Peer Coaching Builds Community And Improves Writing Skills In Online Courses

How Peer Coaching Helps To Build Community And Improve Writing Skills In Online Courses

Writing assignments handled in the traditional way go like this: the instructor helps the student select the topic, the student submits the completed paper, and the instructor comments on and grades the paper. Most students look at the comments and grade for a just few moments and that ends the learning process. Research shows that minimal learning occurs this way.

In my experience, the quality of  research papers increases dramatically by introducing  peer coaching, a process by which students are paired  to coach, encourage, and support each other. Both the student writing the paper and peer coach are graded on their participation.

The Practice Of Revision

The primary purpose of peer coaching is to teach students to continually revise their writing. Revision literally means to “see again”. I encourage students to look at their work from a fresh, critical perspective and rethink their papers. This ongoing process enables them to reconsider their arguments, review their evidence, polish their presentation, and refresh lackluster style.

Revision is much more than fixing the commas and spelling; it provides multiple opportunities to rework, rewrite, and perfect. I love to share with students that Hemingway rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times.

Students learn to appreciate the value of refining their written work through the process of peer assessment and revision. In addition to improving writing, it encourages them to support and empower each other. This has proven to be a powerful tool in promoting community and communication throughout the course. Here’s how it works:

Step 1. The student produces an initial draft.

The instructor first helps the student identify a manageable topic and provides both student and peer coach (another student in the class) with the assessment rubrics.

Step 2. Student sends initial draft to the peer coach.

The student submits their first draft to the peer coach, rather than the instructor. The peer coach can help the student by brainstorming the content, providing honest feedback, and assessing the organization of the first draft. Feedback needs to be meaningful and go well beyond “You did a nice job”.

The peer coach gives the student recommended revisions based upon a rubric. The coach also sends a copy to the instructor for a grade on the coaching effort.

Step 3. Student revises the initial draft based upon the peer coach’s suggestions.

The student author then revises the paper based upon the peer coach’s recommendations. I recommend that students read the second draft out loud. This is an easy way to see if the words flow smoothly.

Step 4. Student sends the second draft to the instructor.

The second draft is then submitted with the peer assessment to the online instructor, who attaches suggestions and comments and then returns it to the student without a final grade. I indicate to the student what my initial evaluation or grade would be in order to give them an idea of how much work they need to do in their final revision.

Step 5. Student produces the final draft.

The student then produces the final draft, which is submitted for a grade. The peer coach also receives a grade for the quality of their assessment. This is more work than students are used to, but demonstrates the value of the revision process as a way to dramatically improve writing.

Step 6. Evaluation and final grade by the instructor.

More comments are provided on the final paper. A critical ingredient is providing students with the feedback necessary to enable them to improve their work.

Cementing Good Writing Skills

The student gets much more than a grade with this process. He or she learns the value of refining and revising their written work through the process of peer assessment and revision. I encourage students to consider a similar process for future writing assignments. They can ask a trusted friend or colleague to read their work and give them candid feedback.

Peer coaching is a great opportunity to develop the online course community and encourage collaborative learning. It takes the entire semester to fully implement the approach due to the amount of time needed for the back and forth between the instructor, the student writing the paper, and the peer coach. I also assign a high point value to the exercise -as high as 20 to 30 percent of the course grade- to stress the significance of the assignment.

Resources For Educators

The first time I used this approach was for research papers in the online environment of a very urban campus, New Jersey City University, where it significantly improved the writing skills of a very diverse student body hailing from almost every corner of the planet. I found that it worked equally as well when used in 100 and 200 level courses at community colleges with a more homogeneous student body. I have since routinely used this approach with a variety of online institutions, including teaching deployed soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan for American Military University.

Peer coaching is a great example of learner-centric teaching and collaborative learning, and improves the community experience, especially in the online course environment.

Here is a list of web resources that I found to be useful for teaching students to improve their writing through peer coaching:

  1. Purdue’s Open Writing Laboratory for APA (American Psychological Association) formatting and style guide.
  2. The Son of Citation Machine helps students properly cite references, and will be a valuable resource long after the course concludes.
  3. Lycoming College’s Plagiarism Goblin Game. It provides a fun interactive way to become aware of plagiarism and how to avoid it.
  4. The instructor can use Turnitin.com or simply copy and paste suspicious writing portions into Google for some additional quality assurance.
  5. Improve your writing with Peer Coaching
  6. Revising Your Paper” University of Washington

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

5 Best Practices For Transforming Faculty Into Fully Online Educators

How To Transform Faculty Into Fully Online Educators 

I am an Instructional Designer who teaches a fully online professional development seminar that focuses on Instructional Design principles for developing and delivering fully online and blended courses. As the 6 week seminar wraps up, one of the final assignments I require faculty to complete is a reflective learning journal. With permission from the faculty who participated in the seminar, I present a few excerpts from their journals that support and highlight best practices I have developed at my university for faculty development.

1. Provide Opportunities For Collaborative Learning From Peers. 

Design your training so that faculty are engaging in learning experiences that they can implement into their own online courses. For example, one of the projects in the seminar requires faculty to develop a learning unit that they will actually use in their own fully online or blended courses. All participants are required to submit this assignment to their respective group’s discussion board and provide peer review for each other’s work, using a rubric that I developed. The quotes below explain what insights faculty can gain by this kind of exercise.

One instructor’s journal entry states:

"I appreciated the openness of the class members to gently criticize each other and make suggestions to improve the quality of our assignments and understanding of those assignments. This really reinforced the use of the discussion forum and the ability to provide peer-review to each other regarding what had been submitted."

His classmate reveals an initial feeling of uneasiness but saw the benefit of the activity when she discloses the following:

"As for the peer review exercise: I admit that I was a little nervous about having others critique my work. However, my classmates —neither of whom I knew before this class— both offered constructive feedback that was right on target. I found the whole exercise so useful that I plan to use a similar approach in my own graduate classes."

This assignment gave faculty a hands-on example of how they could integrate online groups within a course as a means for peer review. It also functioned as a nice way for faculty to experience how students could provide instructional scaffolds to each other in an online learning environment, so that online discussions can be more engaging.

2. Train Faculty Online: Place Faculty In The Seats Of Students. 

Insight into the student experience is gained when professional development is given fully online. This is summarized by a participant who notes the following:

"I think the best faculty development workshops require us to view our courses and practices from a student’s perspective. Many of the assignments in this course challenged me to rethink my approach to moving course content online and how this approach would impact students of diverse skill levels and experience."

His peer reflects on the importance of instructor feedback. She states:

“I really valued the feedback I received on my assignments and again, being in the student’s seat, I really could see how crucial descriptive and appreciative comments from the teacher are!”

In my experience as an Instructional Designer, faculty are sometimes trained in group settings in a room with multiple computers and a teacher workstation. Although faculty are developing skills for using the various features of a Learning Management System, they are not truly experiencing online teaching and learning. The implications of the above quotes are tremendous; when faculty are placed in the seats of students for professional development purposes, it can influence the design, development, and delivery of their courses.

3. Develop Faculty’s Multimedia Skills.

Instructional Designers teach faculty about how to use multimedia resources, such as YouTube, for the enhancement of online courses, using video created by others. However, we should provide faculty with training on how to create their own media. This Instructor writes about his blended course and how he was able to immediately use what he was learning about podcasting from the training seminar I teach. He states:

"Practicum Assignments: These gave me a very good opportunity to develop rudimentary skills in each of the areas that were covered. (...) An additional bonus with the podcast was that with the snow days that we had, I was able to utilize that with students in one of my courses this semester."

His colleague concurs, whose course was also not fully online:

"What I particularly found helpful were the practicums. (…) This course introduced several new options. In fact, following the most recent snowstorm, I used Camtasia to create a lecture [capture] for a course I was supposed to host. As this course had been repeatedly canceled [due to inclement weather], this program was a phenomenal option. Having immediate access to this program made it so easy for me to solve a true problem in my course."

The professors’ comments make it very clear that assignments given in professional development sessions should not be busywork. In each example, these instructors were able to develop their own multimedia to meet the specific needs of their respective classes. Although it is convenient to use multimedia developed by others, an instructor may not find a video or podcasts that thoroughly covers the topic and of course. By having gained multimedia authoring skills, these participants are no longer reliant on what others have produced. They can now make contributions to various online multimedia repositories.

4. Modeling Examples Of Teaching Presence.

A common term in eLearning is teaching presence, which is “The design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes” (Anderson et al. 2001, p. 5). As the facilitator of a professional development seminar, model good online teaching presence through your engagement with faculty. I did this by providing video feedback to faculty using Jing and Camtasia Studio screen capture software. This faculty member reflects on the feedback I gave her as an example of instructor presence:

"I really valued the feedback I received on my assignments and again, being in the student’s seat, I really could see how crucial descriptive and appreciative comments from the teacher are! I liked, especially, Sabrina, getting feedback from you in Camtasia and being able to access it. I think this would work super well in my writing classes to go over student drafts and I am considering doing some of this semester!"

Students can experience isolation in an online environment by not seeing an active teacher presence. By modeling how one can give video feedback, I provided an example for the instructor of how she can make her presence felt by her online students.

5. Provide Faculty With Practical Skills For ADA Compliance.

Technology can meet the needs of busy adults, by providing eLearning opportunities in asynchronous formats. However, the development of these courses can sometimes form barriers for those with disabilities. A necessary ingredient to faculty development is not only helping faculty to understand disabilities and ADA compliance, but also giving them skills to make their courses more accessible. This need is exemplified in the two journal excerpts below. One instructor writes:

"Part of the challenge with accessible courses is creating them; easy access to the technology and support staff to teach us how to use it helps alleviate those challenges. This course gave me some new tools that I am enthusiastically using as a result of the instruction I received."

This is elaborated by the instructor’s classmate who states:

"The course materials and activities really raised my consciousness about practices that faculty can undertake to improve accessibility for all. It was a bonus to learn through first-hand experience that it's actually quite easy to create ADA-compliant Word documents, podcasts, and other course content that helps make classes truly accessible."

As faculty across the globe are asked to integrate technology into their teaching practices, more and more there will be a need to pair this integration with compliance so that all students are given an equal chance to learn.

Professional development can stimulate instructors to reflect on their pedagogy and become more self-aware about their engagement with students. It is not an arduous hurdle that administration directs faculty to leap over but is actually a useful vehicle to the educator for developing a new set of instructional strategies.

Resources

Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5 (2).  Retrieved from http://cde.athabascau.ca/coi_site/documents/Anderson_Rourke_Garrison_Archer_Teaching_Presence.pdf

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

The Modern Trainer’s Roles And Responsibilities

What Are The Roles And Responsibilities Of A Modern Trainer

Traditional Roles Of A Trainer

Let's take a look at trainer's competency model based on the traditional approach. Below you will find a summary of standards which had been created and implemented in House of Skills - the biggest soft-skills training company in Poland. These standards are divided into 8 roles and define behaviors in each of them. The following summary is only a brief overview of them.

What Are The Roles Of Modern Trainer's roles v2

There is nothing wrong with these roles and responsibilities. But new training methods, new technologies, new ways of building competencies and new expectations of trainees create the gap between what is perceived as a good set of trainer's competencies and what is demanded by the market.

The Gap

Of course, every trainer is free to deliver the training based on traditional roles and responsibilities. The Internet revolution brought, however, many additional possibilities of influencing learners. These should be taken into consideration by a modern trainer while thinking about one's own development and role in the industry.

Let's take a look at the map below.

New roles of E-trainer v3

Every modern trainer should be ready to enter into the role of Content Curator. There are many pieces of valuable content available - some of them could be used by trainees as a pre-work, stimulus for a reflection, implementation tool, etc. To curate content a trainer should be ready to search, choose, describe, validate and update his/her selection. Such activities require good understanding of Internet space in terms of search engines usage, IP issues,  communities of practice which are available, spaces of open content, etc.

A modern trainer should understand at least the basics of eLearning. Having such a knowledge is important during designing learning intervention. By understanding eLearning pros and cons modern trainers can choose the best methods of training. eLearning instructional design competency and even basic knowledge of eLearning content development tools and techniques will help him/her for valuable engagement in the design and delivery process of eLearning courses.

It is also very important for a modern trainer to see the whole picture of training methods and tools. Such a competence will help to find the best way of delivering training taking into account not only one's own preferred methods but also time, cost, efficiency, needs of trainees and organization, etc. Only good understanding of all available methods lets to design optimal blended learning process.

Traditional trainer is usually a master of personal presentation supported by visuals. Nowadays, however, visuals themselves start to play a very important role during learning intervention. A modern trainer should know the principles of information architecture - should be able to create visuals, infographics, knowledge pills, learning maps, etc. Even if they are not artistic - they should be good enough to effectively transfer knowledge.

A modern trainer should be also prepared to communicate with trainees in written and visual form.  His/her editing competency (in terms of building statements, grammar and spelling as well as using authoring tools to create messages) should be much higher than traditional trainer's who uses mostly one's voice and body language.

A modern trainer understands also that the training sometimes is being delivered remotely. Knows the remote learning tools (from the most primitive ones like e-mail to the most sophisticated like virtual presence solutions) and knows how to effectively use them in the training function. He/she can manage the challenge with lack of face-to-face contact with trainees. It is also important for such a trainer to know the etiquette and rules of remote communication.

Blended learning processes are usually much more complicated than traditional ones. They utilize numerous tools and methods, they use to be longer, and they use to engage more educators. A modern trainer is ready to take care of the whole training process - not only for the very small part of delivering a workshop or a seminar. Such a trainer also understands the whole process and endeavors to the goal even if he/she is engaged and responsible only for a small part.

Remote learning of people requires constant stimulation. Learners should be motivated and supported. A modern trainer should be ready to enter into the role of a Stimulator - a person who understands the challenges of trainees and who takes care of them with proper engagement and competencies.

And, last but not least, rapid changes in the training industry force a modern trainer to constant development. Traditional training has been performed on a basis of the same principles from ages but new training and working environment requires frequent updates of trainers competencies.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.