Optimizing the Learners’ LMS eLearning Experience

The first eLearning course I enrolled in in the year 2000 was a nightmare because I couldn’t find all the required pieces of the course on the website. Granted, LMS (learning management systems) were in their infancy at that point, and I honestly don’t recall which, if any, LMS was use. Nonetheless, the course left such a horrible impression on me that it took many years before I attempted another online course.

I always remember that experience when I design my courses. I’ve worked primarily in Moodle and Blackboard, and each have their pros and cons, but no matter which LMS is used, making the course as learner friendly as possible is always at the forefront of my layout.

In the Blackboard example used here, the site is laid out by module. The Course Documents page contains all documents the learners will use, including the course syllabus and assignments, in addition to links to useful sites. These documents are added to the modules in which the topics are addressed and assignments “handed out.” The multiple postings allow learners to quickly find what they are looking for.

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Six Lessons I Learnt from Completing a Master’s Degree

graduationTwo years ago I was enthusiastically preparing to plunge into earning a master of education. I was a part-time student with a full time job and I knew I’d face time management challenges … surely that was going to be my only problem.

As I reflect back on the last two years, I can see how much my thinking and approach to life has evolved because of my tenacity to complete a graduate degree in the same amount of time as full-time students. Today, I’ve moved across the country to realized a dream that slowly emerged while working on my masters … embark on a Ph.D. in education.

I’m know that the valuable lessons I learnt along the way will help me wade through the Ph.D. challenges that I’ll face over the next few years. Continue reading

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What is Curriculum?

Source: MS Office.com

Source: MS Office.com

In both my bachelors and masters programs I’ve taken a number of course that focus on designing curriculum, but what struck me is the inconsistency definition of curriculum. I’ve heard some college professors define curriculum as their lesson plans. One of my professors described curriculum as the process of putting together learning outcomes, which is supported by lecture material, readings, and assignments.

These definitions are correct, but they do not capture the essence of what I believe curriculum is, which is the input (process), output (interactions with students) and the objectives (learner success).

The confusion about what curriculum is may be based on different purposes of a course or program. For example, an introductory course may be knowledge based and therefore subject centred. Looking at pedagogical theories, the professor may employ humanistic or behavioural design. Some teachers have told me they teach using problem-based or project-based learning. The popular TRIBES teaching/learning method focuses on cooperative learning lesson plans. All these are examples of teaching practices, but not curriculum design.

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What is A GPA Really Worth?

Photo source: office.microsoft.com

I can’t tell you how many times I met with students because they wanted a higher mark on an assignment and thought their GPA would suffer. Grade inflation has become one of new villains of this generation’s academic career. It’s our job as professors to explain to students that although they want to be an A-plus student, for the majority, their GPA is worthless.

When does a GAP have Meaning?
The difference between a 72% and a 75% is minimal unless the assignment/exam/presentation has a heavy weight in proportion to the final course mark.

Some programs require a minimum GPA. Professors in the program are well aware of the minimum requirements. They know there is a vast difference between a C and an A student and they mark accordingly.

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E-learning: The Silver Bullet that Can Miss the Target

Have you noticed the similarity between the promise of e-learning and the promises made in advertising?

Much like the advocates of e-learning, advertising sells us on the benefits of a product. For example, did you have a bad night’s sleep last night? Lack of sleep could lead to poor grades, drowsiness while driving, decreased social activity, and inattentiveness at work, which could put your career at risk. The solution is buy the sleep-e-z pillow for only $29.99

Much the same way, e-learning was touted to be the cure-all for the ills of education. Continue reading

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The Take-Home, Open-Book Test

In one of my college prep courses I found that students were very stress about taking college-type tests. While I had to prepare the students for college level learning, I certainly didn’t wan them to drop out or fail because of their fear of tests.

One colleague suggested giving the students a take-home test, but I suspected that students would give into the temptation of using the Internet to answer the questions. Occasionally I had used open-book tests, so as an experiment I created a take-home, open book test.

A week before the test, I have the student a choice of three topics they could write an essay about. I also gave them a fill-in-the blanks form to help them organize their information for each paragraph of essay. Continue reading

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Student Created Curriculum Builds Enthusiasm for Learning

Everyone has a different way of studying and learning new material. As an educator, I was often guilty of creating lessons plans that favour my preferred learning style. As Socrates said, “Knowing thyself is the height of wisdom,” but in today’s higher education system it is a wise educator who first learns about his or her students.

A few years ago I was asked to teach a basic business course to students in a fairly new program. I asked the program coordinator to describe the type of students who enrolled in his program, and what he needed the students to know by the end of the course to succeed in future courses.

He told me that they were very creative, but needed confidence. They had no business experience, were between 18 and 25 and needed to know how to create a business plan. Most of the students hadn’t yet chosen an area of specialization, and were still exploring their options. Continue reading

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Using Mythbusters to Tech Basic Research

Almost every episode of the popular TV show Mythbusters includes a segment that involves research. I found using the show is an invaluable tool for teaching basic research terminology and illustrating to students that research can be fun.

In my first class I list and explain basic research terms, such as independent and dependent variables, hypothesis, correlations, types of samples, and sequencing. In the second class, I recap some of the terms, answer questions, and once the students are confident they understand the material, I play a segment of Mythbusters.

The students have a task while watching the video: Identify as many research terms as possible and provide examples used in the show. If it is a short segment, I’ll play it twice. This allows the learners to find more examples and allows them to absorb the research that is being presented as opposed to watching merely to find terms and examples. Continue reading

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Grading Issues are Solved by Creating Rubrics

My understanding of today’s high school students is that they care more about the letter grade than they do about truly understanding the course. Parental expectations and an attitude of “I’m the best and I deserve an A+ “ has become an increasing problem that has migrated from high school to higher education.

Over my eight-year college teaching career I noticed the increased number of students who attempt to bargain with me for “just one more point” on an assignment. The pressure to inflate grades began to creep into the profession. For some students, receiving a low mark was a shock because high school students in Ontario rarely fail a grade or subject. The reality is that not all students are suitable for college or university. They are not prepared for the amount of work, the real possibility of failure, and the tight deadlines.

One of my former students actually had the audacity to rather loudly say to me that he deserved to pass because he’d paid his tuition. I pointed out that he had attended only three classes and handed in two of the six assignments … and one was a month late so he received a zero. Continue reading

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Learning Journals Help Students and Professors

Getting ready for a new school year, or semester, has its challenges for professors. One challenge is to try a new mode of learning for students. One mode of learning I have successfully used to enhance reflective learning is having students keep a journal on the course’s subject matter.

I began using journals when I taught research course, but I quickly realized how powerful journals are in other courses to help learners capture and organize their thoughts. While many students bemoan writing a journal by hand, they soon discover that their thoughts become more concise when they write by hand. Students don’t want to spend much time writing, but they need to capture information, and quickly learn brevity.

Students are required to purchase a notebook that is hard covered and with numbered pages. I want to see their mistakes, their doodles, and misinterpretations. While some learners don’t immediately see it, reviewing mistakes is part of the learning process.

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