Thanks to all for attending our Distance Ed Brown Bag: Summary of 11/18/10 Discussion

CTE Brown Bag on Distance Education.

Summary of Discussion, November 18, 2010

Motto:  Let pedagogy lead the technology (cf. Ann Christensen)

This is a first pass at trying to represent the depth and breadth of our recent Brown Bag discussion on Distance Education.  I have tried to organize remarks by topics, so this does not reflect order in which ideas were expressed.  Comments, corrections, and additions are welcome.  Jim Garson

A. What do students need to be able to succeed at Distance Education (DE)?

1. Students need to know how the course is organized.

Problem: They do not read/remember the syllabus.

Suggested Remedies:

Given students a test on the syllabus.

Answer student questions individually by e-mail.

Use Twitter and/or e-mail to remind students of major events during

the course such as assignments, exams etc..

Require attendance at an organizational meeting in a hybrid format.

2.  Students need realistic expectations concerning how challenging the course will be.

Problem: Many students expect DE courses to be significantly easier than face-to -face classes.

Suggested Remedies:

Develop videos explaining the distance education experience, which can be made available before the class begins or even before they register.

Given and/or require training classes on how to do well in DE classes.

3.  Students need strong computer skills and or support to overcome problems with interacting on line.

Problem: Many students lack the right equipment or have poor understanding of the equipment.

Suggested Remedies:

Provide a better logistical support system for DE classes.

Provide better faculty support for maintenance as well as development of courseware.

4.  Students need strong motivation, good study habits and well-developed time-management skills.

Problem: Many students are not academically or emotionally prepared to handle a distance education class.

Suggested Remedy: Require students taking distance education class to have a GPA above 2.5

Problem: Many students have trouble keeping up with the class schedule.

Suggested Remedies:

Design the class around a large number of small (weekly) modules with corresponding assignments, and track student progress by requiring that assignments and tests be completed by target due dates.  Lock students out of submitting their assignments when they miss due dates.

Provide copious feedback by e-mail, Twitter, blogs etc. on the course schedule.

Require students to take and pass practice tests by due dates before they can take the tests that count.

5.  Students need frequent and quick feedback on their progress in the course.

Problem: Frequent testing needed in DE classes has put a strain on the computerized testing system.

Suggested Remedies:

Bring TAs and other support people to help at the testing center.

Expand the resources at testing centers.

Problem: It is easier for students to cheat in on-line classes

Suggested Remedies:

Generate a large bank of test questions so that each computer-generated exam is unique.

Require short timed responses for each question.

Webcam or ID systems may be used in the future to verify identity of students taking an exam.

6  Students need to be able to profit from rich interaction with the instructor and their fellow students.

Problem: Many students feel isolated and alienated from the course, and so tend to put off working on it.

Suggested Remedy: Require student interaction on blogs and/or chat rooms.  Students who get engaged in such discussions get excellent training in writing without even noticing it.

Problem: How can DE classes provide the direction needed to develop practice skills such as counseling?

Suggested Remedy: Video of sample counseling situations can be shared, and students may be asked to reflect on and criticize the quality of the interactions.

Problem: How can we develop online discussion systems for technical courses such as mathematics, where the topic would not seem to lend itself as well to discussion?

Suggested Remedy: Such discussion may not be as natural, but it can work if the topic is carefully focused (for example on a particular problem or technique).

B.  Faculty Concerns about DE

1. Budget cuts are coming., and we can expect less and less state support. What will this do to the ratio of Instructional to Tenure Track faculty?  In turn how will this affect the quantity and quality of DE offerings?

2.  The outside world (eg. the Board of Directors and the Coordinating Board) may think that DE is the cheap and effective way to deliver education.  We need to send a clear message that creating good DE takes a massive effort both in creation and maintenance.  It is not the cheap way out it may appear.

3.  Working on DE is a burden for faculty.  Grants should supply faculty time as well as equipment, software support, etc..

4.  How can faculty working on DE better share information?  How could the CTE help?


Post models of the best quality DE courses, including syllabi, courseware, and other resources in a Mock Blackboard website.

Post data on the effectiveness of DE classes broken down by various class formats (hybrid, all on-line, etc.).

Develop a DE blog on the CTE website.

Share existing listservs and create new ones.

5.  How can faculty better learn about available tools related to DE?


Provide short video tutorials on creating short video tutorials.

Schedule more training sessions on DE support tools, for example, on how to do voice over with Powerpoints.

Publicize support people for various tools (eg. TurnItIn).

6.  Saturday hybrid classes are regularly locked out of their rooms.

Suggestion:  Remind Physical Plant each week that the classroom must be open.

C.  The Need for Guidelines

Marshall Schott’s office is currently preparing guidelines for DE. Since the guidelines are there to help faculty in their DE efforts, it is important that they play an active role in developing them. What are the crucial topics that a good set of DE Guidelines should cover?  Faculty participation is strongly encourgaed. Share your ideas and/or volunteer to serve on the committee by contacting Dan Wells, at

D.  For further information

Try these two links by some of the pioneers in researching best practices in higher education:

“Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever” (Chickering, Ehrmann, 1996)

“Asking the Right Question: What Does Research Tell us About Technology and Higher Learning?” (Ehrmann, 1995)


via the Houston Chron and AP: UH Professor Raul Ramos Immerses Himself in Dorm Life

This story appeared in the Chron last week, but it’s now been picked up by the AP news service.  Kudos to Raul Ramos and his adorable family.  Good thing he has his dogs with him, too.  The students miss their dogs.

HOUSTON — In retrospect, Raul Ramos says his first eight years at the University of Houston were spent in “blissful ignorance.”

“I didn’t know how parking works, how the dining halls work, how financial aid works,” said the associate professor of history. “Now I do.”

Ramos, 43, is fully immersed in campus life, living in a dorm for the first time in more than two decades, along with his wife, Elizabeth Chiao, and their sons, Noe and Joaquin Ramos Chiao.

Even their dogs are there.

“It’s not like we really need more on our plate right now,” said Chiao, an infectious disease doctor at Baylor College of Medicine. “But it’s a neat opportunity.”

It is part of the university’s efforts to engage students and, ultimately, to improve graduation rates, in part by encouraging more informal interactions with faculty.

UH CTE Board Member Catherine Horn is also mentioned in the article, as another UH prof residing with her family in the dorms.

Thanks to all UH faculty for committing to student life in this way.


Distance Education Round-up

Here are some recent items from the NYTimes and Inside Higher Ed concerning Distance Education:

  • According to this piece in the NYT, more and more residential schools are requiring DE or hybrid courses to boost enrollments and contend with budgetary shortfalls.
  • In another NYT piece, a University of Florida microeconomics teacher found some surprising differences between face-to-face and online learners in the same course.
  • In Inside Higher Ed, a piece about Internal Barriers to Online expansion.


Thanks to all who attended our Improving Assessment: Grading and Error Correction TA Workshop

Thanks to everyone who showed up at our event on Thursday, Nov. 4, and thanks especially to Dr. Tamara Fish of CLASS for putting together such a helpful presentation; thanks also to Dr. Aymara Boggiano for helping to organize the event.

We had quite full attendance, with roughly 39 registered for the event, and what felt like at least another 5-10 present who had not registered, including supervisors etc.  HSD and ET were once again most heavily represented in pilot programs, with roughly equal numbers I think from PSY, EPSY, and ENGL.  We had a very large contingent from Poli Sci, too, as well as other programs who apparently had heard from the announcement on Cathy Patterson’s grad director’s listserv.

Tamara divided the session between a 20-30 min. overview of the key concepts and practices of grading and assessment, including rubrics, followed by lunch and hands on grading exercises at tables segregated roughly by discipline.  The TAs had assignments from ENGL, HSD, and ET to grade separately and discuss their results.  Discussion at the tables and immediately following was very lively, and we all felt that we and the students could have used a bit more time to discuss the issues.

Tamara has provided us with the pdf of her handout, which those interested in reviewing the presentation may find here.


My favorite point from the discussion came when Tamara talked about the dual purposes of asssessments in instruction, which serve as “instruments of instruction” for both students and faculty:

  • for students: good assessments help them learn, understand their progress (command of content, intellectual development, quality of performance, accuracy of understanding)
  • for teachers: good assessments help us know how well we have succeeded in achieving our objectives, and show us whether we may have fallen short.

In short, good grading and assessment practices help both sides in instruction monitor and learn from the learning process taking place in the classroom.