Eric Kunnen\’s GRCC Blog

Time Spent Online is Time Spent Learning!
December 23, 2008, 12:11 pm
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A while back, we posted a poll on our Blackboard portal to garner a pulse on how much time students spend online. Here are the results:


While this quick poll is not steeped in research methodology, it does provide an interesting pulse on the habits of students.  That is, more than half of the students indicated that they spend more than 2 hours per day online.

So what are students doing online?  Are they wasting time? Are they learning?  Based on some recent research that I picked up after reading a blog post entitled “Time spent online important for teen development” by Dan Tapscott in his Growing Up Digital blog, the answer is that in many cases these teens are learning important skills that will help them to become productive citizens in the future.  In his blog post, he refers to a recent report entitled:  “Living and Learning New Media” conducted by the University of California, the University of Southern California, and the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education that was sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation.

Here were some of the major findings in the report’s summary:

  1. Youth use online media to extend friendships and interests.
  2. Youth engage in peer-based, self-directed learning online.

So in other words, students often use social networking tools to stay connected and to communicate with each other.  This finding was supported by another Blackboard poll we conducted, where 61% of the students said that the primary reason they use Facebook is to communicate.  Here are the poll results:


The second major finding related to learning online that is self-directed and peer-based.  Through learning from each other, and with each other while trying out new applications and tools, they are learning to become self-directed learners.  They are learning to become problem solvers which allows them to be resourceful when they come across a problem or situation that requires them to discover a solution.    This actually poses an interesting question for educators and educational institutions:

That is, how can we tap into this interest-driven and peer-based engagment activity that goes on online? How can we use, faciliate, and engage students to become self-directed learners at school?

The report’s summary continues with some implications that can be drawn from the research:

  1. Adults should facilitate young people’s engagement with digital media.
  2. In interest-driven participation, adults have an important role to play.
  3. To stay relevant in the 21st century, education institutions need to keep pace with the rapid changes introduced by digital media.

So how can a college better connect with students in the online realm?  How can we engage students online to capture their attention, engage them, encourage them to continue their learning by spending time ONLINE with content and by communicating with each other.

I think as adults and educators we need to help facilitate a student’s engagement online through modeling.  Educators need to be where the students are.  Educators need to go out and they need to see what their students are doing.  They need to model appropriate behaviors by using Facebook, YouTube, Wikis, and Blogs to teach with and to interact with their students.

At the same time, educators need to be free to explore new tools that enable them to faciliate learning outside of the classroom and to encourage students to learn from each other.  Administrators and institutions should support faculty that are willing to take risks and to try new teaching strategies.

I suppose this boils down to deliberately designing courses and ensuring that all educators facilitate and teach in a way that allows and encourages students to be self-directed and to take charge of their own learning using resources at their disposal (their teachers, their peers, and technology).

I’ll end this blog post with a final poll from our Blackboard portal.  This chart reveals that students are spending a great deal of time on Facebook and also on our Blackboard system.  The question is, how can we make it easier for students to engage with content outside of the classroom through Blackboard as it is for them to communicate with each other through Facebook?


I think one way that educational institutions can make it easier to engage with students outside of the classroom and in the social networking space is to leverage tools that provide the ability for a college to better connect with students WHERE they are already.  Tools such as ClassTop’s CourseFeed and Blackboard Sync (which GRCC has already deployed) provide a good step forward in building an environment that is highly engaging and collaborative.

One company that is pioneering the way is called Inigral Inc. Inigral is beginning to create an exciting new class of applications that provide educational institutions with the ability to leverage the power of the social network for admissions marketing, enrollment management, alumni communications, and student engagement in ways never before possible.  Their “Schools on Facebook” application is the only system that I’m aware of that allows an institution to create a private and secure, yet very powerful presence on Facebook.  If you are interested in learning more, Inigral recently placed some informational videos on Facebook.  You can view them here.


What are your thoughts?  How do we encourage students to translate time spent online to time spent LEARNING online?


From a Good Course to a Great Course!
December 22, 2008, 6:02 pm
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While reading the Blackboard Blog, I came across an excellent post entitled “What Makes a Difference?” by Susan M. Zvacek,  Ph.D., who is the Director of Instructional Development and Support at the University of Kansas.

In this post Susan highlights the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program and in her post makes the following to-the-point statement, which I have also been working to convey at GRCC:

“…that all courses – face-to-face, blended, online, and everything in between – should be evaluated rigorously with less regard for the instructional environment than for factors that are more likely to influence learning and achievement.”

Rather than holding online and hybrid courses to a higher standard, or treating them as “special”, let’s focus on effective teaching and learning and hold ALL courses to a quality standard that is aimed at continuously improving courses regardless of the delivery method.

Susan goes on to say:

“By segregating e-learning in this way, we’re encouraging the idea that it is different enough from traditional practice to require “special treatment,” and it’s a very small leap from “special” to “inferior.””

I couldn’t agree more.  Too often, institutions place  a “special” status on Distance Learning courses, and hold them to higher standards than “regular” or dare I say “OLD” ways of course delivery.  Often the assumption is made, I suppose, that we have already figured out how to “do” face-to-face instruction… so we don’t need to spend our time improving them.  Or perhaps your institution only evaluates courses every 3 (or other x number of) years… thinking that 3 years is probably a long enough time to circle back and re-evaluate a course to improve it.  3 years?  How much technological change occurs in 3 years.  A LOT! Think about how many improvements could be made in those 3 years.  Think about how many students could be impacted in those 3 years if the course was taught differently or if technology was used or used differently.

So how do you take a good course and make it great?  How can you improve teaching and learning at your institution?  Well… for starters, you can:

  1. Apply the Blackboard Exemplary Course Rubric to your course.
  2. Encourage your colleagues, department, or college to adopt a common course evaluation rubric that is timely and effective.
  3. Review other courses that have been awarded as exemplary for ideas and teaching or design strategies.
  4. Apply to be an exemplary course reviewer so you can learn how to create a great course by applying a rubric to the courses submitted.
  5. Then, take the time to submit your course as an exemplary course and in the process of submitting your course, you will see how your course meets, exceeds, or could be improved based on the rubric.

What are your thoughts?  How can we improve courses?  Is it the faculty member’s responsiblity?  The college’s?  How can students get involved in improving a course?

GRCC – Blackboard Use Tops 14,900 Visits Per Day
December 16, 2008, 5:42 pm
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In order to better track and report Blackboard usage here at GRCC, Google Analytics was recently added to the system.  Here are the top results since November 18th:

The Blackboard server has had an average of more than 7,600 visits per day with more than 14,900 visits topping the list for a single day.


Access: GRCC’s Blackboard server has had a total of 236,696 visits since November 18th, and those visits came from 22 countries.  In Michigan, the server has been accessed from 257 cities.


Browsers: While the top browsers are Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari, there has also been visits to GRCC’s Blackboard server from users with an iPhone, iPod, Nintendo Wii, and Sony Playstation.


Get your Blackboard course notifications on Facebook!
December 11, 2008, 5:06 pm
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The most recent edition of the student newspaper “The Collegiate” included a story about how students can now access alerts, notifications, and updates from their courses at GRCC without leaving the Facebook application. The article highlights GRCC’s use and deployment of Classtop’s CourseFeed and Blackboard’s Sync application.

Here is a video tutorial on how CourseFeed works with Blackboard:


Here is the full article:

Blackboard information accessed on Facebook
By Kyle A. Kiekintveld

Collegiate Staff Writer