Faculty who are involved in the design of new programs need to consider, among other issues, how best to deliver that Pam_Nadashprogram for the target audience.Several of our graduate programs offer students the opportunity to complete their degrees online, and one of the more recent is the Management of Aging Services Masters Program in Gerontology, which began offering a degree in 2003. The relationship between online delivery and the needs of students interested in pursuing such a degree is the focus of a article (soon- to-be published in Gerontology & Geriatrics Education) by Pam Nadash, Assistant Professor of Gerontology, as she considers the program’s design and data on the experience of the program’s early student cohorts.

Pam points out that, with an aging population in the US, there is an increasing demand for trained professionals in the field, yet the number of gerontology and geriatrics programs is declining.  A particular need is for further education for mid-career professionals seeking career advancement and others interested in making a career change, the group that was identified as the target audience for the MAS program.  And because many such prospective students are limited in their ability to take a classroom-based program by their location or schedules, it makes sense to offer a program online.

The MAS program shares several design considerations with other online programs.  One was how the online technology can be used not only to provide effective instruction to students who are not on campus but also to improve on that instruction. This was achieved, in part, by embracing a variety of pedagogical techniques—including short, recorded lectures as one component of the learning experience, while using online discussions and other forms of interaction to supplement them and to encourage students to help each other learn.  Synchronous online chats function as a means of checking knowledge acquisition rather than as a form of knowledge transfer.

Another consideration was how to build community among students, often a problem in online learning.  Students typically desire personal contact and support. While elements of the course structure such as online discussions and synchronous chats have helped to build cohesiveness among the students, the program has supplemented such work with several elements: online tools such as MAS info-share, an online professional networking site for all students, faculty, and alumni, which is used to share updates and information; face-to-face gatherings such as an annual luncheon; and a newsletter.

Yet another consideration was how to ensure that all faculty were ready to meet the challenges of teaching in an online environment, particularly as the university has changed learning management systems.  In addition to IT support, one of the program’s co-directors has piloted the new software and become the unofficial trainer for instructors, who subsequently assist their students.

A survey of faculty and students conducted in conjunction with the program’s recent AQUAD review shows that both faculty and students are generally very satisfied with the program as a whole and with the online mode of course delivery. In particular, students pointed with improvements in their communication skills, both oral and written, their ability to manage time, and their work as part of team as specific skills that they were able to develop in the online environment.

Pam concludes that “The success of the MAS Masters Program demonstrates that an online program is a viable means of expanding gerontological education to a broader audience of professionals and those who wish to pursue a career in the administration of aging services [offering] a promising and feasible solution to the problem posed by expanding global needs for expertise in the management of aging services.”

Posted by: Ellie Kutz | October 15, 2012

What’s New in Fall 2012: Overview

Welcome to our annual “What’s New” issue, in which we report on recent developments related to using technology for teaching and scholarship at UMass Boston.

The most important change in our campus edtech environment this fall involves the migration of our learning management system from Blackboard Vista to Blackboard Learn 9.1 and the first article of this issue describes the migration process that is now underway.   For faculty who are learning to use Bb Learn and increasing their use of other educational technology tools, the campus has subscribed to a new support service, Atomic Learning, and we describe that as well.  Some faculty have been developing new practices in using Blackboard Vista, and others have already been involved in this fall’s BB Learn pilot, and we also report on the faculty experiences that were shared at a recent CIT/Edtech forum.

IT’s Educational Technology Division often organizes and supports new projects, and we describe the pilot project it is co-sponsoring with the library this semester in which faculty are exploring the use of iPads in the Classroom.

While we are keeping our own campus up-to-date in the use of educational technologies, it’s helpful to know how we compare to other campuses and new studies, like the one from Inside Higher Ed that we report on in this issue, can offer a broader picture of how digital technologies are impacting the work and the attitudes of faculty across institutions.

Finally, there have been a few changes in staff and roles and services within our own division, and we’ll give you an update on those as well.

As you’ll see the edtech staff has been working hard on several fronts, but the Blackboard migration has been particularly demanding in ways that aren’t always seen by those of us who are faculty users, and I’d like to give my personal thanks to Gene Shwalb and Mark Lewis who have been leading the migration effort for online and web-enhanced faculty, to our LMS administrators Kalindi Mehta and Peter Tofuri who put in long hours in the weeks before the semester started and over Labor Day weekend getting all of the new BB Learn sections set up in time for classes, and to all of the instructional designers who worked hard to clean up the material that had been migrated from Blackboard Vista and make it ready for use in the new BB Learn course shells.

Posted by: Gene Shwalb | October 15, 2012

A New Teaching Platform: The Migration to Blackboard Learn

This semester, 4600 students taking 170 courses taught by 120 instructors are participating in the pilot of a new learning management system: Blackboard Learn 9.1. The UMass campuses did not choose to make a change from Blackboard Vista. Rather Blackboard, which had purchased its competitor WebCT and renamed it Blackboard Vista a few years ago, decided to end support for Blackboard Vista as of January 2014. The UMass system decided to select Blackboard’s own product, Blackboard Learn 9.1 (Bb Learn) as a replacement. So the change to Blackboard Learn is a migration not an upgrade. And one that we must make over the next couple of semesters.

The Migration Process

There is an automated process by which Blackboard Vista course content is migrated to a Blackboard Learn course. However, the result is not one that we consider suitable for instructor use. Our instructional design team has been performing an extensive post-migration “cleanup” before enrolling the instructor in a “development” version of their course that the instructor can then edit. That version of the course is then copied into the live version in which student enrollment is entered from Wiser.  It is the “cleanup” process that makes early adoption a necessity.

The Migration Schedule

Starting this fall, all new instructors are being trained in Bb Learn and all new courses are being developed in the new LMS, while courses that have been offered in Blackboard Vista will be migrated according to the following schedule:

  • Fall 2012—Pilot with faculty volunteers
  • Winter 2013—All courses that weren’t taught in Bb Learn in Fall 2012 and won’t be offered again in Spring 2013 or Fall 2013
  • Spring 2013—All courses that weren’t taught in Bb Learn in Fall 2012 and are offered only in the spring semester.
  • Summer 2013—All courses that haven’t yet been taught in Bb Learn and won’t be offered in Fall 2013.
  • Fall 2013—All remaining courses.

If you teach web-enhanced courses, you will receive an inquiry from your edtech liaison shortly about Spring 2013 courses to be migrated and will need to fill out a form for each course that should be part of the Spring 2013 migration.  Fully-online courses will generally be migrated on the same schedule, but I’ll handle the process separately. Read More…

Posted by: Paula Dinneen | October 15, 2012

New Support: Atomic Learning

What is Atomic Learning and why should it matter to UMass Boston faculty?

Atomic Learning is a library of thousands of short, easy-to-understand, video software tutorials designed to help you and your students learn to use hundreds of different technology tools and programs.

UMass Boston faculty who are working with new educational technology tools and platforms such as Blackboard Learn often need immediate answers to their questions  Traditional workshops can’t fit the schedules of all faculty.  And a one-size-fits-all workshop doesn’t necessarily address the questions that come up for individual faculty users. At the same time, faculty are often concerned about having to use class time to show students how to use Blackboard or other tools.

UMass Boston has now partnered with Atomic Learning to provide all faculty, staff and students access to the highest quality technology training and support resources available. And because these resources are available resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—individuals can get the instruction they need, exactly when and where they need it.

Atomic Learning offers three types of resources

  • Tutorials that guide the use of specific tools such as Blackboard Learn 9.1 for faculty and for students, or answer particular questions about those tools—how to create a question set in Blackboard, how to add an author to a WordPress blog.
  • Projects that guide users to apply the use of a tool or tools to completing a larger activity—creating a photobook in Iphoto, reporting on historical events in the persona of an eyewitness with a blog, creating an iMovie for iPad of a kitchen science project.
  • Workshops on larger topics—some for students, such as one on avoiding plagiarism that offers both principles of citation and instructions for the use of online tools for working with citation and bibliography and other for working with APA or MLA style;  and some for faculty, such as creating an effective online discussion.

In addition, Atomic Learning offers a video storytelling guide, as well as  a “my training” feature with self-assessments that will allow faculty to assign or recommend particular modules to their students as individuals or to the class. Read More…

How are faculty expanding their uses of Blackboard in their teaching?

In a recent CIT/EdTech Forum on”Creative Teaching with Blackboard,” Dennis Debay (Mathematics) and student tutor Rob Moray shared the ways in which they have been using Blackboard discussions  in Math 114, Quantitative Reasoning.  Blackboard discussions provide a space where students can do collaborative problem-solving, contribute to each others’ reasoning, and learn to focus on how one might reason through complex problems vs. focusing narrowly on right answers.

Many students in this entry-level general education course have avoided math courses or have been away from math for a long time, and Dennis’s concerns are to help them see how math can be relevant to their lives and let them better understand the world around them, to help them build their capacity for mathematical reasoning vs. focusing only on getting the correct solution to a problem, and to help them build a supportive community and contribute to each others’ reasoning through collaborative problem-solving.    To support these goals, Dennis has been using the Blackboard discussion space to have students respond to prompts that might ask them, for example, to compare alternative ways of setting LeBron James’s salary.

Students post their responses and respond to others’ posts as an alternative to the “exit ticket” prompts that Dennis used to give at the end of each class—with written responses that only he and the tutors would see.  Now students, instead of working in isolation, can see each others’  thinking and make alternative suggestions or affirm the connections between others’ thinking and their own.

Dennis finds that students gain confidence from seeing the thinking and learning processes of others who are also learning the material for the first time, and they find a community of support and a safe place to ask questions.  Their Blackboard exchanges have led them to form new groups in class and to appreciate a collaborative problem-solving process that is aimed at understanding rather than just a correct answer.   And at the same time, they are acquiring some of the discourse of mathematics that will support their future work in this discipline.

Dennis plans to build on this approach, considering ways to better motivate student participation and considering other tools that can contribute to such sharing (such as having students create and upload videos in which they both show and describe their process  of reasoning about a problem).  But he has already demonstrated how the Blackboard discussion space can contribute to learning in mathematics.

A video of an earlier version of this presentation can be found in the May 2012 CIT/EdTech Conference Proceedings Session 1.4 starting at minute 25:45.

Posted by: Ellie Kutz | October 15, 2012

New Teaching Contexts: Transitioning to Blackboard Learn

As the campus migrates from Blackboard Vista to Blackboard Learn 9.1 as its learning management system, there is much that we can from those who are participating in the pilot this fall.

Lisa Buenaventura (Asian American Studies, Leadership in Higher Education), who participated with Dennis DeBay in the October 3 CIT/EdTech forum on “Creative Teaching with Blackboard,”  shared with us her experience in moving from Blackboard Vista to Blackboard Learn 9.1 for her undergraduate Introduction to Asian American Studies and her graduate course on The Impact of College on Students for the doctoral program in Higher Education.

Lisa, an experienced user of learning management systems (with prior experience teaching with Angel as well as Blackboard Vista) shared  what she discovered about structuring the new site to meet her different pedagogical purposes in different courses, offering a progress report on her own transition to teaching in this new online environment.

Lisa offered several key elements of her own process:

  • Thinking  first about the affordances of a learning management system in general—the things she wanted to use it for pedagogically and the common components that she could draw on—before focusing on the “how-to” for the new system
  • Building content online within the new Bb Learn course shell, structuring its available components to suit her desired course structure and teaching style and considering how it could help her evaluate student learning and support outcomes assessment (particularly with rubrics).
  • Only then working with materials transferred from her courses in Bb Vista, integrating them into her new Bb structure rather than trying to make the new version a replica of the old.
  • Building in ways to assist students in using the new site and to ease the confusion for those who are simultaneously enrolled in courses using Bb Vista and Bb Learn.

While the transition has demanded extra effort on her part, Lisa has found a number of things to like about Bb Learn.

  • She can now design her own content menu.  The side navigation bar allows her to select the course components and tools that are most appropriate to her teaching, to order them in any way she wants (more flexible than the Vista toolbar), and to select some but make them invisible to students until she is ready to use them.
  • The site offers a wiki as well as the blog feature that she has been using for weekly reflective journals, while continuing to offer threaded discussion.
  • The rubric feature, which helps her evaluate student learning, is more flexible.  Rubrics can now be seen outside of the assignment dropbox, and it is possible to add comments within each cell of a rubric as well as at the bottom.
  • Students can more easily share work, and a space for group work allows students to share work that doesn’t have to be available to other students.

Lisa is finding that, unlike Bb Vista, Bb Learn functions less as just a repository for course materials but offers a more flexible and dynamic teaching site.  While our instructional designers have created a suggested template for UMass Boston courses, there are other choices that can be made depending on one’s teaching style—for a more activity-based vs. lecture-based course, for example. Having ambitiously opted for maximum choice, she has found that she is sometimes faced with five different ways to accomplish the same thing and has to figure out what ways will work best for her own teaching.  She doesn’t recommend this for everyone, but she does find that she is giving more thought to teaching, evaluation, and student engagement as a result.

We appreciated the opportunity to learn from Lisa’s experience and were encouraged by her sense that Bb Learn offers the campus a more flexible teaching platform.

Posted by: Mary Simone | October 15, 2012

New Projects: iPads in the Classroom

Have you seen the iPad cart for students being wheeled around campus?  The cart is associated with the iPads in the Classroom pilot project—an exploratory project to discover the various ways in which faculty might use iPads in their teaching.

Last May, the IT Division of Education Technology and the Joseph P. Healey Library launched a call for proposals from faculty for using iPads in their classroom teaching and provided resources for creating a mobile iPad lab for classroom use. From these proposals, eleven faculty and staff were selected to participate in the iPad in the Classroom program this fall at UMass Boston.

Participants represent a range of departments and include Amy Todd, Anthropology;  Victoria Kingsley and Rebecca Romanow, English; Marc Prou, Africana Studies; Lynn Tirrell, Philosophy;  Susan Mraz, Hispanic Studies; Mark Pawlak,  Academic Support and Mathematics; Catherine Mazza, Art; David Patterson, Music; and Brian Rogan, Physics.  Janet Stewart, from the Healey Library is also participating to evaluate the iPad as an ebook reader and its usefulness in accessing the library’s online resources .  Participants will share their unique ideas about how to use the iPad as a teaching and learning tool, how to create curriculum materials with iBooks Author, and how to use the  iPad as an eBook for a course.

An IT liaison has been assigned to each faculty project to offer technology support for the academic year, relevant apps, both free and paid, have been installed on faculty iPads.   A training consultation to get faculty started with relevant apps and a kick-off breakfast launched this year’s project.

An iPad cart, equipped with 14 iPads for student use with course-specific apps installed is now being delivered to the classrooms by IT staff from the McCormack and Wheatley Media Labs on a weekly timetable.  Starting in mid October, the Healey Library will also make iPads available on reserve for students who are registered in courses using the iPad cart.

The  iPad in the Classroom blog provides a space for ongoing project updates and for the sharing of faculty experiences and concerns.  The blog suggests that some concerns thus far have been technical and logistical, as staff manage the iPad cart and faculty work out how to use various apps and integrate them with other software. But as faculty share information about apps that support their teaching, they are beginning to move from dealing with the technology to sharing pedagogical practices.

Thus far participants are finding students enthusiastic while they themselves are appreciating the opportunity to explore the possibilities presented by this mobile technology.

You can learn more about the ongoing conversation among project participants and IT staff by visiting the blog and you can subscribe to the blog to receive announcements about upcoming events.  We’ll follow up with more information about individual projects in a later issue of the newsletter.

Posted by: Ellie Kutz | October 15, 2012

New Studies: Digital Faculty

How do you feel about the challenges created when the digital teaching environment at UMass Boston keeps changing so rapidly—when you’ve finally become comfortable with using Blackboard Vista course environment and must now change to Blackboard Learn, or you see iPads being used in others’ classes when you haven’t even decided whether to purchase a tablet for your own use?  If your feelings about these changes are mixed, you are not alone.

Inside Higher Ed recently issued a two-part report on its survey of faculty attitudes about the digital teaching environment that is reshaping much of our work. The first part, Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, published in June 2012, asked the overarching question: “On balance, does the prospect of online education excite or frighten you?” Nearly 60% of the over 4500 faculty surveyed were more fearful than excited.  But it’s not surprising that a majority of those faculty who were actually teaching in an online or blended environment felt more excitement than fear.

Here at UMass Boston, where Blackboard is being used for a majority of our courses, while many others use wikis and blogs, it seems that our faculty have been more comfortable about teaching online or supporting their face-to-face courses with online platforms.  But two concerns raised by faculty in the study, the assessing the quality of courses and of students’ online learning, are very much alive here: the first was the focus of a 2009 Faculty Council Task Force report on the quality of e-learning, and concerns about assessing students’ learning are reflected in the current discussions of the Academic Technology Committee.

The second installment of the Inside Higher Ed report, Digital Faculty: Professors and Technology (published in September), drew on the same survey to report on faculty views of a number of other aspects of the digital teaching and learning environment:

  • etextbooks (finding that more faculty are using books that have ebook versions available but few use content that’s exclusively available in a digital format and those who do tend to be in computer science, in other sciences and math, and to a more limited extent, in social sciences),
  • simulations and videos (finding that all faculty are using more of these—that they are becoming a normal part of classroom instruction)
  • digital scholarship (finding that attitudes toward it are evolving among faculty, with largely positive attitudes about the quality of work in online journals, with a majority believing that publication in online peer-reviewed journals should have same respect as other publication for tenure and promotion, but with few faculty publishing online content that goes beyond just an online version of what is or could be presented in print)

In general, faculty in the study felt that the digital communication environment increases productivity, creativity, their connection to a scholarly community, their ability to find new ideas and collaborators, and their communication with students.  But it also adds to the demands of faculty work and to their level of stress (and does so even more strongly for women).

Finally there were significant differences in the responses of faculty and of technology administrators in their sense both of how much and how effectively faculty are using online teaching platforms and of how well colleges and universities are rewarding faculty for the effort involved in this work—in the incentives for innovation.

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