God How I Hate Technology

By Geralyn Caplan, Associate Professor of Biology, Owensboro Community & Technical College

I am looking at an e-mail from my IT department telling me that BlackBoard will be closed just days before finals and the only thing I can think of is how much I hate technology. That is a surprising statement to come from someone that teaches as much on-line as I do. Really, it is more of a love-hate relationship.

I am not a techno-nerd although my department chair refers to me as the Technology Guru. I do not think that says a lot about our department. It also sends family members into fits of giggles because they have heard me swear at my computer. That is basically my curriculum vitae; I use technology, but I am sometimes not a fan.

Even though I use technology a lot, I also always feel as if I am behind the technology curve. New programs come up so fast that I cannot keep up. This has gotten me thinking that if I cannot keep up, then what about the people that are truly frightened by the direction that education is going. Recently, I have been working on classes for my doctorate, which most of the faculty in that division do not use BlackBoard or any other type of learning platform. How do you convince faculty members to dive in and take advantage of the technology available to them? Also, how do you teach people to create engaging modules for their students?

This is not an easy task. If we can get faculty comfortable with their learning platforms, they may be more willing to work with the programs that the publishers have available. The first step is just convincing someone that there are advantages to keeping simple things such as syllabi and assignments posted. I have heard complaints that it takes too much time to set up a module, which I answer with, “I only do it once. The next semester, I change some dates and minor assignments. I can have it set up in an hour or two.”

If we do not engage the faculty, we will never engage the students. It may be silly, but I focus on the general look of the module. I have fun with the colors, banners, and buttons. I change the color and size of text so that I can read it easier. I am like a kid with crayons. I change the banner at least every other week. The students sign on just to see the new animation on the banner. Each module is unique because it keeps me engaged. If I am engaged, so are the students.

I also remove the tool button because I find it a bit overwhelming. I then open just the tools I need. Do not worry about the fancier tools such as Wimba. Show announcements, e-mail, and discussions instead. I remove the tool button because I find it a bit overwhelming. Once again, if I find it overwhelming, so will non-technical people.

Next, we need to focus our training programs to each division. Someone that teaches Biology may not be able to interpret a program that was designed for someone who teaches English. IT trainers tend to mix all faculty together, whereas teachers identify themselves by their subject. As a result, it is best to have English faculty teach English faculty and Biology faculty should teach Biology faculty. Also, each school needs to give faculty members more topic-specific modules for training and review. That will require more collaboration between faculty members.

We also need to teach organization. I find that many modules are poorly designed. The students cannot find what they need because files are spread all over or they are not clearly labeled. Some schools even force formats which result in additional chaos. There are advantages to show teachers well-designed modules and poorly designed modules. Both would be great for instructors to review. Personally, I put all of my content under one tab. The material is organized in units which open automatically. I also color code the material: Blue for lectures, red for quizzes and exams, brown for discussions. The colors not only help the students but it helps me find the file that I am looking for. I also name all of the files consistently so that they are organized in the grade book (i.e., Unit 7 exam, Unit 7 discussion, Unit 7 lab write up, etc.). I then make sure that the grade book is organized to make grading easier.

Once instructors are comfortable with one form of technology, we can bring in other programs. If you are a part-time or full-time tech guru like I am, you know that there are some people that will never accept all of the technology available. Personally, I think that it is not important to use everything available. However, it is up to instructors to make the curriculum more engaging and there is a lot of technology available for them. Meanwhile, I think it is time for me to swear at BlackBoard again. God I hate technology.

Click here to read a response to this post on the blog Bridging the Digital Divide in Social Work Practice.

Facebook: It’s Not Just For Cat Videos Anymore

By Geralyn M. Caplan, Associate Professor of Biology, Owensboro Community & Technical College

facebook-groups-logo-350-aI was sitting at a Biology meeting recently and started to talk about the success I have had using Facebook in my Anatomy & Physiology (AP) course. The group I was talking to acted like I just betrayed the teaching profession. The first comment was along the lines of, “They spend too much time on Facebook now.” That is right. The students spend a lot of time on Facebook but I always felt it was best to fish where the fish are. I reach them because they are already there.

When we made the move to extend my Anatomy and Physiology module online to meet demand I felt I had removed a lot of the critical student and teacher interaction. Our adjunct professors were essentially using a canned course. I wanted a format that the adjunct professors could use to share material and ideas with all of the students. My own IT staff did not think the students would become involved in a Facebook group. What occurred was not what I planned and it was not what I expected. It was so much better. Read more »

5 Essential Elements of an Online Science Lab Syllabus

Based on a white paper By Linda and Dr. Peter Jeschofnig, Co-Founders of Hands-On Labs & IEDSE (The Institute for Excellence in Distance Science Education)

Online science instructors who are willing to invest initial time and energy into creating a thorough syllabus will save themselves innumerable headaches throughout the semester. An online course syllabus, regardless of the type of course being taught, needs to be very explicit and cover every aspect of the course. It should provide clear and complete explanations about how the course will be conducted and assessed plus explicitly state what is expected of the students. It should be posted as soon as possible prior to the beginning of the semester for those eager students who want to get a head start and for students to determine if the course is right for them before the refund/census drop date. It should remain posted throughout the semester so student can refer back to it when needed and as an arbitrator of disputes. Here are the five essential elements to include in an online science lab syllabus: Read more »

Developing Procedural Knowledge via a Distance

By David Ellis, Lecturer in Technology Education, Southern Cross University

Ever tried to assemble a flat packed piece of furniture without the pictures? How about successfully landing a passenger aircraft without stepping into the cockpit? In higher education, the nature of specific disciplines requires academics to impart procedural knowledge as well as the declarative knowledge to their students. In addition, the economic packaging of learning materials in distance education lends to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ static approach that doesn’t address the differing student learning styles (McLoughlin, 1999). The challenge for a growing number of academics is not only trying to match teaching and learning styles, but to deliver this within the constraints of a digital environment via distance education. Read more »

Meet the Women Scientists of Hands-On Labs

March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” Four out of the five scientists at Hands-On Labs (HOL) are women, so we thought this month was the perfect opportunity to celebrate women at HOL and introduce the hard-working scientists behind our content. Read more »

Flip My Science Classroom

By Kristy Kemp, Science Instructor, Kirtland Community College

flipped classroomKirtland Community College’s district is the largest in Michigan, totaling 2,500 square miles and consisting of all or part of nine counties. Our main campus is located close to the geographic center of the college’s district in rural Northern Michigan, but we have two extension campuses in our northwest (Kirtland-Gaylord) and southeast (Kirtland-West Branch) regions. Until recently, students attending those extension campuses for programs requiring a science course with a lab only had two choices: enroll in our completely online science course or drive great distances to main campus for a face-to-face science course. Many of those students were experienced and comfortable taking online courses, but there was still a population of students scared or uncomfortable with taking an online science course. Read more »

Teaching Science Totally Online: Hands-On Lab’s LabPaqs and SoftChalk’s Cloud – Perfect Together

By Dr. James W. Brown

When I was the Dean of Science, Engineering, Health Science, and Human Performance at Ocean County College I learned about the wonders of using Hands-On LabsLabPaqs to allow us to teach laboratory-based science courses totally online using “wet labs” that could be shipped almost anywhere in the world. Additionally,SoftChalk LLC, allowed us to produce online courses far beyond anything we had produced before by adding interactivity to nearly every page of content. This changed our boring “death by outline and PowerPoint” approach into one in which we provided highly interactive content pages that were a work of art filled with learning exercises and games. We needed to produce both nursing courses and science courses to fulfill a $458,000 grant from the venerable Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which allowed us to produce a One Day per Week Nursing Program (now called the One Site/One Line Nursing Program). This program allowed students to attend clinical training one day per week while the didactic portion was delivered online. This opened up nursing to a whole new group of students who were limited by time, family commitments, work, or distance. It was an instant success and students from a much wider geographical area began coming to OCC to get their associate degree RN. This online education model addressed the hospital RN shortage crisis and has become a national model.  Read more »

Improve Student Engagement and Learning in Online Science Courses Through “Citizen Science” Projects

By Peter Jeschofnig, Ph.D., Institute for Excellence in Distance Science Education

When teaching on-campus classes, I involved my environmental science and environmental chemistry students in semester-long environmental monitoring projects like water chemistry, stream discharge, and aquatic invertebrate monitoring. I was not surprised to find that they were much more enthused about these hands-on, experiential projects than their standard lab experimentation.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get online students involved in similar activities? Well, with some planning, we can. Due to safety and equipment considerations, the activities cannot be exactly the same as I did with on-campus students, but there are related discovery activities that can contribute to the increase in students’ enthusiasm level beyond that of performing only traditional lab experiments.

ImageCitizen scientists are volunteers who participate in science research by collecting and/or analyzing data for a specific science project. The concept of citizen science is quite old; and by the above definition, Charles Darwin was a citizen scientist. The Audubon Society has been using the concept for more than 100 years by getting average citizens involved in their annual bird counts. Today, numerous projects exist where citizen scientists are needed and this may be an excellent way to get online students involved in actual science projects. Read more »