Neuromyths – misconceptions about about learning and/or how the brain works – plague higher education. How often have you heard someone refer to themself as “left-brained”, or “a visual learner”, or “using only 10% of their brain”?
It may seem harmless, but neuromyths persist because people not only believe them, they pass them on to our students.
In early October, 2019, the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) published a research report on neuromyths, revealing that faculty, instructional designers, and administrators in higher education are all susceptible to believing at least a few neuromyths.
Teaching history survey courses online has its challenges, but ensuring that students attain the foundational knowledge required to move onto assignments requiring higher order thinking skills is not challenging if the instructor can implement adaptive, mastery quizzing.
On our campus we use WWNorton Publishing for many of our history textbooks, and Norton has a quiz tool called “InQuizitive” that allows students to master their foundational knowledge in a fun way.
With InQuizitive, students see a questions and wager points based on how confident they feel about knowing the correct answer. This is an excellent way for students to realize how much or little they know about a topic, increasing metacognition.
InQuizitive also mixes up the question formats so students do not get bored with the same old multiple choice questions. There are map-based questions, video-based questions, matching, sorting, true and false, and other types of questions to add variety to the students’ experience.
These quizzes are adaptive, too. Students are presented three levels of questions. All aspects of a particular chapter are addressed in level 1, and the level 2 and 3 questions circle back to topics the student answered incorrectly. Feedback is provided for each response, whether the students answers correctly or incorrectly.
I have used InQuizitive for several semesters and have received extremely positive feedback from my students. They initially dislike the quizzing because it takes longer than they expect – between 60 and 120 minutes for them to attain a score equivalent to 100%, or ten points in the gradebook. Once they become accutomed to how the wagering works and how the feedback helps them they start enjoying the quizzes.
Norton also gives the instructors access to data about each question – the difficulty rating, related learning objective, and how my students did on a specific question compared to global users. Plus, instructors can customize quizzes to a certain extent, eliminating questions that do not align with their course objectives.
I would, ideally, like to move my courses to Open Educational Resources (OERs), but I cannot replicate this type of formative, adaptive assessment on my own. Fortunately Norton is relatively inexpensive; the students pay less than $50 for access tot he ebook and quizzes.
I would love to know how other online history instructors ensure their students attain foundational knowledge. Please email me or post a comment if you use a different product or have come up with a different method.
Here are more resources about InQuizitive, including a link to the old video game QBert, which the InQuizitive icon reminds me of daily:
SUNY, the State University of New York, has announced its current working definition of HyFlex courses:
“Combines online and face-to-face instruction simultaneously into one single course section, with the mode of direct instruction determined by each individual student. Students are able to choose how to participate in any given class meeting – online or face-to-face.” (1)
Here at Genesee Community College, we use this definition:
” Students may choose, on a day-by-day basis, to participate in-person or online or through a combination of online and in-person. Students may also complete all or part of the in-person component of the course using “zoom” or similar technology from any location. This option offers the student the most flexibility. ” (2)
Both adequate definitions, however, since they are written from the student perspective, neither one clarifies the instructor’s responsibilities in a HyFlex course.
The most misleading part of HyFlex for instructors is the idea that all they have to do is record their live course sessions, upload them to the Learning Management System, tell the online asynchronous students to watch the videos, and call it a day. The truth is, HyFlex courses must have fully built-out online, asynchronous modules so that students who never set foot on campus have an equivalent learning experience and meet all the Course Learning Outcomes. This means that, prior to the start of a HyFlex course, the online portion of the course must be completely set up and reviewed for design quality and accessibility. As with every online course, this must be built via backwards design, meaning the content is created after the learning outcomes are established and all course activities and assessments must align with the learning outcomes.
Another surprise to some instructors is the idea that distant students will participate in the course virtually, in real time, via web conferencing. This means the instructor must consciously pay attention to the monitors in the classroom, as well as the backchannel, to include remote participants in conversations and activities. This will be easy for some, but a learning curve for others; hopefully the instructor will have someone in the room to assist them with the technology.
We’ve been creating a HyFlex Course Development Guide to assist faculty in their development process; the GCC HyFlex Team will be posting resources online soon and is happy to answer questions: HyFlex@genesee.edu
Understanding by Design is a book written by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe that offers a framework for designing courses and content units called “Backward Design.” Instructors typically approach course design in a “forward design” manner, meaning they consider the learning activities (how to teach the content), develop assessments around their learning activities, then attempt to draw connections to the learning goals of the course. In contrast, the backward design approach has instructors consider the learning goals of the course first. These learning goals embody the knowledge and skills instructors want their students to have learned when they leave the course. Once the learning goals have been established, the second stage involves consideration of assessment. The backward design framework suggests that instructors should consider these overarching learning goals and how students will be assessed prior to consideration of how to teach the content. For this reason, backward design is considered a much more intentional approach to course design than traditional methods of design.
This teaching guide will explain the benefits of incorporating backward design. Then it will elaborate on the three stages that backward design encompasses. Finally, an overview of a backward design template is provided with links to blank template pages for convenience.
The Benefits of Using Backward Design
“Our lessons, units, and courses should be logically inferred from the results sought, not derived from the methods, books, and activities with which we are most comfortable. Curriculum should lay out the most effective ways of achieving specific results… in short, the best designs derive backward from the learnings sought.”
In Understanding by Design, Wiggins and McTighe argue that backward design is focused primarily on student learning and understanding. When teachers are designing lessons, units, or courses, they often focus on the activities and instruction rather than the outputs of the instruction. Therefore, it can be stated that teachers often focus more on teaching rather than learning. This perspective can lead to the misconception that learning is the activity when, in fact, learning is derived from a careful consideration of the meaning of the activity.
As previously stated, backward design is beneficial to instructors because it innately encourages intentionality during the design process. It continually encourages the instructor to establish the purpose of doing something before implementing it into the curriculum. Therefore, backward design is an effective way of providing guidance for instruction and designing lessons, units, and courses. Once the learning goals, or desired results, have been identified, instructors will have an easier time developing assessments and instruction around grounded learning outcomes.
The incorporation of backward design also lends itself to transparent and explicit instruction. If the teacher has explicitly defined the learning goals of the course, then they have a better idea of what they want the students to get out of learning activities. Furthermore, if done thoroughly, it eliminates the possibility of doing certain activities and tasks for the sake of doing them. Every task and piece of instruction has a purpose that fits in with the overarching goals and goals of the course.
As the quote below highlights, teaching is not just about engaging students in content. It is also about ensuring students have the resources necessary to understand. Student learning and understanding can be gauged more accurately through a backward design approach since it leverages what students will need to know and understand during the design process in order to progress.
“In teaching students for understanding, we must grasp the key idea that we are coaches of their ability to play the ‘game’ of performing with understanding, not tellers of our understanding to them on the sidelines.”
The Three Stages of Backward Design
“Deliberate and focused instructional design requires us as teachers and curriculum writers to make an important shift in our thinking about the nature of our job. The shift involves thinking a great deal, first, about the specific learnings sought, and the evidence of such learnings, before thinking about what we, as the teacher, will do or provide in teaching and learning activities.”
Stage One – Identify Desired Results:
In the first stage, the instructor must consider the learning goals of the lesson, unit, or course. Wiggins and McTighe provide a useful process for establishing curricular priorities. They suggest that the instructor ask themselves the following three questions as they progressively focus in on the most valuable content:
What should participants hear, read, view, explore or otherwise encounter?
This knowledge is considered knowledge worth being familiar with. Information that fits within this question is the lowest priority content information that will be mentioned in the lesson, unit, or course.
What knowledge and skills should participants master?
The knowledge and skills at this substage are considered important to know and do. The information that fits within this question could be the facts, concepts, principles, processes, strategies, and methods students should know when they leave the course.
What are big ideas and important understandings participants should retain?
The big ideas and important understandings are referred to as enduring understandings because these are the ideas that instructors want students to remember sometime after they’ve completed the course.
The figure above illustrates the three ideas. The first question listed above has instructors consider the knowledge that is worth being familiar with which is the largest circle, meaning it entails the most information. The second question above allows the instructor to focus on more important knowledge, the knowledge and skills that are important to know and do. Finally, with the third question, instructors begin to detail the enduring understandings, overarching learning goals, and big ideas that students should retain. By answering the three questions presented at this stage, instructors will be able to determine the best content for the course. Furthermore, the answers to question #3 regarding enduring understandings can be adapted to form concrete, specific learning goals for the students; thus, identifying the desired results that instructors want their students to achieve.
Stage Two – Determine Acceptable Evidence:
The second stage of backward design has instructors consider the assessments and performance tasks students will complete in order to demonstrate evidence of understanding and learning. In the previous stage, the instructor pinpointed the learning goals of the course. Therefore, they will have a clearer vision of what evidence students can provide to show they have achieved or have started to attain the goals of the course. Consider the following two questions at this stage:
How will I know if students have achieved the desired results?
What will I accept as evidence of student understanding and proficiency?
At this stage it is important to consider a wide range of assessment methods in order to ensure that students are being assess over the goals the instructor wants students to attain. Sometimes, the assessments do not match the learning goals, and it becomes a frustrating experience for students and instructors. Use the list below to help brainstorm assessment methods for the learning goals of the course.
Among many others…
Stage Three – Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction:
The final stage of backward design is when instructors begin to consider how they will teach. This is when instructional strategies and learning activities should be created. With the learning goals and assessment methods established, the instructor will have a clearer vision of which strategies would work best to provide students with the resources and information necessary to attain the goals of the course. Consider the questions below:
What enabling knowledge (facts, concepts, principles) and skills (processes, procedures, strategies) will students need in order to perform effectively and achieve desired results?
What activities will equip students with the needed knowledge and skills?
What will need to be taught and coached, and how should it best be taught, in light of performance goals?
What materials and resources are best suited to accomplish these goals?
Leverage the various instructional strategies listed below:
A link to the blank backward design template is provided here (https://jaymctighe.com/resources/downloads/), and it is referred to as UbD Template 2.0. The older version (version 1.0) can also be downloaded at that site as well as other resources relevant to Understanding by Design. The template walks individuals through the stages of backward design. However, if you are need of the template with descriptions of each section, please see the table below. There is also a link to the document containing the template with descriptions provided below and can be downloaded for free.
The idea of “open” in higher education confuses many, partly due to the varied terms thrown around – OERs, MOOCs, open education – but mainly due to the assumption that “OERs” (open educational resources) and “open pedagogy” are the same thing.
Open educational resources (OERs) are the texts, quizzes, maps, blogs, videos, podcasts, websites, or articles that you, the instructor, share with your students to engage with in order to learn more about a specific subject that are free (open) to reuse, remix, retain, revise, and redistribute. These are the learning materials someone created for students to freely use. This is pretty straightforward, and there are many repositories and websites that you can use to find OERs.
Using OERs in a class is great. It saves the students money, it allows students to be fully prepared for class on the first day, and OERs can be tailored to meet the specific learning outcomes you want your students to attain. However, the use of OERs is not the same thing as open pedagogy. You can print copies of chapters of OER textbooks, hand the chapters out in class for your students to read, have them write a response and submit it to you for grading, and call it a day – this is not open pedagogy. There is nothing wrong with this type of assignment, it just cannot be classified as open pedagogy because the students are engaging with the material in a closed setting and creating a “disposable assignment” which will be graded and returned to the student for filing or discarding.
Therefore, the use of OERs does not guarantee open pedagogy.
What is open pedagogy? The librarians at the University of Texas Arlington have a great starter definition:
“Open pedagogy is the practice of engaging with students as creators of information rather than simply consumers of it. It’s a form of experiential learning in which students demonstrate understanding through the act of creation.” (UTA Libraries)
“Sharing” is missing from this definition. In open pedagogy students create content and somehow share it with someone other than a “submit” button in a learning management system.
So, in the previous example, if the students read the OER chapter that was handed out to them and then made a word cloud out of the key concepts they uncovered in the chapter and shared that word cloud on Twitter, that would be an example of open pedagogy. The students in this second example are creating and sharing content.
To further confuse the issue, however, open pedagogy can take place with propriety materials. In other words, you do not have to use OERs to engage in open pedagogy. As long as your students cite their sources properly and give credit where credit is due you can develop an open pedagogy project utilizing copyrighted materials.
Not everyone agrees that open pedagogy can happen with proprietary materials, but here are two examples that prove it is true:
The first example, an open pedagogy project I have done with one of my online classes, is the “Teach with Wikipedia” project. This is a great project in which students edit or create Wikipedia articles. Students contribute, and their work is live on the internet – it is empowering for the students! However, while the platform is open the sources the students (and all Wikipedia contributors) use a mix of open, or public domain, sources and copyrighted sources.
A second, somewhat similar example is a peer review project I’ve done several times in my classes. The students write essays citing their sources (including their textbook publisher) and post the essays in an open Google Drive folder. I have them use code numbers instead of their names to encourage honest, robust feedback, and I put all the feedback in a Google Sheet so that the students can compare how they scored an essay to how other students scored the same essay. The students benefit from viewing all the feedback on all the essays; they also see my feedback on all the essays as I consistently use the code 9999 so they know it’s me. My point here, however, is that this is truly an open pedagogy project even though it does not rely fully on OERs. Google is open and free, and the students could seek out OERs or public domain content if they wish (I teach history, by the way, so older publications, in most cases, would be fine), but they generally use their textbooks as a starting point and cite them properly.
OERs and open pedagogy are both good things, but they are not the same thing.
The most important thing is that you are creating assignments that are centered on the learning outcomes. A very close second most important thing is that the students can access the learning materials you require – whether they are OERs, low-cost publisher materials (I use Norton a lot), or accessible library articles and books. An additional important thing is that you give the students an opportunity to take some ownership over their learning by creating shareable content for their peers.
With recent changes to the Plagiarism Policy and the Accessibility Statement, plus the importance of including the Student Code of Conduct and the No-Show Reporting Criteria in courses, we’ve created one module that you can use to efficiently share this information with your students.
Here is how you can add it to your Blackboard courses:
1 Open your course.
2 At the top-left of the course menu click the “+” to add content; select “Module Page” from the dropdown list of options:
You’ll see this box:
3 Add the name, “GCC College Course Policies”, check the box to make it available to users, and click “Submit”:
Your new module page will be at the bottom of your course menu.
4 Click on GCC College Course Policies in your course menu and, at the top of the page, click on “Add Course Module”:
5 You’ll see the list of modules next; scroll down to “College Course Policies” and click “Add”:
Break time between semesters is a great time to review and update course materials. It’s easy to grab images and articles from the web, but, how can we be sure to do so legally?
Here are some guidelines and resources to help ensure you are not breaking any laws when adding images, articles, videos, power points, or other materials to your courses:
Adding images for discussion or adding cartoons to lighten the mood can foster engagement in your class. Before snipping an image from an ad or online newspaper be sure to follow these basic rules:
Cite your sources, just as you would expect your students to. This is a great opportunity to model proper citation style.
If you plan to use multiple images from the same source, check to see if your usage meets the fair use criteria.
If you are unsure whether it is legal to use a specific image try to find a similar one in the public domain. There are great sites, such as Pixabay, where you can freely download and use images.
On January 1, 2019, many, many materials enter the public domain. Check this Smithsonian article for an interesting read about that.
To share research articles or opinion pieces with students follow these guidelines:
The safest way to post an article in your course is to link to the source so that the students can access the content themselves.
A PDF of an article from a database like jstor is also acceptable – remember to add the permalink and cite the source.
Do not add a scanned copy of an article from a magazine or newspaper; locate the original online and link to it. If the article you need is behind a paywall contact the librarians for help – they are an outstanding resource for helping you obtain content legally.
Videos are a great way to bring your subject matter to life. Videos are also one of the most commonly pirated types of content on the web. Follow these tips to avoid legal issues with videos in courses:
YouTube has some great channels for educational videos; Crash Course is one of my favorites. Again, link to the original source. If you are using videos from YouTube you can use Blackboard’s Mashup tool to easily insert them into your course; check the box to allow the YouTube information to show in the course so that your source is cited. Make sure you select videos that are properly closed-captioned so that all students can access them. Be sure to check the links before expecting the students to access them in case a YouTube channel owner has changed or removed files.
Video subscriptions are available, too. If you would like to have students watch an entire movie you should check with our librarians to find out if the college already has access to the movies you need; if not, they will help you find other avenues.
There are websites, such as Khan Academy and Annenberg Learner, that post videos and other content – check their copyright policies before linking directly to their content. Khan Academy will allow you to link right to a specific video, but for Annenberg Learner you must link to their main page unless you pay for a subscription.
Of course, you can make your own videos. We have resources on campus for you to do that (use our Digital Creation Space), or you can make them on your own. Be sure you have the legal right to use any images you include, cite your sources, and caption the video before adding it to the course (you can do this in your Ensemble library here at GCC; contact the Helpdesk for more information).
PowerPoints, Google Slides, or other presentation creations can be a great way to combine images and text to emphasize specific points and enhance learning. You can either create your own presentations, use publisher materials that may be bundled with the textbook you use in your course, or you may find them online in a site like SlideShare.
There are key points to keep in mind when adding presentations to your course:
Presentations you create yourself:
When creating a presentation try to use a built-in theme. This will alleviate most accessibility issues as long as you do not edit the built-in layout too much. Be sure to do the following:
Give each slide a unique title. If the topic you are discussing requires more than one slide, use names such as “Evolution 1,” “Evolution 2,” “Evolution 3” etc., or “”Bitcoin, 1 of 3,” “Bitcoin, 2 of 3,” “Bitcoin, 3 of 3.” This clarifies the topics for students while maintaining accessible navigation.
Be sure you are using images that you are legally able to use through copyright permission, fair use, ownership (your own artwork), or public domain.
If you create a narrated, or voice-over, PowerPoint, caption it before adding it to the course. We use Ensemble to store our videos and can easily have captions added via Ensemble – be sure to do it.
Adding publisher PowerPoint presentations:
As long as the publisher materials are bundled with the textbook you are currently using in your course, and that students are purchasing, you can add them. Do not re-use presentations from textbooks you are no longer requiring for the course, especially if you change publishers.
Be sure to check for copyright and accessibility as you would with a video or image.
Open Educational Resources (OER) are materials freely available to use in courses. Typically, you can remix, reuse, revise, redistribute, and retain OER materials that you edit for your course provided that you attribute the original creator and abide by any rules stated in the materials’ Creative Commons License. There a lot of OER resources for you to learn more.
Submitted to 2018-2019 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium by Ileana Hernandez, Ph.D., LMHC, Florida International University
“There is nothing more demoralizing than the thought that the countless hours we spend grading might be dismissed as meaningless.” – Elizabeth Barre
Although many students think “they are the only ones who worry about grades,” writes Elizabeth Barre, in a recent blog post, “anxiety about grades is also a central feature of faculty life.” While students often worry about how their grades will affect their progress toward graduation, faculty often worry about whether their approaches to grading are valid, fair, and efficient, or as Barre puts it, “meaningful, moral, and manageable.” This tip explores ways to better align learning and grading, so attention to one translates to attention to both.
Are my grades meaningful?
When considering whether her grades are meaningful, Barre thinks about grades as measures but wrestles with what they are actually measuring: “performance, competency, growth, or effort?” To make grades as meaningful as possible, we must first define clear goals for student learning. Then, we can design assessments (e.g. projects, tests, quizzes, assignments, and so on) that collect evidence of students’ progress toward those goals. If our assessments measure what we intend for them to measure, the grades students earn with their work will align more closely with their progress toward accomplishing the goals of the course–and therefore be more meaningful.
Are they moral?
When exploring the morality of her approach to grading, Barre is really concerned with the issue of fairness: creating “a system of grading that ensures students in similar circumstances will be treated similarly.” Because developing them helps us define evaluation criteria, rubrics are invaluable tools for making grading more fair. They can help keep us focused on the most important aspects of an assignment as we evaluate each student’s work. This helps us to avoid deducting points for minutia irrelevant to the learning goals we’re trying to assess.
Two additional strategies related to fairness are grade norming and “blind grading,” or grading anonymous student work. Grade norming entails working with colleagues in an effort to evaluate student work more consistently. It’s particularly important for instructors working together to grade student work within the same course. To grade anonymously, we can easily use the anonymous grading feature in Blackboard. We can review student work, provide feedback, and assign a grade without seeing students’ names.
Are they manageable?
Rubrics can also help with the management of grading. Starting with clearly defined criteria for success can improve the quality of the assignments you receive. This clear picture aids students in getting closer to accomplishing the goals on each attempt, allowing for more targeted feedback. Many colleagues have shared with us that dividing up the work of grading (e.g. grading only five projects in one sitting) also helps make the task more manageable and less overwhelming.
Barre experimented with using specifications grading in her course and reported that “the grading was most certainly faster and less anxiety inducing, as I expected it would be.” Her post describes her approach to using “specs” grading in her course, and it also links to several sample syllabi from other courses in which faculty adopted this method.
Rubrics in Blackboard
In addition to anonymous grading, Blackboard also contains a robust rubric tool to simplify grading.
Rubrics can be created for any type of assignment. It is easy to edit rubrics to meet specific needs; they can be copied and modified within a course and exported to share across courses.
Rubrics can be viewed by the students and used by the faculty for point-and-click grading with built-in feedback plus additional space for unique comments.
Blackboard has rubric information on their website for you to learn more. Please note – Blackboard sets rubrics up with criteria in ascending order, from the lowest criteria to the highest or best. If you choose to use Blackboard Rubrics your first step should be to edit those columns so that the students see the highest, or best, criteria first. Your highest expectations should be the guiding force for students to create their best work, which you can then grade fairly and efficiently with less anxiety.
For help developing rubrics at GCC please email GCConline@genesee.edu or Helpdesk@genesee.edu.
Levine, M. (2014) Specifications Grading. University Times: Pittsburgh, PA.
Ileana Hernandez, Ph.D., LMHC, Assistant Director for Assessment, Evaluation, and Teaching Assistant Development, Center for the Advancement of Teaching, Instructor, Department of Psychology, Florida International University
Judith Littlejohn: corrected spelling, grammar, and hyperlinks; added rubric information and conclusion.
Your college’s career center may have worked with local employers to identify the skills they most desire in students. Boise State University’s Career Center, for example, maintains a list that includes, among other things, analyzing and interpreting information, collaboration, communication, problem solving, and taking initiative.
These are, of course, all skills students build through course assignments. Near the end of each semester, I co-create, with my students, a list of the skills they have built that semester. We then craft phrases they might use in résumés, cover letters, and interviews. Here are some examples from a recent women’s history course:
Located valuable sources when information was difficult to find
Conducted primary source research in analog and digital repositories
Collaborated with a diverse team on multiple iterations of a project
Pivoted a project’s focus when resources proved unavailable
Navigated ambiguity; can “think on my feet” when obstacles arise
Demonstrated persistence and resilience when identifying and learning new technologies
Set realistic goals and timelines
Learned who to ask, what to ask for, and how to ask for it
Built accessible digital resources
Most students wouldn’t consider a women’s history course vocationally focused, yet this exercise helped them emerge from the class confident they had transferable skills. Chances are your courses are similarly useful to students on the job market, but they might not realize it, let alone know how to describe the knowledge and skills they acquired.
Consider setting aside class time near the end of the term to help students brainstorm their skills so that they, too, can articulate them to potential employers.
Another option is to create an online discussion board for students to post to; this could be on-going throughout the semester or at the end of the course.
Now that the semester is winding down it is important for you to take a few minutes to think about how your courses went – what worked well, what could use improvement, what new things would you like to try next time?
Here are two ways to capture your feelings and ideas about your courses so that you can recall what changes you would like to make prior to teaching these courses again.
The first way is easy – create a document or note and brainstorm ideas related to the course. Since I use Blackboard all the time, I create an “item” called “Notes for Next Time” and list things I would like to change. On this list I put everything from announcements I would like to tweak to clarification of research directions. I keep it at the top of my “Start Here” page, hidden from students, to make sure I see it right away when I roll the course.
“Notes for Next Time” can be left in the course all semester so that you can capture ideas as they occur to you throughout the term.
Here is an example:
The second way to ensure you capture your ideas for improving your courses is a little more formal.
Spend a few minutes reflecting on your course, mulling over the high points and the rocky roads, and capture those thoughts in a dedicated document.
Guiding questions on the “Instructor’s Course Reflection” form posted below will help you through the process.
Download the PDF, reflect, and respond honestly. Keep it with your syllabus or other course materials you plan to update for the next time you teach the course, and you will be able to easily remind yourself of what you want to change, focus on, or implement.
Teaching, like learning, is a process of continuous improvement. Hopefully these suggestions will help you meet your instructional goals.