Welcome

Below is GPS’s collective knowledge on best practices for transformative applied adult instruction.

This takes about 30 minutes to read.


umbrella

Umbrella Goals

  • Students are positively transformed and challenged by study at the graduate level.
  • Students feel each course was worth their time and money and excitedly tell their story to their community.
  • Students have an equally effective learning experience both online and in-person.

Clear Communication

The challenge for students should be in the completion of assignments, not figuring out what their assignments are, when they are due, or how they are graded.

Repeat consistent messages about the “what” and “when” of your courses.

Design your Moodle space to limit complexity, clicks, and information overload. How to do this:

  • Think of each course as an experience in a person’s life that adds to their overall knowledge. Focus on a few skills and/or pieces of knowledge that you want them to remember for their long lives.
  • Demonstrate, discuss, and practice what is going to be learned.
  • Have students apply what they’ve learned to real-world problems.
  • Guide students to learning goals, sometimes on paths they suggest.
  • Create a culture of honest, regular feedback about students’ experience in your course. Search out negative feedback to make your course better.

Adult Learning Theory

SWBAT

SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To). In addition to a syllabus and a public course description, we ask faculty to write learning outcomes for their class. These learning outcomes should name what students will be able to do after taking your class.  A well written learning outcome will help you identify assessment tasks that allow students to show you whether they have met your learning outcomes or not.

When writing learning objectives, we avoid terms such as Learn, Know, and Understand because they are hard to measure. Instead we use active verbs such as Write, Analyze, Apply, Identify, Evaluate, and Critique.

Below are examples of learning objectives, pulled from a variety of classes, that clearly focus on what students are expected to be able to do by the end of the class.

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • write an effective reflection of a language learning experience using the DIGPA framework as a model.
  • articulate their core beliefs about language, learners, and learning context.
  • describe and analyze current theory in the field with regards to learning, teaching, and assessing the four skills.
  • translate broadly defined opportunities and ill-defined problem sets into actionable innovation possibilities.
  • apply the Good to Great and Lifecycles frameworks to their current and future work in the social sector, and translate them into action plans with colleagues.
  • identify and explain the legal duties of nonprofit board members and other key leaders.
  • evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of digital authoring tools to determine which tools are best suited for a particular project
  • critique the explicit and implicit cultural and pedagogical values expressed through online instructional content and other digital media.

For those who want to learn more about writing and assessing learning outcomes, this guide from the University of Toronto is a good resource.

Structuring Your Class

Gagne and Keller provided some good basic reminders of how to structure any class.

 

Transformative Learning Theory

“Transformative learning is a theory of adult learning that utilizes disorienting dilemmas to challenge students’ thinking. Students are then encouraged to use critical thinking and questioning to consider if their underlying assumptions and beliefs about the world are accurate.”        Source: https://www.learning-theories.com/transformative-learning-theory-mezirow.html

Transformative learning refers to those learning experiences that cause a shift in an individual’s perspective. It is based on the idea that learning is “the process of making a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of an experience” (Mezirow, 1990). This happens when adult learners change their assumptions or expectations. What often follows is a change in their frame of reference for interpretation and understanding.

How to Foster Transformative Learning

From the perspective of those who design learning experiences, you may be wondering how can we foster these deep and enduring transformations? In a research review, Taylor (2007) described some factors that were shown to foster transformational learning. In addition, Henderson (2010) outlines ways to foster transformative learning in an online environment.

  • Relationships. Several studies showed that transformative learning is fostered by establishing supportive and trusting relationships. This is the basis for dialogue and discourse, discussed later. Building relationships requires a learning climate that is open to differing perspectives and is non-hierarchical in nature. Online, trusting relationships are easier to build in virtual classroom or work group situations when participants can see each other through photos or video, when learners can hear the voice of the moderator or instructor and when they share a common goal.
  • Critical Reflection. Transformative learning often goes hand in hand with self-reflection. This involves challenging the assumptions people rely on to understand the world. For example, you can foster transformative learning by asking open-ended questions that help learners relate new knowledge to their own life experiences. Probing questions that promote critical reflection have no easy or simple answer. You can design critical reflection into formal courses by asking participants to respond to questions through blogging and other internal social tools. It can also be part of thoughtful online discussions.
  • Direct and Active Experience. In his research review, Taylor (2007) found that one of the most powerful ways to foster transformative learning is by offering direct experiences that are meaningful to learners. In one example, doctors and nurses studying palliative care were required to visit hospices, funeral homes and anatomy labs. This idea can be transferred to workplace learning by initiating programs that encourage direct experience. For example, employees who wish to develop leadership ability could initiate a socially beneficial campaign to lead in the workplace.
  • Readiness for the Transformative Experience. Another factor that encourages transformative learning is an individual’s self-awareness and readiness for the experience. A few studies showed that individuals who were in a transitional mindset were likely to experience a transformation. They may have been in the midst of a dilemma or at the limits of their ability to create meaning with their current level of knowledge. The implication being that it is important to help learners develop the type of self-awareness and acceptance of discomfort in order to allow a transformation to occur.
  • Discourse. In her research review, Henderson (2010) points out how discussion is a critical aspect of transformative learning and that there are benefits to doing this online. First, some adults are more comfortable speaking online than in person, so they will be more engaged. Also, online discussions are flexible in mode. They may take place asynchronously in forums, so participants have time to think through their responses or they may take place synchronously in chat rooms. In addition, online discussions occur naturally when small groups tackle problems and issues.

– Source: http://theelearningcoach.com/elearning_design/isd/tranformative-learning-another-perspective-on-adult-learning/

 

Backwards Design

This model of learning design starts with the end instead of the beginning. Faculty first consider the goals they want to achieve (their learning outcomes). Then they think about how they will know whether or not students have achieved the desired outcomes. They plan a task or activity that will help them assess what students are able to do.  Only when these two parts of the process have been decided does the instructor think about what activities will best help students reach the outcomes. Working in this way, faculty maintain their focus on what they want students to be able to do an how they can support them in learning.
Starting with the end in mind enables faculty to keep their focus on student learning. They might ask themselves questions such as: What do the students need to achieve the learning outcomes? What activities best support their learning? This is quite different than the more traditional model of course design which focuses on what the instructor is going to do and what materials are going to be used. Consider the two models of instructional design in the illustration below.
Adapted from: https://sites.google.com/site/mrsjenkinsfrenchclass/blog-posts/backwarddesigninstructionplanning
For further information on Backwards Design, watch one or both of the videos linked below.


In-Person Teaching

marlboro college classroom

Our experience strongly supports the idea that in-person time is best used for interactive, participatory activities such as small-team work, challenging discussions, presentations of student work and ideas for peer feedback, hands-on activities, outdoor adventures, and field trips.

We have also had great success with a form of “Flipping” the classroom. The idea is to assign reading, lectures, and creation of draft assignments as homework. In-class time can then be used for interactive, social activities that check the students’ understanding, provide students with opportunities to draw inferences, make generalizations and actively construct meaning for themselves, apply their learning to new situations, and receive feedback to help them improve. In this classroom the instructor is a facilitator of learning rather than a dispenser of knowledge.

 

Marlboro College Graduate School class configuration for optimal student attention and laptop useDon’t Compete With Laptops

Laptops often present a challenge in terms of student attention. Don’t compete! We advise discussions and lectures take place with laptop lids down or have students facing away from their laptops (see photo)

Bring in Guests

Guest speakers enrich any course. They are easy to bring in from anywhere using one of the many video conferencing services available now. Students appreciate meeting specialists in their field, employees from well-regarded organizations, and authors.

Online Moodle Best Practices

The First Week is Online and Crucial

It is very hard to “save” a class that starts badly. Research, as well as our experience, consistently shows that the first week is the most important for setting the tone of a course. The beginning of a class is when a vibrant and positive community of inquiry takes root or does not.

When you see that your students are enrolled in the course in the participant photos at the top of your course

Any posts before students are visible in your course are only accessible in these two forums, and will not result in a copy being sent to the student’s email as well.

  • Post a “hello” in Official Announcements, instead of via email.
  • Post a helpful tip in the Help (-ing each other) forum.


Pitfalls To Avoid

  1. Bad Expectation Management: Manage student’s expectations about what the course is going to teach them. Start by finding out what they already know, and what they hope to get out of the course.
  2. Over teaching: New teachers often “over-teach” by designing complex classes in an attempt to compensate for the out-of-touch feeling online work can foster. Keep it Simple Smarty (KISS).
  3. Overworking: Be careful not to burn out by trying to design the perfect course in its entirety. Start simple, get to know your particular class of students and respond to that reality.
  4. Over Designing: Don’t over design. Wait until you meet you students and get a feel for what they already know. Be agile and change your course accordingly.

Here’s a quick start on using our Moodle Courses, and the rest of our Moodle tutorials.

If you can’t find a tutorial that you need, Google it! If you can’t find a good one on Google, you can request a tutorial to be made by emailing Kim Lier at klier@gradschool.marlboro.edu

Shared Pedagogy in Moodle Courses

The design of your Moodle course should provide students with a consistent and usable interface that focuses on learning and clear communication.
The topmost part of your course should look like this.

top of course design

Official Announcements” forum. We all use this to communicate with all our students because it not only sends a copy of posts to every student’s email, but it also keeps a record of your announcements in one place everyone can access. Students cannot post to this forum. Post here in the first two weeks actively.

“Help (-ing Each Other” forum.) This forum is your most important tool to reduce student frustration. Every post goes to everyone. Students can start threads. Post here in the first two weeks actively.

Syllabus: At the top in PDF format. The course description is the same as the one on our public website.

Welcome Video: Instructors are encouraged to make a short welcome video for the first week of the class. A smartphone can be used as long as you hold it close to your face, have good light on your face, and are in a quiet space. Upload to your Marlboro YouTube account as “unlisted” and post.

Assignments: Please use the “date” part of the assignment function in Moodle for every assignment.  We ask this because students need to be able to consistently use Moodle’s calendar to see when all of their assignments are due.

Checklist: The checklist activity is well-loved by students. Checklists show you and the students their progression in the course. Weekly checklists are the most well received by students.

Labels in Moodle show information right in a class, without the user clicking anything.

Links to outside resources: All links should be “descriptive.” Here’s what a  descriptive link is and how to make them. Courses should never use “click here” as linked text, or have bare links that show “http://www…”

 

Forum Tips

forum typeForums: Click “Settings” on all forums and explore the different “Types” of forums. Often a “single simple discussion” is good each week. Or even better is one Standard forum at the top of the class with threads for each week.

 

Forum Prompting

forum prompts

Faculty Speak

We’d love to hear about your successes! Email Kim Lier your key learnings and screenshot examples to klier@gradschool.marlboro.edu

Karen Casekaren case

“When I design a course I try to keep the design as simple as possible.

  • Use the same “conventions” each week.
  • Put course presentations and documents in the course site after the meeting so everything is clear.

I use the R.A.D. Model (Reading, Assignment, Discussion) in Moodle to keep my Labels consistent (See below).”

karen case label example

Peter Crowell

peter crowell
“I have focused mostly on consistency. Always use 14 weeks. Always order the stuff in each week in the same way, every time, like reading and assignments and forums, etc. Here’s a full screenshot of one of my discussion threads.
I also use images as easy ways for a student to navigate to the right week, e.g. for the business plan section, the image is about business plans (See below).”
new yorker comic on business plans

Pat Daniel

pat daniel
“I use color coding (see below) so my students can easily scan a class to see what they need to do. Student feedback suggests that this approach works and that they appreciate the clarity. When I started teaching at Marlboro, I took to heart the advice that the challenge for students should be in the work itself, not in struggling to figure out what the work is, or when it is due.”


The End

 


Online Moodle Best Practices

The First Week is Online and Crucial

It is very hard to “save” a class that starts badly. Research, as well as our experience, consistently shows that the first week is the most important for setting the tone of a course. The beginning of a class is when a vibrant and positive community of inquiry takes root or does not.

When you see that your students are enrolled in the course in the participant photos at the top of your course

Any posts before students are visible in your course are only accessible in these two forums, and will not result in a copy being sent to the student’s email as well.

  • Post a “hello” in Official Announcements, instead of via email.
  • Post a helpful tip in the Help (-ing each other) forum.


Pitfalls To Avoid

  1. Bad Expectation Management: Manage student’s expectations about what the course is going to teach them. Start by finding out what they already know, and what they hope to get out of the course.
  2. Over teaching: New teachers often “over-teach” by designing complex classes in an attempt to compensate for the out-of-touch feeling online work can foster. Keep it Simple Smarty (KISS).
  3. Overworking: Be careful not to burn out by trying to design the perfect course in its entirety. Start simple, get to know your particular class of students and respond to that reality.
  4. Over Designing: Don’t over design. Wait until you meet you students and get a feel for what they already know. Be agile and change your course accordingly.

Here’s a quick start on using our Moodle Courses, and the rest of our Moodle tutorials.

If you can’t find a tutorial that you need, Google it! If you can’t find a good one on Google, you can request a tutorial to be made by emailing Kim Lier at klier@gradschool.marlboro.edu

Shared Pedagogy in Moodle Courses

The design of your Moodle course should provide students with a consistent and usable interface that focuses on learning and clear communication.
The topmost part of your course should look like this.

top of course design

Official Announcements” forum. We all use this to communicate with all our students because it not only sends a copy of posts to every student’s email, but it also keeps a record of your announcements in one place everyone can access. Students cannot post to this forum. Post here in the first two weeks actively.

“Help (-ing Each Other” forum.) This forum is your most important tool to reduce student frustration. Every post goes to everyone. Students can start threads. Post here in the first two weeks actively.

Syllabus: At the top in PDF format. The course description is the same as the one on our public website.

Welcome Video: Instructors are encouraged to make a short welcome video for the first week of the class. A smartphone can be used as long as you hold it close to your face, have good light on your face, and are in a quiet space. Upload to your Marlboro YouTube account as “unlisted” and post.

Assignments: Please use the “date” part of the assignment function in Moodle for every assignment.  We ask this because students need to be able to consistently use Moodle’s calendar to see when all of their assignments are due.

Checklist: The checklist activity is well-loved by students. Checklists show you and the students their progression in the course. Weekly checklists are the most well received by students.

Labels in Moodle show information right in a class, without the user clicking anything.

Links to outside resources: All links should be “descriptive.” Here’s what a  descriptive link is and how to make them. Courses should never use “click here” as linked text, or have bare links that show “http://www…”

 

Forum Tips

forum typeForums: Click “Settings” on all forums and explore the different “Types” of forums. Often a “single simple discussion” is good each week. Or even better is one Standard forum at the top of the class with threads for each week.

 

Forum Prompting

forum prompts

Faculty Speak

We’d love to hear about your successes! Email Kim Lier your key learnings and screenshot examples to klier@gradschool.marlboro.edu

 

Karen Casekaren case

“When I design a course I try to:
          • Keep the design as simple as possible.
          • Use the same “conventions” each week.
          • Put course presentations and documents in the course site after the meeting so everything is clear.

I use a R.A.D. Model (Reading, Assignment, Discussion) in Moodle to keep my Labels consistent (See below).”

karen case label example

Peter Crowell

peter crowell
“I have focused mostly on consistency. Always use 14 weeks. Always order the stuff in each week in the same way, every time, like reading and assignments and forums, etc. Here’s a full screenshot of one of my discussion threads.
I also use images as easy ways for a student to navigate to the right week, e.g. for the business plan section, the image is about business plans (See below).”
new yorker comic on business plans

Pat Daniel

“I use color coding (see below) so my students can easily scan a class to see what they need to do. Student feedback suggests that this approach works and that they appreciate the clarity. When I started teaching at Marlboro, I took to heart the advice that the challenge for students should be in the work itself, not in struggling to figure out what the work is, or when it is due.”


The End

 

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