July 17

Online Class Size

Online class size is complex question. Student learning needs vary by educational level, demographic characteristics, level and complexity of the subject/discipline, faculty teaching methods, and university policies. All this impacts the optimal number for course enrollment. Student competencies, faculty preparation, learning/teahiching expectations, and pedagogical variations bring additional confounding complexities to the determination of class size and the impact on faculty workload.

If my online course were to have 95 students, it would probably kill me and my husband would definitely leave me. My graduate-level course is not designed for 95 students. It is more of a seminar designed optimally for 10-12 learners. It is high touch and relies on lots of interaction and projects, with lots personalized/individualized audio and video feedback. But, I have taught the same course as a professional development workshop with 78+ students… it was a totally different experience –Same content, but activities, interaction, expectations, and my involvement and feedback were different.

The best/most current peer-reviewed study that I have found on this topic was published in the OLC Online Journal in 2019. One Size Does Not Fit All: Toward an Evidence-Based Framework for Determining Online Course Enrollment Sizes in Higher Education.

(citation: TAFT, Susan H.; KESTEN, Karen; EL-BANNA, Majeda M.. One Size Does Not Fit All: Toward an Evidence-Based Framework for Determining Online Course Enrollment Sizes in Higher Education. Online Learning, [S.l.], v. 23, n. 3, sep. 2019. ISSN 2472-5730. Available at: <https://olj.onlinelearningconsortium.org/index.php/olj/article/view/1534>. Date accessed: 17 july 2020. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v23i3.1534).

The researchers conducted a synthesis from 43 recent higher education journals, yielding 58 evidence-based articles. And found that no one size fits all.

“Small class sizes (≤ 15 students) are indicated for courses intending to develop higher-order thinking, mastery of complex knowledge, and student skill development. Pedagogical intent should dictate class size” (p. 188).

“Evidence from our research review justifying large enrollments in online courses aligned with pedagogies for foundational and factual learning—that is, those requiring relatively low levels of critical thinking; limited personalized interaction with faculty, little individualized instruction, formative feedback, sense of community, or shared knowledge creation; and less higher order thinking, intellectual challenge, skill development, problem-solving, research and writing, journal reflection, or faculty-moderated discussions (El Tantawi et al., 2015; Haynie, 2014; Holzweiss et al., 2014; Mandel & Sussmuth, 2011; Maringe & Sing, 2014; Ravenna, 2012; Rees, 2017; Taft et al., 2011). Foundation-level learning can rely on lecture- and testing-centered pedagogies that emphasize content recall and demonstration of knowledge at the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (Pelech et al., 2013). Many college courses involve basic levels of learning that can be managed in large classes” (p. 218).

Table 7 (pgs 223-4) provides some recommendations on Student Enrollment Sizes by Learning Needs and Pedagogical Strategies, with Course Examples and Table 8 (pgs 225-6) provides an Implementation Rubric for Experimentation with Class Size Decisions, that you may find useful.

Here are some recent articles and tips on the topic:


Online College Classes Should Have No More Than 12 Students

Much Ado About Class Size

Research: Learning Intent Should Determine Online Class Size

Right Sizing Online Classes


Strategies for Teaching Large Classes – download pdf.

May 26

The course starts today!

Today is the offical start date of my summer online course, etap687. It is a master’s level fully online course at UAlbany in the education department. If you are interested, here is a link to a tour of the course. I also have a cool prezi presentation that i am currently doing about my experiences teaching this course last semester, title teaching outside the “box.” I am excited and anxious and hope that i have set everything up right and that it will all work with no tech difficulties. I have about 8 students enrolled so far and am really looking forward to meeting them and learning more about them and the online courses they will develop as part of their course.

To prepare for this term, i copied the course from last term and updated it. I’ve had some challenges with this along the way. Links broke, i had to recreate several discussions, and any student-level documents that i had as part of the course i had to recreate as well. It has been interesting. i made a few modifications to the course based on feedback from the students from last semester. Mostly in the instructions to activities so that things would be clearer from the beginning. I also decided to keep the students from last term in the course diigo group instead of setting up a new one for the new course – to build community.

I am very concerned about the amount of work the course will be in terms of my own course management. Last term it nearly killed me. And my husband and family were not amused by the amount of time i spent on it. Part of the issue is manually having to tabulate all the discussion gradings. I have not made any modifications in my approach to discussion, and so expect that it will be a lot of work again. If only the course management system did this for me automatically, i could spend more time interacting in the course a less time trying to count and track all the discussion ratings. i have heard that a newer version of moodle does this… alas, i don’t believe that is the version we are in.

In any case, i am really looking forward to teaching this course and learning lots from my students. I still have to go check my rubric, and the sun is coming up  : )

You can follow our course announcements on twitter and have a look at our icebreaking activity.  I also really look forward to peering into my students reflections as they take their course through their own blogs. Links to their blogs are on this blog, http://etap687.edublogs.org.

here we go!

June 26

the cms is a dinosaur …and you know what happened to them…

I am using moodle to teach ETAP687 because UAlbany was unable to provide instructor-level BLS course shells for the students in this course to create their own online courses, which is a main project for the course. I created the course in Moodle so that students could see from the student perspective what moodle can look like and how it functions. It didn’t make any sense to have students create courses in Moodle and have etap687 in BLS.

I also wanted students to be able to take what they create here in this course and be able to keep it and possibly teach it sometime in the future. With Moodle, an open source platform, it seemed like a better choice than locking things into one of the commercial course management systems…

That brings me to some of my other choices in the design of this course… as i have mentioned elsewhere in this blog i have incorporated various web2.0 tools into the course such as voicethread, diigo, edublogs, twitter, jing, meebome, audacity, youtube, breeze …. etc.

So….why did i “choose” to do that you may wonder?

Moodle provides a blog utility for students, it also has a news forum by default for each course and blocks that tie into the news forum to post announcements, etc. There is a calendar and ways to create links to shared resources or references within the course… last time i actually used the “glossary” feature to create a way to collect and present a list of categorized/sortable shared references for the course that the students used to build a shared annotated bibliography of resources – they had to provide a link, as description and an evaluation of the resource. I also used the “journal” feature for the “reflections” metacognitive activities of the course…

I chose to incorporate public freely available tools external to the CMS on purpose for several reasons.

  1. i am interested in exploring, testing, and evaluating the instructional potential and use of web2.0 cooltools to enhance online instruction, interaction, and engagement.
  2. I am looking for ways to enhance the fully online primarily text-based asynchronous teaching and learning environment with a little bling for the above stated reasons.
  3. Have i mentioned lately that i hate commercial CMSs? I naturally resist and feel uncomfortably confined by the locked down nature of the CMS… i mean really, is a “blog” that is locked into a CMS really a blog? No!!!!!!!! you can’t just call it a chicken when it is a duck!!!! Part of what makes it a blog is the fact that it is public – anyone can see it and interact with it. It also represents you publicly, belongs to you/you own it/it is yours to have and use, and to keep it beyond the end of the course and term – that is an authentic online learning activity! That is why i also thought it essential that the shared resources for the course be external to the CMS using diigo… i want my students to have access to the resources after the course ends!

There is something about the nature of interaction in a public forum. There is something about ownership….being able to for example, customize a blog visually to yourself by picking a theme and deciding what widgets to display and how you choose to present yourself to the world. There is also something about the responsibility you have regarding the public ownership of your thoughts and interactions, as well as the investment in time and energy to build or contribute to something that is yours and that reflects you. If you know it is just for a course, then you are doing it for me. If it is yours, then you can build it for you… a much more authentic exercise. I think that even the character of your “voice” is different, more authentically you, in a “real” blog, for example, than in one that is locked into a CMS. Plus – again you get to keep it or have access to it beyond the end of the course and term!

  1. i also enjoy playing with technology.
  2. i really like a challenge. : )

i personally love exploring the instructional potential of technology, but i do not advocate the use of technology for anything other than a compelling instructional reason. I would never advocate the use of any technology unless it assisted in meeting an instructional objective better, safer, easier, faster, or cheaper… You don’t need a backhoe to plant a tomato seed .

In my work at SUNY i never “train” the use of tools – even the almighty CMS. I discuss best practices in online pedagogy and plug the effective use of the tools in when and where it serves the pedagogical objective.

So, here is the question… is the cost of “stitching” all these tools together worth the hassle to the students (and to the instructor), the multiple authentications required to access resources housed at various external sites, the lack of technical support, the risks of johnny appleseeding course work and content around the web, the learning curve to be able to use them effectively/productively in an online teaching and learning environment?

For me, the answer is yes. Online social networking, social computing, folksonomy/social/collaborative tagging, data mashups, ubiquitous broadband, wireless, hand held and mobile computing, mobile broadband, and the cultural shift from passive consumers of content to engaged user-generators of content, has brought about a grassroots revolution resulting in a global democratization of access to tools, information, experts, content, professional development, and education as evinced by the open courseware and open source software initiatives that have changed how education is delivered, conducted… and defined. It is my obligation as a responsible netizen and educator in this moment to participate, to evaluate, to document, and to expose and engage my students to and in this process.

The commercial CMS is extinct… they just don’t know it yet.

May 26

it starts tomorrow!

…quite excited to get the course started! Not everything is perfect yet. I am in Batavia in a hotel and can’t get moodle to load. not sure why. That could be problematic. Very exited though. I am really looking forward to seeing it all come together.

did i say i was excited?

May 26

by design

some desicisions i’ve made:

  1. 6 modules = 12 weeks
  2. an ice breaking module = 2 weeks prior to term start.
  3. a course information area
  4. a class community area
  5. location of the panes – course info on the left. no choice about the center module/topic area. news announcements top right, participants, then calendar.
This order and locations on the moodle course homepage are dictated in part by moodle… i don’t have choice for example to rename the little panes or to move the center topic area… or to put anything above that center topic area. So the tool has made me adapt what i want it to do to what it allows.

i am using the topic summary pane for the course information documents. People read from left to right and this is important first information for the students to read, but after reading through this info. it takes a less important role in the course… and i don’t want it taking up the valuable course content real estate on the front page, so off to the left is the perfect location for this… it is there, visible throughout the course so that students can refer back to it, but it is not in the way of the current course content and areas of course interaction.

I am using the top center pane above the topic areas as a newsflash area. I want students to feel my presence every time they login immediately rather than having to go click on something to see an announcement. I will post daily announcements in this location. So, though there is a news forum, and a news area built into moodle, I will use this area to communicate on a daily basis with the course participants. I will archive these posts in the news forum, so that if they are missed, the course participants can see a running archive of each of my newsflashes. In addition, the moodle news forum forces subscription, which means every one will always get an email when anything is posted in the forum… I hate that, it is really irritating to get all these emails outside of the context of the course… a listserv is vastly different in nature from a course… i don’t understand why there is not the option to completely restrict course activity to the course location in moodle. I don’t want emails from my course as a professor or as a student. So that is why i also created the bulletin board in the class community are of my course. It is a space for non-course related communications, and it won’t force sending emails to everyone.. . my preference would have been to consolidate this area into one. So, since the moodle news forum is this forced subscription area, i had to come up with another area to meet the need of non course related communications for class community purposes. This is irritating because what this means for me as the instructor is that i now have 2 areas to tend to instead of just one and for my workload the result is more work. Another factor was that in the news forum, you only have 30 minutes to edit your post… reorgainze it, change the date… so if you are trying to set it up as a community  area for students it’s narrow functional scope just makes that too difficult… you can’t organize posts, edit them, the date posted becomes an issue, etc.

course modules follow the course manual. I organized them logically into the three week workshop modules. Loosely the content falls logically as follows 2 weeks for each step in the Manual.

each module has a consistent structure. They begin with an overview of the activities for the module, followed by a discussion, followed by assignments or activities . every module also has an ask a question area and a reflection blog activity. Consistency is very important from module to module. the questions asked in module one will all post to the module 1 question area… this so that i can best manage and understand the questions posted. One discussion per module. Very important for workload reasons.

I have decided to experiment with some web2.0 tools in the course: edublogs, voicethreads, diigo, meebome,  twitter. In part, to test the tools for their potential. And in part because i don’t want to lock everything up in the CMS. I would like some of these resources to be available to the students beyond the term. I also think there is something about the fact that they are public that adds an additional perspective to the use of the tool for instructional purposes. I think there is instructional value to that in a way that is not there if it is a closed environment.

its all in the design.

May 26

no where to hide…

i discovered that there is no where to “hide” documents in moodle… i have been creating documents and organizing them in what i thought were “hidden” topic areas, so that i could hyperlink to documents from other documents so they could be displayed how, where and when i want them to only. BUT, that is appearently not possible… so i have spent the last 2 days recreating each of the topic areas to accomodate that reality… which bites.

May 26

what did i do?

First i created my course information documents and tried to get them laid out in a location on the moodle coursemap that makes sense. I am using the course summary pane for that. I am having to use things in ways i don’t think they intended to get this to look and feel like i want. I don’t get the long center topic thing… it gets too long…you need advanced organizers to visually chunk the information… i am still trying to figure it all out. also, they call dicussions “forums” and respond-reply and modules – topics… so i ‘ve had to map, try to map analagous features and functions to what i am used to.

Then i started to try to outline the modules just to get a structure in… Along the way i have discovered better ways to do things… For example it is better to create a web page than to upload a file, cuz you can’t edit files on the fly… and they don’t contain the built in moodle page nav bars…you have to use your browser back button and you have to edit the original word file save it, upload it to the files folder, then create a link to that file… etc. with a web page you can just create it as a draft and edit easily. I started out using the glossary tool for the shared references, but decided to move that to diigo instead.

I started to think about the class community areas and decided that the main pane should be used as a newsflash area… you can’t move it and you can’t put anything above it, so i have now also also created a table in it as a navigation bar to some additional help type resource that would be too buried course info area… i will change the newsflash often and archive them in the news forum, which i renamed Bulletin Board… the way the news forum works is that you have to be “subscribed” to it which means you will get an annoying email anytime one is added, and you only get 30 minutes to add/edit anything to it, you can’t change the dates, so all my standard “announcement” type documents can’t really go in that space… it is hugely annoying… I have had to create a Bulletin Board to serve that function… its fine. I will live with it.

The other things i have learned or decided to do are to use the topics as Modules that outline the content of each content “chunk” of the course. I also will have a question area and links to the main course reflections blog in each module. I have learned to hide “topics” so i am putting documents in there and then linking to them where i need them… i really don’t get the label function for setting up the topic … seems like a lot of energy for text that does nothing. I am bummed that i can’t get a private discussion area with individual students easily… i am ending up using the coursemail feature for that… there may be another way to do this that i am missing, but i am not sure. I thought i might be able to use the assignment form for that, but none of the features that allow for private submission to the instructor result in the ability to reply back and forth in a forum type way… so i have to work around the private functionality of course mail to retain that needed privacy aspect… cumbersome!

I have also closed all the blocks that are extraneous and reorganized them into locations that make more sense to me… the news is in the upper right. under that is the people block, then the calendar, then the upcoming events… you can’t move blocks above the center block which is irritating… so that is why i made the nav bar table in that center block…

I created my class community module with links to the bulletin board and participant profiles. Oh, i have also begun to set up my exemplar course activity – link to a course for observation with MP3 files attached to use as side commentary as the participants tour the course… pretty cool. I have been figuring things out little by little in this tool as i go along…

Have i said i hate the subscribe thingy… at first i thought is was so stoopid, you know …i don’t want emails from my course management tool, every time an entry is made…errrrrrrrr. But i have reconsidered. I am not sure, i will have to ask the students. Now I think it will help keep track of the discussions. So, i have them all set to force subscribe…. we shall see.

May 15

my first thoughts were …

so, i am reflecting… when faced with designing this course i had to consider several things:

  • how long the course will be
  • who the students will be
  • and what needs to be covered

1. The course is supposed to be 12 weeks long.

2. The course title is: Introduction to Online Teaching. so i have to make these assumptions to design the course and target the conent: the students are new to online teaching and learning ,they have not taught online before, this may be their first online instructional experience, they are interested in learning more about this, they may be thinking about developing and teaching an online course, or they may be asked to do so in hte near future

3. Content? I have been working with online faculty, doing research, developing a home grown course management system, working with large numbers of faculty, students, campuses, and instructional support staff for more than 13 years precisily on how to build an effective teaching and learning environment online… so i know this content… i am an expert in this…

First, there are 7 steps in my process… (i had a wonderful mentor when i first began in instructional design in the 80’s who introduced me to Arthur M. Young’s Theory of Process, and how he made a career adapting that theory to the fields of organization, team, and leadership development. David Sibbet is an amazing man who had a profound effect on me and the person i have become in more ways than he will ever know. I am the instructional designer that i am today because of him and because of the understanding about “process” that i learned from him and have used over the years to “understand” the process of how to “develop” effective and satisfied online faculty, that can build and teach effective and satisfying online teaching and learning environemnts. I have had a lot of success with this… and it all comes back to my seven step process…)

So, my first design delema was how do i organize 7 steps (and an ice breaker, class community activities/resources, course wrap up activities, engaging content presentation, interaction, assessment and feedback) into a 12 week course… : ) As my architect would say, you can’t put 10 pounds of sugar in a 5 pound cup!!

The second challenge was using moodle. Now first you need to know that i have never built a course in a CMS that i did not design myself… (one of my first thoughts was … “i wonder if this is how my faculty feel when they open the course development application i designed for them?”) i am probably unique in the world for this …but it is none the less true… the first time i opened moodle and looked at i was frustrated like i am when i look at any of the commercial course management applications. I hate them. application developers not teachers designed them… and though they are very nice and intersting people (i have very nice colleagues that are app developers), they design from their context which starts with the technology, not the teaching…i have spent the last 14 years of my professional life (well at least 12) passionately designing a simple integrated teaching an learning environment that is flexible and designed according to my vision of what an online should do, feel like, look like, function, etc…

so, needless to say, faced with moodle, i had some thoughts like… how the hell am i going to make this do what i want/need it to do…

I also realize for the first time how tied to the my understanding and interpretations of effective online teaching and learning practices my design is… i mean i really didn’t realize that… and so faced with another tool, that does not have that underlying sensiiblity, how foreign, and out of water i felt… it is very weird… i always felt very strongly that the technology was just that… a tool and that it was the practices that mattered, not the tool. i am now faced with this rather uncomfortable realization, that the tool is much more integrated into the pedagogy than i realized.

I have loved every minute of building this course. It is the process – frustrating as it has been at times – that has been so satisfying for me and seeing what i can do with moodle. I couldn’t wait for work to be over, so i could get home and start to work on my course…. and now i can’t wait for the course to actually start, so i can see how it will work with students.

May 11

getting closer

quite anxious about how moodle works. don’t understand the gradebook. or how to grade assignments. Set it up thought i think. I hate math… Am still struggling with how to assess and evaluate in a pass/fail course. I am worried about the amount of work in the course. Is is enough? is it too much? I am working on rubrics for the activities. I am really worried about the lack of HelpDesk for this course. I don’t know yet how this is all going to work… the students have to get in my moodle course… not sure how.Then they have to get course shells of their own to build their own courses in… not sure how.I want to give them a template to quick start them.. not sure how.If they have problems with moodle the students will need help… not sure how they’ll get that. So really it is logistics/tech support and finishing up my explanations of evaluation… ummmm oh and figuring out how they will turn in their written course review assignments . I want those all turned in first, before they can see them all. I am trying to work in self-evaluation, and peer review of work. I am feeling anxious. I had also wanted to co-create the rubrics with the students, but am not confident enough to try that.

April 28

if i am doing most of the work… who is doing most of the learning?!

I am trying to practice what i preach. present, engage/interact, assess. it is harder than it sounds. Pacing, sequencing, spreading the work out over 12 weeks and making sure they have enough time to do all the activities and trying to find a balance of activities in each module… will i let them work ahead? what will i do with diigo? how will i assess their reading of the journal articles for the course?