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All People > Laura Gibbs > Laura Gibbs' Blog > 2018 > October

I'm guessing some or even many of you have done the Pew survey about fact versus opinion:

Younger Americans better at telling factual news statements from opinions

I had no trouble accurately classifying all five fact statements and all five opinion statements on the quiz, and I would hope the same would be true of all educators.


So, let's look at a question on the latest edition of Inside Higher Ed's Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology.

Inside Higher Ed: Faculty Survey on Technology


They asked faculty to agree or disagree with this statement:
For-credit online courses can achieve student learning outcomes that are at least equivalent to those of in-person courses.


The format of the question promotes the notion that this is a matter of opinion (agree or disagree). But it is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact, and there are plenty of demonstrations that online courses can achieve outcomes that are at least equivalent to in-person courses; indeed, there are demonstrations that online courses can achieve superior outcomes. I myself can offer up 15+ years and thousands of students demonstrating that fact, based on learning outcomes, as well as quality of student work and student satisfaction. But don't listen to me; listen to real experts like Tony Bates or Michelle Pacansky-Brock.


It bothers me that Inside Higher Ed is asking a question like this as if it were a matter of opinion, rather than as a matter of fact. But that is indeed a good way to see if people are prejudiced against online courses, and that prejudice comes through loud and clear. People with least experience are most likely to answer the question incorrectly (it is a matter of fact, not opinion, so yes, their answer is incorrect):


Instructors who have never taught online courses are more likely to disagree than agree that online courses can achieve the same outcomes as in-person instruction. Six in 10 professors with no online teaching experience disagree that online instruction can achieve equivalent outcomes in their department or discipline, and nearly 7 in 10 disagree it can do so in the courses they teach.


To see how prejudiced this is, imagine if they asked a question like "Women can achieve learning outcomes that are at least equivalent to those of men in STEM courses," and you found that 70% of STEM instructors who had NEVER TAUGHT WOMEN contended that women cannot achieve learning outcomes at least equivalent to men in their courses. (For an even scarier thought experiment, think about what it would be like to be a woman in one of those classes if one of those prejudiced instructors were required by their school to teach women in their classes.)


Of course, personal experience is not always sufficient to achieve accurate knowledge; if people are teaching online in an unskilled way, their students might fail to achieve good learning outcomes, in which case they would conclude (wrongly) that there is something deficient about online as a teaching mode, as opposed to concluding that there is something deficient about their teaching methods online. So IHE finds that even among faculty who have taught online, there are people who are prejudiced against online education (i.e. they disagree with the fact that online courses can achieve student learning outcomes that are at least equivalent to those of in-person courses).


More generally, I would argue that this is not so much an indictment of prejudice against online education, but instead a more general problem with teaching in higher education. Surveys like this one by Inside Higher Ed show that faculty members are not responding progressively and proactively to the many teaching challenges we face, with digital literacy being just one of those challenges.


I wrote a long response to this Inside Higher Ed survey four years ago which I published at Medium:

Devotedly Digital: Why I Love Teaching Online


screenshot of Medium post


I re-read that essay this morning, and I would stand by all the things I said there (even more passionately now!) ... although it was great to see one really big change: I wrote that article when we were still using D2L at my school. We are now using Canvas, so that means I can share OPEN Canvas courses and other resources in order to help expand faculty members' knowledge about what is possible when teaching online. So, THANK YOU as always to Canvas for letting us make our courses open, and also for providing this Community space where we can connect and share ideas about teaching and learning. Here are my Canvas courses: and, plus I have many open Canvas resource spaces like


More than better technology, we need a better culture of teaching and learning, especially in higher education, and having open courses and open discussions is a big part of how that will happen.


cat upside down in tree

Open your mind with a new perspective.



P.S. Stefanie Sanders as you can imagine, I sure am glad they fixed that gremlin gobbling up the word online in time for me to write this post! :-)

For #TotalCoLearner this week, I want to reflect on some thoughts that came together as a result of preparing my presentation for Can*Innovate (I want to write up a post about the conference too -- which was FABULOUS -- but I am going to wait to do that until I can share some numbers about participation, as well as my own personal appreciation of the experience).


So, my presentation was on creativity; you can see the presentation and lots of supporting materials at the Canvas course I created to house it all: Can*Innovate presentation


One of the slides in the presentation was about my #TotalCoLearner experience, because I am more and more happy with that as I settle into my own learning routine for the semester; I'm still kicking myself for not having been a full 100% doing-all-the-work student in my classes every semester all these years. I would have learned so much more that way! But better late than never: I am going to be a student in my class every semester from now on, that's for sure.


totalcolearner slide


I also had an un-grading slide in the presentation, and apparently that provoked a lot of discussion in the chat, along with questions people asked me about afterwards:


punished by rewards slide


So, as I did my class homework on Saturday (I am so happy with my new story: Why The Bat's Wings Have No Feathers), I thought more and more about how the un-grading really is essential to the creative work my students are doing and also how it is essential to my ability to BE a student in my own class.


I honestly do not think my classes would work if I had not stopped grading (I have not put a grade on student work since I started teaching online over 15 years ago), and the same is true for my #TotalCoLearner experiment: it is only because the student is in charge of their own course experience that I can really and truly be a student in a way that is exactly like any other student in my classes.


Here's what I mean:


Grades, Games, Rules. As a teacher, all I do is set up the experience; if you see the class as a game, I am the one who sets the rules. And, like any game, those rules are arbitrary, but they exist in order to make the game playable, so that the player of the game will achieve their goal(s).


In the case of the game that is my class, there are two kinds of goals: there are earning goals (content, skills, etc.; there are lots of possible learning goals) and there is the institutional goal of Humanities General Education credit for graduation. That second goal depends on the first -- i.e., the reason you get Gen. Ed. credit is because you are learning things that fall under the wide umbrella of Humanities Gen. Ed. at my school. That first goal (learning) is independent of the second goal: I am not taking the class for Gen. Ed. credit, and that is also true of some of my students, although I don't know which ones. Conversely, some of the students enroll in the class only for Gen. Ed. with no learning goals of their own; that's an institutional problem beyond my control (I don't believe in making students jump through meaningless hoops for graduation, but nobody asks my opinion about that question...). I've worked very hard on finding ways to help every student create meaningful learning goals in the class, even if their only goal originally was to get the Gen. Ed. credit while doing the minimum work required (either for an A or just to pass).


Here's how grades then relate to those goals:


The learning does not need a letter grade. Learning just needs feedback; more on that below.


And the Gen. Ed. credit only needs a passing grade for institutional purposes.


In other words, I have turned my class into a pass/not-pass class in terms of my role as the teacher. Yes, the students can opt, for whatever reasons, to do the work that gives them an A or B or C or D in the class; that is totally up to them. As a teacher, I do not care about their letter grade. I mean that in the best beatific Buddhistic sense of not caring: how the student thinks about that letter grade is up to them; I simply do not care. I look at the Gradebook on the last day of class and report what I find there. That letter grade is, sad to say, the only thing my school wants to know about my students' work. (Here's how that works if you are curious about details: Calendar and Chart.)


Being a student. So, as a student this semester, I have really enjoyed that freedom from grading by the teacher; I don't need a teacher to monitor me... I just need a class set up so that I can do the work and learn! At first, I thought I would not have enough time except to do the minimum to pass, and that was okay. But then, as I got more and more excited about the stories and about my project, I pushed myself to find more time to spend on the class, and I used the points system to help monitor my progress that way. It worked great! It was useful, not stressful. I'm going to end up with an A after all... but more importantly, I am going to have probably written 10 stories by the time the semester is over. I am so happy about that. I already have 8 stories so far, and I am really proud of each one.


Other students go about this differently. They might really need an A to raise their GPA for example, and that's fine with me. I don't need to know about that; their plans are their plans. I had an enormous amount of freedom as I worked on the class this semester week by week, just like the other students in the class. I hope everyone uses that freedom to their best advantage: as a writer, as a student, as a human being.


Not caring about grades. In my role as a teacher, if you ask me right now who is getting an A or B or C in my class, I have no idea. I repeat: I have no idea. That's because all I do is sort the Gradebook a couple of times a week from low points to high to see who is currently below the grade of D. That means I see the people who are in D range and people who are not passing, and I enter that information into a spreadsheet so I can track the progress of those students. It's a more or less stable cohort of students over the semester, with a few who do pull themselves up out of that hole, plus a few people who fall into the hole now at the end of the semester because of increased pressure in their other classes or other demands on their time.


As a teacher, my only intervention in terms of grading is with these students who are not passing the class. In every case, it's simply a matter of the students being overwhelmed by other commitments: school commitments, work commitments, life commitments. AKA the rule of 168: the number of hours in the week. So, I try to make sure students can easily see from week by week just what the minimum is that they need to do to pass the class, encouraging them in every way I can to catch up. For several semesters in a row, everybody has passed the class, and that is my goal every semester. I hope I succeed in that again this semester!


Meanwhile, though, about the actual letter grades, A B C or D: it doesn't matter. They get Gen. Ed. credit as long as they pass the class. Mission accomplished!


Feedback for learning. While I don't care about the grades, I do care about the learning. I care A LOT about the learning. So the students get lots of feedback from me about their project stories. They get feedback from other students about their project stories and about their blog stories. Feedback is what is useful for learning; grades are not.


Do they use the feedback? Yes, they do. Sometimes they make incredibly good use of the feedback, other times less so. And the same is true of the feedback they give each other: sometimes it is really excellent, sometimes it is not. That is something I am working hard on; learning how to give good feedback is not easy! The way I am working on feedback is by teaching the students more about feedback while also trying to create a more meaningful feedback culture in the class (details). My job is not to reward or punish people who do or do not use the feedback, or who do or do not give really useful feedback for others. My goal is just to make sure the learning options are there, and to help everyone to improve who wants to improve (and that includes me trying to improve the work I do as a teacher).


Grades do not help people to improve their work. Time and attention, caring and dedication, plus good feedback -- those are some of the things that are required if we want to improve our own learning and help others with their learning.


Looking back and ahead. By sheer luck, I started out with more or less this same course design when I first got the chance to teach online. I've improved the class procedures from year to year, and I've improved my communication with the students (I think that is really where I have improved the most). Plus, I've built in more and more ways to get feedback from the students so that I can keep improving procedures and communication. I'm very happy with how all of it works... and now, I really like being able to give the course a good review as a student too! I have had a really good time being a student in the class this semester, and I am super-excited to be in the Indian Epics class next semester. We just finished Spring enrollment, and all my classes filled, so I can see a long list of new student names (90 students total across my three sections, with 42 students on the waiting list: we need more Gen. Ed. online!)... and I am going to have fun being their teacher AND their fellow student in the Spring.


Yes, I think grades are poison. I know people think it is weird when I talk about not grading, but it's so fundamental to my whole approach that, from my point of view, grading is the thing that is weird. VERY weird. On another slide for Can*Innovate I said that I think grades are poison, and that word probably shocked some people. But I really do see it that way. From my perspective, grades are like smoking back in the 1950s. Yeah, "everybody" smoked. Every teacher gives grades. But now we know smoking was poison. Both of my parents got lung cancer. Literally: poison.


Grades are not literally poison, but I think they are metaphorically poison when it comes to learning. The 25th anniversary edition of Alfie Kohn's classic Punished by Rewards shown in the slide above is just $2.99 for the Kindle edition (that you can read on your phone or with a web browser; you don't need a Kindle device)... and it's a book I would consider to be required reading for any teacher at any level. If you do get a chance to read it, let me know what you think. I find Alfie Kohn's presentation of the research and his philosophical arguments to be fully persuasive, but that's also because they match my own experience as a teacher.


And if you don't want to pony up for the book, he shares an enormous amount of material at his website:


Happy reading, and I am glad to discuss grades and un-grading with anyone who is interested!


Plus, you can always check out #TTOG at Twitter. I am not the only one! :-)


We now take smoking-free as the default. But it didn't used to be that way; we made that change happen, as a matter of public health and well-being. I hope we will eventually take grading-free as the default for the health and well-being of our students. But we have a long way to go!

So here is my #TotalCoLearner post for Week 9, and it will be a short one because I am at my dad's this weekend, stealing time here and there to get my homework done! Luckily, he watched a lot of football yesterday, which meant I was able to finish Week 9 and even get started on Week 10. The end is in sight, and I tweaked my "gradebook" spreadsheet, adding a column so I could plan out what I want to do as I finish up the semester. Here's what it looks like; you can take a look at the whole thing, too, because it's public: spreadsheet link.


spreadsheet screenshot

I actually feel badly that the Canvas Gradebook doesn't work like a customizable spreadsheet in this way; I'm having a much easier time than the students do by managing my work this way.


The spreadsheet automatically shows my total points, and now it shows the assignments I plan to do (marked in blue), so I can know for sure I am on track to finish up. That column works like a to-do list which also tells me that I am on track with my overall goals for the class.


It also shows the number of days left in the semester, and the number of points per week I need to be doing. It's definitely reassuring to see the number of points I need per week way down in the coming weeks, because I know I am going to be really busy.


I can sort the assignments by type, so when I decided I would definitely do the story and Wikipedia assignments every week, I was able to quickly mark those as "planned." Then I switched the sort back to by-date.


I can customize the view in other ways too, like filtering out assignments as they are completed or as the due dates pass by.


Plus I like my color coding. I respond well to blue and gold. (Oh wow, I just realized: those are the Berkeley school colors, ha ha.)


And so on.


With all the sorting and filtering and automatic formatting and calculations, it works GREAT. That's what spreadsheets should offer.


I wish the Canvas Gradebook worked like a real spreadsheet that the students could configure in their own ways for their own reasons. I'm guessing that was not even on the table when Instructure redesigned the Gradebook, even though it seems like it would not be that hard to do. I can totally imagine a Google Sheet set-up where there would be grades that the students could not alter, but they could alter everything else with spreadsheet customizations, color coding, calculating, doing all the things that spreadsheets can do.


Because of my hectic schedule, I've really been relying on the design-your-own-course approach. My students do not do such a good job with that, and I think the inflexible Gradebook and Calendar is a big part of the problem. I explain about designing their own course and setting their own schedule on the first day of class (Design Your Own Course), and I come back to that again and again in the announcements, in other class activities, in my communication with them... but they see the deadlines in the Calendar, and they see all the assignments in the Gradebook, and nothing about that gives them a sense of control like my spreadsheet does, where I am organizing and color-coding the assignments based on what I have done and what I plan to do.


But sadly, this is really the only way that FERPA constrains me in my work: even though I would love to find a better way to give my students more of a sense of control over the Gradebook by offering them a spreadsheet alternative, there is literally nothing I can do. For the past week, I've been pondering if there is some way I could use a Google Sheet alternative to the Gradebook, and there's just no way I can do that so that I would be able to say I was complying with FERPA.


But I will be tweaking my spreadsheet and making it available to the students next semester if they want to use it IN ADDITION to the Canvas Gradebook. Since it is extra work for them (recording the points in the spreadsheet and recording then in Canvas), I'm guessing most students will not take me up on that option, but at least I can make it available to the students who do want to have more of a sense of control. So, this is totally a result of my #TotalCoLearner project: I'd always thought about offering the students a spreadsheet, but now I have one that has been thoroughly tested and tweaked all semester as I've thought of new/better way to manage the data.


And of course I will be using a spreadsheet next semester myself because I definitely plan to take my Indian Epics class next semester. That's actually the class I am more excited about in terms of the reading and storytelling (I'm convinced that most of the world's great chain-tale types started in India), so it is going to be even more fun to take that class. The story I wrote for Myth-Folklore this week is a retelling of a Tibetan folktale that is undoubtedly Indian in origin. And yes, it has cats! I updated my "latest story" widget in the blog sidebar; I never used to use this widget in Blogger before, but now it is one of my favorite widget options. So handy! Here's my blog, with famous last words for the week there. Happy weekend, everybody!


screenshot of blog widget

This past week was a review week in class, and just like the students, I did some reflecting and proflecting! That was really nice to do because usually the Review Week is not anything special for me, but this week it was. I wrote about that in my Famous Last Words post at my blog:

Week 8. Famous Last Words: Rotating Anansi 

rotating Anansi graphic

And yes, I made a rotating Anansi as a new tech experiment: I've used GIMP to make animations before, I never tried making a circle that would rotate. I don't think I would have set myself a challenge like that if I had not been a student in the class, and it was so much fun to do. Plus I had a blast writing the Anansi story that it goes with:

Story: Brer Anansi Borrows Money 


That means I've written 6 stories for the class so far, and I've put three of them into my Chain Tales Portfolio. As a creative experience, it has been so great to take this class as a student, and that extra boost of creativity really added to my Can*Innovate presentation I think:

Can*Innovate Presentation: Surprise! Good Things Happen When Students Get Creative


And of course I have a slide for colearning:


colearning slide from presentation


Has everybody picked out the Can*Innovate sessions that you want to attend? It's all coming soon: Friday, October 26.

Caninnovate18 Schedule of Presentationsyou can sign up here for individual sessions

There are so many great topics on the agenda


Here's the Community Event page for my presentation:

Can•Innovate '18 Showcase: Good Things Happen When Students Get Creative 


I'm glad I got the presentation done (and it's meant to function just fine on its own without me!)... now I can let it sit while I ponder for the next 10 days. Since they are going to be a very busy 10 days, I am so relieved to have gotten the presentation (tentatively) done. :-)

Week 7 of the semester is over, which is the half-way point (our semester is 14 weeks plus a Dead Week), and I am happy with how the experiment is going! I'm at 232 points, which means I am keeping up with the workload! Admittedly, I'm in the mode that some students are in, with some weeks stronger than others rather than a steady state, but that's okay: this has been personal proof to me that my flexible calendar with lots of make-up/work-head options is very accommodating and even necessary for people who have serious work and family obligations. Originally I thought the best I could do in the class was a C (which would be fine with me; it makes no difference in any real sense), but now I am thinking I'll go for the A, ha ha. I'm half-way there!


I realized a fantastic new use of this colearning experiment this semester, which is that it fits in perfectly with the #CanInnovate18 talk that I am giving later this month! I worked really hard on that this weekend, building a Canvas site to go with the presentation, along with a big chunk of my presentation too! The event is not until October 26, and this is the last real weekend I will have free time to work on it since the upcoming weekends are busy with family stuff.


Here's the course: I've repurposed my old StoryLab site from a couple of summers ago!


screenshot of CanInnovate site


And here's the slide from the presentation I've got (at the moment) about my colearning experiment: slide link. Plus it was fun to get to include my project along with the other project slides featuring student work. :-)


screenshot of presentation slide


I am so excited about the CanInnovate event, and if you have not browsed the program and signed up for sessions you are interested in, do that now! It's open to EVERYBODY! Here is the website. Here is the event page for my talk:

Can•Innovate '18 Showcase: Good Things Happen When Students Get Creative 


CanInnovate flyer

I just left an admittedly cranky comment on a discussion here at the Community about measuring faculty engagement in a course with numbers. Most numbers don't help me to really see and understand what is going on in a course... I really need to hear from the students, in their own words, how things are going! No, it's not a number, not objective, and how could it be? What my students are doing, experiencing, and learning in my classes is all highly subjective, and one of my goals is to give them lots of opportunities to bring that to the surface, becoming more aware of what they are learning and what they want to learn. That awareness can help them make better choices in the class (my course design is all about making choices), and by listening in on that reflections/proflections, I can learn a lot about how the course design is working, or not working, for any given student... with thanks to Kristin Lundstrum for this word "proflection," which I learned from her over at our Michael Bonner Reading Group!


So, during Week 8 (which marks the halfway point of our semester), instead of the usual reading/storytelling assignments which form the core of each week's work, I substitute some reflection/proflection blog posts where students look at their reading and writing in the class, their interaction with other students and peer feedback, and also their overall progress in the class; you can see Week 8 here.


The students put "Week 8" in the titles of their posts, so that allows me to collect them all at Inoreader, seeing them as they pop up (some students have already started Week 8), while also giving me a single-page view of all those particular posts; you can see it too: Week 8 posts for Fall 2018. I'll be working on my presentation on creativity for Can*Innovate this weekend (all-day event coming up on October 26: all Canvassers are invited: Can*Innovate schedule, plus event page for my talk on creativity here), so I'll be eagerly looking for any remarks the students might make about creative work in these posts, harvesting quotes to use in my presentation (my goal is for the presentation to be full of what the students say, not so much what I say... since I already say everything I want to say here in my blog ha ha).


This type of mid-semester evaluation is always really useful for me, and I've done it in lots of different forms over the years; this open-ended blog-based approach is my favorite that I've tried. It is a boost to see students who are happy with the class, and from those posts I get a sense of what is most important to them; I want to enhance, if I can, what they find most valuable.


For example, with the post below from a student who is very happy with the class, I learn that no matter how often I sign my name "Laura" to the emails, tell the students it's okay to call me by my first name, for many students that is just not comfortable... even though, ouch, I am not really a professor, ha ha. I also learn here that really engaging with students about their schedules can be helpful, so it's worth going through the build-a-schedule process that does admittedly take some time/effort in the first weeks of the semester. I also really like hearing about the productive struggle this student is having as they work on their blog and website: I want to provide tech support for my students, but not in the sense of removing all that exploration and struggle for its own sake. At least for this student, I have struck the right balance. There's other stuff too; those are just the easiest to explain that are general kinds of observations not super-specific to my classes.


But aside from the feel-good experience of positive feedback (and yes, it feels great, of course, especially when it is detailed and specific), the most useful feedback comes from the students who are struggling, for whatever reason (lack of interest, lack of time, frustration, etc.). They are often the students who do not write detailed posts like the post below, but I look for whatever clues I can to try to find out what I could do differently with the class to help encourage, motivate, support, etc. the students for whom this class is not a good fit right now. I feel really badly when students are not doing well in the class and/or not learning something that is of value to them... and those are also the students who have prompted me to make the biggest and best changes to this class over the years.


Everybody needs feedback, and these midterm blog posts are a way I get that feedback; it is way more useful to me than the pro forma end-of-semester by-the-numbers data we get back from our course evaluations. Personally, I think it is much much MUCH more useful to ask the students to reflect on their own learning than it is to ask them to evaluate my own teaching. It is more useful to the students: they need to learn how to think about their own learning because the most important learning in life is not going to happen in school anyway! Plus, it is more useful to me too because, in a sense, my goal is to disappear so that the students are teaching themselves and each other, with me just there to be a catalyst (not the boss, and certainly not the policeman).


So, anyway, below I've copied  the blog post at the top of the feed right now (that may be different when you happen to arrive at this post; here's the live feed)... and this one makes me feel GREAT. If every student could be having such a positive experience in the class, I would be in teacher nirvana, ha ha. Anyway, I can really hear this student's experience in their words (and it matches up with the work I see them doing in class). For me, that is way better than numbers.


Does anybody else have some mid-semester evaluation processes to share......? There are so many ways you can do that: with or without numbers, as self-evaluation or as course evaluation, anonymously or not anonymously, etc. etc. ... and it is ALL valuable. It is, after all, my favorite course design mantra: ASK THE STUDENTS. They will tell you!



screenshot of student blog post



And now, shameless plug again for Can*Innovate 2018 coming up on October 26!!! :-)


CanInnovate screenshot











Ignore this test: I almost forgot to shorten the URL, in case the  gremlin gets me: on-line / . If this  space is blank, the gremlin is still gobbling the word on-line (unhyphenated), including in URLs.