Should I take that class online or face-to-face?

Posted on May 9, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

A new study by the CCRC give us some insight into what courses students like to take online vs. on campus. According to the study, if students think the course will be interesting, difficult, or important, they will choose f2f. 

So, what constitutes “easy” courses that students to want to take online? According to the study, which interviewed 46 students at 2 Virginia community colleges, easy = courses students think they can teach themselves from the textbook. 

My take-away: students don’t perceive that the interaction (student-faculty, student-student, student-content interaction) in an online class is similar to the interaction in a face-to-face class. This points out to me the wide variety of quality in online courses. A high quality online course can have student interaction that far exceeds that of a f2f class (you can’t sit quietly in the back of the classroom in an online class). But many online classes may not meet that standard.

Unfortunately, I think that when online education was newer and we all knew less about pedagogy and had fewer tools for engagement at our disposal, online courses may have been more like correspondence courses (with the addition of discussion forums). That model may have soured many students (and many faculty) on online courses. But today’s online courses have tremendous potential for engaging activities, multimedia, and the easy incorporation of universal design principles. It is up to faculty and the instructional designers and technologists who work with them to make use of these approaches and tools so that tomorrow’s students will not see online = teach yourself and f2f = the teacher teaches you (equations in which both answers are wrong). In any mode, the emphasis needs to be on learning, not teaching. I do agree with the students in the study who perceived the importance of their access to and connection with a faculty member who cares about their learning. I just think that it is equally possible in online and f2f courses.  


he researchers conducted one-on-one interviews with students and found the majority “felt they did not learn the course material as well when they took it online,” according to the study. “For most students, this deficit was due to reduced teacher explanation and interaction.”

Yes, small sample size,


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California Community College Scorecard

Posted on April 21, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

All colleges (all institutions of any type, all businesses, etc.) will say they make data-informed decisions (and we hope they do!). One of the challenges I face is how to present data in a meaningful way to those people who  need it to make decisions! The community colleges as a sector have this problem. In April 2013, the California community college system released a new way to show dashboards: web-based Student Success Scorecards. This is a big deal: CA has 112 community colleges and enrolls 2.4 million students (making is the largest higher ed system in the world).  The data tool includes graduation, retention, and transfer rates for each college and the overall system. 

The scorecards provide a great model to follow for cutting our institutional data (both in terms of what data to track for dashboards and how to present the data visually). In addition to the standard breakdowns by include breakdowns by ethnicity, gender and age, the scorecards also include more than just graduation rates – with measures like the percentage of students who complete 30 credits and data on how students who placed into developmental courses did compared to students who placed into college-level courses. 

Now it is time to drill down to see how New Jersey compares – and how New Jersey’s community colleges can benchmark against and learn from the successes (and problems) of our peers in California. 

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Defining College and Career Readiness: Massachusetts Weighs In

Posted on April 7, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

On March 12, 2013, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education released a white paper with a comprehensive list of the essential competencies that define “college and career readiness.” Although there is not much new here, it is a useful list – and I appreciate that it includes both intellectual as well as affective (non-cognitive) behaviors:


Students will be academically prepared to

  • Read and comprehend a range of sufficiently complex texts independently
  • Write effectively when using and/or analyzing sources
  • Build and present knowledge through research and the integration, comparison, and synthesis of ideas
  • Use context to determine the meaning of words and phrases
  • Solve problems involving the major content with connections to the mathematical practices
  • Solve problems involving the additional and supporting content with connections to the mathematical practices
  • Express mathematical reasoning by constructing mathematical arguments and critiques
  • Solve real world problems, engaging particularly in the modeling practice

Workplace Readiness:

College and Career-Ready Students will demonstrate:

  • Attendance and punctuality expected by the workplace
  • Workplace appearance appropriate for position and duties
  • Accepting direction and constructive criticism with a positive attitude and response
  • Motivation and taking initiative, taking projects from initiation to completion
  • Understanding workplace culture, policy and safety, including respecting confidentiality and workplace ethics
  • Oral and written communication appropriate to the workplace
  • Listening attentively and confirming understanding
  • Interacting with co-workers, individually and in teams

Qualities and Strategies:

Students should demonstrate: 

  • Higher order thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation
  • The ability to think critically, coherently, and creatively
  • The ability to direct and evaluate their own learning, be aware of resources available to support their learning, and have the confidence to access these resources when needed.
  • Motivation, intellectual curiosity, flexibility, discipline, self-advocacy, responsibility, and reasoned beliefs
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That Chart!

Posted on March 14, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Every educator has seen this chart (in one form or another – a list, a pyramid, etc.). But when I need it, I can never seem to find it quickly. My solution? Put it in this blog – and I will always know where to find it!

Learning Mode/ % Retained

Lecture: 5%

Multimedia: 20%

Demonstration: 30%

Discussion: 50%

Doing: 75%

Teach it to Someone Else: 90%

(Hmm, I am sure I have led faculty development sessions during my career using this chart – so if teaching it to someone else leads to a 90% retention rate, I guess when it comes to these statistics, I am in the 10%). 


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Reading text on a screen is not the same as reading text in a book – so what can we do about text in our online classes?

Posted on March 14, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

So, given that reading text on a screen is not the same as reading text in a book or on paper how do we improve written communication in online classes? Well, a few things can help! Research shows that typefaces, information placement, using colors, margins, and font size all determine how much content students will read, perceive, and internalize. research shows that students don’t read on screens – they scan

For the research and tips on how to improve written communication in online classes, see a great article from Campus Technology: “8 Considerations for Online Text.”

What are the 8 considerations?

1. Allow for white space! (Or black space or whatever color space). Don’t clutter. 

2. Limit text (this goes with #1). Limit the amount of text on-screen at any given time. (You don’t do this in books because books are on paper and cost money – not so for screen space). Create on-screen documents in which the reader does not have to scroll down or across a screen. 

3. Alignment. Always left justify (books have trained us to read this way so just do it). (And don’t worry about full justification the way books do – just make it readable). 

4. Typefaces and Fonts. Serifs or sans serifs are okay – just make sure your font is readable and letters don’t together (which can happen with some serif fonts). [Nice history lesson that was my favorite part of the article: serifs were originally developed when letters and numbers were chiseled into stone. The serif would “end” the stroke and prevent it from cracking over time and destroying the rest of the stone.] Don’t go smaller than 12 point font for body text and avoid distractions by using no more than than three different fonts. 

5. Case. DON’T USE UPPER CASE TOO OFTEN. IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO READ (and readers think you are yelling).

6. Don’t underline (or people think it is a hyperlink). Don’t overuse italic or bold fonts – both can be distracting. 

7. Color matters. For readability, background colors should be dark and the fonts should be light (because a light background will cause glare and eventually negatively impact the readers’ eyes). Use bold or colors for emphasis (but beware of emotional responses to colors). [I, for one, try never to use red because of its negative associations – stop sign, stop light, red ink all over my high school English essay].  And of course, make sure you use strong contrast between background and foreground (for colorblindness).

8. Placement. The more important real estate on the screen is upper left – so put the important information there! The low priority space is usually the bottom right – so put an image there to attract attention. 

Bottom line: The easier it is for students to read the text, the more they will comprehend – so let’s do are part to support our students. 

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Why Gen Ed…

Posted on March 6, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I heard a great quote this week that I don’t want to forget so I am recording it here.

Student in a career-focused technical degree: “Why do I have to take these Gen Ed courses?”

Faculty Advisor: “The courses in your major will [hopefully] get you your first job. Your Gen Ed courses will get you your first promotion.”

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The Role of the Liberal Arts Associate’s Degree

Posted on March 2, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The economic value of a Liberal Arts degree has come under scrutiny in recent months by governors and legislatures who want to make a stand about how state and federal monies are use to subsidize tuition.  A recent higher education blog post from Hanover Research gives a great, research-informed view of the place of Liberal Arts at community colleges. 

The post includes links to useful data sources that show the increasing use of community colleges as gateways to the bachelor’s degree. They also provide evidence (pay attention politicians!) for how the liberal arts curriculum cultivates valuable career skills. I highly recommend it!

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Teaching with GoogleDocs | Inside Higher Ed

Posted on February 28, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

We have some great conversations on my campus about how-tos and best practices for using GoogleDocs in the classroom. I thought this blog about using Google Docs by GradHacker in Inside Higher Ed  was really nicely done!

Teaching with GoogleDocs | Inside Higher Ed.

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Books I Want to Read

Posted on February 28, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

In conversations over the past few days, a number of people have recommended books to me that I know I won’t have time to read (yet!), but I don’t want to lose track of them. So I am recording them here for my future self (the one who has lots of time to read!).

  1.  Robert I. Sutton, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t (2007)
  2. Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (2010) – which spawned
  3. Liz Wiseman, Lois Allen, and Elise Foster, The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside our Schools (set for release on March 19, 2013)
  4. J. Noah Brown (president of the American Association of Community College Trustees), First in the World: Community Colleges and America’s Future (ACE series on Community Colleges). (2012)


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Community Colleges get a lukewarm rap…again…and I want to do something about it!

Posted on February 28, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

According to a Gallup poll released on February 5, only 19% of Americans “strongly agree” that community colleges offer high-quality education.  (America’s Call for Higher Education Redesign: The 2013 Lumina Foundation Study of the American Public’s Opinion on Higher Education). 19% sounds low to me – but, only 29% of Americans “strongly agreed” that traditional colleges and universities offer high-quality education. (I think that low number surprises me more). I was not as surprised to read that only 11% of Americans “strongly agree” that online colleges and universities offer high-quality education. 

I guess I shouldn’t be depressed by these data – but rather, use them as the springboard to reflect [again] on what community college can do to improve our images and better serve students. Instead of getting depressed about what I can’t control (other people’s views of community colleges), I can do something about what I can control. I think that as a sector and individually in our own communities, community colleges need to do a better job of educating our constituents on the fantastic work that we do – and on a budget that is a fraction of that enjoyed by our 4-year college neighbors. 

Recently I was speaking to a high school guidance counselor who said, “you know, community college is no one’s first choice.” Well, in my region that might be true, but it still stung to hear it articulated so plainly – and it stuck with me for days. We may not be many students’ first choice, but we are still many students’ best choice. 

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Instructional Technology tools, tips, tricks, and random thoughts