E-Learning Strategies for F2F Classrooms

One E-Learning strategy I am very eager to pursue is backchannel chat in the classroom.  There are many iterations of backchannel chat.  In the form I envisage, the backchannel chat is a medium where students can interact with their professors and other classmates to engage with and be a part of the content and classroom.

Let’s take an example of a lower-division Asian American studies class.  The conversation and discussion for the day is the treatment of Chinese and Japanese immigrants who came to America in the late 1800’s.  The instructor begins the lecture with a couple of thought-provoking questions about what Americans think of immigrants and immigration today.  A large class discussion begins.  However, the instructor has also made available a web-based, real-time online tool from backchannelchat.com for students to use and engage in.  This web site essentially allows students or anyone to come into a chat room and begin a simultaneous discussion online while the main discussion in happening in class.  While the instructor is taking comments and questions from the live audience in class, someone could be also adding commentary through their mobile devices, tablets, or laptops via the web.  This is but one example of backchannel chat.

In all candor, I have actually experimented with this on a limited basis for a couple of semesters now.  There is not enough evidence to suggest anything beyond the need for a larger scale test pilot.  It would be best described as intriguing for now.

At the very minimum, backchannel chats would require a reliable internet connection that is wired to a projector for students to view.  Ideally, this would occur in a classroom where two projectors are available.  This is obviously a luxury that most of us simply do not have.  However, having tested backchannel chats in both a classroom with a single projector vis-a-vis one where there were two projectors, the efficiency and streamlined nature of the latter is far superior in terms of student interaction and engagement.  Of course students would also need some mechanism that allows them an internet connection to access whatever web-based tool or software you are using to conduct the chat (Twitter is also something instructors have used for backchannel chat).  The school would need a fast internet connection for students as well.

While there are plenty of detractors who might dismiss this strategy right away by suggesting that students would not be focused on the lecture or content or perhaps become distracted with other sites or do other things online, the potential benefits seem to at least give someone a catalyst to give it a try.  Certain students are already texting and going online anyway.  Might they not find this to be a bit more productive to engage in dialogue (especially if you were to make it worth points or somehow be a part of their grade)?  It also gives a voice to students who may never speak in class, especially in a large lecture hall of several hundred students.  Backchannel chats also empower students to take notice and give them a say in the classroom.  In the era of fake news and questionable evidence, what better way to teach our students then they going out there themselves to “fact check” our lectures and what we are talking about in real time as it is happening.

The technology requirements could be a challenging to the point that would make this strategy not viable in some scenarios.  Does the classroom have a computer for the instructor to use along with a projector?  Would the instructor need to bring their own equipment?  Surprisingly, not every student has a cell phone, laptop, or tablet.  For example, my institution has a relatively large homeless student body population that cannot even afford to get books, let alone laptops and cell phones.  How would those students interact?  Are they left out of this?

Some of these challenges could be mitigated by careful planning.  For example, my school has several classrooms that have dual projectors where I could project simultaneously on two separate screens two separate sources.  If an instructor knows they will be using backchannel chat, they could request a specific room before the semester starts.  Perhaps looking for funding sources to get additional projectors installed in classrooms or maybe invest in your own mobile projector in addition to using whatever is available in the classroom.  The issue with students not having the capability to go online could be resolved by conducting your classroom in a computer lab.

It’s certainly not perfect nor is do I have enough evidence to compel my colleagues to try this out; but it’s certainly something worth trying on a larger scale.

 

Project #8: Worked Example Screencast

Worked Example Screencast

This worked example screencast is a tutorial for instructors on how to create content on a learning management system called Canvas.  It specifically shows the step by step process on how to create a module.  It is designed to target instructors who teach online, hybrid, and f2f classrooms.

It was created using Camtasia for Mac.  Although I generally use Adobe Premiere and have recently began using IMovie, I found Camtasia to be most intuitive and streamlined, particularly for this screencast assignment.  It was easy to navigate and edit.  My recordings, voiceovers, and annotations were seamlessly integrated into the presentation.  Camtasia’s ability to easily do closed captioning was an addd bonus.

In all candor, the most difficulty I had was what exactly to do the screencast on.  It actually took me a lengthy time just to finalize a topic.  I was on the fence over a few ideas.  I initially thought to myself, “why not take the easy way out and do some math problems?”  I thought better of it once I told myself that I was neither a mathematician nor good at numbers.  After settling on a topic I actually was interested in and could use in my own work environment, the rest went relatively smoothly.  I had a couple of glitches with Camtasia but fortunately, their tech support was very quick and easy and I was able to resolve those issues.

Project #7: Google Slides Presentation

Google Slides Presentation

I have done a bit of google slides before.  However, I primarily still use PowerPoint.  I may reconsider PowerPoint as my go-to presentation software.  Google Slides seems a bit more user-friendly and streamlined relative to PowerPoint.  The interface is less cluttered any most of the functions I performed (e.g. adding images, fonts, etc.) appeared to be faster than PowerPoint in terms of access and ease of use.

Although it was a static presentation, I tried to integrate the multimedia principles as best as I could.  I tried using as little text as needed without compromising the integrity of the presentation and also used appropriate visuals supplemented with a detailed explanation in the presenter notes.

If I had more time, I would try to figure out the easiest and most efficient way to add narrations to the Slides.  This does not appear as straight-forward as PowerPoint.  I did some basic research on this but abandoned the idea about halfway through the project.

Project #6: Digital Story

Digital Story Link (YouTube)

Digital story script (although my story is captioned, this is just as a precautionary measure)

My digital story is the about the “Boat People.”  This is an historical term given to the nearly 2 million Vietnamese who escaped communist persecution beginning in 1975 and ending in 1995.  Most traveled out of Vietnam on rickety boats and some (at least 20%) died along the way.  These refugees came to countries like France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States (over 800,000).  Woven into this historical fabric is the personal journey that my family and I took when I was only 3 years old in 1981.

This project demonstrates the personalization principle in a couple of ways.  First, I tried to use a more personal, narrative style in my dialogue.  Since many parts of the story included my family’s personal experience, I sought to convey emotion and feeling to give the listener an idea that I actually went through these trials and tribulations.  Second, the voice was my own rather than a machine.  Due to the nature of the story, a machine voice would not have been conducive.  It needed to be personal and from the heart; who better to narrate than someone who actually lived through the ordeal.

I feel empowered after this project.  As a specialist in Asian History, this is my field. However, I never delved deep into this topic from a research standpoint.  This will act as a catalyst for me to do further research about my family’s story and making a more elaborate presentation down the road.  I can see the potential of this with my own students who will be able to pick and choose to share whatever story they want.  Several ideas have been spawned from this project, including short lecture introductions for my online class content and using this as a future project for my traditional as well as online courses.  Although I used IMovie, I also learned that there are several options when it comes to producing digital stories.  I will continue to investigate other mediums of production in the future.

Project #5: Coherence Analysis

Coherence Analysis

The coherence principle, in its simplest form, suggests the content creator not add any additional material that does not support the instructional goal (Clark and Mayer, 2016).  Specifically, the coherence principle recommends to avoid adding extraneous words, photos, and sounds.  Based on the theory of cognitive learning, doing so adds extra, unnecessary loads to a user’s limited capacity.  Perhaps the simplest constraint is the notion of doing less; the idea that less is actually more in this case.

One successful example of successful implementation of the coherence principle has taken place over the past two years with my classroom-based lectures using PowerPoint.  I have been trying to, in effect, use less and less text in the PowerPoints and relying more on visuals (photos and pictures).  Whereas a few years ago, I would have bullet points of texts in one slide accompanied by a photo or even two, now most of my slides consists of only a few words and sometimes no words at all.  On other occasions, the entire slide might be an enlarged graphic/photo with no text or perhaps 1-2 words.  I feel this has been a successful implementation because, although the visual and textual presence is clearly less, I see students proactively taking notes and engaged in classroom dialogue and discussion relative to maybe 3-4 years ago when my slides were a bit more text-heavy.  In the latter case, students tended to be a bit more static and more like receivers of information.  On the other hand, one unsuccessful implementation of the coherence principle is that since I have recently shifted to this more “Zen” approach to presenting material, at times I have tried to compensate for this nearly “naked” or empty presentation with 2-3 photos on one slide.  My logic is that I must compensate the simplicity with additional and extra material to make it more challenging for students.  This clearly violates the second tenet of the coherence principle, which suggests designers avoid adding extraneous graphics in e-learning environments (Clark and Mayer, 2016).  It is difficult to ascertain whether the use of several graphics in one slide is actually unsuccessful.  After all, I have not tested anything nor have I conducted any experiments.  I can only go from feedback of my students that I still unofficially in class through my observations and student evaluations, both formally and informally.  I suppose it is unsuccessful to the extent that it violates the coherence principle.  Since this principle is based on research, I would have to defer to it as the “letter of the law” sort of speak.

I have seen the coherence principle violated time and time again.  I’ll start with myself of course.  In my first couple of years of teaching, my slides consisted of a word document that I showed on the LCD projector.  I tried to shorten the text by taking out unnecessary words (like pronouns) or abbreviate words wherever I could.  Needless to say, this was not practical and not only violated the coherence principle of using extraneous words but a host of other principles as well.  In this particular case, my flawed belief was that the words were necessary to elaborate and expand on ideas; something the text illuminates ample evidence not to do (Clark and Mayer, 2016).  I think the first tenet of the coherence principle, whereby a presenter should avoid extraneous words, is perhaps the most common violation that I experience.  Many presentations, classroom lectures, and online courses that I either am an end-user for, participant in, or evaluator for violate the principle of using too many words.  The modus operandi are generally very similar to the point that you see a clear and distinct pattern.  More often than not, the slides have a large heading followed by either bullet points or numbers of concepts (at least 4-5 lines of text).  These concepts are exacerbated by the fact that they are full or close to full sentences.  The presenter finishes up with a graphic on the side.  This is probably describing at least 75% of the presentations I see.  Most of the time, I feel these presentations can be just as effective with half of the words used.  When these excess words are used, I think they are done so for added interest, expansion of ideas, and for additional technical depth (Clark and Mayer, 2016).

The coherence principle seems to complement the redundancy principle in the notion of stressing efficiency.  The redundancy principle suggests that a presenter should explain visuals with words in audio or text but not both (Clark and Mayer, 2016).  Not only is their empirical evidence that lends credence to using either audio or text to explain a visual but it appears to be more efficient in using one or the other rather than both.  The coherence principle also stresses doing less of everything:  words, graphics, and audio.  The coherence principle is a continual refining of multimedia presentation.  Initially, it was revealed that words and graphics were the most effective way to present in an e-learning environment with the multimedia principle.  There was further refinement with the contiguity principle where the text should be placed in a logical manner relative to the graphics.  This was a more detailed extension of the multimedia principle.  Modality was further fine-tuned by suggesting that words being presented should be in the form of audio rather than on-screen text.  Redundancy further underscored the idea of choosing one or the other but not both.  Finally, the coherence principle trimmed the excess waste in suggesting to not overload the user with extraneous unnecessary content.

The coherence principle is intimately related to theories of psychology as illustrated by the authors.  More specifically, it relates to the cognitive theory of learning.  By adding extraneous text, graphics, and audio, it can harm the learner’s ability to process the essential material (the main objectives of your lessons) by adding an overload of information (Clark and Mayer, 2016).  If indeed the learner has a limited capacity to process information in the auditory and visual senses, additional information that is especially not as relevant will hinder this progress.  The text has repeatedly underscored the importance of this cognitive process and content producer’s willingness to promote this process in as efficient and streamlined way as possible.

Since taking courses for the M.ET program I have become a strong advocate of less is more.  Having been first introduced to Garr Reynolds’s “Zen Presentations,” I was hooked on the concept of efficiency.  I believe that omitting extraneous and unnecessary information is a clever and effective mechanism to present information and succeed in your learning outcomes.  The coherence principle strikes at the taproot of creating content and lessons that rely on efficiency to effectively convey your main point(s).  In my discipline of history, I began a crusade a couple of years ago to convince anyone willing to listen that less is more.  Many of my colleagues still use pedagogy that was used in the first Medieval universities over a thousand years ago.  Not only is the coherence principle logically sound but it has the empirical evidence as well.  I think this is particularly relevant in the current demographics of students who seem to have shorter attention spans and are used to engaging in media that come in short and fast bursts.  While the principle is logically tenable, it seems to fit in almost perfectly with the current crop of students (at least in my teaching experiences in Southern California over the past 15 years).

One item I wanted to address was the author’s explanation of the difference between cognitive and emotional interest at the end of the chapter.  The suggest that “attempts to force excitement do not guarantee that students will work hard to understand the presentation” (Clark and Mayer, 2016).  In my own experiences I have seen the importance of emotional connections to certain topics, particularly topics that hit home to students.  For example, when my U.S. History class studies the Reconstruction Period we go over extensively the rise of the KKK and South’s successful attempt to marginalize and disenfranchise Blacks.  Certainly a graphic of the KKK and lynchings would be appropriate.  However, some may argue a photo of Police brutality in the modern day may be considered extraneous.  My argument to connect a modern day concept and possibly an adding an extraneous graphic is the emotional and personal experience that a large amount of my students face irrespective of their race or ethnicity.  To me, this reinforces the experience even more.  I’m not suggesting to do it all the time, but I do think when done selectively and keeping in the mind some of the other principles in the text that it can be a powerful tool.

 

References

Clark, R.C., & Mayer, R.E. (2016).  E-learning and the science of instruction, 4th edition. Hoboken, N.J:  Wiley.

Project #3: Haiku Deck

Haiku Deck Presentation

This presentation is a very brief and concise discussion outlining the evolution of salsa music that mainly developed in the Caribbean countries of Cuba and Puerto Rico.  However, if you want to be even more historically accurate, you would need to include the influence of the tribal cultures of West and Central Africa.

The Caribbean music was brought to the United States (principally to New York) in the 30’s to 60’s.  By the 1970’s, the label “salsa” was permanently embedded into the fabric of this music.  While most music historians do not doubt the authenticity of “salsa” music coming from Cuba and also Puerto Rico, the word “salsa” and its application to this musical genre is uniquely American-made, especially in popular culture.

I was fairly familiar with Haiku deck from a previous EdTech class and therefore this exercise merely reinforced the brilliance behind using Haiku deck.  It really does compel the designer to fundamentally reshape their approach and strategy when creating live talks/lectures in a more conducive framework for their audience.

What I did not have a couple of years ago was the application of the Multimedia and Contiguity principles we have been learning about thus far.  It really does trim all the excess waste and gives your presentation a cleaner, more focused look.

Project #2: Static Multimedia Instruction

Learning Objective:  After viewing this tutorial, the learner will be able to create a module with content in their Canvas class site.

Design Notes:  I began by brainstorming ideas for a simple and short tutorial.  Since I am currently training my colleagues on how to use Canvas, I thought I could put some of these theories and principles into practical use.  It would allow me to fulfill the assignment requirement and produce content for professional development at the same time.

Since I already have intermediate experience using Canvas, I was able to readily conceptualize the flow of what I wanted to tutorial to look like.  Canvas has a plethora of online resources, video tutorials, and customized tutorials.

My first inclination was some differentiation.  The main emphasis was trying to make it as easy, user-friendly, and intuitive as I could.  Many of the current tutorials can be a bit overwhelming so I suppose my main objective was to make it less intimidating.

Once I was set on a topic (a basic element of the Canvas LMS), I downloaded the clarify-it software and watched the quick video tutorial.  It was very easy to pick up.  I tried to go through the steps in my mind that I wanted to bring to life and started snapping away at the screens.  Once I had my images in place, I went one by one on each image and worked the step-by-step tutorial imagining that I was explaining it to a colleague in a computer lab.  I tried to minimize the amount of text used and focused on being as “clean” as possible with colors, boxes, highlights, etc.  I mainly used the Black text box, with red arrows, pointing at a yellow highlight.  The goal was uniformity throughout the tutorial.

Once I was done, I exported it and did some proofing and editing.  It took 3 exports for me to finally feel satisfied with my finished product.  For my real-time testing, I sent it to 3 trusted colleagues to give me some thoughts and feedback.  Once I get feedback from Dr. Hall and my colleagues, I will make necessary changes and edits and probably make this part of a large series of static tutorials to share with my colleagues.  It will serve as a foundation for a more dynamic version of the tutorial using something like Jing or Captivate.

This instruction demonstrates the Multimedia principle because it uses both words and graphics as a mechanism to show users how to create content on the Canvas LMS.  In this case, the graphics are in the form of screen-captured images with static text conveniently located within the graphics.  It illustrates the Multimedia principle because the learner is actively engaged in seeing the actual sequence of steps through the images while also being able to read the instructions in the very place they would be performing their tasks.  This instruction demonstrates a transformational graphic in the sense that I started with an empty class site.  By the end of the instruction, the demonstration showed new content and the step-by-step mechanisms to get there.

This instruction demonstrates the Contiguity principle because the text is not only placed in close proximity to the graphic, it is embedded within the graphic.  The texts are placed near or logically close to the corresponding graphic that it’s trying to explain.  Therefore, if a text suggested the learner click on a specific element on the page, the text was relatively near that particular element.

Here is the tutorial in PDF format:  creating-a-module-in-canvas