Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DE 101: Online Student Success

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I wanted to share a few notes here about our orientation to online learning. Here at College of the Redwoods, Barry Tucker and I have created "DE 101" - our free, not-for-credit, fully online student orientation to online learning. This is our syllabus.  NB: This posting is meant to be a chatty draft of a more formal paper that Barry Tucker and I will write on this course.

What problem does this solve?
Every semester, we have students going into to online classes with little exposure to technology or online learning. Students have spent 12 years learning to be a face-to-face student, and have had little experience with distance education. We find that students who are struggling with the technology and who do not understand what is involved in online learning (the motivation and study skills needed) will do poorly. We believe that this accounts for the disparity between the retention rates and success rates in the online and face-to-face classes.Our students typically do not have access to a lot of technology and it have only recently had access to high speed networks or even computers. This is a very rural and large area (10,000 sq miles).

How does it work?
The "course" goes for two weeks. We have two "facilitators" and three "TAs." Basically if you are in the Distance Education department, you are participating in DE 101. There are four modules in the course that open up twice a week. This mimics the flow of a typical online course. Each module covers a piece of technology and a personal skill, such as time management, that research has shown to contribute to success in online classes. The orientation is hosted in our instance of Sakai. We try to use as many of the tools in Sakai as we can and we throw in some outside tools as well. Each module has a lesson (which may include illustrations, recorded audio or video), a brief assignment, and a quiz or survey. The first module will open on Monday, the next on Thursday, etc. The tests and surveys are simple. The first one is a syllabus quiz. The whole point is to let the students play with the tools and practice using the technology with out the stress of trying to learn algebra or biology at the same time.We are using tools like Twitter to help model the possibilities of building learning networks online.

What Are the Challenges?
Time constraints. Two weeks does not seem to be enough time. It is better than trying to pack everything in a couple hours which is often the case with face-to-face orientations. ADA issues need to be solved. We have text equivalents for a lot of the media in the course - we need a quick, inexpensive (free?) way of captioning videos. We think YouTube's automatic captioning is exciting. We are also part of a grant for captioning educational video. In these days of Google Voice's speech-to-text technology, there has to be an easier way to do this. (Keep an eye on this blog for solutions to come.)

What are the results?
We have seen a significant increase in student retention and success rates in online classes since we have implemented DE 101. We went from and 11% difference between face-to-face rates to 5% which is the national average. One semester we brought it down to 4%. In our surveys, the students report that they feel more comfortable with the technology and are ready to take online classes. We hear back from faculty who say that they appreciate having DE 101 students in their classes because they can help other students out as well.

Where do we go from here?
We would like to see more of an emphasis on collaborative work. I would like to build the course into a community instead of a "class." I am in a class this semester, Jim Groom's DS 106 (Digital Storytelling). That course has a built in pedagogy of participation and collaboration. The students share assignments and create assignments. I would like to have the students decide what skills are important in online learning (and smart network creation) and then collaborate on assignments to meet those goals. I would like a system of badges ala Code Academy, where students with research and citation skills can help their peers learn how to use online tools like Zotero for their research. We want to use more assignments that use Google Docs, social media and other technologies that encourage collaborative learning.

How are you preparing your students for online learning? Please feel free to share your comments below.
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