Engaging Students with Technology in an Asynchronous Learning Environment.
By: Dr. Nina Sarkar, Dr. Wendy Ford and Prof. Christina Manzo
Queensborough Community College, The City University of New York, CUNY
Millennial students are driving change in learning environments around the world. Unlike previous generations, Millennials’ constant exposure to the Internet and other digital media has shaped how they receive information and learn. In order to adapt to Millennials’ learning preferences, educators are adapting to using different technology to engage with today’s students. This paper discusses how to flip hybrid classes and use free technology that is independent of the learning management system to build, manage and deliver content to students, while keeping them engaged inside and outside of the classroom.
Our society is extending from the Information Age to the Interaction Age, (Milne, 2007). In the Information Age, the focus was on delivering and accessing digital content. In the Interaction Age, the role of digital content has broadened to something around which people engage and interact. Twenty-first century teaching practices have been influenced to a large degree by the Interaction Age. Learning has evolved from traditional face-to-face lectures and textbooks in a brick and mortar classroom to online lecture delivery methods, use of mobile digital devices, augmented reality, virtual reality, and use of wiki, blogs and various collaborative websites. In conjunction with this movement, teaching and learning practices have also evolved. All of this has led to a movement towards a self-directed, contextualized, engaged learning environment.
Research has demonstrated that engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills, and promotes meaningful learning experiences, (Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinzie & Gonyea, 2008). Instructors who adopt a student-centered approach to instruction increase opportunities for student engagement which helps everyone more successfully achieve the course’s learning objectives.
Further, researchers have demonstrated that today’s students have a penchant for highly active and participatory experiences inside and outside of their classroom, (Oblinger, 2006). This has offered an opportunity for teachers to design their instruction and delivery methods to suit the needs of today’s students in the Interaction Age. More and more, instructors are adopting engaged learning in different ways and using different learning technologies to enhance the learning experience. However, there are some challenges that instructors face in this regard. First, technology is expensive and often instructors are restricted to using technology that is compatible with the learning management system used in their institutions. Second, there is a learning curve for instructors as they adopt new and varying technology to use in their classrooms. Finally, instructors need to apply the new technologies as a means to improve learning and understanding rather than as an end in and of itself.
This study was conducted with three instructors who taught three unique hybrid courses which were previously taught through the traditional face-to-face modality. The individual hybrid courses were flipped by adopting an engaged learning environment which was enhanced through the use of technological innovations. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how the researchers flipped their classes, incorporated the specific indicators of an engaged learning environment and incorporated technology that is cost effective and independent of any learning management system.
Motivation for Adjusting Teaching Modality
The courses assessed through this study were considered as “difficult” by students. Even though these courses are required for graduation, based on data maintained by the instructors over several semesters, typically 1% to 2% of the students withdraw from the courses. Of those who remain, 10% to 20% are unable to successfully complete the courses. Historically, there are many more students that earn a 70% to 75% (a letter grade of C) rather than 90% to 100% (a letter grade of A) in the traditional face-to-face classes.
This study was conducted in a community college located in Queens, NY. The challenges faced by the students of this institution are as follows: 1) students commute to campus, 2) students have multiple jobs, 3) students have, among other commitments, family responsibilities. The day to day demands placed on this student population have continued to increase. Many students report the requirements of family, work, and school often seems overwhelming. Sometimes, due to external circumstances, they are unable to attend class, and when they do attend, they come unprepared. Further, the college has a very diverse group of students from varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Some of them are first generation immigrants and many are first generation college students. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC 2015) reports that 36% of students are the first generation in their family to attend college. The vast majority of these community college students are not native English speakers, and despite the language proficiency that they have to demonstrate, they have difficulty following lectures in English. Students frequently are disinterested and disengaged in the classroom. They appear to be distracted during lecture sessions, and seem to have no interest in the subject matter. The researchers addressed these issues in two ways. First, by making instructional materials available for students when they were unable to attend class and second, by providing access to the instructional materials using a self-paced delivery mode. The self-paced mode allowed students to review the instructional materials at their own pace and as frequently as they felt necessary. The intention was to foster student engagement in the learning process both inside and outside the classroom, to encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning, and to help students become life-long learners.
These issues were addressed by transforming the three face-to-face courses into asynchronous or hybrid courses. Lecture capture methods, like Camtasia, were used to create instructional videos that were placed on the learning management system and were available to students when they needed them. Furthermore, YouTube videos and other online resources were incorporated into the learning management system. These elements allowed the face-to-face portion of the hybrid classes to become more learning centered rather than teaching centered. Since lecture notes, reading assignments and instructional videos were already available to students, the in-class sessions were repurposed for more knowledge application, which included problem solving, performing analysis, and holding discussions in class. The students were more engaged and they were eager to participate in discussions and collaborative activities. These modality changes allowed for the observation of peer to peer knowledge transfer during the face-to-face hybrid sessions.
Technology Enhanced Hybrid Flipped Classroom
The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model where students are exposed to new material outside of the classroom via lecture videos, assigned readings, or other online multimedia resources, while the traditional face-to-face classroom sessions are repurposed for assimilating and applying the knowledge gained, through discussions, hand-on activities, and problem-solving. The students gain first-exposure learning prior to class and focus on the processing part of learning (synthesizing, analyzing, and problem-solving) in class. In terms of Bloom’s revised taxonomy (Prensky, 2001), this means that students are doing lower levels of cognitive work, such as gaining knowledge and comprehension, outside of the classroom, and focusing on higher level cognitive activities like application, analysis and synthesis and problem-solving in class, where they have the support of their peers and are guided by their instructor. This approach contrasts with the traditional model where the first-exposure to new material occurs in the classroom and students assimilate and apply knowledge through homework. Hence the term “flipped classroom.”
Hybrid classes can facilitate the flipped model very effectively. The instructional videos and other online resources are already available on the learning management system. Consequently, class time is used, not for teaching and lecturing, but rather for learning.
In the flipped classes for this study, prior to a face-to-face session, students were required to complete a reading assignment from the textbook, review the lecture slide/video or the micro lecture and watch any relevant videos that were assigned by the instructor. If the students encountered any learning issues or had questions, they could contact their peers or the instructor via a Discussion Forum available in the learning management system. Prior to coming to class the students were also required to complete a short online quiz and/or a low level skills worksheet that helped the instructor assess student understanding of the material. The students were given credit for accomplishing this task. Consequently, it was noted that all students participated in this activity and they were coming to class prepared to participate effectively during in-class activities.
The face-to-face session began with the instructor highlighting and/or reviewing the important issues related to the topics covered online. Students were then given a case study, a short writing assignment or problems to solve, as deemed appropriate by the instructor. Sometimes the students were divided into smaller groups that allowed them to work collaboratively and facilitate peer to peer knowledge transfer. The instructor is available in the classroom to guide and provide assistance as needed. Thus, the role of the instructor in the classroom is one of “guide on side” rather than one of “sage on stage.” The role of the students is one of cognitive apprentice (Baker, 2000).
In the flipped classes in this study, the researchers implemented an engaged learning environment based on some specific indicators of engaged learning (Angelino, Williams & Natvig, 2007). Engaged learning embodies the principles of active learning and collaborative learning. Active learners are self-regulated, self-directed, motivated learners who take responsibility for their own learning and are able to transfer knowledge to solve problems creatively. Active learning requires students to participate in class, as opposed to sitting and listening quietly. Engaged learning also involves being collaborative, i.e., valuing and having the skills to work with others. In the engaged learning environments in this study, students were required to reference and integrate resources from beyond the boundaries of the classroom, work in collaborative groups and work towards a deliverable.
Varying degrees of technology were incorporated to enhance the engaged classroom environment. Apart from using technology that is already available within the learning management system, functional technologies were used to build engaging course content, efficiently manage course content, and, to interact with students, both inside and outside of the classroom. The benefits of the tools employed in this study is that they are cost effective (i.e., free) and they are independent of any learning management system. These tools have the potential for supporting student learning in creative and innovative ways, while keeping them engaged and interested.
There are several tools available for course content creation that are independent of a learning management system. This study employed PowToon, ScreenChomp and Educreation, depending upon the situation and needs.
PowToon is a web based application that is used for creating engaging presentations and animated videos with a cartoon like feel. It lets the instructor incorporate humor and visual appeal into the presentation of lecture slides or micro lectures, which can be used as a creative and engaging alternative to PowerPoint slides. PowToon provides the instructor with prerecorded music, characters and props, several that are animated, which can be used in preparing lessons. It is also possible to upload music to add to the presentation. Each frame/slide in PowToon is preset to 10 seconds and an additional 10 seconds can be added to each. PowToon also provides ready-made templates that can be modified for the instructor’s specific needs. The free version is limited to five minutes per presentation, an unlimited number of presentations can be created, and they can all be shared and viewed online through the PowToon site.
The researchers in this study created PowToon micro lectures to explain concepts and provided students with a link to the PowToon site in the learning management system. For example, in an accounting class, PowToon was used to create animated videos and slide shows to explain accounting concepts such as debits and credits, and financial statements. PowToon videos were also used to explain the three legal forms of a business. The use of the animated characters to represent a sole proprietor and a partnership brought to life each form of business. In a finance class, PowToon was used to explain the functions of the Federal Reserve System and to explain monetary policy. PowToon is able to bring concepts alive for students, hold their attention and help them retain information.
The free ScreenChomp app can be used to create video lectures with an iPad and post them on the ScreenChomp website, where students can then download the recordings as MPEG-4 files. The app has the appearance of a whiteboard and allows the instructor to mark it up, post images or scroll through. This takes place in the form of a video, in which the instructor can record one’s voice while writing on the whiteboard. Students can watch the video as many times as needed.
In this study, ScreenChomp was used to explain how to work through a problem, specifically when students need further instruction on a specific topic. ScreenChomp is good for shorter lessons, for providing students with quick detailed responses to homework problems, or reinforcing topics that they did not grasp in class. For instance, ScreenChomp was used to demonstrate statistics problems and accounting problems. Using the voice recorder personalizes the instruction and the student feels that the instructor is providing individualized guidance.
Educreation is a free presentation, teaching and storytelling tool for the classroom. It is a recordable interactive whiteboard that captures the instructors’ voice and handwriting as they explain a concept or work through a problem. It can be used to produce short video lessons that can be saved as a public or private file and it can be shared with the classroom as a whole or with an individual student. Educreation is different from ScreenChomp in that it allows the instructor to create a video of several pages of slides. This tool was used to create micro-lectures on specific topics that would be beneficial for students to access.
Creating lessons in Educreation and ScreenChomp is similar to presenting to an actual class of students. The choice of different color markers allows instructors to highlight and emphasize certain aspects of the lesson just as the instructor would on the whiteboard in a face-to-face classroom. The ability to upload backgrounds is an excellent feature for creating accounting lessons on journalizing and posting to ledgers. With Educreation, one can create several pages with different backgrounds then record a lesson in which the background content is animated. Educreation has been particularly helpful in the flipped Statistics class where it has been used to demonstrate how to solve problems. Students have the added advantage of referring to the video repeatedly when needed.
Content Management and Content Delivery
Blendspace is a free web tool for instructors to collect, annotate and organize digital resources in one place to form a bundled, interactive lesson for students in an e-learning environment. With a free account one can create a “canvas” and easily pull in other material like videos, web links, documents and images either from the web or from one’s own computer. Then the instructor can make this multimedia canvas available to students by using one URL link. Blendspace also gives the instructor the ability to add multiple choice quizzes into lessons. Consequently, Blendspace is more than just a tool for sharing information, it can be used to assess a student’s understanding of material right that is presented in the canvas. Blendspace can even autograde the assessments if the correct answer choices are made available.
Blendspace has been used in this study in two ways to support engaged learning: for content management and for content delivery. For example, in a Computer Applications course, Blendspace was used to create a canvas which contained instructional material in the form of Educreation videos, PowToon videos, ScreenChomp videos, PowerPoint lecture slides, YouTube videos, and other documents simply by dragging-and-dropping these elements onto the canvas. Since all of this content is managed using one URL, this is very convenient for students, as all of their material is contained within one space.
Blendspace facilitates an engaged e-learning environment by enabling self-paced student content engagement, in which students can absorb the content at their own pace and can customize their learning experience through self-directed knowledge acquisition. This creates a beneficial scenario for both faculty and students. Faculty can efficiently and seamlessly manage their digital content and students can experience unfettered access to a montage of learning material that satisfies their personal and individualized learning needs.
Blackboard Collaborate is a collaborative tool that is available in the Blackboard learning management system. While Blackboard Collaborate is not independent of the learning management system, almost all learning management systems include a collaborative tool. In this study the instructors used Blackboard Collaborate for online discussions with students. The electronic whiteboard within the system is particularly helpful for providing a digital space for instructors to explain solutions to problems in an interactive online session. Students are able to record these learning sessions for repeated viewing at their convenience, even after the session is over.
Poll Everywhere is a free application that promotes student participation in class. It can be used directly from the web or can be embedded in a PowerPoint slide. Instructors can create a poll for a specific class and students can vote by using their cell phone to text message their answer. The polls update seconds after students enter their votes, and the results can be displayed on the presenting screen.
In a face-to-face session of a hybrid flipped class, Poll Everywhere was used to immediately gauge the classes’ understanding of concepts. It can be used to challenge perceptions or misconceptions (create cognitive dissonance). The polls can be simple multiple choice questions and students can text their answers or the polls can be open ended questions, asking students to describe an experience. The words that the students use to describe an experience will show up on the presentation slide. This is a way to share everyone’s thoughts in class. Providing students an opportunity to move beyond passive learning into more active learning can refocus their attention and invigorate the learning process.
The purpose of this paper was to discuss how three different classes, taught by three different instructors were flipped, to demonstrate how some specific indicators of an engaged learning environment were incorporated into the flipped classes and to discuss how cost effective stand-alone technologies were utilized to support student engagement and learning. The flipped class model in this study incorporated the following five components:
- Student-centered content exploration through the use of reading material, micro lectures, and videos.
- Instructor/peer support administered through the learning management system’s collaborative discussion feature.
- Mini-assessment/correction activities that allow the instructor and the student to stay abreast of student progress.
- Topic alignment discussions in which the instructor highlights important topic issues and guides students in creating a framework for knowledge exploration.
- Facilitated “head/hand” experiences in the classroom which allow the students to put into practice what they have learned.
Flipping a class can be achieved in several different ways. No one size fits all. This study offers five broad-based components that instructors can use as a guideline for transitioning from a traditional class to a flipped class. The benefit of this flipping model is that it allows instructors to flip a class using a modularized approach by tackling component areas singularly or comprehensively.
This study demonstrates how a flipped class model can support and promote an engaged learning environment. As students are introduced to and explore content areas, they are simultaneously encouraged to become active learners who independently manage their interaction with online content to gain knowledge at their own pace. In the face-to-face sessions, the instructors observed that students were engaged in active and collaborative learning. Students were active participants in group work activities, exploration and integration of resources from beyond the boundaries of the classroom, and were focused on the completion of specific deliverables. Both students and faculty benefit from this level of student engagement. Student confidence and knowledge grows as “learning and producing” becomes the focus, instead of “lecture and presentation.” Finally, this paper also discussed how technology can be used to effectively support flipped pedagogy and aid student engagement in an economical and manageable way. There are several applications that can be used to create engaging content, maintain and deliver content efficiently, and interact remotely or face-to-face with technology driven students.
This paper is limited in that the instructors report their observation of what occurs in a flipped class with an engaged environment that is enhanced further with the use of technology. The paper does not incorporate a rigorous empirical study. It will be beneficial to conduct an empirical study that examines student attitudes towards the flipped pedagogy, the technologies and student content and course engagement, specifically exploring to see if student confidence, satisfaction, and outcomes are increased from the use of these technologies. In addition, future studies should also explore faculty experiences with flipped pedagogy technology and measure administrative and pedagogical efficiency factors.
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