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8 Posts authored by: Rachael Sweeten

In creating a course called Intro to Pharmacy Technician, I was privileged to work with the Department Chair who was also the subject matter expert (SME), and the chief instructor. 

 

My SME was doubtful this PHAR course could ever be taught online. Furthermore, she wasn't sure it was even a good idea to try. After all, she was training the people we would eventually count on to accurately fill prescriptions and deliver medicine in hospitals. It really was a matter of life or death. She liked to look students in the eye and might even refuse to move on until she saw the facial expressions and spark of "light" in the eyes that great teachers watch for.

 

Here's How We Did It

The course format was fairly typical, including:

  • An approved medical/pharmacy tech textbook. 
  • Weekly, graded discussions with response rubric.
  • Weekly, graded reflection journal.
  • Supplemental self-paced weekly lesson highlighting textbook chapter details, with additional activities like looking up pharmaceuticals on the FDA website or other professional sites relevant to future work duties. (Articulate Rise)
  • Quizlet Flashcards (Canvas-embedded and printable) for key terms.
  • Weekly quiz on key concepts (low stakes) to prep for Final Exam. 

 

Communication Magic

High impact teaching practices like student reflection and review were leveraged with Canvas tools based on the idea that students communicate differently when they are 1.) writing assignments directly to please the instructor, 2) writing to fellow classmates about assigned topics, and 3.) reflecting on their own learning in a required personal journal. (meta-learning)

 

Each type of communication provides writing practice and encourages critical thinking, yet with a different flavor. 

 

Key Ingredient

A key point of difference in the course was making the SME's professional ethics and priorities tangible within the course. The goal was to make this subtle yet crucial feature un-missable.

 

Challenge: How do we impress on students the seriousness and societal trust required in their future careers without scaring them out of the field entirely?

 

The stories of early drug errors in manufacturing and FDA intervention for Thalidomide were useful. The most moving personal scenario was suggested by the SME. Emily Jerry's story lives in history as a heartbreaking example of the need for accuracy in Pharmacy technology and preventable medical errors. Youtube: Medication Error in the Hospital Kills 2-year-old Emily Jerry. 

 

The Youtube video was presented to students first in a Canvas Discussion with a set of questions to answer and a requirement to respond to other students' posts. 

 

This heartbreaking story and several other examples were referenced in activities and assignments along with multiple other options about which to research. Additional discussions posted followup news articles including legal actions and imprisonment of the supervising licensed Pharmacist who was intended to prevent a lowly tech from making a grave error.  Did the students think this was fair since he didn't commit the error?  What about the technician who had mixed her own IV solution when a pre-mixed option was at hand? 

 

As the course drew to a close, the topic was revisited again with videos detailing the child's heartbroken father, including his anger and crumbling life, then his newfound purpose in driving licensure, training, and other legislation through a foundation honoring his lost child.  What did students think of this? Did they see the story differently by the end of the course?

 

The students' writing throughout the course detailed a complete emotional journey documenting how each individual viewed rising to a position of responsibility and sacred trust in the community. 

Results

The "tough cookie" SME was convinced.  Not only did she feel the course was equal to her in-person teaching attention, in many ways it was better.  She could track the change in students, and they could track it for themselves. 

  • The course was fast-tracked as a General Ed. Sciences exploration course for non-majors as well as a program intro.
  • Key strategies and Canvas tools were implemented as improvements in the remaining program courses, whether lecture, online or hybrid.

 

Added Bonus
After decades as gate-keeper for the program, the SME saw the potential that this course might finally be entrusted to other worthy colleagues because the key components were built-in to the course!  She didn't have to deliver content one-person-at-a-time. She had duplicated what mattered most to her, and the personal-touch of the teaching burden could be shared.

Caution

My comments may sound critical of teachers, so I want to clarify that I am a higher ed instructor and this the community I strive to serve. I am also an instructional designer, user testing professional, and an unusually experienced student spanning decades of schooling. I've seen higher ed education trends from multiple perspectives for decades and I am committed to supporting teachers in using their influence to benefit students. I get that teaching is a huge calling and a tall order. 

 

Online, Oh My...

The recent rush to put courses online has caused a lot of confusion between calculated online courses by design and the emergency rush jobs of "how can we keep students busy..." when we haven't front-loaded technology access, set up devices for Canvas, user experience UX tested course navigation traps, fixed confusing file names, or aligned assessments, not to mention the hourly email questions. "Oh, I thought I told you that."

 

Art and Science

The art and science of online course creation has revealed some uncomfortable truths about traditional lecture/lab classroom courses too. 

  • We, teachers, love to believe we are scintillating and students grasp our every word because we are looking at them.  They don't.  
  • For every communication input we lose in online courses, we gain others--if we know how to use them and maximize the tools.
    • Example: You cannot see body language online, but you can read discussions and observe how well students grasp concepts when they speak to each other, not you. This requires well-crafted discussion question prompts, front-loaded netiquette and expectations (rubrics), and an engaged teacher who is reading for subtlety without controlling the conversation. 
  • We, teachers, have failed to learn what airline pilots know: The more times you repeat a process the more you need to commit to a checklist (lesson plan).
    • Example: You may have taught the course 100 times and could write a textbook. This is the exact reason you will forget to tell this group the key point that makes it all fall into place. That is why you will have a question on the quiz that your best students swear you didn't cover at all!
    • Solution: Modules really are your lesson plan whether you teach online, hybrid or classroom. 
  • You are hired to teach because of information that lives in your head.  Getting it into students' heads is not an automatic process. Some strategies work. Some fail.
    • Online design creatively unpacks the teacher's head before the class starts. It requires every bit as much creativity, and even more commitment and clarity, combined with an accurate anticipation of student needs and opportunities.
  • Being in the classroom may give the teacher a greater feeling of control, but it also encourages "winging it," assumptions, and defensiveness.
  • There is a strong temptation to confuse "academic freedom" with failing to teach content that meets the stated learning objectives. 
    • In a course that meets QM Quality Matters rubric standards for online courses, the objectives determine what is in the course. Every exam question and activity is traced to a clear purpose stated up front in the Syllabus.  No surprises. No bait-and-switch tactics.  

 

In online courses, creativity is built-in, not absent!  Furthermore, teachers are not absent from well-designed online courses.  In addition to continual creative interaction with online students through feedback and discussion, the teacher's vision and ethics can be infused into online content, multiplying their influence. (example below)

 

Teachers can be artists, and every artist is tormented by the flawless works that live in their heads. However, the artist can only display what they've committed to Canvas, so to speak. Even if an artist manages to "sell" an idea, a patron will lose patience unless something tangible arrives.  Then, the viewer or critic can evaluate what is committed to the physical world--which is what makes it hard to commit in the first place--but we can do it. We do it all the time. Yeah, yeah.

________________________________________________________________

See:  Design Challenge: Capturing the Essence and Ethics of Critical Topics 

For a view of my favorite online course design success story and how we did it!

In response to disease epidemics (Covid-19 Coronavirus) many schools are transitioning to online courses, ready or not.  

 

Ideally, online courses are thoughtfully produced using multimedia, Universal Design (UDL), backward design, and flipped-classroom approaches, with quality assurance tools like QM Quality Matters Rubric ensuring a student-centered result before launch. 

*
The Show Must Go On
Quick! What do you do when you have one week—or one day—to transition your course to online.
 
  1. Orientation module template.  Template all of your courses with a consistent Preparation Module to fix issues before they start, including helping students set up their computers properly for Canvas and Webinars. View an example list of contents here: Start Here: Course Materials and Introduction (Includes: How to set up your computer for Canvas; How to get tech help; Introduce yourself Discussion; and practice Assignment with 4 parts--email your instructor, set your Canvas notifications, add a profile pic, and practice submitting online in Canvas.)
  2. Canvas Discussions.  Use them each week (or day) and make them meaningful. Even in face-to-face classroom courses, discussions add instant value. Well written question prompts = meaningful student-to-student learning.  
  3. Powerpoint *done right.  Make the old “groan” lesson-plan sedatives come to life with simplified tools and approaches. (Focus on narration, images, low text density, video format)
  4. Live Webinars.  Time-constrained synchronous online courses are the least common format for good reasons, but tools like Big Blue Button/Conferences, Webex, Adobe Connect, and Google Hangouts provide instant contact for instructor-led learning remotely.
  5. Organize, organize, organize.  Review any area where your course expectations are not clear. Unpack any information that lives in your head until you can see it in the course. 
*
Online Lesson Idea
Experiment with these tips to make your online lesson fast.
  1. Use an existing or new PowerPoint. 
  2. Allow 10 slides maximum. 
  3. Use slide title lines for your lesson outline. Plan the trajectory visually. Begin and end in 10 slides!
    If this is difficult, save the last  3 slides for 1.)  What do I want students to take away from this lesson and remember a week from now?, 2.) Summary, and 3.) Reference list and/or suggested readings and videos for further exploration. 
  4. Use as little text as possible on slides. 30 point font or larger. One word is great. No words--even better. 
  5. Include links to videos you’ve curated.
  6. Provide context above and below the video.
    (Video embeds make for large files; capture a screenshot image of the Video’s opening slide and turn that into a hyperlinked button instead.)
    Tell students what they should watch for and provide a list of questions in advance that they will be asked after the video. 
  7. Include lots of pictures! Creative Commons search through Pixabay, Wikimedia Commons, and Canvas media. 
  8. Speak! 
  9. Powerpoint allows you to record your Voiceover slide-by-slide. You can practice, rehearse timings, and re-do your bloopers.
  10. Video! Export your PowerPoint with audio and slide forwarding/timings as an MP4 or .wav video, host,  and embed in Canvas. Voila'! 

 

  • Tips: To avoid sounding wooden or recording long pauses filled with “Ummm,” (since you aren’t a voice artist) make a short outline of bullet points you want to be sure to mention. Speak as if you are standing in front of your class. Speak quickly and enunciate clearly. Spend as much time as you need and forward each slide manually to record again. 

    Caution: Students can listen at about 200-500 words per minute, and you can speak at about 125 wmp, so you are inherently boring. Be yourself, but keep up the pace!
*
More Favorite Tools
Keep your teacher voice present and personal by providing personalized instructions and multimedia options.
Mobile Phones
  • Enable students to submit video/media assignments. Mix it up from text typing. 
    • Example: Allow students to video themselves solving their math homework. Submit images or scans of work and a video of their process.
  • Link Canvas guides for new users in your instructions. Ensure students know about their Canvas user account Files storage, conversion tools for videos, and any other troubleshooting links. 
Quizlet Flashcards
  • Embeds beautifully in Canvas, directly or using LTI.
  • Works as a gamified, self-test tool via mobile.
  • Printable.
  • Free and inexpensive versions with pictures and audio.
VokiAvatar
  • If you are tired of your own talking head giving directions, try Vokiavatars. Cartoon people, animals, and fantasy characters can deliver directions to your students. 
  • See VokiAvatars on this Example Online Lesson support page created for K-12 teachers-in-training in the course EDPS 5442/6442 Teaching Sciences Online. 
GoAnimate
YouTube Videos
  • Great and terrible content exists on every topic imaginable.
  • Select videos shorter than 15 minutes, preferably 1-3 minutes long. Chunk topics and surround it with context. 
  • Embed on a Canvas page with context. Tell students what to watch for. Create meaningful questions for students to answer on each video to make sure they got the point. 
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*Guy Kawasaki’s brilliantly appropriate 10-20-30 Rule for Powerpoint applies to learning as well as idea pitches. 
Rachael Sweeten

Commitment to Learning

Posted by Rachael Sweeten Feb 19, 2020

As designers and teachers, we are on a relentless quest to present the best quality information for our students in the most effective ways possible. We acknowledge we can always do better and our students deserve this effort!

 

With that in mind, I offer this support to teachers to help each of your students embrace the Growth Mindset and personal commitment to learning. 

 

Rachael's Recommendation for Starting Each Semester

I introduce myself and state my commitment:

 

"My commitment to you is that I will do my best to teach you valuable information that will make your life better. The sum total of my life's knowledge will be your starting point. In return, I'm asking you to be committed to learning. 

Remember, the worst teacher in the world cannot stop you if you are committed to learning."-NRS

 

***

Heartfelt credits for the inspiration go to the old-school motivational speaker Zig Ziglar:

Zig Ziglar

“If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.”


 Zig Ziglar

Higher ed hosts a bewildering number of professors who 1.) fail to provide examples of completed projects and assignments, 2.) actively avoid examples on the premise of promoting creativity, and 3.) presumably enjoy a comfort zone of non-clarity.

Possible Solutions:

Rubrics and Examples
  • Rubrics clarify assignment expectations, guiding students on where to spend their energy and creativity.
    • Rubrics support teachers in grading neutrally, quickly, and clearly.
  • Examples communicate vast amounts of information about quality, completeness, and acceptable work.
    • Multiple examples inspire creativity instead of limiting it. 

 

"Two or more vastly different examples of successful A-grade assignments encourage student inferences and higher-order critical analysis. Multiple examples expand creativity rather than limiting it." —NRS


Addressing Privacy/Copyright Issues

  • Get written permission from previous students to display their work.
  • Bite the bullet. Start from scratch and create new project examples yourself.
  • State copyright and ownership of the work clearly the course introduction, including that students may not copy or reuse the examples provided.  
  • Define plagiarism clearly—with examples--and reiterate the school’s policies. Many international students bring vastly different cultural and institutional perspectives on plagiarism, citations, original work, sharing, cheating, etc. 

Treasure Map

Enjoy this efficient Reading Response formula for encouraging higher-level Bloom’s Synthesis and Evaluation skills in higher ed.

Major benefits: 

  • Students invest more effort to glean value from the readings and provide succinct evidence for grading.
  • Format encourages clarity and expansion for students who write minimally.
  • Student writers who provide too much length get to practice refinement and brevity. 
  • Instructor gets to grade 4 carefully crafted sentences per student. Done!
4-Part Student Reading Response Format
  1. Reading assignment Title and Author. (May include the full APA/MLA reference for practice.)
  2. Summarize author’s thesis statement. (Quote a single sentence or summarize what you believe to the be the author’s main point in a single sentence.)
  3. Quote the best line from the writing. (Take notes and be prepared to defend your choice in follow-up discussion. Your personal definition of “best” may be based on sentence-crafting, novel ideals, metaphors, key points, convincing arguments, etc.)
  4. Share your response. (State your reaction to the reading. Do you agree or disagree and why? Expand on the topic and share your own opinions and rationale.)

The rising popularity of online college courses creates new opportunities for completion and success. Unfortunately, more students who sign up for online courses also fail or wash out!  Students and instructors alike benefit from clarifying the skills needed to succeed and the mental preparation needed to prime students for online success.

 

While the goal is to encourage enrollment--not discourage it--students must be prepared and personally responsible for their online experiences especially if they are fresh from high school or not yet used to the discipline and organizational skills college courses demand. 

 

Ideally, the online courses of today are engaging, relevant, and organized with instructors who are truly present online and student-to-student interactions adding immense value. Online courses also demand a higher level of empathetic user experience design (UX), clear instructions, clear expectations, zero instructor "winging it," and superhuman anticipation of all possible roadblocks that diverse students might encounter!

Advantages of Online Courses

  • Online courses allow additional schedule options for busy students. 
  • Online means less time and money wasted commuting, sitting in traffic, adding to air pollution, searching for parking, paying for parking, etc.
    • Online also means less exposure to diseases, epidemics, violence, and the downsides of social crowding. 
  • Online course scheduling may be more feasible if you work full-time or have other obligations. 
  • Some online courses may allow you to work a week ahead, for example, if you have upcoming events or vacations. 
  • Well-designed online courses allow you to review materials--at any time--to gain full benefit.
  • Review and self-pacing can additionally benefit diverse student populations including students who require accessibility accommodations or ESL assistance.
  • The online format encourages you to interact with your instructor and other students in writing and discussions even more than you might in a classroom lecture format. 
  • The online format provides opportunities to practice higher-level reading, writing, and technology skills.

Questions to Ask Yourself in Preparing for an Online Course

  1. Am I prepared to spend the same amount of time (or more) in an online course as I would in a traditional classroom format?  Typically, colleges advise students to plan for 2-3 personal hours of homework time minimum for each credit hour during a week. For example, a 3 credit hour class may require approx. 6-9 hours each week for a typical student or possibly even more homework time.
  2. Am I aware that online classes are not easier or faster? For some students, online courses are significantly more difficult. Are the trade-offs worth it for you?
  3. Am I self-motivated and organized with completing my homework and scheduled deadlines even without continual guidance from an instructor
  4. Am I willing to ask questions, persistently communicate, and ask for help in advance of due dates?
  5. Am I persistent with technology hassles, including reading directions and solving issues?
  6. Do I have continual access to a reliable computer and high-speed internet?
  7. Am I personally responsible for gaining the full value from course materials and finishing what I begin?
  8. I am prepared to focus my attention and gain meaning from written text or videos with or without additional explanation from an instructor?
  9. Am I prepared to complete college-level writing assignments and/or seek assistance from writing centers to bring my writing skills up to expectations?
  10. Am I aware of options to take courses for credit, non-credit, technical training, hybrid mixtures of online and classroom interaction, etc. with a clear understanding of financial repercussions in worst-case scenarios? 

a Handshake with one arm reaching out through a computer screen

***

Resource links:

https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/01/16/online-learning-fails-deliver-finds-report-aimed-disc… 

Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need the Most Help - The New York Times 

The element that sets successful online courses apart from old-style correspondence courses is: presence. Well-taught, well-designed online courses can allow students to get to know each other and their instructors even better than in traditional lecture classrooms. Interaction is the key. Online course presence may require instructors to communicate much differently than in their classroom comfort zones. Online communication focuses less—or not at all--on body language and tone of voice.

So, how do you communicate online?

Keep in mind, online courses do not run themselves. Effective instructors leverage clear, frequent messaging and considerate planning. Ongoing instructor availability for timely questions is vital. Instructors must stay engaged daily to keep students progressing and adding value for each other. Online teaching takes as much time as classroom teaching; it just happens at different times and locations. Here are some ideas:

Create a Good Beginning

  • Create introductory Discussions with detailed question prompts to break the ice and help students connect personally. Example:

"Please introduce yourself to your fellow classmates. Include your name and why you are taking this class. You may also choose to include your major, your personal interests, hobbies, a photo, and something fun or memorable that will help people get to know you. (Approximately 5-10 sentences.) As you reply to your classmates’ posts, ask questions, look for interesting details, and keep your upcoming group projects in mind.”

  • Shy students who may not speak up at all in classrooms will often write more in an online discussion post.
  • Clarify expectations. In addition to the official policies in a syllabus, be sure to include separate discussion board etiquette instructions and basic explanations of the course structure. Example: “All materials and assignments are accessed through the Modules link. Discussions are due each Wednesday by 11:59 pm and major assignments are due on Sundays by 11:59 pm.”
  • Include an Instructor Bio content page with a photo or short, personal video. Avoid reciting information that is already in the syllabus. Reveal what you love about your field, what you want students to gain from the semester, and assure students that you are looking forward to working with them.
  • Include Week 1 setup assignments for Instructure Canvas LMS system success (notifications, profile, assignment submissions and system requirements.) Include an email requirement for immediate student questions or comments to you as the instructor.
  • Answer each email personally. Use repeated student questions to trigger your creation of general Announcements and course improvements.
  • Grade weekly assignments before the next assignment is due. Students cannot improve without timely feedback.
  • Post due dates for the entire semester on day 1 so that busy students can plan for success. Lack of pacing and direction is counterproductive. Canvas Assignment Due Dates trigger the To-Do List reminder system and populate the student calendar for your course combined with all of their other courses. (To reduce your instructor communication burden, avoid available and until dates unless absolutely necessary. Example: A Final Exam with a solid end date and no re-takes needs an until date.)
  • Use the Canvas Gradebook reminder/messaging feature to quickly remind students who miss assignments, if late work is accepted.
  • Be present in your course daily and strive to complete some type of communication with each login.
  • Aim for twice-daily [minimum] to respond to messages and questions. State your communication policy in advance to inform students who may be used to a 15-second response to messages.

Design for Success

  • Be clear. Detailed instructions are written for the least tech-savvy students. Make no assumptions. Include info links, definitions of terminology and expectations of writing length. Include links to specific Canvas Guides for Students in your assignment instructions for those who need step-by-step tutorials.
  • Be sure you understand Canvas and get help from Canvas Instructor Guides to avoid creating navigation dead-ends and frustration for your students. (Example: Make sure that hyperlinks to outside sites are functioning and use built-in modules navigation. Internal Canvas links can open in a neighboring tab. (Use HTML code snippet target="_blank" to avoid links within text that divert your students to another location in Canvas. Students won't finish reading a page if they click a link mid-sentence and land elsewhere.)
  • Curate multiple examples of successfully completed assignments for students to emulate and surpass. Varied assignment examples will invite deeper learning inferences and creative thinking.
  • Use Rubrics. Students will know where to spend their energy on assignments and have fewer complaints or questions. Rubrics help instructors give consistent, fast feedback without writing the same comments again and again.
  • UX. User test your navigation and course layout to ensure it is not confusing. The adventure is in the course materials, not in the navigation. (Research QM Quality Matters Rubric for Online Course DesignQOLT, and other quality assurance standards.)
  • Plan your course assignment due dates and pacing with the Academic Calendar and Holiday Calendar. Many students work during the week and appreciate Sunday night due dates. 
  • Be available for questions immediately prior to deadlines. Clarify your anticipated response times and weekend availability for questions.
  • Include early course feedback—approximately week 2-3 in a semester—to gather student feedback on the course design, not the instructor! Minor course adjustments and clarifications can create major attitude improvements and student success. Use the Quiz tool for a required survey, grading only the student’s participation and not the answers.
  • Aim for quality, not quantity. Use the auto-grading quiz tool for low-stakes chapter quizzes to ensure that students read materials. Save precious grading time for the most meaningful projects and writings that require your human touch.

Reward

  • Reward Curiosity. Make your ePortfolio assignments the most memorable, impactful part of your course. (Research topics: Problem-Based/Project Based LearningBackwards Design, and High Impact Teaching Practices.)
  • Be flexible. Keep assignment settings unlocked wherever possible so that students can look ahead. 
  • Consider. Many students take online courses specifically for flexibility. Allow responsible students to submit early for holidays, vacations, and personal obligations.
  • Reward Persistence. Ease student anxiety by using low-stakes quiz settings that allow multiple attempts to raise grades. Allow major writing assignments to be resubmitted after feedback and revisions.
  • Reward Contributions. Create opportunities for students to locate and share content from current events with each other in course Discussions.

Maximize Student Interactions

  • Participate with your own instructor comments intermittently for strongest results. Watch discussion spaces and participate subtly to allow students to converse more authentically.
  • Plan group projects in detail. Include detailed outlines, expectations, and suggestions for group roles that align with grading rubrics. Use collaboration spaces like GoogleDocs and Presentations that allow group members to work asynchronously and visibly.
  • Offer forums and opportunities for students to answer questions for each other.
  • Create open peer reviews in Discussions and set parameters for meaningful feedback where students take on the teaching & feedback role for each other.

Experiment with Your Role

  • Become a coach. Online courses are designed and polished in advance to free instructors for the coaching role rather than being the Sage on the stage.
  • Distill your life wisdom to re-examine the most efficient ways to think like an expert. Then, add inspirations for creativity and allow your students to add value by teaching you in return. Courses are improved semester-to-semester by engaged students.
  • Help students create their own tools for life and work.
  • Help students create proud evidence of what they have learned in the form of research papers, meaningful projects, and creative ePortfolio artifacts.
  • Keep feedback positive and encouraging, wherever possible.
  • Be specific when revisions are needed. If your requirements are strict, then assignment instructions and rubrics must match that precision. If your instructions are loose and flexible, your grading should reflect this style of teaching.
  • Be human. Use a conversational style in your Announcements and assignment directions that balances professionalism and friendliness. Written format is automatically more cold sounding, so account for this in your writing. 

* This article is offered based upon experiences as an Instructional Designer, Institutional LMS support staff member, and online higher ed. instructor. These suggestions are not affiliated with nor compensated by Instructure Canvas.

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