Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Getting Students to Participate in Online Discussions

You have probably experienced the blank stares from students in the classroom when it is time to have a discussion. It can be a challenge to get students to interact with each other. Online discussion forums present more challenges due to its "virtual" space. Research conducted by Wang & Chen  (2008) suggests that online discussions often fall flat because they are shallow, superficial, and fail to engage students.

From a student's perspective, poorly designed forums can feel like busy work, a pointless exercise that they have to complete in order to get a decent grade. Is it really worth the effort to develop effective online discussions? The answer is yes--online class discussions are an essential tool in developing engagement and mostly importantly, cognitive presence which builds critical thinking skills (Morrison, 2012).

What can we do to create effective online discussions? The instructional design of the course, or how it is set-up is critical. Course discussions are most successful when they are embedded into the design of the course and are tied to the learning objectives or outcomes. Below are some key components to effective online discussions.

  1. A solid course design strategy where discussion forums support the learning objectives will help the students to see that they are a meaningful activity. The ITRC can provide assistance with designing this type of course. In addition, the Quality Matters Rubric provides a road map to effective course design.
  2. Clear and concise guidelines and expectations for the students are important. Be consistent with due dates and posting requirements. State how participation will affect the student's overall grade. In the instructions for the discussion forum include a sentence that states the purpose for the discussion, thus alleviating the feeling that it is pointless busy work. Morrison (2012) provides some additional tips for discussion guidelines.
  3. A skilled facilitator or moderator will make all the difference in the quality of the discussion. 
  4. Well constructed topics or questions are critical.
  5. An assessment component like a rubric should be used for giving students feedback on their posts.
There is much upfront effort required to set the stage for effective online discussions, even before the first discussion is opened, yet it is well worth the effort if it is done right. Online discussions have tremendous potential to promote critical thinking skills, force students to engage with the content, use higher order thinking skills, and construct new knowledge (Morrison, 2012). Numerous studies suggest it is the act of writing, thinking about and composing a text-based post that encourages students to engage their higher order thinking skills (Wang & Chen, 2008).

Morrison, D. (June 22, 2012). How to Get Students to Participate in Online Discussions. Online Learning Insights.

Wang Y. & Victor Der-Thang Chen (2008). Essential Elements in Designing Online Discussions to Promote Cognitive Presence, Journal of Asynchronous Communication. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 3-4 (12).

Wade, D. A., Bentley, J. P. H., & Waters, S. H. (2006). Twenty guidelines for successful threaded discussions: A learning environment approach. Distance Learning, 3(3), 1-8.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Technology is Changing the Way Students Study

Gone are the days when students camp out in the library all night to write research papers and study for their midterms and finals. Instead, students are in their residence halls and apartments with a laptop or mobile device.

Students consider laptops to be their most important resource for studying. Based on a survey conducted by McGraw-Hill Education (2016),  students consider their laptops to be the most important resource available to them for studying. Twenty-two percent of survey respondents find the ability to study on their mobile devices "extremely important," and mobility continues to be student's favorite aspect of digital learning technology. Laptops make tasks such as taking notes simpler than using a notebook and pen for class.

One example of how students are using technology to study can be found on student blogger Sabrina Leung's post on the Students Toolbox website. She said that she uses OneNote to organize and color-code her class notes, bring PowerPoint outlines into her notes, and record audio that is synced with the notes she typed. This feature allows students to click the play button next to a particular bullet point and OneNote will play the audio associated with that note. She also uses the Apple Preview app to add textboxes and highlighting to annotate her notes, lecture handouts, and pdf documents. For PC users there are other apps available such as WondersharePDFelement available.

Technology plays an important role in students' study practices. Over 70% of the survey respondents find it at least moderately important to study on mobile electronic devices, and they report that technology is most helpful with doing homework (81%) or preparing for exams and tests (79%). Respondents most strongly agreed that technology increases their engagement with course materials (71%), professors (58%), and the college community (51%).

Students believe that digital learning technology helps them learn. Eight-one percent (81%) of the survey respondents agree that technology improves their grades and allows them to spend more time studying through increased accessibility to the course materials and improved efficiency. Students are using apps on their mobile devices as class and homework planners, annotation devices for PDF's, document scanners, citation generators, creation of flashcards, and as a tool for learning other languages.

Students want the learning platform to be adaptable to their needs. Nearly all students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that digital learning technology should be adaptive to their learning style (89%). About half indicated that being able to personalize the technology like they do in social media feeds is very or extremely important (49%). Two thirds report that online quizzes and adaptive learning technology are very or extremely helpful in retention of the materials (66%).

Nearly all students surveyed (91%) reported that their study experience at home is contingent on access to Wi-Fi, personal devices, and digital learning platforms. Over half of the respondents indicated similar contingencies at the library.

For the instructors preparing the materials in the digital learning system, it is useful to know what types of technology students prefer to use. The chart below illustrates the survey results.

Cortez, M. B. (2017, Jun. 9). 3 ways technology is changing studying. EdTech.

Heath, A. (2016, Aug. 15). 12 apps that every student should have. Business Insider.

Leung, S. (2016, Sept. 20). How I take notes for lectures and tutorials. Students Toolbox.

McGraw-Hill Education. (2016, October). 2016 Digital Study Trends Survey. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tips for Lecture Capture - It Doesn't Have to Be Complicated!

Whether you are flipping your courses, creating videos to help your students understand specific concepts, teaching a fully online course, or recording lectures for exam review and/or assignment feedback, these tips can make producing your own lecture much easier and effective.

  1.  Record in an optimum location:  When setting up a space for good video and audio recording, sound dampening is the key. You want to choose a space that will not collect noise from outside the room such as a toilet flushing (no joke - I really have heard that on an instructor video), machines such as elevators or air conditioning, or voices from next door or in the hall. Sometimes you cannot entirely avoid these factors but most can be easily addressed. The ITRC has a room specifically set-up for video and audio recording which is available to all faculty. Just call the ITRC at 208-282-5880 to schedule a time to use it.
  2. Invest in a microphone. Do not rely on the microphone or video camera integrated into your computer. Using the on-board microphone can result in muffled or low sound. Our recommendation is that you use a headset with a microphone attached so that mic is right by your mouth. You could also use a "boom mic" which also plugs into your computer via a USB port but can be placed near you so that the best sound is recorded.
  3. Lighting. Many instructor-produced videos show a person hunched over their laptop with no additional lighting so that the only light you see is the glare of the monitor on their face. With the simple addition of a reading light turned toward your face, you will be illuminated and students will have a clear view of you as you speak. Record a 30 second test video and play it back to see if the lighting and sound are sufficient.
  4. Reconsider being a "talking head". Do you really need to appear in the video or will it just be a distraction from the content of the video? In the situations where a "talking head" is essential such as an introduction video to a course, contact the ITRC and we will arrange for our "camera crew" to video you. They will also assist you with editing the video for the purpose of creating a quality video that you can use every semester to introduce yourself to your students.
  5. Keep Your Recording Devise Steady. You don't need to use a fancy camera to create a video - your mobile device such as your tablet or phone may already have an exceptional camera built into it. Keep these bullets in mind when recording:
    1. Find a way to stabilize the recording device. If you are using your smartphone or tablet, get a tripod for it. At the very least, stabilize the device against books or rocks. 
    2. Set your device to record horizontally. Video that is recorded with the vertical setting may not look good when it is played on a desktop platform.
    3. If your phone or device allows you to do so, flip the camera image around so you can see yourself to make sure that it is positioned correctly. This step is sort of like taking a "selfie". We all know a "selfie" is better when the device is held above you and pointed down rather than holding it below you and pointing upward to your chin.
  6. If possible, avoid using the camera built into your laptop computer. If the camera is positioned at the bottom of your device it can result in the viewers basically looking up your nostrils. Or a camera that is at chest level will result in a video with your head cut off. If you must use your on-board camera, position the laptop on a stack of books so that it is actually pointing directly at you. The best solution would be to purchase a low-cost Logitech webcam that can be attached by a cable to a USB port on your computer. The webcam can be clipped or placed in a spot that will provide your viewers with the best image possible.
  7. Consider Your Recording Software Options. If you are using your smartphone or tablet to record videos, it probably already includes software to handle the capture. To take your production a step further, you will need additional software such as the following:
    1. Screencast-O-Matic is a free option that allows you to record up to 15 minutes and save your recording as a file or post it to YouTube. A $15 per year "pro" version expands your options and allows you to make longer recordings.
    2. TechSmith Camtasia is much more than a screen recorder. It allows you to edit your videos, caption them, split them in order to add external media and produce them as an mp4 file that can either posted directly to your course, loaded on YouTube, or loaded to your Google Drive. The ITRC offers a workshop on how to use Camtasia with participants receiving a free Camtasia license for their PC or Mac.
  8. Don't Stress About Editing Your Videos. Editing scares a lot of people who do not consider themselves to be tech savvy. We make the following suggestions for video recording:
    1. Keep your videos at two to five minutes in length so that if you do make a mistake, it is easy to re-record the lecture without a huge investment of time. It is a lot easier to delete your first attempt and produce another three-minute recording that it is to spend 30 minutes trying to edit out all the "ums" and "ahs" in a longer recording.
    2. Another advantage to shorter videos are that students are more likely to watch them all the way through so that the concepts that are presented are more likely to be retained. 
    3. Chunking up your material or cutting your content into very small consumable bits will result in more students actually watching your videos and less frustration for you in the final production of the video.
  9. Remember Accessibility. It is paramount that we produce instructional materials that are accessible to all students regardless of their disabilities. 
    1. Software like Camtasia makes it relatively easy to import your video script and then time it to your video so that closed captioning is available. 
    2. Or you can upload your video to YouTube and have it apply their automatic transcription to the audio. However, this would only be a starting point because the captions will need to be edited for punctuation, sentence structure and words that did not get captioned correctly. You can do this editing directly in the YouTube caption editor or download the captions into a caption editor such as Camtasia.
    3. Contact the ITRC for information on the FREE captioning services that we provide.
  10. And lastly, plan before you record. Write out what you want to say, and practice your script to see how long your video will be so that you know if it needs to be "chunked" into smaller pieces. Invest in the equipment necessary to produce a quality video that your students will want to watch. Keep in mind that the ITRC is available to provide technical assistance with the recording of your lectures.
 The ITRC has the following instructional videos available:

Schaffhauser, D. (5/17/17). 8 tips for lecture capture on a shoestring. Campus Technology. To view this article close the advertisement window that pops up and scroll past the advertisements at the top of the page.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Instructional Technologist and Faculty Collaboration

The Instructional Technology Resource Center (ITRC) provides not only assistance with Moodle and other educational tools but they also have a team of experienced technologists who can help faculty design a new online course or revamp an existing one.

During course development, technologists and content experts spend months together to meet, brainstorm, and exchange ideas in order to build or edit course material. In order to make this collaboration work, faculty need to be willing to let their guard down and trust that the technologist is there to assist them and not tell them what to put into their course.

With regard to the technologist and faculty collaboration, one faculty member said, "As an instructor, you feel like you own that classroom and the classroom interaction, but if you're willing to let your guard down a bit, reassess and have someone challenge you, I really do think it helps" (Tate, 2017).

There are many methods for creating successful collaboration teams. A few of these methods are described below.
  • Create a Perfect Match: Establish a relationship and rapport with one of the instructional technologists and work with them through the entire project so that there is consistency. If you do not like a particular approach or you feel conflict, ask to work with another technologist.
  • Let Your Guard Down: Many instructors still have never taught an online course, but now are required to teach one. That situation may make the instructor feel pressured and could lead to a shaky start with the technologist/faculty collaboration. Rest assured that the instructional technologists in the ITRC will patiently acclimate you to the online teaching environment. They can provide examples of successful online courses and assist with the building of a new course without taking over the class and materials. Instructional technologists are there to make the faculty member's job easier and to take the stress out of developing a new course.
  • Clarify Roles: The most common cause of strife between instructional technologists and subject matter experts comes from a misunderstanding about what each person's role is and what is expected (Tate, 2017). In order to eliminate this strife, keep in mind that both people are professionals with complementary skills and expertise. Instructional technologists will offer suggestions and ideas, but they know that ultimately, the instructor gets the final say.
  • Communicate: The instructor needs to familiarize the technologist with their teaching approach, goals, concerns, and priorities. This will enable the technologist to make recommendations that will work best. There may be some initial tension when the technologist suggests changes to a faculty member's teaching methods or course structure but keep in mind that the technologist wants what the faculty member wants--the best learning experience possible. When the subject matter expert is responsive to a technologist's feedback, it can be a constructive experience for everyone involved (Tate, 2017).
  • Account for Time: Development of an online course can take months and sometimes multiple semesters. The technologist and instructor should set a goal for the amount of time that they are willing to invest in the course. This will reduce tension by being clear about the expectations of both parties.
To learn more about the Instructional Technologists at Idaho State University, visit the ITRC staff page.
Tate, E. (May 3, 2017). Easing Instructional Designer-Faculty Conflicts. Inside Higher Ed.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Contract Cheating - What We Should Do About It

How Contract Cheating Works

Contract cheating providers make students believe that if they use the services they are being smart students who will deliver what their professors want such as a 10 page paper or an excellent score on the final exam. Students may also believe that if they use these services, they will be able to deliver what their parents want (good grades) and what employers want (a degree) (Gallant, Oct. 5, 2016).

Why Do Students Use Contract Cheating Services?

The underlying reasons may be complex and are shaped by individual and situational factors, but perhaps at the heart of it, contract cheating providers deliver services that we do not -“help” on their academic work 24 hours per day, 7 days a week (Gallant). Students often do not work on their assignments between 9 and 7, Monday-Thursday and 9 to 2 on Fridays, when the Student Success Center offers assistance in the Writing and Tutoring Center. So where else can students go when they need help?

Gallant (2016) wrote that students often use Google to find things and when she Googled “essay writing help”, the 7th hit was “strategies for essay writing” from Harvard’s Writing Center and the 25th hit was Purdue’s Owl site, but the rest of the hits were all possible contract cheating sites.

Essay “help” is just the beginning. Many of these contract cheating companies or freelancers, will offer to take exams or entire courses for your students (whether online or in person). Be aware that contract cheating providers exist, they exist to serve your students, and your students are using them. Brad Wolverton, in “The New Economy of Cheating” (Chronicle of Higher Education, August 28, 2016, subscription required), estimates that the annual revenue for one of the largest contract cheating providers is “in the millions”. The UK’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) “Plagiarism in Higher Education” (August 2016) report also posits that the industry is expansive, likely involving thousands of students every year (Gallant).

Should We Do Something About It?

We must do something about it! Gallant (2016) argued that this type of fraud perpetrated on the public, on employers, and on the government, could crash the knowledge economy. The knowledge economy is built on education credentials, specifically who has the grades and certifications needed to fill the jobs that fuel the economy. If these grades and certifications are fraudulent, the jobs are filled by incompetent people at best, and ethically challenged people at worst (Gallant).

Survey studies have found that people who cheat in school are more likely to cheat at work, and since the rates of cheating are high (as high as 41% in some studies), that means that at least 41% of those being hired have cheated in school. And since less than 1% of students at most schools are reported for cheating, that means that at least 40% of new graduates being hired have learned that cheating is a strategy for success, perhaps even for “excellence” (Gallant).

If students are taking grants and loans from the government to pay others to do their work for them, then our taxpayer dollars are being squandered. According to Gallant, we should be morally outraged about the fraud perpetrated by these contract cheating providers and the students who use them.

What Can We Do About It?

  • Respond to cheating when it is detected in order to leverage it as a teachable moment and to ebb the normalizing of the practice.
  • Refer students to the academic and language support services available through the Student Success Center so that they don't feel the need to do business with contract cheating providers.
  • Create your own bank of questions for exams rather than relying on question banks written by the textbook publishers. These test banks are often available on the internet and available for purchase or for free.
  • Utilize authentic and alternative assessments and link them to solid learning objectives and integrity standards.
  • Employ methods to ensure that the people taking your classes and exams are the same people enrolled in the class.

Join the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating

October 19th is Carnegie's Global Ethics Day. Join and receive an Institutional Toolkit with more specific tips and ideas for preventing and detecting contract cheating.

Click for more information about Contract Cheating visit the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. There are links to government reports, news reports, presentations, and research.

Information for this article is taken from:
Gallup, T. B. (Oct. 5, 2016). "We need a hero! How Contract Cheating Works". WCET. Retrieved from

Monday, August 29, 2016

Student Dependence on Technology - Interesting Facts

Today's college student has become increasingly dependent on technology which has changed the way colleges and universities go about recruiting new students and keeping them engaged.

Presta has gathered information from Mashable, Pew Internet, The Chronicle, Science Daily, Campus Tech and other reputable sources to create an infographic that reveals some interesting facts about today's modern college students and their dependence on technology. Below are just a few of those facts.

College Students and Technology

  • 73% of college students (sample size of 500) said that they cannot study without technology.
  • 38% of students cannot go more than 10 minutes without checking their email, tablet, laptop, or smartphone.
  • 70% of students use keyboards to take notes instead of pen and paper
  • 91% of students used email to communicate with their instructors
  • Digital textbooks cost approximately 40% less than printed textbooks

The Future of the Classroom

Textbooks and notebooks are not the only items being taken over by technology on the college campus. Online courses are becoming an increasingly popular option.
  • 12 million college students currently take one or more classes online with the figure expected to exceed 22 million in 5 years.
Click here for the full Modern College Student Infographic

Monday, August 1, 2016

Standards for Online Learning

Are you aware that there are regulatory standards to which online programs in educational institutions are held? From the federal government to national reciprocity agreements to regional accreditation agencies, universities that wish to offer online programming are held to a complex set of standards.

Distance Education vs. Correspondence as Defined by Federal Regulation

Federal law defines "distance education" and "correspondence" in section 600.2 of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations as the following:

 Distance education means education that uses one or more of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (4) of this definition to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously. The technologies may include: (1) The internet; (2) One-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices; (3) Audio conferencing; or (4) Video cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, if the cassettes, DVDs, or CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with any of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (3) of this definition.

Correspondence course: (1) A course provided by an institution under which the institution provides instructional materials, by mail or electronic transmission, including examinations on the materials, to students who are separated from the instructor. Interaction between the instructor and student is limited, is not regular and substantive, and is primarily initiated by the student. Correspondence courses are typically self-paced. (2) If a course is part correspondence and part residential training, the Secretary considers the course to be a correspondence course. (3) A correspondence course is not distance education.

This distinction is important because according to Section 102 (a)(3)(B) of the U.S. Department of Education, an institution is not eligible to participate in the Title IV programs if 50% or more of its students were enrolled in correspondence courses during its latest complete award year. "So, if an institution of higher education wants to engage heavily in online learning, it behooves the institution to make sure it is truly providing 'distance education' and not 'correspondence courses' or else they risk losing federal financial aid" (Becker, 2016). The key is that there is "regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor" (DEA).

State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA)

Institutions that offer online courses and/or programs to out-of-state students must comply with consumer protection laws in the states where those out-of-state students reside. To avoid having 50 different laws, the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) was formed. Currently there are 34 states participating in SARA.

SARA has established guidelines for the evaluation of distance education that were developed by the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC) in 2011. Those guidelines are a set of 9 principles that ensure that course design and delivery supports student to student and faculty to student interaction.

Each institution must indicate which states they are authorized to offer distance education courses in. For a list of the states that Idaho State University is authorized to serve visit the eISU page: eISU States Served.

Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Principles

1. Online learning is appropriate to the institution's mission and purposes.
2. The institution's plans for developing, sustaining, and, if appropriate, expanding online learning offerings are integrated into its regular planning and evaluation process.
3. Online learning is incorporated into the institution's systems of governance and academic oversight.
4. Curricula for the institution's online learning offerings are coherent, cohesive, and comparable in academic rigor to programs offered in traditional instructional formats.
5. The institution evaluates the effectiveness of its online learning offerings, including the extent to which the online learning goals are achieved, and uses the results of it evaluations to enhance the attainment of the goals.
6. Faculty responsible for delivering the online learning curricula are evaluating the students' success in achieving the online learning goals are appropriately qualified and effectively supported.
7. The institution provides effective student and academic services to support students enrolled in online learning offerings.
8. The institution provides sufficient resources to support, and if appropriate, expand its online learning offerings.
9. The institution assures the integrity of its online offerings.


The federal regulations, state reciprocity agreement guidelines, and expectations of accrediting agencies provide a comprehensive set of standards, guidelines, principles, and expectations for distance learning. The requirements for student and instructor engagement are quite comprehensive.

Institutions of higher learning will be held accountable for the quality of their online offerings. Those who are negligent may face complaints and/or lawsuits like the one recently filed by students at George Washington University.


Becker, J. (2016, April 17). The rules of engagement for online learning. Retrieved from 

Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (C-RAC) (2011). Interregional guidelines for the evaluation of distance education. 

Eberhardt, R. (2016, April 13). Former students file class action lawsuit over quality of online program. The GW Hatchet.

U.S. Government Publishing Office (2016, June 27). Electronic code of federal regulations.