It is that time of year again for finals. Students are reaching their anxiety peak. Tempers are short and time is even shorter. Those all-important final grades will be coming out soon and students will learn if all their hard work has morphed into a passing grade. In the mean time they are doing everything within their power to assure it does. Some will burn the late night oil; others will steal moments at every opportunity to cram, while others will be looking for short cuts. Short cuts are the topic of this posting.
In the world of online testing how do you protect against cheating and how do you verify the person taking the exam is the real student? These are certainly huge questions with ever-changing answers. The simple answer is there is no 100 percent way to stop cheating, not in an online or traditional classroom, but there are some steps to take to reduce the risk in the online environment.
- A secure browser that shuts down everything on your computer except the exam delivery system. If anyone tries to open another program, or keep a program running in the background, the test is shut down.
- It has the additional security feature on locking the ability to print, copy, paste, switch tasks, access other applications, or take a screen shot.
Plagiarism Detection Software
- One of the most well-known tools, Turnitin, scans vast amounts of Web content to determine whether a student’s work matches existing material.
- Another popular package known as SafeAssign, comes with the Blackboard LMS and works similarly to Turnitin.
Proctored exams are used by the institution to assure the integrity of the online program and can be administered three ways: Online, Institution proctored, and Private proctored. Since online students cannot be required to come to campus, they can choose which way they prefer to take online exams.
- Online – Online proctoring is a method of proctoring involving a third party vendor using remote online monitoring. Students are responsible for the cost of the proctoring. They must also have a working camera with sound, which allows the proctor to listen to and monitor their activities during the exam.
- Institution Proctored – The Student Success Center (SSC) has set aside proctoring space on campus for online students to take exams. Students, who choose this method, must work out the arrangements ahead of time. They must let the instructor know they will be coming to campus, and must word with the SSC to set up a time for the exam. The instructor provides the SSC with the access code for the exam, list of expectations (such as open-book, time limits, etc), and a list of students who are eligible to take the exam. When students appear for the exam, they must provide a valid ID to the Proctor.
- Private Proctor – This method is similar to the Institution Proctored in rules, but in this scenario, the student is responsible for finding a private proctor. The proctor cannot be a friend or relative, they must be a professional of some sort. Faculty checks out the proctor and has final approval rights. The rest is according to the same rules as the Institutional Proctor.
Although these processes are in place to ensure the program/institution integrity, nothing is fool proof. A simple google search reveals several methods of beating the system. Everything from simple crib notes to elaborate dual monitor setups are out there waiting for students to discover. In the end the game continues, instructors continue to look for foolproof methods and students look for ways to fool the system. In the end, it is up to the integrity of the student to walk the right path.
Accessibility and Usability means ensuring a quality learning experience for all learners. When talking accessibility it mean those with disabilities can view the content. When we talk about Usability, it means all individuals regardless of their abilities or disabilities, has the ability to navigate the course.
One function used to help with images is the alternative text functions. It serves to:
- allows screen readers to read alternate text, on things like images
- it displays text in place of the image in browsers where the user has chosen not to view images because of visual problems or bandwidth issues
- finally it provides a meaning and description to images which can be read by search engines
Other important accessibility functions to include in your online course is:
- Transcripts or Caption for all Audio and video files
- PDFs that have been saved as searchable text and not images
- Descriptive text, or alt text in when using tables in a document
Usability Means the Ability to Navigate
- Course navigation must be intuitive and simple
- The course provides alternative means of access to course materials in formats that meet the needs of diverse learners
- the course should be free of irrelevant graphics, borders, etc.,
- files should be saved in accessible formats
- font choices and colors should be consistent
- aclean look without excessive decoration is easier to download and use
- avoid flashy colors, ornamental clip art, and video for its own sake
- keep your structureparallel so students can get in a routine
- grouprelated items together and present them in a chronological sequence
- do not send students to three different areas to get their lectures, assignments, quizzes and web links, just keep it simple
- make sure the content is readability
- all multimedia must be easy to use and information provided about the accessibility of all technologies required in the course
Learner support in the online environment is a little different from the things we discussed up to this point. Learner support not only involves the instructor, but the whole institutions. Students in the online environment require a high level of both academic and technical support.
Institutions need to provide easy access to things such as the learning management system, library resources, bookstores, tutoring, academic counseling, early alert/intervention systems, financial aid, and career services.
In addition they will need 24/7 access to the technical help services. These services include live help desk services, training on the use of the various technologies, and various orientations opportunities. Students will also need help with connectivity issues such as institutional Wi-Fi connections and in some cases, access to institutional labs with any additional hardware or software required in their online class.
As you can tell, it takes an institutional effort to support the online student. That being said, instructors also play a large role in supporting the online student.
Classroom Support of Online Students
- Provide timely feedback
- Send a weekly message in to show you are engaged in the classroom
- Comment strategically within discussion boards
- Create an environment conducive to creative thinking
- Clearly identify the objectives to be achieved
- Provide a link to the technical support offered
- Supply a link to the institution’s accessibility policies and services
- Provide an explanation of how the institution’s student services and resources can help learners succeed and how learners can obtain that help
It may sound funny to discuss technology integration in an online course, because in and of itself the online class is technology. When we talk about technology in the online class, we are discussing technology outside of the realm of the Learning Management System Technology and that takes a little skill. Technology integration is more than just throwing up a variety of tools and expect students to be engaged by the flashiness. Technology must be used to support the course learning objectives. Technology integration is successful when the use of technology is:
- Routine and transparent
- Accessible and readily available for the task at hand
- Used in support the learning objectives
- Promote learner engagement and active learning
- The technologies are current
- Links are provided to privacy policies for all external tools
Many different types of technology exist for the online classroom, but again you must use it in a way that promotes the learning objectives of your course. Following is a partial list of tools you may find helpful in your online classroom:
- Game-Based Learning and Assessment
- Interactive Whiteboards
- Student Response Systems
- Web-Based Projects, Explorations, and Research
- Podcasts, Videos, or Slideshows
- Collaborative Online Tools like Wikis
- Social Media
- Discussion boards
You can use a variety of these tools, but keep them relevant. For example, video in your classroom is perfectly acceptable, but asking a student to watch an hour-long video that you recorded during your last lecture may not be so wise. Usually an hour-long lecture is filled with a lot of dead space and illegible content. Videos should be edited and all irrelevant information removed to create manageable chunks. These chunks allow the viewer to absorb the important bits of information relevant to the course objectives while not wasting time watching things of no value. In addition to chunking the information, you will need to make sure all content is accessible to all students, as in ADA compliant.
In the online classroom environment, learner interaction is key to keeping students engaged. Instructors must strive for three distinct areas of interaction:
- Learner to instructor interaction
- Learner to learner interaction
- Learner to content interaction
Learner to Instructor Interactions
Learner to Instructor interactions establish an environment that encourages learners to understand the content. Some Instructional Activities you can include in your course follows:
- Virtual office hours
- Feedback on assignments
- Summary of class key points/concepts
- Asking or responding to instructor questions
- Instructor participation in class discussions
Instructor to learner interaction is a key part of the online course. Many of the above recommendations can be achieved through email, discussions, announcements, and other tools within your Learning Management System.
Learner to learner Interactions
Learner to learner interactions take place between one learner and other learners, alone or in group settings, with or without the real-time presence of an instructor.
Some of the instructional activities that promote learner-to-learner interactions are as follows:
- Team-based learning activities
- Online discussions as part of assessment
- Small team discussions
- Instructor participation in team discussions
- Peer evaluation
- Student introduction forum
You will notice a lot of learner to learner action takes place within the discussion area. Following are a few ideas when you work with discussions:
- Prepare Discussion Posts that Invite Questions, Discussions, Reflections and Responses
- Create open-ended questions that learners can explore and apply the concepts that they are learning
- Encourage critical or creative thinking
- Supporting students in their own reflections and inquiries
- Do not post questions soliciting basic facts, or questions for which there is an obvious yes/no response.
- Provide guidelines and instruction on responding to other students.
Learner to content Interaction
Learner to content interaction is the process of intellectually interacting with content that results in changes in the learner’s understanding or perspective. The interaction can be as simple as reading a text to creating something creating something because of that knowledge.
- Interactive Learning Games
- Links to various resources
No matter what type of interaction you include in the course the learning activities should promote the achievement of the stated learning objectives. The instructor should include feedback on all assignments and detailed instruction of the activity requirements.
There are many types of instructional material available for you to use in your online course, everything from self-developed, to publisher ready content. The following is a partial list of resources available to you:
- Self-Created materials
- Publisher Ready Content
- YouTube Videos
- Website Links
- Textbook Materials
- Open Source Content
It is your responsibility to choose the materials presented to your students. The instructional materials contribute to the achievement of the course learning objectives. As we learned in in the Course Overview section of this series, it is also important that you keep everyone informed of how the materials are to be used and when.
Be an example to your students and make sure all instructional materials used in the course are appropriately cited and current. Use a variety of instructional materials to reach a mixture of learning styles, and because you are using variety of materials make sure you clearly distinguish between required and optional materials.
In the previous post, we talked about learning outcomes or objectives, this session concerns assessments. As we are all aware, assessments are measurements of learning. Your job as the instructor is to assure your assessments align with your learning objectives. You are responsible to decide what evidence is acceptable as proof of knowledge, that your students have accomplished the learning outcomes. This proof reflects as much on you, the instructor, as it does on the students. Yes you will have unprepared students, but you should also view this as an opportunity to judge your course materials for effectiveness. How well your students perform on the assessments can reflect great course materials or the need to enhance or further develop your materials.
Assessments begin well before the first student takes an exam. Assessments are a part of the backbone of the course and based on your learning outcomes. A lot of consideration needs to happen in the design of the course. Assessments are not just about quizzes and essays it is about making sure learning outcomes are achieved. Make sure the assessments measure the stated learning objectives or competencies.
In addition to setting up the assessments in an online course, the course grading policy must be clearly stated, preferably in the syllabus, as well as on each activity. Make sure that criteria for completion of each assessment is available prior to the start of the assessment and make sure the assessment instruments are varied, and suited to the learner work being assessed.
Students must also be given multiple opportunities to track their learning progress. If they do not know their weakness how can they address the problems.
The online environment is very different from the traditional classroom. Much too often we want to focus on the amount of time a student sits in a seat, but if that is the case, we are focusing on the wrong end of the student. Time on task is important, but it is not everything. Our true objective is the learning. Assessments should accurately measure the learning of students as well as the materials provided in the classroom to teach the various concepts. Kept this concept in mind when designing the online classroom.
It is a simple concept, if you are trying to learn how to fly a plane, but your objectives talk about driving a car, how have you accomplished your goals? It is extremely difficult to get to where you are going when you do not have a road map. Learning Objectives or outcomes lay out the path for the student and the faculty. They keep you headed in the right direction and allows students to understand why they are learning each concept.
When course objectives are established, they need to be measurable. Read the Learning Objective below and describe how you would measure the students learning based on the statement.
Understand how the solar system was formed.
This statement does not contain measurable objectives. To make the objective measurable, Verbs must be used. Blooms Taxonomy contains an outstanding list of verbs that can be used to make the objective measurable, see the following http://www.apu.edu/live_data/files/333/blooms_taxonomy_action_verbs.pdf .
Now read the following Learning Objective and see how much easier it is for you to determine if students have learned the outcomes.
Students will be able to list and describe the four steps that occur in the creation of solar systems.
In addition to the course learning objectives, which is a broad overview of the course, you must make sure the module/unit learning objectives are measurable and consistent with the course-level objectives.
To keep the roadmap clear, you will need to align the module objectives with the course objectives. This goes back to the flying example given earlier. If your course objective is talking about flying, why are you telling the student about driving a car? Is there a relationship between the two objectives? You must draw clear lines to help the students understand why they are learning to drive a car especially since they signed up to learn to fly a plane.
This whole concept is the heart of course design. You are telling students what they will learn and guiding them through the process of learning the concepts. Students may not be able to correlate the relationship between course and module objectives, but you are the expert and it is your job to show them how things connect. Remember the old Karate Kid movie, wax on, wax off. It was not until Mr. Miyagi showed Daniel the correlation between wax on, wax off and karate, that he understood the concept of objectives.
When you are learning something new sometimes it is hard to know where and how to get started, that is why it is important for instructors to give clear instructions on getting started. Even if students have taken online courses prior to enrolling in yours, each class is different. To get students off to a good start give them an overview of the purpose and structure of the course. Make it clear how to get started and where to find various course components.
It is also important to inform students of your expectations in the class. What do you expect of them in their communication with you and fellow classmate? How should they address you? How should they treat fellow classmates? You are the one setting the tone for the class; if you permit rude behavior then it will happen. Let student’s know your expectations and the consequences of not living up to those expectancies. In addition to your class policies, you need to address institutional policies. That can be as simple as putting a link to the various policies.
Another problem that needs addressing immediately is the classroom. You are not in a traditional classroom. Student know how to operate in a traditional classroom, but are they aware of the technology requirements of the online class. It is your job to make them aware of the minimum technology requirement. If you are using a Learning Management System, make sure you let the students know how to get there, any additional software needed for the class, and any hardware needs such as webcams. In addition, you should provide them with any competencies they need from a technical viewpoint to pre-requisite courses they should have completed.
In a traditional classroom, day one usually involves you introducing yourself to the class and them introducing themselves to you and the class. Learners should be ask to introduce themselves to the class using something like the discussion board. The instructor should also introduce themselves to the class. This can be in the form of discussion board or video.
If you have been around the online learning environment for any length of time, you know that online courses run the breadth of great to not so well structure. You will find some overladen with content to others that contain very little relevant material. You have a lot of good and some that are substandard. This series will cover the eight basic components of a quality online course. Using those eight criteria, I will discuss how you can improve your online class. Those criteria include:
- Having a Course Overview
- Clearly defined Learning Objectives
- Assessments to Measure Learning
- Instructional Materials
- Learner Interactions
- Course Technology
- Learner Support
- Accessibility and Usability
Over the next few weeks, I will be giving information on how to accomplish each of these in your online course. I will go over the things needed in the course overview, the importance of clearly defined course objects, and all other things necessary to develop a pedagogically sound learning environment for students.