Distance Teaching and Learning Conference 2016

This is a guest post from Ashley Middleton, a member of the Design for Learning program, who attended this year’s Distance Teaching and Learning Conference in Madison Wisconsin as one of our scholarship recipients.

My head was spinning with new ideas right out of the gate at the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference in Madison, Wisconsin this past August, which I was able to attend thanks to the generosity of a Design for Learning scholarship. I have pages and pages of notes! I was also lucky to find other attendees who were open to sharing their experiences as instructional designers.

My biggest takeaways have been competency-based education assessment, how to innovate in a culture that might not want you to innovate, and that ungraded discussions engage students.

I was also able to sit at a roundtable about career paths in instructional design, which was fantastic. I talked a bit about Design for Learning, and many were impressed with the program. Software/websites showcased included Flubaroo (an add-on for Google Drive), EDpuzzle, Dotstorming, VideoAnt, Thinglink, and Touchcast.com.

Here were a few of my favorite takeaways, but this is in no way exhaustive.

Richard Culatta: The first morning’s Keynote Speaker was Richard Culatta, Rhode Island’s first Chief Innovation Officer and former Senior Advisor to the Secretary and Director of the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education. A few of the points he made during his keynote and a later Q&A session:

  • How do we better demonstrate the skills students are actually learning in ways that will be most useful? (What does a B- in English Literature mean?)

  • Instead of a time-based system, competency-based students move on when they understand the material (use badges or microcredentials as benchmarks)

  • Ongoing visual feedback for students can help with motivation and completion rates (think FitBit, Khan Academy’s My Dashboard point system)

  • Using “playlists” for students to move towards a learning objective (interestingly, Lynda.com is now doing this with Learning Paths)

  • Are we archiving instead of teaching? Just digitizing face-to-face learning without good digital pedagogy? Will we digitize — are will we use technology to tackle tough problems?

  • Students often prefer a more engaged/interactive class in a clunky tech system over an unengaging class in a smooth tech system

  • “The biggest thing that hinders innovation is trying to get everyone on board.”

  • If you want to try something new, try something small within a larger project. (What’s the smallest piece you can bite off?) Just do it as a test (pilot, beta) and don’t make a big fuss over it. If it’s just a test, people are more willing to try it.

Copyright for Online Designers & Faculty with Dr. Thomas Tobin showcased a Four-Factor Test for determining fair use, shown for example on Stanford’s Measuring Fair Use: The Four Factors. He also has YouTube videos on the subject.

Getting into the Minds of Learners to Guide Teaching with Technology was a keynote session by cognitive psychologist Michelle D. Miller focused on teaching students about maximizing memory, attention and distraction, and making changes that last. They suggested ways to structure assessments for motivation (fast and frequent, starting the first or second week; do quick quizzes often, because feedback/seeing the impact motivates). There was so much to this, so here’s suggested reading:

A 5-Step Design and Delivery Approach for Quality Student Discussions

This session was run by Sandra Huston of Texas Tech University, who runs courses on personal finance for university students. Of course, Sandra dealt with more nuances than what I’m able to easily share here. I’m hoping I’ve understood this well enough to explain it, because it’s a game-changer for me.

This session focused on a paradigm shift: no grading. Traditionally, the criteria for grading has been something like you’re required to post once, and respond to another student. This is not a natural discussion! And if you’re having a discussion where there’s no right answer, why are you grading it?

So they ran a beta test with one instructor: no graded discussions, purely volunteer.  Instructors also don’t give students answers; they facilitate discussion and point students towards ways to find answers on their own. What happened?

Well, the sheer volume of posts didn’t change much, but the quality improved. They noticed that the most engaged students got the best grades, and students who didn’t bother to even check the forums did the worst. At the beginning, roughly 20% of students were Engaged, 45% were Occasional Posters/Readers, and 35% were Ignorers. (my terms)

To combat the lethargy, after every topic, instructors started grouping student grade data into engaged posters, occasional posters/students who at least read the boards, and students who don’t bother with the forums at all. They posted the average scores for these three groups at the end of each topic/week, so the students could see that using the forum correlated with a better grade, despite not getting graded directly on forum use.

As the weeks/topics went on, more students engaged with the forums. By the end of the course, Ignorers went from 35% to 1%. Almost everyone was at least lurking on the forums. They may not contribute, but often post to thank their fellow students for sharing information. The courses have more student persistence, and fewer failures.

Summary: There was so much to learn…there’s no way I can fit it all here. More excellent keynotes, such as Karl Kapp’s on gamification (incorporating PollEverywhere.com and the audience’s mobile phones). This was the tip of the iceberg. I hope I can go back next year! Thanks, D4L!

By: Ashley Middleton

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