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ISTE 3&6 Citizen and Facilitator

Educators inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world.

  • 3a. Create experiences for learners to make positive, socially responsible contributions and exhibit empathetic behavior online that build relationships and community.
  • 3b. Establish a learning culture that promotes curiosity and critical examination of online resources and fosters digital literacy and media fluency.
  • 3c. Mentor students in safe, legal and ethical practices with digital tools and the protection of intellectual rights and property.
  • 3d. Model and promote management of personal data and digital identity and protect student data privacy.

Educators facilitate learning with technology to support student achievement of the ISTE Standards for Students.

  • 6a. Foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.
  • 6b. Manage the use of technology and student learning strategies in digital platforms, virtual environments, hands-on makerspaces or in the field.
  • 6c. Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.
  • 6d. Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections.

Inquiry Question

How can teachers pass more agency to inspire younger students to lead student-centered learning with digital technology and foster their digital citizenship in the learning process?

To be Warriors without Worries

In our school, we pilot BYOD initiate in K-5. Since we extend this program down to Elementary and Kindergarten, the most concern from both teachers and parents is how to protect students from the negative sides of digital technologies, such as potential harmful online resources, the risks of low self-regulation and low self-efficiency. Instead of worries, we need to seek appropriate approaches to equip younger students with critical thinking, and digital competencies in authentic ways to practice these skills and develop a mature mindset for the 21st century. Teachers should scaffold and motivate younger students to leverage digital technology to lead student-centered learning independently or collaboratively and foster digital citizenship authentically rather than abstractly which will benefit students to be lifelong learners and good citizens in the digital world.

Safe Environment- A Shield in Digital World; Digital Competency- Being Equipped

Mini-Lessons to Teach How to Search Online Through A Safe Engine and Foster Digital Citizenship

How to search online will be the essential skills and the threshold for younger students to lead empowered learning using digital tools and is also a sign for teachers to pass more or less agency depending on whether students master and improve the ability. Teachers can break down the research skills into small acceptable, practical mini-lessons integrated into regular classes to lead authentic learning and build students confidence at the same time. For the younger students, they cannot grasp solid skills until they connect the knowledge with the real world and practice by small steps. The kid-friendly search engine will be the best starting, which is designed for children as a firewall protects students from inappropriate content. Like Kidzsearch, it is powered by Google that emphasizes safety for kids and provides videos, and image sections, which are a handy tool to provide younger students with a safe environment.

Get Ready to Search with Five Steps


This is a brainstorming step which needs students to think what information they want to look for in their searches. Teachers can have students discuss keywords, alternative phrases, and generating questions.


This is a practice step which needs students to transfer their ideas into reality. Students will see different search terms cause different results and find out which are closer to their expectation to foster computational thinking.


In this step, teachers need to have students delve whether the results are reliable or not from the URL. Also, have students to build a good habit to verify the sources before open the links.


The flowchart provided by explains this step.


It always is excited that students find what they need from thousands of results for their work. Now we need to bring up the copyright and plagiarism. This is also an essential step to foster digital citizenship from a young age. Students need to understand and respect the rights of using and sharing others’ work. Kathy Schrock’s PDF document can give ideas on how to progressively teach citation from grades 1 to 6 (and beyond). It provides some clear examples that you could adapt for classroom use.

When the teachers provide mini-lessons on research online, they also can embed Digital Passport into regular classes to foster digital citizenship, which is provided by Common Sense.

The mini-lessons as a win-win mode will help students to build good habits and mature mindset when they explore online information for learning goals and also can be integrated into classes seamlessly. Students will improve the digital skills and digital citizenship from authentic learning by small steps and make connections between the digital world and the real world to develop brain growth to transfer cognition. The mini-lessons are paving the path for teachers to pass more agency to younger students on empowered learning.

Kidblog-A Safe Platform to Track Students Growth and Build Self-Regulation

Kidblog is a safe digital space for younger students to foster digital citizenship and build confidence in student-centered learning under the teacher’s scaffolding. It allows younger students to blog with various formats such as videos, images, and audios to reflect learning outcomes which will be posted privately only visible by teachers firstly. Students will grow their audience sharing work after get approved by the teacher with classmates, other classes, or across the world and learn from others. It is the same process as the comments with which students will foster digital citizenship and learn how to contribute and give credit to others to build a healthy digital community. The built-in portfolios as the showcase help to track self-regulation and digital citizenship growth for each student to inspire and motivate them to have a high level of self-efficiency on learning with digital tools.

For the younger students, the necessary digital skills and safe environment tools are paving the path for them to achieve learning outcomes through digital technology when they get empowered. But in the process, the teacher’s role as supervisor and facilitator are also crucial for keeping younger students on the track to be good citizens in the digital world and develop digital competencies and cognition. As educators for younger students, we need to seek age-appropriate ways to equip them. Since younger students have limited ability to handle the concept of abstracts, the teacher needs to provide more opportunities and agency to practice digital citizenship and skills in authentic and tangible ways.


Ferlazzo, L. (2016, September 24). Response: ‘Freedom to Fail’ Creates a Positive Learning Environment. Retrieved from

Morris, K. (2018, February 23). 5 Tips For Teaching Students How To Research Online And Filter Information (Free eBook And Posters). Retrieved from

Poth, R. (2018, April 18). A better way to track growth and promote reflection. Retrieved from

Fingal, D. (2017, December 14). Infographic: Citizenship in the digital age. Retrieved from

Should administrators focus on faculty professional development more than student learning targets?

The relationships among professional development (PD), effective teaching, and student outcomes are scrutinized through standards- or outcomes-oriented teacher improvement projects and the research studies that follow them. However, links between faculty PD and faculty effectiveness don’t exist apart from other factors, such as the role of administrators, whether these be department chairs, deans, and instructional design leaders at the postsecondary level, or lead teachers, coaches, and school principals at the K-12 level.

This post considers the role that administrators play in high-performing educational systems and institutions.

In a previous post, I discussed how tying professional development to high stakes outcomes may actually conflict with developing professional development that supports best practices in teaching and learning. Here I look at one solution to that conflict. Here,  I’ll be concluding that yes, at least based on one analysis of professional learning and administrators’ roles in top performing national schools, administrators should focus on faculty professional learning rather than on student learning targets because aligning faculty development with school development results in better schools.

First, a clarification. Educational leaders are responsible for instructional leadership, establishment of institutional culture, collaboration with peers at partner institutions, and providing information and resources to faculty (Cook, 2015), as well as strategic planning and the achievement of financial and institutional outcomes. Yet leadership in American business and education is often conceptualized in terms of social discourse rather than in terms of leaders’ traits, behaviors (Chelf, 2018), or skills. Characterizations of effective U.S. K-12 administrators, while currently focused on achievement of high stakes test scores, also champion descriptors such as “collaborator,” “facilitator,” and “guide” (Cook, 2015). The Chronicle of Higher Education, an influential voice in higher education communities of practice, frequently portrays higher education leaders according to the archetypes of hero, outlaw, ruler, caregiver, and sage (Chelf, 2018). But aside from these “socially constructed” descriptors, what actual leadership roles and competencies (learnable skills) are most associated with thriving school cultures, effective teaching, and the student outcomes that matter most for students’ long term success?

This question brings up another complication, that of problems of definition and data. Should “high performing” be defined from reporting data driven by the values of current accountability policies? Or should it be driven by the values of stakeholders such as administrators, faculty, students, and parents (Poole, 2012)?

To focus on the question of what role administrators have in professional development in high-performing institutions, I focus here on administrators’ roles rather than traits or styles. I define  “high performing” institutions and systems as those that have historically performed well, rather than those that have performed well as a result of a new experimental treatment or new program. And I focus specifically on the role administrators play in high performing institutions where professional learning is embedded in faculty roles.

The title of this post, “Should administrators focus on faculty professional development more than student learning targets?”, is extrapolated from a way of conceptualizing the locus of control presented in a report (funded, of course, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) by the National Center on Education and the Economy (Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull, & Hunter, 2016). This report examines teacher quality systems and the roles of administrators in faculty development in high performing systems that “integrate both adult learning and student outcomes within effective professional learning design” (Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull, & Hunter, 2016, p. 1).

Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull and Hunter describe four government or authority centers in North America and Asia as “tight” (or highly regulatory) vs. “loose” (comparatively less regulatory), showing that “high performing systems are ‘tight’ on teacher professional learning in comparison to other, less-effective systems, while being comparatively ‘loose’ on student performance targets. In other words, high perforing systems tend to be prescriptive about what constitutes effective professional learning in schools. Rather than being ‘tight” on the specific professional learning programs that schools offer (learning communities, mentoring, courses, and so forth), effective systems establish the expectation that quality professional learning will proceed within an improvement cycle, with student learning as the organizing principle” (p. 12).

This means that in the four “highly effective” systems studied, in British Columbia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, school leaders established professional learning cycles that set objectives for teachers that were both more fine-grained and more holistic than achieving test scores or completion rates. Teachers were assessed on their ability to use, for example, formative assessment to increase student learning, and administrators were assessed on their ability to improve teacher effectiveness; yet these schools were given “autonomy to develop professional learning in response to student needs” (Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull & Hunter, 2016).

An important consideration is that for the high performing systems studied, professional learning was not only “embedded” but was an essential part of faculty job expectations, and thus promoting faculty professional learning was an essential part of administrator’s jobs and performance evaluation. Three levels of leadership development that were identified as “critical” were: 1. Professional learning leaders at the school; 2. System leaders of professional learning, and 3. School principals whose role was to develop school improvement plans around professional learning (Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull, & Hunter, 2016, p. 13). In each case, the “professional learning leaders” were senior teachers, who worked alongside and under coaches or deputy principals dedicated whose roles focused on improving teaching and learning and under administrators who likewise were expected to undertake—and evaluated upon—roles as developers of effective teaching practices.

Several commonalities among these systems stood out to me as promising practices in aligning leadership roles, teacher professional learning, and strong, holistic student outcomes:

  1. Teacher leaders played a critical role in leadership in these systems. This is because “teachers are more likely to change their practices when they see colleagues they admire—not just official leaders—championing desired improvements” (Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull, & Hunter, 2016, p. 13). This means that effective teaching itself was a key component of effective leadership in these systems. This fact corroborates the approach guiding the needs assessment I am currently undertaking, which assumes that more effective professional learning and technology integration will take place where respected teachers are championing specific forms of professional learning and tech integration.
  2. Strategic planning worked when it was focused on system-wide improvement in professional learning. Conversely, professional learning worked when it was strategically embedded in strategic planning. One way for this happened is exemplified in British Columbia’s public K-12 system, where inquiry-based learning communities have actually become the basis for strategic planning, such that “school strategy focuses on an inquiry question, for example, ‘Will the use of a collaborative problem-solving approach in Number Sense and Operations…improve achievement as measured by BC Numeracy Standards?’” In this situation, strategic planning and professional learning are aligned (rather than the former driving the latter) and must work hand in hand to create improvements based not on curricula or regulatory mandates, but on inquiry. This seems to me to restore agency (i.e. leadership) to teaching, while restoring true involvement in creating contextualized and  effective teaching practices to the role of leadership. In turn, as Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull, and Hunter (2016) comment, “over time, [British Columbia] schools have focused less on quantitative goals and more on how to achieve them” (p. 16).
  3. Promotion of teachers and administrators was highly holistic (rather than focused on narrow outcomes or evaluation from only one perspective such as that of an immediate supervisor), and focused on the ability of leaders at each level to develop the pedagogical excellence of teachers or teacher mentors. This consistent focus on professional learning allowed teacher evaluation to be better aligned with school evaluation (Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull, & Hunter, 2016).

Jensen, Sonnemann, Roberts-Hull, and Hunter (2016) provide a number of resources in their appendices and in the Toolkits for each chapter in their report. These resources include samples ranging from holistic observation approaches to annual school plans, anappendix describing the of the roles of leaders in these systems, and a section on external courses and workshops.


Chelf, C. A. (2018). A critical discourse analysis of higher education leaders as portrayed in the chronicle of higher education. Retrieved from

Cook, G. (Spring 2015). Principal leadership: Focus on professional development. Policy priorities, 21(1). Retrieved from

Jensen, B., Sonnemann, J., Roberts-Hull, K., & Hunter, A. (2016). Beyond PD: Teacher professional learning in high-performing systems. Washington, D.C.: National Center on Education and the Economy. Retrieved from

Poole, D. (2012). Leadership practices that contribute to extended presidential tenure and the development of high-performing community colleges. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing at

What PD leaders and learners need to know about assessment reporting in high pressure accountability contexts

High-stakes accountability pressures can conflict with faculty implementation of best disciplinary and pedagogical practices (Meuwissen, 2017). In both public postsecondary and public K-12 education in the United States, the tension between, on the one hand, funding-  and policy-driven expectations at the state and institution levels and the high-stakes faculty evaluations based on those expectations, and, on the other, subject-specific learning and teaching, raises the question of who and what should define and control what happens in the classroom as well as the question of what should define student success.

Professional development (PD), when defined by a federally regulated institution rather than a teaching profession, runs the risk of over-emphasizing high-stakes assessments at the expense of developing students’ thinking and learning dispositions and capacities (Meuwissen, 2017).

When technology-related PD is implemented primarily at the institutional rather than disciplinary level, this risk may be amplified. Yet, the reality is that technological, pedagogical, and teaching content knowledge all constrain one another in ways that relate to disciplinarily and developmentally appropriate teaching (Koehler & Mishra, 2009).

This post explores the origins of the mandated student and teacher assessment data that drive current state and institutional accountability, and hence that increasingly control faculty decisions about what happens in the classroom. I also consider how “research data” can be defined and used in ways that objectify and constrain, rather than support, teaching decisions and practices that may be truly “best” in terms of supporting students’ learning.

Tracing the history of legislative influence on K-12 teacher assessment

Ingersoll and Collins (2019) define professional work such as teaching as work that “involves highly complex sets of skills, intellectual functioning, and knowledge that are neither easily acquired nor widely held. For this reason, professions are often referred to as “knowledge-based” occupations. In the professional model, practitioners are, ideally, first provided with the training, resources, conditions, and autonomy to do the job, and then held accountable for doing the job well” (p. 176).

Before discussing the assumptions about, uses of, and cultural/ideological contexts surrounding student and teacher assessment data, it is important to understand some of the cultural and legislative history that has resulted in current models of instructional supervision and in the way the accountability movement is manifesting itself at both K-12 and postsecondary levels.

Although the U.S. Constitution makes no provision for federal control of education and the Tenth Amendment stipulates that powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved for the states, federal control entered the American educational system through the indirect means of requirements attached to funding (Lunenburg, 2019).

However, “the impetus for public education came from the federal government” through the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, which designated a sixteenth of each township for public schools. A century later, The Hatch, Morrill, and Adams Acts established grants as a form of federal support for “land grant” colleges (Lunenburg, 2019). Federal intervention through funding requirements increased in the mid twentieth century, in particular through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson (Lunenburg, 2019). ESEA must be reauthorized every 5 or 6 years and includes sections such as Title I, which includes a formula for extra funding for schools in high poverty areas.

The 1988 reauthorization of ESEA called for adoption of measurable standards for student academic performance. A movement to establish standards in core subjects called America 2000 was enacted under President George W. Bush the following year (Lunenburg, 2019). The ESEA reauthorization in 1994 under President Bill Clinton called for the creation of assessments aligned with these standards; the establishment of benchmarks for “adequate yearly progress;” disaggregat[ion of] data by race, gender, disability, socioeconomic status, and limited English proficiency;” and corrective action after two years without improvement (Lunenburg, 2019).

Lunenburg (2019) identifies this as the point at which the focus shifted from minimum competency to proficiency and accountability became a primary focus. This shift continued in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which encompassed and amended ESEA in 2002 and added the requirement “that states administer tests to all public school students” and “narrow the test score gap between economically advantaged students” and every other subgroup as well as calling for sanctions for schools who did not meet state-developed proficiency levels for any subgroup (Lunenburg, 2019). States developed assessments of their content standards and defined achievement or “performance” standards to measure levels of proficiency students achieve.

Lunenburg (2019) notes two important NCLB stipulations: that teachers meet designated requirements as “highly qualified” and that programs be based on “scientific research.” Both are important for understanding the current culture of education and educational supervision: “The scientifically based research provision in the law [was] notable for its implications for instructional methods, curricular materials, and instructional supervision, areas of education that [had] been historically outside the realm of federal involvement” (Lunenburg, 2019). Arnold (2019), discussed below, stresses the cultural and ideological ways that “scientific research” can be used in policy making that can control what happens in the classroom.

In 2009, the administration of President Barack Obama used a competitive grant program, Race to the Top (RTTT or RT3), to incentivize development of teacher evaluation policies. Two years later, that administration authorized waivers for some provisions of NCLB for states that achieved 100% student proficiency (Lunenburg, 2019).

The final piece of legislation important for understanding current education, teacher evaluation, and professional development policies in American K-12 schools is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, which became law under the USDOE leadership of Arne Duncan. A key feature of ESSA is the continued focus of NCLB on high standards for all students (Lunenburg, 2019). The goal was to ensure equal opportunity for all students to succeed, regardless of their background or mailing address.

McMunn Dooley, Owens, and Conley (2019) note that the TPA (teacher performance assessment) systems currently in place were fully developed and implemented in an average of only 1.3 years from the time that the flexibility waivers were first made available in 2011, that their development was funded by the Gates and Wallace foundation, and that there are many critiques of their validity and reliability.

As studies of the validity, reliability, and effectiveness of TPAs (notably the Measures of Effective Teachers (MET) study itself carried out by the Gates Foundation) begin, McMunn Dooley, Owens and Conley carried out a large content analysis of all state teacher evaluation policies and protocols, finding that “TPAs rarely evaluated what resources were made available to teachers, what opportunities were afforded them, or whether teachers actually learn from professional development sessions that they attend” and that “professional development seems to be the outcome of evaluation, not the focus of evaluation itself” (p. 426).

A research-based case for shifting the dial toward teacher agency

Ingersoll and Collins (2019) synthesized current data with those from research projects conducted over 20 years; sources of data included the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), related Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS), the largest data source available on K-12 teachers in the U.S., as well as data collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and Teaching, Empowering Leading and Learning (TELL) survey. By synthesizing data on the levels of distribution and effects of accountability and control in American schools, Ingersoll and Collins (2019) showed that while public K-12 education in the U.S. is relatively less federally controlled compared to European countries, it is relatively more principal-controlled; that the imbalance between teacher responsibilities and teacher control is increasing; and that while the current accountability climate identifies important issues and problems in American schools, attempts to improve student achievement through professional development and evaluation based on a teacher deficit model that does not give adequate attention to “the character of the teaching occupation, and the character of the organizations in which teachers work,” including the distribution, mechanism and effects of control and power, is inadequate.

In a series of multiple regression analyses of TELL data, the authors showed that eight separate measures of teacher control were related to student achievement at a statistically significant level. The two areas that showed the strongest relationship with student achievement were discipline and improvement planning. Data also showed that lower performing schools with sanctions had less teacher turnover, and in fact had turnover comparable to high performing schools, when teachers were given more autonomy.

The authors recommend that improving teacher quality through accountability reforms offers only a one-sided perspective and that “solving the problem of teacher quality” involves also providing teachers with the autonomy and flexibility they need to do their jobs effectively, and assessing school management in light of a balanced approach to control and accountability.

While Ingersoll and Collins (2019) use extensive data sets and analyses to make the case that PD leaders and education managers should balance pragmatic emphasis on high-stakes accountability measures with restoring teacher agency, considering unique school contexts, and evaluating institutional factors, Arnold (2019) uses critical pedagogy to theorize about the reasons for the imbalance between the two emphases. I’ll return to her more theoretical case for shifting the dial toward teacher agency.

Data reporting at the postsecondary level

Most colleges and universities are also required to report data to the federal government in order to receive federal student financial aid funding. Rice and Russell (2012) outline the legislative history beginning with the Student Right-to-Know Act of 1990 (SRTK) that mandates graduation reporting for subgroups in order to participate in Title IV programs. Graduation rates, along with persistence and completion rates, are key institutional measures at the postsecondary level.

The USDOE’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) makes reported data available and tools for analyzing that data available to constituencies including the states, researchers and policymakers at the institutions themselves, and the general public, as well as using these data to guide or justify federal education policy through several centers, including the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (Fink & Muntz, 2012). NCES also collects data through a survey research system. The Postsecondary, Adult, and Career Education Division (PACE) collects information on postsecondary institutions. The main postsecondary dataset made available by NCES is the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The three main tools that IPEDS provides to constituents are College Navigator , the Executive Peer Tool (ExPT), and the Data Center(Fink & Muntz, 2012).

While postsecondary faculty often have considerably more control than K-12 teachers “over the content of their teaching, over the hiring of new colleagues, over the evaluation and promotion of members through peer review, and, hence, over the ongoing content and character of their profession” (Ingersoll & Collins, 2019, p. 166), assessment measures, policies, and college curricula are increasingly influenced by both federal funding guidelines and by the network of grantmaking organizations such as the Gates and Lumina Foundations that have been influential in funding K-12 student and teacher assessment (Addison, 2015).

Rice and Russell (2012) call for ways to “expand and refocus” the conventional sue of graduation rate in postsecondary reporting:

Given the paucity of comparable, widely accepted outcome measures for postsecondary education, state and federal policy makers have latched on to student persistence and graduation measures as key accountability indicators. At the same time, critics have denounced simple graduation rates as inadequate and misleading metrics. Despite the many limitations of these measures, graduation rates have gained attention and influence in the media, in college ranking systems, and among consumers. As a result, many higher education administrators are concerned that this narrowly focused concept of student success does not adequately reflect all that they do, and that it deflects attention and resources from broader institutional concerns. (237)

While postsecondary reporting measures may be critiqued for imbalanced or narrow focus on reporting measures, the growing imbalance between teacher responsibility and teacher control at the K-12 level identified through the synthesized study of Ingersoll and Collins (2019) forms a “datafied” counterpart to Arnold’s (2019) theory-based suggestions for correcting such imbalance.

Theorizing a more balanced model of PD in a high-stakes accountability context

At the K-12 level, Arnold (2019) calls for a counter-balancing of the “cultural shifts that have institutionalized and ideologized education” (p. 583). She argues that NCLB and the Common Core State Standards, and the supervisory models grounded in the standards based accountability movement, emphasize homogeneity over the unique context of each school and student population. Thus the measures that were meant to result in opportunity for all are in reality reducing opportunity, as learning models emphasize efficiency over depth of learning, for example through competency-based “badging” (p. 578). Arnold argues that accountability has rendered not only teaching but leadership less creative, and that “if adults are uncreative and constricted in their thinking, then children will be as well” (p. 587).

Arnold makes a case that assessment reporting can become a matter of “datafication”, as “teachers and leaders…feel pressured to produce the ‘right’ data” and as “self-professed evidence-based policy making is premised on the idea that research results can justify political, economic, and social decision making” which becomes a problem if research is “flawed in design, analytics, or reporting” (pp. 578-79).

In response to this diagnosis, Arnold calls for leadership development based in critical pedagogy in order to help leaders such as principals focus on both pragmatics and “contextual diversity.” Critical pedagogy is the interpretive stance that questions the assumptions that lead to inequalities. The practical shifts she calls for include “wise feedback” in teacher evaluation and professional development; “wise feedback,” separate from formal feedback, is similar to the formative feedback teachers provide to students that includes the assurance they will be successful. Arnold also calls on school leaders to model “good” use of research, by which she means refraining from sending the “underlying message…that university research has more significance than the experiences of those who contribute directly to the school day” and engaging teachers in identifying problems of practice and speaking of “evidence-informed policy rather than evidence-based policy” (pp. 584-585). Her strengths-based, context-based, collaborative suggestions encourage a more humanistic approach to teacher evaluation/professional development and thus to building the teaching and learning culture of an institution.

While professionals–teachers and administrators alike—should understand the role that standards and standardization play in creating quality and equality in education, institutional cultures are cultures of people that by definition cannot be based on abstract and standardized values alone. When it comes to professional development, the studies cited by Meuwissen (2017) demonstrate how “high stakes assessment climates complicate PD efforts to shift teachers’ practices toward in-depth inquiry and analysis” while also steering “PD toward covering curriculum and measuring and management of student achievement outcomes instead of strengthening in-depth subject matter learning and instruction” (p. 251). Balanced leadership should support teachers in achieving mandates while also building their professional agency.


Addison, J. (2015). Shifting the locus of control: Why the common core state standards and emerging standardized tests may reshape college writing classrooms. The Journal of Writing Assessment, 8(1). Retrieved from:

Adler-Kassner, L. (2012). The companies we keep or the companies we would like to try to keep: Strategies and tactics in challenging times. Writing Program Administrator, 36(1), 119-140.

Arnold, N. (2019). Supervisory identity: Cultural shift, critical pedagogy, and the crisis of supervision. In Zepeda, S.J. & Ponticell J.A. (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of educational supervision (575-600). (Wiley handbooks in education). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved from

Fink, G.M., & Muntz, G. (2012). Federal higher education reporting databases and tools. In Howard, R.D., McLaughlin, G.W., & Knight, E.D. (Eds.), The handbook of institutional research (354-370). (The Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ingersoll, R.M., & Collins, G.J. Accountability, control, and teachers’ work in American schools. In Zepeda, S.J. & Ponticell J.A. (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of educational supervision (159-182). (Wiley handbooks in education). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved from

Jensen, B., Sonnemann, J., Roberts-Hull, K., & Hunter, A. (2016). Beyond PD: Teacher professional learning in high-performing systems. Washington, D.C.: National Center on Education and the Economy. Retrieved from

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary issues in technology and teacher education, 9(1), pp. 60-70. Retrieved from:

Lunenburg, F.C. National policy/standards: Changes in instructional supervision since the implementation of recent federal legislation. In Zepeda, S.J. & Ponticell J.A. (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of educational supervision (381-406). (Wiley handbooks in education). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved from

McMunn Dooley, C., Owens, S.J., & Conley, M. (2019). Teacher performance assessments mandated during the Duncan era. In Zepeda, S.J. & Ponticell J.A. (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of educational supervision (407-432.). (Wiley handbooks in education). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved from

Meuwissen, K.W. “Happy professional development at an unhappy time”: Learning to teach for historical thinking in a high-pressure accountability context. Theory & research in social education, 45(2), 248-285. doi:10.1080/00933104.2016.1232208

Rice, G.A., & Russell, A.B. Refocusing student success: Toward a comprehensive model.In Howard, R.D., McLaughlin, G.W., & Knight, E.D. (Eds.), The handbook of institutional research (237-255). (The Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Research, realism, and relationship: Empowering PD partnership between teachers and institutions

The shift to Common Core State Standards in 2010 not only changed teaching and learning by greatly increasing and standardizing emphasis on student knowledge construction and problem-solving, but were accompanied by an associated accountability movement that ties high-stakes testing of student outcomes to teacher evaluation. Similar shifts are now taking place in public higher education, where federal and private funding and policy advocacy are also increasingly aligned with accountability structures that are external to academic departments (Addison, 2015).

As a teacher and former writing center coordinator who is eager to pilot and adapt new theories, pedagogies and technologies and who has partnered with administrators to design and implement PD at the program level, I’ve worked hard to support faculty-driven, research-based, and discipline-rooted innovation by, on the one hand, advocating with administrators for the professional development time, resources and opportunities needed by teachers, and, on the other, by suggesting to faculty that they see their roles as including collaborative leadership in defining and achieving the larger institutional values and goals (such as teaching 21st century skills and improving student outcomes) that administrators also contribute specialized expertise toward achieving.

In close to two decades in both postsecondary and K-12 settings, I’ve observed that the term “professional development” (PD) usually has some dimension of negative connotation for educators. Faculty and teachers were hired for their ability to apply epistemological, content, pedagogical, curricular, and technological knowledge (Koehler & Mishra, 2009; Bachy, 2014). Many associate “PD” with training sessions framed by fiscally- or trend-driven institutional goals and with bureaucratic rather than educational paradigms.

Yet institutions do bear responsibility for cultivating environments in which continuous improvement of teaching and learning is supported by PD. New paradigms of teaching and learning and the continuous development of new technologies, often within academic disciplines, call for effective PD.

However, when PD is viewed by teachers and institutions as primarily an institutional responsibility, PD practices may variously default into workshops on new initiatives or into piecemeal attempts to impact the teacher learning and improvement that is in fact both a highly individual process and one necessarily embedded in the immediate cultural context of a department or grade level team actively engaged in serving a student population.

Soine and Lumpe (2014) found that “not all professional development is effective in improving teacher quality,” nor is there universal agreement on the key factors that make PD effective (pp. 304-305).

One of the challenges faced by educators and administrators alike is that colleges and districts may not have robust professional development programs or full-fledged educational technology support that would ideally help them develop curriculum and instruction by integrating technology with ongoing content, pedagogical, and curricular knowledge development (Soine & Lumpe 2014; Schulman 1986). Yet teachers who are expected to shift to more learner-centered teaching styles must experience professional development that is itself reflective of a learner-centered teaching model rather than a deficit model (Daley, 2003; Lawler & King, 2000).

Last year I designed a faculty-led PD workshop series (LINK) based on the essential components of data-based assessment, differentiation, collaboration, coaching, communities of practice, and the technologies associated with those learning communities. As I reviewed literature for that project, I found that many researchers have concluded what was aptly summed up in a quote from an article shared with me this week by an SPU cohort member (Center for Public Education, 2013): “Recent education reforms have urged teachers to foster collaboration, debate and reflection among students, in order to develop cognitive processes like those called for in the new standards. Ironically, districts rarely apply these same learning techniques to developing teachers.”

Similarly, Zepeda (2015) notes that professional development that results in professional learning should involve: 1. active knowledge construction; 2. collaborative learning; 3. application in context, over time, with follow-up feedback that can be incorporated into continual learning; and 4. differentiation (Zepeda, 2015).

The principles of andragogy further re-inforce these well-established cognitivist and constructivist learning principles (Lawler, 2003). Professional adult learners are self-directed and need to apply new knowledge immediately; as members of local and disciplinary professional learning communities, they need to collaborate in ways that allow each faculty member to co-learn, co-teach, contribute knowledge and benefit from collective knowledge; as those who are learning skills that were often not part of their graduate programs and may be determined by policymakers rather than by disciplinary best practices, thy need access to coaching, technical support, and follow-up as part of professional development projects and infrastructure; and they need access to differentiated learning that engages their particular disciplinary, technological, and pedagogical proficiencies and teaching assignments (Zepeda, 2015). Soine & Lumpe (2014) summarize effective PD as creating “opportunities for teachers to take control of their own learning, deepen their subject knowledge, construct knowledge from previous knowledge and experiences, become comfortable with their role as a learner, and develop intellectual camaraderie with colleagues” (pp. 303-304).

In my current role, I have the opportunity once again to personally experience what K-12 teachers live out. Teachers manage a heavy load of expectations and activities regarding professional evaluations, standardized assessment results, standards-based curricular coverage, and a plethora of technology options. There is never enough time to teach all that is prescribed to be taught. As a leader teacher, it is my desire to continue to grow professionally, but also to see my colleagues, school, and district be all that we can be.

In such a circumstance, what is a realistic approach to providing or improving educational technology professional development for teachers that might be put forward by teacher leaders and other leaders?

Reflecting on the needs of teachers while experiencing their reality, upon the words and actions of administrators and teachers who have inspired me as leaders, and upon my experiences in both teaching and coaching have brought me to focus on the importance not only of research, but of realism and relationships.

While I am looking forward to following Soine and Lumpe’s (2014) example of describing empirical links between professional development characteristics to outcomes, I’m also compelled by the need for realistic solutions for improved teaching and learning through technology-related PD and for the power of authentic relationships between teachers, teacher leaders, and those with coaching or administrative roles.

Addison, J. (2015). Shifting the locus of control: Why the common core state standards and

emerging standardized tests may reshape college writing classrooms. The Journal of Writing Assessment, 8(1). Retrieved from:

Bachy, S. (2014). TPDK, A new definition of the TPACK model for a university setting.

European journal of open, distance, and e-learning, 17(2), 15-39. Retrieved from

Center for Public Education. (2013). Teaching the teachers: Effective professional development

in an era of high stakes accountability. Retrieved from

Daley, B.J (Summer 2003). A case for learner-centered teaching and learning. New

directions for adult and continuing education, 98.

Fetters, M.L., & Duby, T.G. (February 2011). Faculty Development: A stage model matched to

blended learning maturation. Journal of asynchronous learning networks, 15(1), 77-86. Retrieved from

Jaipal-Jamani, K., & Figg, C. (2015) A Framework for TPACK-in-Practice: Designing

Technology Professional Learning Contexts to Develop Teacher Technology Knowledge (TPACK). In Valanides, N. & C. Angeli (Eds.), Exploring, developing, and assessing TPCK(pps. 137-164). New York: Springer Publications.

Jaipal-Jamani, K., Figg, C, Gallagher, T., Scott, R.M., & Ciampa, K. (2015).

Collaborative professional development in higher education: Developing knowledge of technology enhanced teaching. The journal of effective teaching, 15(2), 30-44. Retrieved from

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge?

Contemporary issues in technology and teacher education, 9(1), pp. 60-70. Retrieved


Lawler, P. (Summer 2003). Teachers as adult learners: A new perspective. New directions for

adult and continuing education, 98, 15-22.

Lawler, P.A., & King, K.P. (2000). Planning for effective faculty development: Using adult learning strategies. Malabar, FL: Kreiger.

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational

Researcher 15(2), 4-14.

Soine, K.M., & Lumpe, A. (2014). Measuring characteristics of teacher professional

development. Teacher Development 18(3), 303-333.


Zepeda, S.J. (2015). Job-embedded professional development: Support, collaboration, and

learning in schools. New York, NY: Routledge.

Web Accessibility: A Team Approach

Check out this dyslexic font.  I’m not dyslexic, but I love using this font because I do have a bit of hyperopia. Fortunately, thanks to the accessibility features in the course LMS I use, both my dyslexic students and I can opt to have our course information display in this font.

College instructors are often not aware that there are students with disabilities in their classrooms or digital learning spaces. Dyslexia, a range of specific reading disorders and the most prevalent learning disability in the country, affects as much as 20% of the population (Korbey, 2015). Yet like many disabilities, dyslexia is invisible. As a composition instructor, I ask students in my first-semester classes to begin our journey forward into writing by looking backward and authoring a literacy narrative. I have never given this assignment to a class in which at least one student did not use it to reveal and explore their experience with dyslexia. I have found the literacy narrative a powerful genre for initiating a first-semester writing experience that so many students approach with trepidation in such a way that those students find the course to be more inclusive, empowering, and transformative than they had expected as they gain the critical, literacy and writing technology skills they need to be successful in college and career. But that topic is for another post.

My point here is that many disabilities are unseen, and that even educators, who know that every individual has relative strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning, may not be aware of either the presence of disability among their students or of what barriers exist for those students. The need for faculty to be supported in developing inclusive, accessible learning experiences is amplified with the advent of ubiquitous digital learning tools such as LMS course shells. In fully digital learning environments, it can be harder to get to know students and their needs, and digital content may be inaccessible to students with, for example, visual, hearing, or movement impairments.

Web accessibility, a term sometimes shortened to accessibility, is an aspect of teaching in digital-age environments that “means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them” (Introduction, 2018). In an accessible digital learning experience, students can access all content and complete all activities without meeting barriers.

I believe that faculty want all of their students to succeed, but because they often receive limited “training” or simply receive requirements for accessibility compliance, they are not always equipped with the big-picture view of the issues and approaches that make inclusive educational design a joy rather than a burden. As a teacher and leader within the worlds of public higher education and public K-12 education, it is my role not only to know about adaptive and assistive technologies (ISTE Standard for Coaches 3d), and comply with accessibility laws (ISTE Standard for Coaches 5) that govern use of my institution’s existing educational infrastructure (ISTE Standard for Coaches 3f), but to make doing so a matter of mindset (ISTE Standard for Coaches 1) rather than just of compliance. This includes advocating for the time, training, and institutional approaches or processes that are needed for inclusive digital education and it includes creating vision for accessibility measures as tools that belong to the realm of teaching.

This post provides an overview of the laws governing web accessibility, two primary approaches to accessibility within higher education, and the different roles that faculty, staff/departments, and administrators can do to make digital college education accessible.



Higher education has become more inclusive in terms of access over time with the passing of legislation and social movements that have increased college enrollment among veterans, women, minorities, and those who experience disabilities. In the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. also saw increased access through the development of the community college model, which seeks to bridge around half of today’s American undergraduate students to credentials, careers, and further education (Bailey, Smith Jaggars, & Jenkins, 2015). The work involved in designing educational options and programs that are effective for all types of students has moved more slowly.

Two approaches that are frequently used for re-envisioning education as inclusive of those with disabilities are Universal Design for Learning (UDL)  and web accessibility. UDL, which won’t be discussed here but that I’ve blogged about elsewhere, replaces the idea of accommodation and adaptation with the idea of design based on multiple neurological and physical access points, a design intended to make a learning experience universally engaging and effective for all learners. In turn, this principle overlaps with educational approaches such as Guided Pathways and High Impact Practices that seek to provide program completion, deep learning, and equity for socioeconomically and culturally diverse students. I mention this overlap to reinforce the idea of equitable access as a matter of mindset that reflects the way educators today are approaching instructional design in terms of inclusion for deep learning in a 21st century context.

The second approach typically used in addressing issues of equity for students with disabilities is web accessibility.


Accessibility at a glance

There are essentially two realms of accessibility: content accessibility and platform accessibility. Platform accessibility involves addressing problems with accessibility in the code base underlying the LMS system or other software that may prevent the software from integrating with students’ assistive devices. Platform accessibility also addresses the way an LMS system or software device is coded to provide, for example, appropriate color contrast that will allow visually impaired as well as other students to read with relative ease. While faculty usually cannot resolve platform accessibility problems themselves, they can report those problems.

The second area of accessibility, content accessibility involves, barriers for those with disabilities that occur in the materials that faculty produce or use within an LMS. Examples of such barriers could include:

  • Uncaptioned videos that cannot be experienced by the hearing impaired
  • PDF files that cannot be read by a screen reader for the visually impaired
  • Content that is not structured for a screen reader (for example, with content without frequent headings, with repeated blank spaces, or without alternative text for images and headings in tables)
  • Inconsistent navigation patterns and naming conventions for files

The challenges for faculty as they seek to provide accessible course content is the sheer number of barriers that can be created in digital learning environments, the average technology user’s (i.e. faculty member’s) lack of specific knowledge of all of the possible barriers, and sometimes a lack of tools, training and time for eliminating barriers. But content accessibility is the realm in which faculty can have agency, for example by using accessibility checklists and protocols as they create courses that are more thoughtfully universal in design. Some resources for these types of checklists are provided at the conclusion of this post.

It is also important to realize that because of the number of possible accessibility errors and the potential of technological tools for glitches, accessibility checking should be approached as an inter-institutional partnership in which different individuals and departments help provide multiple perspectives and means of review. Accessible digital education is a team endeavor.


The legal landscape

In the United States, web accessibility is governed by procurement laws, accessibility laws, and non-discrimination laws that variously govern public, private, and government sectors. The beginning points for developing an institutional policy for accessibility are

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative  provides links to helpful explanations and to the guides and standards that have been developed for each law on its policies page.

W3C has also developed a series of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which are the standards or technical guidelines for accessible web content and web coding that many countries, including the U.S. and its higher education institutions, use to comply with their governments’ laws. The WCAG 2.0 standards were published in 2008, and WCAG 2.1  was just published in June 2018.

Many colleges and universities have developed their own shortened checklists for the WCAG standards. Two good places for faculty or departments to get an overview of WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 are


What faculty can do, departments, and institutions can do

Web accessibility requires such a breadth of specialized knowledge of specific disabilities and the available assistive technologies (AT) for them, of coding, and of the issues that may not be revealed through an automated checker, that it truly requires an ongoing collaborative institutional vision. However,

Faculty members can…

  • Consider and modify course structures with UDL principles and potential accessibility issues in mind. For example, teach using assistive technologies such as screen readers as a de-stigmatized, useful tool for all students (Seale, Georgeson, Mamas, & Swain, 2015). A screen reader can allow a student to review reading while working out at the gym as well as provide a visually impaired student access to the text.
  • Investigate the accessibility of software integrations before adopting them (Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
  • Consider putting content directly into LMS pages rather than as linked files (Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
  • Use accessibility check tools that are built into some content-creation software such as Microsoft’s Office tools and into some LMS systems. Third-party accessibility checkers also exist. LMS systems also have accessibility guidelines and community pages such as Canvas’ Accessibility with Canvas page 
  • Include on syllabi a list of software integrations that will be used in the course (Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
  • Gather student feedback and bring that information to the attention of the institution (Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)


Departments and instructional technologists can…

  • Screen vendor software for accessibility (Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
  • Educate faculty about the basic laws involved
  • Educate faculty about the basic principles of Universal Design
  • Determine the top few accessibility issues with the institution’s LMS or curricula and support faculty in addressing those issues(Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
  • Develop lists of best practices, and checklists and tools (such as OCR conversion tools and Adobe Acrobat Pro) for faculty to do their own accessibility building and checking
  • Provide support such as screening syllabi and course shells, as well as providing consulting and partnership with compliance or educational technology officers


What institutions can do

If goals such as universal accessibility require collaboration across an institution, such collaboration tends to exist only when it is supported by an administration that has a vision for an institutional pathway for achieving such a goal.

Cifuentes, Janney, Guerra, & Weir, (2016) provide a process model that their institution, a  state higher education institution with a 6-person Office of Distance Education and Learning Technologies for its 12,000 student, 600 faculty member campus. The model involves three basic stages: it moves from, first, exploring needs, requirements and principles; to second, building infrastructure and related issues such as choosing software and training faculty; to third, evaluation and refinement. I think the visual display of this process is helpful not only for conceptualizing how to approach accessibility (or any other curricular goal) in a holistic way, but also for seeing which personnel might work on which stages of the process and for gaining a sense of the time involved.


A difficulty in developing accessible courses is the time involved, and this visualization helps place some of that time burden on the institutional planning and review processes rather than solely on the faculty or designers who design courses. Therefore, I think this model could be scaled to a smaller college with a smaller staff because it focuses on essential phases and the time, tasks, and types of personnel involved.



Bailey, T.R., Smith Jaggars, S. & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges: A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cifuentes, L., Janney, A., Guerra, L. & Weir, J. (2016). A working model for complying with accessibility guidelines for online learning. TechTrends, 60(6): 557-564.

Hamrick, L., & Grabham, B. (2018, August). It takes a campus: Creating accessible learning experiences for students in an LMS. Conference session presented at Colorado Learning and Teaching with Technology (COLTT) 2018 Conference, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO.

Introduction to web accessibility. (2018, March 24). Retrieved from World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Access Initiative website:

Korbey, H. (2015, October 8). Why recognizing dyslexia in children at school can be difficult. Retrieved from KQED News website:

Seale, J., Georgeson, J., Mamas, C., & Swain, J. (2015). Not the right kind of ‘digital capital? An examination of the complex relationship between disabled students, their technologies, and higher education institutions. Computers & Education, 82, 118-128. Retrieved from:

Using Open Educational Resources to Support Academic Achievement in a First-year Humanities Class

Well-designed digital learning environments combine effective management strategies with collaborative learning processes (ISTE Coaching Standard 3: Digital Learning Environments). Open Educational Resources (OERs) are instructional materials (such as textbooks, multimedia learning tools, and lesson plans) that can be used free of charge by instructors and students to customize, reduce costs, and increase the connectivity (timeliness, authenticity of audience, access to real-world learning communities, etc.) of learning, but that also call for effective instructional use and management.

Hilton (2016) surveyed a number of studies of the impact of OERs on college student learning outcomes, and of student and faculty perceptions of OERs, concluding that OERs provide similar outcomes to textbooks and address the problem of textbook costs, which can deter students from purchasing books. In my own experience I have found that OERs may be a good choice for student learning not only because they make course content more financially accessible but because they can be tailored to student needs, learning styles, and interests with much more flexibility than a textbook.



Choosing to use OERs in course design does involve the instructor and the institution in the responsibility to mitigate some of the potential barriers or difficulties they pose. For example, while OERs can enhance the content of a course, they can play a role in reducing engagement between peers and between students and instructor. For this reason, they may not be ideal for diverse and nontraditional learners who would benefit from more instructional interaction. Similarly, I have consistently heard from my students that while they appreciate the convenience and some of the affordances of digitized text, many students believe that they understand and remember what they read best when they read from a book that they can touch, write on, and experience in three-dimensional space. A third consideration of how OERs may actually compromise learning has to do with access; their use may disenfranchise students who do not have a reliable internet connection or who have limited technology skills or software or hardware.

In addition, three important contextual concerns that should inform instructors’ and designers’ thinking as we implement OERs are quality control, intellectual copyright issues, and sustainability. The open nature of OERs leads to a need for users (whether programs and institutions or individual instructors or designers) to establish and use criteria for evaluating the accuracy and academic credentials of these materials. Allowing individual faculty to use OERs may compromise the consistency across sections that use of a required textbook ensures and that is a goal in standards-based education. Second, though OERs are created in order to be shared, U.S. copyright and “fair use” laws still apply, and OERs need to be “re-mixed” in ways that give attribution to both licensed and public domain sources (Moore, 2017). States such as Oregon have created higher education OER guidelines that address matters of access and quality (Freed, Friedman, Lawlis, & Stapleton, 2018).

A final ethical consideration that is easy to bypass in the rush to create a strategic institutional plan or a new coursepack is that of sustainability. This issue involves considering how our short term choices in instructional modes and materials impact the education in the long term. For example, movement away from the use of textbooks has driven up the cost of textbooks and also encouraged textbook companies to transform themselves into digital content providers. And while the prefabricated digital learning materials now being marketed by what formerly were textbook companies may have many attractive functionalities such as “intelligent” tutoring software, the ease with which these new materials can in turn be adopted by instructors to replace teaching can further distance students from learning as a carefully thought out and human-mediated process.

For these and other reasons, I’ve used OERs sparingly, aiming to make and test one innovation at a time. I began with using OERs from my field, writing instruction, using peer-reviewed resources provided by disciplinary associations and networks such as the WAC Clearinghouse or internationally recognized writing labs such as the Purdue OWL. I also try to find valid and reliable ways to assess and document the impact of my use of digital resources, at minimum by frequently collecting student feedback and giving students opportunity to choose the digital resources that work best for them. In the case of OER textbooks, I first used OERs as supplements or as options, an approach that works best in courses, such as many writing courses, that are not textbook-driven, and that helps me maintain alignment with textbook requirements across sections in my institution while still taking advantage of the way OERs can be tailored to student interests, learning styles, and learning levels.


Instructional Design with OERs

When designing instruction, the basic steps I follow involve:

  • Identify the concepts to be learned
  • Identify barriers to learning
  • Identifying research-tested “best” pedagogical and disciplinary practices to be used
  • Decide how the unit fits into the overall scope of the course or create the comprehensive syllabus and structure for the course
  • Develop the tools and instruction

Designing an online or a technology-enhanced course involves more consideration, throughout the steps of this process, of factors such as accessibility, universality of design to support various types of learners, considering and supporting digital skill sets, and promoting cognitive, social, and instructor presence (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000).

Lehman and Conceição (2013), in their book-length survey of models of student persistence and presentation of online courses design strategies based on their model for supporting supporting student persistence, also identify a number of institutional and instructional supports and tasks (for example, creating forums for both content-related and non-content-related interactions such as technical support and office hours;  providing “Netiquette” guidelines; and considering how to help students prioritize tasks) that instructors like me should consider throughout the design process.

At the community college where I work, I have taught an the first of a three-course humanities sequence several times. This 100 level course provides a transfer credit and is often taken by students with little previous college experience. By requirement, HUM 121 is a textbook-oriented course that involves a survey of worldwide cultures from pre-civilization through the Western medieval era, also packing the disciplinary perspectives of cultural studies, art history, philosophy, and religious studies into a 15-week, 3 credit hour timeframe. Because of these constraints and the needs of my student population, my challenges in teaching this course include getting students interested, motivating them to read the required textbook, motivating them to learn vocabulary and disciplinary content that requires memorization, and supporting them in making the deeper connections that drive exploration, discovery, and authentic, personal learning.

This coming semester, the learning environment my students and I share will have some technological conditions that may act as further constraints or as opportunities. This course will be offered in a hybrid format, such that one of the three weekly contact hours involved in face-to-face instruction will be replaced by equivalent, asynchronous virtual instruction. The section will also be offered in what my institution terms a “global” format, meaning that some students will be present in a classroom for the two hours of weekly contact, while others will join on an individual computer from a remote site, while still others may be dual enrollment students who join as a group through a single computer. While I think that such a diversity of access formats inevitably leads to a privileging of one of the forms of attendance (for instance, on-site students may receive more teacher attention because of their physical proximity, or remote students in group settings may receive more instructor attention because of the problems associated with the relative number of layers of technology between them and the instructor), an equalizing factor is the fact that all students have access to the LMS course shell and associated student accounts (email, any software I embed, etc.), though not all students may have access at home. And while students and I are required to connect with content and one another using one or more other technologies (such as web-conferencing tools and the college website), one of my priorities for course design is to deliver as much content as possible in one place, using the shell as a hub. An opportunity that I have this semester is to use a slightly redesigned version of our LMS system, D2L/Brightspace. All these affordances and constraints make this a perfect time to re-examine the use of OERs to support these specific learning needs.

These, along with the considerations I listed above, mean that the three areas of most important consideration for me in the selection of OERs for this course will be the (1) nature and quality of any open educational materials, (2) copyright and licensing issues, and (3) how the tools and resources are used.

While the instructional and infrastructure challenges discussed above pose possible barriers, what makes designing this course fun is prioritizing the focus on designing effective learning experiences. The other pieces are all means to that end. Through the design process steps sketched above, I’ll be building:

  • Learning experiences aligned with institutional curriculum outcomes and/or state guaranteed transfer standards, disciplinary and pedagogical best practices
  • Integration of educational technologies
  • Student technology training and support
  • Learner experiences that according with Universal Design and WCAG accessibility principles
  • Connections to means of social and cognitive engagement
  • Connections to institutional supports through the learning environment

The shift to a hybrid format has caused me to conceive of the course’s basic unit in terms of a series of one-week learning experiences or modules. While this may not sound like a big change for the organization of a survey course, this shift includes: a sense of how students’ learning process should unfold over a week, how technology will enable me to help students organize their time and learning tasks more effectively, and how the tasks assigned might need to change. The basic learning task sequence for a week will involve the following steps: Read, quiz, vocab, discuss, mini-lecture, connect and create.

Our synchronous class meetings will be on Monday. The week’s learning activities will begin with turning in annotations of readings the evening before class. Rather than requiring students to turn in reading notes or summaries or relying on reading quizzes for accountability, I would like to provide an accountable reading assignment that is also motivating. One way to achieve this is to begin collaborative discussion during the reading process through the use of collaborative annotation tools. This will transform reading from an independent and unsupported task which students often avoid to a collaborative one in which readings can be approached more critically, multiple readings can be documented, students can ask and answer questions and make connections to other texts, reading discussion can begin before class and continue after class, and documented group interaction around readings can be used by small groups to support collaborative research projects.

I’m exploring using Stanford university’s Lacuna software for collaborative annotation or Both tools are free but may present barriers in terms of institutional willingness to partner or access to digitized content. In this first iteration of this hybrid format, the institution issued student textbook requisitions in print form prior to assigning the course in a hybrid format, so I’m seeking some retro-fitted funding to possibly create access to a digitized version of the textbook. In the absence of this funding, I can still have students access many of the primary source readings (which because of their antiquity can be located in the public domain) included in the textbook. OER resources for such primary source readings include the public domain primary source collection at Project Gutenberg and primary source archives curated by university humanities and digital humanities departments, such as Fordham University’s Internet Ancient History Sourcebook.

Two important considerations for facilitating collaborative engagement will be 1. making it easy for students to engage with each other and the content; and 2. fostering participation. While I hope that Lacuna can foster the first, with some thought I should be able to use another easy-to-access software format or the “groups” or other features of my LMS shell to help students see and comment on one another’s work. To foster participation, one approach I’d like to try is to provide a work style survey that can help students self-select groups in a judgment-free way based on a knowledge of shared work styles. For instance, they could self-select into groups for those who prefer to plan ahead or who prefer to get work done at the last minute.

The next step in the learning activity chain will involve quizzes. Online quizzes that students take before class can reinforce reading content and help students monitor what they have and have not learned. In the past, I’ve given students unlimited opportunities to take and re-take 10-15 question, selected response and short essay quizzes at the conclusion of each reading and before a deadline. The intent was that in addition to providing accountability for reading, students would use quizzes to reinforce learning. I found in this context that few students used these quizzes more than twice and many took them only once, with poor outcomes indicating incomplete reading of course materials, and concluded that they were not very effective with this student population either in providing accountability or concept and vocabulary practice. Rather than scrapping the quizzes, I’d like to retain them and see if students will use them for practice more after doing group annotations.

Next, to continue to address the difficulty I’ve encountered with students learning the vocabulary terms of the many disciplines they encounter in HUM 121, I plan to begin each synchronous session with vocabulary study. The first 10 or 15 minutes of class will use vocabulary learning tasks such as Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)-oriented short writing tasks that move students from contextual mastery of terms to the ability to apply terms as part of their personal vocabularies, to having students develop their own tools for learning, say, architectural vocabulary terms. Finally, I hope to embed vocabulary learning in the course by the use of OER texts and resources, as I’ll discuss below.

Once students have read and begun to learn basic organizing concepts, they need to learn to work with primary sources, to process those sources and make connections between those sources, and to display their knowledge. Skill in these three areas will build a foundation for the more in-depth projects students may be able to undertake in higher level humanities or in digital humanities courses. (I’m blown away by what Miriam Posner’s students at UCLA can achieve in a 100 level Digital Humanities course focused not on survey content but on research approaches and technologies: .) These three levels of work with sources will be supported by classroom discussions, which I plan to have students lead by adapting the fishbowl discussion technique, by mini-lectures, and by a short written analysis that students will submit near the conclusion of the week’s learning, the topics for which will emerge not only from the primary source readings and visual objects, but from the week’s collaborations.

Finally, the capstone project for the course will be a presentation in which students explore issues that provide cultural and sociological background for understanding one or more of the significant primary sources engaged in the class. For example, if a primary source is the Roman satirist Juvenal’s “Against the City of Rome,” students could explore a cultural or sociological contextual topic such as Roman Religion and Cultic Practice or the Roman Welfare State. This project will be supported throughout the class by a series of milestones. Equally important, the project will be supported as well as by a series of short tutorial-style assignments that will support students in working with sources (for example, by approaching attribution not merely as a matter of avoiding plagiarism but of participating in and facilitating a conversation), in processing sources (for example, students will use TimeMapper to create spatial, chronological, and conceptual organization of a topic), and in displaying sources and showcasing knowledge (both in written and visual form). OERs will form a key part of this project, serving not simply as primary or secondary resources but as contexts in which students re-process information and see approaches to inquiry.

In a previous digital archives project for students in a 100 level literature class, I found that providing students with access to instructor-curated digital archives of primary sources boosted student inquiry. For this class, I’ve also decided to provide students with a limited body of high-quality suggested resources (which they may opt to add to). I took these resources from university librarian-curated or university department-curated research guides. One source, Art History Teaching Resources (AHTR), is written for instructors rather than students, but provides good models of inquiry topics, provides overviews of critical central ideas or sources that students won’t necessarily know about, displays the use of the same sorts of vocabulary terms students engaged with in their textbook but in a different context, and suggests “activities” that students may find useful for their own learning as well as for using in a presentation. The project design will prevent students from over-reliance upon any one source or type of source. I hope that the presence of OERs on the syllabus, as support materials for the projects, as sources I will model use of in my participation in class discussion, but not necessarily as assigned reading will encourage and make it easier for students to engage in exploration throughout the course.

The six OERs I selected are included in the preliminary course schedule and resources here.

They will need to be reviewed for accessibility features before the syllabus is finalized.


Supporting motivation and collaboration

An important principle in supporting motivation is to provide both consistency and variability in course structure. In this course design, the consistency of weekly course tasks with variable facilitators and activities and a progressive sequence of benchmarks and supporting assignments will help achieve this.

Another aspect of the consistency of a course is the degree to which collaboration is fostered consistently across the course. I believe that one reason group participation in asynchronous activities (such as the collaborative reading annotation activities I plan for this course) can be notoriously difficult to achieve in online courses is that students perceive many collaborative activities (such as threaded discussions) as poorly integrated into the learning of the course, and this perception may be correct. Fostering collaboration includes teaching students how to provide meaningful feedback, making it safe for students to do so, being highly present as an instructor, providing means for self- and peer-assessment that holds students accountable, and integrating collaboration into the culture of the course rather than just into discrete activities. My goal for my use of OERs is that, with appropriate modeling and use, these will also will foster collaboration, serving as go-to rather than required resources that can foster exploration in whole- and small-group discussions, so that, as students will be supported in knowing how to handle primary resources by the time they get to their projects, they’ll also be supported in knowing how to use open educational resources, and what it feels like to look work with well-curated academic OERs.



Freed, B., Friedman, A., Lawlis, S., & Stapleton, A. (2018, June). Evaluating Oregon’s open educational resources designation requirement: A report for the higher education coordinating commission. Retrieved from:

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. Retrieved from the Athabasca University website:

Hilton, J. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Education Tech Research and Development, 64(4), 573-590.

Lehman, R.M. & Conceição, S. (2013) Motivating and retaining online students: Research-based strategies that work, Jossey-Bass / Wiley. Retrieved from

Moore, K. (2017, March 22). Attribution statements for remixed OER content [Website post]. Retrieved from:

Redmond, P., Abawi, L., Brown, A., Henderson, R., & Heffernan, A. (2018). An online engagement framework for higher education. Online learning, 22(1), 183-204. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i1.1175

Archives and Analysis

Extending Literary Interpretation through Archival Research and Global Collaboration

Visit the Website for this Project



The goals of a 100 level college Introduction to Literature course include learning the rudiments of literary analysis, considering how literature interprets the human condition, and analyzing the cultural and historical contexts of works of literature to interpret the meaning of literature and articulate the contemporary relevance of literary works. For these goals to be realized, a literature course needs to inculcate both independent critical thinking and a classroom (or digital space) community of critical discourse.

While core college courses in the humanities, such as Introduction to Literature, generally include an outcome connected to the use of digital information literacy competencies (see, for example, ISTE Standard for Students 2) such as (in the case of this course) “using contemporary technologies to select and use sources relevant to the study of literature,” these competencies are often interpreted by instructors of introductory literature courses as students’ use of library databases to find secondary works of interpretation to use as sources when writing analytical or interpretive papers. However, requiring novice readers of literature to synthesize scholarly interpretations of texts too soon can undermine the development of students’ independent critical analytical and interpretive skills; even with appropriate instruction in synthesis writing, students in an introductory course may transfer previous habits of working with sources such that their use of secondary sources tends to replace rather than extend independent inquiry.

By contrast, providing students with access to primary sources can give them additional textual and contextual elements that may serve as more productive tools for independent development of new lines of inquiry about the texts they have read. Charlotte Nunes (2015) described her incorporation of digital archives into a first-year literature class, arguing that “students can benefit greatly from even preliminary exposure to archives early in their undergraduate careers, by means of short-term, small-scale archival research tasks” (115).

This teaching unit builds upon Nunes’ suggestion by providing modelled and scaffolded access to digital archives to allow students to develop hypotheses about literary texts and address those hypotheses through contextual documents located in digital archives; in turn, the archival information located can problematize students’ original questions, and thus extend their critical thinking and allow for better application of students’ new understanding of literary, political, and social history to current issues as well.

The use of digital archives to position students as knowledge constructors aligns with ISTE Standard for Students 3. Through critical curation of primary sources located through digital archives, students can use archival technologies to develop inquiries, explore real-world sources, grapple with ill-structured problems presented by how primary sources must be interpreted to provide contextual relevance (rather than with the predigested solutions that may be the focus of students’ use of secondary sources), and pursue more personally owned theories and answers.



Students who are first or second year students at two-year colleges may or may not have taken the freshman year writing course sequence, may be nontraditional students with considerable life and academic experience, or may lack the preparation typically required by four-year colleges for admission, so their levels of skill in using research methodologies can vary considerably. Nunes (2015) noted that while learning the research strategies involved in archival research is beyond the scope of an introductory literature course, providing students with the “intellectual access” to archival materials can greatly deepen their ability to contextualize their thinking about the historical and social issues they encounter in literature (p. 117). Hence her approach to including primary sources in an introductory literature class typically involved students in working from instructor-provided primary sources.

Similarly, in a study of a problem-based learning project supported by digital archival resources, Chen and Chen (2010) noted that digital libraries face the challenge of effective informational architecture: even when curated by a college library, digital archives may not be intuitively or optimally organized for use by novice students. Likewise, Sharkey (2013), a professor of library science and Head of Information Use and Fluency at Illinois State University, noted that “information and technology are no longer separate entities but are inextricably connected” (p. 34), highlighting the importance of the instructor’s role in designing technology fluency instruction that focuses on the higher order thinking that will “give students a high level of aptitude to interact fluently with both (the) information and technology” (p. 37). Thus, the use of digital archives in this learning context itself presents a twofold barrier in terms of a lack of student knowledge about digital archival research methods, as well as in terms of a need for the development of 21st century teaching competencies that can support students in developing understanding of the nature of the information contained in digital archives, how that information is organized, and how to access and use that information (see ISTE Standard for Students 1). What is needed are both teaching approaches and instructional design approaches that will allow for student use of archival technologies while still foregrounding content learning and extension of students’ critical thinking and inquiry skills.

There are precedents for such an approach. In a controlled study of a Problem-Based Learning unit incorporating digital archives, Chen and Chen (2010) found that the use of digital archives that had been structured by the instructor resulted in deeper learning for students at three phases of the learning process (cognition, action, and reflection), in part because the problem of cognitive overload and the problem of students finding ineffective resources on the Internet were bypassed when more structured resources were presented (25).



The pedagogical frameworks that form the basis for this unit work together to support the concept of student “intellectual access” and draw upon the social constructivist approaches of Problem- and Project-Based Learning (PBL) in which student design of learning goals and iterative work on developing solutions (ISTE Standard for Students 4) is enacted through collaborative knowledge construction supported by the digital communication media that characterize these students’ world (ISTE Standard for Students 7).

Specifically, this unit develops a pedagogical foundation for the use of digital archives in an introductory literature course through: 1. The Community of Inquiry model, and an outgrowth of it (the QUEST Model for Inquiry-Based Learning); 2. The cultivation of 21st century instructional competencies in instructional design, facilitation, and collaboration (See ISTE Standards for Educators 4, 5, and 6; Florida State University Technology Integration Matrix) to scaffold and support students’ development of critical knowledge construction and communication competencies; and 3. The affordances of 21st century communication venues such as Web 2.0 content authoring tools, the platforms in which today’s researchers and tomorrow’s graduates will communicate, for similarly supporting students’ development critical knowledge construction and communication competencies.


The Community of Inquiry and QUEST Models

The Community of Inquiry model that has been the subject of research for nearly 20 years at Alberta’s Athabasca University and beyond describes the inter-relationships between three key elements that must be present for a meaningful higher education learning experience to take place among a community of instructors and students: cognitive presence, social presence, and instructor presence. The most essential element, cognitive presence, denotes the cognitivist elements of the learning process (such as experience, questioning, pattern recognition, making and applying connections, and noting and reconciling dissonances). In this model, the overlap between cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence creates ways to focus on developing social critical discourse through the design of the educational experience. QUEST is a model for an instructional unit or learning experience based on Community of Inquiry principles. In the QUEST model, which focuses on the elements of cognitive presence and social presence, students formulate a personalized Question about course content, Understand the topic better by conducting research and sharing sources, Educate and collaborate by interacting with peers through an iterative process of discussion of the shared questions and resources, engage in defining a Solution through reflection on the inquiry process; and Teach others through presenting a final product in a blog or other Web 2.0 genre that engages an authentic audience.


21st-Century Communication Media

The use in college humanities courses of multimodal composition assignments presented through blogs, video and other Web 2.0 technologies represents more than a shift to 21st-century composition media. This movement is situated within a larger pedagogical “social turn” that emphasizes literacy as not merely cognitivist but sociocultural in nature. In this theoretical view, ways of reading and writing such as genres and written and spoken forms of the English are generated by the communities of practice–professional and institutional, but also historical and cultural–who use these conventions to achieve shared goals (Gee, 2010). Thus people learn not literacy but “literacies” that involve the ability to engage with those communities in terms of the evolving discourse structures of those communities. From the perspective of compositionists, “digital literacies” involve the way digital tools are used within sociocultural groups, such as the scholarly communities who use blogs, digital archives, and online journals for scholarly communication, but also the many other sociocultural groups that produce work in online media to learn and communicate (Gee, 2010).

Although the design for this unit presupposes neither that the unit must be used in a primarily online course (in fact it is piloted here in two face to face course sections) nor that digital composition tools should be chosen other than in the context of a comprehensive list of criteria for how learning materials should be optimized for learning, several factors suggest the use of a blog format for student work in this unit: two factors in particular–1. that this unit brings together students from across the globe in a condensed timeframe to achieve the desired learning outcomes of articulating the relevance of literature for contemporary contexts; and 2. the reciprocal goal of developing students’ existing social media literacies for an academic purpose and relating such a purpose to 21st century research and communication venues–indicate the type of computer-mediated learning context for which the QUEST model suggests the use of a blog format for student work.

For this unit, students from multiple classes and locations need shared venues in which they can locate primary sources in digital archives, post sources and reflections on sources, collaborate through feedback, and share final presentations of the results of their inquiries. They need a research and communication environment that will support the process of development of deeper understanding of a problem, generating ideas, and finding solutions (Kuo, Chen, & Hwang, 2014). On the other hand, they need an environment with affordances that support the creative development of student final products that display learning. Further, they need to work in an environment in which the cognitive load of learning new technologies and methods is minimized.

Criteria considered in the choice of a primary content curation tool for this project, included:

  • ease and affordability of access (a free tool was desired)
  • capacity for instructor and student curation of web links to digital archives
  • capacity for supporting student development of creative content
  • capacity for supporting student writing and revising
  • capacity for supporting the small group and peer-to-peer aspects of a research and writing process as well as the “voice to all” and visual presentation aspects of an archival product (Brownstein & Klein, 2006)
  • ease of use, including minimal layers of technology
  • privacy: students should be able to opt out of associating work posted publicly with their names

In addition to developing this list of criteria, the main venue for student work in this unit was also considered in light of how it would support the exemplary instructional design in terms of the 6A’s Project Idea Rubric and Puentedura’s (2003) Matrix Model for designing and assessing network-enhanced courses. Puentedura’s model includes the diagnostic tool for selecting computer-based technology tools, known as SAMR, in which the best use of technological pedagogy achieves “redefinition,” where “the computer allows for the creation of new tasks, inconceivable without the computer” (Puentedura, 2003). The combination of student digital archive research and curation with the collaborative process of the QUEST model in the context of highly creator-friendly blog space seems to meet this criterion.

After developing two prototypes using different Web 2.0 tools, the instructors for this unit chose to create a Google Sites webpage to house students’ work, interaction, and access to digital archival resources. Support for student use of the site was provided both through a series of modeling sessions (Preparatory Lessons 1 and 2) and through written project instructions and a technology tutorial, as well as daily in-class “check-ins” and individualized support through email and in person.


21st-Century Teaching Competencies

Garrison, Anderson & Archer (2000), the authors of the Community of Inquiry model, note that “the binding element in creating a community of inquiry for educational purposes is that of teaching presence” (p. 96). They categorize this element in the three indicator categories: instructional management, direct instruction, and building understanding. Instructional management has to do with the design and planning, and the considerations of how technological teaching media change learning and call for the sorts of criteria for instructional choices considered above. For this unit, the lead instructor worked with the participating instructor to select and design learning environments, technologies, and a series of learning tasks structured according to the QUEST Model. The Community of Inquiry model also features a second teaching indicator, “direct instruction,” which overlaps with unit design but is not a focus of the QUEST Model. Direct instruction involves both content and pedagogical expertise, and is described by Garrison, Anderson, & Archer as “those indicators that assess the discourse and efficacy of the educational process” (p. 101). A significant shift in computer-mediated instruction such as that used in this unit, is the shift from instruction that takes place in written as opposed to verbal formats. Engaging this shift successfully involves much more than following a list of netiquette protocols, such as providing timely standards-based feedback at each stage of student work, and much more than choosing a unit design framework. Key aspects of direct instruction that were considered in this unit included how the instructors would teach the literary skills and content to be employed in students’ work, how we would how we would teach requisite technology skills and content to students, how we would facilitate student engagement with the unit project, and how we would move the learning of the unit along, for instance through intervention or providing opportunities for reflection. These aspects of direct instruction are nowhere more paramount than with a community college student population, with its diverse range of backgrounds in terms of culture, literacy, and preparation.

Two key ways in which we addressed direction instruction in this unit included instructor modelling and individualized support and feedback that anticipates and responds to student needs.

Pursel and Xie (2014) studied the use of blogs housed internally by a university to explore which blog patterns led to improved student performance over time. One finding of their study was the relationship between instructors’ use of modeling the behavior expected from students and student achievement. Instructors who model alongside facilitating and making effective technology choices are more likely to leverage student engagement.

Greener (2009), in her article “e-Modeling – Helping learners to develop sound e-learning behaviors,” provides a fuller picture of what effective instructional modelling looks like. She calls for not just demonstrating proficient skills, but for taking risks and showing students what it looks like to try new things and face unexpected results, then comparing those approaches to more effective strategies. The need for direct instruction, in part through this sort of modelling, which leads beyond observation on students’ part to collaboration as students engage with the dynamic and uncharted nature of digital learning environments, formed the basis for Preparatory Lessons 1 and 2, which precede implementation of the student project in this unit. These lessons were designed to be used in as many iterations as needed or to be distributed across class days as needed to provide instructors with flexible opportunities to provide effective direct instruction through modelling and collaboration as well as through lecture and through the videos that would be implemented in the student project.

Our second consideration for direct instruction involved how to proactively support individual student needs, including helping students develop the ability to use digital tools to connect with peer audiences, a key indicator of ISTE Student Standard 7. One approach was to provide modelling through samples of student work, including constructing peer feedback, and in Preparatory Lesson 2 to model not only products of student work but the process of constructing student work and peer feedback. A second was the decision to provide instructor feedback within the same learning and composing space that students occupied. (This decision was partly driven by the lack of a mechanism for a private communication channel between students and instructors on the blog site.) Thus in this unit, instructor provision of individualized feedback (direct instruction) is blended with small group facilitation (building understanding).

“Building understanding,” the third group of teaching indicators in the Community of Inquiry model, is described by Garrison, Anderson & Archer (2000) as follows:

A process that is challenging and stimulating is crucial to creating and maintaining a community of inquiry. This category is very much concerned with the academic integrity of a collaborative community of learners. It is a process of creating an effective group consciousness for the purpose of sharing meaning, identifying areas of agreement and disagreement, and generally seeking to reach consensus and understanding. Through active intervention, the teacher draws in less active participants, acknowledges individual contributions, reinforces appropriate contributions, focuses discussion, and generally facilitates an educational transaction. (101)

Building understanding in a digital learning space is a 21st century teaching competency that is critical for effective learning by community college students. Although the instructors of this unit considered whether instructor presence in students’ learning spaces would stifle student conversations, our hypothesis that, on the contrary, it would help to facilitate meaningful student conversations, was borne out by the fact that in the exit survey for the pilot implementation of this unit, some students requested more instructor feedback evaluating the quality of peer feedback they were providing, and a number of students expressed frustration at lack of peer involvement. Suggestions for how instructors of this unit can “build understanding” include: creating a visual social connection between participating groups prior to implementation of the student project, either through synchronous interaction or asynchronous video introductions; and intervention and support through email or another private channel for all students early in the project to provide coaching and support in their peer feedback.


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