Overworked? Analyzing my workload

So I teach a lot. I teach an average of 254 students per semester without the help of teaching assistants. I’m sure there are other others who have to do the same. In this blog post, I’m going to take a look staffing at my institution.

While, I’m not the only person who teach such large student loads, such loads are not normal. In fact, my institution advertises an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio. However, that number does not represent faculty teaching load. Even as a measure of class size there are problems. Looking at the Office of Institutional Research’s “Credit Hours Generated by Department” report, and dividing credit hours generated by faculty FTE, we get a students-per-semester average of about 88 students. This is a better estimate of how much “teaching work” a professor has per semester. This means the average faculty member teaches about 88 students across all their course load each semester (which is a bit larger than the 18:1 ratio).

Am I just an outlier?  Using the Credit Hours Report and the university’s annual factbook, it appears that some departments are more likely to have faculty teaching well above that 88 student average. Faculty in my department (anthropology & sociology) as well as those in business, math, and the other social sciences (especially psychology and criminal justice) generally teach more students per semester that those in other fields. So, my teaching load is impacted by department-level expectations from administration, as well as staffing (which is an administrative decision).

Is my institution understaffed? Is that why I have to teach a lot of students? According to the above chart, we see that current faculty staffing is about where it was in 2002/2003 – before a massive boom in enrollment and hiring.  As I suggested earlier, some departments teach more undergraduates than others. So, this suggests that the problem is not necessarily university-wide staffing, but department-level staffing. *** Of course this could be under the potentially false assumption that my institution was adequately staffed at 2002/2003 enrollment levels.

Compared to other institutions, we do not rely on as much adjunct labor due to our collective bargaining agreement. This is a good thing. However, this does mean that in the absence of a large number of adjuncts as well fewer tenure track hires, existing faculty need to teach more. At the same time, we do employ adjuncts who are paid substantially less than tenure-line faculty for comparable work. Yet, it is a bit of a mystery why some departments get adjuncts and why others do not. It certainly is not based on student load – teaching or major count.

So maybe there’s a bias? I have found that (generally) departments with faculty that teach more students per term are more racially/ethnically diverse. This isn’t surprising given that the social sciences, math, and business are the departments with faculty that do a lot of heavy lifting – for general education as well as having large major counts. These are also fields that – according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates – are somewhat diverse (although this depends on the specialty/subfield). This is reflected in our students. Students of color represent 40% of my program’s majors. 27% of our majors are women of color. Are more diverse departments/programs understaffed due to some form of bias?

*** For the record, I see this as an outcome of a institutional problems rather individual bias/shortsightedness. More on this in another blog post.

Wrapping up, I’m glad I’m on sabbatical this fall. I’ll miss my students, but I won’t miss all the course preparation and grading that I have to do.

 

 

Assessment, Teaching & Disciplinary Writing

My colleagues and I recently published an article on our experiences creating a senior portfolio of writing samples, and assessment. In this piece, we acknowledge that faculty begrudgingly participate in assessment directives from administration. However, we also show how assessment – conducted as social scientific research – can provide valuable insights on student learning.

Most of us have probably heard someone say something along the lines of “we know best” while providing a series of anecdotes or talking about “common sense.” This, however, is not scientific. Such assumptions about teaching do not exemplify the critical thinking skills we supposedly teach our students. As sociologists, we regularly teach our students that common sense, might not be reliable or accurate. As such, applying sociological insights to teaching and learning can help us critically think about pedagogy.

With 215 portfolios, consisting of 1,028 student papers, collected and assessed we have solid evidence on the strengths and weaknesses of our students. An unsurprising finding in our research is that student writing could use a great deal of improvement. However, we also have evidence linking this to the inability to apply theory and write a decent literature review.  In other words, components of good sociological writing. This is something, I’ve touched upon in my blog.  Good writing, on some level, means disciplinary writing. It means writing for an audience e.g. fellow sociologists. This involves prose, as well as different styles of citation

Right now, my grant supported research is delving into this problem through the angles of community building and co-curricular activities. Put simply, will identifying as a sociologist – as a fellow social scientist – improve a student’s writing? Using surveys, focus groups, and existing assessment data, I am tackling this research question – as research.

This project is ongoing, and I’ll likely have a post on it once it’s completed. However, I’d like to end this post by saying, assessment doesn’t have it be assessment. I can be research as well. This is research that can inform one’s teaching, as well as curricular changes.  Importantly, it can do so by using evidence rather than anecdotes.

Working Over The Summer

APSCUF (my faculty union) currently has a blog series that examines what professors do when class is not in session. This is a response to politicians characterizing our workload as being only 17 hours a week. Pennsylvania professors are not alone in sharing their “off contract” and summer activities. Faculty in Connecticut are keeping busy. So important are the summer months to our professional work, faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have written an advice piece for Inside Higher Ed on how to get the most out of the summer (and not burn out). I have my own blog post on summer writing written two years ago. For this post, I’d like to add to the discussion of – not just how much we work as faculty – but how important our so-called “off” time is.

Indeed, for me, as well as my colleagues, there is no “time off.” We work year round, but time for different activities may be allocated differently throughout the year. Summer is when I do much of my course preparation for the next academic year. This means reading new books on the areas I teach, revising syllabi, and updating data in my PowerPoints. This probably is not surprising to those outside of academia.

Summer is absolutely necessary for research and writing, which is not included the politicians’ 17 hour calculation. While we are not paid for the summer (unless we teach), this is when many of us conduct the research that is integral to our jobs as teachers and educators. At teaching oriented institutions, such as the PASSHE system, summer “free time” is even more important for continuing our scholarly growth. During the regular academic year, the time needed to manage four courses per term, grading, student advising, as well as committee and service work makes it extremely difficult to focus on research and writing.

For example, I study cities and globalization. Summer is my chance to travel to the places I study. In the past, I have visited universities in Ethiopia and Turkey. Last summer, I participated in a conference in Italy. While overseas, I am not only interacting with other scholars, but also investigating the processes that shape urban life. The only way this can be done without interfering with my teaching is to do it during the summer. This work is not just “research,” but it helps me in the classroom back in Pennsylvania. By conducting research, I am also preparing for my teaching. In gaining first hand knowledge and other experiences to share with my students, I can be a stronger teacher.

Summer is also the time in which I write up my research. In my field, this means an 8,000 to 10,000 word article that goes through many rounds of revision before submission to a scholarly journal for review by peers and other experts in the field. I believe that my strength as a teacher comes from my ongoing research and writing. Rob Jenkins, who writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, has discussed how writing helps him in the classroom. Personally, I push myself to write for the same reasons we make our students write. It forces me to actively engage the literature and current trends in the field. This requires reading what others of written, thinking about my own research, and figuring out a way to make an effective argument. Furthermore, I submit myself to peer review for the same reasons why peer review is good for student writing as well. It forces me to clarify and effectively communicate ideas – valuable skills in the classroom.

As a sociologist, the American Sociological Association (ASA)’s annual meeting in August typically marks the end of summer. In the past four years, Kutztown has sent six undergraduate students to the ASA Honors program. This puts us in the company of elite research schools and selective liberal arts campuses – campuses that provide greater institutional support for research and professional development. Supporting student research and encouraging students to apply for such programs, requires active engagement in the discipline. My colleagues and I do this, because it is part of our professional identities – which extends beyond our specific university employment. This is tied to our passion for our field, research and desire to share the discipline with our students. In order to do this, we need to keep up with our research and spend our summers preparing for our annual conference.

In conclusion, our “off contract” time is valuable to both our professional identities, as well as our students. We go above and beyond because of we made the decision to devote our lives to the study and teaching of our disciplines. Claims by politicians that we only work 17 hours and have summers off demonstrates both a lack of understanding and respect for our profession.

Criticizing Return-on-Investment Approach to Degrees in PA

A version of this post appears in the APSCUF-KU May 2016 Newsletter.

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania’s System of Higher Education (PASSHE) issued a press release on a report entitled Degrees of Value. This report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce will become part of the State System’s “Program Alignment Toolkit.” Looking at undergraduate degrees and income, the report essentially takes a return-on-investment (ROI) approach to college degrees. In PASSHE’s press release, it noted that: “While college-educated employees in any field tend to earn more than those with only a high school education, the college majors that lead to the highest earnings are in STEM, health and business. For example, a major in architecture and engineering, the highest-paying area of STEM, led to average earnings of $82,500 in Pennsylvania.”

The ROI approach to undergraduate programs is highly problematic and often criticized. Not only are there problems with its logic, it is typically used as an attack on the arts and humanities. APSCUF, the union representing faculty in the PASSHE system, has issued its statement on the report. However, I would like to offer my thoughts on the report. I do not find the results of the report particularly surprising. What is disconcerting is that the document lacks nuance even when using a ROI rationale and the report’s own data.

Take for example the state average for students who majored in the humanities and liberal arts. Median earnings for a humanities and liberal arts major between the ages of 12-64 is $45,300 statewide. However, a humanities and liberal arts major in the Southeast region of the state makes $49,900, which is more than a biology and life science major living in the Northwest region of the state ($46,400) and pretty close to a biology major in the Southwest region ($51,000).

 

Biology & Life Science Humanities & Liberal Arts
Central Region

$58,500

$44,100

Northeast Region

56,800

40,000

Northwest Region

46,400

36,100

Southeast Region

67,300

49,900

Southwest Region

51,000

41,200

Statewide

59,700

45,300

Source: Degrees of Value, Figure 14, pages 23-24

The Degrees of Value report only briefly discusses geographic differences. However, it only does so within majors. This is because using income as a benchmark is complicated by significant regional differences in jobs, cost of living, and economic resources. Yet, the report’s focus is solely on income.

PASSHE’s acceptance of the report reinforces faculty fears of a vocational-drive by campus administrators and state leaders. Yet, the data within the report does not support a vocational-drive based on ROI. Students majoring in the social sciences make more than those in fields such as agriculture and natural resources, education, law & public policy, journalism, industrial arts, and social work.

Major Median earnings by undergraduate major group ages 21-64
Social Sciences $52,800
Agriculture & natural resources 50,800
Education 47,800
Law & public policy 46,700
Communications & journalism 43,400
Industrial arts, consumer services & recreation 42,100
Psychology & social work 42,100
Source: Degrees of Value, Figure 12, page 20

In addition to the report’s focus on STEM-H, business majors are a focus. Yet, social science majors in the Southeast Region do better than many business majors across the state.

 

Business

Social Sciences (excluding psychology and social work)

Central Region

$55,900

$49,500

Northeast Region

50,500

42,100

Northwest Region

46,300

42,900

Southeast Region

67,300

60,500

Southwest Region

55,000

47,100

Statewide

58,900

52,800

Source: Degrees of Value, Figure 14, pages 23-24

It is also important to note that nationally, the gap between humanities & social science, and professional & pre-professional fields closes significantly over the course of a worker’s career.

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, AAUP.

In conclusion, the equating of undergraduate degree with income is simplistic. It ignores economic geography, labor market dimensions, as well less quantifiable benefits such as career satisfaction, community service, and job security.

Millennial Faculty (Yes, they exist)

clockEvery year, the Beloit Mindset List comes out and faculty freak out over it on social media. What bothers me about the reaction is that they forget that it is normal for different generations to experience different things. I am also bothered by some of the reaction that people have to studies regarding the millennials. In the case of higher education, I believe some of my colleagues forget that there are now millennial faculty members (which plays a part in #Ilooklikeaprofessor).

Rob Kelly wrote in 2007, “Millennial Faculty Are Coming. Are You Ready?“ Millennial faculty now exist. We are in our late 20s and mid 30s. From the standpoint of age, this is expected. In many fields, the age of new PhDs and assistant professors sits around 33 [1]. Although the average age of tenure being granted in 39, some “early Millennials” born just after “Generation X” may have already received tenure and those born shortly after will be will be going up soon [2].

In this blog post, I want to talk about what college was like and how it influences our (or at least my) learning, teaching and research.

Higher Ed Goes Digital (late 1990s-2000s)

I hate the term “digital natives” – commonly associated with millennials. However, I think it’s important to talk about growing up with digital knowledge. Perhaps the most important experience that we had in college was having broadband internet access.  Compuserve existed in the 1980s and AOL went online in 1991, but they were typically accessed via dial-up modems. Similarly, there were intranets on university campuses. However, the availability of broadband access to the World Wide Web in college fundamentally connected technology and learning for many of us. More specifically, we had dorm rooms with ready internet access (either wired or later with wifi).

This had a very significant impacts on our lives. The release of Napster in 1999 changed the way we relate to digital content. While, those of us early millennials owned physical media, the MP3 explosion altered our relationship with such physical artifacts. This had implications for knowledge. Books, articles and course readings need not be locked away in a library or within a physical book. In fact, according to Publisher Weekly, in 2011 those born between 1979 and 1989 bought more books than Baby Boomers (with 43% of those expenditures going to digital purchases).

Microsoft Encarta came out in 1993. This and other encyclopedia programs meant large unwieldy formats such as Encyclopedia Britannica (as well as other types of indexes) were simply inefficient ways to look up information. This was followed by Wikipedia going online in 2001. Card catalogs are a distant childhood memory (if at all). As an academic generation, there are those that rarely or never read bound editions of academic journals. Not coincidentally through the 2000s, university libraries began to invest less in study carrel spaces and more in “information commons.” Book acquisitions dropped, as budgets were reassigned for online journal databases.

In addition to digital versions of books, the way we learned was always supplemented by the internet. The Blackboard Learning System debuted in the fall of 1998, and by 2004 the company had thousands of “clients” using it to post syllabi, readings, and offer assignment submission. We used email as well as AIM, ICQ, and Facebook to interact with our TA’s and our classmates. RateMyProfessor went online in 2001 affecting what classes we chose to take.

If our undergraduate experience was about digitally consuming knowledge, graduate school meant producing research digitally. I certainly do not know anyone who used notecards to create bibliographies in graduate school. Most of us have never used a typewriter. Those who conduct historical research can now use digital archives in conjunction with “analog” sources in archives. This meant the “physical” act of research and dissertation writing was fundamentally different. EndNote Plus was released in the 1990s and grew in sophistication and popularity in the 2000s. Similarly reference management software such as RefWorks was released in 2001, and Zotero in 2006. Personally, I cannot imagine not using Zotero for my dissertation, much less having to re-format references for publication without it. For Millennial graduate students and faculty, other things like digital humanities, blogs, conference live tweets, conducting ethnography online, job rumor wikis, etc. increasingly play a role in our academic/professional lives.

Millennial Faculty (2010s)

The preceding paragraphs have largely focused on the cultural and practical differences that millennial faculty experienced. However, I want to also mention that we experienced a very different economic situation. As the PEW Research Center has found, our entire generation faces very different economic and educational challenges than Generation X, the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. We have higher levels of student loan debt. We finished (or are finishing) our doctoral degrees in a world where we had to teach as well as publish much more to even be considered for a job (which might not even be tenure track). Peter Higgs (of Higgs Boson fame) has noted the brutality of today’s publish or perish world.

The narrative I have presented is not a digital versus analog debate. It is not about the virtues of the millennial experience, or that we had(have) it harder. Rather, it is a more serious take than on what the Beloit College Mindset List does every year – only with faculty not students. It’s also a reminder that things change, and it’s normal.

Why I teach

 

Splatter ReadingThis blog post was inspired by a colleague’s suggestion last year that fellow faculty write a short piece for the campus paper on why we teach. I have been thinking about this essay prompt for a while, and I think it is especially fitting to write this now that I have tenure.

The reason why I teach is not that I am a teacher. It is because I am a social scientist. Part of the sciences (natural and social) is the pursuit and sharing of knowledge. This means that I teach, because I love learning. I teach, because I love sharing what I’ve learned. Teaching my research areas forces me to think and re-think ideas and concepts. It also makes me a better writer. When I prepare for a new semester, I update my PowerPoints with new data. This is not just to be a good teacher, but it is also to be on-top of things going on in my field. I teach because it is truly fun and satisfying to me to find new material for my classes. I go into each semester hoping that the new information I’ve found may be interesting and compelling to my students.

At the same time, in the classroom, I am less interested in teaching facts, than sharing knowledge that can help students critically look at the world around us. To me, knowledge is not just a series of facts and data points. Social science is a process; it is active not static. In sociology, a typical introductory lesson includes C. Wright Mills and the “Sociological Imagination.” Mills writing in 1959 notes that there is, “generous comment in all schools of social science about the blindness of empirical data without theory and the emptiness of theory without data. But we do better to examine the practice and its results….” (66). In other words, social science is not just the practice of research or even its findings, but it is a field that is at its best when we ask questions about research. It is my hope that I’ve been able to inspire my students to ask similar questions.

So why do I teach? I teach not because I am a teacher, but because I am a social scientist.

Visualizing the 100 Largest Cities in the U.S. (1840-2010)

In a previous post, I discussed how I like making visualizations for my classes using Google products. It’s a good exercise for me, and hopefully it leads to something useful in fall. My weekend project was this map of the 100 Largest Cities in the U.S. (1840-2010) using Google Charts’ GeoChart. It was largely based on this code. However, I had to make a number of changes to have it do what I wanted it to do. I also had to organize the data in way that was useful. The dots on the map mark cities that are amongst the top 100 urban centers in the United States in a census. The slider is a date filter that allows one to either move decade-by-decade to see the rise of cities in the Sunbelt, or see the persistence of a city in the top 100 depending on how you move the sliders.


The neat thing about the GeoChart API is that it rendered within the browser using SVG. While the GeoChart API will recognize place-names, it loads much faster if you use latitude/longitude coordinates instead of place-names. There are 269 cities in the map above, with data drawn from 18 census years.

This was meant to be a fun weekend project playing with the GeoChart API. I’ll probably play around with this a bit more, so that I can make use it in my urban sociology course in the fall.

Teaching Social Science Writing

Like most semesters, I assign a lot of writing despite my heavy teaching load. However, this semester I have spent a bit more time discussing what makes social science writing different from what they might have encountered in other classes (e.g. why MLA is inappropriate for our class). This blog post will discuss some of my concerns and thoughts regarding teaching social science writing.

A few premises I want to get out of the way. I think effective writing across the disciplines is important. There are a lot of issues with student writing. For example, political scientist Michael Allen has a good post on passive voice. Like Steven Pinker, I’m against academic gobbledygook. I understand that basic skills in writing and research are difficult to learn and just as difficult to teach. For instance, at Kutztown, the other sociology faculty and I created a guide to writing academic (sociology) papers on our webpage. However, a persistent problem is the lack of discipline specific training in writing.

My goal is to make students not just critical thinkers, but much more rigorous thinkers. Not only do I want my students to be better communicators, I want them to be accurate writers. So here are just some of the issues I encounter every year that is specifically tied to social science writing.

  • Use of Sources
    • We live in a world where good writing is often more important than good research. As Michael Chabris explains on Salon, popular nonfiction work such as Malcolm Gladwell’s fails to meet the rigor social science. A criticism of Gladwell is his cherry picking of studies. Our students do something similar. They find a quote in a text to ‘augment’ their writing (rather than build an argument based on existing research results and methods, or theory). When I’ve asked students to construct literature reviews, very few actually survey the research. Most structure their literature reviews author-by-author plugging in quotes that include the terms and concepts they want to write about. Here the quote is a crutch. They’re augmenting their writing rather than building a foundation for an argument that is grounded in the research. That’s not to say what my students are writing aren’t relevant, interesting or significant. However, the way they are using sources tends to emphasize the significance of what they are saying, rather than provide evidence that what they are saying is reliable and valid.
  • Generalizability and Importance
    • Sociologist Robert Merton in his classic work Social Theory & Social Structure, discusses (or grossly generalizes) different approaches to research. For example, Merton suggested that, Europeans take the position: “We don’t know that what we say is true, but it is at least significant.” While the Americans take the position: “We don’t know that what we say is particularly significant, but it is at least true” (pp. 494-495). As a qualitative and critical researcher with postmodern inclinations, I tend to agree with criticisms of positivist social science. However, I believe that significance (or social relevance) and truth (validity/reliability) are both important. The balance of those two sides in research is what makes us social scientists.
  • Unit/Level of Analysis
    • When my students write about inequality, they do a fairly good job emphasizing it as a social problem. However, a common problem is that many will mention things such as racial segregation in the United States and slums in the developing world in the same paper. There’s no unit of analysis. There’s also no sense of level or scale. This is linked to the aforementioned problem of precision, validity and reliability. However, it is also connected to the disconnect between course content (information) and the notion of research. Student papers spend a lot of time reporting facts, rather than transforming that information into data that can be analyzed. In other words, writing doesn’t just open up discussions of social problems, but is part of operationalizing research.

While I verbally address many of these problems in class, I feel that I could (or should) do much more over the course of the semester. As this semester wraps up, it’s time to head back to the drawing board to come up with new ways to encourage better social science writing in my courses.

Teaching and Visualizing School Segregation: Google Docs

As I’ve discussed in an earlier post, education and race is a topic that I discuss in my classes. I’m also a big fan of providing visualized data for my students when I cover the material. So, I was very happy to see Reed Jordan at the The Urban Institute’s great post (with maps) on segregation in America’s public school system. Maps and other visual material support my lectures and PowerPoints in making the case that we are still very much a segregated country. Specifically, that this segregation is despite the country’s increased diversity. However, this post is not going to focus on segregation. Rather, I want to share the way I present information to my students via tables and charts in PowerPoint as well as Google Docs/Drive. Google Docs is not just a web-based replacement for Office. Part of Google Drive, it allows you to make Fusion tables to map and chart data. Its spreadsheet (and presentation program) can be embedded into webpages and other HTML files for easy online sharing (such as in your CMS). You can, of course, also share the spreadsheet if you wish.

Why do I want to share this material? If you’re a social scientist, you likely want to present data to your students. However, the charts included in publisher provided PowerPoints are ugly and often out-of-date.  I’m hoping that sharing my spreadsheets will help you to embedded figures, tables and charts into presentations and other course materials.

Source: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_203.50.asp

As mentioned above, the segregation we see in American public schools is despite the country’s increased racial and ethnic diversity. For most kids in the United States, they are more likely to attend schools where other students look like them than otherwise. For instance, Orfield and Frankenberg’s report has notes that we are in an unprecedented era of diversity, but there has been a long retreat from integration. The question for me as an instructor is: how do I convincingly present evidence that contradicts students’ notions of societal progress – the idea that the present (and future) is better than that of the past.

I like to show my students several years of data (within their lifetimes) to suggest that the problem of segregation is long-standing and enduring. This is also when I remind my students that their parents were likely born in the 1960s (amidst the Civil Rights Movement). This means that the history of Jim Crow is not ancient history. In Figures 2 & 3, we see that there has not been a lot of change in the new millennium. 60 years after Brown v. Board, most White kids go to schools that are predominantly white, just as most African-American kids go to schools that are predominantly black, and Hispanic/Latino students go to schools with other Hispanic/Latino kids.

Embedded charts and figures from Google Docs are nice because they are somewhat interactive with mouse overs revealing numbers and other information. The option to export charts and figures as images is available as well. However, I like embedding the HTML. I also prefer inserting or creating charts and figures via Excel. This allows for easier updating and having the visualized data fit the theme of your website or PowerPoint (which I haven’t done here).

Source: http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/pubschuniv.asp

While differences remain, there is some good news. The number of high school dropouts has decreased, with the steepest decline being amongst Hispanic students. The mouse over effect is particularly useful in the line chart above and below.

Source: http://www.census.gov/hhes/school/data/cps/historical/index.html

The steep decline in dropouts parallels a record high of students aged 18- to 24-year-olds being enrolled in college. In fact, a greater percentage of Hispanic high school graduates were enrolled in college than Whites in 2012. However, differences remain. Including links to the data sources is important. When I teach my Sociology of Visual Culture class, I require students to get data from the U.S. Census bureau to use in their charts, figures, and tables.

Source: http://www.census.gov/hhes/school/data/cps/historical/index.html

 If this was a lecture, this is likely the point where I’d make a joke about information overload. I’ll wrap up by saying that I hope that my Google spreadsheet is useful (I hope to update it when I have more time). Also don’t forget, Reed Jordan’s post & maps on this issue. The maps are also embeddable.

Back to School: Desire2Learn Tips

Splatter Backpack

This was originally posted on the KU Converge website.

It’s back to school time. Despite the semester starting last week, I’m still making last minute tweaks to my courses on Desire2Learn. This blog post is dedicated to the various tricks I’ve developed over the last few years. It’s a solid learning management system that has lots of useful functions if you know how to access and use them. I’m hoping that these tips not only help make your courses more effective, but it saves you time in grading, organizing content, and even assessing program goals.


1. Online Test and Quiz Security

Randomizing your questions in a single folder is not enough. There are problems with balance between chapters and cheating in the form of so-called buddy testing. Essentially, I try to make it difficult or inconvenient for a student to ask a friend to take the exam for them.

  • I always have the exam scheduled for regular class time. This is particularly important when there are multiple sections of the same class.
  • I have a mandatory question where the student enters their student ID number. Not only does this make it more difficult for the student to have another student login for them, the results for this question can be downloaded (for all students) as an Excel file and compared to student ID numbers in the class roster in a separate spreadsheet column.
  • I have more questions in the test bank than the number I actually have on the exam. The more you have the less likely two students will have the same exam.
  • The key to having a balanced exam (e.g. having all chapters covered evenly) is to have multiple random folders.

2. Export Statistics is Your Friend

Being able to export results/statistics from quizzes, discussions and surveys is an incredibly useful tool. I teach large classes with over 100 students. So for participation points, I typically have students discuss various topics on D2L as homework. In order to give them simple participation points such as a simple complete, incomplete or zero, I export the statistics on a discussion topic and then re-import them into the gradebook using Excel make sure the file is formatted correctly.

  • See below on how exporting statistics can be use for assessment purposes.

3. Peer Review for Papers Online

Using the group dropbox, you can have students review each other’s work. This worked out pretty well in an online course recently. Simply put students (or the whole class) in a group, and then assign that group a dropbox that allows multiple submissions. Everyone should be able to see all the submitted papers, including Turnitin scores if that function is turned on. If the class is online, you can then have the students discuss and critique papers via the discussion forums.

4. HTML and custom CSS

For faculty that enjoy customizing their course content, you can upload web content directly (such as HTML files). You can’t upload JavaScript, but you can use custom CSS stylesheets. Yes, you can keep your course content simple. However, using a little CSS can make important material “pop” a lot more, as students go over outlines, summaries, etc. For instance, you can have different mouse roll over effects or even a simple menu in place.

5. Surveys for Assessment

At present, the sociology program is using D2L to assess senior portfolios. Each semester graduating seniors submit a pdf of their writing to a D2L course where all sociology faculty are listed as instructors.  Each faculty member fills out an anonymous survey on the student’s work via D2L. This saves time in that it allows me to compile and average scores quickly and efficiently. D2L also allows us to easily notify the student of the outcome.