After a year of learning mostly remote or online, how has the experience been for students at the University of Miami? DLI carried out an exploratory study and invited students from across the Gables and RSMAS campuses for an 80-minute group interview via Zoom.
For this study, the following questions were considered (some but not all have been included here for the purpose of brevity):
What is the student voice of UM’s on-campus and online students since the switch in 2020?
What are student views on EdTech tools presently used in UM courses and are they useful to their learning?
What are their experiences with instructors between the teaching modalities?
Four main themes appeared in the students’ experiences: Consistency, Community, Technology, and Blackboard Ultra.
On Consistency in high-quality online learning, students appreciated:
Chronologically structured courses that align to the syllabus and include the class schedule of learning activities
Clear expectations about camera and participation requirements
Consistency among courses offered by the same college, especially related to: structured course layout, edtech tools, standard assessment requirements and the use of Blackboard Ultra
On Community students mentioned:
The value of building relationships in the online learning community
Collaboration opportunities such as discussions, breakout rooms, and group projects help students feel more connected to their peers - even more so when it is part of the course grade
Students report a higher sense of isolation in ‘hyflex’ courses, especially when participating remotely. We found this was due to lack of attention from professor and in-class students, poor mic and camera setups, and lagging bandwidth.
While students regularly start out-of-class peer communication themselves they found that professors joining this discussion via different communication methods can be beneficial for student engagement and learning
Requiring cameras on and active participation helps many students feel like they’re in class learning with the professor
Highly engaged professors who connect empathetically and are aware of students’ needs positively impact students’ engagement and desire to learn
On Technology, the students reported:
Technical glitches are common, especially in ‘hyflex’ classrooms
Professors who are comfortable teaching online can fix tech issues quickly - most became more comfortable with technology after an initial learning curve although these glitches took up class time
A unanimous recommendation for additional faculty training for EdTech tools
Increased test-anxiety when the Respondus Lockdown Browser and camera are utilized, along with additional technical difficulties. Students were also against this type of test monitoring for privacy related concerns.
User-friendly tools help with learning - students specifically mentioned Zoom, Panopto, and Miro Whiteboard
Access to pre-recorded lectures or recorded live sessions helps students study and complete assignments, especially for students experiencing anxiety or stress during synchronous class time
Video Conferencing tools allowed students to experience a wider variety of high-caliber guest speakers. All students enjoyed the guest speakers and would like to see this more in their future courses.
We showcased a Blackboard Ultra course to students and here’s what they said:
“[Ultra] looks easier to use and less intimidating than Blackboard Learn”
"[Schools] need to be more consistent in the navigation [design] across courses to make learning more efficient"
The ‘Class Conversations’ feature offers a convenient way to ask questions
Added structure and chronological organization in Ultra can benefit student learning
These focus groups were intentionally kept small (2 groups of 3 students) however, DLI believes this is only the beginning of the collaborative journey we hope to create, incorporating faculty and student experiences to enhance high-quality learning at UM. If you’d like to read the full report including recommendations, please request a copy by email: email@example.com
Cite this report: Bair, B., Basanta, B., Dowman, C., Duran, E., Fife, H., & St. Rose, A. (2021). Student voices: Student focus group pilot. The Online Teaching Resource, 1(9).
A strong learning environment requires a blend of both science and art to engage the learners with the content. As a former chess coach, I realize that the methods I used to teach the game are also powerful instructional design tools if applied to other traditional topics of classroom learning. Chess uses a blend of brain-developing skills such as the logic of science and math, the expression of art, and the history of past experiences. By tracking the moves of a match, one is provided a narrative of what happened and why. When the players view a position on the chess board as a problem that must be solved, they begin to imagine combinations of moves to achieve the desired end result.
I have often observed new tournament players getting to the end of a game with just a few remaining pieces and pushing them around with no idea how to win with them. I soon realized there was a better way to provide instruction. As an application of methodology, I used Backwards Design to teach chess by showing the different combinations of the minimum pieces required to win the game. Then the players demonstrated these combinations repeatedly until they confidently knew what pieces they needed to keep to win and what pieces to take from their opponent to make sure they could not lose. From there I taught the game backwards from end-game situations to the middle game to strategies to start with a solid structure. I taught the players to visualize each position and determine whether to employ power or elegant moves. As a result, player confidence quickly grew, and many championships followed.
Shaping the Instructor Mindset
Over the years, educational researchers have produced volumes to build a foundation of human brain development and how humans learn. Incorporating the success of the chess teaching model, I propose that the end goal for designing classroom instruction is to identify what the students need to learn to be more effective at what they can do, and then have them learn and demonstrate it. Approaching traditional classroom topics with this plan in mind, the instructor approaches each lesson with a design to blend the logic of science principles and the expression of art to keep the learners eager to acquire knowledge and increasingly attentive. To accomplish this approach, the teachers must do their homework and remain attuned to the strengths and weaknesses of the students to create a learning environment that meets their needs.
Being a subject matter expert means nothing if the instructor lacks the knowledge of learning theories or strategies on how to communicate this material effectively to the learners. An instructor must understand how people learn to be an effective teacher, and the instructor should have a foundational basis of the social science disciplines such as sociology and psychology (Davis, 1997). The combination of this information provides a framework that allows the instructor to design and deliver learning of their subject matter.
The art of teaching is another blend where the instructor needs to know a combination of what to do, how to do it, and when to do or not do something. This type of instruction drifts away from being scientifically based to a learning from experience model that builds over time. Like the learner, the effective instructor must learn from each situation and reflect upon each success and failure prior to the next lesson. Learning and classroom management models do not fit every situation, and effective instructors must be creative in reaching each learner.
Like chess, the effective instructor builds a repertoire of strategies and knowledge and recognizes when to implement them. In chess, each game begins with a script, but the effective instructor allows for that unexpected moment when they leave the scripted presentational mode for an improvisational one. Every unscripted moment can become a teachable moment in the hands of an effective instructor. When the instructor steps away from the script to address a mistake or to showcase a moment of brilliance, the whole group benefits from the impromptu, real-life demonstration (Reynolds, 2006). By gauging their audience, effective instructors also know when to deviate from the lesson to meet the needs of the group.
The End Game
Thus, learning is both an art and science that builds upon the content knowledge of each instructor’s specialty. To meet the scientific aspects, the instructor must stay current with the latest research and methodologies of learning to frame the learning environment. To meet the artistic aspects, one must continually learn from each situation of practice and critically evaluate what went well and what needs to be improved in order to refine the approach. Effective instructors find ways to help every type and level of learner to achieve the desired outcomes.
In chess, every game is different, and in instruction, every classroom presents a unique learning environment. Degrees do not make an instructor more effective. Brilliant professors with a Ph.D. often struggle until they find that effective zone through teaching experience. Knowing when to leave the science-based script is the art of teaching prowess, thus effective teaching is both and art and a science.
October is Disabilities in the Workplace Awareness Month at UM. Join colleagues various live events to learn more about the resources available and how you can support an inclusive environment for people with disabilities.
In this session, we'll delve into what makes multimedia effective as a learning tool. We'll go over tips and tricks for developing engaging presentations and effective lecture videos. After learning about the principles of designing these learning materials, you'll get the hands-on opportunity to work on your own content with feedback from our team.
Led by Senior Instructional Designer Nick Armas and Multimedia Specialist Alexa Rimart, this virtual event is part of the Distance Learning Institute’s ongoing series, EdTech Café.
This series occurs every third Wednesday & Thursday of the month to assist the University of Miami faculty in creating successful, engaging online courses.
*In preparation for this training session, please have a presentation that you'd like to use in your virtual class or turn into a pre-recorded lecture video ready to work on during the hands-on portion of the workshop.