Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Online Course Discussion Question Example: Civil War

We explain in detail how to best answer discussion questions in an online class, even when the question is ambiguous. Here is an example discussion question (for economics, history, sociology, geography, etc.). Do you know how to ensure a good grade on a question like this?

Study the map below. Note the diagonal pattern of counties voting against secession extending from northern Alabama to West Virginia. Why do you think these counties voted as they did? Respond to two other students.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Set Aside Times BEFORE You Start Your Course

I was conversing with a fellow educator recently about online education and the topic of student study time came up. I mentioned that we cover the traditional measure of required student study time for college courses in our book "on page 30 something" (actually it was page 38, as I later checked). My friend asked, "What was the formula?" I told her and she said, "Precisely." She then added that students should have already determined their exact schedules BEFORE they get started. Which days of the week are they willing to give up going to soccer games and helping the kids with homework? What times of each day will they NOT be communicating with their spouse or attending to household matters? And most of all, how many hours each day and week will they be spending on course work and precisely which times? All this should be worked out in advance, she said, or students will not do well. Needless to say, the institution will also suffer because student retention will drop. We completely agree. Be sure you have a time management plan before you get started -- and be sure you allocate enough time. We give you our recommendations, but here is another tool you might use: whatever amount of time first occurs to you as "probably sufficient," just double it!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Two Easy Initial Steps for Better Grades

Some steps toward better grades are so easy and intuitively obvious you would think everyone would take them. Yet, many students fail to lay the ground work for good grades the very first day of the course. Be sure you take these easy initial steps.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Students: Don't Use Google

A sure way to get misdirected and to waste a lot of time with ideas and sources that have no place in academic writing is to use Google as a search tool for your topic. As an online student with limited time (probably with a family to take care of), you don't want to do things that are counter-productive. Almost invariably, nationally accredited academic institutions require that academic papers use peer-reviewed literature. WEBSITES, PAPERS, ARTICLES, OR BLOG POSTS FOUND THROUGH ORDINARY GOOGLE SEARCHES ARE NOT LIKELY TO BE PEER-REVIEWED LITERATURE. Websites sponsored by organizations dedicated to a single cause (abortion rights, worker rights, global warming, etc.) are not likely to be peer-reviewed either.

The best way to find peer-reviewed literature for your research topic is to use a search engine that is designed specifically for that purpose. Almost every college library has access to one. As an online student, you can easily access it. Once you are logged in, use the database to search for your topic in peer-reviewed literature ONLY.

For some reason, I have had a number of students who seem completely mystified by the concept of "peer-reviewed literature." "Peer-reviewed" means that the article was submitted to a publication that reviews articles using a panel of recognized experts in the field. Scientists, medical professionals, psychologists -- "peers" in the field -- must approve of the article before it is published.

This video shows how to use the EBSCO host, a popular database: The video also shows how to get your citations easily.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What to Do When "Kumar" Fails

In the comedy film, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" (2004), Kumar is a team player. As in all "team" films, success is assured. But online group projects do not follow movie scripts. Trust us on this! It's not uncommon to have 50% of teams fail. Often, this is due the failure of one or more team members. In the real world, "Kumar" can fail.

Should you simply report "Kumar's" failure to your instructor and assume that will solve the problem? No. Don't be surprised if such a message to your instructor is simply ignored. The point of many team assignments is to see how YOU handle team dynamics. Be prepared to pick up the slack when team members fail. As for "Kumar," some institutions/instructors use the following rule: only those students whose names appear on the final submitted project will receive a grade and the TEAM decides which names appear and which do not.

(Apologies to all our fans named "Kumar." We know YOU can do it. It's just the other guy named "Kumar" you need to watch out for!)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Total Search Failure

In his article "Why Johnny Can't Search," Clive Thompson references a study at Northwestern University where 102 college students were asked to do research using online resources. Result: All 102 failed to check the author's credentials. Total failure!

Needless to say, if you want an "A" you don't want to be like the Northwestern students. You want to use peer-reviewed resources, which guarantee that the authors have passed at least one test of credibility. Careful instructors and course designers will be sure to write "peer-reviewed" before the word "research" in the syllabus. One reason we wrote the book is that we grew tired of saying "Google and Wikipedia are NOT peer-reviewed resources!"

Both Google and Wikipedia can lead you to peer-reviewed sources, however, which is why they are not totally useless. In fact, one of my favorite research methods is to use the resources and footnotes provided in Wikipedia to find the original (often, peer-reviewed) research on which the Wikipedia article is based.

As an experiment, try entering "globalization" as a search term at the following sites:

See the differences?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Online Collective Knowledge: Perks and Dangers

In online adult continuing education, it is not uncommon for the collective knowledge of an online class to exceed that of the instructor's. Think of a class in marketing where many of the class members have 10 or more years of practical experience. While the textbook and instructor can provide you with great summaries of current trends or the details of psychological studies, the class members have equally valuable information to share with you about their experiences in the real world. One of the perks of online education is that you get exposure to perspectives from students from many walks of life and many parts of the world. You'll want to access that well of knowledge provided by other students, using the techniques we explain in the book.

There are also some dangers to relying too heavily on collective "knowledge." It's possible for the majority of the class to get on the wrong track in a discussion topic. In the rush to answer discussion questions on time students sometimes rely too heavily on their experience or simply express what is "common knowledge" about a topic without carefully reading the text. Common "knowledge," even "common sense," can be exactly what your textbook is trying to argue against! That is why you'll want to be sure you read the text first and be sure you understand what the instructor wants and what the text says before you launch into a discussion with your fellow students. You need to keep focused on earning points by engaging in discussion questions in the way intended by your instructor and course designer. MANY students fall into the trap of thinking that simply because they have had rip-roaring discussions with their classmates, they are maximizing their chances for the best grades. This is rarely true. Be sure you integrate the knowledge in the text with the collective knowledge of your peers. Collective knowledge is a supplement to the course text, not a replacement for it.

Note: in our book, "text" refers to all the assigned readings of the course, whether they be online articles, a printed textbook, or videos.