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!

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.

Captioning in Youtube

In the interests of making the online Masters of Social Work program as accessible as possible, we’ve tried to make sure that all the video and audio content provided in the courses has, at the very least, transcripts. Above and beyond accessibility issues such as those involving hearing impaired students, transcripts are useful for students to print and take notes on, or for any students who want to “skim” the text of a presentation as a way of brushing up on it before a big test or paper submission. Video and audio are far more difficult to “skim.” The operative term in AV speak is called “scrubbing,” which anyone who has spent a few minutes hunting through a Youtube video for that one several-second-segment that they’re thinking of will tell you: it is frustrating.

So, transcripts are beneficial in several ways: They’re printable, they’re more easily referenced for specific elements that the student may feel he or she needs to brush up on, and they help with accessibility. They are not, however, the only option for increasing the accessibility of a video presentation.

Youtube provides a robust closed captioning tool for the videos it hosts. There are multiple ways to input closed captions. First, though, you must upload the video you want to caption. After you’ve done so, enter your Video Manager and select the video there that you want to add captions to.

CC 1

Underneath the video, you’ll see this “CC” icon. Click it, and you’ll enter the dashboard for creating and managing closed captions for this video.

You’ll be prompted to select a language (if you haven’t already selected one), and captions will automatically be created for the video. This is pretty powerful software, as it’s done much more quickly than any human could possibly do so. However, with that quickness and automation comes a great deal of error. In fact, it is not advisable that anyone rely on the automatic captioning Youtube provides without first understanding that they will likely have to work through the automatic captions to correct the myriad of errors that have proliferated throughout.

CC 2

To do so, select the automatic caption string to the right of the video window in the closed caption dashboard. In cases where there are multiple caption strings to choose from, you’ll be able to tell the automatic caption from the rest by its name, which will always have “(Automatic)” at the end.

YouTube 2015-08-20 23-25-56

You can see, here, how the automatic captioning has produced a large number of errors in the caption displayed, with time stamps, to the right. In addition to fixing the text, the timing of the captions can also be adjusted to more closely align with the speech rhythms of the speaker. Play around with it; these tools are more easily learned through experimentation than through telling.

After you’ve adjusted the captions produced by the automatic caption tool, you’re golden.

However, in many instances the speaker may have worked from a script, or perhaps a transcript already exists which you would like to input for the captions. This, in many ways, is the most efficient way of using Youtube’s closed caption tool, as editing the captions after the fact is not necessary when the words are already correct.

To input the text from a transcript or script for captioning, click “Add new subtitles or CC” from the closed caption dashboard, then select your language.

CC 4

Now, you see there is the option to “Upload a file.” Select that, then a dialogue will appear into which you can paste the text of the transcription that you’ve copied out of the file containing it. Now, the errors will have to have been cleaned out of the transcript prior to this process, but if you’ve done so, then Youtube’s caption tool will stop trying to understand the words your speaker is saying, and instead focus on aligning the words with the sounds in the video. The tool does this very well, and as such the resulting captions are often excellent without any additional editing necessary.

Touching the Third Rail: The Learning Styles (Myth) and Are They Worth Your Time?

It’s almost impossible to have a conversation about learning or teaching without invoking the concept of learning styles. Much of the drive behind lesson and course design is based on the need to tailor curriculum to particular or all of the learning styles that your students might come with. Is it practical – or even possible – to teach in a way that a student perceives she learns best? What observations have you made over the years that back up the claim that learning styles matter and can be leveraged? Or even, that they actually exist as a phenomenon?

Is It Possible that It’s All Just a Myth?

While it sounds good and we are emotionally and ethically inclined to help a learner get the best possible experience, devoting all our energy to finding out the learning styles and aligning the curriculum this way may not be the wisest solution.

First of all, as Harold Pashler states it, there is no evidence, not many experimental studies, and what few experimental studies there are, they seem to have come up with results which flatly contradict the meshing hypothesis (i.e., that the best way to teach is by matching the style of the information to the learning style of the individual). There is no evidence that we should incorporate any learning styles at all, he suggests.

Larry Alferink speaks about simplification of neuroscience when it comes to adopting findings of the brain function. Left-brain/right-brain and multiple intelligences – not so fast. He writes that while language and spatial information is processed differently by the two hemispheres, it is processed simultaneously, and this no single activity can address only one side of the brain, ever. Not only that, students need to master both sets of skills, analytical and spatial. In addition, he notes that “focusing on a particular “style” rather than a broad set of learning skill sets may be doing children a disservice. Indeed,
it is of questionable appropriateness to only teach to a child’s preference. In physical education, a child may prefer to kick the ball with the right foot rather than the left. However, if that child is to become a skilled ball handler, it is important that the child learns to kick with either foot, not just their preferred one. Developing skills with only the stronger or preferred limb would not develop the “whole child.” The same is true for cognitive tasks: A child who has multiple strategies available can be taught that when one strategy is not working to switch to another, even if he or she doesn’t “like it best.” Thus, it may be more accurate to strive for learning across a variety of “learning styles and preferences.” The larger the child’s inventory of learning strategies, the more likely the child is to learn across environmental settings.”

Jennifer Cromley finds that there is really little reason to call the three common modalities (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) “styles” and what that really means, there is no reliable test that diagnoses the style (most tools used are “inward” looking and rather define a preference), nor are there teaching methods that help any style to learn better.

You can also read more from a number of sources.

Is It Worth Our Time, Then?

Cathy Moore suggests that instead of focusing on learning styles and different modalities – like recorded narratives – we should focus on more important aspects of the learning process, such as allowing students to set their own pace as “people learn best when they can control the pacing.”

We need to design learning that is relevant to the skills required by the world, as well as the one that empowers individuals to pursue their own passions – no matter what style, or shape, or form, or locale, or lifestyle. We need to have activities that engage students with the real-world projects, and partner with entities that work with real people. We need to allow for a number of paths to achieve the mastery of the competencies and leave the learner with a desire for more.

Let the course be guided by essential questions and allow for collaboration and individualized learning experiences.

Let’s see what you think about this. Are learning styles the real deal or are they a hype, in your opinion and experience? Are there other factors that carry more weight than a learning preference? Is it possible that a certain type of content determines the method of its presentation to students?

Turnitin faces new questions about efficacy of plagiarism detection software | InsideHigherEd

I have long been having controversial feelings and thoughts about plagiarism detection and its place in higher education. Our contention has always been that it’s a tool at best, and a highly imperfect one at that, to help faculty find things in students’ writing. What sort of things exactly? This article brings up what this software (both TurnItIn and SafeAssign, and Google as a separate item altogether!) may do, and what effect using this software has on teaching practice. Some important ethical questions are raised here. This article invites an open discussion, and there are a few comments there already, worth noting, so please comment below here or on the original page as well!

Turnitin faces new questions about efficacy of plagiarism detection software | InsideHigherEd.

Video Everywhere Working Again! With one extra step…

Hey all! We’re excited to announce that Video Everywhere is working again. However, for the time being there is one extra step necessary for using it to embed videos directly, easily, into Blackboard. The default dimensions for the embedded video are, for the time being, set to 120×90. Before you click to complete the submission of your video, on the step illustrated below, make sure you type in “420” over the 120 default value. The Height value should automatically adjust to read “315”; if it doesn’t, type that into the Height value. See screenshot below:

Video Everywhere Working Again