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Revolutionizing online engagement and interaction at South Plains College

Dan Hasan
May 16, 2022
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Class Size
Instructor Workload
Learner Workload

Context

About the institution

South Plains College is a comprehensive, 2-year community college that serves the greater South Plains area of Texas with innovative educational programs that span the arts and sciences, technical education, continuing education and workforce development.

About the instructor

Sharon Race is the professor of English at South Plain College (SPC), and has been teaching for 26 years. Since August 2015, she has served as chairperson of the English and Philosophy Department.

Buffy Rattan is the Assistant Professor of English at South Plains College. Here she is responsible for preparing and teaching several English courses for different levels.

Course information

- Name: Composition I & II
- Size: 20 – 70 students
- Course design: Online and blended
- LMS: Blackboard

Constructive alignment

Learning objectives

The challenge: Emergency remote teaching highlights the need for effective teaching tools

The emergency switch to online education has presented many institutions, including South Plains College’s English department with a great challenge: to ensure an active learning environment which stimulates quality feedback, meaningful interactions, and collaboration.

With the view to offer “an extremely quality” learning experience for students, Sharon Race – Head of Department for English and Buffy Ratten, Assistant Professor of English at South Plains College seek for innovative ways to enable both student-student and student-content interaction in online setting. That’s why the instructors decided to adopt the FeedbackFruits tool suite, thanks to its proven capacity to enhance student engagement and interaction after a successful pilot.

“Online education has become an extremely competitive environment and we want to offer an extremely quality product… FeedbackFruits is helping us to introduce new and innovative ways of allowing students to interact with one another and with the content in the online environment rather than the traditional ways.” - Sharon Race, Head of Department of English

Learning activities

The solution: Incorporating several FeedbackFruits tools to sharpen language and critical skills

Sharon and Buffy adopted the tool suite in their Composition I & II classes, which focus on English language and critical thinking skills of undergraduates. The courses feature both synchronous and asynchronous sessions, where students undergo a number of writing, comprehension, and feedback assignments. Several of Feedback tools were incorporated into each assignment: Peer Review is used for peer feedback on draft essays; Interactive Study Materials allows students to answer questions and make notes on videos and texts; Comprehension helps guide students with reading texts; and Discussion is used for both text analyses and building social engagement between students.

Activities throughout the course were aimed at both improving communication in the English language and creating space for interactivity in the online environment of the course, with tools being used to support these objectives in various ways:

Bloom's Taxonomy

In Peer Review, students submitted essays individually and reviewed others’ work  based on a 7-point scale-rating/comments rubric, before writing a final reflection in the tool. The received peer feedback was used to iterate on improved final versions.

Assessment of learning outcomes

Figure 1. Scale Rating rubric in Peer Review

You can download the full rubric here

In Interactive Video, lesson materials such as explanatory videos were annotated with questions and discussion threads, allowing students to indicate if a concept needed further elaboration in class.

With Comprehension, students practiced the SQ3 (“Search-Question-Read-Recite-Review”) reading method, identifying the sections and structure of texts, and seeing their peers’ annotations.

Discussion tool was used to set up an online forum in which informal discussion topics were posted in a weekly “Wednesday watercooler chat”. The tool was also used to pose questions about reading assignments, with students encouraged to leave written responses and engage with each other’s interpretations.

Activities were used both formatively and summatively, with grade weighting being made explicit to students. Throughout the course, student comments, answers and questions were used to inform in-class discussions, and in-tool analytics were used to keep track of student performance and progress along each activity.

Notable outcomes

Figure 2. Student analytics dashboard within the tool

The outcome: A smooth, and satisfying teaching and learning experience

Using FeedbackFruits tools throughout the course has greatly enhanced the education quality, as remarked by both the instructors and students.

Learning and using the tools had been “super easy”, according to the instructors. The abundant tool functionalities such as grade- and group-synchronization, assignments copy, and creating templates helped save plenty of time while reducing the manual workload of data entry and activities set-up. Professor Race has this to say about FeedbackFruits tools’ impact:

“FeedbackFruits is seamless inside Blackboard: it's a robust suite of tools that helps us to create courses that are sophisticated, professional-quality products.”

Another advantage that FeedbackFruits offered was access to student analytics, which shows learners’ progress and performance for each activity. Such insights allow instructors to identify the knowledge gaps or challenges, and to make timely interventions.

Compared with the native Blackboard discussion boards, instructors found FeedbackFruits Discussion to be “smooth, well-embedded, and with no clicking outside”, resulting in “great levels of engagement and critical thinking”.

As for students, they greatly stressed how all FeedbackFruits activities can be accessed within Blackboard without the need for external tools or sign-ins. This significantly spared the extra cognitive load of navigating numerous sites and software to engage in course activities.

Conclusion

Keeping students engaged in a course, especially in online education, requires a high level of interactivity with course materials and assignments. Where courses rely on transmissive and traditional delivery approaches, such as long-format zoom lectures or passive reading exercises, student dissatisfaction, isolation, and dropout, are more common.

As a result, designing an engaging course requires creating space for students to actively participate with course material. Even activities such as text-reading or video-watching can be completed in a collaborative space where questions and discussions are encouraged. This can result in a level of interactivity with course material surpassing even physical classrooms, hence developing essential collaboration and critical thinking skills - the basis of career-readiness and future student success.

Read more success stories in which instructors successfully leveraged the power of pedagogical technology to elevate education quality:

Institution-wide scalability and transparency in peer assessments at Deakin University

Enhancing student engagement in online learning at Texas Tech University

Possible variation

FeedbackFruits Educators Initiative supports educators with lifelong free access to our pedagogical tools.
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