Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Helping Students “Stay Connected” This Summer

by Dana Bodewes, Instructional Designer

You may have noticed PLU promoting a new summer session campaign called “Stay Connected”. The campaign hopes to improve retention, decrease time to matriculation, and increase enrollments in summer session courses. 

A February 2015 survey of PLU students found:

    86% have never enrolled in a PLU summer course.
    76% plan to work over summer break.
    59% plan to return home over summer break.

To meet the challenge of staying connected to students during the summer, PLU will be offering twelve fully online courses taught by PLUTO trained faculty. Courses range from Christian Ethics to Beginning Watercolor Painting and allow students to fulfill general education requirements. Enrollment and budget challenges provide PLU with an opportunity to consider the evolving needs of our students. Pioneering faculty are helping PLU to explore how online learning might offer a high quality, engaging PLU experience when students cannot come to campus. Registration is right around the corner, and the PLU community is interested to see whether these new online offerings will entice students to give summer session a try.

     40% are undecided about whether to enroll in summer session.
     31% are interested in online summer courses.
     25% are interested in blended summer courses.

Summer is a great time for faculty to begin thinking about whether teaching an online or blended summer course might be something they want to consider. PLUTO trained faculty report gaining skills in pedagogy and technology that not only prepare them for online teaching but improve their teaching in traditional courses as well. Information sessions for the next PLUTO Institute during JTerm will be offered in the fall. This is an exciting time to be teaching at PLU. We would love to hear your ideas for summer session in the comments section below. For more information, check out the websites for PLU Teaching Online (PLUTO) and Summer Session.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Maintaining Student Engagement

by Dana Bodewes, Instructional Designer

The Northwest has experienced some beautiful weather lately and the effects of spring fever are soon to appear in the classroom. It can be difficult to focus on work when sunshine and warmer temperatures are beckoning us outside! Perhaps this is a good time to consider ways to keep your students interested and engaged in class activities. Below I have listed some strategies to increase student interest and engagement in any course.
  • Games and Competition: Game-based learning isn't just for children. Games tap into the human desire for competition and utilize scheduled, intermittent rewards to keep learners motivated. Games for higher education are growing in popularity. (Check out the Educational Gaming Commons hosted by Penn State.) But, even simple, low-tech games or competitions can make learning really engaging for students. 
  • Applied Learning: Students consistently report that they value learning experiences more when the learning is applied to real-world situations or scenarios relevant to their future professions. When possible, look for opportunities to use case studies, simulations, or role-playing to help ground theoretical ideas.
  • Formative Assessments: Keep students on their toes and paying attention by integrating quick assessments of learning. Assessments can be implemented using clickers, online polls, or even Twitter to gather and report on student responses to a topic or question. A free account with Poll Everywhere can you get started with integrating simple formative assessments. 
  • Peer Learning: Spend any time around teens and young adults and there's no denying the effects of peer learning. Look for opportunities to utilize group projects, student presentations, and peer feedback. Collaboration tools and clear directions help to set students up for success when working in groups.
  • Creativity and Personalization: When assigning projects, students may become more engaged when there are opportunities to get creative or to personalize the project to their individual interests. For example, you may consider letting students share research by creating a video documentary, a journal article, or a web page. 
  • Debate and Discussion: To keep students engaged, you may want to post a trending news story or controversial idea for debate or discussion in an online forum. Some cognitive dissonance can peak student interest and push them to analyze their opinions in light of new information or differing perspectives.
  • Guest Speakers: To spark interest and introduce variety, consider inviting a guest speaker to talk to your class. Students can converse live with your guest in person or using a web-conferencing tool. They could also interact asynchronously with a guest using a discussion forum or social media tool like Twitter or Facebook.
If you are interested in learning more, check out this blog post Understand, Engage, Connect: Meeting Millennials Learners Where They Are. If you are ready to try a new engaging activity, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with Instructional Technologies for assistance and support.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Spring 2015 Technology Workshops

Check out the schedule of Spring 2015 Technology workshops at along with full workshop descriptions and registration information. Workshops include a diversity of topics such as: 
  • Flipping vs. Blending: Course Design Options
  • Engaging Students Outside the Classroom with Google Blogger
  • Collaboration with Google Docs and Drive
  • Sakai Lessons Tool
  • Recording Weekly Videos with iMovie
  • Easy Steps for Making Your Course Content Accessible
  • Backups and Data Security at PLU
  • And more...!

For a complete listing of workshops, see the workshop listings page.

If you have a particular need for specialized and customized technology workshops for your class or department, contact Layne Nordgren (, 253-535-7197) and we'll do our best to meet your specific needs.

Need one-on-one assistance with technology? Contact to schedule a consultation. We'll find the right staff to assist you with your specific needs. In addition, Instructional Technologies provides a design lab with computers and software for digital editing projects. The Digital Design Lab is located on the first floor of the Library near the Help Desk.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Assess Your Course Design for Quality Practices
by Dana Bodewes, Instructional Designer

Whether you are teaching a course for the first time or the fiftieth, it is good practice to take a step back and critically reflect on the design of one’s course. Faculty are undoubtedly the masters of their course content, but it can be beneficial to consider the best practices that contribute to the quality design of a course as well. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple checklist to help you review your course’s design? Well, read on...

In support of the PLUTO Institute and initiatives, PLU holds an institutional subscription to the Quality Matters (QM) Program. The program rubric contains 44 standards to assess the design of online and blended courses. Quality Matters standards are based on best practices and help to guide the development of quality courses while providing a process for peer review. With PLU’s subscription to Quality Matters, faculty may use (and modify) the standards for unofficial review purposes. If you are interested in seeing the Fifth Edition of the Quality Matters Rubric, it can be accessed from the Instructional Technologies site with your PLU ePass. 

The QM Rubric is such a great tool for online and blended course design, I found myself wishing an equivalent existed for traditional courses. Last semester, I created a short and simple checklist for faculty to self-assess traditional on-campus courses in a way similar to Quality Matters. I pared it down to 25 best practices in the following categories: Course Introduction, Learning Objectives and Assessment, Instructional Materials and Activities, Course Technology, and Learner Support and Accessibility. The list intentionally errs on the side of brevity in order to provide a fast review of quality design indicators. Note that teaching of the course is not evaluated here; that would require a whole different type of rubric. About ⅔ of the standards are based on the Quality Matters Rubric and a few are original contributions.

As the semester begins, take a few moments to review this course quality design checklist to see how many best practices your courses contain. Or, consider attending an Instructional Technologies workshop on this topic from 12:30-1:30 on May 5, 2015. As always, consultations are also available for those who would like to discuss course design by contacting Instructional Technologies at 

If you have any design standards to add to the list, or if you have a course review checklist that you know and love, please share in the comment section below.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Blogging: So Many Uses, So Little Time

by Dana Bodewes, Instructional Designer
Blogs have greatly contributed to the explosion of content created and shared on the internet. I, myself, couldn't count the number of hours I've spent reading blogs about everything from recipes to research. There are many academic applications for blogs. Blogs allow students to easily publish and share content, foster writing and presentation skills, and help faculty facilitate peer learning and discourse. Blog writing can also encourage the personal reflection and processing of content that is critical to deeper learning. Though the potential uses are endless, blogging requires commitment from the instructor and students to be successful and worthwhile. To help you use your time wisely, I have gathered resources and advice for you here.

How do you know if blogging would work well in your course? There is no easy answer to that question; however, before assigning a blog activity, instructors should critically analyze the purpose of the activity. Any blogging project should be in support of the course’s learning objectives and enhance meaningful communication. Expectations and processes for the activity should be defined up front. In most cases, technology hurdles should be minimal, allowing students to focus on the content and not the tool. It is also important to analyze the audience for student writing. Will these blogs be private to the class or shared openly on the web? How you design your assignment will depend entirely on your unique needs.  

If you’re worried about the time commitment of reading and assessing blogs, consider the following ideas and strategies:
  1. If possible, start small. A class blog can be supported by rotating one or two student authors each week.
  2. If appropriate, skip the analytic grading and assign simple participation points for blogs mainly used for reflection or journaling. Don’t forget to post a few short comments. Students want to know you are reading what they are writing.
  3. If students are regularly blogging all semester, have them submit their top 3 blog posts to be officially graded at the end of the term.
  4. If you have a high volume of posts to manage, try “randomly” grading just a few posts each week, while quickly skimming the un-graded posts. Be sure to make students aware of this grading procedure.
  5. Try using a holistic rubric to quickly provide feedback on the quality of student posts. An example is provided here for you to modify and use.
  6. Consider using Twitter when frequent, super-short communication is appropriate. It can be very engaging and encourage concise, well-planned responses.

WordPress, Google Blogger, and Twitter are three tools to explore for student blogs. I would suggest examining each option to see which one might best fit the needs of your assignment.  

There are many resources available to help you make the most of student blogs. If you are interested in learning more about blog assignments, I encourage you to read “Develop and Implement a Course Blog” or “Getting Started with Student Blogs: Tips for the Digital Immigrant”. If you would like to know more about managing and grading student blogs, check out some of the many fantastic posts by the ProfHacker team for the Chronicle of Higher Ed, such as “‘How are you going to grade this?’ Evaluating Classroom Blogs”. And of course, the Instructional Technologies team at PLU provides consultations and workshops for faculty interested in blogging. Contact us at

Now, time to blog!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Flipping vs. Blending - What's the Difference?

by Dana Bodewes, Instructional Designer

Like it or not, technology is influencing the 
process of teaching and learning in new and evolving ways.  Two key trends that draw upon innovations in technology and pedagogy are the flipped learning format and the blended learning format.  As these terms are used more often and in varying ways, the difference between the two formats can become confused.  I will highlight some of the key differences between 
flipped and blended learning and why
you might want to choose either one.

The term flipped learning comes from the idea that instructors are flipping or reversing the activities traditionally completed in-class and out-of-class.  The term blended learning reflects the decision to blend or use both online and onsite instruction and activities, drawing on the best of both media.  Let’s look at three important factors - direct instruction, homework and practice, and class meeting schedules - to examine how the two formats often differ.  

Direct Instruction

In the flipped model, students typically receive instruction at home in the form of online videos or tutorials.  Flipped models emphasize active, exploratory learning building upon foundational knowledge obtained before class meetings.  In the blended model, direct instruction can occur either online or in-class.  Methods are mixed or matched to meet the needs of the lesson.  Blended instruction also emphasizes options; students are usually given more control over the path and pace for learning key concepts.  This also requires the professor to differentiate instruction, considering different learning preferences and abilities.

Homework and Practice

In the flipped model, homework and practice are largely completed in-class, where students can work with others and get immediate help from the instructor.  Assistance is provided just-in-time, preventing students from languishing at home when confusion arises.  This model works well for courses that require complicated, multi-step procedures.  In the blended model, homework and practice are typically completed online or at-home.  Emphasis is placed on providing students with more control over the learning products they generate.  Online interaction with peers and the instructor bridges the time between class meetings and keeps students engaged in the course.

Class Schedule

In the flipped model, the traditional class schedule is preserved.  Students continue to meet at regularly scheduled times.  In the blended model, the traditional class schedule is altered.  The definition of what constitutes a blended course varies by institution.  Generally, blended higher education courses contain a significant amount of online instruction and activities, so face-to-face time is reduced to balance the total workload.  Blended courses are sometimes favored for their schedule flexibility, which can address certain conflicts of time and space.

If you are interested in exploring flipped or blended learning, Instructional Technologies provides workshops, resources, and consultations for faculty.  We would love to know about your experiences with either format.  Contact us at You can also share your thoughts in comment section below.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Top Ten Syllabus Suggestions

by Dana Bodewes, Instructional Designer

A new semester is about to begin and that means it is time to update your course syllabi (or syllabuses, if you prefer).  There isn't one specific syllabus format endorsed at Pacific Lutheran University, so I have created an outline of topics I would recommend for anyone interested in providing a comprehensive overview of key topics.  

Syllabus Topics

1. Purpose and Structure of Course
In this introductory section, you can provide an overview of the course structure and main topics.  

2. Required Instructional Materials
Especially for courses with lots of resources, this section explains what materials will be used in the course, how to obtain the materials, and what the expectations are for different items.

3. Prerequisite Knowledge and Technical Skills
Even if your course requires no prior knowledge or skills, it is important to state the expectations you have for students coming into your course. 

4. Course Learning Objectives and PLU Integrated Learning Objectives
Your course learning objectives clarify the overall knowledge and skills students should acquire by the end of the course.  It is also a good idea to specify ILO’s that your course supports.

5. Class Expectations
It is critical for instructors to explicitly state expectations for student behavior, communication, attendance, participation, and other policies important for the course.

6. Course Grading Policies
One way to increase responsibility and decrease anxiety is to provide an overview of graded activities at the beginning of the semester.  This section could include a list of all activities, point values, and due dates in addition to information on how work will be graded.

7. Academic Integrity
It is a good idea to include a statement about PLU's expectations for academic integrity, which can be found in both the faculty and student handbooks.

8. Student Services and Policies
This is a syllabus section that is often absent or assumed covered elsewhere.  My suggestion is to list key student services and policies along with brief statements and links to relevant websites.

9. Registrar Deadlines
The Registrar’s office recommends that faculty include key dates in their syllabus, most notably the last days to add/drop and withdraw from class.

10. Semester Schedule
The semester schedule is one of the most important and frequently accessed sections of the syllabus.  Schedule information might include readings, assignments, assessments, activities, and lecture topics along with the mode of delivery and corresponding dates.

Next Steps

I encourage you to check out this full outline of syllabus topics along with specific resources for PLU. You are welcome to borrow and modify ideas from this outline.  If you have any suggestions for syllabus topics not included in the outline, please add them to the comment section below.  I would love your feedback and will update the document as new ideas arise.  For more syllabus advice, the Provost's website includes document with PLU policy information for course syllabi. I also encourage you attend the workshop Take Your Course from Good to Great with a Quality Check where we continue to explore elements of high quality courses.  The Chronicle of Higher Education also has a wonderful two-part article on creating a "learning syllabus" for your course. Have a wonderful semester!