Tuesday, July 27, 2010

ONLINE ADJUNCT FACULTY TIP #34 - The Accidental Risk of Ethnocentric Coursework

Per Wikipedia, Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one's own.

As a college faculty member, I challenge you to locate your critical perspective spectacles - you know, the pair that was on your desk earlier in your career and now pushed to the far back of the bottom drawer. I doubt we make a conscious decision to create and evolve ethnocentric coursework, yet, are we really making attempts to infuse worldly perspectives into what we teach our students? Is ethnocentric our default setting?

Three years ago, I created a course titled, "Inclusion of Students with Special Needs" - a popular course with numerous "local" examples of best practices in inclusion. After the 10th offering, I opted for a "total overhaul" of the content. Surprisingly, true scrutiny of the offering revealed exclusive, but unintended, ethnocentric design. Students learned inclusion from a Wisconsin lens. To counter this narrow path, I re-tooled the course to include a full unit on global inclusive practices. I allocated much time to literature searches and first-hand discussions with persons beyond my geographic comfort zone.

I recently completed offering this "revised" course - and found that it fostered increased critical perspective discussions from students. The world isn't Wisconsin. I am in the process of reviewing all of my offerings through a critical perspective looking glass.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

ONLINE ADJUNCT FACULTY TIP #33 - WIZIQ, free online teaching delivery medium worth exploring...

I read the following gospel reading (Mark 6:7-13) today....

Jesus was giving instructions to the apostles and said, "When you enter a house, stay there until you leave."

I have a problem with this one. I remember reading it last year, so I assume it's not a misprint. What other options are there? I came up with the following:

1. "When you enter a house, leave before you leave."

2. "When you enter a house, stay there after you leave."

3. "When you enter a house, leave after you leave."

Since none of these other 3 options seem possible, I must ask why the Bible just didn't simply say: "When you enter a house, stay there."

Religion can be way too complicated sometimes.

OK, enough about my random pondering. When it comes to instructing a purely textual online offering, the complication often lies in the lack of recognizable human context. Simply put, when students see the instructor's face - and view / hear a live presentation, there appears to be a much stronger connection to the instructor than simply reading textual instruction.

I guest instructed a graduate course session via a free online medium called WIZIQ. http://www.wiziq.com/ The service offers a combination format of live video/audio via webcam, whiteboard and running chat area. A video feed of the instructor is continuously displayed in the upper right hand corner of the screen for students to view. With my basic Logitech webcam and external microphone, I was able to engage in a fairly adequate real-time live presentation to students, while also communicating with them in the chat and white board regions.

The obvious drawback is lack of streaming quality. Video and audio were choppy at times - and I'm operating a blazing fast cable pipeline. Students with dial-up connections would feel like they were watching broadcasts from the first lunar landing. In addition, when other students use web cams and speakers, the medium tended to get technical hum and it wasn't always smooth to switch between instructor and student as the featured person up in the right hand corner.

I haven't fully figured out how the free version is funded as the site is free of advertisements, but there is a pay feature with more options and full archiving, although I believe some level of basic archiving is also available in the free version. Archiving is beneficial as it allows students to return and replay the session.

I plan to teach another session via WIZIQ during an upcoming course. I will use it sparingly, at least to start, with only 1 or 2 "live" WIZIQ sessions. Again, I judge the most striking benefit is the face/voice context for the student that instantly personalizes the course. The primary pitfall is that the novice student isn't going to use the video / audio features.

Overall, I'm giving a "thumbs up" endorsement to WIZIQ. It seems well-developed and I judge that it will be continually refined. Give it a try!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

ONLINE ADJUNCT FACULTY TIP #32 - Is There A Place for Formative Assessment in Online Graduate Instruction?

Whew! Nearly 90 degrees today. I'm unable to tolerate heat like I could when I was younger - but still love to be outdoors when it's blazing... As I was sawing down dead tree limbs, the neighbor kid was polishing his yellow SUV (NOSTALGIA ALERT --- reminded me of the hours I would spend to detail my 1984 Duster - while listening to custom-made mix cassettes - which I recorded directly from the radio). How times have changed... Back to my neighbor - his stereo was pumping out a song that at first was annoying, but soon I found to be catchy. I memorized the lyrics, went in the house - to my cool basement office, searched the music section on Amazon, and downloaded Maino's "All the Above" -- cool. Who says Mr. P. isn't hip?

I've been reflecting much on my teaching style - and expectations. Nearly all of my graduate instruction is built upon summative assessment. That is, tests and other criterion-driven items that are measures of learning. All of this summative evaluation stuff leaves a bad taste in my mouth - I want my classes to be increasingly divergent. I don't want students to necessary be programmed to think what I think. Still, the struggle with moving away from summative assessment is the challenge (and need) of assigning points and a letter grade to students' work. (I'm still fleshing-out a plan for assigning credit to non-summative assessments)

Nonetheless, I want to include, or at least balance, my courses with a healthy dose of formative assessment. Assessments become formative when the information is used to adapt teaching and learning to meet student needs. To accomplish this push toward formative assessment, I will:

  • Introduce reflection and self-evaluation components to at least two assignments
  • Add a "My Weekly Reflection" optional discussion thread and encourage students to candidly reflect on what they learned during the week, how they will apply it, what they found useful, what they found to be irrelevant, and what they [still] don't understand - and why. If the student produces this post, it will automatically be credited the same as a discussion thread response - and the instructor will respond in an anecdotal manner - not to judge, but to also reflect.
  • Invite students to discuss their thinking about a question or topic in pairs or small groups, then ask a representative to share the thinking with the larger group
  • Include poll questions - allowing students to vote

The biggest benefit of formative assessment is the ability to adjust the instruction to the student. The [summative] "take and bake" approach to online graduate instruction is quick, moderately effective and reliable. However, a formative approach will empower the student to be a reflective thinker - and if they can't find the cheese per your map, they'll find another way to that cheddar prize.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

ONLINE ADJUNCT FACULTY TIP #31 - Hand-Grading Assignments & Returning Them in a Digital Format

The extended weekend allowed me to catch up on several past-due home projects. I restored the rotting wood pillars on our front porch - although that project was far from predicted as our house was built during the Great Protractor Embargo of 1979 -- hence the house has few right angles. Efforts to hand-miter the framing proved unsuccessful and I had to borrow my neighbor's Craftsman power miter saw in order to complete the project by sunset. The good news is that I now I have the perfect anniversary idea for my wife (our anniversary is June 2). I wonder where I'll put my new miter saw (hint, hint).
In thinking of miter joints, I still prefer to do some things by hand. There's just a certain feel and reward to something that takes elbow grease -- and doing something the way ancestors did it. What's the best part of going to a baseball game at Wrigley Field -- you got it, the vintage hand-turned wood scoreboard... For those of you who answered, "the food" - hmmm. (really?)
For the love of nostalgia, I still hand-grade all student assignments in my college courses. No, I'm not anti-technology. No, my wife is not the heiress to the Pilot Pen Company. No, I don't draw comfort from torturing my printer.
The screenshot above is a page from a hand-graded student assignment. The student's returned paper is a PDF file - and yes, it is hand-graded. It takes a little more time, and costs me a little bit more, but it sets me apart as an instructor - and there are always comments in my student course reviews regarding the appreciation for hand-graded papers.
Maybe this isn't for you - or maybe it is. You could, perhaps, start small and grade only one paper by hand. If you really want to make a contextual connection with your students - I believe that nothing speaks more directly to the student than reading an instructor's handwritten feedback. With all of the "electronic auto-comment" features available today, it is increasingly common for instructors to insert pre-fabricated responses into student papers. When a student sees my chicken scratch, she knows I've taken the time to actually read her paper versus trying to find places to insert rote responses. Trust me, this is important to students!
So, did I convince you? If so, here's what you'll need to do...
Acquire a printer/scanner/copier unit with topload scanner feeder tray. The unit must withstand the rigors of printing all student assignments for your course. I own a HP C7280 and it works fine –

1. Print student papers (yeah, I know this will take ink and paper, but use “fast draft” mode and discount copy paper.
2. Hand-grade papers with purple ink (I like purple – avoid red!)
3. Scan the graded paper and save as a PDF document. I set my resolution at 300 dpi.
4. Return saved file to student

Saturday, May 16, 2009

ONLINE ADJUNCT FACULTY TIP #30 - Informing a college of courses you are qualified to instruct

The "Free Checks" promotion at my bank has ended. After 7 years of good times - writing checks at will...knowing that when it came time to order replacements they would be free - well, that Laissez-faire period is over. The counter attendant seemed a bit taken back when I presented my check re-order form. "You know we no longer provide free checks," she stated. Hmmm. If I knew that, then why would I ask for free checks? The attendant, who was nice, although blunt, attempted to smooth the waters by informing me that the replacement box of checks would be just $11.99 -- half the price of the actual cost of the checks. I was still getting a deal. I didn't realize how lucky I was...
Talking about being fortunate - make your own luck by crafting a plan to get your name and credentials on the desk of a university faculty department chair. I have attached a screenshot of a list of courses I am qualified to instruct (per my opinion) for a specific university. I included this 1-page, easy-to-read document with my cover letter and professional vita. Here's a quick overview of the steps I've taken in contacting public and private post-secondary institutions in my state:
  • Check if the university has an Adjunct Faculty Coordinator. If they do, contact that person by phone and then send him/her your follow-up materials per their submission guidelines. Ask the coordinator what the university's needs are at present -
  • Go online and sift thru the course catalog - making a list of courses that you judge you are qualified to instruct. I suggest keeping the list to no more than 20 courses to avoid making it appear that you are simply applying for every course in the booklet. Sure, I can teach Advanced Physics! Don't accept a course that you aren't qualified to teach!
  • Assemble an inquiry packet and mail it to the Chair of the target department(s) - the packet should contain (A) cover letter - start by noting the date you spoke with the person, (B) teaching vita, and (C) list of courses you are qualified to teach (screenshot).
  • If you have a strong connection with the faculty chair, you might want to also include your sample syllabus - I've found that artifacts have impressed Chairpersons as they quickly identify quality documents.
  • Finally, call the Chairperson in ten days if you haven't received a response - be sure to state that you are prepared to start teaching immediately -- and be persistent!
  • One final point - tour the university's website - do they use Blackboard or some other online medium? Did they recently add a new department or program?
  • OK, one more "final point" - equip yourself with the Certificate of Adjunct Faculty Educators (CAFE) from http://www.socafe.org/ -- and include it with your inquiry packet. Set yourself apart -- set yourself above!

Friday, May 8, 2009

ONLINE ADJUNCT FACULTY TIP #29 - Posting "The Best" of Previous Students' Posts to Current Discussion Threads

I paid bills a few days ago. I hate writing checks - and I just learned that the price of a First Class stamp will rise again on Monday...how in the world did that slip my radar? I still have Forever stamps - and what I can't dispatch with those I can surely cover with my envelope of assorted vintage stamps of different denominations. Yeah, I could be a wiseguy and use up my 44 one-cent stamps all on one letter. No, won't do that - I like the Postal folks - and our mail service has been tremendously reliable. I've always thought that a stamp was one of the greatest bargains in America - yet with direct e-payment options, I could save about $40.00 a year in postage - and $40.00 is, well, a pair of black dress Dockers for me from Kohls. So, will I make the jump to e-payments and retire pants with frayed cuffs? No, not any time soon. I like the "nostalgia" of stamps and checks. There's some minute sense of control in that process - and who really looks at a man's pants cuffs anyway?
I've instructed some college courses over twenty times. Unlike my wardrobe, I evolve curriculum, and sure...some elements remain relevant and unchanged - just like the Periodic Table. In the past year, I've started to harvest the "best" discussion thread responses from students and compile them into one aggregate document specific to the corresponding thread. Why do I do this? Every once in a while, a student(s) posts something that is like a bulldozer knocking over a sandcastle! Paradigm shift! Wow - and what a waste to not share that creativity, that insight and knowledge, with others in the present and the future. How's it worked out, David? Great! Just super. I wait until one day after the required date that my current students are required to post their responses to the discussion threads - and then submit the compilation post with the heading, "Perspectives from Previous Students" A few rules for the compilation post:
  1. Develop a compilation of 3 "awesome" student posts per thread -- and bump out old posts and allow fresh new posts to take over the top spots.
  2. ALWAYS ask students for permission to use their posts in this manner and ALWAYS include the student's name with the post. I did receive permission from the student to use her post with this BLOG entry. Most students will feel it's an honor to have their entry added to the virtual Ring of Honor.
  3. Never convey that previous students' posts are "right" -- but do convey that they are "though-provoking" and provide a "unique perspective" on the topic. A current student doesn't want to read about how "super terrific" the other students were when they took the course. Reminds me of Jan Brady Syndrome. Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!
  4. Finally - check out the screenshot (above) of a post by Marawa regarding how she envisions public school classrooms to be like in the year 2030. The question was for a course emphasizing the inclusion of children with disabilities into mainstream classrooms. Her response sizzled my mind - wow!!