Entering the Research Game – Computer Literacy Among Undergrads

My wife and I recently had a new baby, so I decided not to lecture my VBA course this summer and I ended up having only 6 weeks of layoff, which I am currently enjoying.

I go back to work August 25 and while due to certain complications I’m not sure yet if I’ll be lecturing a computer literacy course in September, I do have to get started on doing some more “professorial” type things if I want them to be done before classes start.

Over the past few years as a lab instructor I have been collecting data on my student’s level of computer skills and interactions at the beginning of the first year service course. The data I find is quite interesting, and I had it configured as a “quiz” in Desire2Learn so it will give students a “score” out of 100. It is interesting to see how their scores average less than 50, but really is to be expected considering it is based on material they are supposed to learn in the course.

But in order for me to be able to publish this information, I had to complete the TCPS 2 Core tutorials and will have to make sure my survey passes our ethics board approval. I’m a little nervous but since the data I collect will be anonymous and mostly for diagnostic purposes, I don’t expect there to be any problems getting approval. I just have to sit down and get to work on completing the proposal and updating the questions. Technically, this also means I can never post the data from the past 6 years I’ve been running the survey, but at least it will finally give me a base to start with, and I can always just look at the old data for fun :)

Today I stopped by to see my friend and colleague Karljürgen and we discussed his boat, among other things.

And then later today I spent time doing more of what takes me away from chatting and research, but I guess that’s ok too.

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Using Social Media in Higher Education Part I

I’ve been planning on putting a presentation together on this topic, using social media in higher education, and thought it would be good to put some thoughts down and perhaps get feedback from people.

I currently have a recurring part-time position as a lecturer for a second year university course. It is a computer programming course in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) – the language used to write macros in Excel and Word. I helped create the lab portion of the course when it was first created in 2007, when it was taught in Visual Basic (.NET). In 2010 when it was converted to only cover VBA, I did everything from choose the textbook (after some direct recommendations from my departmental Chair of course) to essentially re-write the labs and create lecture notes… the textbook did not come with it. So I now lecture the course and teach the labs, as no other faculty member usually wants the course. Besides, not many Computer Science PHDs write in VBA :)

Last year I tried something different. I started teaching the course and providing lab material through a WordPress.com blog (the blog is called CP212XLApps). My students are primarily second year students, some major in computer science, some major in business and most are finance and computer science double degree.

Some of you may find this remarkable, but of course most of my students did not post any blog comments or otherwise utilize the “social” aspect of the blog. I think partly it has to do with the fact that I never provided any marks for doing so, but also the fact that students in general don’t REALLY take part in blogs or the general miasma that is social media. All they really do is use Facebook. If you are an educator and attend all sorts of lectures or talks on using social media to interact with your students, check first: Do they actually use it, and do they want you to?

I also recorded every lecture using a voice recorder, and provided the .mp3 files to my students. I placed them inside our learning management system so only our students could access them, and provided very clear instructions that the students were not to post the files anywhere else.

As an added bonus, I created a weekly video update and started each video with a clip of me saying “If you missed class this week, here is what you missed,” and I included videos or PowerPoint slides reviewing the material that was covered. The students seemed to enjoy both the audio files and the videos and found them very useful. (FWIW, here is one of them dealing with consolidating data in Excel.)

I eventually got too frustrated with taking my original HTML teaching material and trying to fit them into the WordPress templates, so I just resorted to linking to my original files but all in all it worked out well. I’m very technically oriented (as you might have guessed), so for me putting together web pages in Dreamweaver is really the simplest approach that works the best for me.

All in all it was a good experience, but I didn’t do it again this year. Stay tuned for my next post in which I explain how things are going this term.

Any comments? Writing something in the box below.

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Creating Online Course Evaluations

I wrote this quite a few years ago on an old LiveJournal blog but I’m putting it here for you to read, and for me to relive.

From http://elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=tutorials&article=23-1 (of course, the link is gone now but it points to their site… it is from the ACM), here is a short list of objectives to shoot for in developing evaluations in the design of an on-line course. This also serves as more of a quick list for me to remember what it is I should be trying to do when I work with redesigning my course, whether on-line or not. More specifically, it is a list of frames from which to approach the evaluation.

  1. Use what you already know. (What I know is limited, but I’m using it.)
  2. Seek value and meaning. (Not always easy, but worthwhile.)
  3. Evaluation is an important part of a bigger picture. (I already do a mid-term ITB inventory.)
  4. Products and results are imporant; process is important too. (Too many faculty focus on having enough time to “cover all the material” and don’t seem to care about engaging and discussing with students.)
  5. Making it better is the ultimate aim.

How can one develop their course when there is so much reading pedagogy research that needs to be done?!

Choosing A Textbook in HigherEd

I’m sure professors everywhere must deal with this kind of question but its not easy sometimes. A lot of the time I’m sure textbooks are chosen on the basis of inertia: we’ve always used it so we’ll keep using it. Its just easier that way. The students can get cheaper copies if the same edition is used, and material doesn’t have to be updated and professors and other instructors are feeling the crunch of getting more done with less time and resources. That is certainly the way things were with my Intro Computers course for the past 7 years.

But now, the textbook I’m using will no longer be continued. We’re still at the 8th Edition thought the text is now at edition 10, but no other textbook has had anything significantly different about it that would entice me to switch. For the most part, the majority of textbooks in this area are identical and have little to offer above the minimum.

So now I’m in the process of deciding between publishers. Books have become much more robust over the past few years so I do have a few more criteria I can be picky about. I probably find useful books from either publisher A or publisher B. To be very certain, I would set out some criteria and study each book individually to see which one suits my needs, but who has that kind of time!? Over the summer I could take more time to do this, but looming deadlines mean that any book I decide on in the summer won’t be used until Fall 2008 to be realistic about it.

Going on the assumption that either publisher has books of equal value, I know get to evaluate the publisher on criteria that I think are important. Do they both have an online software training component? If yes, then how good is each one? Again, that will take time to analyze. Time well worth the effor no doubt, but not time I can afford to spend right now. After that it comes to the kind of treatment and response I get from each publisher. Up until now, the reps would simply come by once a year (from Publisher B, it always seems to be someone different) to introduce themselves, ask if I need anything and then disappear.

But this year things seem a little different. Publisher A offered to do a presentation of their online training software and do a preview of Office 2007. They brought 3 reps, provided pizza and drinks and even gave out branded USB flash drives as well as demonstrating some course feedback (clicker) technology they have available. Now that was useful! That was impressive! That gave me something to think about and work with to base my decisions on!

Today the rep from Publisher A (who I have now seen 3 times this term) was just stopping by and ran into a collegue and I in the hallway, handed us a CD and sample folder (which could be included in a course package of course) but then took us to lunch. We then spent the next two hours talking about courses or restaurants or the world’s problems… whatever came up.

I had to step away only because someone was waiting for me in my office. It was a new rep from Publisher B. This Rep B deals with math and computer courses, while I had previously met with Rep A who deals with business courses and neither one of them had I met before this term because they were both new to the position. Publisher B seems to have a high turn over since we have been dealing with for the past 5 or more years. After me being very specific about what I was looking for (which probably cannot be made available for me teaching the course in May anyway) he left after 20 minutes. Nice guy, he wasn’t rude or anything, but just take a look at the differences.

Its hard for me to believe, but it looks my choice of which textbook to go with will really depend on the personality of the sales rep as well as the amount of “value added” service that they and the publisher can provide. Not specifically on a rigourous evaluation of the quality and content of the textbook.

Am I swayed just because the guy bought me lunch? No not really. But it again illustrates the amount of work a rep or company is willing to go through to get my business. And they are genuinely interested in helping me reach my goals. Isn’t that what we want from ALL sales people?