Why Won’t Students Use Remind?!

The remind logo.

SOURCE: https://www.remind.com/

So, I’ve been trying to implement Remind in my general chemistry course for about three weeks now. You would think that since most of my students are between 18 and 22 years old, they would be quick to adopt this new technology in my classroom. About 10% of my students have taken to it with open arms. They are sending me messages and I am quickly and easily returning them. The other 90% have not even begun to use it.

So, about 2 weeks ago, I announced that I would give every student who just installed and tried to use Remind 10 bonus points towards their homework average (that’s tiny percentage considering the number of points possible). The bonus points only seemed to have enticed 2 extra students. I have no idea why they simply will not try the app.

For those students who are using it, and myself, it has proven to be highly valuable. Remind has allowed me to quickly send out announcements and reminders. It has allowed my students to quickly send me questions or concerns. I’m loving the fact that I get to see who has viewed my announcement and who hasn’t viewed it.

I just need to figure out how to get more students to utilize it…

A Question of Fairness and Education… and Grade Inflation

So I’ve run into a stumbling block in my own head. How do we strike a balance between fairness and increasing student performance? Let me take a step back…

Extra credit street sign.

SOURCE: Sandra Cheng, https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/fylcartoffoodfall2014/tag/extra-credit/

In my classes, I give my students exams. Some students do well while others do not. Same old story. I am contemplating allowing my students the ability to correct their exams for some extra credit points. They would also be required to complete totally new, though  similar questions, in order to get credit. Obviously, all of the student can get those extra credit points and everyone can increase their grade in the class. However, the high performing students cannot arbitrarily raise their grade since there isn’t a grade higher than A (I only get to submit letter grades). Therein lies the problem: part of my brain says it is unfair to allow one set of students to raise their grades more (in terms of letter grades) than the better performing students.

A person pumping up a balloon "A".

SOURCE: Eric Meckley, http://www.ethosreview.org/intellectual-spaces/whats-in-an-a/

Then there’s the matter of grade inflation. I am allowing a group of students to raise their grades on the exam by possibly a letter grade. This seems to be the definition of grade inflation. Allowing all the poorly performing students to raise their grades, am I not going to see a general increase in the average grades of the students in the course? Isn’t this a bad thing? It seems to me that it is only a bad thing if that general increase in the average grade is not accompanied by a correspond increase in the amount of knowledge that the students have acquired. As long as the students have learned more…

It occurs to me that the problem may be with the letter grading scheme in general. In a percentage system, the student’s grade percentage is a measure of how much they know. I expect that every student needs to learn at least 70% of the material in order to successfully complete my course. As such, whether or not the student uses the corrections to increase their knowledge doesn’t matter. The student’s percentage is still the fraction of the information that they have learned.

Of course this brings me to a much bigger question… how can I be sure that my assignments are actually measuring the student’s learning? How do I know that when a students scores a 90% on an exam they actually know 90% of the material? Not having the answer to that questions, I fear I have to leave this topic here… for now.

Instructional Design and Student Needs

A graduating student whose cap reads "never too old".

SOURCE: http://www.capecod.edu/web/adult-learner

After over a decade in academia I have noticed the trend that the diversity of students in my courses has dramatically increased. I am not simply referring to race or gender, however. I have seen a rise in non-traditional students (adult-learners). While many of my students come directly out of high school, many don’t. I have more and more students who have had careers, served in the military, etc. Adult learners can be very different than the traditional college student, one who is straight out of high school. Additionally there has been a dramatic rise in the diversity of college preparedness among my students, especially those arriving straight from high school. This increased diversity means that when we design courses and course materials in college, we need to remember to design them so that they engage all of our students.

Individualization and Learning Styles

All the many difference tasks, interests, and activities of a student.

SOURCE: https://www.123rf.com/photo_21508151_education-back-to-school-cartoon-boy-colorful-global-icons.html

Many students today have considerably more real-world experience than do traditional college students thirty years ago. Let’s look at the adult learners. They have been on their own in the world and therefore are often have a better understanding of their personal interests and abilities. Overall, this means that they are best served in a course when they are able to select tasks which interest them. According to Ausburn (2004), that there “…is the growing expectation and demand by adult learners for learning options, choices, and personalization” (p. 335). Being able to individualize the course material allows the adult learners to best utilize their strengths while at the same time focusing on their interests. As any teacher knows, regardless of the type of student, when the student is interested in what they are learning, their performance improves dramatically.

When we talk about individualization, I believe that it is important that we also talk about learning styles. Different students have different preferred learning styles. As Moallem (2007) notes, “…many studies show that matching student learning styles with instructional strategies improves learning” (p. 238). Having individualization opportunities is important, if those opportunities do not encompass different learning styles, there can be a mismatch between the students abilities and the instructional material.

Creating opportunities for varied learning styles can be quite difficult. In fact, some instructional designers do not think that the learning style of the students need to be considered. Rather, as Moallem (2007) points out, “…some instructional designers and educators argue that content and expected outcomes of learning must decide what strategies should be used to deliver instruction, rather than matching instruction to individual learning styles” (p. 238). These designers view the course as requiring certain techniques in and of itself, rather than customizing those techniques to the students learning styles.

Three chemistry students at a lab bench.

SOURCE: http://www.wesleyan.edu/summer/curriculum/cheminstitute.html

Clearly there is a happy middle ground here. When possible, I believe that course content should be individualized and customized to the learning styles and interests of the students. I teach an introductory chemistry course which is mainly designed for students going into nursing or related fields. As such, I have incorporated a lot of medical science topics and assignments into the course in an effort to spark the student’s interest in the material. Additionally we have hand-on laboratory exercises, group problem-solving sessions, short lectures, discussion, etc. All of these activities are designed to engage different groups of students.

There are some topics that I discuss in the class that do not have easy connections to material of interest to the students. Some topics are highly theoretical and do not lend themselves to different learning styles. These topics are important in the scope of the course so they must be taught. In these instances, I have to let these topic dictate how I teach them since customization is not a viable option. Students seem to have less interest in these topics and their performance is a bit reduced.

Graphic of the types of multimedia that can be incoroporated into a classroom.

SOURCE: http://www.robertcampbell.info/news/2014/11/14/using-multimedia-in-the-classroom

With the increasing use of technology, however, I have been able to add multimedia into these topics which has helped student performance. I am not a multimedia designer. As such, I am in a position where I have to wait for someone to design and release materials that relate to my course topics. Kulasekara, Jayatilleke, and Coomaraswamy studied the effectiveness of multimedia technology for explaining complex material in a biology course. While they found that the use of multimedia for explaining complex topics enhancing student learning, that was not all they found (Kulasekara, Jayatilleke, & Coomaraswamy, 2011). According to Kulasekara, Jayatilleke, and Coomaraswamy (2011), “Interactivity built into various design features has allowed learners to actively participate in learning, providing an individualised learning experience. The findings of this study also throw light on designing effective learner-centred multimedia learning material, especially to learn abstract scientific concepts” (p. 125). Not only can multimedia increase student learning, it also can allow the students a more learner-centric approach to the material. For instance, some students might prefer an animation which “shows” the concept while others might choose a more abstract description. Each student, regardless of age or abilities, will ideally be able to choose the option that best suits them thereby improving their retention.

Students working in groups.

SOURCE: https://nomynjb.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/the-learning-university-call-for-a-paradigm-shift-for-student-retention/

Along these same lines, another research group studied the effectiveness of a general chemistry courses that had been redesigned as a hybrid course from a traditional course (Shibley, Amaral, Shank, & Shibley, 2011). These researchers found that by moving many of the traditional course elements online, and thereby outside of the in class setting, student performance increases dramatically. The researchers moved quizzes, homework assignments, longer lectures, multimedia viewing, etc. online and focused on problem solving, group activities, and small discussion dealing with difficult concepts within the course ((Shibley, Amaral, Shank, & Shibley, 2011, p. 85).

Just like the use of multimedia to allow students to customize the educational resources to their abilities and interests, this redesign of the general chemistry course shows the same features. Outside of class, the traditional and non-traditional students alike can utilize the technologies that will best accentuate their learning. Inside of class, rather than having a long drawn out lecture, the students work in groups on problems that stem from the material of the course as well as real-life problems. This last is especially important for the adult learner. As Snyder (2009) notes, “Adults seek learning that will help them cope with everyday situations… Learning community activities are structured to help members solve real-life problems” (p. 51). Having the students work on activities that benefit them outside of class and on real-world problems inside of class is a win-win for student retention.

Conclusion

A group working on a complicated design.

SOURCE: http://www.archdaily.com/445647/the-dean-of-parsons-design-education-must-change

Considering all of these findings and studies, why do we see so little movement towards these new techniques. Why don’t we see many courses that offer what the diverse student body needs? Why don’t we see more hybrid courses when it clearly helps our diverse student bodies? While I am sure there is a certain resistance to them among certain faculty in academia, I believe that a bigger issue is in faculty education. As Moallem (2007) notes, “Designing and developing instructional materials that address multiple learning styles and employing various instructional strategies for online learning environments are time consuming and require careful design, development, implementation and evaluation of instruction” (p. 237-238). Herein lies the problem. Most faculty are experts in their field but not experts in teaching. This is why we often see faculty teach material in the same fashion that they were taught. Kanuka (2006) points out that “When instructional designers are pedagogical experts but not content experts—and the instructors are content and research experts but not pedagogical experts—the result is a bifurcation of content and pedagogy” (p. 9). It is my belief that this bifurcation is a lot of the problem that we see in pushing more non-traditional model of education. We need to create faculty who can bridge this design. Faculty who are masters of their field and of andragogy/pedagogy. Without this joint skill, improving best practices in classroom will be difficult.

References

Ausburn, L. J. (2004). Course Design Elements Most Valued by Adult Learners in Blended Online Education Environments: An American Perspective. Educational Media International, 41(4), 327-337.

Kanuka, H. (2006). Instructional Design and eLearning: A Discussion of Pedagogical Content Knowledge as a Missing Construct. E-Journal of Instructional Science and Technology, 9(2), 1-17.

Kulasekara, G. U., Jayatilleke, B. G., & Coomaraswamy, U. (2011). Learner perceptions on instructional abstract concepts in science at a distance. Open Learning, 26(2), 113-126.

Moallem, M. (2007). Accomodating Individual Differences in the Design of Online Learning Environments: A Comparative Study. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(2), 217-245.

Shibley, I., Amaral, K. E., Shank, J. D., & Shibley, L. R. (2011). Designing a Blended Course: Using ADDIE to Guide Instructional Design. Journal of College Science Teaching, 40(6), 80-85.

Snyder, M. M. (2009). Instructional-Design Theory to Guide the Creation of Online Learning Communities for Adults. Tech Trends, 53(1), 48-57.

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An Critical Analysis of ADDIE vs Rapid Prototyping

Introduction

ADDIE (analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate) and Rapid Prototyping are starkly different methods of instructional design.

The five steps of the ADDIE model of instructional design.

SOURCE: https://kristinahollis.wordpress.com/tag/addie/

The ADDIE model is very prescriptive; it contains a set of five steps that must be performed in order laid out by the model. Beginning with analysis, we move to design, then develop, implement, and finally evaluate. Once the evaluation is complete, the model uses the evaluation results and returns to the analysis step. In this way the model is cyclic so changes can be implemented over time in the course.

The rapid prototyping process is more modern and vastly less controlled. The model itself arises from the computer software development industry. The rapid prototyping model is useful in that it is designed to get product produced rapidly. An initial product (prototype) is produced and evaluated by the designer (and possibly other designers). The prototype is modified based on those findings to create a new prototype and the process is repeated using both designers and users.

Systematic vs Rapid

The systematic nature of ADDIE lends itself well to the creation of a polished product at the end of the implementation phase. By that point, the instructional designer has an understanding of what they want to get across in the course, what their assessment tools will be, what the materials they will be using, etc. Putting all of this together, the designer creates a product that can be fully implemented.

The critical difference between this model and rapid prototyping is time. It can take a long time to go through the ADDIE steps. This is time well spent since a thorough understanding of the goals, instruments, and materials of a course leads to well thought out courses that greatly benefit the students. The downside to this long period of time before the product is ready is just that; it takes a long time. Often we find ourselves in situations where courses have to be created in the period of weeks not months. When time is a huge factor, it is often not possible to be so deliberate as is dictated in the ADDIE model.

The cyclic nature of the rapid prototyping model of instructional deisgn.

SOURCE: http://teachingwithtech.lss.wisc.edu/m3w2.htm

The rapid prototyping model is geared toward fast development of courses. The as the designing begins, so does the course itself. Rather than focusing on all the instruments, goals, etc., rapid prototyping begin putting the material together immediately. These early iterations of the courses are simple but there is a constant, cyclic process of creating and evaluating that, over time, add to the material in the course. This means that over the course of a short time, a deployment ready course can be created.

Too Rapid?

The ADDIE model infographic.

SOURCE: https://nlegault.ca/2011/09/05/infographic-the-addie-model-a-visual-representation/

One of the benefits of the ADDIE model that can be lost in rapid prototyping is the understanding that comes with fully analyzing the course and its assessment documents. During these phases of the ADDIE model, the instructional designer gets a firm understanding of what the course should teach and how it should teach it. This understanding can lead the designer to create the course material which fully utilizes this knowledge and create a course that is targeted at these points.

Rapid prototyping, however, does not have this luxury. Because of the speed of the process, the designer may not have time to fully think out all of the goal and assessment documents at the beginning. There is the real possibility that the assessment documents, such as tests and quizzes, are created as the prototyping is being done. This creates the problem that, since the analysis was likely not as thorough, the assessments being designed might not be perfectly assessing what is desired.

Which is Better?

In an ideal world, we would all have as much time as we need to prepare a course. We could spend our time thoughtfully analyzing a course and carefully working our way through the ADDIE model. This way, our courses would end up being very deliberate and thought out in such a way that what we are teaching and assessing is what we intend to teach and assess.

Cartoon of a thoughtful guy writing.

SOURCE: http://learningcommons.ubc.ca/fun-summer-learning/

The real world is often not like that. Most of the time, courses need to be created quickly. When I was first hired, I had a month to prepare all of my courses for my initial term (I had three different courses that term). With that amount of work and the highly limited time available, it would have been impossible to create those courses using the ADDIE model (even if I had known about ADDIE at the time). I had no choice but to create something and see if it made sense to me. If not, I would edit it until I was a okay with it and then move on. The result was a very interesting first year of teaching. Many things in those early classes did not work as I intended and dramatic edits were needed before the second year. In retrospect, it would have been nice to have known about ADDIE back then so that as I was editing my courses, I could have been more deliberate about it.

Conclusion

Overall, the ADDIE model is, at its heart, a much better model for create quality educational experiences. It forces the designer to be thoughtful and deliberate thereby creating a much better quality of finished product. The reality is that we rarely have the time required to implement the ADDIE model. Often we are asked to rapid create courses. This requirement nearly removes the possibility that the ADDIE model can be implement as it should be. I believe that inclusion of some of the ideas of the ADDIE model into the rapid prototyping model can improve the outcome in these rapid creation situations. For instance, in the event a course needs to be rapidly created, perform the analysis and design steps of the ADDIE model and then use those results for the rapid prototyping. Then, as you are creating the content, you have a better grasp on what you are tying to accomplish.

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