Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Plagiarism Detection and Prevention

Plagiarism Detection and Prevention

Plagiarism in online courses, while not more prevalent than in grounded classes, receives an inordinate amount of attention because of the perceived ease of cheating (Laureate Education, 2010).   To aid instructors and administration in the detection of plagiarism and cheating, there are many different software and hardware tools available.  Turnitin, a popular plagiarism detection software, is common on college campuses and was found to be approximately 10% more sensitive in detecting plagiarism than traditional methods (Jocoy & DiBiase, 2006).   There are a number of tools available and a simple Internet search nets a large number of free or low-cost alternatives to Turnitin such as Anti-Plagiarism, DupliChecker, and PaperRater (links below).

While these tools can automate the process and bring a certain level of assurance to the instructor and administration that academic dishonesty is being actively guarded against, it may be more effective to design assessments such that intentional plagiarism and cheating are not viable solutions.  Dr. Pratt (Laureate Education, 2010) suggests designing assessments and activities to be more application based.  Having students demonstrate the ability to apply knowledge can help eliminate the need for such detection strategies.  In my own experience as a learner, I have been given assessments where it was encouraged that outside sources be sought and that students collaborate.  As mentioned by Drs. Pratt and Palloff (Laureate Education, 2010), real world projects assigned by employers will require the same approach.  The end product or proposal that is presented at the end is what will demonstrate the learner’s (or employee’s) mastery of the subject.

The topic I teach is dependent on the student’s mastery of a variety of knowledge, skills, and abilities.  Theory-based (facts, rules) assessments are susceptible to cheating, however, the application-based assessments are not.  The policy in my program is to make those types of assessments very low stakes.  The high stakes assessments are those where the student must take the facts and rules and apply them.  It is satisfying to learn that this approach is recommend by Drs. Pratt and Palloff.   The emphasis on higher-order thinking through the synthesis and application of knowledge may go far in decreasing the need for plagiarism and cheating detection.  


Jocoy, C., & DiBiase, D. (2006). Plagiarism by adult learners online: A case study in detection and remediation. International Review of Resarch in Open and Distance Learning, 7(1), 1-15.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Plagiarism and cheating [Video file]. Retrieved from

Tools Mentioned in this Article

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Impact of Technology and Multimedia

The temptation to use technology and multimedia in the online environment must be tempered with an understanding of the diversity of the online user (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010; Cooper, Colwell, & Jelfs, 2007; Laureate Education, 2010; Pittman & Heiselt, 2014).  While technology and multimedia add richness to online curriculum and provides an alternate mode for learning, there several important issues which the instructor should consider before implementation.  Clark and Meyer (2011) make an excellent and, more importantly, research supported, case for several principles concerning multimedia learning which includes addressing the details of including multimedia in online curriculum as well as psychological and cognitive considerations.

In addition, considerations surrounding the issues of accessibility and usability must be considered.  Cooper, Colwell, and Jelfs (2007) define accessibility as the “…flexibility of the e-learning system or learning resource to meet the needs and preferences of all users” (p. 232).  Usability, however, is the “extent to which a system can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals…” (p. 232).  The Internet has allowed learners access to education by removing a physical barriers, however the over- and inappropriate use of multimedia has created new barriers (Pittman & Heiselt, 2014).

Overcoming these barriers through the mindful use of technology and multimedia to increase usability can be accomplished through the use of universal design for learning.  The National Center on Universal Design for Learning provides information on three principles to guide educators in the creation of accessible and usable content.  There are a multitude of tools available that address these issues.  One of the tools that I find the more appealing is the simple web search.  By using a search engine such as Google, I am able to locate resources that fit a particular need. 

As the prevalence of online learning increases, it will be necessary for instructors and instructional designers to control the urge to use technology for the sake of technology.  No matter how cool a tool may seem, it is only useful if it addresses the training need by building to a learning objective (Laureate Education, 2010).   Luckily, resources such as the Quality Matters Rubric exist to provide a comprehensive framework to ensure online courses are not only usable, but accessible.


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Clark, R. C., & Meyer, R. E. (2011). E-Learning and the science of instruction (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Cooper, M., Colwell, C., & Jelfs, A. (2007). Embedding accessibility and usability: Considerations for e-learning research and development projects. ALT-F, Research in Learning Technology, 15(3), 231-245.

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Enhancing the online experience [Video file]. Retrieved from

Pittman, C. N., & Heiselt, A. K. (2014). Increasing accessibility: Using universal design principles to address disability impairments in the online learning environment. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 17(3).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Creating an Online Environment

Creating an online course is more than just loading a syllabus and tests into a course management system (CMS) and sitting back as learners work through the reading assignments and tests.  An online learning experience requires more attention to detail and to the development of an effective online learning community. 

When setting up an online learning experience, the instructor (or designer) needs to consider the available technology.  Standard 6 of the Quality Matters (QM) Rubric (2015) is concerned with course technology and state that technology should not only engage and support the learner, but should support the learning outcomes as well.  This is supported by Drs. Pratt and Palloff (Laureate Education (Producer), 2010) in their advice to not use technology if it does not help build to the outcomes.  If it does not strengthen the course, then it may become nothing more than a distraction.   Knowing what technology is available and how to use it effectively can help enrich the online environment and improve student engagement (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010; Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).

Clear communication of expectations to the learners is the subject of several QM standards.  Notably,  Standard 1 (Quality Matters Program, 2015) offers guidance on how to establish basic expectations such as prerequisite knowledge, communication guidelines, and minimum technology requirement.   Much of the activities included in the first standard of QM can be used to help establish a rapport with students and increase engagement.  Dr. Pratt (Laureate Education (Producer), 2010) suggests that the first two weeks are critical in limiting attrition. 

In addition to establishing the tone of the online learning community, communicating the learning outcomes or competencies in terms that will be understood by the learner is part of the second QM Standard.  Boettcher and Conrad (2010) advise that clear expectations not only help to “ensure understanding and satisfaction in an online course,” (p. 55), but also help alleviate misunderstandings and will go far in the development of the online learning community.

An additional consideration when creating an online environment concerns student support.  QM Standard 7 is concerned with ensuring students know what services are available to them and how to access them.  In my past with online courses, part of the feeling of isolation stemmed from knowing there were services at campus, but assuming they were not available for me as an online student.  Making the information part of the online environment may go far in ensuring the learner feels comfortable in reaching out for academic or personal help if necessary. 

Launching an effective and engaging online learning experience requires not only an understanding of how to use technology, communicate with learners, and inform them of expectations and services, but also a good foundation in learning theory.  From an instructional designer point of view, I feel that the foundation in learning theory helps to drive the decisions I make when creating an online course.  The Quality Matters Standards offers those who may not have that foundation an excellent framework to use when creating an online course.  I am learning in my own practice to use the QM Standards as a common ground with instructors who, while experts in their own fields, may not have a foundation in learning theory.


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survial guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Launching the online learning experiences [Video file]. Retrieved from
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from

Quality Matters Program. (2015, January). Standards for the QM Higher Education Rubric, Fifth Edition. Retrieved from Quality Matters:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Online Learning Communities

Online Learning Communities.

Drs. Pratt and Palloff (Laureate Education, 2010), outline the essential elements of online community building as people, purpose, process, method, and social presence.  Of these, I believe that social presence presents not only the most challenges, but also the most opportunities for creating effective online instruction.  

By IlkinZeferli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
A student, alone.
Online learning communities increase student satisfaction and success through the lessening of isolation (Laureate Education) as well as through the building of a social presence.  In my own experiences as an online learner, the overwhelming sense of isolation was a major factor in my mental health as a student.  When I was discouraged by my progress, I felt there was no one to whom I could speak who would understand.  It is unfortunate that in many of my courses, interaction with other students was discouraged.  Not actively or explicitly discouraged, but subtly by the hiding of rosters, the lack of discussion, and the emphasis that collaboration could be construed as cheating.  
By Yumi Momoi (outono.) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
A student, isolated.
The maintenance of an online learning community will not be accomplished by the set and forget method of online instruction (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).  One cannot merely turn on access to a course shell leaving the auto grader to do the work.  Dr. Palloff (Laureate Education discusses that community cannot be built without first setting a welcoming tone.  Learners entering into an online course need to be aware of the instructor’s presence and humanity.  Dr. Pratt (Laureate Education) emphasizes the need for an instructor to be in the online environment daily for the first two weeks.  This is a critical time where students may feel overwhelmed and stop participating. 

By Σ64 (Σ64) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
A part of a learning community.
In my own practice, I am met with resistance from other instructors who do not think that content that is based in scientific fact and physics cannot support a community idea.  I am not sure if this entirely true or more of a reluctance to move away from the set and forget method.  It takes work to maintain any community, and an online learning community is not any different.  Social presence, as mentioned earlier, presents challenges and opportunities.  It requires a facilitator who is knowledgeable and engaged.  Without the full engagement and skilled social presence of the facilitator, it is doubtful the learners will become engaged and develop their own social presences.


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survial guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from

Attributions: all images via Wiki Commons, alt-text includes attributions.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Online Icebreakers - Creating Community for Adult Learners

Online Icebreakers - Creating Community for Adult Learners

Community building in online learning environments may be one of the most difficult aspects for adult learners.  While it is possible to use discussion boards to enable interaction between learners, Oosterhof, Conrad, and Ely (2008) state that this is not the same as community building.  The use of icebreakers are meant to initiate conversation and facilitate the building of community.

Looking back on your experiences as an adult learner in an online program, have you established any relationships with your classmates outside of the course environment?

Consider your experiences on a more personal level.  Do you feel like you have been part of a learning community or have you felt isolated?  Would the use of ice breakers and the opportunity for informal conversation have helped eliminate feelings of isolation?

By Tuesday: Share your experiences with icebreakers that you feel were either successful or unsuccesful.  For this discussion, suggest an activity that may help adult learners to build community in an online environment.   Support your activity design using the recommended resources listed below.  Use at least one additional resource.

By Sunday: Respond to at least two of your peers’ discussions.   In your response, discuss how you would respond to the activity they suggest.   Do you think that you would be inspired to continue a discussion with your peers based on this activity? Why or why not?

Instructions  and Requirements

  • For this discussion post, please use proper APA formatting as described by the University's website.
  • Use and properly cite, the recommend resources plus at least one other resource.
  • Ensure your posts are free of spelling and other errors.  
  • Initial posts should demonstrate that you have synthesized the resources and your personal experiences for clear and concise expression.  
  • The initial posting must be submitted by Tuesday at 11:59 PM PST.
  • Responses should have depth and encourage continued discussion with the original poster and others.  Avoid "me, too!" and "I agree!" type posts. 
  • Respond to at least two of your peers by Sunday at 11:59 PM PST.
For further details on grading, please refer to the rubric .

Recommended Resources 

Resources indicated with (link) are available via Walden University Library or Google Scholar.  The link is provided, but you must be able to sign in to the Walden University Library to access these resources.

Chlup, D., & Collins, T. (2010). Breaking the ice: Using ice-breakers and re-     energizers with adult learners. Adult Learning, 34-39. (link)

Horton, W. (2006). Chapter 9: Design for the virtual classroom. In E-Learning by Design (pp. 463-471). San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (link)

Oosterhof, A., Conrad, R.-M., & Ely, D. P. (2008). Assessing learners online. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. (text)

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Chapter 8: Promoting Collaborative Learning. In Building online communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom (pp. 157-184). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (link)

Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of interaction. Education, Communication & Information, 2(1), 23 - 49. (link)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Scope Creep

Over the last few weeks, I have learned a great deal about project management and its perils.  One such peril is scope creep.  I wasn’t aware of that term until just recently, but I believe that it is one of the most important terms I have learned in a long while!  My experience with scope creep resulted from my own enthusiasm for a project and for wanting to do the best, most amazing and spectacular job that I could.  The “client” was a joint state and federal grant program for the creation of open source curriculum.  The requirements were rather simple and three years seemed like such a long time.  

I was not the project manager, but rather a team member responsible for developing and creating curriculum in my subject area.  To be truthful, there was no project manager and I believe that this is what contributed to the problem most of all.  Without that single point of control, that single point of grounding in reality, I was able to go beyond what was expected without regard to cost or time. 

The response to my spectacular offerings (and they really were spectacular!) was very good!  Rather than having a project manager to put on the brakes, I went full steam ahead with the encouragement of the stakeholders.  They had no idea of the amount of time and effort that these modules consumed, however.  I continued to work on this project until I realized that I had spent several months working on only a small part of a huge project!  The reality was that each module should have had days allotted, not weeks and months.  I panicked when I realized that I had lost a huge amount of time going beyond the requirements.  I spoke to my manager, scaled back my efforts to meet the grant requirements, and tried to catch up to the next milestone.

While I may not have met the unrealistic expectations that I created for the stakeholders, I did manage to fulfill the requirements of the grant on schedule.  I also learned some valuable lessons.

Portney, et al. (2008) discuss the need to manage scope creep by requiring a process be followed before any change is made to the scope.  All changes must be approved and the schedule must be adjusted as necessary to allow for the changes.  By managing scope, schedule, budget, expectations, and risk, the project manager can control scope creep (Lynch & Roecker, 2007). 

The most important lesson that came from that project is that somebody has to be the project manager.  There must be somebody who is keeping track and making sure that the project stays on course and doesn’t explode into a bigger project.  Or implode and fail.  I think that my near misses and failures of the past will come in handy if I am ever in a position to manage a project.  While project management has some aspects that can be learned in books and in seminars, I think the most important lessons are learned on the job in each success and misstep made along the way. 


Lynch, M. R. (2007). Project managing e-learning: A handbook for successful design, delivery, and management. London: Routledge.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Effective Communication

As an exercise in effective communication, I was tasked with receiving a message communicated in three different modalities: email, voicemail, and in person.  The message was the same each time with the only difference being the delivery method. 

First Impressions

Email – I was definitely put off by this email.  I had to read it several times to get a clear idea of what was being asked.  Dr. Stolovich, in Communicating with Stakeholders, discussed the need for written communication to have a very clear purpose statement (Laureate Education, n.d.). 

Voicemail – The voicemail did not elicit as negative a response as the email, however, it was still lacking.  The lack of clear statement made me have to listen to it several times to determine what was being requested.

In-person – Truthfully, I found this to delivery to be the worst.  Dr. Stolovich also discussed the influence of tonality and body language in effective communication (Laureate Education, n.d.).  In this exchange, her body language conveyed several messages that were very off-putting and her tone was rather bored as if it was a chore to have this conversation.

Interpretation and Perception
My interpretation of the message was affected by my perception of the message.  In the email, I saw nothing but “I” in the message.  It was all about Jane and what she wanted with no regard to Mark’s busy day.  I interpreted that email negatively and I would have been less likely to comply with the request.  The voicemail was difficult to follow and required more than one listen, but I was more inclined to interpret the message positively.  In-person, however, was different.  Even though the tone was the same, the body language was the problem. 

Putting it all Together
When communicating with team members, it is important to be mindful of how the message may be interpreted.  Dr. Stolovich indicated that only 7% of a message is conveyed by words (Laureate Education, n.d.).  I was surprised that I reacted as strongly to the written message as I assumed that it would be less likely to be problematic.  However, it seems that how something is written is just as important as how something is said.  The voicemail was the least problematic for me, but when coupled with the body language of the in-person communication, the same message became loaded with accusation and disdain.  Just flicking her fingers when stating it was Mark’s data holding her up was enough to make me stop listening. 

After this exercise, I see that an effective project manager is going to be a referee who averts potential conflict based on communication misunderstandings.  In addition, as a program manager, it will be important to control one’s own tone and non-verbal communication.  The trick will be finding balance without becoming wooden and stiff.


Laureate Education (Producer).  (n.d.).  Communicating with stakeholders [Video file].  Retrieved from