Using Google Forms

Hey everyone,

We’re back again this week with a quick overview of how to get started with Google Forms. I was surprised to find that we hadn’t covered Google Forms before, so consider this post an introduction to some of its basic features. Because Google Forms does merit much more attention, expect that we’ll return to the tool in the future with deeper treatment of the different ways in which you can USE Google Forms, either as student, staff or faculty. Suffice to say, Forms is an excellent option for collecting and organizing information from large numbers of people. And, because it automatically stores the information in the Excel-like Google Sheets, the resulting data is immediately ready for treatment and study.

create new google form

First, let’s look at how to create a Google form. Doing so is easy: Go to Google Drive, click “New” and then click “Google Forms.” There is something to consider when you create a form, however, and that has to do with the form’s architecture on Drive. A form is not one file, but two. It consists of both the form itself and the spreadsheet, automatically generated, on which respondent answers are collected. These will always generate in the same folder (if the form is created within a folder) and with names that identify themselves as being paired, so once you realize that a form consists of the two files then the concept makes sense, and is useful. For one thing, since the responses are collected in a spreadsheet by default, there is no need to export the data in order to begin to analyze/filter/organize it in earnest. However, the most important thing to consider about the two files created when you create a Google Form is this: the permissions for each is handled independently from the other. This means that you can give editing privileges to the form, say to collaborators in a study, but keep the response file entirely private. Or the other way around. This is incredibly useful for collaborative projects in which you must carefully control the authority of your collaborators. You may be part of a team that analyzes the data, for instance, but the team as a whole doesn’t need the power to edit the form by which the data is collected.

google form back-end.

The backend of the form is also pretty simple to understand. You can navigate directly to the spreadsheet on which responses are being collected by clicking “View Responses” at the top, and you can navigate to the “Live Form” by clicking “View Live Form”. Below that are form settings on which you can set, for instance, the form to automatically collect the organizational usernames of the respondents when they submit. Or, unchecked, the forms can be kept anonymous.

question styles

Finally, the form fields. There are many different types of fields/questions you can create for your respondents, giving you quite a lot of options for how you need to collect different forms of info.

Give it a try, and tell us how you like it!

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Kanopy Video Database

The UNE Library supplies us, faculty students and staff, with a huge quantity of learning and entertainment materials. Mostly, we think of books when we think of these materials, or the vast online databases connecting us with scholarly articles from around the world. But there’s more to the library than what you can check out or download for reading.

Kanopy is a database of videos, the variety of which will surprise you. To check it out, go to the UNE library’s website and click E-Resources, then Databases, then navigate to the only database whose title begins with the letter “K.”

databases by title

Kanopy’s library consists of a wide variety of streamable videos, comprising everything from old art-house films to recently released, award winning documentaries. To put a video from Kanopy into your course, simply use the share button from within the chosen video and include either the link, or if you’re familiar with the process of embedding, the embed code, into your course.

embed kanopy video

In addition to the opportunity Kanopy provides faculty for linking-to/embedding videos for their online classrooms, the database is available to students and staff for the simple pleasure of watching. Be sure to check out Kanopy when you get a chance.

Discussions in Online Courses

speech bubbleThe apparent convenience of online education is what attracts a lot of students in the first place. Imagine sitting on your couch with a bowl of cereal, still in your pjs and with uncombed hair, and working away on your assignments and readings where no one can see you.

The flip side of the coin, the absence of the physical presence is one aspect of online/distance education that makes students feel isolated so much more than in a brick and mortar college program. Isolation is one of the primary complaints. It is also an important factor to account for when designing activities for online students for success.

At SSW here at UNE, we often include group activities or at least group and whole class discussion forums, to both mitigate this increased isolation and to have students practice working with other individuals.

Some groups and some group activities work well, a frequent complaint is that students don’t always enjoy group projects. The asynchronous nature of the courses is often an impediment to student satisfaction because group interactions are challenging online where one has to wonder whether her comments are ever read and whether the other members of the group are working on their share of the assignment or are MIA – unless they get an unambiguous proof that other people are reading and participating.

It can be argued that lack of interstudent relationsips can account for this kind of challenges at least partially. We are typically more likely to resolve conflicts, be more conscientious and diligent, and get along with each other better if we have a connection to the other people we work with. This part is a no-brainer. How to help students form those relationships in online environments is a labor-intensive and time-consuming process.

Discussions

One way to facilitate connections is through group and whole class discussions (Rovai, 2007).

Students have options, which should make them more comfortable: they can lurk and read, they can choose which thread to participate in, they can most of the time read other students’ posts (unless they are the first one to post) and gather ideas from them. Lurking is arguably a form of interaction (read more).

A helpful and explicit rubric allows to communicate expectations as well as provide the initial extrinsic motivation by making this activity gradable. When students are required to participate, this provides extrinsic motivation and evidence suggests increased classroom community (read more).

Obviously, if you get students talking because a topic or a question is controversial and/or relevant, the intrinsic motivation takes over. If good prompts are half the battle, the other half is effective facilitation (encouragement, clarifying questions, etc.).

A good example of a prompt that may be quite popular is “the muddiest point” discussion. Instead of asking students for the “right” answer, this kind of prompt not only invites students to share a point (or points) they need further explanation on, but also informs future instruction and course redesign to preempt a possible confusion, where applicable.

In addition to letting students “show what they have learned”, well-set up course discussions allow for and facilitate student-to-student interactions and build camaraderie.

To summarize, students need to know that their posts are read, that they don’t post into the void, “a message in the bottle” type of scenario; the instructor needs to provide feedback, to keep discussions on task, to encourage students to build on other students’ contributions (Rovai, 2007).

Discussions are not foolproof

At a most basic level, asynchronous discussion tools allow for easy communication among peers, which is readily archived for later reference. (Dennen and Wieland, 2007) Anecdotally, there are stories of students not reading most of the posts (let’s be honest!) and at the other end of the spectrum there are students who have to read all of the assigned readings and all of the published posts before they comment themselves – thus getting overwhelmed and behind due to the sheer volume of the readings.

Discussion forums are self-sufficient, right? Discussion boards can, at first glance, be deceptive by providing a false sense of actual conversation or dialogue. Students are likely to meet the number of posts requirements for discussions, and will publish an initial post (answering the prompt) and then interact with one or two students (once) with a reaction or a question. In each thread, has it been your experience that all the questions get answered or even acknowledged? I am afraid that a lot of these conversations lead to nowhere, and once a new week rolls in, the old week’s prompts and discussions are ancient history. Do you get a sense of a round robin sort of response rather than an organic coherent discussion with multiple participants constructing a meaning and fine-tuning their understanding of a concept? It doesn’t help either, that you can see a single student’s contributions all filtered, so the context is also missing (in Blackboard), although obviously there are some clues that help guess some of it.

Do discussion forums foster student-to-student interactions? Again, it appears that discussion boards commonly show evidence of students orienting toward the teacher rather than their peers as the primary audience for their contributions. The stakes are such that students are after the instructor’s approval, not a sense of community .

Instructional Implications

In online classrooms, the challenge remains to engage students and have them engage with each other organically, reaching the sort of understanding that may not be possible otherwise and having the discussions and other student interactions key to better performance and higher quality products (papers, presentations, etc.)

As much as setting up good discussions for the course is desirable, the instructor remains a major factor in the successful experience, as she facilitates better thought expression in discussions for the sake of the classmates so that they can form connections. Writing in an online forum is a skill, and is quite different from writing for the instructor and must be taught, with a specific goal of mastering the “rhetorical knowledge”.

Finally, having a bunch of discussion forums every week, with perfunctory comments that amount to something hardly more than a pool of somewhat related but fragmented ideas, can be replaced with a discussion that collectively builds and furthers understanding, assists students in completing their assignments, and “helps students develop a sense of intersubjectivity“. For this, maintaining the focus on the connections to the course content and readings and making them more explicit to the audience of peers, becomes a part of the design and facilitation of discussions and the assignments.

References:

Dennen, V., and Wieland, K. (2007). From Interaction to Intersubjectivity: Facilitating Online Group Discourse Processes. Distance Education, 28(3), 281-297.

Rovai, A. (2007). Facilitating online discussions effectively. The Internet and Higher Education, 10(1), 77-88.

Image from Pixabay.com

Creating Effective Writing Assignments: The Discourse Community Framework

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Using the writing process – often a complex, messy and mysterious process for students–is crucial for graduate level success. Students not only need to grapple with understanding course concepts, they must be able to express them professionally and intelligently. Well-designed writing prompts, with the addition of writing support, can provide the extra guidance many students need. Anne Beaufort, in her text College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instructions, has researched and developed a relevant framework for creating graduate level assignments based on a “discourse community” concept. Assignments created with this framework can help students better understand the social work community/program context of their writing. Beaufort addresses four types of knowledge in assignment design: subject matter, genre, audience, and the writing process. Although most prompts used in this graduate program do already include these four types of knowledge in some way, Beaufort’s framework provides a fresh look at facilitating more sophisticated written work from students.

Subject Matter: Assignment prompts tend to focus on asking students to demonstrate understanding of critical concepts. However, does the prompt clearly state the purpose/objective in a summary sentence? Do a few essential questions focus on assessing relationships between ideas and applying critical concepts? Are students invited to create and answer their own research questions?

Genre: Effective prompts explain the features and parameters of the document (sufficient length to accomplish purpose, organization, and format). Is the assignment primarily a synthesis, application, proposal, evaluation, reflection, or analysis? Genres may be interpreted in different ways, so definitions of these terms will be helpful for students.

Audience: The instructor is usually the intended audience. How might this audience be expanded to include relevant and realistic readers?

The Writing Process: Understanding this piece of the framework is often where students struggle (and where writing support can also help). The process includes the planning, drafting, and revision stages, but does the prompt concisely state the steps of creating the specific document: research methods, source requirements, submission of topic summaries, partial drafts, or annotated bibliographies?

Students will continue working on their writing skills throughout their graduate programs, and designing effective assignment prompts with an emphasis on the context (or rhetorical situation) will facilitate their growth as engaged, writing members of the social work community. Take a look at a great example of a framework assignment here.

Woodward, A. (2015). Using a discourse-community-knowledge framework to design writing assignments. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/using-a-discourse-community-knowledge-framework-to-design-writing-assignments/

Guest Contributor, Lori Rand, is an Online Writing Specialist and has taught research and composition courses for over 15 years.