Plagiarism

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Plagiarism, in my mind, is not always a direct act of theft. I honestly believe, that even at higher levels of education and in the professional world, a majority of us simply don’t truly understand and grasp the requirements of proper citations, when to provide credit for borrowed ideas, and more (Laureate Education, 2010). It is understandable, personally, since a lot of times in the real world, your task is to do some research on best practices, come back to the team with your findings, and put it into action. You rarely cite anything, outside of possibly mentioning where the best practices came from, and you certainly aren’t giving credit for the project completion to whatever source you found.

When we enter the education realm however, plagiarism has more than just an ethical (and possible legal) issue. It can have a dramatic impact on your ability to meet your education goals. Getting caught plagiarizing, even if on accident, could mean expulsion, and in some situations, a permanent ban from school networks. As online instructors, we have to identify and, preferably, prevent plagiarism (Laureate Education, 2010). But how do we do that?

First, you should take advantage of various plagiarism software detectors. Even something as simple as using Google to search for strings of text, can often return exact matches and lead you to papers, research, and more where the idea may have been grabbed from.

Second, I really think setting clear expectations around grading and assessments helps deter plagiarism (Jocoy, DiBiase, 2006). Using the work example I noted above, if your boss isn’t requiring proper citation for work, you are probably going to ignore it. If as an instructor, we make it very clear that plagiarism is not only in our syllabus noted as a drastic offense, but it is also included as part of the grading criteria for each and every assignments rubric, we set clear expectations for the students, and reinforce them with every grade. Make sure to follow up on anyone who doesn’t hit the mark on this area as well. Provide them with resources and tools to help them with their citations, understanding what is and isn’t plagiarism, etc. Don’t let them flounder by themselves on a topic that is very confusing to many.

Third, I believe you also have to model your expected behaviors. From your introduction, to your response postings on the discussion forums, to your weekly announcements. If you can find a way to reference an outside source, cite it appropriately, and model the behaviors and actions you want from your students, you stand a better chance of seeing that same behavior returned.

Really, I think the key is setting clear expectations and sticking to them, modeling the behavior and actions you want and providing tools and support for your students to follow, and finally monitoring and detecting plagiarism, and correcting the behavior as soon as possible.

As I started with, I honestly think the majority of plagiarism is accidental. I wouldn’t rush into any accusations against a student, unless you have seen them demonstrate it in a gross misconduct fashion.

References

Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by adult learners online: A case study in detection and remediation. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 7(1), 1-15.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Plagiarism and cheating [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Planning for Online Learning

planningI’m a really big “prep and plan” kind of guy. I prep my food every week, I have spreadsheets and information on future plans for diets, workout schedules, work schedules, finances, purchases (big and small), and more. So the idea of planning isn’t something foreign to me. With the online environment, you simply can’t afford NOT to plan (Laureate Education, 2010). I would wager that the most important aspects of an online course happen before the class starts, and then within the first week of class. I say this, because it doesn’t matter how great your 8 week course is, with wonderful content and resources, discussions and assignments, if you can’t get the students engaged from the start and keep them coming back for more. You run the risk of losing the majority of your student base with a poor start, and with no scheduled meeting times or forced face-to-face interaction, it can be near impossible to get them back.

What is the significance of knowing the technology available to you?

One of the biggest benefits to the online learning environment, is that the entire world is at your students’ fingertips. You know that if they are checking in, that they are connected to the internet and have access to the largest collection of information, ideas, and technology in the history of man-kind, and can access it with a simple hyperlink and click of the mouse (How Technologies Will Change the Learning Functions Role, 2015). By not taking advantage of this opportunity as an instructor, you are limiting yourself and your students immensely (Boettcher, 2010). Just as doctors and nurses are required to complete a certain amount of continuing education courses each year, with the goal that they stay on top of new developments in medicine and health care, instructors and instructional designers (especially online based) should be prepared to invest a portion of their year simply learning about new technology advances and their application to learning, new developments in instructional design, best practices in instruction, and much more. You open the door to new possibilities when you develop your technological toolkit, and proceed to pass the benefits off to your students.

Why is it essential to communicate clear expectations to learners?

Have you ever been in a situation where you were simply confused? Maybe your boss left a note or sent you an email with a new assignment. The details were there, but you simply couldn’t figure out what you were meant to be doing, what your next steps were, or even really what the project was about?

How about, getting that same assignment, and thinking you know EXACTLY what to do. You put in a weeks worth of work, turn around to give your boss the first draft, which you are extremely proud of, and they get that look on their face like “what is this?”?

Both situations can be tied back to unclear expectations, which are detrimental to the online learning community, for the same reason they are detrimental to any other activity. They create confusion, which leads to frustration, which can easily lead to anger, and resignation. Want to disengage your learners, and have a high drop-out rate? Give them unclear directions and let them fend for themselves (Burnsed, 2010).

What additional considerations should the instructor take into account when setting up an online learning experience?

While I probably can’t provide ALL of the considerations here, the number one item I can state, is “Who is your learner audience?”. The most important aspect of any instructional endeavor, is knowing who you are working with (Morrison, Ross, Kalman, Kemp, 2013). What technology do they have, understand, and know how to use? What do they know about the topic at hand? What is their commitment to this course? Why are they here? And so much more. Consider cultural differences, learning preferences, time zones, language barriers (Dreon, 2013). The beauty of online learning, is that we can connect with a very wide group of students. The potential downside, is accommodating them all. Without knowing who they are, what they need, and what they expect to accomplish, you’ll be letting them down from the very start.

References

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Burnsed, B. (2010, October 20). Curtailing Dropouts at Online Universities. Retrieved January 17, 2016, from http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2010/10/20/curtailing-dropouts-at-online-universities

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Dreon, O. (2013, February 25). Applying the Seven Principles for Good Practice to the Online Classroom. Retrieved January 13, 2016, from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/applying-the-seven-principles-for-good-practice-to-the-online-classroom/

How Technologies Will Change the Learning Functions Role. (2015, December 22). Retrieved January 17, 2016, from https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/Learning-Technologies-Blog/2015/12/How-Technologies-Will-Change-the-Learning-Functions-Role?mktcops=c.lt~c.sr-leader&mktcois=c.mobile-learning~c.research-into-practice~c.managing-learning-programs~c.informal-learning&

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Launching the online learning experience [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H. K., & Kemp, J. E. (2013). Designing effective instruction (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Online (Learning) Communities – more than just your Facebook friends sharing pictures of their cat…

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Online learning communities are something that you truly don’t appreciate, until you’ve been a part of a really good one. I’ve had experiences on both sides, some really good, some really bad. The bad ones normally involved a lack of student and teacher involvement, misunderstood or unclear guidelines and rules, and typically the thought is that it is used only for those in need of help. The good ones, on the other hand, are highly active with students and teachers, providing each other with different points of view, thought provoking questions and answers, and have a very clear understanding of expectations and usage. This ends in a better experience for the student and teacher. The students are able to break down a lot of the potential negatives of a distance learning course like lack of personal connection, communication, etc (Ertmer, Newby, 1993) . For the teacher, as the more active the students are, and the more their role takes on a scholar practitioner, the less the teacher has to be at the “front of the class” directing and steering the class (Boettcher, Conrad, 2010).

How do we successfully build this kind of a community?

Well first off, it isn’t one persons job. While the facilitator, instructional designer, and everyone involved with building and delivering the course certainly have a large portion of the foundation of the community riding on their shoulders, the students themselves still MUST be active and present (Boettcher, Conrad, 2010). So if you are out there, taking an online course and are simply putting in the minimal effort, waiting till the last second to post and respond, you are doing yourself and your fellow students a disservice. Active and timely student interactions is key. You also need to be prompting more from your fellow students than simply “Nice Post!”. Dig deeper, and reflect on their post with your own experience, provide additional insight, and prompt with a question(Markel, 2001). This helps you connect to that student (sharing experiences and ideas), and brings both parties back to the conversation for more.

As the instructor, ideally, you’ll be able to go through several phases during your course in terms of your type and amount of interaction (Boettcher, Conrad, 2010). In the beginning, you’ll spend a lot of time noting and calling out good examples of work. This helps students understand what to look for in their own assignments. You also help the conversation build, as students become accustomed to the learning format, their fellow students, and the course materials. As time proceeds, your involvement will be heavily influenced by the students involvement. See someone being left out of the conversation? Jump in. See someone going the wrong way with their conversation, or missing a key learning concept? Jump in. You don’t want to impede students from interacting with each other, or feel like they need to wait for your prompt to begin. Instead, see how you can hand off the reigns to the classroom and let the students become as much of a “instructor” as you are in terms of helping each other learn (Boettcher, Conrad, 2010).

Last on my list, is the environment. While the two items above factor into that, the environment is an all encompassing idea. The technology and tools need to be easy to access, use, and understand. The guidelines and expectations need to be extremely clear to the students. I can’t think of one thing more frustrating, than getting an assignment back with marks on it, and having no idea why, how to correct it, or what to do going forward. The environment should be welcoming, and free of negativity and blame. It is perfectly acceptable for students to have differing points of view, but there is a right and wrong way to communicate your differences and remain professional (Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011).

If you are able to hit these three marks; solid student activity, a proper instructor involvement, and a welcoming and professional environment, you are bound to have a better learning experience for yourself and your students.

What are your experiences with online learning communities? Good? Bad? Let me know in the comments.

References

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4),50-71.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Markel, S. (2001, July 1). Technology and Education Online Discussion Forums: It’s in the Response. Retrieved October 4, 2015.

 

Craigslist… A Garage Gym’s Best Friend

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If you have the option of a used market in your area, and you are considering putting together a Garage Gym, you would be insane to NOT utilize it. Here is a quick write up I did for Reddit with my experience: Reddit – r/Home Gym.

Additionally, FringeSport loved my write up so much, they sent me a few shirts for the ability to post it on their site. You can read it here: http://www.fringesport.com/blogs/news/80504900-how-to-use-craigslist-to-build-a-garage-gym-for-pennies-on-the-dollar

I’ll do a more in depth dive on Craigslist in the future here, but this is a solid start.

No – But In a Nice Way

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We get requests on a regular basis to develop training for various departments of our Bank. Part of being an instructional designer, is knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “lets look at another option” (see how I didn’t say “no”). The hard ones are always convincing people that some things just aren’t that important to the learner, at this time (the at this time part is important). While they are important to the subject matter experts, and may be important to a learner at another time, trying to cram everything into a course to make sure you hit all possible items is just bad instructional design. Not only does it distract from the key concepts, it overloads the learner and essentially you don’t learn more about two items, you learn less about each.

With that in mind, I think to a recent course our team was tasked with. Our annual performance reviews are coming up, and we were going to develop a course for the end-of-year process. The course outline was developed and approved, storyboards were built, and then the issues started to arise. Feedback came in that we needed to teach managers how to have difficult conversations with their employees. That this HAD to be added to the course. This was already a 30 minute self-paced eLearning, approaching if not exceeding the limits of time, and they wanted several slides on this very in depth and crucial topic. What ended up happening, was it was thrown in at the very end right before the quiz, given a quick introduction and a brief scenario explanation. This is something, in my mind, that disserves a full 8 hour face-to-face course, not simply a 4 minute teaser at the end of a course. This not only distracts from the main topic of the course, it also doesn’t serve its purpose to portray the importance of the topic. The unfortunate part, is the content was added with almost no push-back at all. The “everything and the kitchen sink” mentality of eLearning design is still strong in my company.

Ideally, if I had been in charge, I would have been able to go back and ask if we needed to re-work the objectives of the course. If they needed to be changed, then help them understand what that means, how this impacts the course design process, etc. If they didn’t need to change, then explain to them and help them understand that the new proposed content did not link to the objectives. This content could, and probably should, live in another learning outside of the one currently being developed, but it had no place in the succinct learning planned. We needed to stay true to the objectives of the course, and make sure we hit our deliverable dates, on time, and in accordance to our approved objectives and outlines.

References

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Multimedia learning theory [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Measure Twice

Project Post-Mortems are something I think unfortunately happen too little. Being a budding instructional designer might give me a different view on things, but I try hard to look at the learning opportunities of everything, successes and failures, both in and out of work (Greer, 2010). I want to see what I did right, so I can emulate that again in future work. I also want to see what I did wrong, why it wrong, and how I can hopefully never do that again. With that said, here is a fun project post-mortem from a wood working project I did about two years ago.

I have a decent sized set-up of workout equipment in my garage that myself and my wife use instead of going to a commercial gym. We have bars, weights, dumbbells, a rack, etc. One thing we needed, was some form of box for various exercises. I wanted it to be multi-use, as a garage gym’s most precious resource is typically space. So I wanted it to be able to store easily, have the top come off for multiple purposes, and be able to use it for various lifts, steps, exercises, and more.

What I did well, was do my research on what others had done (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, Kramer, 2008). I wasn’t trying to recreate the wheel entirely, but I did need a pseudo custom design. So I looked at a lot of designs, did a lot of research and analysis on wood from my local hardware store, etc. I gathered my information, modified it to my needs, and came up with a very solid plan to build my boxes. Some of the materials I already had, leftover from another project, which was excellent. I could cut down on some of the leftover clutter, cut down my costs, and build a better product in the end. I went to the store with my materials list, and had notes of cut sizes for the lumber store, as they charged me only a dollar to cut several boards in a much more exact size than I could myself at home with the tools I have. I had my level, drill, tape measurer, and pen ready for the project when I got home. I measured and pre-drilled my various holes in the wood, and started assembling my boxes.

This is where I hit a bump in the road. I quickly found out that when they list wood measurements of 2×4, or in my case 2×10, it is actually closer to 1½ by 3½. This completely threw off my entire measurement plan and build. I ended up having to cut the wood with a handsaw (yes, 9.5 inch thick wood) in various places just to get it to simply “work”. I made an assumption that the measurements listed were exact, instead of testing them for myself. This is a big no-no, especially in the wood working realm. While my project wasn’t a complete failure, we still use the boxes today, they aren’t what I wanted. They didn’t come out as clean and smooth as I had hoped, one side sticks pretty bad when you get the top on, and you have to identify top 1 to box 1, and top 2 to box 2, where as they should ideally just fit properly for either or.

What did I learn? I learned to follow the old adage of Measure Twice, Cut Once. I’ve since done a handful of projects with wood, nothing like building tables or anything really impressive, but I still measure at least twice to make sure I’m doing it correctly. I honestly feel like I did 99% of the project correctly. From gathering resources, looking at what I already had available, what others had done successfully, using the work of an outside contractor (the lumber store), and basically my entire analysis was spot on, minus the one piece (Laureate Education, n.d.). The moral of the story, you can hit all the nails on the head, but just one miss can result in a BIG miss.

Have you had any projects, either work or personal, that you had a big Aha! Moment after (most likely from a failure)? If so, tell me in the comments.

References

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Practitioner voices: Barriers to project success [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.