bringing the idea to physical “life”. I think that when an idea becomes tangible, it allows you to see things and experience them in a different way. I really enjoyed this experience, it allowed me to visually see and experience the connections of the world of technology right inside my home.

Ideas, ideas, & ideas!

Problem of Practice: Ideate Mode

It was all about brainstorming and incubation during the ideate mode. Engaging in ideation over the past few weeks, with the focus being on increasing student retention in online courses (my PoP),  involved multiple activities which included gathering ideas during a brainstorming session, letting the ideas incubate, maintaining an incubation journal, and finally, reflecting on those ideas.

As a quick side note, I recently read the following statement (shown below) related to brainstorming in the latest edition of the Runner’s magazine. A perfect example of a “mind break”.

“When I run, I have my most unbridled thoughts. It’s a brainstorming session, as well as a time to process any issue that may be presenting in my work as food analyst and activist.” – Robyn O’Brien (Food industry analyst and author)

Part 1 of Ideation: Do a Brainstorm Session

Brainstorming notes during brainstorming sessions.

I conducted two formal brainstorming sessions and one informal session. By “informal” I mean that the session was an impromptu session based on the participants availability and I used Facebook and text messaging – I thought I would try something a bit different.

The formal brainstorming sessions included teachers both inside and outside of my discipline. The informal brainstorming session included students and parents.

The following ideas came out of the brainstorming sessions:

  • Online workshops that promote student success and preparedness
  • Create online tutorials demonstrating code, techniques, methods
  • Create class assignments that focus more on real-life scenarios
  • Have the students build something “real”
  • Prerecorded online webinars that students can watch on their own time
    • Post them to the online classroom
  • Create hands-on assignments that include demonstrations
  • Take an abstract concept and apply it to something “real”
    • e.g., use robots to teach coding concepts and coding languages
  • Make use of online simulators
    • Write a program and then deploy it through the use of simulator to bring a real-life experience to an assignment/project
  • Run an extra credit contest and award extra points for the best designed website, best content, best graphics, etc. – motivate and engage students
  • “Early turn in” – offer the students extra points for submitting their work prior to the deadline in order to motivate and engage students
    • e.g., if work is due on Sunday,  you get 5 extra points for turning it on Friday and 3 extra points for turning it on Saturday
  • Assign a group website final project rather each individual working on their own separate website
    • Promotes collaboration
  • For help discussion forums, offer extra points to students based on how many students they help
    • Gets students involved with helping each other, teaching and learning
  • Job shadowing different IT departments at the college that help students gain experience
    • Run a raffle of all interested students, choose 2-3 students to job shadow during the semester, maybe 5-10 per week, rotate in different IT areas: web development, networking, help desk, etc.
    • Motivates students
    • Engages students
    • Builds their resume
  • Assign a “pre-quiz” worth 10 points that asks questions to find out if students are properly prepared to take an online course
I also noted interesting topics of conversation during the brainstorming session that involved students and parents (read below). 
  1. Interesting activities and good teacher engagement. I’d imagine a lot of people’s biggest problem with online classes is communication to their teacher, or motivation to actually get the work done. Probably reply time would be most important. And i usually use email with my teachers.
  2. My take on being successful in online vs traditional classrooms has to do with having many overlapping variables that drive success. The method of engaging in the class might appear radically different, but I don’t see it that way. A student might be “shy” in a classroom and not raise their hand or they could be “shy” in an online forum and feel they have nothing to add. Seriously, in a case like that, it’s part of the instructor’s job to create an environment that encourages engagement and a clear communication of the expectations of the course. I could think of dozens of others, but I still go back to the same point…NOT that many differences. If a student has an unsupportive environment, the form of receiving the coursework doesn’t matter. Part of it is being able to navigate life and having the time for the prep and necessary work away from the classroom to succeed. Not to sound overly-pessimistic, but it’s never a one-way street for the student nor the instructor. There is give and take and responsibilities on both sides.
  3. I tend to drop a online class when it seems to be so overwhelming. Under week 1 there is 200 items that need to be completed by next week. To me it feels like I have no support in this class. I have yet to have an online class with a lot of instructor involvement. One class after the instructor “introduced” himself, we didn’t hear from again. I was really worried thinking maybe he died and no one knew. I even emailed him with no response. I dropped the class. Everyone taking an online class knows there is a lot of work involved but the professors have to realize we have other classes, work full time and have a family. I personally rather take a brick and mortar class because i feel i get more out of it because of the professor interaction.
  4. I’ve never taken an online course, though I know people who swear by them. Part of my problem would definitely be the family responsibilities – hard to sit at a computer with laundry baskets around you waiting to be folded and dinner waiting to be made. My problem is that I don’t feel I’m “tech savvy” enough to make it through an online course, like I wouldn’t even know where to begin, so that’s why I would shy away from even trying one. But if I knew it was for every level of computer knowledge, even one like mine, I might be more willing to at least try it. One of my biggest questions would be how do I contact the instructor if I needed help with anything, and would they be willing to help me?

Part 2 of Ideation: Keep an Incubation Journal

Following the brainstorming sessions, I maintained a journal where I kept personal notes, a record of my thoughts, and any new interesting ideas that came to mind. I even had one of the brainstorming participants come up to me the next day and give me a few more ideas which I included in my journal. In order to easily maintain the journal and to be able to access it anywhere online across devices, I used Evernote. My journal kept getting more and more detailed as the days passed. I also included a “PoP Notes” section in Evernote to keep track of additional notes not related to the brainstorming session but notes that are important to my PoP.

A slideshow of my incubation journal entries in Evernote:

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The PoP Notes that I’m maintaining for my own information as an additional part of my incubation journal:

Part 3 of Ideation: Reflect on the Ideas

I have learned a great deal through the process of ideation, brainstorming, and incubation. One of the most difficult parts of the process for me was letting the ideas incubate – it seemed that this part was never-ending for me. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be like that but I found myself constantly thinking and coming up with ideas after brainstorming, so much that I kept thinking that I was losing my focus. I don’t necessarily feel that that’s a bad thing that ideas keep flowing, but given the scope of the project, it started making me anxious simply because there is a deadline associated with the project.

I found that working through one of the Da Vinci processes based on the chapter reading for this topic, was very interesting. It allowed be to try something different and use a technique/process that I had never tried before – it brought about a new way of looking at an existing problem. I honestly did not think the process would generate any ideas but in the end I was amazed at the results! I also thought the incubation journal rocked! It proved to be extremely valuable not only in documenting my thoughts, but as a way to help me visually “see”  issues/ideas/solutions.

In my incubation journal, I summarized my thoughts regarding the ideas and areas that I would like to pursue and keep (shown below).

I am strongly considering the following idea(s) to implement within the next course sections:
  • Create videos demonstrating code, techniques, and methods associated with weekly topics
    • Supports learning and student support
  • Use online tools with students to review source code in a collaborative environment
    • collabedit, CodePen (online, free, and works through the web browser – no need to download any software)
    • Supports learning, collaboration, and student support
    • Connecting with students
  • Adding links within my online classrooms
    • student resources, job announcements, internship opportunities, and workshops

As final thought, I think the ideas that I listed above are all doable. Adding the resources to my online classrooms can be implemented immediately and will require a minimal time commitment. Creating the videos for instruction will involve more of a time commitment, but if I initially focus on the areas of the greatest need, it will be the most beneficial choice for the students and will impact them immediately. Using online collaboration tools for supporting students is something that will occur more so on an individual basis as students need assistance.

Onward to prototyping and testing! The journey continues!

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.

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/

A Tale from Different Perspectives

Basketball on the court by PDPics

Note: Fictitious names were used in the following stories in order maintain anonymity.

A Teacher’s Perspective

As I stood there in the gym waiting to videotape the event, tears welled up in my eyes with happiness and pride as Albert (suited up in uniform) ran onto the basketball court with the rest of the team  when his name was announced at the last home boy’s basketball game of the season. The team gave him “high-fives” and welcomed him like he had played with them the entire season. This game was very special for many reasons. Prior to this last game, I had talked with one of Albert’s LINKS (who is on the 8th grade boys’ basketball team) that works with Albert during his Physical Education class, his paraprofessional, and my principal to arrange for Albert to shoot free throws during the last home game of the boy’s basketball season. We also talked to the referee prior to the game and asked him to call a foul on the other team so that Albert would have the opportunity to come into the game and shoot a free throw. The time came, I watched Albert walk up to the free throw line and take his first, second, third, and fourth shots, and on the fifth shot you heard the swish of the net as the ball passed through – he made it! The crowd cheered and stood to their feet! I watched with so much emotion and beamed with pride as the boy’s basketball team, many of which are my students, surrounded him and presented him with the game ball signed by each player. I have had many amazing moments in my teaching career but this one was special. I will remember it as the evening that my student Albert, who has autism, felt like part of a team doing what he loves to do – shoot free throws.

A Student’s Perspective

I’m not nervous at all, I’m very excited! I can feel a big smile on my face. I see a lot of people here – my Mom and Dad, and there is Ms. Jones (my PE teacher)! There are so many sounds around me right now. I hear basketballs dribbling, people talking, shoes squeaking on the court, and whistles blowing. It’s very warm in here. They called my name! What do I do? There’s Zack I see him at school, he plays basketball with me. He wants me to run out on the court with the team, wow! Everyone is giving me a “high-five”. I see Mary, she helps me in class and there is the lady that walks in the hallways at school all the time. So many people are here that I recognize. The lights are bright. The man in the funny uniform just blew his whistle, it was loud. They want me to come into the game and shoot a free throw. I have been practicing every day in class with Zack and Mary, I love shooting free throws! 1, 2, 3…let me have the ball again…4, and 5. I made it! So many people are clapping – it’s loud, the team is all around me – I’m so excited! I feel my body shaking. Wow, they are giving me a basketball and it has writing all over it. I’m going to hold it tight and never let it go. There is Ms. Jones again, she’s smiling at me. It’s warm in here.

My Thoughts…

Hearing, writing, and rewriting the stories above was a very interesting experience. It allowed me to sit, listen, and engage in the experience as my friend, a middle school Physical Education teacher, told me an amazing story about one of her autistic students and the idea she had to make him feel special for one night doing what he loved to do in class every day. There were numerous other people involved in organizing this special night that allowed the idea to come to fruition – students, paraprofessionals, the school principal, the referee, and the parents were all instrumental in making this happen.

The experience of hearing my friend tell this story was very emotional, in a good way. I could hear the excitement and pride in her voice and see the joy in her eyes as she told the story. The further she got into the story, the more details she shared not only about the event but about her experience working with the autistic kids in her class and how special they are. I found it a little difficult to express the context of the story (from the teacher’s perspective) in one paragraph because I felt there was so much that needed to be shared and expressed in order for the reader to really engage in the experience. I found that the hardest part of reframing the story and writing it from the student’s perspective, was trying to see and feel the experience as a person with autism. I called upon my friend’s expertise in the area to help me better understand and for a brief moment, walk in someone else’s shoes.

References:

PDPics. (2014, July). [Basketball, Court, Ball, Game] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/basketball-court-ball-game-sport-390008/