VIA Inside Higher Ed: The Bitter Reality of MOOConomics (Carlo Salerno)

Once again, in the continuing debate over whether MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) represent a genuine opening towards the future of higher education, economist Carlo Salerno analyzes the business model of these well-publicized courses (an issue we’ve discussed in our workshops and on the blog).  He writes:

Born at two of the nation’s most elite colleges, MOOCs have received an unbelievable amount of news coverage for offering the potential to solve one of the sector’s most nagging problems: how to provide world-class education for practically no consumer cost. The courses provided via MITx and by a handful of Stanford professors have generated considerable publicity, though it’s the recent announcement that Coursera (another Stanford spin-off) has lined up around a dozen elite institutions that will use their platform to offer similarly styled educational offerings that really has folks thinking MOOCs may very well be the answer to our system’s perceived ills.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed
What I find fascinating about Salerno’s take is that he recognizes the same problem with MOOCs as earlier commentators: that even if universities can afford to hand out instructional materials for free (or as free as contingent faculty can make them), they cannot afford to lose selectivity over admissions or control over credentialing, if they are to maintain their institutional prestige and reputation.  These are the precise issues that caused the conflicts at UVA over Pres. Sullivan‘s firing, and they will bedevil any attempt to equate the instruction provided by MOOCs with courses in a degree program.  But the temptation to define higher education down will remain so long as institutions are faced with rising personnel costs and declining state support. We have not heard the end of this.

Faculty Workshop — Making Technology Work for You

The Center for Teaching Excellence sponsored a workshop on technology in the classroom on Friday 24 February 2012.  The workshop began with presentations from Todd Romero (History), Rebecca Forrest (Physics), and Jennifer Lazzaro (IT support staff for CLASS).

Todd Romero began the discussion by stressing the importance of getting help from IT support staff when planning to employ new technologies in teaching. He thanked Jennifer Lazzaro for her help in helping him organize the material for his history courses. The challenge for the history department is to lower the failure and drop rates for the large (450 student) survey courses it offers as part of the Core Curriculum. Those rates have exceeded 50% in the past, although recent efforts have brought that number down. Romero used clickers in his class, but discontinued the practice in favor of alternative methods for increasing class involvement. The lesson is that it is important to find out what works for a given situation, and to adjust when a given technology does not help.

The technologies Romero uses now include video podcasts to help students improve their learning skills such as note taking, reading a textbook, and taking essay tests. Many students have had no prior experience in these areas. Romero also makes extensive use of e-mails, to remind students of items on the syllabus such as tests and major assignments, and to given students feedback on how they are doing in the course, both for those who are having trouble, and those who are doing well. He explained that his use of PowerPoint has evolved from text dense slides to the use of graphics such as editorial cartoons, maps and satellite images of parts of the world. He stressed the importance of making PowerPoints visually rich.

Romero described how technology is used in two online history classes, one on Native Americans and the other on witchcraft. Here lectures are replaced with shorter units of about 20 minutes that make extensive use of video podcasts, and film clips. Students are encouraged to engage in digital story telling, by working out their own graphical presentations on history topics. Developing a good script for a video can be as rewarding for the student as writing a paper, and many students have strong digital skills to draw on.

Romero has also used discussion boards extensively, and advises that it is not necessary to respond to everything, as he did at first. Now he takes the role of a moderator, who provides reminders, thanks students for their participation, and encourages further discussion.

Rebecca Forrest described her efforts to improve her introductory and upper-class physics courses. She used clickers as a method for peer instruction. A question is posed to the whole class. Students respond, and then discuss their answers in small groups, and are then asked to respond a second time. The hope is that the responses will converge on the right answer, and that the responses can be used as a focus of discussion of the topic at hand. Forrest no longer uses this method, as she now prefers to use that class time for demonstrations.

Forrest reported on three different online tactics she uses. The first is online systems for submission, grading and feedback on homework, which are supplied by many introductory physics textbooks. This is an improvement over manual submission and grading of homework where only a fraction of the problems can be graded by TAs, and feedback is not immediate.

A second online technique is to give short quizzes on material through Blackboard shortly before a class. She got the idea from project on teaching called Just in Time Teaching. The tests help guarantee that students are ready for a given class.

A third method Forrest uses is to provide online tutorials on math skills in the first two weeks of her introductory courses. Students in these courses are often not prepared mathematically, as evidenced by drop and failure rates in the 30% – 40% range. A diagnostic exam of math skills is given before the class begins, to warn students of their deficiencies, but even so, the problem persists. Online tutorials allow students to get back up to speed in math.

The main problem Forrest experiences is dealing with three different online systems, one for homework grading, one for quizzes (Blackboard), and one for tutorials. She is hoping that the homework systems can be integrated into Blackboard in the future.

Jennifer Lazzaro began by urging faculty to think hard about the issues they are trying to resolve before they worry about applications of technology. She described a wide range of technologies for the classroom, including Wimba, where one can create a virtual classroom with students and/or guest speakers at remote sites, and archive the entire proceedings for later use. She also mentioned Voice Boards to language training, TurnItIn for plagiarism checking, and convenient return of written comments by the instructor, Skype for virtual classrooms and guest speakers, and Google Hangout where up to 15 people can collaborate with video camera and microphone on a single document or blackboard. Lazzaro also described some successful teaching technology projects in CLASS, including a course on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where a website describing the pilgrimage of the characters is presented.

There followed a freewheeling discussion on a wide range of issues.

Frank Holt described the reactions faculty have to the technology revolution – from those who complain that there is no chalk in the room, to those like Forrest who develop a sophisticated range of technologies. The main problem he sees is that it is very difficult for faculty to see, and come to appreciate, the rich variety of technologies being deployed at UH. He suggested that we create a super course so that examples of best practices would be available to all.

The topic turned to the “blind” use of inappropriate technology. Jennifer Lazzaro pointed out that while Second Life is very exciting, it is far from clear how it can be successfully used in a given class setting. Rebecca Forrest pointed out that despite all the technology she deploys, she uses chalk to lecture. That is an advantage over PowerPoint, since the speed at which she is able to write matches the speed at which students can take notes effectively. When questioned about how her class of over 165 students can all see the board, she responded that she simply writes larger than usual. Jim Garson mentioned that working with PowerPoint restricts his movement and this is detrimental to keeping the class’s attention. Frank Holt remarked on the problem that turning ones back to write on the board automatically loses contact with the class. It was pointed out that using visual presentations has been around ever since the widespread use of slides. PowerPoint does help by providing more convenient storage and management of images, and the web has improved access to them.

The speakers were asked to comment on the amount of extra time it takes to use technology. Romero pointed out that his e-mail system can be managed with as little as a half an hour a week. Forrest pointed out that many of the things she must do to set things up online (such as setting up homework assignments) would have to be done in any case. She said that grading the pre class tests was manageable for 80 students, but for a class of 180 she needed to develop a new way that used multiple choice grading. In general, it is important to rethink how to do testing so as not to be swamped with the extra work. Her worst problem is managing the grades in three different system. Merging files where student lists are different can be challenging.

A discussion of the issues related to online grading of homework followed. Those systems are good at evaluating student answers, but not at evaluating the methods students used to arrive at them. It is not easy for such systems to award partial credit for a good derivation followed by a silly mistake in keying a value to a calculator. The worry is that online grading will stress getting the right answer, whereas what we want to teach is the correct method for deriving the answer. Furthermore, online grading does not encourage the student to work out a problem in detail on a piece of paper.

Near the end of the workshop, the topic turned to textbook publishers, the new online tools they provide, and the digital revolution in the way students will read them. Several participants mentioned heavy lobbying by textbook representatives interested in the large profits to be obtained by having a whole department adopt their text for an introductory course. Packages with textbook and online materials can run well over $200. As to whether these costs will come down for students who use digital readers rather than hard copy, Lazzaro thought that the answer was: No. At present, publishers offering packages where the student uses his or her digital reader are provided for a limited amount of time (6 months to a year), cannot be sold after their use, are harder to use than a hard copy text, and still cost only about $15 less. Frank Holt remarked on the poor quality of some texts, which are only lightly revised and retitled for use in very different courses.

Please attend our “Making Technology Work For You, Not Against You” workshop this Friday, 2/24, 1-2:30

For more information, please contact Frank Holt ( or James Garson (

See you then,


First Annual UH Faculty Clicker Connection, Feb. 17, 1-3 pm in the Kiva Rm, College of Ed

Dr. Kathleen Brosnan, Assoc. Dean for CLASS, has announced an event that might be of interest to those of you currently using clickers in the classroom, or thinking about introducing them into your lectures:

On February 17th, 2012, from 1-3pm, FDIS will be holding the First Annual UH Faculty Clicker Connection. This event will give faculty that uses clickers (or faculty that are curious about clickers!) the opportunity to meet and discuss best practices and experiences. Bill Joyce from Turning Point, our clicker vendor, will be flying in from Ohio to speak at the event and answer faculty questions in addition to the round tables we have planned.

WHERE: KIVA Room, College of Education

WHEN: February 17th, 2012 from 1pm-3pm

Registration can be found on the FDIS website at

For more information, please contact FDIS at

If you attend, please let us know how helpful you found the presentation, and if you’d like more events on this topic.



Thanks to all who attended our workshop on “The Problem I have with teaching is . . . .”, Dec. 2, 2011

[Image of Prof. Marvel wagon art from]

CTE Faculty Workshop, December 2, 2011

“The Problem I Have With Teaching Is . . . “

Frank Holt and James Garson, Moderators

Notes by Tamara Fish, Dave Mazella

 Participants began by filling in forms, completing the following statements:

“The problem I have with teaching is . . . “

“On the other hand, I am most satisfied/comfortable with . . . “

Biggest problem named: almost half of the attendees named “student engagement,” or its variants, such as student “apathy,” lack of “motivation,” “responsibility,” or “getting students comfortable enough to communicate what they do not understand.”

Other leading problems: leading discussion, lacks of student skills, lack of time (students and faculty), designing coherent syllabi or curricula, using technology effectively

Biggest satisfaction named: much less unanimity here, but some respondents named “students’ ‘getting it’ or finally understanding something”; student engagement; use of technology


Responses served as discussion starters on the following topics:

1.     Challenges of new technologies. Technologies discussed included:

  • Clickers, which cost $40 but students can use them in multiple classes. Suggestions included using clickers early in the class to test recall; later, during discussion, to gauge students’ understanding or ability to synthesize; to poll students and share results the next day; or to discover when students need intervention or remediation. Clicker technology is now available for Smart Phones.
  • Power Point. There are many ways to use Power Point ineffectively; students need instruction if they are to use it well.
  • Smart textbooks, such as those that connect with online support materials and learning environments. Only a couple of participants had used them and found them unimpressive, on the whole.
  • Electronic databases, resources. Online materials and library databases may allow faculty to reduce dependence on anthologies or purchased textbooks. Advantages include teaching students to research and gloss primary sources and allowing students access via tablets or other smart technologies. Disadvantages include the patience required of students to use them, the cost of printing, and the inability to annotate or highlight in ways to which students have become accustomed.
  • Lecture podcasts or videotapes. Students respond more favorably to lectures recorded by a “real person”—e.g., at a kitchen table with the dog in the background—than to perfect “talking heads.” Consider interspersing the talking head with text, images, graphics, etc.
  • Voice recording technologies for responding to students’ work. These include Wimba in Blackboard and Voice Thread (, which allows threaded discussions, marking up a document as one talks over it, etc.
  • Electronic conferencing technologies. Using multiple modes of conferencing allows options for students who may not be able to come to traditional face-to-face conferences. One option web conferencing option is PowWowNow (


  • Effective use of new technologies requires training, planning, practice, and effort.
  • We may not know about available technologies until we bump up against them. Meanwhile, teacher inertia keeps many of us teaching as we were taught.
  • Effective change takes time—sometimes years—and happens incrementally, not all at once.
  • Use of technology requires a contingency plan in case it fails, which it will.
  • Incorporating new technologies takes a lot of work up front but, once in place, can save time, requiring only updates and revisions.
  • Technologies should fulfill a pedagogical need and should be carefully incorporated into course design to accomplish defined ends. Think carefully: What do you really want students to get out of the experience?
  • The number and variety of technologies can be overwhelming. Jami Kovach (Information and Logistics Technology), has published a paper that categorizes and analyzes instructional technologies: Here are the links to the papers that she mentioned: snyder_jarbe_2010_pre-inst_imp_stud_coll; Snyder_BCQ_2009_(teaching_teamwork)(1);WC-IAR_Paper_(v17-submitted_to_DSJIE_3’11)(1)
  • Recognize that technology does not have to be perfect; e.g., lecture podcasts can contain stumbles.
  • Leonard Bachman (Architecture) also provided links to two articles, one a large-scale evaluation of the effectiveness of technology-based teaching (finalreport(1)), the other a publication of his own on this topic.

2.     Student apathy. Suggestions for addressing this pervasive problem included the following:

  • Mandatory attendance. Students who are not actively there (e.g., who are texting, sleeping) are marked absent.
  • Intrinsically engaging topics. What typically goes over well with students in the class?
  • Story telling. Start class with a story; use stories to get information across; tell you own life story, especially if it will help the students to connect with you or your subject area.
  • Group or pair activities. Even in large lecture sections, students can discuss ethical dilemmas or historical analogies, figure out their relationships to the material, etc.
  • Minute papers. Use at beginning or end of class; these can be ungraded.
  • Share your interests. How does what you teach connect with your personal areas of interest or activities?
  • Role playing. Have students adopt the persona of a historical character, research that character, and speak or write in the character’s voice.
  • Polls. Use clickers to poll students (“the odder the better”) and share results the next day. Poll results can supply data for discussions of gender, cultural, or other implications of results.
  • Online discussions. Use Blackboard, blogs, or other discussion forums to keep the discussion going outside class. Students can both post questions and respond to one another. Monitor and choose some responses to take to class for discussion.
  • “Trick” or force students to do things they won’t take the initiative to do on their own.
  • Recognize the “imposter syndrome.” Research shows that apathy or lack of engagement is especially high among first-generation college students, who may feel they don’t belong and may be found out. 51% of U of H students are the first in their families to attend college.
  • Let go of your power in the class from the beginning. Don’t try to play the expert; let your “normal awkwardness” or nervousness come out. Be open, present, and authentic.
  • Use active rather than passive learning.

3.     Teacher boredom. What if you are bored with a class you have taught dozens of times? Suggestions:

  • Consider teaching hybrid courses.
  • Have the students teach the course to the professor.
  • Place student research at the center of the class.
  • Throw away your notes each semester so as to have to reconstruct the course.
  • Devise better, more relevant examples.
  • Order a new textbook so you can’t rely on the old one.
  • Don’t’ bring your lecture notes to class.
  • Teach a course outside your familiar field.

 4.     Providing timely feedback on students’ final papers. How does a teacher return papers in a timely fashion without regretting not having written enough/the right comments? Suggestions:

  • Assign more frequent, shorter papers throughout the semester.
  • Use Turnitin’s Grade Mark; typing comments requires you to think more about them.
  • Allow students to do the commenting during peer review.
  • Collect final projects incrementally, having students workshop each piece along the way.
  • Consider whether written comments on final papers are a waste of time since research shows that students don’t read them anyway.


The discussion concluded with a lively exchange about lateness policies and time management.  The group decided that one of the upcoming workshops should have the topic of, “Rules worth enforcing.”

If you have additional comments or suggestions for this or upcoming panels, please hit “Comment”

Tamara Fish/DM

Using Google+ Hangouts for Video Conferencing with Students

Google Plus debuted this summer as an alternative social media platform to Facebook. Because of its hundreds of millions of registered users in other Google platforms, such as Gmail and Google Docs, Google Plus quickly enrolled over 40 million users. Some users were simply tired of Facebook’s lax privacy policies, others tired of the games, and many others simply eager to see their other Google apps integrated into one central hub, which is apparently what is happening, gradually, at Google Plus. Immediately as it was released, professors began seeing the advantage of Plus in their classrooms.

Here, I’d like to discuss the most obvious tool within Plus for teachers — the Hangout feature. Hangout is a simple video application that allows users to conference with up to ten users simultaneously, with additional tools such as text chat and YouTube sharing that can help teachers, especially, connect and conference with their students.

Overview of Hangouts

Why Use Video Hangouts

Consider one of the primary influences of student success — out of class contact with her professor. Establishing regular office hours is standard for all of us, but the reality is that often our schedules do not work with student schedules, especially UH students, who often work and most often commute to campus. Getting to a professor’s office for the one or two hours she’s available can be not only very inconvenient, but also imposing, especially for our large-class sections.

Instead, I can use Google Hangouts to establish either a fixed time every week to video conference with one or more students or even set small-group supervision meetings with them. The student needs only create the Google Plus account (with any e-mail address), and with a PC with camera, will be able to consult with me from wherever she is, and from wherever I am — office, coffee shop, or back porch.

One immediate concern is privacy — just as we would not discuss a student’s grades with a group of people, we need to maintain strict privacy with our Hangout conversations as well. I first establish the simple rule, then, when using video conferencing with my students:

In any group setting, I will not discuss grades. Period. I can discuss lecture notes, assignments, and give feedback, but not specific scores.

This is no different than a meeting in the office — we can discuss grades individually, but if two or more students are present, we simply won’t. Using video conferencing is no different here.

One advantage of Google Plus, however, is that the Hangout can be open to all in your circles, a smaller circle of just class students, or individuals. This is immediately one of the advantages of using Google Plus over other social networks — you control who sees what and who you talk to. So, I could start a Hangout with just one class, all class sections, or a small student group of five students working on a group project. Google Plus allows you to control all this.

Some Quick Homework Before You Begin

When using Hangouts, review the Help section first, to understand the (simple and free) technical requirements, and how to limit your hangout to your selected audience.

And finally, consider other uses of Hangouts for engaging students, encouraging collaboration, consulting with experts, and otherwise strengthening the learning environment of the course.

Upcoming CTE faculty workshop: “Creating Learning Communities in Cyberspace,” this Friday Oct. 28, 1:00-2:30, in 306 MDA library (Jim Garson)

This Friday at 1 pm Jim Garson will be moderating the following panel in the Faculty Senate offices at 306 MDA library:

Creating Learning Communities in Cyberspace

This workshop will explore information technologies that can be used to bring students together in the learning process, whether inside or outside in the classroom.


Workshop participants and topics are as follows:

  • Simon Bott (Chemistry) will talk about his use of Facebook;
  • Ana Medrano (Biology) will explain her use of Twitter;
  • Jami Kovach (Information and Logistics Technology) will provide a summary of a variety of methods for supporting learning communities.

If you have experience with social media, or if you are just interested in hearing about how it might work in different kinds of classrooms, please consider attending.  If you have any questions, email