The Debate Rages On (or The Validity of Online Lab Science Courses)

When you get your taxes done, do you really care whether or not your accountant has ever dissected a cat?

It’s late and I’m thinking.  Never a good combination, I suppose, but this has been running through my mind a lot since a session yesterday on the fully online lab science courses created and offered by SinclairOnline.

After the presentation, the discussion turned to the question of whether or not a fully online lab science course is TRULY equivalent to a face-to-face lab.  One person brought up the fact that no one would want to have a doctor who had only completed online science courses, and I would have to agree.  When I go to a surgeon, I trust that this individual has done a lot of work on a lot of real live bodies before he/she took the scalpel to my flesh.

But this misses the point.  No one is suggesting the development of a fully-online medical school.  No one is suggesting that real hands-on experience in a science lab should not be required for students who intend on working in scientific fields upon graduation.  However, for students who are majoring in subjects such as HRIM (Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management), Aviation, Dance or Digital Media Production (to name a few), why should such an emphasis be placed on the use of a real scalpel to cut the real flesh of a real dead cat.  Of what practical use will the hands-on examination of blood cells through a real microscope be to a student whose goal is be an historian?

Students who major in biology, chemistry, physics, nursing, and funeral service will have ample opportunities to get their hands dirty in a lab, and should, by all means, take as many hands-on traditional lab science courses as possible.  And in an ideal world, it would be wonderful if ALL students had the opportunity to participate and experience a full traditional lab science course.

But we don’t live in an ideal world.
Lab space is at a premium.
Budgets have been slashed.
We can’t hire more teachers.
We can’t build more science labs.
We can’t buy more equipment.
More than ever, community colleges are being asked to do more with less.

This is where the online lab science course is MOST needed.  With the online lab science course, students cover the same material, complete the same assignments, and meet the same outcomes.  The delivery method is different, yes.  But the end result remains the same.  Students learn the same concepts.  No, they don’t get to handle scalpels.  No, they don’t get to smell the formaldehyde.  But they DO get to master the concepts and understand the critical elements of the course.

By providing online lab science options to students, we free up valuable lab space for students who are pursuing degrees in the “hard sciences”.

Just my late night thoughts….

Comments, questions, concerns or (gentle) criticisms are always welcome.


INND13: Day 2 – PowerPoint CPR

This is a topic I’ve covered extensively in my own presentations, in my work with faculty, in the design of my online courses, and even here Rodney’s Corner. But it’s also something I feel compelled to attend because I do work with so many PowerPoint presentations that could use a little bit of CPR and I’m always on the lookout for new ways to improve PowerPoint presentations.

Led by Donn King (no, not that Don King), the presentation kicked off with Don McMillan’s modern-day classic Life After Death by PowerPoint.

On the average, people speak at 150 words per minute while most people read at 300 words per minute. Based on cognitive load theory, by putting all your text on the slides, you’re overloading your audience and they won’t retain nearly as much information.

Cognitive Load Theory
Dr. John Sweller and some folks from Australia came up with the theory in the 1950’s. He’s also the guy who says PowerPoint use has been a disaster and should be ditched.

According to CLT we receive information on two channels and if either is overloaded, the Message is not received and the data is lost.

Data is useless without context.

Information must be collated and contextualized. Speaking out loud is not just cheap information transfer, it’s about making impressions. Making the right impression increases retention. Sideshows are not meant to replace the presentation, but to enhance it. Using visuals in the presentation engages both sides of the brain. Words on a slide cause the audience to either listen to the speaker or to read the text of the slide.

Communication is about the transfer of emotion. – Seth Godin

Print is good for detail, but “out loud” is good for inspiration. Slideware is “out loud”. Creating a “slideument” does not equal out loud. If you want your audience to read, give them a handout, don’t put it on the screen.

Speaking isn’t about getting the words right; it’s about giving the words impact.

Suggestions for Improving PowerPoint Presentations

Suggestion #1 – No more than six words to a slide. Ever. Period.
Suggestion #2 – Use animations to deliver multiple bullet points so they come up one at a time. Or use a separate slide for each point.
Suggestion #3 – Use images. Not cheesy ones.
Suggestion #4 – Leave out extraneous material. Images which don’t support the text distract the learner.
Suggestion #5 – No fancy transitions or animations. If you use them, keep,them consistent.
Suggestion #6 – Use more slides and fewer bullets
Suggestion #7 – If you must have bullet points, use subtle animations to control attention flow.
Suggestion #8 – No more than 2 lines of text.
Suggestion #9 – Do not underline for emphasis. Use italic, bold or color for emphasis.
Suggestion #10 – Use an easy to read font. Typically use Sans Serif fonts
Suggestion #11 – Use real handouts or link to web pages rather than print your slides.

INND13 – A David Approach to a Goliath Problem – Promoting Academic Integrity

The Humber School of Health Sciences

Academic integrity is more than students cheating on tests. It bleeds over into all areas of life and represents a deeper ethical issue.

Old process was “detect, catch, punish”

Risks: to personal safety if you accuse students of cheating. Verbal or physical altercations with students. Potential bad reviews
Relationships: can’t build relationships with students when you’re trying to be the cop
Responsibilities: responsible to the public, as dishonest students can be poor nurses and may endanger public health and safety

The question shouldn’t be how do we stop students from cheating, but how do we ensure they are learning.

What are the essential values to academic integrity?
Honesty, trust, pride, fairness, responsibility, accountability, professionalism
Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity as defined by the International Centre for Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity is the responsibility of the organization, the faculty, and the students.

Appreciative inquiry approach to evaluation of institutional academic integrity policies. Required in
It from all parties. Rephrase the questions. Revisit the needs by looking at the situation from a different angle.

Discovery: What are the strengths of the current policy?

  • Review organization starting with the Dean. Perform an environmental scan and discuss the situation with other organizational leaders to review policies throughout the organization and see what’s working and how it’s working.
  • Talk to the Faculty. Anonymous surveys, meet with coordinators via meetings and semi-structured interviews, open the discussion formally and informally. While most faculty felt it critical to model academic integrity, very few understood the policy and concepts. Enforcement of academic integrity policy was low across the board.

Dream: What is the ideal? What does that ideal look like?

  • Review at the organizational level. What policies and procedures would support academic integrity? How can they move toward a culture of trust?
  • Faculty want a cohesive, uniform approach to integrity and an increased knowledge and awareness across the board.
  • There is a shared responsibility to creating a culture of integrity and the students need to be aware of their responsibility. Increase student awareness of the institutional commitment to academic integrity.

Design: How do we get where we want to be?

  • Organizationally, a steering committee is starting to streamline approaches to academic integrity
  • With the faculty, they’re hosting a professional development session devoted to the topic. Encouraging faculty Completion of Academic Integrity Online Modules through the campus Center for Teaching and Learning. Striving to increase discussion of the topic and encourage debate within the faculty
  • For the students, they’re creating online modules to support understanding and awareness of Academic Integrity issues. Students take an honor pledge before they are placed into clinical environments.

Destiny: Are we there yet?

  • Review current status and momentum. Engage the entire organization in continuing the discussion. Extend the involvement across the organization and encourage champions of the cause
  • Students understand their role in accountability, are willing to accept the responsibility, and recognize the potential ramifications of academic integrity vs. academic dishonesty

Repeat ad infinitim.

Just a thought….
How could gamificaiton change the cultural appreciation of academic integrity?

INND13: Day 2 – MOOCs and Developmental Education: To Infinity and Beyond

The onset of a sudden and quite nasty little bug kept me out of the morning’s sessions. but thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, I suppressed my symptoms and boldly charged down for the session on MOOCs led by Bryan K Ryan from Wake Tech Community College located in my state of origin, North Carolina.

In 2013, attending an education conference without going to a session on MOOCs is quite difficult. MOOCs are big (no pun intended), and any self-respecting distance education professional needs to be well-versed on the potential, the power, and the pitfalls of this latest big thing. So I’m hitting a session on creating a MOOC for developmental education.

Wake Tech (as we locals shall forever know the institution) received funding for this endeavor as part of the Gates Foundation’s Completion by Design initiative. After exploring options with the three major MOOC players (EdX, Udacity, and Coursera), Wake Tech partnered with Udacity for the development of their Introductory Algebra Review MOOC. Udacity has a Learners Bill of Rights which aligns very nicely with the mission and purpose of community colleges and aims to create “MOOCs for the masses” to enable more people to have more access to more educational,opportunities.

Wake Tech realized that the current test-in programs and diagnostic tests weren’t providing optimal results and they hoped to create a solution similar to Udacity’s Visualizing Algebra course, but their “Introductory Algebra Review” would address five specific modules:

  • DMA010- Operations with Integers
  • DMA020- Fractions and Decimals
  • DMA030- Proportions/Ratios/Rates/Percentages
  • DMA040- Expressions, Linear Equations, Linear Inequalities
  • DMA050- Graphs and Equations of Lines

Rather than taking placement / diagnostic tests upon admission, incoming students are to take MOOC prior to taking placement / diagnostic tests. Furthermore the elements from the modules can be incorporated into existing classes to serve a as review/supplemental materials.

For the MOOC, Wake Tech provides the content and an understanding of the student learning experience while Udacity provides the technical expertise and an “Edutainer” who will act as a guide for the student learning experience.

The course is scheduled to go live on May 1, 2013, but that may or may not prove to be the official launch date.

It’s an exciting opportunity, and I’m eager to see how the course runs, and what obstacles they encounter along the way. This is definitely one of those things I’ll be following for a while.

INND13: Day 1 – General Session – Diana G. Oblinger President and CEO of EDUCAUSE,

Very long day. Not exactly how I’m used to spending Sunday afternoon. Here I sit in the first general session of the Innovations 2013 Conference. My head is spinning, either because the elevator moves so quickly, or because my mind has been inundated with so many new facts, practices, experiences and ideas. This session is a little different, as it begins with an award ceremony, and it’s exciting to see some of the luminaries in our field be honored do their contributions. We community college folks are a unique group. We do some amazing things with minimal resources, and regardless of our positions, we all have the same goal… Student success.

What follows is a set of notes in a sort of narrative format…. Read or disregard as you choose.

This evening’s keynote speaker, Dr. Diana Oblinger, spoke about the change from the learning college to the connected college. How, in the modern era, we are connected to the rest of the world, and in many cases, the information is less important than the connections. The community college is, at its core, the pathway to possibilities for our students.

Redesigning the Learning Experience

Immersive, collaborative learning environments
Introduce virtual client simulations where students interact with artificial intelligent interactive agents that respond to all aspects of the students’ input. Biofeedback utilized to collect complete data about students, allowing us to evaluate the data and create individualized, adaptive learning environments.

Use this data to guide learners, instructors, IDs, administration, researchers, etc. For example, Montgomery County Community College uses Career Coach to help guide student decisions and college decisions. Sinclair’s SSP (see my earlier entry) guides students from application to graduation. Persistence Plus, the “Weight Watchers” of college completion, provides intervention in the form of “nudges” to push students to move forward (study, register, etc.). Degree Compass provides personal recommendations to students based upon their program of study and their abilities, giving them a clearer pathway to success. Arizona State has a degree track system which helps students better understand where they are and what they need to do in order to complete their degrees. University of Hawaii STAR program offers a cross-institutional degree attainment support system across all 10 of the states campuses. Real-time exploration of options and availability of courses so that students can complete their studies on time.

Disaggregate and reaggregate.
Straighter Line offers $999/year for 10 course subscriptions which provide credit courses to students which can be transferred to participating institutions. Private Label offering support services (recruitment, support, etc) provided by external vendors. Joint ventures with private sector to provide full programs. 2U offers a program to expand graduate level programs.

Stackable Credentials and badges for students as they achieve various levels of achievement and meet specific learning outcomes. How can this be implemented? How can external badges be integrated into a credit-based system? How can it be done quickly and efficiently?
Direct2degree program in Kentucky creates a seamless streamed learning experience. Other new ideas include Competency based learning and Individual Mastery Plans.

New connections on one level lead to new connections on another level. Students, faculty, and institutions are all interconnected within and without on a variety of levels.

Redesign, reinvent, and reset.

INND13: Day 1 – Session 5 – Pioneering Online Science Lab


In 2006, Sinclair began work on fully online degrees, which brings up the big challenge… How do you teach science online? After much internal discussion, they began to develop a fully online Astronomy Lab course. Using a team of faculty, Instructional designer, graphic designers, and flash developers, they created all the course content from scratch.

The course is housed in ANGEL, and includes text and multimedia elements to deliver instruction and assessments. As always, the most difficult part of creating an online science lab course is making certain that the lab sessions are equivalent, regardless of delivery method.

Established six standards for online labs, to make certain that onlinelabs are equivalent to face to face labs. Online labs must be:

  1. Intuitive
  2. Clear instructions
  3. accessible
  4. Reusable
  5. Platform Independent
  6. Meets Learning Objectives

Engaging Online Astronomy Students

Received a grant to explore possibility of putting lab online. Initially put materials online for face-to-face students to explore before developing and launching fully online version. Face to face students were impressed by online resources and their feedback encouraged faculty to move forward with development. Course Materials include step-by-step video instructions which demonstrate how students are to complete labs and interactive flash-based activities which students complete to meet learning objectives. In some cases, the web-based versions were easier for student to use and helped foster greater comprehension of course material. Outside publisher resources were employed to further enhance course materials where it was not feasible for the college to produce the materials in-house. Utilized 4 team fishbowl discussion forums. Fishbowl forums allow teams to post to each other and allow non-team members to view other teams’ observations but not respond inside of forum.

Immersing Online Students in Biology

As programs expanded, online Anatomy and Physiology course was needed. Online class mirrors face to face outcomes, objectives, and tests. “Articulation lab” has students open a virtual box of bones and assemble the structures as indicated. Provides direct and instant feedback to students, and assesses their knowledge of material. Also developed Android app “Skeletal Lab” for articulation exercises. “Blood Smear Lab” reproduces blood smear activities as done in class. Students perform all adjustments on virtual microscope to get blood cells into focus. Cells contain pop-ups which describe individual formed elements. Also contains a fetal pig dissection with video of real live dead pig dissection and then flash activities where students virtually dissect a pig and review various parts.

And the question comes up… Is the online lab equivalent to the traditional lab? In my mind, it depends.

What are the course objectives?
How will the course impact the students in later classes?

But this is something that will require deeper consideration and much greater analysis…

INND13 – Day 1 Session 4 – Building a Comprehensive and Worthwhile Professional Development Program

Great, fun, engaging, (insert glowing adjective here) presentation from Denise Sewitt and Dolores Davison of Foothills College

Challenges for establishment of the Professional Development Program:

  • Facing significant funding issues
  • identifying and appreciating the complexity of the 21st century students (Digital immigrants vs natives, underprepared students, students with disabilities, returning adults, etc.)
  • Recognizing that Faculty are as diverse as the students, and the professional development program must appreciate these differences and meet the expectations and needs of the population.
  • Passing accreditation review, and provide professional development for faculty, staff, and administration.
  • Addressing technology needs of students and faculty, and exploring new ways in which technology is employed.
  • Dealing with various regulating bodies at the state, federal, ad local levels. (They Subscribe to go2knowledge to help cover some of the required trainings)

Neat point to note. California differentiates between correspondence courses and distance education courses. Any distance education course must have weekly engagement with students. OPINION: This should be implemented everywhere!!!

Expectations: Improve student success, workplace development, career pathways, transfer, and basic skills.
Future impact: Careers (are the jobs out there?) employment fields (what jobs exist? How are we preparing students for these jobs?), outside factors, the multigenerational workplace, and needs for retraining
What it takes

  • College commitment
  • Administrative support
  • Collaboration
  • innovation
  • Resources
  • inclusiveness
  • Resilience
  • Flexibility

Requires a lot of coordination, involvement of the whole college, strategic programming, passionate presenters, hands on opportunities, motivated presenters, learning communities

Honestly, it’s difficult to write about this session while its in progress. These ladies are superb presenters and have a hilarious delivery. Fun and informative. Can you ask for more?
All professional development activities are must address student success issues. Even though sessions may be on technical stuff (how to use Word, etc.), they all must be aligned to specific areas of student success (veteran support is a big one).
Again, they have a holistic approach to professional development and work to offer programs that will help ALL of the college community (faculty, staff, and administration). They work with outside companies to create great opportunities for professional development and don’t rely entirely on internal resources.

But… They’re located in Silocon Valley and have all sorts of great local resources available. So, although they don’t have a large budget to work with, they have been able to put together some excellent professional development opportunities. They maintain a persistent presence on campus, and promote activities via email, listserv, newsletter, etc. Additionally, stronger professional development across all divisions and departments (faculty, staff, and admin) increases sense of community across campus and leads to more engaged and involved students.

Wow. This is a disjointed report…. Gonna have to revisit and edit this one. Its been an exceptional presentation, and I hope that my finished product provides at least a little insight into the coolness of their program.

Foothill College Professional Development

Innovations 2013: Day 1 – Session 3 – 360° Student Services: Engaging Online Students From Prospect to Degree

SinclairOnline is one of those programs I really admire. They’ve built a strong set of programs with a variety of degrees and certificates available fully online. I actually saw their presentation at ITC in 2012, but wanted to see what has changed since I last saw them.

Creating a fully online student support system isn’t easy.

First, it’s critical to evaluate the entire progression of a student, from initial admission to graduation. Each step of the process was evaluated to find bottlenecks in the process.

Then, they analyzed who their students are to determine which students needed the most attention and most assistance navigating the system and developed a three-tier system

Tier one: non-local learners, first year experience students, at-risk students who are fully online (Developmental, Academic Intervention, or Academic Probation)
Tier two: fully online students who don’t fit into tier one.
Tier three: students who have some on-campus classes and some online courses

Once they figured out what they needed to do, and who they needed to serve first, it was time to implement a solution.

Used two pieces of internally developed software called SSP (Student Success Plan) and MAP Maker to develop system to track students.

SSP (an open source program) collects personal and demographic information from students, including data on student goals, challenges (child care issues, physical health issues, etc), and previous academic performance. After intake, students are given an action plan which provides them with a plan of action. Record also includes a journal in which all interactions with students are recorded. SSP is integrated into Colleague so advisors/academic coaches can have all information into one place and make best decisions on how to advise students. Also includes early alert system which gives academic coach the ability to know how students are doing throughout the semester. Robust reporting functions are include as well.

MAP Maker allows coaches/advisors to create an academic map for students so that students can see what courses they need to take each semester and develop a plan of action for their entire time at the school. MAP Maker integrates directly into SSP and is scheduled to go open source in July 2013.

Other services…

Navigating SinclairOnline: seven-step interactive guided tour of all aspects of SinclairOnline and includes a contact form and an embedded enrollment checklist which gives students step-by-step instructions on what they need to do to get started.

Required Orientation: 1 to 3 hour course “How to Succeed in an Online Course” which must be completed prior to registration for online courses. 4 sections and 10 self-assessments including technical tutorials on using ANGEL and performing normal day-to-day activities. Upon completion of course, students receive certificate of completion and are allowed to register within a matter of minutes.

Wrapping up….

This innovative system represents a shift from an institution-centric to a student-centric approach to providing student services.

its a lot of work, but it seems to be an excellent way to provide full service support to students from the moment of admission to the moment of graduation, and beyond.

Innovations 2013 – Day 1 – Session 2: Building Connections through Social Collaboration

Penny Kuckkhan, Instructional Designer from Nicolet College in Wisconsin delivered an imformative, engaging session on the ongoing process of building connections through social collaboration.

Opening Question: What comes to mind when you hear social collaboration?

Answers varied, but the ideas revolved around the same core concepts. Basically, the web has increased our ability to engage and interact with students and colleagues. But all individuals are at different levels both technically, and on the level of what they’re comfortable with or willing to share online.

Developing Social Collaboration: here’s the part I really liked. Penny broke it down into a 5 stage cyclical process that requires constant attention…
Developing Social Presence
Engaging audience
Sharing Materials created by yourself or others
Creating new, original materials
Continue to Develop Social Presence
A wide variety of tools can be used to accomplish this, and no one tool fits into any single area. Twitter, for example, can be used to develop presence, engage users, and share. YouTube can be used to develop presence, engage audience, share materials, and create new materials.

One critical point to consider.. Before you ask students to create accounts and use tools, you need to establish accounts, explore, and get to know the ins and outs of the tool.

Nicolet has a Technology Tutoring Lab on campus to assist students with technologies used in and for classes. Instructors work with Technology Tutoring Lab so that students get support for their specific needs. Faculty inform Tech Tutors at they will be utilizing a specific tool, and tutors do the research and testing so they can adequately support students using the tools.

All courses have shells in LMS and instructors are required to upload syllabi, use gradebook, and post materials.

Links to resources will be posted later.

Other notes….

What liability does the school have?

For students who don’t/can’t use social media tools, an equivalent assessment must be available.

Universal Records Database (

Innovations 2013: Day 1 – Session 1 – Dean Dad’s Advice for Future Deans

Confession: “Confessions of a Community College Dean” has been a staple of my RSS consumption for a long time. So, this morning I’m having a pretty cool, out of my comfort zone experience.

Matt Reed, the blog’s author, only recently broke his anonymity and having the chance to see him in person is one I wouldn’t pass up, even though I am not a dean, nor do I expect to become one. But as a community college professional, I want to gain a deeper insight into another’s experience in navigating the political landscape and culture of a community college.

Reed discussed his experiences in navigating the politics and revealed the painfully universal truths that Everyone isn’t going to be your friend and communication is key.

One exceptional idea he brought forth is the establishment of an on-campus blog, designed to provide information to faculty and staff about what’s going on and why it’s going on, and ask college community members to provide feedback on ideas and plans in progress. Instead of providing dictates from the top of the mountain, community college leaders can use the blog as a forum for discussion within the community.

He then broke up the audience into groups to discuss individual scenarios and review ways in which we would handle some especially prickly situations. The scenarios varied from dealing with faculty members who walked off the job to addressing issues with students who require special academic accommodations.

The bottom line…. Do what’s best for the students and be ready to deal with the fallout that may occur within the school. Our goal remains the same, to provide a quality educational experience to our students. If we have to jump through hoops and make a few enemies a lot the way, well… that’s life.