Virtual TA: Online Student Success and Retention Issues

Here are a few articles for our bot project:

“Issues of isolation, disconnectedness, and technological problems may be factors that influence a student to leave a course.”

“The authors point out that pedagogy and support structures must be enhanced to ensure the success of students who avail themselves of online learning options.”

One of the principles of good practice in undergraduate education is prompt feedback.

A virtual TA can help resolve tech issues and point to solutions to tech problems. It can connect students to campus support that may already be online. Virtual TAs solve the problem of how to provide students with immediate feedback.

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Being Sentient Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Deutsch: Phrenologie

Deutsch: Phrenologie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am reading the Stanford Report on AI. This statement from the report brought back on all the things I had read about AI growing up: “Contrary to the more fantastic predictions for AI in the popular press, the Study Panel found no cause for concern that AI is an imminent threat to humankind. No machines with self-sustaining long-term goals and intent have been developed, nor are they likely to be developed in the near future.” With that said, I love hearing about breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. They are usually accompanied by breathless timelines, e.g., this break-through means that within 10 years, robots will take the place of x workers, or even more dire predictions, like Elon Musk’s, for instance – declaring AI as an “existential threat to humanity.” The AI is not the threat, it is our misperception of the nature of technology and consciousness. If we think that machines can make decisions, and we rely on those “decisions,” you can bet we will be extinct in 100 years. We will be destroyed not by the machines but by our misplacement of power and trust to those machines.  The folks programming AI and those employing it have no idea what intelligence really means.  It is not playing chess. It is not driving a car. One has only to drive down any metropolitan freeway on any weekday between 4 and 7 PM to know that intelligence has nothing to do with driving. I know about this first hand because my Android phone and my wife’s iPhone have both sent us dangerously down one way streets. Does that make the technology evil? Evil implies some sort of intention. Maybe the phone planned that or intended to do so? These two things I think the phone can’t do, planning and intention, why do we think they can drive?

Intelligence is not even making music because making music requires self-reflection, inspiration, a life-long relationship with music and all of the experience and history that would imply. I will believe that computers can really make music when a robot drops out of college, moves back into his mother’s (creators?) garage to become a drummer. But modern computers do not have that kind of agency or motivation. No computer has ever leaned back in a chair and said “I am restless. I am going to the park to play chess.” No computer has ever felt compelled to create.

Learning agent, based on Artificial Intelligen...

Learning agent, based on Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The science of cognition is still in its infancy. How do you go about making something “artificial” when you don’t know what you are making an artifice of? My generation grew up on Disney films where all one had to do was get electrocuted by a computer and all of a sudden, you are super smart. In the early 80s, I remember that the TRS 80s at the college library had Eliza on it and that primitive code sent people out asking questions about AI. There are so many talking computers and robots in the media that I think we think that intelligence is somehow inherent in technology.

The computer folks do not have the background in the humanities to sufficiently define “intelligence” and the humanities folks do not have a sufficient background in technology to understand the programming. Both camps think they are talking about the same thing and they are not. The Turing Test does not measure intelligence, it just records whether or not someone has had a conversation with a computer sufficiently inane that one could not tell if it was with a computer or a person.

Descartes and Spinoza are completely unaccounted for in the current discussions of AI and intelligence. I know that there is a lot going on in the cognitive sciences and AI right now, but in going back to basics, as simple as they are, would reveal a lot. I would dare anyone to ask an modern AI program to give some account of its existence, or stack Spinoza’s three kinds of cognition next to any database and say we are even close to the complexity of human thought. Am I intelligent because I know something? Does a database of information really know something? Does a program that relies on branching-tree metaphors really “understand”? Am I intelligent because I speak French or English? Many idiots can speak French or English and often do so with great eloquence. And if you have been following the great conversation about intelligence and consciousness and the nature of the mind at all for the last 2500 years, you would know that embodiment is a huge deal in thinking about consciousness. None of the issues that are two and a half millennia old are really settled yet, we let a car, programmed by someone who is not aware of or cares about what has been said about ethics or consciousness in even the last 30 years, put one of these contraptions on the street.

What we don’t get is that the AI is us. We are the AI. We created AI for every reason that the AI is not intelligent: our intentions, fears, planning, vision, inspiration, intellect, culture, history, everything that constitutes our being creates AI. AI is another poem. It is a religion. It is art – bound to its time and culture. It is not a science. The science of AI is a game. It plays with every current conception, misperception, and convention of intelligence. The computer scientists are so sure there is a formula and the humanitarians are so sure that there is magic, and we alone determine intelligence. How do we measure it? How do we assess it? Will a computer one day ask “what was my original face before I was born?”

Maybe a computer will one day be able to say “I think therefore I am,” but we have to decide whether that statement is true for that computer or not. Does a recording of those words on a cassette tape mean my stereo is sentient? The fact that I can create narrow, mechanical conditions where a computer makes such a declaration has more to say about my definition of consciousness than the consciousness of technology. The nature of sentiency is unclear at best. We are clever enough to make computers mimic human activity, but that is far from being intelligent. And I am not just a blind sceptic, I know we can accomplish a lot through AI, analytics, and cognitive science – I just think we need a real definition of intelligence before we declare something intelligent.

I am writing a short story in response to these issues because I think a 20 page research paper is a lame response to a situation as ridiculous as this. Only art can capture the sublime absurdity of these questions. I am basically an autodidact: as a technician I am a good artist and as an artist, I am a good technician. Watch this space…

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Start-Up Weekend Education: Coming to Seattle and a Classroom Near You!

Seattle Central Library by architect Rem Koolh...

Seattle Central Library by architect Rem Koolhaas, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Start-Up Weekend Education Seattle 2016 is coming Nov. 18-20 at the Seattle Library. It is sponsored by the Seattle Library Foundation – which kind of figures because so much innovation in education has been coming out of libraries. I was at a meeting last night at Galvanize, a start-up work space, community, and learning hub. We met together faculty, entrepreneurs, representatives from the library and volunteers and organizers for the November event. The meeting was ran a little like Start-Up Weekend: we were all asked to answer questions about our dreams and gripes about education on large whiteboards. We then saw a presentation about how Start-Up Weekend works: people get together and they have 60 seconds to pitch and idea or a problem, people vote on the problems, and then form teams to come up with solutions. Start-ups are formed from these teams. There are coaching sessions and mentoring. It is an amazing opportunity. I met some interesting people with some great ideas and a lot of creative energy. I am really looking forward to November.

So I came home last night, very energized by the evening and Jacqui, who is a college English teacher says, “that is really interesting – how do you bring that level of engagement into the classroom?” So after talking and thinking about it for a while, I thought that I had seen pieces of this method in some classes. Classes where there might be some outcomes (students will learn how to use Photoshop, etc.), but the way the students get there can be something that they work out for themselves. I am thinking that in instructor could help the students understand the goals and/or outcomes of the course, and then have the students decide how they would like to meet those goals. The instructor could provide broad topics, the students could then pitch ideas to the class, the students could then vote on the ideas, and then form teams around the top ideas. The project might be a film, a report, a series of presentations. This could also be an opportunity for the teacher to model “agile development” techniques.

Several courses I have participated in (rather than “taken”) included elements of agile development such as George Siemens and Stephen Downes Connectivism and Connective Knowlege where self-organizing groups itself was a critical piece of instruction, and DS 106 where the students create the lesson bank.

This is one of the questions I was the most enthusiastic about last night: how do we increase student collaboration in the classroom? How do we make it easier?

I know that others have been working along these lines, if you have some examples that you would care to share than post in the comments below or contact me on Twitter @geoffcain.

Related Readings:

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NWeLearn: Using Gamefication to Increase Engagement

Centralia College

Centralia College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, I was at the North West eLearning Conference in Eugene, OR. I highly recommend the conference. What I like about it most is that there are usually few presentations by vendors and a lot of sessions by teachers and education professionals. I was fortunate enough to make it to Erin Baker’s presentation called “Using Gamefication to Increase Engagement – Myth, Magic, and Reality.” And what you think should be a no-brainer at a conference on elearning, but is often exceptional, instead of telling us about it or reading off her paper, she had us actually do things. It was as much a hands on workshop as it was a presentation. Erin is an Education Technologist from Centralia College’s eLearning Dept. At the beginning, our “ice breaker challenge” was a scavenger hunt where we were meant to find others in the room and answer 8 questions about them which ranged from who had used gamefication before to funny questions like “name five pokemon” or “can you sing all the words to the theme song from ‘Gilligan’s Island.'” Her presentation also utilized scenarios on various facets of student engagement (or disengagement) and the room broke up into groups to come up with solutions. There were fill in the blank note sheets for getting down the ideas of the presentation. We were given an sheet that was an “Objective Bingo” which you could fill out as you met the objectives of the presentation. And if all that wasn’t enough, she had stayed up until 3:00 AM to make us all a series of ten collectible cards that she used as awards. We were given the opportunity to get complete sets at the end, but that required us to spontaneously organize into groups of sorters. If you could not make it to the session and would like to talk to her about it, she is on Twitter @erinanddelijah. The session was informative and inspiring and the cards alone were worth the price of admission.

So I have used games in my English comp classes before (a version of Nomic, for instance), but they were always separate events or assignments, not something built into the classroom or assessment. I learned a lot from using Nomic in the classroom – there can be a lot of positive, unintended consequences for using games in the classroom. The philosopher Peter Suber wrote about the game in his book “The Paradox of Self-Amendment: A study of law, logic, omnipotence, and change” in 1990 where he defines Nomic as “…a game in which changing the rules is a move. In that respect it differs from almost every other game. The primary activity of Nomic is proposing changes in the rules, debating the wisdom of changing them in that way, voting on the changes, deciding what can and cannot be done afterwards, and doing it. Even this core of the game, of course, can be changed.” This game teaches the students more about politics, communication, and getting things done in one day than they can learn in four years in college. But what I liked most about using a game was it brought out the voices from the back of the class, the introverts in the back realized that the three or four extroverts in the front were getting all the points, so they started to get together to create voting blocks and even passed a rule that said that anyone with more than 400 points had to give half back to everyone else! Now what I think Erin is getting at is that the kind of engagement I found in that one assignment can be part of the design for the whole class.

Some of the connectivist MOOCs I have participated in have gamefied elements. There are elements of gamefication in classes like DS 106 where the students have the ability to create their own assignments and the entire curriculum is in the spirit of a “choose your own adventure” game.

I did not have a chance to post about this over the weekend, but I did manage to read more articles about it – that to me is the sign of a good conference experience and what I mean by “inspiration” – I am led to explore and experiment more. Any way, these were some articles of interest to me. If there are some essentials I am missing let me know in the comments or contact me online via Twitter @geoffcain. The first three participants may be entered into a contest to possibly win a brand, new car! See? I just gamified my blog!

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NWeLearn: Revisiting Presence and Community in the Online Classroom

Revisiting Presence and Community in the Online Classroom

Patrick Lowenthal, Assistant Professor at Boise State University

Online educators love to talk about social presence and community. In this talk, Patrick will review some of his recent research on social presence and community with the goal of encouraging the audience to not only revisit but challenge current assumptions held about presence and community in the online classroom.

He calls himself an educator, researcher, designer, and developer. He has been teaching online since 2002.

He is excited about hating learning objectives and Quality Matters.

He discussed the history of social presence. “The Social Psychology of Telecommunications.”

He gave a continuum of social presence.

“Given enough time, we will find ways to connect even with email.” (Walther)

Community of Inquiry – The Education Experience: social, cognitive, teaching presence. He reviewed the lit around social presence and communication, and the community of inquiry.

His definition of social presence in an online course: real, there, connection, belonging.

He says that social presence is not the same thing and learning community.

Books he recommends: Situated Learning (1991) & Communities of Practice (1998)

What does an online community look like?

He says that there are benefits to community and social presence – but there is an “over-emphasis.”  

The Atlantic “When Schools Overlook Introverts.”

Does not like Quality Matters because?

It does a good job at scaffolding or creating an template.

His argument is that we need to be better than QM. We have to expect more.
He says we don’t need “virtual hugs” which I am not sure what he means by that. He also says that no student says that they were impressed about the assessments are aligned with the learning objectives. I disagree with this point – when they are not aligned they will definitely let you know.

Quality Matters and templates help solve problems.

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NWeLearn: Student Makers & Publishers

These are some random notes from a very exciting presentation on alternative assessments and student driven work. The notes are not a complete account but reflects my own interests and distractions:

Student Makers & Publishers

Amber Lemiere, Instructor of English
Mark Gaither, Instructor of Business Technology
Nicole DiGerlando, Instructor of English & Literature
Lucas Myers, Instructor of Biological Sciences at Lower Columbia College

We got bored accepting assignments, essays, tests, and projects for our eyes only: products of student learning that will eventually be filed away and forgotten about. So did our students! In this presentation, we share how we have started empowering students to become makers and publishers by designing and re-designing course work for a public audience, and using a variety of approaches and tools. Join us, four instructors in a variety of disciplines, to find out more about what our students are making, how we are getting them published, and what our vision is for a campus-wide, cross-discipline publishing culture. Show up with a traditional assignment, and leave with an idea for how you can engage your students by empowering them to make and publish their work, too!

Transitioning from trashcan assignments to something that is meaningful and from their own experience.

The editor of the Salal Review has the students look at other journals from other colleges and ask why it was edited that way.

The students are taught layout and how it presents the art and poetry. There is a technologist that comes in and talks about fonts. They have two workshops: one on Photoshop and the other on InDesign. The webmaster puts up a PDF of the journal.

Nichole teaches a variety of levels of English. In Eng 102 she decided to a class on vampires. The produce a physical journal, 10-12 page research paper, and they are gathered up. She also has students produce a zine.  She uses Prezi as well for the students to put up presentations.

Mark uses “self-organized learning environments.” The students are teaching themselves. SOLE Reviewer Student (Mitra, 2013). He had the girls make a “cookbook.” The entire class is working as a 40 person team producing one product. They used Word, layout, images. The students raised the money for producing the cookbook. The students are teaching themselves. “As an instructor, I didn’t have to do anything.” He just stayed out of it. He also worked with other instructors to have the students work across disciplines. The students are using Lulu for publishing. They sell the books for $40 a piece. They raised the money from a bake sale and a pie in the face contest. SOLE is a community process – it is self-policing.

This is based on the work of Sugata Mitra

Amber wants to create assignments that are empowering via multimedia. Multimodal Texts: Linguistic, Audio, Visual, Gestural, and Spatial

New London Group was cited. She initially asked students to create a mutimodal object for an extra 10 points. She then asked the students to make websites using all five elements of design. The students are using blogs and commenting on one another’s blog.
In response to the idea that writing connects writers to the ecosystem of ideas. “Digital spaces are places.”

Lucas talked about Pedagogical Transformation. Students are 1.5x more likely to fail in a traditional lecture oriented class than courses with a focus on active learning. (Freeman, 2014). Science is taught as if it is a body of facts and not a process of knowing. He had the students build websites. They needed to take what they are learning and put it up as a multimodal object. Some had family members use the material to help them through high school science. Students are designing their own experiments. They are not using the cookbook labs but creating, writing, posters, peer-reviewed, and published.

In one assignment, the students have to design a cancer-proof cell. They create videos for their websites.

Students are creating peer-reviewed undergrad research journals, epublications, and mobile apps.

Multiliteracies Wheel

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NWeLearn: Limitless Education: Is Open Source an Option?

Bell tower at Oregon State University.

Bell tower at Oregon State University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Limitless Education: Is Open Source an Option?

Tamara Mitchell, Assistant Director Career Success Center at Oregon State University / Arkansas State University Mountain Home / Western Oregon University
Brian Daigle, Center for Academic Innovation at Western Oregon University
Alexis Terell, Undergraduate Pathway Associate Program Manager at Oregon State University
Craig Geffre, Division of International Programs at Oregon State University
Jennifer Kepka, Linn-Benton Community College

Open Source tools are reducing barriers and encouraging innovation among higher education faculty, staff, and administrators. Engage with a panel of higher education professionals to learn about the latest trends in OS, discover useful software and content available for immediate use in classrooms and campuses, and participate in a discussion that will record your voice as part of the larger OS community online.

Some of the tools looked at:

I think we should have started with a definition of Open Source. They seemed to deride the idea of something being “philosophically open.”

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NWeLearn: Using eLearning in Developmental Education

Not Ready for College, but Ready for College Online: Using eLearning in Developmental Education
Jennifer Kepka, Instructor at Lane Community College and Linn Benton Community College

Many colleges and community colleges shy away from offering online courses below the 100-level based on inaccurate assumptions about developmental-level learners. Take a hands-on look at 10 applicable strategies for making online learning into the supportive, intensive, learner-centered environment that Dev Ed students need.

“I think dev ed should expand online and there is a lot of research that says that I am wrong.” She says that the research does not take into account the role of teacher training.

Scenarios: How can we (as teachers, admins, designers) leverage the online platform to help dev students succeed? (Jenn handed out four example dev ed student scenarios for us to discuss at our tables.)

  • Make sure the student is connected to campus resources like tutoring.
  • Make sure the assignments are open ended in such a way that they are writing about their experiences.
  • Team teaching with a teacher who has experience with advising.
  • Give the students opportunities to revise.
  • Make sure the student is enrolled in an online orientation.
  • Questions come up about placement tests (accuracy, anxiety, etc.).
  • One suggestion was to open the pedagogy for the students and have them set the weight of tests and other assessments.
  • Get all of the students to talk about what it takes to be a successful online student.
  • Have materials in a variety of formats.

Strategy I: Learn about our learners

  • Why are they here?
  • What does online allow us to know?
  • Use introductory discussion groups
  • Ask the students “what do you want just your instructor to know about you?”

Strategy II: Personalize Instruction

  • Accelerate or decelerate as needed
  • Build on past strengths and confidence

Strategy III: Reduce Anxiety

  • Share work from the start
  • What about test anxiety?
  • Model publicly, correct privately (reply in ways that model good posting)

Strategy IV: Set and Explain Expectations

  • What does participation mean?
  • What are the time requirements? How do I manage them?
  • What can I expect from the instructor?

Most students will not read the syllabus and the first day in the f-2-f class only happens once. In an online course, they can always refer back to it online.

Strategy V: Offer Multiple Contact Points

  • Online
  • In-person
  • Phone
  • Video (Skype, Hangouts)
  • Texting

Students should have ways of communicating with instructors that they are comfortable with.

A participant suggested the app as a way to help students organize their work.

Strategy VI: Include Valuable Technology Instruction

  • Online navigation can be a part of the content instead of a barrier
  • Make technology part of the curriculum

Strategy VII: Reduce Cost Barriers

  • Use OER when possible
  • Offer supplemental instruction

Strategy VIII: Emphasize the Campus

  • Just because the class is online doesn’t mean the student must always be.
  • Make a video with the librarian
  • Set up an online chat with the tutorial center

Strategy IX: Emphasize Accessibility for All

  • Readings can become lectures, and lectures can become videos, or?
  • Students with PTSD can be more comfortable with online courses
  • Provide alternative content

Strategy X: When in Doubt, Trust Students

  • Open the course to suggestions
  • Open the course changes based on student input and analytics

We can make the mistake of assuming that dev ed students are less smart.

Question: Shouldn’t we encourage students to take f-2-f first? Jenn believes that there are students who shouldn’t take online courses. She says that online groups can be beneficial to those who have anxiety around public speaking.

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NWeLearn: Creativity in Instructional Design

These are only my notes and impressions. Non-tangential ramblings are my own. Contents may settle in shipping:

Creativity in Instructional Design

Shannon Riggs, Director of Ecampus Course Development and Training at Oregon State University

Instructional designers wear many hats in online education. In this interactive keynote, we’ll discuss the complex and multi-faceted role of the instructional designer, the role of creativity in the course development process, and the question of whether creativity is a “nice-to-have” or a “must have” in online education. We’ll also discuss some strategies for finding opportunities for instructional design collaborations, even in institutions where there may not be formal instructional design positions.

She was reticent to get involved in online education but found that ALL of the online students had to be engaged because the courses were designed that way. If the students did not engage, they couldn’t pass.

The eCampus as 50 online programs, 3k students have earned a degree since 2002, 19k students from 50 states and 19 countries. 1k+ online courses.

They are growing at 15% a year and they are proud that they have not let the quality slip – it has improved.

“ECampus Essentials”:

This requires the collaboration of an instructional designer.

The question for the tables was “what role do instructional designers play on campus?”

Quality assurance, assist in course development, OER, education technologist, professional developers, trainer, etc. The first training that teachers get on how to teach often first comes from IDs. They are LMS wranglers, institutional navigators, life-long learners, law and policy guides (e.g. FERPA, Fair Use, etc), accessibility experts, project managers, campus resource gurus, faculty champions, and ADDIE.

She is a proponent of the ADDIE method.

Another question for the tables: “When you are thinking about creativity, what are its characteristics?”

Thinking outside the box, working with or against the constraints, combining seemingly disparate things to create something new, we are first observers and then we combine things.

She discussed the constraints of Haiku and explored how that creativity relates to instructional design. A creative generative force working against constraints. She gave examples from photography and painting (e.g. Pointillism). In literature, there are patterns and restraints with basic story telling processes and the further restraints of genres like tragedy or romance comedy. Good art is a tension between constraint and generative energy.

Instructional designers are artists. The result of good instructional design is that the course comes to life just as an artist brings a work of art to life.

Questions that instructional designers can ask: “what would you do if you couldn’t lecture, or there were no tests?”

Faculty members might ask “how can I make an online asynchronous discussion as good as face-to-face discussion?” or “Can we even do online labs?” – instructional designers have ways to solve these problems.

Constraints: deadlines, the LMS, FERPA, etc.

Is creativity a nice-to-have or a must-have in instructional design? It is for creating motivation, engagement, satisfaction, retention, high impact practices (IDs can tell you how to do this online).

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NWeLearn: Digital Fluency Initiative and Faculty Development

English: George Fox University

George Fox University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Digital Fluency Initiative and Faculty Development

Linda Samek, Provost; Robin Ashford, Senior Librarian; Anna Berardi, Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy; Gloria Doherty, Director of Education Technology and Hybrid Learning Programs at George Fox University

The ability of faculty to engage 21st Century students requires levels of digital fluency not always found in experienced faculty members. George Fox University is using a model of faculty development that provides a summer boot camp followed by small group learning and one-on-one mentoring throughout the academic year. This has been highly successful with the goal that each participant will recruit others to the initiative to extend the program eventually to the full faculty.

We began by taking a poll using Poll Everywhere:

A faculty led peer mentoring program.

Started out as “Crazy Women of Technology.” They got involved with ISTE and EdTech Women but were not interested in the rules and cost.

220 full-time and tenure track faculty. They had a retreat to work out what they were doing. The President went to Cupertino and decided that they needed to do more at George Fox with technology. All of the traditional venues for training gave mixed results. Faculty focus groups said that small peer groups were the way to go.

Funded with 85k with a contingent that there were positive results with student learning outcomes.

ECAR studies in 2014 showed that the faculty were more interested in improving student outcomes with tech, not just tenure and compensation.

ECAR 2015 Edu Tech and Faculty Development.

Improving Digital Literacy – Solvable Challenge – NMC Horizon Report 2015.

How to define digital literacy? Requires substantial leadership and support.

NMC Report 2016

Technology is neither good nor bad but can result in better learning outcomes.

The end goal is to increase student success and engagement. The method is to increase faculty  engagement. Each year, faculty apply to become and member of DFI (Digital Fluency Initiative). They have a Director of Digital Fluency.

Other universities have similar programs but they are not integrated with the yearly program of professional development. For instance, I have seen “faculty bootcamps” and Spring meetings, but there is usually no connection between them. I really like how much the faculty lead these events. They have a budget and a cycle of prof dev. This is a peer driven model,

Topics covered included Course Construct & Pedagogy, Online Methods, Formative and Summative Assessment, Flipped Classrooms, Online Engagement, Online Course Builds.

They gathered a lot of information through surveys to determine Digital Fluency. There was a 70% response rate because there was a drawing for a new iPad.

I am still wondering about survey questions that ask “Do you want to know about Twitter?” when they do not understand how it can be used to engage students or improve student learning outcomes and engagement.

Adjunct faculty are not included in this program. They decided to start with full-time, contracted file.

They have an innovation grant to develop a MOOC with badging.

Faculty let peer mentoring is already expanding. There are informal professional development groups and peer collaboration. “Brown bag” lunches. The mentors are writing case studies and presenting at conferences.

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