Learning at (?) Sloan-C

Sessions attended:

Blend Your Own Faculty Development Program Using Open Components from Blended Learning Toolkit
Kelvin Thompson and Linda Futch

How to Successfully Evaluate Blended Learning
Chuck Dziuban and Patsy Moskai

Openness in Blended Learning: Perfecting the Blend
David Wiley

Private Investment, Technology and American Education
Marc Parry, Tom Cavanaugh, Anthony Picciano, Alexandra Pickett and Karen Swan

Blended Learning Scale, Ambivalence & Analytics
Chuck Dziuban and Patsy Moskai

Blending with Social Media
Tanya Joosten

Faculty Blended Learning Process: How Instructors Learn to Teach Adult Students in a Blended Program
Karen Skibba









I wasn’t at Sloan-C Blended Learning Conference in the usual sense; I was a “virtual attendee”, an experience I’ll cover in another post. Some of the take-aways for me included the leadership role of the University of Central Florida in these subjects, including the open access Blended Learning Toolkit, which provides professional development resources to UCF and beyond, with everything licensed Creative Commons. Just the whole attitude of the university seems to be right on target.

Chuck Dziuban‘s approach impressed me enormously. During the first session, about assessment, he noted that faculty trying to put their multiple-choice quizzes online said their students were cheating and his response was “duh”. One can’t simply lift an on-site element (like a paper test) into an online environment – there must be adaptation.I was somewhat disappointed in David Wiley’s keynote, not because everything he said wasn’t true, but because I had heard almost all of it before and was hoping for a newer, more radical perspective.

The plenary session on Private Investment, Technology and American Education was excellent in grappling with the moral and procedural complexities of private funding for public education. Often this funding, desperately desired by public universities having their budgets cut, comes with unwieldy, unethical, or impossible strings attached. Being told to build a building, or have results within 15 months, or perform class visits when classes are not in session, were big challenges.

In addition, Tony Picciano was very clear about the influence that donors like the Gates Foundation have over the Department of Education, and how Congress does nothing about it since many of them concerned about education want this money coming in also. Companies work through bureaucrats, not educators. Shared work doesn’t count: Tom Cavanaugh at UCF noted that the sharing they do of work like the Toolkit influences schools that aren’t partners to the grant, so it isn’t included. The goal of not “selling your soul” when accepting private grants was clearly a difficult objective, and the choice of not taking the money might be difficult when public funding sources expect the private sector to jump in.

I took the most notes on Chuck Dziuban’s portion of the presentation on ambivalence in student evaluation of blended classes, because I think his work applies to all classes. His research shows that students who either love or hate a class or teacher tend to focus only on two factors: the course landscape and instructor engagement. Those who are ambivalent (i.e. there were some things they really liked and others they didn’t) create an averaged evaluation score that tells us nothing. These ambivalent perspectives take into consideration a larger number of factors that are important to assessing quality, including the course rhythm, expectation rules, assessment of their progress. When students are only partly happy with a class, there is much more information. We tend to interpret a middling student evaluation as meaning the faculty performance is middling, when it may be instead balancing good and bad aspects. I saw a big argument here for not considering the aggregate of a student evaluation at all.

Dziuban also noted, to my relief and frustration (since I’ve been trying to figure it out) that there is no set pattern to why students withdraw from classes. The biggest indicator of the likelihood of failure, his research shows, is cumulative GPA. The modality of the class, its level, the class size, gender, ethnicity, age, etc. mattered far less or not at all.

Tanya Joosten’s presentation on social media for educators (the title of her current book) was excellent. She has done work on the things many of us know but didn’t have proof for: students spend the most time in Facebook, don’t check email at all, and use mobile technologies. Having been worried about the creepy treehouse effect, I was happy to learn that Facebook could be effective in the way I’m using it (Groups, not friending) and that I could expand use further with Pages (I need to look into how this stuff shows up on students’ Walls, which is what they want – I know Groups don’t). Finding ways to text message assignment reminders and using Facebook helps students stay organized – it’s their planner, clearly. And they don’t use Google Plus.

Overall, a good conference with some severe limitations to communications, which I’ll be discussing elsewhere.