Designing For Visual Learning

Visual_LearningWhen thinking about ways to improve your course design, don’t underestimate the power of visuals. As we learn more about cognitive science, it’s becoming clear that visual learning should have a very significant role in instruction.

There is some compelling evidence on the benefits of incorporating meaningful visuals to enhance learning. Educational studies show that we are “wired” to quickly comprehend and remember visual information, bolstering the theory of ‘dual-coding.’

Visit Vanderbilt University’s website Visual Thinking to see how visuals can work their magic in presentations, student note-taking, and assessment as part of data analysis, research, or creative design projects.

Similar to the drive to implement digital literacy in our coursework, students are starting to clamor for more educational emphasis on visual literacy as they recognize its enormous influence in our changing world.

(Sources:  Hyerle, 2000)

Avoid These 5 Big Problems in Online Teaching

What are some of your biggest challenges with online teaching?  Here are some common problems that we hear about, and how you can easily avoid them.problems

1. The Absent Instructor. After all the upfront work required to prepare an online course, it can be tempting to let it run on “auto-pilot” once the semester starts. This is one of online students’ top complaints; they may feel isolated and alone in the online environment. The Fix: Communicate your presence early and often, with frequent announcements, content updates, and comments. Share your observations about student learning. Let students know you’re there and are actively monitoring their progress.

2. The Confusing Assignment. Vague assignment criteria in online courses can cause double trouble. First, students won’t know what you expect them to do, leading to frustration and paralysis. Then you may get an avalanche of emails requesting clarification. The Fix: Provide crystal clear criteria for each online assignment, including rubrics and examples. Try to anticipate what might cause confusion, and add details and FAQs to avoid this common problem.

3. The DFWOnline students are known to Drop, Withdraw, and Fail more frequently for predictable reasons. They might lack technology skills, or not yet have the discipline or time management abilities required for online courses. The Fix: Mitigate this by building a supportive learning community with Q&A forums, or optional live sessions where students can get help informally to stay on track and succeed. You can also check your Blackboard analytics (Performance Dashboard) to identify who’s not logging in, then reach out to them privately for support.

4. The Engagement DoldrumsOnline students can quickly lose motivation to complete required work if the course is not engaging them, leading to more DFW problems. To Fix: Use adult learning principles to engage. Provide multimedia content options and open-ended discussions that foster new ways of thinking. Relate learning tasks to students’ professional experiences, and give several real-world challenges, problems, and project choices to get them excited.

5. The Contrived Discussion. Rigid post & reply discussion requirements can lead to stale responses and feed into negative online teaching stereotypes. The Fix: Make online discussions purposeful with meaningful experience-driven questions that encourage storytelling and genuine dialog. Students can also practice leading online discussions to demonstrate their team facilitation prowess and hone effective communication skills.

More information: How Not to Design Your Online Course, Design For Learning: 10 Best Practices

Inspiring Student Learning: The Five C’s

Looking for tried-and-true ways to get your students motivated? Joe Ruhl has found some effective methods that will inspire new generations of students. He calls them the “Five C’s” and in a nutshell, he recommends these five easy-to-remember elements that you can integrate into your course design to help inspire student learning:

  1. Choice (e.g. a variety of different projects)
  2. Collaboration (teamwork)
  3. Communication – (collaborative)
  4. Critical thinking (problem solving)
  5. Creativity (encouraging innovation)

If you hang in there until the end of the TED Talk, there is one more “C” to add to this list, and he hints that it might be the MOST important one of all: “Caring.” Enjoy!

How to Get a Good Grade (Center!)

With a few simple steps, you can build an accurate grade center, then use the My Grades tool so your students can track their progress.

Here are some easy ways to make your grade center a clear and correct reflection of student’s work.

  1. For face-to-face courses, build grade columns that reflect points accurately. An easy way to check: Hover over the Total column to see how your grade center adds up.
  2. Use the Manage > Column Organization view for clarity and clean-up. If you have column “clutter,” use this view to check total points and move columns around.
  3. Simplify your grade center by removing default columns you don’t use. For example, feel free to delete the Weighted Total column if you don’t use weighted grades.
  4. Categorize your grade columns first if you want to drop lowest score from a group of tests, or assign percentages to create a Weighted total.
  5. Use Student Preview to check My Grades for accuracy. This shows exactly what your students will see.
  6. Check the BbLearn Help site for step-by-step help with more complex grade center tasks. Call, email, or visit us in the Education Building, Room 220 for friendly advice.

It might seem challenging to set up your Grade Center, but we are here to help you get it right.

Educating Generation Z

It's your turnConsider the characteristics of Gen Z students coming into your classes, comfortable in their digital world, and ready to fully engage online to prepare for their future career.

Are your courses providing the kinds of experiences, projects, and skills-based practice that will motivate and challenge these students? Or are you playing it safe with old-school lecture and testing?

Taking risks with collaborative group work learning models or using new technologies is worth it, not just because digital natives will benefit. It also models a love of learning on your part, and a willingness to make change, to fail and keep trying.

Some risks; many rewards.

6 Easy Ways to Integrate Multimedia

New tools are making it easier than ever to incorporate great multimedia online; not just for lecture content and tutorials, but also for students projects and assignments.

Meet the free and friendly tools of Web 2.0 – many allow simple one-click sign up via Facebook, and a very short learning curve. Assigning your students cloud-tool based projects can help them build 21st century skills, and offers creative alternatives for formal written papers.

Here are 6 resources to help you design and deliver multimedia learning options:

  1. Microsoft Office Mix – Death by Powerpoint? Not anymore. Now you can add quiz slides, narrate, and integrate video clips with the free Powerpoint Mix toolbar. Secure login with your UIdaho (student or instructor) account. Check out this Ohms Law presentation, made with Mix.
  2. Podcasting with Soundcloud – Podcasts offer busy students the ability to listen to your lecture while walking or driving to work. Soundcloud embeds look terrific in BbLearn, and a podcasting assignment will teach students scripting and recording skills valued in the digital workplace. Quick example:

    Plus: 7 Things You Should Know about Podcasting – from Educause
  3. Web 2.0 Technology Tools – This hot-off-the-press article from Edutopia provides a comprehensive summary of web tools that will leave you giddy with fresh technology ideas.
  4. Using Google Slides? Try SlidesCarnival for slick, highly readable presentation templates.
  5. With Zaption, you can easily integrate gradable quizzes into your YouTube video content. Invite deeper learning by ‘pausing the video’ to reinforce an important concept.
  6. Brainstorm with Google Docs: Engage, inspire, and conjure brilliant ideas or solve problems using Google’s collaborative sharing applications, and then organize results or assess using concept mapping.


What is academic rigor?

RobynJacksonAcademic rigor is something we hear thrown around with other educational buzzwords, but not often defined. What does it mean in a practical sense? Rigor is not just about giving harder tests, assigning more homework, or providing extra credit for overachievers. Academic rigor is about creating challenging, engaging, and engrossing lessons that encourage each student to think in new ways.

Dr. Robyn Jackson, an educational author and speaker, breaks it down into 4 principles:

“Rigorous instruction requires students to:

  1. Construct meaning for themselves
  2. Impose structure on information
  3. Integrate skills into processes
  4. Apply their skills in more than one context, and to unpredictable situations”

She distinguishes real rigor from “rigor mortis,” where more difficult work is simply taken on by the instructor, leading to burnout. Ask yourself: Are you working harder than your students? Are student tasks aligned with these 4 principles? Are students doing the thinking? Or is the instructor telling them how and what to think?

Learn more about how Robyn defines rigor in her MindSteps website.