SWF Primer: Evaluation Factors (A Quiz)

Right, so: Now a quiz. (If only so that I can figure out WordPress’ polling function.)

Here’s the question:

Based on the explanations of the different types of evaluation outlined earlier this week

That’s it for now — feel free to click to share your opinion (and maybe even e-mail your rationale to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com). I’ll provide my own opinion on the matter — and discuss more options around evaluation/feedback hours — early next week.

SWF Primer: Evaluation Factors (Part Two)

[Again, a preface to communicate my sincere regret that this post pertains almost exclusively to Full-Time faculty at Ontario Colleges. It is absolutely shameful that the work associated with the preparation and evaluation of classes taught by contract faculty is not measured, despite repeated efforts by partial-load and full-time faculty — as a union — to remedy this disgusting inequity. In an upcoming post I will try to relate some of the SWF issues discussed here to the work of contract faculty.]

So, I wanted to follow up on my last post, in which I outlined the different evaluation factors, as presented in the Collective Agreement.

Today, I wanted to show how they appear on a SWF (Standard Workload Form), and what a SWF communicates to full-time faculty about the time that they are provided, to provide evaluation and feedback to students in all of their classes.

Let’s start by taking a sample SWF, which I have highlighted in different colours. I recognize that they may be formatted differently in different colleges, although they should all contain all of the information in the sample SWF provided on pp. 85-86 (e-pages 89-90) of the Collective Agreement.

The parts that are of significance for the purposes of a discussion of evaluation factors are in blue and pink. The blue column identifies the breakdown of evaluation factors for each of the classes assigned, and the pink translates that breakdown into a number of hours provided for evaluation and feedback.

So let’s start with the totals and work our way backwards: Our hypothetical professor from a hypothetical semester long, long ago is assigned to teach five sections of class (three different preps for what it’s worth), responsible for evaluating and providing feedback on the work of a grand total of 173 students in all of the classes, combined.

And to do all of the evaluation for all of the students in all of the classes, our hypothetical teacher is provided with a total of 12.47 hours weekly, for each of the weeks covered by this workload assignment. (This is shown on the bottom row of the left pink column.)

Looking upward from that row, we can see that the five sections are each allocated a specific amount of time for all of their evaluation/feedback needs — anywhere from 2.23 hours to 2.61 hours.

But let me focus on the fourth row of the classes — the section that is attributed 2.41 hours weekly for evaluation / feedback. That section has a class size of 38, yet the hypothetical professor is attributed LESS time to evaluate those 38 students than they receive to teach the 35 students in the course directly below it.

So how can a class have 8% more students, but provide a professor with 8% less time to grade and provide feedback on their assessments? The answer lies in the evaluation factors, which we see broken down by percentage in the blue columns.

(Class #1 has 70% of its assessments listed as Essay-type, 20% as Routine/Assisted and 10% as In-Process. Class #2 has 75%, 0%, 25% of the assessment under each category, and Class #3 is broken down as only 50% Essay-type and 25% for each of Routine/Assisted and In-Process.)

(As a reminder, the terms “Essay”, “Routine/Assisted” and “In-Process” to describe types of evaluation can be misleading; explanations of each are provided in the previous post.)

An increase in the percentage of “Routine/Assisted” or (especially) “In-Process” evaluation types and a corollary reduction in the percentage of “Essay”-type evaluation means that faculty will be attributed less time to evaluate more students.

So, when I was a member of a Workload Monitoring Group, one of the most common questions that I used to get was, “How can my class sizes keep going up and up, but my total workload remains the same on the SWF? The answer was most frequently that the classes in question were being credited with less “Essay”-type evaluation and more “Routine/Assisted” or “In-Process”.

Which could be absolutely fine, if the nature of the course’s evaluation was discussed between the professors who teach the class and the manager, as both faculty and management have agreed must happen (cf. Article 11.01 E3), and they came to an agreement about what types of assessments the course material requires. That conversation should see the manager asking the professor what kind of assessments and feedback would be needed, in order to determine (and promote) students’ achievement of the course outcomes, and should see both parties agreeing upon the appropriate breakdown of evaluation factors for the assignments administered to the students.

(There’s one more step, but I’ll come to that in an upcoming post.)

The problem is when the evaluation factors fail to accurately reflect the work that is completed by the students in a class, and in turn the work that must be performed by that class’ teacher. If online courses are given “in-process” evaluation factors when it is impossible for the teacher to evaluate the students and provide them with feedback during the class time, then that teacher is denied the time that they need to evaluate the students’ actual work, and those students are in turn cheated out of the feedback that they — and Ontario taxpayers — are paying for.

If the evaluation time provided on a SWF is insufficient to meet students’ needs, then faculty are left with two options: a) Perform uncredited, unacknowledged, unpaid labour to provide the students with the feedback that they deserve and need (Just like Contract faculty!) or b) Spend only the time that they are attributed for the task of evaluating students, regardless of whether that time is sufficient to meet student needs.


As ever, please submit corrections, questions, and rants to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com. Any letters posted in whole or in part will have identifying information removed.

SWF Primer: Evaluation Factors (Part One)

[I note that this post concerns SWFs, and is therefore of interest primarily to Full-Time faculty. I’ll try to follow it up with a post on a related issue that might be of some relevance to Partial-Load faculty.]

Okay, so… let’s talk SWFs for a bit.

It’s worth introducing the topic at this point, since SWFs for the Winter semester are due six weeks before the start of the first scheduled day of teaching, not including holidays.

So, if the teaching period of the Winter semester happens to start on Monday, January 4, then the SWF would be due on… Friday, November 13, if my calendar and math are correct.

The SWF’s delivery is, according to the Collective Agreement (Art. 11.02 A1[a]), supposed to be preceded by a discussion of the workload proposed by your manager.

In addition, Article 11.01 E3 reads:

And it’s precisely the methods of evaluation that I want to review, because the shift to online teaching may impact them in ways that faculty don’t realize.

So, let’s start by covering the three categories of evaluation / feedback recognized in the Collective Agreement. In my next post on this topic, I’ll talk about how to read a SWF to understand how evaluation factors translate to specific amounts of time that faculty are given, to evaluate their students in each of their classes and provide feedback.

Let me preface with a couple of points:

  1. Full-time faculty are given a finite amount of time to complete the evaluation and feedback of the students in their classes; that time is clearly recorded on the SWF.
  2. The Collective Agreement provides minimum attributions of time for the grading of each student in each class. The attribution of time depends on the type of evaluation that is required for each class.

There are three different types of Evaluation. I’ll outline them here, and then in my next post, I’ll demonstrate how they are put into action on a SWF.

Essay Type: Article 11.02 E2 of the Collective Agreement specifies that the Essay evaluation factor is used for grading “essays; essay type assignments or tests; projects; or student performance based on behavioral (sic) assessments compiled by the teacher outside teaching hours”. Given that list, the term “Essay” type is a bit misleading.

Broadly speaking, the litmus test for determining whether a test or assignment is “essay type” depends upon the level of interpretation required. If you’re grading according to the presence/absence of keywords, or if the work could possibly be put into a format where it could be graded by a computer or a well-trained chimpanzee, then it’s probably doesn’t qualify as “Essay” type. If, on the other hand, the evaluations depend on students working with or applying abstract concepts, or writing extended passages, then it probably does.

The other point that I would make concerns the role of student presentations, which I interpret to qualify as “student performance” that is graded “based on behavioral assessments”, and that therefore count as “Essay” type evaluation if the teacher has to compile the assessment and feedback at home.

By the same token, I understand all portfolios of students’ work (including, say, student journals or any assessment representing a compilation of student work throughout the semester) to count as “Essay-type” assessment.

If a course’s evaluation/feedback is rated as 100% “Essay”-type, then a professor is attributed a minimum of 108 seconds per week, per teaching hour of the course. In other words, a prof could be granted as little as 5.4 minutes of time each week to complete the assessments for each student of a course that has three teaching hours weekly.

Routine or Assisted Type: The same article defines the second category of evaluation — “Routine or Assisted” — as “grading by the teacher outside teaching contact hours of short answer tests or other evaluative tools where mechanical marking assistance or marking assistants are provided”.

There has been some debate about which noun was modified by the “where” clause, but let’s let that slide for the moment. I’ve always interpreted this type to include the grading that could be done by Scantron or could be graded according to an answer key that could be provided to a marking assistant (e.g., “Connect the terms in Column A to the definitions in Column B”).

It’s significant that this is a kind of assessment that isn’t evaluating students’ ability to apply theoretical concepts, or demonstrate critical thinking or apply principles to their own experiences.

The minimum attribution for Routine/Assisted-type grading in the Collective Agreement is half that attributed to Essay-type grading. This translates to 54 seconds per teaching hour per week, for a course that has only Routine/Assisted-type assessments.

In-Process: The final category of assessment for the purpose of measuring workload is “in-process”, which is defined as “evaluation performed within the teaching contact hour”.

When asked for examples of “in-process”-type assessments, I often offer an example of nursing students demonstrating their ability to use a blood pressure cuff. The assessment takes place during the class time; the student knows their grade within the class period; and there is nothing about the evaluation or feedback that the teacher (i.e., professor or instructor) needs to complete at home.

Since the evaluation takes place (and feedback is provided) during the class hour — which is already counted on the SWF — in-process evaluation/feedback is attributed very little time to complete: approximately half the time attributed for Routine/Assisted grading. So if a 3-hour course were to be graded entirely using in-process grading, the minimum attribution would be 1 minute and 40 seconds for evaluation and feedback to each student, weekly.

Some points worth considering about the evaluation types:

  • In-Process assessments (those done “in real-time” during the class teaching hour) are virtually non-existent in online teaching. I suppose that if a professor were teaching a class on American Sign Language, then it might be possible to assess every student’s skill (and return their grade) within scheduled class hours, over a screen. Beyond that, I’m having a hard time imagining what in-process grading might look like in an online (and particularly an asychronous) context.
  • Changing evaluation factors is the easiest way for managers to assign more students to faculty without increasing the mathematical measurement of their workload. Faculty are attributed as much time to grade essays for 50 students as they are to grade multiple choice tests for 100 students, or to grade in-class assessments for 163 students.
  • The minimum attribution for “Essay” type evaluation is simply inadequate for providing meaningful feedback to students. Teachers are attributed only twice as much time to grade a class with all essays as they are to grade a class that only has multiple-choice tests all semester. And they’re only given 3.3x more time to grade essays at home than faculty are given to grade assessments during the class time. And, in fact, I can read and grade an essay in a couple of minutes. What I can’t do in a couple of minutes is explain the basis for that grade to the student, and give the student feedback to help them improve on future work.
  • The time attributed to faculty for evaluation/feedback is based upon the teaching hours of a class. If a class were reduced from 3 weekly teaching hours weekly down to 2, then the time attributed for evaluation would similarly be reduced by 1/3, although it’s not clear that the assessment obligations of the faculty would be reduced appropriately.

That’s it for now. Next post will be looking at how these numbers get plugged into a SWF, and how FT faculty members can determine whether their SWFs accurately reflect the time-demands presented by their classes’ actual evaluation and feedback needs.

As ever, I invite faculty — particularly contract faculty — in Ontario Colleges to share their questions, stories and opinions. You can do this by e-mailing ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com. Confidentiality will be strictly guarded.

Online Teaching, Underway.

So…     How ya doin’?

I’d love to hear some stories from the trenches.

(Let me take a hop on that trench reference to give a shout-out to my favourite breed of dog, the Irish Terrier, which was the most popular breed for use in the WWI trenches — mainly for the benefit of hunting rats.  Apparently the one thing they weren’t good for was carrying messages throughout the trenches, because they’re exceptionally friendly dogs.  Anyway, let’s just say that the film 1917 needed more Irish Terriers, IMO.)

Where was I?  Right.  Teaching.   Online.  Like so many of us.

So, my summer break being over, let me take a moment to refer to excerpts from an interview in today’s Slate, which discusses one U.S. grade-school teacher’s experiences with hybrid teaching.

Mary Harris: How’s all that working out? This can’t be sustainable for you.

Oh, terribly. But we’re making do. Sometimes it feels totally manageable, and sometimes it feels like I am the worst teacher ever. I just don’t know where to find the balance in between both.

I did the math yesterday. It takes about two to three hours to make an edit for the video lessons, another two to three hours to format the leson, one to two hours to make the attendance quizzes for the week, another two to three hours to make sure the notes are readily available and that links are working. And that’s for one class. I teach two different math classes, so I have to double that.

That’s all work you would not have had to do if you were just teaching in person. 

Yes. I’m averaging an extra 25–35 hours a week to make hybrid learning work.

Are virtual school and hybrid learning getting easier?

Definitely not. I just don’t know any other way to put it. Even though it hasn’t even been two weeks, it has felt like the longest school year by far.

Remote learning is so distant—you don’t get to know your students as well.

For sure. Most times, my interactions are just through email. So it’s been a struggle, knowing that I have another 70 to 90 kids I’m going to meet when this is all over, but not really know them. How do we integrate them in the classroom so they feel valued and included?

It’s kind of funny; I used to get upset if I didn’t know my students’ names.  Now it feels like quite a challenge to learn anything about them other than their names.

COVID and Contract Faculty

Last week, we published a Letter from a Contract Faculty Member. I wanted to report on two replies that that letter received.

The first — from a former Partial-Load faculty — reads:

The Postsecondary Industrial Complex is an equal-opportunity exploiter of knowledge workers.

The other — from our most dedicated correspondent — suggests on the contrary that, while the industry may offer an equality of opportunity for exploitation of full-time and contract faculty alike, that doesn’t translate to an equality of outcome of exploitation between the two:

I think the “contract faculty member” is being too kind.

Management understands full-well that contract faculty “never get a break,” work through their “unpaid weeks,” “realize that the prep for online classes has to be done before the course opens,” and that “online delivery … [is] an even bigger challenge,” etc. In fact, they depend on it!

Management knows, as well, that contract faculty are ripe for intimidation, coerced into working under unfair circumstances for unfair wages, and can be terminated without cause for any hint of disloyalty or dissent. In fact, they fight for that “leverage,”

I hope these folks – among the finest and most dedicated teachers in the system – understand as well that the faculty strike of 2017 was largely about “them,” their ruthless exploitation, the necessity of getting significant job security, and a guaranteed path to full-time work.

That’s also what Bill 148 “The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017” was about, and which Premier Ford repealed, along with cancelling the Kaplan arbitration award that opened the way for serious reform in the colleges.

In 2021, the current government will face the electorate and the “Academic Employees Collective Agreement” will expire. As an OPSEU Union steward, I can’t promise that the full-time and partial-load people will be as robust in negotiation and as courageous on the picket line as we were the last time, and I certainly cannot promise that the current government will be defeated by the voters.

Nonetheless, I can say that I am (as are all the people I know) 100% on your side and that we will do what we can to alter college governance, ensure academic freedom, and achieve the employment security we all need and deserve.

Best of luck with the new week.

Reach out to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com with your thoughts on your academic labour. Current topics of conversation include online class sizes, online education (done well vs. done quickly), and the challenges that we face individually and collectively as we attempt to change the way that we teach our approximately 330,000 students. Anonymity will be strictly protected.

Emergency Remote Teaching vs. Online Education

Having previewed the topic in an earlier post, I wanted to come back to the topic of what, exactly, we Ontario College faculty are currently undertaking.

In particular, I wanted to highlight one article: “The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning“, by Charles Hodges, Stephanie Moore, Barb Lockee, Torrey Trust, and Aaron Bond.

As indicated by the title, the authors differentiate between “Emergency Remote Teaching” — which is perhaps best described as the conversion or displacement of in-class courses to a virtual environment — and online learning, which describes a learning experience that is designed for the online environment and takes advantage of the properties unique to that environment to provide students with an effective learning experience.

The authors describe the two pedagogical situations as “meaningfully different”, and caution that mistaking the former for the latter will warp one’s understanding of the true potential of online education. (Emphases and hyperlinks below added):

What we know from research is that effective online learning results from careful instructional design and planning, using a systematic model for design and development. The design process and the careful consideration of different design decisions have an impact on the quality of the instruction.

[ . . . ]

[D]ecisions around class size will greatly constrain what strategies you can use. Practice and feedback, for example, are well established in the literature, but it’s harder to implement this as class size grows, eventually reaching a point where it’s just not possible for an instructor to provide quality feedback.

[ . . . ]

Thus, careful planning for online learning includes not just identifying the content to cover but also carefully tending to how you’re going to support different types of interactions that are important to the learning process. This approach recognizes learning as both a social and a cognitive process, not merely a matter of information transmission.

[ . . . ]

Typical planning, preparation, and development time for a fully online university course is six to nine months before the course is delivered. Faculty are usually more comfortable teaching online by the second or third iteration of their online courses. It will be impossible for every faculty member to suddenly become an expert in online teaching and learning in this current situation, in which lead times range from a single day to a few weeks. While there are resources to which faculty can turn for assistance, the scale of change currently being required on many campuses will stress the systems that provide those resources and most likely will surpass their capacities. Let’s face it: many of the online learning experiences that instructors will be able to offer their students will not be fully featured or necessarily well planned, and there’s a high probability for suboptimal implementation.

[ . . . ]

A full-course development project can take months when done properly. The need to “just get it online” is in direct contradiction to the time and effort normally dedicated to developing a quality course. Online courses created in this way should not be mistaken for long-term solutions but accepted as a temporary solution to an immediate problem.

The authors’ primary conclusion is a cautionary note — not against Emergency Remote Teaching, which they regard as necessary in current circumstances — but against schools’ or governments’ impulse to treat the results of the next months as somehow indicative of the quality of or potential for online teaching.

I was struck by a colleague’s comment this week: Last year, and every year prior to that, students’ primary overall criterion for choosing one Ontario College over another was geographic proximity.  The longer our current switch to online education endures, the more irrelevant that criterion will become; it will be replaced by the schools’ respective reputations for the quality of their students’ online learning experiences.

Which inspires me to recycle a tweet:

Coincidentally, my Twitter feed just yielded this headline from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

I do wonder what would be the reaction of those students, if they were to pay the full amount for learning experiences that — “Let’s face it” (as the authors concluded) — turned out in some cases “not be fully featured or necessarily well planned, [with] a high probability for suboptimal implementation”.

So, let me end on a (hopefully) optimistic note: If your manager or any person in a management position asked you or your colleagues (as a group) or your Union representatives what you needed in order to provide students with an excellent online learning experience, please feel free to acknowledge that example of good management at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.  Anonymity will be strictly ensured.

Report from a Prof at La Cité

I’m grateful to have the chance to publish these snapshots from around the province, as they come in.  Today’s is from the Collège la Cité, a French-language College in Ottawa:

Collège la Cité (Ottawa) has announced officially (in an official memo from the VP to its employees on April 27th) that the fall semester would be online.  They expect the faculty to develop all this online material in the next 6 weeks.

Last week I oscillated between rage and resignation, as I remembered all the unrecognized overtime and energy invested in teaching the last 4 (online) weeks of the Winter Semester.  Obviously, it was the thing to do. But why aren’t faculty recognized for the overtime hours, I mean the REAL hours, not the ones on the SWF that are meant for a ‘regular’ semester?   And this, in the context of a world crisis that brought major unbalance in all our work and private lives.

In my case, this means developing several online classes in 6 weeks, which even in non-COVID time is too much. There is no consideration for the faculty’s fluctuating mental capacity for creativity – they just expect increased production.

All of this was communicated right after we signed our ‘normal’ SWF (a coincidence, or a calculated management move?) and no one is proposing to review our SWFs and reduce our workloads to match the true prep hours that will be invested in this huge endeavour. Obviously, who can blame my employer for deciding to switch online in these grave times?  And I’m ready to pitch in extra effort, but I will not be abused.

This week I am over this emotional rollercoaster – and I have fallen back on my feet.  I remembered that I can be assertive and say NO.  I hope our local and national union will step up and help us deal with this collectively and not each on our own, isolated, with our immediate boss.  I feel that confinement and working from home will permit high management to divide and conquer, as we are all micro-managed. It is not a time to fight, but we need a collective voice and teacher representation at all decision tables. I also suggest we start with the the power of knowledge – if one negotiates to successfully obtain accommodations, let’s share them, to empower those afraid to ask.

Let’s share ideas, indeed.  And I’m grateful to our correspondent for contributing theirs.

One idea worth remembering — in light of an announcement about the Fall semester that was issued after the SWFs were signed — is Article 11.02 A 6 (a) of the Collective Agreement, which reads:

In the event of any difference arising from the interpretation, application,
administration or alleged contravention of 11.01, 11.02, or 11.09, a teacher shall
discuss such difference as a complaint with the teacher’s immediate supervisor.

The discussion shall take place within 14 days after the circumstances giving rise to
the complaint have occurred or have come or ought reasonably to have come to the
attention of the teacher in order to give the immediate supervisor an opportunity of
adjusting the complaint. The discussion shall be between the teacher and the
immediate supervisor unless mutually agreed to have other persons in attendance.
The immediate supervisor’s response to the complaint shall be given within seven
days after discussion with the teacher.

Failing settlement of such a complaint, a teacher may refer the complaint, in
writing, to the WMG within seven days of receipt of the immediate supervisor’s
reply. The complaint shall then follow the procedures outlined in 11.02 B through
11.02 F

Alternately, if the switch to online teaching represents a change in teaching assignment, one might want to consider at 11.02 A1(b) [emphasis mine]

The College may, where a change in circumstances requires it, amend assignments
provided to a teacher after the original assignment, subject to the teacher’s right to
refer any matter to the College Workload Monitoring Group (WMG) referred to in
(17)11.02 B 1 and if necessary, the Workload Resolution Arbitrator (WRA) [. . .] .


The correspondent concludes, “It is not a time to fight, but we need a collective voice and teacher representation at all decision tables.”  Well, I definitely agree that College Faculty need to be at the tables where decisions are made (a point made most effectively by Local 110 President Darryl Bedford). . .

. . . the question is whether we’re likely to get that invitation without a fight.

Letter from a Contract Faculty Member

Some reports from different Colleges are coming in. I’m looking forward to sharing those, just as soon as I remove potentially identifying information. As ever, feel free to report the view from your college (or your home office / kitchen table) to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com. Your anonymity will be my highest priority.

In particular, I asked for feedback from contract faculty; I think their experiences are crucial now. I’m grateful to be able to share the following letter. I’m keeping the professor’s college unnamed, but really — is there a single college whose contract faculty couldn’t describe the following?

I do love teaching and I get amazing feedback from the students. They keep me coming back. I’m invited to teach in many programs and always asked to develop new courses (online and face to face).

They don’t realize, though, that I never get a break — ever. The “unpaid week” between semesters is spent getting courses ready for the next semester. They don’t realize that the prep for online classes has to be done before the course opens, not when it opens. I know the time I will have to put in with over 30 students in 3 of the 4 courses I am teaching online and I fear I will just not be able to be as interactive as I normally am in an online delivery and it will be an even bigger challenge due to sheer volume of activities to get timely feedback to the students . . . also important in an online course. An online course isn’t simply doing a bongo session to replace a classroom.

I also know my course load is heavier than the full-time professors’, and this happens on a regular basis–not just this semester. It will be especially hard this summer not being resentful, as I try to handle this very heavy course load for 15 weeks (when others get a vacation to recharge), only to do it all again. Being isolated from the students will make it a challenge this summer for me as well, as I won’t get that boost or energy back that I usually get from the classroom. I also have course development on my plate for the fall.

 

Online Class Sizes at Conestoga College

[The story thus far: Faculty have been invited to report their online class sizes to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.  One person has already offered their experience of online workloads at Humber College.]

I’m grateful today to receive in my mailbox some additional data points from Conestoga.

So… reportedly, Conestoga profs this summer are looking at teaching anywhere from three to five sections, with typical section sizes of about 30-35 students, and a reported guideline for an upper ceiling averaging roughly 40 students per section.

So… estimating 35 students per section would provide… up to 175 students for a FT faculty member teaching five sections?  (Although it sounds like 3-4 sections is more common for the summer semester.)

But here’s the thing: I was watching this promotional video from what I understand to be Conestoga College’s International Office (correct me in the comments below, if I’m wrong).  It outlines the variety of supports that would help international students to succeed in their studies at Conestoga.  I respect that video, and the work of the people who help International students to make that transition, safely and securely.

And given the current online environment, I wonder about the degree to which professors will need to be more engaged as an intermediary between students (not just International students) and those services.  Or, to put it differently, I wonder how–let’s say–120-175 students would find the supports they need in an entirely online environment, without the personal involvement of a professor.

As I’ve said before, the elimination of the “campus environment” (including something as simple as overhearing other students’ conversations in cafeterias and hallways) magnifies the role of the professor in the student’s entire college experience.  And if that professor has a weekly average of (I’m spitballing here) as little as 82-120 seconds to provide each student with out-of-class assistance, what would be the likely impact on the students’ (including International students’) academic experiences?

That last part sounds like a rhetorical question, but really it’s not.  For all I know, Conestoga College (or any other) might be providing faculty with more than the minimum four hours per week for all out-of-class assistance with students.  (In which case I would obviously be happy to redo my math above — let me know in the “comments” below.)

…Or perhaps they’re providing students with individual Support Staff mentors, to help them navigate the various academic supports that an unusually high percentage of students might require, to overcome some of the challenges inherent in isolated learning.

…Or maybe they’re providing faculty with ample time to prepare online courses that create innovative, individualized, and transformative learning experiences for the students.

…Or maybe they’re providing contract faculty with class caps that keep the demands of their grading and out-of-class assistance manageable.

Or maybe none of that is happening, in which case, well… maybe it’s a good thing if the students can’t overhear other students’ conversations?

Conestoga profs — please let me know if this corresponds with your experiences; all others, please help to fill in a provincewide portrait.  All communications to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com will be strictly confidential.

Interactivity in Online Courses?

In my ongoing research about what makes for effective online teaching, I had wanted to share the following passage from the introduction “Interaction matters: Strategies to promote engaged learning in an online introductory nutrition course“, by Jinan Banna, Meng-Fen Grace Lin, Maria Stewart, and Marie K. Fialkowski (Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 11.2 [2015]).

Even though their research concerns an Introductory Nutrition course (which might be seen as primarily concerned with communicating information and principles, rather than developing skills), it’s worth contrasting the interactivity that these researchers describe here, to the current discourse of “content delivery”:

In online courses, in which learner isolation and dropout is more likely to be an issue, interaction is a key component of fostering learning (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004). Although content may have been the main focus of online courses in the past (Nipper, 1989), interaction is now recognized as playing a crucial role in stimulating learning (Bernard et al. 2009; Lou, Bernard, & Abrami, 2006; Norris, Mason, & Lefrere, 2003). Activities that involve collaboration and sharing of ideas among students promote a deeper level of thought and create meaning for the learner (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004). Previous studies have identified three types of interaction that have been shown to support learning in online courses: 1) interaction with content, including the ability of learners to access, manipulate, synthesize, and communicate content information; 2) interaction with instructors, or the ability of learners to communicate with and receive feedback from their instructors; and 3) interaction with classmates, such as the ability of learners to communicate with each other about content to create an active learning community (Bernard et al., 2009; Moore, 1989).

In creating the most effective learning environment in distance education courses, course features that encourage the three key types of interaction must be selected. Student-content interaction may take on a number of forms, including watching instructional videos, interacting with multimedia, as well as searching for information (Abrami et al., 2011). To create a vibrant online community, instructors must facilitate sustained engagement with course material and use specially tailored assignments (Hege, 2011). With regards to student-instructor interaction, the social presence of the instructor is an integral component of a successful online course; the instructor must perform activities that translate virtual interaction into an impression of a “real” person (Dixson, 2012; Kehrwald, 2008). To interact with students, instructors may incorporate both synchronous activities such as telephone correspondence, and asynchronous, such as e-mail messages (Abrami et al., 2011). Similarly, to foster student-student interaction, synchronous activities, as in videoconferencing or chatting, or asynchronous, as in discussion boards (Abrami et al., 2011), may be performed. Social media, which refers to technological systems promoting collaboration and community (Joosten, 2012), is another tool that may be used to encourage interaction among students. Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are now used widely among college students and have been employed as learning tools in the online classroom (Tess, 2013). A number of previous studies have indicated positive effects of online social networking on learning. In a study investigating the learning impacts of online social networking on university students, Yu and authors (2010) found that this type of interaction not only directly affected learning outcomes, but also helped the students attain social acceptance from others, and adapt to university culture, which play an important role in improving learning outcomes (Yu et al., 2010). Social media has become increasingly popular in enhancing communication among college students studying a variety of subjects; for example, a recent study reports on the use of social media in an introductory statistics course (Everson, Gundlach, & Miller, 2013). The authors point to the importance of meeting students where they are with regards to use of technology, and suggest that social media may be used as a way of encouraging students to participate in their learning experiences (Everson, Gundlach, & Miller, 2013). As previous studies have demonstrated that small group rather than individual learning has significantly more positive effects on student achievement (Lou, Abrami, & d’ Apollonia, 2001), student-student interaction is particularly important to promote in the online environment. Research on all three modes of interaction, however, has shown that each one favorably impacts student achievement (Bernard et al., 2009).