The Research Behind Learning Interactions

Introduction

A nursing instructor is challenged to design an online course on standard classification systems. One could easily picture the course defining a classification system and describing its benefits. Students may be asked to compare and contrast how each system classifies problems, treatments and outcomes. The course may feature presentations, discussions, papers, a final exam – content items that are common in today’s online course.

Its easy to be complacent about this sort of design. After all, the information is clearly presented, and students respond well in the discussions, in their papers and on the final.

What more is needed?

The argument in favor of additional instructional components is difficult to make. Motivating videos may be hard to find or expensive to produce. Occasional checks for understanding in the form of multiple choice, multiple select and short answer questions require additional time and skill in using the learning management system or third-party tools. Interactive cases that features stories and make the content come alive are even more time consuming and dependent on instructional and/or technical skills. In the case of standardized classification systems, cases may be a great way to ensure consistent use of the systems (i.e. Inter-rater reliability).

learning

CC BY-SA 3.0 Nick Youngson

Designing and developing activities for your online course that effectively engage students with the content takes time and know-how. It is easy to be skeptical about their value. You have precious little time. And you may not be certain that it is worth the time and effort. As a higher ed instructor, it is likely that no one pays you for the extra time and effort. The motivation comes intrinsically from successful students and a job well done. Or should we just concede this area of development to the publishers? They obviously have the skill and resources and economies of scale.

I am hoping you will reject that thought.  You already apply time and know-how when putting together an online course.  You  make dozens of decisions. You make decisions related to selecting and sequencing content, organizing content, deciding on wording and style, and choosing media.

But is this where we should draw the line and not attempt designing activities that sponge up time – without much evidence of return on investment. Or is the evidence there and we just don’t know it. What does the research tell us? Does it make a compelling case in favor of the extra effort?

Do we even know what is effective?

Instructional Designers were asked what learning activities they would build for each level of Bloom’s taxonomy. (Benjamin Bloom, as you’ll recall, categorized goals of the learning process in six levels, which included knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.) Getting back to the instructional designers, there was remarkable consistency between them regardless of age and gender and other factors. For lower levels of the taxonomy like knowledge and comprehension, designers chose drill and practice, programmed tutorials, demonstrations, and simulations. For higher levels, they chose such interactions as problem solving labs and case studies. The research tells us that, at least, there is a common practice – but is there evidence for it?

Let’s survey the research to decide if instructional designers were even on the right track. Do interactions make a difference? We’ll examine learning interactions at the most elementary level and then climb higher and see what the research has to say about higher order activities.

What is a learning interaction?

An interaction in this context is characterized by the contact between students and the materials of study. The contact involves student responses to stimuli (multiple choice, multiple select questions), practice and feedback (puzzles and flashcards), branched instruction (decision making scenarios, interactive case studies), categorization (matching, sorting, and ordering activities) analysis (review of text with open feedback, underlining, circling), manipulation of inputs and outputs (simulations, controllable animations, digital lab experiments), finding information (WebQuests), solving problems (problem based learning scenarios), evaluating (decision-making) and creating (proposals, diagrams, digital drawings, code-writing).  For the purposes of this post, we’re less interested in the passive reading of text, or the watching of and listening to media — although I’ll concede that a broader technical definition would include any activity that results in cognitive change such as the recall of prior knowledge and the acquisition of new knowledge.

Research — Buyer beware

To return to our research quest, I’ll admit that I often look to others for the interpretation of what is significant and meaningful. Reviewing research takes time and skill. Nevertheless, I am drawn to the analyses, the statistical methods, the inferences and the statement of results. Using educational research can be tricky. There are caveats. Single papers can offer us the wrong conclusions or may not be applicable to our situation. Compared to a drug study or a health-related study, sample sizes in educational research seem small and not generalizable.

Finding educational research that uses a control group is a helpful first step. A control group of students is separated from an experimental group in such a way that the thing being tested cannot influence the control group’s results. Finding such research can be a challenge. Here is the kind of statement we see in educational research.

On analysis, the comparison of the overall knowledge scores pre- and post-treatment showed a statistically significant increase from 8.8 to 11.6 (P< 0.001).

Educators claim victory because post test scores were better after a treatment than before. That begs the question, compared to what? Perhaps the treatment was the most inefficient and uneconomical means on the planet to raise those test scores.

A simple paired T-Test may be preferable, in comparison, when we look at the difference between a pre- and post-test for a experiment group compared to the difference between a pre- and post-test for the control group.  For an explanation of T-Tests, please visit:  http://blog.minitab.com/blog/adventures-in-statistics-2/understanding-t-tests:-1-sample,-2-sample,-and-paired-t-tests

If I am looking at the effectiveness of a particular treatment, I will look for research related to higher education and my discipline of interest where the treatment is represented by the independent variable. The dependent variable might be, for example, student performance on a test score, student satisfaction measured with a survey, or student time on task. Experiments with pre- and post-tests without control groups can be problematic. A classic example is that of Hermit the Bug.

In our shop, we often ask this question: Should we include an animated character to serve as a guide or aid. In a project that I worked on years ago, we developed an amusing little character who would zip around the screen and guide the student along the learning path. The character was fun. It livened up the presentations. But the decision was based on no research at all.

Research literature calls this the persona effect.  A paper titled  The Persona Effect: Affective Impact of Animated Pedagogical Agents concluded that their potential to increase learning effectiveness is significant. 

The researchers surveyed students who rated Hermit The Bug’s entertainment value, helpfulness compared to a science teacher and so forth. Since this paper was published, 15 studies have been done. 9 showed no effect, 5 showed mixed results and only 1 showed an effect.  (Do pedagogical agents make a difference to student motivation and learning? Steffi Heidiga,∗, Geraldine Clareboutb,1 a née Domagk, University of Erfurt)

To be fair, the research on Hermit the Bug cited the following benefit:

Because these agents can provide students with customized advice in response to their problem-solving activities, their potential to increase learning effectiveness is significant.

One wonders, ‘Is it the persona effect that is contributing to greater motivation and improved learning or is it the feedback that the bug provides?’ Feedback is feedback, even when it’s delivered by a bug.

I point this out to underscore the difficulty of research and the folly of relying on one study. There are, of course, other problems that people cite about educational research in particular. Examples include research that is not objective and has a hidden agenda;  over-generalization from a research focused on a very specific context; and frequent lack of peer review.

Common sense often exposes the weakest research – which seeks to promote a philosophy or product or particular point of view.

This blog is an example.  I have a vested interest in instructors choosing to design their own interactions – because I am the creator of an eLearning authoring tool.  But in my defense, there are two critical points. First, I developed the authoring tool because of a belief that learning interactions make a positive difference. And,  more importantly related to this post, I was quite prepared and open to research that reported on the insignificance and possible detriment of learning interactions. The truth is that learning how to create compelling and effective learning interactions  — let alone creating them — takes time.  It takes more time than we typically dedicate to this kind of training.  If I were to convince instructors to make the investment, I had to be certain of its benefit.

In the 80s, Michael Moore described student to content interaction as “a defining characteristic of education” and “without it there cannot be education”. That’s not to say that student-to-student and student-to-instructor interactions aren’t important.  Much has been written about them and there are many best practice examples.  I value the blending of all three types of interactions in an online course – but my line of inquiry had me questioning the importance of student-to-content interactions, specifically, and investigating their importance.

The Research

I asked what interactions are important in an online environment and what level of development effort begins to produce diminishing results.   I’ll cover the first part in this blog post and the second part in a future post.

One piece of research (mentioned in the previous journal entry) is described in a paper called Effects of Instructional Events in Computer-Based Instruction, conducted by a group from Arizona State University.  In traditional curriculum and design programs taught in the 80s and 90s, Robert Gagne’s Conditions of Learning was gospel. He proposed nine essential element of instruction. Well what would happen if we removed any essential element from the nine?  Would it make a difference?  The researchers created six versions of a program:  a full version without anything removed; one without statement of objectives; one without examples; one without practice and feedback; one without review; and a lean version that presented information only.

Think about this for a moment before looking on. Removing one of these things really made a difference. Which one? What was the result?

As it turns out, removing practice and feedback makes a difference.  And that is reassuring.  Many of our activities are designed to provide students with instant feedback.  We provide information; elicit a response; and then provide feedback.  That is worth the effort – provided that we can construct such an activity efficiently and economically.

In another research study (published in Journal of Educational Computing Research),  Hector Garcia Rodicio investigated whether or not requiring students to answer a question made a difference. I’m referring to just the physical act of selecting a check box or radio button.  In the treatment group, students were required to answer a question before getting feedback.  In the control group, students received all of the same information, but they were not required to perform the physical act of selecting an answer.

Does having to answer make a difference?

Apparently it did.  Richard Mayer (University of Santa Barbara) explains why.   When students have to answer questions they actively select relevant segments of the material, mentally organize them, and integrated them with prior  knowledge (Campbell & Mayer, 2009).

The action is not insignificant.  Look at the results. 

2017-11-13_1133

A table showing mean scores and standard deviations on questions that recalled prior knowledge, supported retention and aided transfer

Note the difference an interactive question makes on retention and transfer. M is the mean score.  SD is the standard deviation – a measurement of variation in the scores. Given the standard deviation, we can conclude the difference of four points is significant.

2017-11-13_1113

A LodeStar interaction that follows a presentation on Creative Commons licensing. Six questions check the learner’s understanding and ability to match the license to the requirement.

About the Meta-analysis

As mentioned there are significant pitfalls to education research.  However, a particular type of analysis might provide us with more direction – the meta-analysis.  The meta-analysis combines studies and typically includes many more students – many more samples – than the single study.  But meta-analyses are not without their own issues.  Because the meta-analysis is so common in educational research let’s explore them for a moment.

To start, the Merriam Webster definition of a meta-analysis is this:

A quantitative statistical analysis that is applied to separate but similar experiments of different and usually independent researchers and that involves pooling the data and using the pooled data to test the effectiveness of the results

A health study meta-analysis might involve dozens of studies involving thousands of individuals.  The significance of a treatment is reported as an effect size.  An effect size is the magnitude of an effect of an independent variable on a dependent variable in an experiment.  Twenty studies, for example, might measure the effect of room noise on reading and test scores.  Let’s hypothesize that lower room noise might lead to improved reading comprehension, which leads to better student performance on a quiz.   If you pooled all of the studies together, can you conclude that lower room noise really makes a difference.  What is the magnitude of this difference?  In other words, does the meta-analysis show an overall significant effect size? 

Wil Thalheimer and Samantha Cook have done a great job on simplifying the concept of an effect size.  Because it is so prevalent in research and this blog entry is about research that can inform an instructor’s decision making, I will summarize it in simple terms.

The recipe for effect size goes something like this.  You calculate the mean of the treatment condition and subtract from it the mean of the control group.  In our example, we are looking at the performance scores of students who read in a quiet room versus a noisy room.  We calculate the mean test score of students who read in a quiet room.  We then calculate the mean test score of the students who read in a noisy room.  We subtract one from the other.  That gives us the numerator of a fraction.  We then divide that number by a pooled standard deviation.  We won‘t know if a difference in means is significant, unless we know something about variation.  That’s what standard deviation tells us.  Is a 10 point difference significant or not significant?  Thalheimer and Cook show us how a pooled standard deviation is calculated.  In the end, if we have a standard way of calculating significance – effect size – then we can analyze a group of studies even though individually they have different scores, ranges, means, and average departure from the mean.

As mentioned, meta-analyses draw their own criticisms. Two of the issues cited in meta-analysis.com, a proponent of meta-analyses, is that experiments that don’t show significant results are tucked away in file drawers collecting dust.  That introduces a bias in the published research.  It is called, logically, publication bias.  Secondly, meta-analyses may combine apples and oranges.  The following link explains the shortcomings in more detail.

https://www.meta-analysis.com/downloads/criticismsofmeta-analysis.pdf

Despite the criticisms, meta-analyses can provide convincing support for a treatment and results that are generalizable beyond the context of any particular study.

Meta-analysis can also give us insight into instructional strategies that make a difference. In a paper titled Comparative  effectiveness  of  instructional  design  features  in  simulation-based  education:  Systematic  review  and  meta-analysis, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the authors analyzed 289 studies that involved more than 18,000 trainees.  The following instructional strategies were found to be relevant in simulation based education: range of difficulty, repetitive practice, distributed practice, cognitive interactivity, multiple learning strategies, individualized learning, mastery learning, feedback, longer time, and clinical variation.  Note the inclusion of practice, feedback and cognitive interactivity.  Engaging students with content in a way that makes them think is effective!

These themes come up again and again in the research.  Create activities that require students to apply what they have learned, make decisions or choices or perform some sort of action, get feedback and apply that feedback in future activities until mastery has been achieved.  Vary the difficulty; make them think; make them practice; provide feedback and support mastery.  It is still difficult to determine whether its worth the effort to construct such activities – but at least we are on the right track.

Activities that require students to perform and receive feedback can be fairly efficiently created.  Higher order activities take more time.  What does the research suggest in terms of the effectiveness of higher order activities.  One such activity is the interactive case study.  Let’s look at the case study in some depth.

In a paper titled Effectiveness of case-based teaching of physiology for nursing students published in the Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences, the authors reported that

The performance in tests was statistically significantly better after didactic lectures (mean, 17.53) than after case-based teaching (mean, 16.47) (two-tailed p = 0.003). However, 65–72% of students found that case-based teaching improved their knowledge about the topic better than lectures.

 

Teaching method

Mean

SD

SEM

p

Didactic

17.53

3.58

0.38

0.003

Case-based

16.47

3.69

0.39

The first part doesn’t sound very supportive.  Students performed poorer in the treatment that included case based teaching method. This underscores one of the challenges of measuring the effectiveness of a treatment like case studies, or problem-based learning or decision-making scenarios and other higher order activities. If I simply taught to the test, students might perform better on the test than engaged in a case or some other ‘indirect’ activity.  But what is the effect on satisfaction or long-term retention or transfer of knowledge to the work setting?  The research may exist and may answer that question, but the quest for that insight is long and arduous.

The author of the above study conceded that several studies contradicted his findings.  In face, there are several research studies that support the use of case studies in both online and face-to-face settings.  The following study concluded that case studies were effective whether created by the instructor or a third-party:  Case Study Teaching Method Improves Student Performance and Perceptions of Learning Gains (Kevin M. Bonney, 2015).

The impact of the case study method was significant. It produced a two grade increase.

The author wrote:

Although many instructors have produced case studies for use in their own classrooms, the production of novel case studies is time-consuming and requires skills that not all instructors have perfected. It is therefore important to determine whether case studies published by instructors who are unaffiliated with a particular course can be used effectively and obviate the need for each instructor to develop new case studies for their own courses.

This is significant. Case studies were found to be effective, whether created by the instructor of the course or by an instructor unaffiliated with the course. This supports the use of activities gleaned from content repositories. Case studies, however, are not equally available in all disciplines. In the sciences, instructors can find cases at the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. The most difficult and time-consuming challenge related to case studies is in their creation – just getting it down on paper.

At the National Center for Case Study some of the work has been done for you. A case on climate change, for example, provides background information on the meaning of climate change and how we know that it is occurring. The case study places the student in the role of an intern to a US senator. The job of the intern is to help the senator understand the science behind client change and the impact of climate change on the planet. The student is engaged in a number of questions that require some analysis and charting.

The results of Professor Bonney’s research are taken verbatim from the author.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the case study teaching method at promoting learning, student performance on examination questions related to material covered by case studies was compared with performance on questions that covered material addressed through classroom discussions and textbook reading. The latter questions served as control items; assessment items for each case study were compared with control items that were of similar format, difficulty, and point value . Each of the four case studies resulted in an increase in examination performance compared with control questions that was statistically significant, with an average difference of 18%

In the following study  Effectiveness of integrating case studies in online and face-to-face instruction of pathophysiology: a comparative study (http://advan.physiology.org/content/ajpadvan/37/2/201.full.pdf) we learn the following:

  • Students who enjoyed the case studies performed better.
  • Students like case studies because they could apply what they learned
  • The reasons why students liked case studies had nothing to with whether they were in a face-to-face or online class
  • Students who expected to earn better grades as a result of the case, did actually earn better grades.

Efficiency

Concerning to me is the amount of time that it takes to generate the interactive case study.  Because of this concern, we are investigating and piloting the use of templates – but not at the expense of student performance and satisfaction.

At our university, we recently developed two versions of an interactive case study to promote the use of a standardized classification system to document, classify, and communicate health-related issues such as Latent Tuberculosis Bacterial Infection. In a future post, I’ll write about the two versions and their effect on student performance and student satisfaction.  One version came from a template and involved more student reading.  The other version sequenced audio with the presentation of content and made more use of graphics.  The premise is that the templated version can be created quicker and could be generated by an instructor rather than an instructional technologist. We’re looking at whether that ease and speed came at the price of student performance and satisfaction.

If we are made confident by research that interactive case studies improved both student performance and satisfaction, and if case studies can be generated effectively and efficiently through a templated approach, then we can improve on our return on investment.

We could also further efficiency by adopting cases from case libraries. In our standardized classification system example, 18 cases are available at the Omaha System – a vendor site:

http://www.omahasystem.org/casestudies.html

Related to science case studies, I have already mentioned the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science – but there are other resources that might uncover case studies in other disciplines. Examples include the learning object repositories like Merlot (www.Merlot.org) and OER Commons (www.oercommons.org).

Again, the repositories supply the content. Couple the content with an eLearning authoring tool like Captivate, StoryLine, LodeStar or whatever to make it interactive and you might be able to produce an effective instructional component efficiently.

 Conclusion

I set out to find research that contradicted my belief that learning interactions are useful and represent a good return on investment. I found that research. One can find examples that show discouraging results – but these are the exceptions. I found much more research that underscores the effectiveness of learning interactions, whether they be simple question items or sophisticated case studies. Now the focus should shift to producing these learning interactions efficiently.

My personal belief is that in higher ed we are at an important junction. We can concede this sort of development to the book publishers – or we can figure out ways to encourage instructors to build learning interactions and add value to their courses – for the benefit of online students.

 

 

Advertisements

The Problem with Learning Objectives

Introduction

At some point considering the learning objective can be tiresome. We want to do exciting things and make learning happen in our online courses, but we have the requirement of good housekeeping to attend to. “Inform the learner of the objective.” In too many cases, this information just takes up space and earns the instructor a meaningless check on a quality rubric.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can look at learning objectives in a different light.

In fact, we’ve muddied the water with our use of learning objectives. We’ve confused the role of the objective as a design tool versus a communication tool. The learning objective can be both – but we must be intentional about it.

Principles of Instructional Design

Principles of Instructional Design was once a staple in university curricula

Instructors who have had any pedagogical training likely will have been introduced to Robert Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction. The events include gaining the learners’ attention, informing them of the objectives, stimulating recall of prior learning and so forth. All too often, following the 9 events like a recipe card leads to the obligatory screen that dutifully lists all of the course’s objectives.

We see it all of the time in online learning – the topic that lists all of the objectives, sometimes well written, sometimes not.

A study conducted by Florence Martin, James Klein, and Howard Sullivan (Martin, Klein, Sullivan, 2007) and published in the British Journal of Educational Technology looked at a computer literacy course that was designed with various treatments with one key element of instruction removed. Elements included statement of objectives, examples, review and practice. The treatment that removed the statement of objectives did not show a drop in scores. It didn’t matter if the objectives were left out or in. So why the obsession with objectives? By comparison, the treatment that removed practice showed a significant drop. (1)

The treatment that included objectives included one screen per section. The screens, we’re told by the researchers, ranged from 79 to 82 words per section, not dissimilar to how we use objectives in online courses today.

In an attempt to improve on the use of objectives, we remind ourselves that objectives should meet the conditions of audience, behavior, context and degree. The advice is good, but only in the context of design. When objectives are used as design tool, it makes sense to think about audience, behavior, context and degree. But when objectives are a communication tool, we need to question whether learners want to read a technical objective rather than a statement that excites and motivates them to engage in the online course. In short, technically correct instructional objectives are the tool of the designer – what students need is quite different.

In at a least a couple of popular online evaluation processes, as reviewers, we look for objectives, judge if they are well written according to something like R.F. Mager’s Preparing Instructional Objectives, and evaluate whether or not they are aligned to the courses’ assessments and activities.

Clearly, the practice of writing objectives is important to the design of a course – but what should we communicate to students?

Research points us in the right direction – and the research uncovers a very clear problem with objectives. To explore objectives further, let’s separate our concerns. We’ll look at them from the designer’s point of view and then from the student’s.

From the designer’s point of view

Well-written objectives help instructors design courses well. They spell out the type of knowledge and the level of learning. We know that we need a very different type of learning activity to teach how to perform an angioplasty versus how to choose the type of coronary stent to use in a given situation. To state the obvious, the first objective requires observation, practice in a non-life-threatening situation (e.g. mannequin), and repeated practice under the observation of an experienced physician. The second requires knowledge of the critical patient attributes that favor one type of stent and procedure over another and practice with decision-making in increasing complex situations.

The design of instruction also improves when we specify the audience, the condition and the degree. Are these first year students with little surgical experience or quite a different group? Are the conditions optimum or do they simulate a more stressed setting? Related to degree, what measurement do we need in order to indicate that the student is performing the task well enough. Is an outcome of four out of five successful procedures or decisions good enough?

Specificity is important to the designer. Establishing specific objectives helps us choose the right assessments and activities. The principle of backward design requires us to start with well written outcomes and work backwards to activities.

As an aside, I would concede that, in the ‘wild’, instructors often start in the middle. We collect content; create activities – all in the process of discovering what we really want to do and what is important. Designing eLearning can be a discovery process and in that process we refine objectives, write new ones…toss out a few. This may be heresy to many – but it is an admission that designing instruction is a creative process. In the end, however, it is important for us to arrive at the objectives and then shine their light on everything in the course. In other words, review whether or not activities and assessments belong in the course and how strongly aligned they are to the outcomes.

Flavia Vieira, in her blog “Learning to Teaching” underscores the importance of objectives.

The way you choose to define them affects all that you do as a teacher, because objectives stand for what you believe is the goal of your and your students’ actions; they show your personal perception of the teaching-learning situation; they reflect your teaching and testing priorities; they determine your choice of activities and materials; they influence your teaching procedures, your attitude towards learner errors, even your teaching pace; ultimately, they determine the kind of learning that occurs in your classroom.  (3)

From the learner’s point of view

Some of the research shows that stating learning objectives does make a difference – but only when used correctly by both the instructor and the student. One interesting source is the Debunkers club and includes several targets (common misunderstandings) that the site uses research to expose.

The Debunkers club is curated by Wil Thalheimer and Paul Kirschner. Wil Thalheimer reviews educational research and distills their findings for the benefit of practitioners who either don’t know how to digest research or simply do not have the time.

Thalheimer states that:

The research that has been done on learning objectives has shown that presenting learners with learning objectives produces benefits because it helps learners focus attention on the targeted aspects of the learning material (Rothkopf & Billington, 1979). To be more specific, if a learning objective targets Concept X, then learners are more likely to pay attention to aspects of the learning material that are relevant to Concept X, and are less likely to pay attention to aspects of the learning material not relevant to Concept X.

Simply, if learning objectives are to be useful at all to the learner, they must be written in a straightforward manner that communicates to the learner what he or she should pay attention to. The learner should know clearly that the intention of this course is not to memorize the historical dates, for example, but state the significance of a specific event in history. Flashcards with dates won’t help the student. Remembering the details of a military campaign won’t help the student. Understanding the root cause of an event and its effect on the social-political environment of the time may be of paramount importance. The student should concern herself with analysis and not sweat the small details.

Sal Khan in his videos on permutations and combinations stresses that memorizing the formulas may impede understanding.  Rather than memorizing the formula for a permutation, students should be able to reconstruct the formula from their understanding of how it works.

In short, the statement of objective helps us to focus students on what is important. Thalheimer goes on to recommend against generally worded objectives. The more specific, the better. And he recommends against the multi-part objective (audience, behavior, context and degree) when communicating to students. Thalheimer summarizes research that underscores the importance of learning objectives in helping students set goals, focus on relevant information and to evaluate their learning against the stated objectives – all important meta-cognitive activities.

If we don’t communicate objectives to focus students’ attention on what is important, then we should, at least, excite students about the subject. In corporate training, we often see the WIIFM replace the listing of objectives. The WIIFM or ‘What’s in it for me’ stresses the relevance of the learning to the learner. Research does support the role of motivation in learning.

Finally, instructional objectives can be dangerous. If we get complacent with good test results and declare ‘mission accomplished’ on our objectives, we have missed the whole darn point. The purpose of training and education is the transfer of learning. In training we want to see business results. In education, we want to see the online course contribute to the development of the student and success in future courses and beyond. Just as the ill-conceived learning objective takes up space on the page, so too the badly designed course in the student’s life. The course is part of a meaningless exchange of dollars for credits.

In contrast, the meaningful objective contributes to student learning and plays a part in a well-articulated curriculum that promotes student’s growth in the course and beyond. We need to be intentional about our use of objectives. And then move to more interesting stuff.

Resources

  1.  Martin, F., Klein, J. D., & Sullivan, H. (2007). The impact of instructional elements in computer-based instruction. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(4), 623-636. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2006.00670.x
  2. http://www.debunker.club/
  3. http://aliancistatlv.blogspot.com/2012/08/language-learning-objectives-do-make.html

Interactive Case Studies

Introduction

The limited research on interactive case studies supports their use in higher education.  The use of interactive case studies contributes to student motivation, sense of relevancy, higher course grades and overall satisfaction.  One research study, “A Usability Study of Interactive Web-based Modules” looked at the use of interactive case modules in a Principles of Marketing course.  In their literature review, the authors observed that:

Case studies are typically used by marketing educators to help students gain real world knowledge and learn marketing concepts (O’Connor and Girard 2006) and are important tools for students to develop their analytical thinking and problem-solving skills through applied construction of reality (Henson, Kennett, and Kennedy 2003).

But developing an interactive case study may seem daunting.  Instructors might feel the need to master all of the nuances of this genre before attempting to make one of their own.  The interactive case study (as distinguished from the face-to-face experience) adds the complexity of the technology.  There are however small steps one can take and templates that make interactive case studies easier to generate.

An example

Dr. Debra Eardley, a nursing professor at Metropolitan State University, recently completed an interactive case study in support of nursing informatics and a standardized classification system.  She storyboarded the case study in PowerPoint and received help from the university’s Center for Online Learning to make it interactive.

She started with the basics.  The objective of the case was to help students ‘experience’ the role of a standardized classification system in documenting the problem, intervention and outcomes of a patient diagnosed with an infection.   The case followed a public health nurse as she interviewed a patient and followed the procedures of Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) and the administration of medication.  The student participant in the case study observes the interview, makes notes and then charts the problems, intervention and outcomes, as would a public health nurse using a standard classification system and an electronic health record system.

The case study was a simple one…with one set of right answers and not many gray areas.  The case study was a stepping stone to more sophisticated cases that will follow.  But despite its simplicity, the case study introduced knowledge that public health nurses need to know.  It introduced the concepts of Latent Tuberculosis Bacterial Infection (LTBI), Directly Observed Therapy, the role of the public health nurse, and the role of a standardized system with its relationship to evidence-based practice.  Rather than simply being told about these things, the student observes a public health nurse in action and practices charting using the Omaha Classification System, which is evaluated with immediate feedback.

Interactive case studies, of course, can be more complicated – but that should not deter any instructor from getting started with simpler cases.    The key is recognizing some of the basic benefits of the case study approach.  For example, Harvard Business School (HBS) case studies involve students in reading the case, discussing the findings with classmates, reflecting on alternative approaches, answering the professor’s questions and deciding on a course of action based on the case.  The basic case study attributes make them far more compelling than text-laden pages all too common in typical learning management systems.

The benefits of case studies existed long before the use of electronic media.  Again, in the area of health informatics, university pathology departments across the United States implemented interactive case studies with little electronic help – simply text and discussion.   The designers of The Healthcare Pathology Informatics Fellowship Training program patterned their case studies on the business case study method with the following attributes:

  • The scenario was based on a real life situation.
  • The participants must analyze the situation, decide on one or more courses of action and provide evidence to support their decisions.
  • Participants must read the case beforehand, understand the issues involved, and come prepared to provide answers for whatever the facilitator might ask.
  • At the conclusion, a narrative described what actually happened in the real-life situation.

The electronic interactive case borrows a lot from the traditional case study approach.   First, the case study scenario places the learner in a role and a setting.

image_1

Interactive Case Study Based on Instructional Design Methodology

In the screenshot above the learner is placed in the role of a faculty member asked to design an online course by her dean.  The interactive case study challenges the learner to pick the right questions in the right sequence that model the backwards design approach to online course design.  In short, the learner selects questions that probe the situational factors that define the context of the training, selects appropriate outcomes, designs assessments aligned to the outcomes and then develops activities that will help students fare well on the assessments.  This is the backward design approach.  A simple case study, represented by the screen shot above, could assess whether or not the learner understands the backward design approach.  A more sophisticated case study might lead to several options that can be equally right but that require the learner to explain the choice and back it up with data, citations, and/or evidence.

In Dr. Eardley’s Latent Tuberculosis Bacterial Infection (LTBI) case study, the learner observes the public health nurse and her patient and must take notes for a clinical summary.  The instructions for the Clinical Summary Exercise are a click away.  A tool used by learners to take notes is also a click away.

image_4

Interactive Case Study related to Healthcare

The learner’s clinical summary is assessed in two ways.  The learner must submit the clinical summary, which is then evaluated by an instructor, as well as answer a list of questions related to the clinical summary, which are machine scored.  The exemplar clinical summary is only shown to the student who has made the effort and correctly answered questions about the patient.

The Design of a Template

In another project, we’re reflecting on the necessary functions to build into a generalized case study template.

2017-08-02_2157.png

A Proposed Interactive Case Study Template

The screenshot above labels some of the key functions.  Violating Richard Mayer’s principles of multimedia design, an explanation for each label is found below.

  1. A content area that will define the role of the learner and goal of the study, introduce background information and present key decision points in the case.
  2. A set of tools that enable the learner to take notes and review a transcript of all key decision points and feedback.
  3. Resources and tips that are context-based.  As the decision points change so too the resources.  Some resources persist; others appear and disappear as needed.
  4. Not pictured, the template supports branching.  Optionally, content can be shown based on user preference and user performance.  Again, optionally, learners can be taken down different paths based on how the story unfolds and the choices the learner makes.

Conclusion

The interactive case study is an effective instructional design pattern that has deep roots in traditional text and face-to-face classes.  The interactive case study may seem challenging to create but simple case studies offer instructors a good starting point.  Finally, the template approach simplifies the construction of case studies so that instructors need not rely on textbook publishers but can generate their own.


  1. Tulay, Girard., & Pinar, Musa. (2011). A Usability Study of Interactive Web-Based Modules, Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology – TOJET, v10 n3 p27-32.

Geolocation Storytelling

Introduction

A new form of storytelling and interactive engagement is unfolding. Location-aware storytelling enables educators to untether students from the computer and let them roam about the world freely….to hear stories and learn in new ways.

Today’s smart phone can connect to the internet and get its location from a GPS satellite. Educational apps (both native and browser-based) can read the location and display interactive content matched to the location.

The obvious applications are history and the natural sciences – but with a little ingenuity, geolocation storytelling can serve students from a broad range of disciplines.

Inspiration for a new kind of storytelling comes from a group of history enthusiasts, led by Robert Molenda. The group has taken on the name of Lens Flare Stillwater with the tagline ‘The future of Stillwater viewed through the lens of the past.’ Stillwater is a river town located on the Saint Croix River, which borders the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. To view this town through the lens of the past, the group has combined the arts of storytelling and photography with the new technology of mobile phones and geo-location-aware applications.

Robert Molenda is a retired chemist and business executive from 3M. He and a motivated group that includes John Paul Moore, John Buettner, Dick Marlow and many others, set out to tell Stillwater’s story through photography and narrative. They use the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool, which includes a geolocation-aware template called ARMaker — an abbreviation of Augmented Reality Maker.

To tell Stillwater’s story, they select historical sites of interest and related photographs from the John Runk collection of historical photographs and combine then with their own photography and narrative. They use Google maps to identify the latitude and longitude of a location, and then input that location into LodeStar. They match the location with both audio and text narrative, select the photographs and work out the details – details such as: how many sites should be included in a tour; where should the invisible geo-fence be located that triggers the display of text and graphics; and how much information is sufficient.

This is their story as told by Robert Molenda, which we hope to inspire both formal and informal educators around the world across the disciplines:

The story of Lens Flare Stillwater

LensFlare

Screenshot of Lens Flare Stillwater, a site dedicated to revealing the history of Stillwater through location-aware applications.

The idea of this project started in May of 2015 when I sent a number of ideas for Stillwater to the Mayor of Stillwater. Among the ideas was the idea for Lens Flare Stillwater.

Imagine that you are a visitor for the first time to Stillwater, standing in front of Terra Springs Apartments. The Terra Springs location is active with a geolocation marker and your smart phone knows when it is inside the “geo-fence” of that location range. When this happens, a photo of this same location at an earlier historical time, appears on your smart phone along with pertinent historical information, an audio narrative and other digital photos that are part of that location story. In this manner, you as a visitor can experience “Augmented Reality” in an active location tour of Stillwater. You can touch, feel, read, listen to information pertinent to the actual location that you are near. As you move along in Stillwater and enter other active “geo-fences” your smart phone will trigger other information pertinent to these different locations.

The theme was to use the Historical Photos of the John Runk Photo Collection with today’s digital technology to put the history of Stillwater in everyone’s pocket or purse.

That was the basis for the idea. Since that time, we applied for a grant from the Stillwater Foundation, made contact with software developers, started a web site that provides a “Virtual Reality” tour of Stillwater and were fortunate to make contact with Lodestar Learning Systems, another software developer involved with educators.

The really difficult work of software development has already been accomplished by people like Sami Jitan of Pivot the World and Robert Bilyk of LodeStar Learning Systems. The job of our team of volunteers is concentrated on providing content consistent with software design legal requirements and visitor needs.

In summary, we are taking advantage of some truly great, high quality historical images, narratives/audio and combining them with geolocation information and software to provide an “Augmented Reality” tour of Stillwater, Minnesota.

Robert Molenda

An Example

Here is an example that can be experienced from the comfort of your office or home, but is best experienced on foot and in Stillwater.

https://lodestarlearning.site44.com/Stillwater/index.htm

Note several features:

  • Responsiveness
  • Location-aware
  • Media Support

 If you can’t visit our LodeStar Learning’s hometown of Stillwater with your smart phone, do the next best thing: Shrink the browser window down to the size of a smart phone. Notice the responsiveness. Students who access your learning management system from their smart phones will appreciate LodeStar’s ability to adapt to any screen size. Click on ‘Show Map’. If you are in Stillwater looking at this map, an info window pops up when you cross a geo-fence. Play the audio on a page. View some of the John Runk Collection from one of the image sliders.

All of this functionality combines with LodeStar’s other features: branching, quizzing, interactions, SCORM conformance, and accessibility.

For related articles from past web journal articles, visit:

Augmented Reality for Educators
https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/augmented-reality-for-educators/

Mobile Learning
https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2017/01/03/mobile-learning/

Strategies and Tools to Promote ‘Reading to Learn’ in Higher Ed

Introduction

In higher education, assigned readings challenge students in ways that we may not fully anticipate: culturally, linguistically and cognitively. Assigned readings challenge students if, on any given day, students complete the assigned reading at all!

The statistics on reading compliance are disheartening but not surprising, given students’ time constraints, divided attention and the inherent challenges of reading to learn.

Readings may require a cultural literacy to understand the references or analogies. They may require a highly developed vocabulary or a specialized vocabulary. They may also demand of students a prior knowledge, or a knowledge of specific principles, rules, and concepts. Instructors depend on students to complete the readings and understand them in order to participate in class or in online discussion groups and perform well on assigned papers and projects.

In their report on “Increasing Reading Compliance of Undergraduates: An evaluation of compliance methods” authors Sarah Hatteberg and Kody Steffy report that “studies have shown that no more than 30 percent of students complete a reading assignment on any given day.” In their study, they evaluate the effectiveness of strategies to get students to complete the assigned reading. Most effective were 1) announced reading quizzes, and 2) mandatory reading guides and questions. Least effective were pop quizzes and optional reading guides.

Getting students to read is a first step. Getting students to understand the reading and read deeply and critically is challenging.

In higher education, one can easily take the position that we simply assign readings to students and expect them to complete the readings and understand the readings sufficiently to participate in activities. A more enlightened approach might be to prepare students with motivators, advanced organizers, inquiry style questions, practice on critical concepts, self-checks and more. In other words, we can build activities that help student derive the most benefit from assigned readings.

Motivate Students

The most critical piece to getting students to read is motivation. Instructors need to address motivation head on by answering the following questions: After completing the reading, what will students know that they didn’t before? What will they be able to do that they could not do before? What relevance is the reading to the world beyond academia? If instructors can address these questions directly, students will prioritize the reading accordingly.

I recently heard an instructor say that students regard assigned activities (including readings) as a transaction. ‘I do this; you give me points.’ Students are given loads of stuff to read and to do. Selective reading – including skimming – is a survival skill.  Reading without a perceived direct reward gets lower priority.

So we can certainly quiz students ahead of or at the start of class. But that probably doesn’t encourage deep reading. We can be selective and give some of the readings the full ‘treatment’. By that, I mean, we can underscore the importance of the reading with a personal recording pleading the case. If a problem is central to the readings, we can look for a TED Talk or a short YouTube video that introduces the problem to students.

I’ll use a recent example that I experienced. In Minnesota, we generally enjoy a high standard of living and benefit from a good educational system – but that standard of living and access to good education is not equally open to all. Currently in Minnesota, families of color have median incomes half of those of their white neighbors. In a sociology class, students might be assigned an anthology of perspectives on what it is like to live in Minnesota for a person of color. Ahead of that reading, an instructor can use headlines, video clips, testimonials and other things to ratchet up interest in the issue of economic disparity in our state.

In my experience, inattention to motivation is prevalent in online education. Instructors put up course documents on grading policy and schedule of assignments – but neglect to get their students jazzed on the significance of the course to them. Michael Allen, in his Guide to e-Learning, laments that “Although outstanding teachers do their best to motivate learners on the first day of class and continually thereafter, many e-Learning designers don’t even consider the issue of learner motivation.” He is primarily writing about corporate eLearning designers, but I would venture that the same holds true in higher education. Examine the most popular rubrics for evaluating online education. Motivation is hidden in the rubrics and its importance is overshadowed by the rubrics’ attention to the issues of alignment, organization and communication. Michael Allen’s book goes on to reveal seven magic keys to enhancing learning motivation. His first magic key relates to helping learners see how their involvement in the course will produce outcomes that they care about.

Prepare and Engage Students

Prepare students for difficult readings with pre-training. Pre-training is one of the principles of multimedia learning featured in Richard Mayer’s research (co). Ruth Colvin Clark describes it as such: “The pre-training principle is relevant in situations when trying to process the essential material in the lesson would overwhelm the learner’s cognitive system. In these situations involving complex material, it is helpful if some of the processing can be done in advance”. Assigned readings can present essential material that may induce a cognitive overload. Pre-training may involve an advance organizer, graphical chart, an infographic, glossary or other aid to reduce the cognitive challenge of a reading.

One method of engaging students in assigned readings is to help focus students on the critical parts of the reading. Inquiry-based learning provides us with strategies that help focus students’ attention on the essential parts of the reading. Inquiry-based learning has many antecedents in educational practice, but the common theme is in helping students to think in advance of the reading by posing a burning question that needs to be answered; or asking students to consider what they know about this topic and what they not know; what do they anticipate that the reading will reveal to them (and then how does the actual reading differ). Inquiry-based learning can take on multiple forms. Instructors can generate questions for the students to answer. This is the most structured level of inquiry-based learning. Students can generate their own questions based on their interest. This is the most open and purest form of inquiry. There are several shades in between. Instructors can adapt the best approach and level of inquiry based on the students’ sophistication and need. The overall goal is the same. Deliberately select strategies to prepare and engage students in the readings.

Provide Direct Instruction on Concepts

We can choose to assume that students will complete the readings and understand concepts. That may, however, be a dangerous assumption. Sarah K. Clark in her post on “Making the Review of Assigned Reading Meaningful’ assumes differently. She asks her students to create a ‘top ten’ list of important concepts. This illuminates what students judge to be important and helps to uncover misconceptions about concepts. If we accept that student understanding of key concepts is essential, we can plan activities that directly address concept learning.

A learning object can be tremendously useful in promoting concept learning. A learning object, in this sense, is simply a learning activity that is authored with the help of any one of dozens of eLearning authoring tools and uploaded to the learning management system. The activity could help students categorize the examples and non-examples of a concept. For example, the concept of a ‘chemical reaction’. A chemical reaction occurs when the chemical composition of matter changes from one thing to another. An example is found when an acid is mixed with a base, resulting in the formation of something new: water and a type of salt. Many things, however, appear to change physically, but don’t change in chemical composition. These are non-examples.

A learning object can not only help students sort out examples from non-examples but identify attributes of a concept and engage in the elaboration of a concept. The elaboration model (in instructional design parlance) starts with simple examples that can be easily categorized and progresses to more challenging examples that are more difficult to categorize. We can help students to generalize (apply the attributes of a concept to unknown cases) and not to over-generalize. The key here is direct instruction. We are not assuming that students have understood the concepts presented in a chapter in either simple or complex form, but we are engaging them with the concept and helping them to think about it.

To further promote concept learning, we can ask students to create concept maps, Frayer models (which include concept definition, association, examples, and non-examples) and create analogies in their own words.

2017-03-07_2040

The LodeStar eLearning authoring tool was used to create learning activities that challenged workshop participants’ understanding of declarative knowledge and concept learning based on the reading of Patricia Smith and Tillman Ragan’s book titled Instructional Design.

Use the Reading

The literature consistently refers to the strategy of ‘using the reading’. Concepts learned in a chapter can be immediately put to use in an activity that involves analysis. Students in a political science course who read about federalism versus republicanism can apply their understanding to the analysis of a case study. They can be asked to judge whether or not the case is an example of the ideology of a Jefferson style republican or Hamilton style federalist. A timeline could show the change of meaning of the concept of republicanism over the decades.

Readings are important towards understanding the content, performing well on assessments and writing papers. In some courses, the assessments, papers and projects may be summative in that they are the culminating activity and not the building activity. As an alternative, we can design shorter activities that require students to use the reading. We can ask students to cite the readings in their discussion forum. We can ask students to create timelines or concept maps from the reading. We can ask students to produce charts related to what they already knew, what they now understand and what they don’t understand. We can ask students to produce an outline of the reading …. and the list goes on. Once we have students produce something, we can provide feedback. In that way, we have engaged students in a ‘building’ activity. We are helping students to build their skills.

Conclusion

The key to all of this is the attitude that we are going to do something deliberate and strategic. In higher education, we can no longer put the onus on students to complete the assigned readings, understand the readings and apply the concepts and principles appropriately. Students noncompliance with reading assignments is one reason; college dropout rate is another. A variety of strategies and tools helps us in this cause. Strategies and tools range from inquiry-based learning to motivating videos to learning objects that promote understanding of concepts. Online instructors can use strategies and tools to flesh out their courses and transform them from an assigned reading/high stakes assessment paradigm to one that directly addresses student learning.

Mobile Learning

Mobile Learning means much more than easy access to responsive educational applications from a smartphone or tablet.   It is an amazing confluence of technologies that represents a new era in technology-assisted instruction.  Researchers have a name for technologies that bring us new capabilities.  They call it affordances.  I once hated the word.  But now I embrace it. Recent advances in technology afford designers new opportunities to engage students.

New technologies bring new capabilities and help us redefine what is possible. When we had our shoulder to the wheel, working with computer-based training, floppy disks and stick figures, we looked up and saw the approach of interactive video disc players, and imagined the possibilities.  We worked with videodiscs for a time and then saw the virtue of CDROMs.  We gave up full-screen full-motion video for the ease of use of the CDROM and bought our first single speed burners for $5,000.   The CDROM gave way to the internet and the web application.  Flash based applications on the web gave way to HTML 5.  And now, the desktop is making room for the mobile app and the mobile browser experience.

We always lose something – but gain something more important in return.  New technology affords us new capabilities, new opportunities

Organization

To make best use of these capabilities, mobile learning demands that we think about old ideas in new ways.  To use a simple example to start, our current projects may have forward and back buttons that chunk the content in nice bite-sized pieces.  We recognize that chunking can be useful to learners.  But mobile users are in the habit of swiping up and down and sideways.  Content is laid out for them in one long flow or in slides.  Chunks on the screen are the result of how aggressively users swipe their fingers. It challenges us to think about organizing content in a new way.

Responsiveness

Mobile apps, whether run in a browser or natively on the mobile device’s operating system, must conform to all sorts of device shapes and sizes.  They call that form factor.  The iPhone alone comes in multiple sizes ranging from 4 to 5 ½ inches.  There are smartphones, phablets, mini-tablets and large tablets.  There are wearables and optical displays. An application may be run on anything from a multiscreen desktop configuration to the smallest smartphone.  An application may be viewed in portrait mode (vertical) or landscape (horizontal). The ability of a single application to conform to all of these display configurations is called responsiveness.  Responsively designed applications automatically size and scale the views, pick readable font sizes, layout components appropriately and provide for easy navigation.

mobile_learning

Responsive Application Created with LodeStar Learning FlowPageMaker

 

Designing Mobile Learning Experiences

But the challenge of mobile is not just in screen sizes and navigation.  It is in the appropriate design of applications pedagogically.  When we moved from computer-based training to videodisc we considered the power of full motion video and the ability of the learner to make decisions and indicate those decisions by touching the screen and causing the program to branch.  When we moved to CDROM we made use of 640 megabytes of data – which seemed massive but afforded us embedded encyclopedias and glossaries and other information and media at our fingertips.  When we moved to the web, suddenly WebQuests harnessed the full power of the internet and sent learners on inquiry-based expeditions for answers.

But what now?  What are the opportunities that mobile devices give us – in exchange for extremely small screen sizes, slower processors and slower connectivity?

Part of the answer lies in student access to resources when they are on a bus or on lunch break – spaces in their busy lives.   The more interesting answer is access to resources and guidance from environments where learning can happen: city streets, nature trails, museums, historical and geographical points of interest – in short, from outside of the classroom and the home office.

This is what mobile learning – M-Learning – is all about.  M-Learning requires much more from applications than being responsive.  They should support students being disconnected from the internet. They should support a link back to the mother ship – the institutional learning management system – once students are reconnected.  They should report on all forms of student activity.  They should report on not just quiz scores – but what students have read or accomplished or what a trained person has observed in the performance of the student.

Responsiveness is an important start – but this added ability to report remotely to a learning management system is facilitated by one of several technologies that are somewhat closely related.  You may have heard these terms or acronyms:  Tin Can, xAPI, IMS Caliper and CMI5.

To really appreciate the contributions of these standards to the full meaning of mobility, we need to do a deeper dive into the standards.  Bear with me. If you haven’t heard of these terms, please don’t be disconcerted.  They represent a tremendous new capability that goes hand-in-hand with mobile devices that is best explained by the Tin Can telephone metaphor.  If you haven’t heard of these terms, you are in good company.  We’re only on the leading edge of the M-Learning Tsunami.

Tin Can

Tin Can was the working title for a new set of specifications that will eventually change the kinds of information that instructors can collect on student performance.   To explain, let’s start with the basic learning management system.  In the system, a student takes a quiz.  The score gets reported to the grade book.  The quiz may have been generated inside the learning management system.  The student most likely logged into the system to complete the quiz.   But quizzes are just one form of assessment and no learning management system has the tools to generate the full range of assessments and activities that are possible.  Not Blackboard.  Not Moodle.  Not D2L.   Hence, these systems support the import or the integration of activities generated by third party authoring tools like Captivate, Raptivity, StoryLine, LodeStar and dozens and dozens of others.  With third-party tools, instructors can broaden the range of student engagement.  Learning management systems support tool integration through standards like Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI), IMS content packages and a set of specifications called SCORM. SCORM has been the reigning standard since the dawn of the new millennium. SCORM represents a standardized way of packaging learning content, reporting performance, and sequencing instruction.  SCORM is therefore a grouping of specifications.  Imagine packages of content that instructors can share (Shareable Content Object) and that follow standards that make them playable in all of the major learning management systems (Reference Model).

But SCORM has its limitations.  The Tin Can API is a newer specification that remedies these limitations.  A SCORM based application finds its connection (an API object) in a parent window of the application.  That’s limiting.  That means that the application has to be launched from within the learning management system. Tin Can enabled applications can be launched from any environment and can communicate remotely to a learner record store.  Imagine two tin cans linked by a string.  One tin can may be housed in a mobile application, and the other tin can in a learner record store or integrated with a learning management system.  The string is the internet.

SCORM has a defined and limited data set.  An application can report on user performance per assessment item or overall performance.  It can report on number of tries, time spent, responses to questions and dozens of other things but it is ultimately limited to a finite list of data fields.  (Only one data field allowed arbitrary data, but it was really limited in size.)

Tin Can isn’t limited in the same way. Tin Can communicates a statement composed of a noun, verb and object.  The noun is the learner.  The verb is an action.  And the object provides more information about the action.  Jill Smith read ‘Ulysses’ is a simple example.  Imagine the learner using an eBook Reader that communicates a student’s reading activity back to the school’s learner record store (housed in an LMS).  Tin Can is M-Learning’s bedfellow.  The mobile device gives students freedom of movement.  Tin Can frees students from the Learning Management System. Any environment can become a learning environment. Learning and a record of that learning can happen anywhere.          

lodestar_lrs

LodeStar Learning (LodeStar 7.2) Ability to configure an Learner Record Store Service (LRS) and Export to a Tin Can API enabled Learning Object

The next acronym, xAPI, is just the formal name for Tin Can.  Tin Can was a working title.  When I was at Allen Interactions working on ZebraZapps our team provided early comment related to this evolving specification – which became xAPI.  The eXperience API is a cool term for a cool concept, but Tin Can has stuck as a helpful metaphor.

The openness of Tin Can, however, presents its own challenge.   If one application reports on student reading performance in one way, and another application reports on a similar activity but in a different way, it is hard to aggregate the data and analyze it effectively.  It’s hard to compare apples and oranges.

IMS Caliper attempts to solve this problem.  IMS Global is the collaborative body that brought us standards for a variety of things, including learning content packages and quiz items.  IMS Caliper is a set of standards that support the analysis of data.  They define a common language for labeling learning data and measuring performance.

Which leads us to the last standard: CMI5.   CMI5 bridges Tin Can with SCORM.  Applications still benefit from the grade book and reporting infrastructure built around SCORM – but are free to connect remotely outside of the confines of the LMS — once again supporting M-Learning.

Had I written this entry a year ago, I would have found it difficult to try out various learner record stores.  Today, they abound.  The following link lists tools and providers:  http://tincanapi.com/adopters/

The following two LRS providers give you an inexpensive service in order to test out this technology for yourself.

Rustici SCORM Cloud

https://cloud.scorm.com

Saltbox Wax LRS

http://www.saltbox.com/

So what?

Now that we’re free to roam around the world, what do we do with that?  Mobile applications, even browser based mobile applications, use GPS, cell towers and WIFI to locate our phone geographically.   We can construct location-aware learning. We can guide students on independent field trips. They can collect information and complete assessments of their learning.  All of that can be shipped back to the institution through the learner record store.  Mobile devices have accelerometers and gyroscopes that help the phone detect orientation (e.g. horizontal and vertical) and the rate of rotation around the x, y and z axes.  With that we can create applications that assess the coordination of a learner in completing a task that requires manual dexterity.  Devices have cameras and microphones, both of which can be used to support rich field experiences.

The smart pedagogy for M-Learning is one that recognizes these affordances and uses them – rather than shrinking a desktop experience into a smaller form factor.

An Example

Aside from our work at LodeStar Learning and at the university, my most recent encounter with this technology came from a serendipitous meeting with a local community leader who introduced me to Pivot The World.

Pivot The World  http://www.pivottheworld.com represents an example of a good starting point.  It is a start-up company interested in working with universities, museums, cities, towns and anyone interested in revealing the full richness of a location in terms of history and cultural significance. It combines the freedom of movement of a mobile device with its ability to detect location, overlay imagery and geographical information, and match what its camera sees to a visual database to retrieve related information.   The combination of camera, maps, imagery, audio, location, and other services engage learners in a new kind of experience.

The Pivot The World founders and developers started in Palestine, have since applied their technology to a tour of Harvard University and are currently working with a volunteer group of history buffs to create a Pivot Stillwater experience in our own hometown.  At the north end of town, where there are condominiums, a simple swipe of the finger can reveal the old Stillwater Territorial Prison with elements of the prison preserved in the design of the new site.

If a university or museum wished to keep a record of student or visitor experiences with the application, then an integration with the Tin Can (xAPI) would add that dimension.  As users engaged with the content, statements of their experience could be sent to a Learner Record Store.

Conclusion

LodeStar Learning’s mission is to make these technologies and capabilities accessible to instructors. We have done that with the addition and improvement of our templates.  We have incorporated the ability to export any learner object with Tin Can capability.  Now instructors can choose between SCORM 1.2, SCORM 1.3, SCORM CLOUD, SimpleZip (for Schoology and other sites) and, most recently, TinCan 1.0.

We have improved Activity Mobile Maker and added ARMaker (for geographically located content) and FlowPageMaker for a new style of mobile design.

We’ve already gone global.  Now we’re going mobile.  We’re embracing M-Learning and all of its amazing affordances.

 

Augmented Reality For Educators

Introduction

The New Media Consortium predicts the sharply rising use of Augmented Reality (AR) in higher education over the next five years. As with any new technology, I am always interested in how AR can be made viable for busy instructors – so that a reasonable effort yields a commensurate return. I’ll introduce a prototype project that can be replicated by instructors. But first, let’s take a broad look at AR.

Augmented Reality covers a wide spectrum of applications, which is reflected in the consortium’s description of AR as “the incorporation of digital information including images, video, and audio into real-world spaces. AR aims to blend reality with the virtual environment, allowing users to interact with both physical and digital objects.” (NMC, Horizon Report, 2016 Higher Education Edition)

In this article I walk through the making of a simple AR application with the LodeStar authoring tool, which now includes the ARMaker template. Any intrepid instructor can create something similar for his or her own course.

Our use of AR fits closely with a common use that is defined by a research article that appeared in Computers and Education in March 2013, titled “Current status, opportunities and challenges of augmented reality in education”

First, AR technologies help learners engage in authentic exploration in the real world, and virtual objects such as texts, videos, and pictures are supplementary elements for learners to conduct investigations of the real-world surroundings (Dede, 2009). One of the most prevalent uses of AR is to annotate existing spaces with an overlay of location-based information (Johnson et al., 2010a).

AR supporters make claims of deeper engagement of students, connection of academic content to ‘real world’ and deeper levels of cognition. TechTarget’s definition of Augmented Reality is that it is the “integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real-time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it. “

You have already seen AR applications outside of education:

In watching football, you’ll notice the yellow first down line painted across the television screen. That has stuck as a useful and accepted addition to the game. Other ideas were not so well received. Fox Sports glowing, streaking hockey puck was the culmination of a $2 million R&D project that got hockey fans…well, glowing mad.

More relevantly, in education, teachers use technology to create their own “auras” around, for example, works of art that suddenly come to life when scanned with the mobile phone camera. An aura can cause music to play, or a video to show, or an animation to display. Math students can point their smart phone at an equation and watch it jump to life on the screen (Aurasma).

The QR tag is a simple form of Augmented Reality. Special QR reader apps enable museum visitors, for example, to scan a QR tag and launch a web site devoted to the art exhibit and its interpretation. JISC, formerly the Joint Information Systems Committee and now a non-profit company, describes a project in England where students scan rare manuscripts with their smart phones and have digital facsimiles appear so that they can turn the pages and get supporting videos, text and images to help them interpret the old texts.

Finally, the University of Oklahoma library created a smart phone app that guides visitors by sensing their physical location, and revealing information about nearby content resources. They placed Bluetooth beacons in strategic places. The beacons are set to transmit data at regular intervals. The smart phone receives the beacons’ unique id and as a result knows precisely where it is and what content should be displayed. Out of doors, the application uses GPS and the smart phone’s location services.

Imagining the Possibilities at a Simpler Level

I recently chatted with an environmental science professor at our university. Near our main campus we have a wonderful natural treasure called Swede Hollow. Swede Hollow is a wooded ravine at the foot of Dayton’s Bluff in East Saint Paul. Poor immigrant families settled in the hollow starting in the late 1800s. Phalen Creek once ran through it in full force. At the top of the bluff stood the Hamm’s Mansion until it burned down in the 1950s. At one end of the hollow stood the Hamm Brewery.

Swede Hollow is rich with historical, geological and natural interest. Of course, the environmental science prof had the knowledge to uncover the layers of significance of this area. We discussed a mobile application that would do just that. Students could visit the area with their cell phones and be presented with location-specific information that may not be readily apparent to the casual observer. For example, Phalen Creek is now “entombed’ in an underground tunnel that has attracted a following of urban adventurers.

The instructor has led student tours through Swede Hollow. On her tour, she mentions the changing appearance of trees during the seasons or the tunnel underneath and promises to show the imagery of urban adventurers when students return to the classroom. It is difficult to replace her personal touch with a digital application, but in terms of information and the display of digital assets, in an augmented reality application, the instructor’s expertise could be captured and presented to the students at specific locations. Students would be able to take the tour at their leisure – in a sense, asynchronously — spending more or less time at each location according to their interest. The dependency on the instructors’ availability would be removed.

About twenty miles from Swede Hollow is my home town – Stillwater, Minnesota. That’s where the story of our first prototype begins.

A working prototype

Stillwater is also rich in history, geography, plant and animal life, and politics. The same is true of many areas, and yet we pass through them at fifty miles an hour oblivious to the layers of interest that surround us or… remotely contemplate them from our computer terminal – perhaps in the context of an online learning class.

In Stillwater, we have the history of the saw mills, the bursting of a dam that sent tons of mud and debris down a ravine to reshape the downtown, the sandstone and limestone bluffs, the restoration of prairie grasses and oak savannas along the river, the wildlife, the reign of the lumber barons and the Victorian architecture. As in any area, all of this can be lost on the casual observer.

A walking tour can get us out of the car or away from the computer and into the world – aided by a smart phone and the captured knowledge of an educator like our environmental scientist.

Educators know the points of interest. Depending on their discipline, they know the civil rights history of an intercity area; they know the trees, and plants and shrubs featured in a tucked away ravine; they know the source and destination of streams. With the help of technology, they can now tell their story to all who are interested in a manner unprecedented.

Of course, education aside, Pokemon, portals and anomalies have gotten people out of their chairs and into the world. The company Niantic created Ingress and Pokemon Go to get people away from the game consoles and wandering about their neighborhood and cities in search of game features that are tied to locations through latitude and longitudinal coordinates. In the case of Pokemon Go, gamers are in search of uncaptured Pokemon that are found at specific locations. Gamers must physically go to those locations. In the case of Ingress, gamers find portals that they try to either destroy or restore. In both games, people move about with their smart phones, going to locations, causing the app to display something of interest.

In contrast, the type of interaction that we propose is simpler but rooted in the richness of a particular discipline. We propose something that instructors can create with the help of a template and a little creativity. Students are led on a guided tour of an area where they are introduced to the history or geography of that area or whatever matches the discipline. They are guided from point to point. Their instruction comes from observing the physical thing and hearing or reading about its significance or challenged to take notes and draw conclusions from their observations or any variation thereof.

In the project that we are building as a proof of concept, we explore the history of Stillwater. The City of Stillwater has already produced a walking tour. It is well done with vetted historical content and professionally produced media. Currently, visitors can access the Historic Downtown Walking Tour website and view each location from the convenience of their computers.

We propose that students travel to the location and experience all of the sights, sounds and smells of the location in addition to learning about its significance.

The current tour is concentrated in downtown Stillwater both east and west of Main street.

In our prototype, students are guided to a location and then given information on how to find the next location. In the following screen shots from the prototype, students start at the pergola by the river. Once there, they can access an audio presentation on the preservation efforts at the turn of the last century and the resulting Lowell Park. They are then guided to a mill, old freight house, caves that stored beer kegs, and more.

We created the prototype by launching LodeStar and selecting the ARMaker template.  For each page we put in the precise location with the help of Google Maps and a Google Earth overlay.  For each page, we inserted images, typed text and imported audio that was matched to the location.  In the future, you will see the results of this project.  We are awaiting  permission from the city council for this ‘proof of concept’. In the meantime, we can tell you some of the benefits and challenges of designing this prototype.

2016-10-23_1842

Matching content with Latitude and Longitude Coordinates with LodeStar

Lessons Learned

The theme of the Stillwater walking tour is the ingenuity of humans to eke out their livelihoods from the natural resources of the area: lumber, wheat, and beer, to name a few. The walking tour covers the triumphs and the trials of the various local businesses and enterprises. It’s a sneak peek into the past.

To date, we learned several things from creating this walking tour. We’ll list some of the more important lessons:

  • Stay out-of-doors. Accurate locations come from GPS satellites. The results indoors will vary greatly depending on the location. When GPS is unavailable, locations are achieved through other, less reliable means. Whereas the GPS signals can give us coordinates that are two or three meters off target – in other words, fairly precise – alternative means may give us imprecise coordinates, which may be dozens of meters off target.
  • Add a fudge factor. Set the location with a proximity of 40 feet. That means, when the students are within forty feet of the target, the content will display/play. 40 feet may seem like a wide radius, but once students are on a field trip and approaching landmarks, 40 feet is not a large distance at all.
  • Make it easy for students to know where the next location is. Have students follow a street or a path or a riverbank. Alternatively, give precise directions to the next stop.
  • Use text, images and audio. Video can pose a problem. Students will be connected through 3G or 4G. The data rate for 3G is 2 Megabits per second. The data rate for 4G is 20 megabits per second or higher. 10 times faster. The experience will be quite different for the two users.
  • Use simple questions to check students’ understanding at a site, with feedback.
  • Be careful of making students walk great distances without frequent points of interest.
  • Consider visual and hearing impairments when designing the application
  • Be mindful of students who can’t walk great distances. Distances are short on a map, but not in the field. Consider, an alternative, shorter tour.
  • Instruct students to first load the project website into their browser when they have a good connection to the internet so that images and audio can get cached, resulting in a better playback experience for students.
  • When producing a self-guided tour, use Google maps on the desktop to set locations with at least six digit precision. For example, 45.094156. Google maps will allow you to zoom into a location and click to set a marker. Overlay Google maps with Google Earth to know where you are and get very accurate locations. Copy the coordinates of the marker into your application. If you must walk the tour to set locations, download an app that gives you good coordinates. An example app would be LocMarker Lite, which allows you to add and record locations with six digit precision. The compass on the iPhone, conversely, gives you coordinates in degrees, minutes and seconds, which is not enough resolution. A second of latitude is 80 feet.

Why it works

When we hear, see, read, discuss and reflect upon things we are encoding information and experiences in semantically rich ways that help in the retrieval of this experience and relating it to other knowledge. We experience the moment, the sights and smells. We note the texture of the object, its placement, its size and we ponder the relationship of some newly presented content to this tree or building or river way.

Augmented Reality can also challenge us to think critically about what we are seeing. I remember when I was a boy going on a technology-assisted field trip that I will never ever forget. The technology was the orienteering compass. We moved from location to location by being given a directional bearing and a number of paces. One of the locations was a tree that was obviously diseased. We were challenged to identify the disease and then introduced to Dutch Elm disease. I had never known the devastating effects of disease on trees ….and recalled the experience later in life when our own woods were ravaged by oak wilt.

Conclusion

This is a first attempt at AR. We have already published the ARMaker template with the latest release of the LodeStar eLearning authoring tool. You can download the trial version and immediately access the ARMaker template. Try it for your own class and give us feedback on how you designed your walking tour. Eventually, we will propose an AR assisted walking tour design pattern that reflects best practice.

Download LodeStar at http://www.lodestarlearning.com   Look for the Try link at the top for the trial version.  Select the ARMaker template.

Happy exploration.