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!

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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!

Problem of Practice – CEP 817

Online Learning

Currently, I’m a member of the LMS/Online Advisory Committee at the college and often the topic of student retention comes up in conversation. Student retention is not only important in courses that are taught on campus in a traditional classroom, but also in the online environment as well. It seems that retention in online courses is an ongoing issue and we have yet to find a single viable solution. Is it the technology, the instructor, the teaching method, the student, the course? The list of questions goes on.

For some time now, I have been interested in exploring different ways to improve student retention in online courses so I thought this would be a great opportunity and an ideal problem of practice to explore. The Web Programming curriculum at the college where I teach is taught entirely online but I am going to focus on a single 8-week “Introduction to Web Programming” course (ITWP 1000) within the curriculum. This is a core introductory course within the program and is also a course that is required in many of the other IT programs at the college as well. I typically run 4 sections of the ITWP 1000 course in the Fall and Winter semesters at the college with full enrollment (26-28 students).

I have noticed that within the first week of the course; typically anywhere from 1-5 students drop the course and half way through, additional students may drop or withdraw from the course. For example, a course that begins with 26 enrolled students may end with only 18 and out of the 18, only 15 may have earned a passing grade. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing the reason a student may drop or withdraw from a course unless the student chooses to share it with me and on occasion some students do. Time commitment, health issues, a family emergency, and finances are some of the reasons that students choose to share. Those types of issues are part of life of which we can’t control, but what about other issues such as their comfort level with technology and computers, reliable Internet access, course workload, lack of confidence, lack of motivation, or not understanding the course material? All of these are obstacles that may inhibit success.

Target Audience and Preliminary Thoughts

The students are going to be the primary target audience during my exploration into improving student retention in online courses (ITWP 1000) but I am very interested in the thoughts and opinions of my colleagues as well so they will play an additional role in my research. Some preliminary ideas of exploration (there may be more) include examining the following:

  • The use of “how-to” videos or video instruction within the course at crucial points.
  • The idea of hosting a “meet and greet the instructor” session online during the first few days of the online class.
  • The idea of hosting online sessions for some of the discussion forum activities for the course.
  • The use of online “tutoring” sessions and what technology could be used to accomplish it.
  • Establishing online office hours specifically for online students.
  • The idea of hosting 2-3 half hour (approximately) on campus sessions during the first few days of class where students can drop in to watch me demonstrate how to set up a connection to the web server and then attempt it themselves with me standing by if they need assistance.
  • The use of video conferencing software for student interaction.
  • Establishing common obstacles that may get in the way of success.

I’m very excited to dive into and explore the issues and obstacles surrounding the student retention rate in the ITWP 1000 course that I teach and the possible solution(s) to increasing student retention in the course.

References:

SpliteShire. (2014, August). [Computer/Communication] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/macbook-notebook-apple-device-407127/