Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Fairness of Group Grading

Collaboration is a skill to be learned. Most of us, who has been on this program, has been through at least one difficult experience of working on a team project. Despite the difficulty, major scholars and practitioners in the field of online education emphasize the importance of group activities and the necessity for students to learn how to work as a team. “Collaboration has been the most powerful principle of online course design and delivery” (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, p. 257). We’ve come some way from “I win if you lose” individualistic paradigm of competitive learning (Oosterhof, Conrad, & Ely, 2008) to “when I succeed, we succeed” of collaborative teamwork (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, p. 157).

How do you assess such important collaborative activities? According to Oosterhof, et al. (2008), instructor might be partially excluded from the team activities and cannot directly observe all what transpires between the team members. What the instructor can objectively judge is the product of the team collaboration. Therefore, most commonly, the project gets graded and that’s the grade that goes to each member’s individual record, despite the differences in the workload and the intensity of participation from member to member. Many consider this practice unfair and think each team member should get two grades – one for group effort and another - for individual work.
Consider the following questions:

  • Under what circumstances can the group grading work and be fair?
  • If team collaboration is such an important skill and an individual’s success is dependent on the group effort, why not cultivate collaboration by grading identically each team member? Wouldn’t it prompt the team to come up with some original plan for equally involving all members and making it fair for all to receive the well-deserved grade?
  • What mechanism, in your opinion will make individual grades based on group collaboration fair?
By Friday, please, summarize your thoughts on the topic of fairness of group grading. Try to go beyond your initial reaction to the questions above and come up with arguments both for and against this practice. Return later and read your peers’ responses.

By Sunday, reply to at least two of your classmates’ postings by asking questions, expanding on their ideas, or suggesting a new solution. Please, don’t forget to cite your sources. Please, see Discussion Rubric for information on what’s expected from your work.


Oosterhof, A., Conrad, R.-M., & Ely, D. P. (2008). Assessing learners online. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Plagiarism Detection and Prevention

My first reaction to this is: let’s not talk about it! It’s a tough issue for many, and is quite irritating for me. There are reports that plagiarism is on the rise in conjunction with the widespread Internet use. Too many actions nowadays are considered plagiarism, which is an extremely negative and shameful word. They distinguish intentional and unintentional plagiarism. The unintentional is the one that bothers me. Too many people could fall victim to being named plagiarists though unintentional. I bet this could cause irreparable damage and take away lives (imagine being called a thief). I would never, ever consider “stealing” someone else’s ideas, but I could repeat them, with proper credit if the names are available to me. What if they are not? Can I still mention the ideas? Who is the judge to what is considered “common knowledge”? There are these rules, quite vague, that few know: all these possible ways that are considered “improper”. After more than a year in a graduate program, I’m still often in doubt, and I’m not alone.

Ideas are in the air. Does it happen to you that you get a brilliant idea only to find out later it has been already out there? Some ideas are different, but similar. Imagine someone coming to you claiming that you stole his/her idea and modified it. Another important issue is mentioned in this week’s video resource, the conversation between Drs. Pratt and Palloff about plagiarism in distance learning (Walden University, 2010): apparently, copying your own work is considered plagiarism. I disagree – it shouldn’t be. Why is it allowed to facilitators to copy the same response to each group’s discussion forum? Why some authors can recycle their own work? As an example from my previous class on Program Evaluation, one of our textbook authors, Dr. Worthen, used his own earlier article (Worthen, 2001) for writing the last chapter of the textbook (Fitzpatrick, Sanders, & Worthen, 2011). I had fun comparing texts, but it never occurred to me to doubt his academic honesty! If a student was lucky to get the same assignment, s/he should be able to use this lucky break and resubmit his/her work if s/he is willing to. Graduate students are as busy people as their professors and should be able to use their own work as they please.

So what else is plagiarism? According to Chao, Wilhelm, and Neureuther (2009), “copying published information verbatim or with inadequate paraphrasing, failing to acknowledge sources used, excessive quoting, or wrong or inadequate documentation” (p.33). Excessive quoting?! It took me a while to get used to this one. The way it was mentioned to us, students, almost in passing manner, is not enough. Chao et al. list some reasons for increasing instances of plagiarism, such as “the lack of consistency among citation style guides”, and the lack of serious attitude due to, how they quote, “underlying cultural nod toward getting ahead while getting away with unethical behavior” (p. 32). Additionally, surveys reveal that a staggering number of students don’t understand that using ideas of others without proper credit is a form of plagiarism (Chao et al. 2009).

I disagree with Dr. Palloff (Walden University, 2010) that it’s student’s responsibility to learn the rules. They have to be taught systematically about plagiarism, and not just in graduate school, but starting from high school, maybe even earlier. The attitude of respect for intellectual property and creative thinking must be developed from the early age, and it should be the educators’ responsibility. Part of it should be learning effective paraphrasing (and correct citing) through graded exercises (Chao et al. 2009).

Plagiarism detection software, such as Turnitin (seems to be the most popular one), although not perfect, can help faculty in plagiarism detection. Being a computer program, it cannot distinguish true plagiarism from, say, using common idioms and phrases and, therefore, every case must be checked by humans to confirm the fact of transgression. Faculty members don’t favor the program, though. According to Brown, Jordan, Rubin, and Arome (2010), less than 10% of all professors are using the service. Among reasons, the authors list difficulties adjusting and learning how to use it, threat to teacher-student trust, and the belief that this service “is a poor example of the use of another’s intellectual property rights for profit” (as cited in Brown, et al., 2010, p. 114). It is also clear that, with about 10 million student texts in the database, Turnitin is far from being comprehensive because a lot of primary sources, such as scientific journals, are not in its database. Still, despite not being a very elegant solution, many report that Turnitin is effective enough in reduction of plagiarism, at least as a deterrent or as an educational tool (Brown et all., 2010).

I can also see how some professors would be reluctant to use the tool because they believe in their own abilities to recognize plagiarism, either as a departure from one’s individual style or based on their own comprehensive knowledge of all literature on their subject. Others believe in their ability to design course activities in such a way that makes it impossible to pass someone else’s work for one’s own, such as always using original topics and never repeating the same assignment or being actively involved as mentors in the process of writing each student paper. These are very valuable ideas that I would be happy to use as a facilitator and an instructional designer, along with systematic directions and emphasis on the right ways of using someone else’s intellectual properties.


Brown, V., Jordan, R., Rubin, N., & Arome, G. (2010). Strengths and weaknesses of plagiarism detection software. Journal of Literacy and Technology, 11(1/2), 110–131. Retrieved from the Education Research Complete database

Chao, C., Wilhelm, W., & Neureuther, B. (2009). A study of electronic detection and pedagogical approaches for reducing plagiarism. Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 51(1), 31–42. Retrieved from Education Research Complete database.

Fitzpatrick, J., Sanders, J., & Worthen, B. (2010). Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson

Walden University. (Producer). (2010). Plagiargism and Cheating. [Online]. Retrieved from Walden University eCollege

Worthen, B. (2001). Whither evaluation? That all depends. American Journal of Evaluation, 22(3), 409–416. Retrieved from the Education Research Complete database

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Impact of Technology and Multimedia

Technology makes learning more accessible and engaging. Multimedia promotes deeper learning by using more than one modality to convey messages to be learned. Though not essential for learning in general, technology and multimedia can greatly facilitate learning if used in a judicious way. Also, “we shape our tools, and our tools shape us” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 34); thus, technology, as part of our environment, has a great influence on how we learn and develop. As for online learning environments, they wouldn’t exist without technology. The last decade’s development of Web 2.0 technologies enables user-created and co-created content (blogs, YouTube), distant collaboration (wikis), and creation of learning communities and communities of practice around any subject of study or interest (wikis, forums, Skype) (Walden University, 2010). That opens up new possibilities for deeper, more engaged, up-to-date and even customized learning. One of the negative effects new technologies might have on teaching and learning (especially mobile technologies) is, as Dr. Pratt observed, the tendency of designers to compress curriculum to make it fit on smart phones and in the swift lives of modern learners (Walden University, 2010).

Despite the exciting possibilities the new technologies bringing to the online classroom, designers and instructors shouldn’t try to utilize all of them at once. It could be overwhelming to the learner. Also, not all students might have adequate Internet connection or hardware for seamless integration of all that’s in store. As a rule, only tools that meet learning objectives should be used, with alternative adequate possibilities considered in case of technology failure (Walden University, 2010). Among other important considerations should be the level of student technological preparedness (consider brief training sessions) and possible additional costs involved in using online applications (consider finding free online programs and services).

Developments in educational technology have allowed greater number of students, including those with disabilities, to participate in distance learning classes. The major implication of that for designers and instructors of online teaching and learning experiences is “to always bear in mind that people interact with computers in different ways” (Cooper, Colwell, & Jelfs, 2007) and to make provisions for inclusion of alternative access tools or equivalent learning experiences for such students.

For me, the most exciting tools are ones allowing effortless online collaboration because they embody the best features of both face-to-face and distance learning classrooms. Additionally, they allow deeper, more meaningful learning to take place as well as make the learners possible participants it the global online community of practice constantly creating, enriching and updating knowledge.


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

Cooper, M., Colwell, C., & Jelfs, A. (2007). Embedding accessibility and usability: Considerations for e-learning research and development projects. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 15(3), 231–245. Retrieved from the Education Research Complete database.

Walden University. (Producer). (2010). Enhancing the online experience. [Online]. Retrieved from Walden University eCollege

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Launching the Online Learning Experience

The first thing to do in setting up a positive and productive environment for an online class is to establish social presence for both the students and the instructor. “[G]etting to know each other as three-dimensional people[,] is the foundation of building trust and presence for the teaching and learning experiences” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 51). For the facilitator, that means presenting him/herself as an approachable person, not only as a highbrow scholar with titles and awards, but as a human being with life full of likes and dislikes, family, pets, and hobbies. It’s good to post an informal photo; an audio (or even video) recording of a welcome message in addition to the picture would be even better. That would encourage students to reveal something about themselves. It is inappropriate, however, to insist on certain things, especially photos, because some people feel uncomfortable, or unwilling, for various reasons, to present themselves as who they really are (Walden University, 2010).

The second thing would be to begin to establish cognitive presence, which is one of the three types of presences necessary for running a successful online class: social, cognitive, and teaching (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). By asking the students to describe their learning goals, the instructor can find out what the students already know and whether they clearly understand the purposes of the class. Knowing that, the instructor can start customizing teaching for this particular group, developing the teaching presence.

Trying to cram all the available technology tools in a class, especially in the first week or two, would be overwhelming and unnecessary. It is important, however, to know what’s available to make an informed decision about what to use. Boettcher and Conrad (2010) also advise to be open to students’ suggestions. A course managements system (CMS) is essential for an online class. It is a website containing all the course materials and some tools often used in distance learning. Boettcher and Conrad (2010) list Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moddle, WebStudye, and Sakai. I have used Edu 2.0 and thought it was simple to use and had all essential tools integrated, such as an announcement area, forums, wikis, blogs, dropbox, its own email system, monitoring system, etc. It is also helpful trying out different examples of the same tool, to be sure to select those best for the subject being taught and the activities chosen for the class.

It is critical to have all major learning materials for the whole course ready at the beginning, even a few days before the official start of the class so that students could get acquainted with the course, set some personal expectations and goals, and adjust their life schedule for better, less stressful course work. Majority of those, who choose distance-learning education, happens to be adults with many demanding commitments besides schoolwork. They like their life to be carefully planned to be able to effectively deal with all important events. Syllabus is a course description that orients learners to the most important elements of the course and things they will need to know or follow. It will include course requirements, learning objectives, performance goals, major expectations, a list of typical weekly activities, learning materials and bibliography, school’s policies about grading, late work, plagiarism, online conduct (netiquette), ways of contacting for help, and other issues. Besides the syllabus, links to each week’s schedule, calendar, course support info, course rubrics for various assignment types, instructor’s information with his/her schedule and contact information, and other various organizational materials are usually presented on the course’s home page. Setting recurring weekly rhythm also greatly contributes to the learner’s expectations. It is wise to warn about any changes in weekly activities—and in more than one way—to avoid everyone getting surprised and unprepared.

Additionally, instructors should consider the possibility of students’ lack of preparedness for online environment. Not only do they include technical difficulties, but psychological adaptability to studying and communicating with everyone through the Internet. Drs. Pratt and Palloff (Walden University, 2010) suggest having a “week zero”— time when students go through a course orientation, technical training, and, hopefully understand the nature of the environment and whether they like it or not. This way, the unavoidable dropouts will happen before they can negatively influence major activities of the course. Another suggestion is not to “make education deadly serious” (Walden University, 2010) On the other hand, have fun, but to a reasonable degree, for many self-propelled learners might get frustrated with time wasted on “silly games”.

So the first week (and a bit of time before that, if possible) is really a crucial week for setting up the mood, the expectations, and the basic dynamics between all the participants of the learning experience. This first week will influence students’ level of engagement and willingness to participate. It will also affect the rate of attrition. If the instructor appears helpful and approachable, people will be less concerned with their ability to cope with the requirements of the class, and everyone will be happier. Facilitator’s work sounds really overwhelming but, if done right, I’m sure, it will bring a lot of satisfaction.


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

Walden University. (Producer). (2010). Launching the online learning experience. [Online]. Retrieved from Walden University eCollege

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Online Learning Communitites

The value of online learning communities is in their collective exploration of the core subject ideas and adding layers upon layers of knowledge, experience, and meaning to the initial structure, thus mirroring the way human memory works and creating strong, deep, multifaceted, and easily retrievable knowledge constructions. Besides building strong collective knowledge base, online learning communities develop important human interaction qualities: the ability to collaborate, to help each other, to overcome shyness and passivity, to exert oneself for the good of one’s group, to analyze and evaluate each other’s thoughts and ideas, to co-create, improve, and crystallize meaning, to sympathize with one another, and to develop personal distinctive voice. It is the best way to learn online because belonging to a community learning the same subject helps to overcome a sense of isolation. It also improves overall student satisfaction because of developing sense of belonging and of growing social presence (it is much harder to ignore a fellow student and leave his/her post without reply when it is right there, in front of you, in black and white; whereas in the classroom, it is easy to forget about one’s quiet presence).

According to Dr. Palloff (Walden University, 2010), learning community needs five elements: people, purpose, process, method, and social presence. The three major ones are people, who come together for a common purpose and interact using a certain process. Additionally, they use some method of interaction, and it helps when people develop a social presence, that is, their recognizable online personality, which makes communication more natural and trustworthy. Another important element of an online community is following certain rules and guidelines to keep constructive communication going.

An instructor is critical for successful functioning of a learning community. S/he plays many roles in an online classroom. Facilitator monitors discussion making sure the learning is happening and conversation is going in the right direction; s/he is the one who makes final decisions and is flexible enough to customize the learning experience for a particular group, to be able to recognize valuable points in discussion, change gears and stir the conversation in a new, even unplanned, direction if it seems important (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). In an online environment, the instructor should be on a more equal footing with the students because the learning community makes everyone a learner and a practitioner: everyone’s experience becomes a valuable contribution to the common bank of knowledge. The instructor is also a moderator responsible for making the online environment a safe place free of any sort of bias, intolerance, anger, bullying, and other offences. As Dr. Pratt says, the instructor holds the key to the whole online environment and it’s his/her responsibility to create a dynamic setting where students feel safe to be who they are and develop as learners to their fullest potential (Walden University, 2010). Even though, the instructor’s role is very significant, the online environment makes invisible all that work behind the scenes, which might make some student uncomfortable (Walden University, 2010); that means, the instructor should explain to the students at the beginning that s/he will be always there in the supporter’s role ready to jump in if needed.

If you take a traditional face-to-face class and bring it to an online environment, it won’t work: experience shows that the constructivist learning paradigm, where students are engaged with one another to explore and make meaning out of the course content, works best in an online setting (Walden University, 2010)—the instruction has to be more learner-centered, learners have to interact more with one another and be empowered to make some important decisions, have freedom to explore and address their own learning goals, be more responsible for their learning, and share their own experience with other members of their learning community. Building a community of actively engaged learners is directly related to the successful online instruction.

From the online video this week (Walden University, 2010), I learned about the importance of building an online learning community and the right way to build it, also, about all the roles the online instructor has to play to keep the communication going.


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

Walden University. (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities. [Online]. Retrieved from Walden University eCollege

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Online Instructional Strategies Class

Hello to all!
This is to welcome you to my blog, this time, for my tenth class of MS IDT program.
Thanks for visiting - I'll try to be engaging!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Communicating Effectively

This week we focused on communication between project team members. The purpose of this exercise was to let us experience the same verbal message in three most commonly used ways: through email, voicemail, and face-to-face talking.We were taken through each modality, starting with the typed text (email), to pause after each one and to write down our perceived interpretation. This is the summary of my impressions and reflection on the differences and implications for the future use of each type of communication.


Jane is nicely asking Mark to complete some report, to give her an ETA (estimated time of arrival?) or send it to her as soon as possible because she needs the information from it to complete her own report before the deadline. The matter is urgent, but Jane is considerate enough to offer Mark to email her just the row data she needs as a possible solution, because she understands that he might be too tired to do a lot of work immediately. The form of written communication is not usually used in extremely urgent cases, so this might give Mark an idea to take it easy for a short while (if the issue were really time-sensitive, people would call in addition to emailing, or ask in the text to give them a call ASAP). Jane could be Mark's boss.


Here, Jane sounds really stressed out and desperately in need of help. I don't think she is Mark's boss anymore.


This is the most immediate way of communicating. The woman is relaxed and friendly. She is most likely an equal co-worker, though, she could have some authority; perhaps, she is a project manager. The request is urgent, but looks like Mark might get some help. Because the face-to-face communication implies dialogue, it is easy to clear up any uncertainties, to voice concerns and requests, and to come to the best solution in the most efficient way and in shorter time (the opposite is possible, too – making things more complicated - but let’s hope people would try to avoid that).

All three ways of communicating should be used for different purposes, even though people can use these modalities differently, depending on their personalities and the ability to control their bodies, emotions, and words. Not to run the risks to get really confused, I’ll focus on the most obvious differences.

The benefit of written communication is in the time delay, i.e., in having a moment to compose yourself and the text in the best manner and for the clearest meaning. Also, the recipient has more time to understand the meaning by re-reading the message as many times as needed. The drawback is in the recipient’s inability to get immediate answers to his/her questions. Also, as I stated above, there is the possibility of the recipient missing the email, so one should choose this mode of communication for important but less urgent matters. Another benefit I could think of is the possibility to record important information.

The voicemail is the quickest if all in a sense that you don’t have to “compose” the text and don’t have to visit the recipient; at times, it also might be the rawest emotionally (second only to your immediate reactions to someone next to you) because the speaker’s voice gives out a lot of information about the person’s state of mind, while the time spent traveling for a visit can have a cooling effect. Like email, voice message is also a form of record-keeping. One thing to be aware of when leaving a voicemail is that it is also the least clear way of leaving information, especially when working with people of different nationalities: you might not understand their accent, and they might have a problem getting all the words if their English is not perfect. Another drawback is the lack of dialogue and the possibility to miss the message (like in the email communication).

Face-to-face contact is the most “unsafe” way of delivering a message, unless the participants take time to record, and even sign everything said. The good thing is that it allows clarifying the information without delay. We should be mindful of what we say, though: unprepared communicators run risks of making unfixable mistakes, for as we all know, once the word is out, it’s really difficult to take it back. That is why some people prefer written communication for its luxury to revise the message until no doubt is left about the meaning. The face-to-face modality should also be chosen when the purpose is to show another person visual cues in addition to the verbal ones.

The email modality is the most neutral and probably the safest, even though, the real Jane is hidden – we’ll never know whether she was annoyed, angry, or warm and caring. The email it good for the factual information but not - for showing the writer’s state of mind. The voicemail is probably the least desirable because the meaning might not be apparent and there is room for misinterpretation. The written words are often clearer than the recorded voice, for foreigners. The face-to-face is the best (unless you don’t want to show your emotions) for complicated matters because there is time for a clarifying dialogue.