Musing #2 – Get and Stay Organized

Musing #2 from the Learner’s Point of View – Get Organized!

The more I am involved in Online Learning, the more I am coming to realize that it really requires a different skill set than face-to-face learning occurring in the brick-and-mortar classroom.  There are no reminders on the chalkboard and no instructors squawking at you about your project due next week.  As an online student, you will need to have or develop a strong set of organizational skills to succeed.

I could speak at length about some of the organizationorganized-1534869-1600x1200al techniques that I have created or observed as both an online sudent and instructor over the years.  Today’s online learner has come a long way from post-it-notes, highlighters, and binders full of notes.  With the explosion of the internet, there are numerous tools both paper and electronic available with new ones being developed every day.  This makes it even easier to find tools and resources that can make your life as an online student more organized and productive.  Here are some useful apps for higher education students from US News & World Report.

App Paralysis

However, there is a downside.  It is possible to have too many apps and tools!  Being effective and efficient at organizing your participation in an online course  is all about managing organizational tools and making them work for you.  It is really about keeping it as simple as possible so you can focus on content and engagement.

What works for you certainly will not work for another student – everyone is unique.  Furthermore, it is easy to organize yourself to a state of paralysis (similar to analysis paralysis) where nothing is really getting done besides labeling, coloring, typing in flashcard questions, or shuffling folders and notes around.  At some point you have to get down to it – take the jump off the high dive, get to the heart of the matter, and dig into the actual content.  There is no app that can or will take the place of hard work and engagement in the learning process (Lytle, 2012)!

The Right Tool at the Right Time

Regardless of which app or organizational tool you choose, it is important that you implement your chosen organizational system for the right reasons at the right time.  Before you ever set out to purchase an app or a set of sparkly colored pens, you must have a clear idea of what you are trying to organize, how you are trying to organize it, where/how it must be accessible (mobile vs. desktop, online vs. offline), and what type of resources you are willing or have to invest in it (time, money, hardware, etc.).  From here, you can make effective decisions about pinpointing tools that may work for you and move you closer to an organized and successful outcome.

It probably isn’t such a good idea for your sanity or the sake of time management to spend a lot of time and effort implementing an organizational tool that won’t move you closer to an organized, simple, and proactive online life.  This same sentiment holds true for making major organizational changes the night before a test or when a big project is due.  When choosing a system, give yourself time to set it up, try it out, and reap the benefits!

Each semester, test drive something new!  Do a little research, survey some different tools (trendy or not) and see if they work for you.  If they aren’t easy to use or don’t add to your organizational skill toolbox, don’t be afraid to abandon them.  Remember what you learned and who knows, they may prove useful at some later time.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach here – it is what works best for you and makes you more efficient, effective, and confident!

A Case Study: Evernote

Evernote was one of those catchy Web 2.0 tools that everybody was using!  As someone who frequently travels, I was looking for a place to store notes for my courses that was accessible both on and off the road on a variety of devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop).  Evernote seemed to be the perfecScreen Shot 2015-09-09 at 4.34.39 PMt solution and in basic version was free, which is the best kind of app.  However, as I started using it, the notebook layout was difficult for me to organize my materials in and I ran into problems with the type of information I wanted to include in those files.  Most of this stemmed from an unwillingness to dedicate enough time or financial resources (for the upgraded version) to learn how to properly use Evernote and achieve the level of organization that I wanted.  Thus, Evernote got the boot.

However, a year or two later, as an online student who still travels quite a bit, I find it difficult to carry books, notebooks, highlighters, and such with me on the road.  Thus, I returned to Evernote at the beginning of the semester and found the notebooks (one for each class with a smaller notebook for each module within those class notebooks) to be helpful and easy to set up.  Now I can travel with all my notes and materials for the course on my laptop as well as access them anytime and anyplace from my tablet and smartphone.

Though I certainly don’t use all the great features touted by self-proclaimed Evernote “geeks,” I have found a tool that is quick and easy to use and works for me.  With time, I can start using additional features as necessary when and how they benefit my needs for organization.

What Tools Serve You?

Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s Equifinality Principle suggests that in a system there are multiple ways to achieve a final outcome (Mitchell, n.d.).  As an online student, choosing which organizational system is best for you is part of your journey.  This may be a highlighter and pen and paper notes or a high-tech app on your tablet.  Regardless, identifying which works and then consistently using it is a step toward achieving success in the online classroom.

What tools have you found best serve your organizational needs?


Lytle, R. (2012, September 21). 5 apps college students should use this school year. US News & World Report. Retrieved from

Mitchell, G. (n.d.). Bertalanffy’s general systems theory. In Mind Development. Retrieved from

Photo Credits:  

Evernote Logo:  Evernote – Trademark

Organizer:  Marsy File Id: 1534869 at FreeImages

Online Learning Musings For Teachers & Students: Watch Your Tone!

It has really been that long … over 8 months since the last post!  So many things going on and so little time. Blogging is certainly a great activity to share ideas and work on writing skills, but it remains another hungry cookie monster in the world of limited cookies (otherwise known as time).

As a formal online student again after almost 9 years, I have been learning a lot about online learning just by experiencing it from a different point-of-view. In order to share those experiences and ideas, I have decided to make a series of small, regular, and always relevant to online learning posts. So here goes.

Musing #1 from the Learner’s Point of View – Watch Your Tone!

In Online Learning, tone can mean a lot to the student!  “Tone is attitude, whether you want to be subtle or bold, tone is conveyed through word choice, sentence structure and even font” (Stone, n.d., para. 4 as cited in Betts, 2009).  In online learning, there is often little or no non-verbal communication including facial expressions, hand gestures, or auditory inflections in discussion board postings or emails so your words and general tone that they create really matter!  As a student, it makes my day when I get a positive communication from an instructor that may include supportive words or even a:-).  However, at other times, I have found myself wondering about the real message behind the message, being disappointed in what seems like harsh words coming from an instructor from which I am seeking guidance, or trying to find little nuggets of encouragement within a sea of text.

I am sure hope that most online instructors give at least a little thought and consideration to the words they use and how they will be perceived.  However, even with such consideration and thought, we still can get it wrong just like the game of telephone.  In a study by Kristen Betts (2009) of Drexel University, approximately 78% of senders assumed that the receiver of the email would correctly interpret the tone of the message (as they intended) while only 56% of the receivers actually correctly interpreted the tone.  Furthermore, 90% of receivers believed that they had correctly interpreted the email’s tone.  Thus, this gap between what the sender intends and what the receiver actually perceives can quickly contribute to misunderstandings, false perceptions, and hard feelings between student and instructor.


What Can You Do About It?

“Tone comes from your choice of words, the structure of your sentences, and the order of the information you present” (Rudick & O’Flahavan, n.d., para 2 as cited in Betts, 2009).

How can you effectively convey your message in a non-threatening and positive  tone that supports a safe environment for learners in your online classroom?  What can you do to be a cheerleader and support system for your students as opposed to a drill sergeant barking orders?  Here are some recommendations:

  • Be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your own communication style and seek out ways to improve it through practice and professional development opportunities
  • Use emoticons sparingly and wisely to bridge this gap and give the student non-verbal clues and better convey the tone  behind the words.
  • Focus on clarity and remember these important laws of the land:  “say what you mean and mean what you say,” “keep it simple,” “get to the point,” and “treat others as you would wish to be treated”
  •  Diversify your communications!  Use video or audio messages in an attempt for learners to have an opportunity to get a sense for your mannerisms, the sound of your voice, and allow for more successful interpretations of tone through the inclusion of non-verbal communication elements that these mediums provide

These are just a few quick ideas.  What do you do to improve communications in your online course?


Betts, K. (2009, Summer). Lost in translation: Importance of effective communication in online education. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(2).  Retrieved from

Photo Credit:  Per Hardestam –  Image #1461378 (Free-Images)

Taking a Spin at the Virtual Book Club – LrnBk

Since I can never seem to resist the school volunteer sign up sheet or an email advertising a webinar or MOOC, it should come as no surprise that I am jumping head first into an online book club.  What sparked this sudden need for participation?  A tweet from @JaneBozarth of course.

Though always wanting to take part, I have steered clear of traditional book clubs in the past since my life as an airline employee almost always equals a crazy and erratic schedule.  However, as with all things online, this virtual book chat offers something that your standard book clubs don’t – flexibility!

Flexibility, discussion, interaction, and more Tweets all wrapped up in a blanket of asynchrony is a win-win for me.  So, today I ordered Kio Stark’s book “Don’t Go Back to School.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 10.05.44 AM

Though I think this book chat will be a wonderful and stimulating discussion regarding different types of learning, it will also provide an important opportunity to further explore the possibilities of Twitter chats.  I have been thinking quite a bit about using social media as a way to engage learners in asynchronous and synchronous discussions as part of online learning courses and so I will be making lots of mental notes on the pros and cons that I witness as part of this chat.

If this sparks your interest as it has mine, check out the official LrnBk website and follow @LrnBk #LrnBk.  See you January 19th!


Going Out With a Bang: Take Time to End Online Learning

It is tradition for the masses to reflect on the end of the year and make resolutions for the year ahead.  I challenge you to extend this tradition to your online learning/e-learning design.  As 2014 is quickly wrapping up, here are some thoughts on how to properly end your online/e-learning course or training program.

Don’t Forget the End

There is always a tremendous amount of thought and effort that goes into designing and developing an online coumedium_5313586122rse. However, one aspect that is often forgotten is the ending of the course.  How you end your online/e-learning course can be almost as important, if not more important, then how you open it.  With the Law of Recency in play, learners may end up remembering more about the ending then they did the fabulous beginning.  Therefore, it is essential to keep the momentum going, not loose energy, and finish your online/e-learning course with a bang.

The following are a few elements that are common to the end of almost any online/e-learning course or program.  Let’s look at ways in which you can take these typical elements and turn them into a shining ending to your course.

1. Reflections

You may choose to incorporate an opportunity for reflection as part of the final module or final activities in an online learning/e-learning course/training program.

Here are some ideas to make it shine…

  • Revisit Expectations:  At the beginning of the course have learners write down or post their expectations for the course/training program.  In a final reflection activity, revisit these expectations and reflect on how they were achieved or not achieved (Timmons & Wagner, 2014).
  • What Did They Learn?:  Providing an opportunity for learners to reflect on what they learned throughout the course whether in a forum post, journal-style entry, paper, etc. adds an additional element of reflection, review, and learning (Timmons & Wagner, 2014).  Furthermore, this reflective activity can be individual or shared with the the other learners in the course/training program.

2. The Survey

This is an important part of the evaluation phase of instructional design and may include surveys, questionnaires, etc. used to give learners a voice and obtain their points-of-view.  More importantly, these evaluation tools can be used to obtain data which will act as input for the analysis, design, development, and implementation phases.  Most online courses use at minimum Level 1 of Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation – Reaction. By using quick and easy surveys emphasizing anonymity (otherwise known as “smile sheets”), learners are provided with a safe environment where they can share their observations, opinions, and suggestions.  Though this information is helpful in pinpointing some of things learners liked as well as those that they didn’t, the information can be limited in accuracy, reliability, and validity (Kirkpatrick, n.d.).

To make this shine…..

  • Ask for Help:  Ask students for their help and emphasize the notion that their observations and suggestions will be useful to future students.  Just like posting on Yelp or TripAdvisor, people want to share really great or really bad experiences.  Applying this same logic to learners, many want to help fellow students and share what was really great or really bad about the learning experience as well as tips and “words to the wise” that may help.  By making learners feel  confident that the information they provide will  help amend the course and help future learners, you are providing a goal far beyond completing surveys which are usually only important to administration and/or the instructor.
  • Stop Making it all About You:  Many course/training program evaluations are centered around the instructor/trainer or the environment with phrases like “This course…,” “The trainer…”  Instead, when creating your course/training program evaluation tool, make it learner-centered.  This includes phrasing questions from the learners point-of-view and asking about what the learner feels or observes using phrases like: “My learning was enhanced…medium_8314017963,” “I felt…”  Evaluations should ultimately focus on what the learner learned during the course/training program and more importantly what he/she can take away that will either improve on-the-job performance or contribute to larger learning goals.
  • Don’t Wait Until the End of the Course:  Try using mid-course evaluation methods to determine if there are issues that can or should be attended to before the course ends.  This may not only make your job as instructor/facilitator easier over the long-run but make for a more personalized and enjoyable learning experience for the learner.

 3.  The Goodbye Message

The goodbye message may take the form of an email, video, closing forum post, etc.  In this goodbye message, instructors/facilitators often thank learners for their participation, emphasize last minute details, give a timeline for grade submission, and provide contact information in case there is a problem.

To make this shine…

  • Make it Personal:  Instead of using a generic form letter, try using a video or if you have the time a personalized message to each learner.  Use this as an opportunity to express what this learning experience has meant to you as an instructor/facilitator, thank students for their participation, and highlight some experiences that occurred throughout the course/training program that were meaningful to you.  I often use this time to once again quickly disavow perfection and remind my learners that I am human by emphasizing that I have learned far more from them than they may have from me.  With this type of closing message, you can achieve good customer service as well as support a connection with learners by emphasizing the importance of the interactions that have occurred over the span of the last few hours, days, weeks, months, or even years.
  • This is Not the End:  How does all the information that the learners just spent several days, weeks, or months mastering fit into the their goals?  Though this certainly should have been part of the course opening, it should also be part of the ending.  Re-focus learners on how the information/skills that they have just finished mastering fits into the “big picture.”  You may also choose to emphasize that the end of this course/training program is not the end of learning but only the beginning or part of a bigger process.  You can achieve this by emphasizing movement toward the next course/training program, towards the next step in the process of reaching a bigger goal, or as part of the process of lifelong learning.


  • Provide Additional Resources: For those learners that want more, where can they go from here?  Another way of provide learning beyond the walls of the online course/training program is to offer additional resources or advice for learners who are interested in engaging in the topic area.
  • Set the Timeline in Motion:  Most learners want to know when they can expect their final grade and not knowing can create anxiety and stress for some learners.  By keeping communication consistent and open as well as giving a realistic timeline for when you expect to have grading complete and grades posted, you will ease the anxiety of waiting experienced by some learners.
  • Encourage Communication Beyond the Course:  If you feel comfortable, provide learners with a method of how to reach you beyond the learning management system (LMS) or course email.  This may also include social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.  By encouraging an “open door” beyond the course, you may be surprised at how many students will seek you out as a mentor, cheerleader, professional development contact, or for the occasional reference letter.

 New Year’s Resolutions

Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list of all the wonderful things that you can do to bring a sense of community, personalization, and meaningful learning experiences to your online learner.  One thing that I have quickly learned about the world of online/e-learning is that there are so many smart and energetic people out there doing so many great things.  It is important to borrow from others in the field while creating online instructional tools that work for you and your learners.  Though you should also remain true to purpose, good instructional design methods, and sound pedagogy; taking a few risks here and there may yield explosive results.

As you start planning your online learning courses/e-learning training programs for next year, what can you do to make sure that your course opens and closes with a BANG?


Kirkpatrick, J.  (n.d.).  The new world level 1 reaction sheets.  Retrieved from

Timmons, V.  & Wagner, B.  (2014, May 8).  The last class:  A critical course component.  In Faculty Focus.  Retrieved from

Photo Credits

Fireworks photo credit: Chung-Yung Chiu via photopin cc

Smiley Face photo credit: walegonzwilk via photopin cc

The End photo credit: earlynovelsdatabase via photopin cc

Technical Support & Online Learning

Earlier this year, my series of three articles was published in eLearn Magazine.  These articles explored the pros and cons of filling the technical support role in online learning, ways in which you might accomplish this, and opinions from those on the front-lines of online learning.medium_8204867284

If you haven’t already, check them out!

A Balancing Act Part I:  Technical Support and the Online Instructor

A Balancing Act Part II:  Providing technical support before, during, and after the online course

A Balancing Act Part III:  Technical support on the front lines of modern-day online education

Photo Credits

Technical Support: giulia.forsythe via photopin cc


Email in Online Learning – Should it Die?

It all started with the roar of Jane Bozarth calling for the death of e-mail.  What!?!?!  I was just finally getting used to pushing email to the phone, sifting through it, organizing it into folders, and maybe even having an empty inbox once-in-a-while.  All that effort and time spent in tackling, occasionally conquering the email box, and elevating myself to a master of messages  – gone?  It can’t be so.

Some of us may be better at controlling the place that email has in each of our lives than others.  For many, there is a bit of an addiction to kick or if nothing else a hard time stopping something because that is how we have always done it.  Regardless, we can control the place that email has in online learning through thoughtful design, development, and implementation.

Long Live Email

It is fairly easy to understand why email works for so many and has for so long.  In modern day society (at least in the United States) where almost everyone has access to the internet, practically anyone and everyone is familiar with basic email systems.  It is easy to use and there are few technical support issues.  Problems with your email?  Just log on to one of the other accounts that you most undoubtably have.  It is as easy as throwing out the old one and buying a new one so-to-speak.

Additional barriers that  exist in using email as a communication form are relatively small and the benefits can be quickly summarized to include (Mitchell, 2012b; National VET E-learning Strategy, n.d.):

  • Easy to use
  • Universally accepted method of virtual communication
  • Centralized and verifiable method of communication
  • Can be received almost anywhere (libraries, mobile phones, tablets, on the ground and in the air)
  • Can be received anytime (limited only by access to the internet/cellular network)
  • Free (most email programs are free to the public)
  • Private or should we say more private than some other platforms

Because of familiarity amongst instructors and students as well as ease of use, email is an easy go-to for virtual communication in online learning.  This may include emails that communicate information, reminders, clarifications, and urgent messages to name a few.

Despite this, I find myself each semester asking – did you check your email?

Slow Death of Email

So maybe I am not the only one that is asking that question – why don’t students log in and check their email?  After all, it is so easy!

A quick Google search yields a shocking number of blog posts, articles, and opinions calling for or at least predicting the death of email.  What good reason could one possibility have to want to abolish that which links us together regardlemedium_4957559159ss of time or place?

Ryan Holmes (2012), CEO of Hootsuite, outlines some of the biggest reasons why email should no longer exist.  Research data presented by Holmes indicates that not only are young adults (18-24) turning away from e-mail in record numbers (30%+ decrease in usage between 2010 and 2011) but so too is the world in general.  Holmes provides some key ideas as to why email may one day find a place amongst the dinosaurs.

The number one enemy of modern day e-mail – lost time!  Productivity has been believed to have decreased in recent years due to the time spent by workers sifting through email message after message determining what is important to respond to, what can be moved to a later time, and what is not worth looking at.  All of this accounts for lost time that could be spent doing other things contributing to the bottom line.  Every e-mail not only takes a little bit of your soul, but it takes a little bit of your time.  These lost moments can add up to big chunks of ones life and lost revenue for corporations (Holmes, 2012).

Here are some other reasons why email is slowly loosing its value as a technology tool including (Holmes, 2012; Mitchell, 2012a):

  • Email is linear making collaboration confusing, unnecessarily complex, and frustrating
  • Emails are generally one-on-one reducing the potential for collaboration
  • Email lacks a social “spotlight” hiding great ideas in a spam folder
  • Information can easily get easily lost in an inbox resulting in lost or reduced productivity (work must be re-done)
  • Email never stops feeding the Inbox Monster which results in numerous messages that are difficult to organize, search, and use
  • Email is viewed as the “old persons” form of communication and too rigid and formal for modern-day communication especially by younger generations
  • Sharing documents and media can be difficult due to compatibility and size issues

 Change is Slow

Though it can be safely assumed that email will not die tomorrow, partially because of our fear of the unknown and of change (Mitchell, 2012a), it does appear as though it will become less relevant in the not-to-distant future.  Many suggest 2018 as the year that email will finally cease to exist as a mainstream communication tool while others doubt that extinction will happen that quickly.  Much of this resistance to replacing email with Web 2.0 and social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. comes from the generational gap and access to technology.  Those that wish to stay firmly rooted in email and desktop personal computers may encounter a slow uphill battle against the many collaborative communication tools found on mobile devices in the hands of younger adults who favor “polymedial” communication (many different things happening at once) (Mitchell, 2012a).

Rethinking Email and Online Learning

There is still a place for email in our current society but it is becoming less and less useful as time marches forward.  It appears as though the future for email may be a return to its roots as an electronic form of letter writing (Madrigal, 2014).  So with this being said, what role should email play in online learning today?

A recent Tweet from Alice Keeler, educator and EdTech goddess sums it up quite nicely.

Though Alice was not necessarily referring to email, her sentiments are certainly applicable to our discussion.  Email causes a fragmentation from the center of the online learning communications which is often found on the course website (do I dare utter the acronym – LMS).  When you start to provide necessary information for the course in multiple places, students start to get frustrated, they get confused, and ultimately they tune out.

The email fight will most likely continue for quite some time in the world of higher education and online learning.  Though email may still be useful to instructors as an administrative tool, it does not necessarily play a large role in the lives of students as shown in Holmes’ (2012) email usage statistics.  This Catch-22 between the acknowledgement that students may not often check their email but feeling the legal need, obligatory need, desire for convenience, or school requirement to utilize this form of communication is further summarized by Dr. Neil Sewlyn, Senior Lecturer – University of London, who states:

Universities use email as the default mode of communication, but getting our undergraduates onto email is always a problem because they use other forms of communication” (Mitchell, 2012a)

Email May Be Dying, But The Need For Communication is Not

Regardless of whether you utilize email in your online learning course, a few elements are a must:

  • You must maintain an accessible and reliable method of communication between instructor and student
  • Students must never be in doubt as how to communicate with you, the instructor
  • If email is utilized, there should be a designated response time so students can adopt realistic expectations

Centralization is key.  The less clicks the student has to make or places they have to log in, the more apt they are to communicate when they want to or need to.  Furthermore, if you do utilize email as a communication source make sure to duplicate these communications on the LMS or course website just in case some students don’t make a habit of checking their “mail.”


Holmes, R.  (2012, October 6).  Email is the new Pony Express – And it’s time to put it down.  In FastCompany.  Retrieved from

Madrigal, A.C.  (2014, August 14).  Email is still the best thing on the internet.  The Atlantic.  Retrieved from

Mitchell, S.  (2012, May 18a).  The death of email.  In PCPRO.  Retrieved from

Mitchell, S.  (2012, May 18b).  In defense of email.  In PCPRO.  Retrieved from

National VET E-Elearning Strategy.  (n.d).  Design E-learning:  Gallery:  Email.  Retrieved from

Photo Credit

Email Photo Credit: ntr23 via photopin cc

Timing is Everything in Online Learning

In doing some research for a course assignment, I came across an interesting article “Temporal Experiences of E-Learning by Distance Learners” in Education + Training by Beverly Leeds.  Though I have never given a great deal of thought to temporal personalities or adjusting for them in online learning design, I have certainly witnessed the effects of poor timing.  As an online instructor, it is always challenging to know where to draw the proverbial “line in the sand” on due dates, late work, extra credit, and the like. We recognize that medium_4721798240many of our students are living in the “real world” and have family and work commitments as well as personal lives to lead.  We want our learners to get the most that they can out of the course but still have the ability to appropriately integrate their participation into the dynamic nature of each of their busy lives.  Of course, all of this needs to occur within the boundaries that define the length of the course while still sparing the sanity of the online instructor by not requiring him/her to do a semesters worth of grading during the last week of the course. The answer of course (no pun intended) lies in that infamous gray area where only trial, error, and experience help to make the “answer” less mysterious.

What’s Your Favorite Type of Time?

E-learning/online learning is a multi-dimensional learning environment which allows those separated by time and space to learn in synchronous and/or asynchronous environments. The benefits are many and heavily marketed by for-profit and not-for profit educational institutions and organizations. However, as every online learning student and instructor knows, there are some very real drawbacks.

Leed’s (2014) article focuses on this very important element of time which is both a great benefit of online learning as well as one of the greatest barriers to and drawbacks of online learning.

Online learners often gravitate towards one of two temporal personalities: monochronic individuals who concentrate on one task at a time and view time as a finite quantity that can be wasted.  They often see time as a limitation and are less interested in tasks that seem to “waste” time and take away from the goal at hand (Leeds, 2014).  These are your schedulers and planners who spend great energy in sticking to the schedule (Kaufman-Scarborough & Lindquist, 2009).

The opposite of the monochrons is the polychronic individual who is a multi-tasker and views time as infinite often engaging in interpersonal relationships and/or other tasks while completing the task at hand.  These are your “free-spirits” who concentrate less on a timeline and can easily get lost in the task (Leeds, 2014) and your stereotypical tightrope walkers balancing multiple and often overlapping tasks (Kaufman-Scarborough & Lindquist, 2009).

Much e-learning is designed with the monochronic learner in mind where he/she completes one task at a time spending  a certain amount of time on that task.  However, this may not be the best learning environment for the polychronic learner.   Since online learners have these varying temporal preferences, it may be difficult to keep the boundaries between time spent on learning, having fun, working, and completing domestic tasks separate. For some, this lack of boundaries is okay while for others it not only interferes in their success but also turns them off from online learning all together.  Thus, temporal preferences may play a much larger role in online learner success than we might think (Leeds, 2014).

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(Reilly, 2007)

As you read on, Leed’s (2014) article continues to yield some really interesting and insightful findings!  One such finding was that of awareness.  Many of the study participants were aware and acknowledged that there is a need to pay attention and manage time in an online course.  Though online learners may be aware of some of the differences between traditional and online learning, they may not be adequately prepared to tackle them.  Amongst online learners, three main categories of temporal preference emerge:

  • Monochronic: those that take an intentional approach in choosing where online learning study takes place including clearly distinguished times and places
  • Polychronic: those that take an unintentional approach where the boundaries between online learning study and other tasks are blurred with both sometimes occurring at the same time
  • Blended: there are clearly distinguished times set aside for study but learners also use non-scheduled impromptu opportunities for engagement and learning

In Leeds’ study (2014), many of the participants began with a monochronic approach to online learning but eventually moved towards a polychronic or blended approach.  Though a blended approach to online learning certainly appears to be the best, there can be drawbacks to forcing a monochron into being a polychron or vice versa.  Asking learners to change the way they organize their time or requiring them to “tune in” for longer than they might prefer may create anxiety and stress.  Ultimately, this acts as a barrier to success.

Designing for Time

In order to remain learner-centered, create better learning experiences, and boost retention rates; online learning designers should take this important information regarding temporal preferences into account during the analysis, design, and development process of course development.  Several factors to keep in mind include:

  • Awareness: Take into account temporal preferences during analysis, design, and developing of online learning materials
  • Set Goals:  Provide clearly established goals that are achievable with rewards.  Include a way for learners to see their movement toward that goal and a clear indication of when they have achieved it
  • Clarity: Make temporal expectations and required investments clear using due dates, estimated time for completion, emphasize assignment important in context of course (small vs. large), etc.
  • Create a Schedule:  Create a schedule and supporting tools (like downloadable calendars, Reminmedium_6005169270d101 service, etc.) for those that prefer to schedule their time
  • Remind Learners of Where They Have Been & Where They Are Going:  Provide feedback that shows learners what they have accomplished and what still must be accomplished through tools such as colored bars or check-off boxes
  • Positive Affirmations:  Provide positive feedback that is supportive and contributes to learner self-esteem
  • Flexibility: Offer some level of flexibility in how learners participate in online learning
    • Let learners pick level of rigidity or flexibility in completing online learning activities (within reason)
    • Allow learners to pick roles that best suit their temporal preferences (well-defined versus task-switching)
  • Open the Door to Further Study:  Provide learners with additional, but optional resources, which opens the door to additional exploration if learners desire and feel they have the time or desire to explore

What Are Your Ideas?

Polychronic or monochronic tendencies are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’  — they just ‘exist'” (Kaufman-Scarborough & Lindquist, 1999)

How do you adapt your online learning materials to monochronic and polychronic online learners?


Kaufman-Scarborough, C.  & Lindquist, J.D. (1999).  Time management and polychronicity: Comparisons, contrasts, and insights for the workplace.  Journal of Managerial Psychology, 14(3/4), 288-312.  Retrieved from

Leeds, B.  (2014).  Temporal experiences of e-learning by distance learners. Education + Training, 56(2/3), 179 – 189.

Reilly, P.  (2007, February 5).  Polychrons in our classrooms.  [Blog post.]  Retrieved from

Photo Credits

Calendar photo credit: inertia_tw via photopin cc

Clock photo credit: Βethan via photopin cc

Breaking Down Geographic Boundaries & Creating An Online Learning Community

As an online instructor or trainer, the opportunity to observe others do what you do is rare.  So when the opportunity presents itself in the form of a webinar, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), or a college course; I like to take note of tools and techniques that work and those that don’t from a learner’s point-of-view.

I found one such creative and effective tool this Fall in a college course that I am taking.  Within the first week or so after the course began, the instructor put together a map that noted the location along with a picture of all the students in the course.  GranteScreen Shot 2014-10-01 at 11.47.48 PMd, this is a small course and so it appears as though it was a relatively easy task to map the location along with pictures in the margins of the 15 students that are in the course.  However, we all know what looks easy usually requires hours and hours of trial, error, and beating our heads against the wall.  None-the-less, I thought it was a fabulous way to create a sense of community amongst the students.  Case in point, when I am reading a discussion forum post and I want to visualize the face with the name, I can quickly bring up this map to see the person’s picture and their location.  I thought this was a very effective method of creating a sense of community, breaking down some of the geographical/physical boundaries that exist in online learning, and making it not seem so isolated.

But as with all things in online course development, we want to make it quick.  You can easily lose hours of your life preparing online course materials.  Therefore, in order to make this tool stick, I needed to find something that:

  • Is Simple
  • Is Quick
  • Is Visually appealing
  • Provides a picture and location of the learner
  • Could be shared with the students via a screenshot or link (less desirable)

Tool #1 – Click2Map

The first tool I found was Click2Map which is a free tool that allows you to pin locations and modify the pin.  For this project, I modified the pin by turning it into an icon which could also easily be a picture supplied by the student.  The only downside to this method is that I couldn’t include the student’s name with the pin.  Perhaps, with further research there is a way to do this.  I then took a screenshot  of the finished product and can then share with my students within the Learning Managemnet System (LMS) or via an e-mail.  A screenshot that I can include on the Discussion Board or in an email is always preferred as I have found the less breadcrumbs (urls) that students have to follow the more apt they are to actually look at the information.

The upside with this tool is that it was quick and easy to use and didn’t require registration but did require a few steps to upload the pictures and turn them into icons.  All in all, it seems as though it would take about an hour to complete a map for a medium sized class.

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 10.54.27 PM


Tool #2 – MapFling

MapFling has an even easier tool that allows you to simply type in the location and then re-name the marker with the name of the student.  It has a low-level interactive feature with the students moving their cursor over the pin to reveal the name of the student.  This tool can be shared via a url which will be required if you want the interactive feature or via a screen shot with just pins and names on the side.   As with Click2Maps, it is free and does not require registration which makes it a very quick and easy tool to use.

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 11.20.26 PM


Tool #3 – Google MapMaker

Of course, with Google Map Maker you can map almost anything.  So I hopped onto Google and quickly made a sample map.  I had the same problem with Google Map Maker as with MapFling, I could insert the student name but not include the picture.  Again, with additional research I might be able to figure out a work-around for this issue – but we are looking for quick right?

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 11.12.54 PM

Google MapMaker

Tool #4 – PowerPoint

So I am not finding what I want with all of these mapping tools and I am afraid that to get the desired result, I may have to turn to the old standby – PowerPoint (did you hear the moans in the background?)  Though “Death by PowerPoint” has become the battle cry for many a student, I still believe PowerPoint can offer some great design tools for the online course designer on a budget.  This just might be one of those situations.

In fact, a blended approach might work well in this scenario by using the accuracy found in the mapping tools discussed above along with the flexibility of PowerPoint as a giant creative white board.  By putting the two together, I can achieve the desired final result.

Here are some quick equations that come to mind:

  1. Click2Map’s location pin + Click2Map’s icon/picture placement + PowerPoint’s text box for the student’s name = Success
  2. GoogleMap’s location pin + GoogleMap’s student name + PowerPoint’s icon/picture placement = Success
  3. MapFling’s location pin + MapFling’s student name (located nearby) + PowerPoint’s icon/picture placement = Success

The benefit to PowerPoint might be the ability to customize the background and perhaps even add in the school’s logo.  This would be an even bigger step into creating a sense of community within the course as well as the school.

The result is a little bit of Click2Map and a little bit of PowerPoint.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 12.12.41 AM

Click2Map & PowerPoint

It’s Always a Multi-Step Process

Why is it always a multi-step process in online learning?  It seems to achieve anything you have to upload or download from one site, move to another tool, upload or download, wash, rinse, and repeat.  There may be some time saved with Click2Map’s location and icon placement followed by inserting the name in PowerPoint.  Regardless of which tool is used, true to form it will be a multi-stage process.  It will also depend on how many students are present and where they are located as to how cluttered the map will get. Ultimately, if the class is too large, pictures may have to go out the window with names only.  In this case, MapFling or Google MapMaker were both very easy to use with the downside being MapFling’s names on the side presentation or Google MapMaker’s difficult to see font.

What Are Your Resources?

So this is a bit of a Pinterest Moment.  I am cataloguing what I believe to be a great community building idea for online learning.  However, the real question is can I or will I ever use it?  It really comes down to time.  Online learning course development and maintenance is an ongoing balance of time and resources spent versus rate of return (ROI).  It often becomes a process of trial-and-error that gauges effectiveness, student acceptance and engagement, and helps to make an informal measurement of ROI.

Perhaps, next semester I will give it a whirl!  What do you think?  What are the resources that you like to use to create a sense of community in online learning?

Photo Credits

Globe Ornament: skycaptaintwo via photopin cc

Instructors on the Front Lines of Online Education Express the Real Need for Technical Support

With publication of the last installment A Balancing Act Part III:  Technical Support on the Front Lines of Modern-Day Online Education, my series has come to a bittersweet end.

The Benefit Was in the Process

The process of taking an idea sparked by my Personal Learning Network (PLN) member Melissa Venable of #IOLChat and to actual acceptance and publication by a well-respected online magazine like e-Learn Magazine has been frustrating, rewarding, and ranks very very high on the personal development and growth scale.  Though I already had a good idea of how to research a topic, participation in this process and the Editors at e-Learn really forced me to convey my true ideas and point-of-view in a direct and concise manner.  That is something that two higher education degrees has not necessarily been able to accomplish and so this process was time very well spent.  I learned a great deal and though not fully reformed, I am a slightly less wordy girl as a result!

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 7.31.37 PM

Front-Line Viewpoints

This final part of this series really examines some of the issues that you will find on the front lines of online education.  During research and personal interviews with several online educators, online course/training program designers, and educational technology professionals in preparation for this final article, two things occurred.  Firstly, I was able to reaffirm some of the things that I already knew, experienced, and believed about technical support in online education.  Secondly, many provided new viewpoints and different ways of thinking about what many may consider an undesirable role for the online learning instructor/trainer – the technical support role.  I gained important insights from interviewees on how to leverage resources both internally and externally to maintain a learner-centered focus while minimizing the negative impact on the online instructor/trainer.

Though providing technical support remains an accidental role for many, I found that many online educators help as much as they can given the constraints of time and technical skills.  With a team approach to online learning becoming more commonplace by the minute, this means that there is an even greater focus on reducing barriers for future online learners.

What do you think?  Can or should online course instructors/trainers fulfill the technical support role in part or in full?


Small Steps & Showing Up Again and Again is Key to Successful Online Learning

Finishing up the first week of an online course as student not instructor, I wanted to reflect a bit on some of the things that occurred in our learning community that are likely found in many higher education learning communities.  The beginning of the course was filled with expressions of appmedium_5914092322rehension and worry from students who were unsure if they “had the right stuff” to keep up with the number of readings as well as higher expectations found in a graduate level course.  It was very encouraging that both the instructor and other students  reassured concerned students which quickly created and supported the newly formed online learning community.

After not filling the student seat for quite a long time, the presence of due dates and having quality work due at a specific time with a grade on the line amongst the chaos of work and family responsibilities has been a bit of a change.  However, I found some advice from others to be particularly inspiring.

Wrapping Your Mind Around the Impossible

It is no secret that I am in awe of professional triathlete Hillary Biscay who has completed more than  60 Ironman races and is the current woman’s Ultraman champion.  In case you aren’t familiar with a little race in Hawaii called Ultraman, it is a 6.2 mile swim, 261.4 mile bike ride, and 52.4 mile run over the course of three days (Bennett, 2013).  So suffice it to say, Ms.Biscay knows a thing of two about endurance and staying with a goal until completion.  In a pre-race talk given at the Arizona Tri For the Cure, Hillary gave this piece of advice:


Not only is this advice relevant to triathletes but students as well. When first logging in to an online course, all of the work is laid out in front of you within the Learning Management System (LMS) and syllabus.  As you look down the list of assignments, projects, required communications/posts, etc, it is very easy to become overwhelmed and want to throw up your hands thinking “how am I going to get all of this work done?”  I, as well as members of my online learning community, experienced a bit of this this week.  However, as Hillary explains, it is much more efficient and a bit easier on the nerves if you concentrate on small goals or tasks.  This is the same concept found in the “7 +/2 chunks” of information chunking theory.

Keeping this in mind, I have found that it is helpful to concentrate on one module at a time in the day-to-day.  Though it is important for overall situational awareness and workload management to look ahead regularly, focusing too much on things other than the here-and-now can just wear you down and take away energy that you can use to accomplish the task at hand.  There is a balance to proactively planning (keeping on top of due dates and upcoming projects) and wearing yourself out mentally by thinking about the totality of the undertaking.

You Have to Show Up Again, Again, and Again!

The second piece of advice Hillary offers up is found in a recent Revitalize talk.  Here, she suggests that in the end you have to show up and do the work – often!  Though the rewards may not be immediate, they will eventually come to fruition.  However, without the willingness to keep forging your path toward the goal, your long-term success is severely hampered.

Actually the person that works the hardest does win in the end IF IF IF you’re willing to keep showing up longer and again and again and again after everyone else gives up.  Okay, because, it may take you or I should say me twice as long as it takes most people but if you are willing to keep showing up until you get where you want to go.  You can’t stop relentless forward progress.  Right?  So if you are the one that keeps showing up you will eventually get there.  It just might take a long time (Biscay in, 2014).”

Though asynchronous communication threads, quizzes, reading assignments, and general navigation of an online course can all seem overwhelming, you have to show up.  Logging-in is the first necessary step to participating in the course and in the online learning community.  Without taking this step again and again, you can’t access the content, you won’t be able to participate with other learners, and the benefits of an online learning community can’t be realized.

Setting Realistic Goals

Many of my fellow classmates have suggested workload management, learning, and study tips and tricks to make all of this a bit simpler and more efficient.  This compliments the course content nicely as we are studying performance improvement.  Some have electronic or paper calendars while  others may have To-Do-medium_6254409229Lists or the like.  Regardless of what works best for you in terms of time and energy management, you have to:

  • Create a System
  • Make it Realistic
  • Amend as Needed
  • Use it Again, Again, and Again

Creating too ambitious of a To-Do-List or making so many entries to your daily calendar that there are no more colors left to use only makes you feel overwhelmed, tired, and scared to even try.  Using advice from Hillary Biscay:

Small Achievable Tasks Proper Preparation Willingness to do the Work SUCCESS


Photo Credits

Finish Line: Andrew_D_Hurley via photopin cc

Stressed Student: miguelavg via photopin cc


Bennett, H.  (2013, November 7).  Dispatch:  Hillary Biscay heads to Ultraman World Championship.  Retrieved from  (2014, August 3).  How to believe in yourself when no one else does:  Hillary Biscay.  Retrieved from

Connecting With Learners of the Past

It’s back to school for both instructors and learners even those in always on 24-7 world of online learning.  If you are enrolling in an online course or training program for the first time, there may be a few extra jitters.  What lurks behind that computer screen may seem scary and not knowing how to log in or where to find resources isolating.

Tips for Success in Online Learning

Many organizations and institutions of higher learning have one or multiple resources for online learners including tutorials, websites, and/or orientations (online or in-person) otherwise known as boot camps.  The purpose of these resources is to assist online learners in getting acquainted and comfortable with the basics of getting online, navigating the Learning Management System (LMS) if applicable, and engaging with course/training program content.

As part of or in addition to these pre-course/training program activities, the online learner may be exposed to lists, links, or even videos that contain tips and tricks to becoming a successful online learner.  A simple internet search will find a host of tips most of which include the following message:

To be a successful online learner you should

  • ensure technological requirements are met and you are able to navigate the course/program before the course starts
  • read the syllabus
  • ask for help when you need it
  • participate in the course by communicating with the Instructor and other learners
  • create a learning/study environment conducive to success (consistent, quiet place)
  • get organizedmedium_3396219694
  • set aside enough time for the course
  • backup data

What is missing from most of these “Top-Ten” style guides to successful online learning is a personal connection with the learner. Though all of these resources provide very good advice, it is generic and usually comes from professors, instructors, researchers, or online education professionals.  The learner may not necessarily accept that these tips can apply to him/her because they are not coming from a source like him/her.  The learner may recognize that these tips apply to online learning in general but are not specific enough to encourage learner buy-in as to their usefulness in the here-and-now..

Making it Personal

Recently, when I logged in to Week 1 of my first real academic course in just shy of a decade, I found an additional resource hidden behind the traditional favorites of the course syllabus, welcome message, and introduction discussion thread.  The instructor had put together a  document that contained advice from former students of the course.  This advice was broken up into categories including time management, weekly assignments, projects, organization, etc.  As one was reading these tips, I could almost hear these  previous students whispering words of wisdom and warning of “gotchas.”  Not only were these tips relevant to the course that I was taking, but they addressed specific assignments and projects that I just learned about in reading the syllabus.  Even better, they came from those that had successfully completed the course.  These tips and pieces of advice offered something that the generic online learning success guides could not, they were

  • from the “real-world” for this specific course
  • relevant to the journey I was getting ready to start
  • personal!!!

Importance of Connection both Present and Past

In my post  “Learning to Fail & Failing to Learn – The Cognitive Power of Error,” I stated:

… One resource that can allow pilots to learn from error is by learning from the errors of others.  Though not a first person acquisition of experience, the pilot can learn through scenarios that have happened to other pilots, analyze the actions that were taken, and then reflect on how he/she might act in that same type of scenario.  This type of “arm chair flying” through visualization, practice, reflection, and learning from the mistakes of others has long been a part of pilot training (Shamsy, 2013).”

This arm chair flying and hanger talk as described in that post doesn’t have to be limited to just aviation circles.  It can and should be applied to the online learning world as well!  Student-student and student- instructor  interaction and connection are highly valued in today’s online learning world.  However, the million-dollar medium_9580068088question in online learning design has quickly become – how do we infuse and support community building in online learning?  Is it through discussion boards, collaborative projects, synchronous discussions, etc?  How can we leverage the experiences and errors of those that have come before through online versions of “armchair flying” and “hanger talk?”

Perhaps one way that we can contribute to community building is to include learners from the past.  Just as pilots of today rely on the ability to learn and benefit from the errors of those that have come before through hanger talk, I as an online learner was able to connect with learners of the past through their wisdom and advice in the “Tips” resource described above.

In a study of successful online learners, Roper (2007) found:

Another technique the successful online students in this study agree on is the importance of making a connection with fellow students. Students who develop a meaningful connection with their fellows can receive and provide support. The online connections also promote a sense of being a learner among other learners.”

The Tips guide provides learners with something that directly and immediately impacts their ability to succeed as well as allows them to identify themselves as part of something greater through a set of shared experiences with other learners both past and present.  This adds to the big-picture community building that crosses the boundaries of the course, degree program, department, and organization.

So when thinking about connection in online learning, I suggest that we not only include connections in the present but consider connections rooted in the past.  This can provide both helpful techniques and strategies for course success as well as motivation and support from a message of “I can make it through this” from those that have.


Roper, A. R. (2007, January 1).  How students develop online learning skills.  Retrieved from

Photo Credits

Connection: whatmattdoes via photopin cc
Daydreaming: via photopin cc

Ditching the Correspondence Course Tradition – Late Work Policies in Online Learning

For me, the word correspondence course congers up an image of those 1990s commercials with Sally Struthers listing all the wonderful degrees and certificates that you could obtain by mail quickly and easily.  Perhaps, visions of manila envelopes filled with thin booklets of content and test bubble sheets arriving at your door only to be followed by a diploma or certificate a few weeks later.

small_379705052Today’s distance learning is worlds apart from the correspondence courses of previous decades – or so we think.  Distance learning otherwise known as distance education, e-learning, or online learning still contains some of those same pedagogical methods found in early correspondence courses with the difference being  “regular and substantive interaction between these students and the instructor” (Poulin, 2012).  It is this regular and substantive that many of us struggle with in an attempt to ensure that an online learning experience is equal to or even exceeds that found in a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom.

Correspondence Throw Back – No Late Policy?

One such policy that comes to mind that may not have changed much from early correspondence courses is that of due dates and late work policies.  Like many educators, I struggle with due dates and course late work policies each and every semester.  With a new semester coming and my Twitter #profchat co-moderator position next week, it seems like a great time to do a little research and have a conversation with other online learning professionals to see what they think.

A standard internet search on the topic yields a plethora of late work policies within syllabi and even a few blog posts.  There is a vast range of late work policies out there from no late work accepted policies to all late work accepted up until course end with no penalty and and everything in between including points per day penalties to half credit available, etc. etc.

I came away from this preliminary research wondering if there are no due dates to begin with or no penalty when work is submitted late then how far have we really evolved from the “set your own schedule ” correspondence course of yesteryear?  Furthermore, how much regular interaction really occurs throughout the course if learners are submitting assignments or participating whenever?  And finally, do rigid course policies like due dates and late work policies create unnecessary stress and anxiety for learners and are an attempt to build skill sets that are no longer needed for today’s “real world?”

Contemplating the Why

It goes unstated that if you do have a late work policy that it should be clearly stated and communicated to learners through the syllabus, course introduction materials, emails, reminders, etc.  However, instead of examining how or where due dates and corresponding late policies should be conveyed to learners, I wanted to get behind the words and determine what an effective late policy is based on research, statistics, and good pedagogy.  In other words, what is working for others and why?

In that search, I ran across some wise words from educators in the area of late work policies.  In his blog post, Reed Gillespie, an Assistant High School Principal (2013), outlines some of the issues that an instructor may consider when creating an effective but just late work policy including:

  • Desire to instill responsibility through promotion of on-time submissions
  • Need to maintain “schedule” in order to provide consistent feedback on work
  • Knowledge of the “real-world” where deadline extensions/negotiations are commonplace
  • Avoidance of a tsunami of last minute submissions at the end of the course and corresponding workload
  • Desire for learners to submit some work rather than none at all
  • Promotion of a learner-centered learning environment
  • Connecting policy with learning as opposed to behavior (poor time management skills)

Chaos is Scary

Some instructors need and/or desire a more rigid schedule based on personal preference or nature of the content.  This may be coupled with a belief that learners should or need to acquire a skill set that includes personal responsibility, workload/time management skills, and ability to turn in an assignment by a due date.  If learners are turning in coursework haphazardly on their own schedule, it can present a variety of problems for the instructor including:


  • Increased workload and inability to plan workload because of waves of assignment submissions (Marcialyn Carter in National Council of Teachers of English [NTCE], 2000, p. 20).
  • Inability to provide timely or consistent feedback with peaks and valleys of submissions
  • Loss of a cohesive group of learners moving through the course together since learners may be engaging with content and completing work at different times
  • Feelings of injustice by learners who turn in their work by the due date (Caroline Sobczak in NTCE, 2000, p. 21)
  • Dissatisfaction by learners who are not self-starters and need due dates as structure to keep them on-track (Kathy Henderson, NTCE, 2000, p. 20)

Without due dates and a late policy to handle those submissions after the due date, many educators fear that chaos would prevail.  When sitting down to grade an assignment, it is much easier to grade them all on a particular topic than to constantly switch back and forth and grade one talking about x and another talking about y.  It is also much easier to grade and provide feedback on submissions on a regular basis as opposed to the night before grades are due.  Though the classroom (traditional or online) may not be the perfect preparation ground for the real world, it doesn’t seem too much to ask for an assignment to be submitted by a particular date or does it?  Are we trading what is best for the learner for what is best for the instructor?  How exactly are learners using our feedback for improvement from one submission to the next if they turn everything in bulk?  Does this type of environment move closer to a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) where there is little engagement with the instructor and it is a self-paced engagement with the content and free-for-all in participation?

Missing the Mark?

Others would suggest that creating iron clad due dates and associated late work policies creates a mixture of a little bit of a hypocrisy and a lot of not promoting what is best for the learner (Spence, 2011).  Instructors struggle with establishing hard and fast deadlines as to when feedback or grades will be posted and so by asking learners to do the same you may become a bit hypocritical (Dorothy Sprenkel in NTCE, 2000, p. 18).

Even deeper than a “do as I say not as I do” mentality, we may be overlooking the core problem.  Many learners are able to submit assignments on-time and keep pace with the course schedule.  However, those that can’t often really struggle with the issue and most likely need support as opposed to punishment (Schimmer, 2011).  In many cases, it appears as though there is little success in behavior modification through the punitive nature of late penalties.  Many learners will accept the zero over turning in work for partial credit or at minimum the opportunity to receive feedback from the instructor.  Therefore, late policies don’t necessarily appear to change learner behavior as we might hope (Schimmer, 2011; Spence, 2011).


In the end, it becomes an argument of quality work versus timely work – are we measuring the wrong thing?  As Tom Shimmer (2011) in his blog argues, the timeliness of a submission has little to do with how well you actually comprehend the topic.  Though timeliness is certainly desirable, we may not be offering learners a chance to do their best work but just their best that they can get done by 8:00 p.m. on a Sunday night.  This may result in a move farther away from the desirable student-centered learning approach (Spence, 2011).  Furthermore, by creating punitive late policies we may be deflating grades and inaccurately measuring the learners ability to successfully meet the course learning outcomes (Schimmer, 2011).

When I’ve asked teachers who have late penalties why they don’t add 10% per day for early assignments they usually say something like, “I couldn’t do that.  That would inflate their grade and wouldn’t be accurate.” I think they’ve just answered their own question.  The exact same logic as to why adding-for-early is not appropriate applies to late penalties; the logic of inaccuracy (Schimmer, 2011).”

Creative Solutions to a Tough Problem

So we know that we are scared of the large waves and droughts of activity/submissions that may come from flexible due dates and late policies.  We are also concerned about not supporting learners in achieving their best work throughout the course through implementation of rigid due dates and little or no ability to turn in late work.  What should we do?

Gillespie (2013) came up with a creative policy of setting both due and deadline dates.  Assignments submitted by the due date received full credit and feedback.  Assignments submitted after the due date but before the deadline date must be accompanied by a “missing homework sheet.”  This sheet allows an instructor to get behind the why of the late submission.  By understanding the why, especially when there is a reoccurence, the instructor can provide additional assistance or reach out to a learner if he/she is struggling in course management skills or in digesting and making connection with the course content.

Another late policy includes the issuance of late tickets or what I called a few semesters ago “Get out of Jail Free cards.”  The ideas is that the learner gets x-amount of late assignment submissions with full credit available and no questions asked.  The popularity of this type of policy usually rests in the reduced number of excuses you receive from a learner (Kelly Gleason in NTCE 2000, p. 18).  This is a bit of a compromise allowing instructors to still maintain a more rigid schedule but still allowing the possibility of flexibility when learners may experience a compute meltdown or all-nighter with a sick child.

Finally, collaborative due date setting (Spence, 2011) or flexible due date windows (Schimmer, 2011) allow learners to align the course schedule with their own strengths and weaknesses increasing the probability that they will submit their best work not some work.

And the Answer Is…..

The answer is that there is no answer.  Classroom management including due dates and late work policies remain part of the tools that are unique to each instructor’s toolbox.  What works for one course or one instructor may not work for another.

What do you find has been the approach to due dates and late policies that work best for you and your learners?


Gillespie, R.  (2013, May 12).  A late work policy that supports learning.  [Blog post].  Retrieved from

National Council of Teachers of English. (2000, January).  Teacher Talk:  How do you handle late papers?  Classroom Notes Plus, 17 (3).  Retrieved from

Poulin, R.  (2012, April 20).  Is your distance education course actually a correspondence course?  In WCET Frontiers.  Retrieved from

Schimmer, T.  (2011, February 11).  Enough with the late penalties!  [Blog post].  Retrieved from

Spence, J.  (2011, September).  Late standard or policy.  ACSD Classroom Leadership, 5(1).  Retrieved from

Photo Credits

Deadlines photo credit: sourabhj via photopin cc

Manila Envelope photo credit: youngthousands via photopin cc

Waves photo credit: Sunova Surfboards via photopin cc

Supporting Online Learners Through Technical Support

Yet another proud moment! Part II in a series of articles that I have been working on for a while has made it to the big time a.k.a e-Learn Magazine.  Please check out Part II of a Balancing Act:  Providing Technical Support before, during, and after the online course.   What tools do you use to provide technical support to your online learners?


Tacking Closure on E-Learning Modules

Each semester, I attempt to change at least one thing in my online learning class.  Sometimes it is a squeeky wheel that demands attention while other times it is a longer standing member of the to-do list.  Because I am presently only facilitating one course which was designed a few years ago, my ability to make changes is rather small.  Therefore, I limit my changes or additions to clarifying weak points, personalizing the course, and/or building a sense of community which is undoubtedly missing from many online learning environments.  I always find myself in a process of constantly learning and applying new tools that I come across, new philosophies that I have adopted, and staying true to the “work in progress” mantra.

Spicing up the Text

One of the things on the to-do list firmly based in student feedback from those lovely end-of-course evaluations was to reduce the amount of text-based content.  Almost everything on the course website is text – the syllabus, the module introductions, the module content, assessments, assignment instructions, and the assignments.  Lots of words – lots!


So it is my desire to break it up a little bit with some multi-media items including an introductory video (see my recent post on creating one), scenario-based interactive assignments, and now the module summaries/wrap ups.  Though I can’t get away from the text entirely – I am able to change the presentation a bit and include some links, images, wordles, prezis, and such.  I figured any break from the black font on white screen would be a welcome change.

In the past, I utilized well-organized and “to-the-point” e-mails that included such items as:

  • Status of graded assignments – when can they expect feedback/grades?
  • PollEverywhere Warm-up Poll results
  • Summary/highpoints from the forum discussion
  • General feedback on module assignment(s)
  • Comments that focus attention on the course “big picture”
  • Highlighting important course due dates- what’s next?
  • Motivational “keep working hard” comments
  • Reminders for contact information

However, these e-mails were still boring black font.  Even if I were going to present the same information, I wanted to find a way to spice it up and at least make it visually appealing.

The Search

I searched for a good week or two for something that would be a good fit for these Module Wrap Ups I wanted to create.  Something where I could include a link, perhaps an image, and some text.  In order to keep it simple which seems to work best, I wanted something that I could either embed in a Moodle post/email or could be accessed via a quick link.  I have found the more complex, the less likely an online learner will be willing or able to access it.  In other words, it needed to be a bite-sized easily-accessed summary of module highlights with a few tips and reminders mixed.

And then I saw this…

I checked out the website and I found my answer!  Tackk allows you to create a blog style page (one page) and include text, embed a variety of multi-media objects, and publish publicly or privately.  By creating a Tackk for each Module, I could include the highlights in a colorful and easy to access way while breaking the monotony of the black-on-white text.

What Can Closure Do For You?

I view each module as a little container of content with a beginning, end, and transition to the next module.  Just like in a relationship, transaction, or even movie; we as humans love closure and online learning modules are no different.  By including a wrap-up/summary document, whether it be text or a collection of key points as I have described above; you can:

  • View the module from a “big picture” or 30,000 foot view (Cross, 2013)
  • Summarize and draw attention to key points/thoughts for learners (Donahue, 2005)
  • Add additional resources that may supplement the module (Donahue, 2005)
  • Transition from one module to the next making the definition clear (Donahue, 2005)
  • Provide a sense of closure/completion before moving on to the next area (Murray, 2011)
  • Create consistency in presentation from module to module (Donahue, 2005)
  • Emphasize an action plan – how can this content knowledge be applied? (Donahue, 2005)
  • Include assessment/evaluation methods to ensure learning objectives have been met (Cross, 2013)
  • Enlist feedback from learners on the module through a poll/survey useful during the continual course development process (Murray, 2011)

And the Results…..

Many Web 2.0 tools can have a bit of a learning curve and you can easily lose hours of your life with little to show for it.  However, within an hour I already had created my first Tackk based one the general outline of content found in emails I had used in the past.  Tackk is intuitive and very easy to use.  Though I am sure there is much more to know, I was able to quickly and easy accomplish what I set out to do.

There are lots of different possibilities with the Tackk tool!  I have already embedded Youtube/Vimeo videos, Prezi presentations, Wordles, images, and PollEverywhere poll results into the Tackks for the different modules.

For one module, the result looked something like this:

See on

The full Tackk can be seen here.

Though there is still text and my Tackks will undergo a continuous process of re-evaluation and tweaking, I think it is a pretty good start.

What do you think about closing e-learning/online learning experiences with a text or multi-media summary wrap-up?  Do you think it is time well spent?


Cross, T.  (2013, February 15).  Tips on the weekly wrap-up.  In Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching.  Retrieved from

Donahue, M.  (2005, December 5).  The design document:  Your blueprint for e-learning standards and consistency.  In Learning Solutions Magazine.  Retrieved from

Murray, K.  (2011, March 24).  Five tips for designing effective online learning modules.  In Tech Republic.  Retrieved from

Photo Credits

Text photo credit: altemark via photopin cc

Consistency is the King /Queen of Successful Training Outcomes

I took a run a few nights ago preparing for the AJC Peachtree Road Race this Friday. The country’s largest 10K draws over 60,000 people each year and has become a new family tradition.  Though there are many participants, it still remains a race with a winner who finishes in the wee hours of the morning and then watches in the comfort of air-conditioning while the rest of us poke along the hot and humid 6.2 miles.  For many in Atlanta, the Peachtree is one big social event with lots of sideline support, a t-shirt, and of course free food!

My run the other evening as part of preparation for the “big race” was less than stellar.  It was hot, humid, and I was physically and mentally tired after completing a pretty intense four day trip the night before.  After about 1 mile, I was huffing, puffing, and gave in when my mind whispered “just walk for a little bit.” Needless to say, the workout consisted of much more walking than running and it clearly became about just getting home and getting done. Yet another disappointing workout.

Problems With The Letter S

I have noticed that a lot of problems in an airline employee’s life starts with the letter S – scheduling, schedules, snacking (meals at weird hours that are more snacks than meals), sleep, and the list goes on and on.  Recently, I have reached a wall where the schedule, snacking, and sleeping thing isn’t working for me and a change is definitely needed.

Life becomes a series of rollercoasters with highs of feeling likemedium_2941551448 you have accomplished something on your span of three or four days off followed by lows of losing ground while you are on a trip.  The cycle repeats itself over and over again.  I have come to the conclusion that success is in flattening out the rollercoaster and making the ride a little less exciting.  Instead of waiting until I have time to do a big workout of several hours, I need to instead aim for consistency. Even if it is five minutes, ten minutes, or thirty minutes, I need to workout even when on the road not just once but every day.  Otherwise, I am doggy paddling, pedaling, and walking in place instead of swimming, biking, and running.

Most of my trips are high flight credit which means more legs during the day and generally less time on the overnight.  I try to get as much sleep as possible and came to the cold hard reality a few years ago that the night-owl approach of trying to survive on only a few hours of sleep as I did when I was twenty no longer works.  Along with this awareness, the change to Federal Aviation Administration Part 117 rest requirements for Part 121 carriers has been very helpful in guaranteeing at least a 10 hour overnight with opportunity for at least 8 hours of sleep.  However, given that I want to get as close to that eight hours of sleep other things start to fall off the list when the overnight is short.  The first to go is often working out.

Wait … The Pros Agree?

As I am thinking about this consistency concept, I ran (not literally) across an interview with Swim Bike Mom’s Meredith Atwood and Pro-Triathlete Andy Potts.  He seems to be in support of the consistency concept too!

Whether it is running, biking, swimming, studying, or flying – consistency is king/queen.  I think deep down we all know this but it is really really hard in such a busy world to get into a routine, dedicate small chunks of time to a lot of different things, and do it the same way over and over again.  Even those that have won races like Andy Potts seem to struggle with it.  But for those that can harness it – it is worth its weight in gold!

Quantifying the Value of Consistency

This common theme of consistency reappears in a recent post by Jamie Beckett on the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) Blog where the role of consistency in flight training was examined.  Beckett cites  statistical research from Shawn Pratt, Chief Pilot of Safety in Motion Flight Center in Washington.  Pratt calculated a multiplier that is based on a correlation between consistency of flight lessons (practice) and task performance (completion of pilot certificate).  With greater frequency, the multiplier is less thus increasing the ability of the student to accomplish his/her task performance goals (flight rating/certificate) in less time (Beckett, 2014).

1387603666_0fc4b78f6f_z This frequency and consistency relationship with performance certainly is important to a flight student in training as more time in the air equates to more dollars spent.  However, this lesson is not important  just for the novice aviator.  Veteran flyers and even professional pilots can benefit from this knowledge as well.  As Sully Sullenberger said shortly after the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 in New York:

One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal” (Smith, 2012)

Making Small Goals Everyday

Armed with this knowledge that practice makes perfect (or at least close) and consistency of practice affects how quickly you can achieve that near-perfection, you can quickly make solid and observable changes.

It is all about:

  • Identifying your goals
  • Deciding what tasks must be completed to achieve the goal
  • Breaking tasks apart into small achievable chunks
  • Creating a schedule that involves regular (daily) learning, review, and interaction with those chunks
  • Sticking to the schedule
  • Constantly re-evaluating the process

Though all steps in the process are important, it is about putting in the time on a regular a.k.a daily basis.  If we are to believe Pratt’s statistics, it is all about lowering your multiplier and ultimately achieving your goal!

What experiences have you had where not putting in daily practice has hurt your performance?

Photo Credits

Rollercoast photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Consistency photo credit: Matt Hampel via photopin cc


Beckett, J.  (2014, June 17).  Statistically speaking.  In AOPA Blog:  Opinion Leaders.  Retrieved from

Smith, S.  (2012, October 22).  NSC 2012:  Captain Sully Sullenberger talks about the miracle on the Hudson River.  In EHS Today.  Retrieved from

First Impressions in E-Learning

They say you create an impression within the first 500 milliseconds.  That is a pretty short period of time where an instructor’s characteristics including dominance, trustworthiness, likability, etc. are all sized up (University of Glasgow, n.d.).  Overcoming a false or negative perception can be difficult if not impossible.

As part of the Community of Inquiry model by Garrison, Anderson & Archer, we know that instructors must fill a role of teaching, social, and cognitive presence in order to promote meaningful learning experiences (Jones et al., 2008).  Especially in an online learning environment where there is little or no face-to-face interaction, it is important that instructors are deliberate and purposeful in introductory activities which may include audio recordings, emails, and/or videos.


(Jones et al., 2008)

Record It And They Will Come – Maybe

In the case of online education, you may attempt to control these first 500 milliseconds through an introductory video, audio recording, email, etc.  This may be successful if learners choose to view it.  In a recent Educause article by Melanie Hibbert, most learners view videos that contain content directly connected to an assignment or assessment.  In other words, learners seem to view videos when grades are involved.  If it isn’t related to a grade, then they probably will not watch it.

With the busy schedules and time-strapped nature of today’s online learners, videos that are not perceived as directly connected to success must compete with family, work, extra-curricular and even sleep demands.  In most cases the squeaky wheel gets the grease and the video goes unviewed.

 The Exception – Introduction Videos?

Despite all of this, there may be one video that gets some views even though its content may not be perceived as directly connected to a learner’s grade and that is the instructor’s introductory message/podcast/video.  In a study by Jones et al. (2008) and Rose (2009), almost all learners in an online course viewed the instructor’s introduction video with a majority agreeing that the video either helped them understand course requirements, assisted them in participating in the online course, and/or provided information on how to access additional help in the course (Jones et al., 2008).  However, study participants were divided as to whether the information found in the introductory video directly contributed to their final course grade or was actually needed for course participation.

Though some may view introductory videos as a way to “meet” their instructor and gain valuable information about the course, others consider it unnecessary and even burdensome to sit through an introduction video.  They may feel they can obtain the same information through the course syllabus or through Q&A postings (Jones et al., 2008).

Though there may be some pitfalls associated in creating and promoting an introductory video within an online course, the study concluded:

From the student’s perspective, the value is having the instructor be seen, heard, and, at the same time, “experienced” by the students. Being able to hear the instructor’s tone and use of humor, to make eye contact with the instructor, and to allow students to see the instructor’s body language helps to make the information more real, and adds value for the students. The participants report that they felt as if the introductory video gave them a sense of ‘being in class,’ and provided them a familiar feeling of “communicating face-to-face.  Data from these studies indicate that, from the students’ perspectives, the time and effort it takes for an instructional design team (the instructor, the instructional designer, and the producer) to develop and produce an introductory video are valued. Therefore, we recommend that faculty members write a script, and produce an introductory video, that addresses course requirements and the instructor’s expectations for the students in the course.” (Jones et al., 2008)

Lights, Camera, Action

In the Jones et al. study (2008), video and text-based materials were rated much higher than audio materials or materials that are combined into a single CD/DVD that is distributed at the beginning of the course.  Based on this data, if you are going to create course/instructor introduction materials your best bets appear be to be video/multi-media or text-based.

These types of materials, especially videos, are usually quick to create and distribute especially with the wealth of technology available through smart phones and tablets.

However, before you prop up the Ipad and sit down in a chair there are some things to keep in mind when creating these materials.  What we do know from research is that you don’t have very long to capture and keep learner’s attention.  In Hibbert’s (2014) research, it was found that learners spend approximately 4 minutes viewing a video and usually on a personal computer as opposed to mobile device or tablet.  In addition, learners may not always view the entire video.

Since you have such precious little time to get your message across, an outline or some pre-planning is a must.  You should keep the following characteristics in mind when creating your video:

  • Use a friendly tone
  • Talk a conversational speech rate
  • Shoot in a well-lighted area
  • Utilize a pleasing background
  • Include a well-organized, practiced, and concise message
  • Point the learner toward an action that engages & provides interaction (Now do this/go here)

Your message should contain some information that humanizes you as an instructor and lets your learners know a little bit about you.  This assists in establishing a teaching and social presence.  In addition, your video should touch on some basic information that will assist the leaner in understanding the organization of the course such as course expectations, methods of communication, etc.  This further develops a teaching presence and contributes to cognitive presence.  Finally, your message should provide the learner with something to do – “where do I go from here?”  This may include directing them to make their own introduction, take part in an icebreaker activity, review the syllabus, etc.  Providing the learner with an activity or action to complete is an important and necessary step in building interactivity into the course and providing an opportunity for engagement (Allen, 2014).

Some of the items that you may want to include in this message are outlined a Prezi designed by Dr. Melissa Kaulbach and Dr. Heather Farmakis of Ed Tech Du Jour.


(Ed Tech Du Jour, 2013)

Dr. Kaulbach and Dr. Farmakis summarize the process and elements of creating a successful introductory video in the following short video:

The 50-50 Balance:  Effective & Ineffective

A search on YouTube or Google will yield thousands of instructor introduction videos.  I picked a few that illustrated some of the characteristics of a successful introduction video described above.

Kristen Kane of Columbia Gorge Community College utilizes many of the successful characteristics mentioned above with her video including:

  • Introduces herself in a friendly and calm manner – she appears approachable
  • Provides a general outline of the course (expectations, how assignments are organized, etc)
  • Utilizes a script so she doesn’t get “off track” – information is clearly and concisely presented
  • Gives students a place to start (introduction) and “big picture goal” (study of themselves)
  • Invites learners to visit on campus/office hours (open door policy)
  • Video is professional (lighting/background/subtitles)

The downside of this video is that it doesn’t let us know enough about Ms. Kane.  Does Ms. Kane create enough of a social presence beyond introducing the psychology course?

In watching many of the introduction videos, I noticed that there is a fine line between talking too much about the course and not about yourself (as illustrated in the video above) or talking all about yourself and not enough about the course.  In a highly successful introduction video, there is a good mixture of the two.

Here is an example of too much social but not enough teaching presence.

In a video by Karen Carter of Arizona State University’s English Department, I felt like I got to know a lot about Ms. Carter but not much about the course.  Here were a few takeaways from this video:

  • Video is short (almost 1.5 minutes) which is well within the desired guidelines
  • Introduces Ms. Carter as an active and approachable person – someone that would be fun to get to know
  • Provides the learner with “what’s next” (introduction)
  • Does little to tell me about the course – what I will be learning, how I will be learning it, what is in store?

A final example illustrates the creativity and technical skills of an instructor but unfortunately we never actually see the instructor.  Though this is creative and attention grabbing, does this take away from the rapid perception creation process of the “first impression” that occurs in 500 milliseconds?

Kurt Hull provides a lot of useful information in a humorous manner and weaves the theme of “prisoner” going throughout the video.  However, the video does little to show a student what Mr. Hull looks likes, the sound of his voice, or mannerisms that are useful in creating that “first impression.”

Making the Perfect Introduction Video

Armed with this information, the task is clear.  If you are going to make an introduction video it should be:

  1. Quick (under 4 minutes)
  2. Professional (as much as possible – background/lighting/speech tone & rate/etc.)
  3. Includes essential information that gives the learner a big picture(course organization, important concepts to be successful, etc.)
  4. Sets the tone for the course and humanize the instructor
  5. Easily accessible on a variety of devices (personal computer, mobile, etc.)

I like many instructors at the beginning of a new semester will be setting out to create an introduction video utilizing some of the concepts that I have learned while this topic and observations I have made.

What do you think?  Do you have a introduction video that makes the “great” or “not so great” list?


Allen, E.  (2014, April 24).  Actions speak louder than words:  6 steps to improved elearning activities.  [Webinar].  In Training Magazine Network Provactive Ideas Webinar Series.  Retrieved from

Hibbert, M. (2014, April 7).  What makes an online instructional video compelling? In Educause Review Online.  Retrieved from

Jones, P., Naugle, K. & Kolloff, M.  (2008, March 31).  Teacher presence:  Using introductory videos in online and hybrid courses.  In Learning Solutions Magazine.  Retrieved from

Rose, K. K. (2009, September).  Student perceptions of use of instructor-made videos in online and face-to-face classes.  Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 5(3). Retrieved from

University of Glasgow.  (n.d.).  New research reveals the secret to making a first impression.  Retrieved from


Sightings of the Loch Ness Monster & Airline Pilot Moms

It was ironic that I came across @KarlenePettit‘s blog post titled “Pilot Moms”on her Flight to Success Blog when I had just recently sighted and chatted with what is a rare species outside of the boundaries of an airport terminal – the Pilot Mom.

Believe me when I say meeting a female pilot out in the real world let alone one that flies for a commercial airline, is a four stripper (Captain), has children, and looks “together” with coordinated clothing and a smile on her face  is kind of like sighting the Loch Ness Monster – only a few have gotten a glimpse.

When one has a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster, they may immediately grab for their camera hoping to snap a shot that will give credence to the true existence of Old Nessie.  When I meet a female Airline Pilot Mom, the neurons in my head immediately start firing trying to figure out what her secret is to raising children, managing a career in aviation, and making it all happen while looking cool, calm, and collected.

Piloting As a Barrier to Being Super Mom

As Karlene mentions in her blog post, being a mom is a major barrier to women pursing a professional aviation career. As I continue to put hours in the logbook and years on the longevity calendar, I see women whom I have flown with drop off the seniority list one by one as the responsibilities and demands of home life take priority over the reality of multi-day trips hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home while flying for an airline or corporation. Unfortunately, what I have found in professional aviation is that there is little work-home balance, opportunity for negotiation, and very little wiggle room. When you are assigned a trip, you are either present or you are not – it is a pretty black and white situation.  There isn’t a “I can be there in an hour, I just need to drop my child off at the babysitters” or “I will do my work from home today as my daughter is sick and home from school.” You are often one amongst thousands of other pilots and crew scheduling doesn’t really care or make allowances for scenarios such as your child isn’t feeling good today or there is Muffins with Mom and you either didn’t know about it until the day before or didn’t have the seniority to get the day off.  In a moment of panic, you might be able to utilize some sick time/personal leave here or there or even swap/drop a trip with another pilot.  However, eventually depending on the organization’s policy, you will have to make a decision of whether you can stay or you have to go.

If I Stay

If one stays in professional aviation, at some point something will have to give. I believe Karlene when she says “Women can be wives, mothers, and pilots too, we don’t have to choose” (Pettit, 2014).  However, in having it all, you can’t necessarily have it all right now or the way in which you dreamed it to be. For us Airline Pilot Mom types (and I am sticking with airlines because that is my area of experience), the world of children, school, and after-school activities run on  a Monday through Friday from 7 a.m.-ish to 8 p.m.-ish schedule.  Teachers, other parents, and even sometimes your own children don’t or can’t understand that when you are gone for those couple of days a week you aren’t at an office building across town but instead half-way around 4585347976_72b7c9ce7b_zthe country or even the world with many barriers in between.  You may rise and are in the air hours before your children awake or flying well past the time when they are tucked in at night.  There may be some days where you don’t get to touch base, don’t get to check their homework, and don’t get the hints that are inevitably found deep within a pile of paperwork jammed into their backpack. Your life becomes a series of jam packed trips often with short overnights flying wherever you need to fly to earn enough block credit to actually justify having a job that takes you out of town for at least half the week.  When you are at your other job (a.k.a – home) you must think ahead and be proactive by getting homework and projects done well before the due date so there are no last-minute crises, scheduling parent-teacher conferences on your days off, and signing up on any and every volunteer sheet that comes your way to make up for the times that you weren’t there.  If this sounds like a rollercoaster with the occasional all-nighter/crunch sessions reminiscent of your college years with no off button in sight, that would be because it is. Humans generally like routine, but as an Airline Pilot Mom, you don’t have a routine that sticks week after week because often you can’t.  At work, you wake up in a different city, state, and even time zone several days a week only to thrust yourself back into the home environment where you must establish your bearings as quick as possible, efficiently accomplish in two or three days what many would accomplish over the course of the week, prepare for another couple of days “on the road,” and then wash, rinse, and repeat over and over again.  Welcome Airline Pilot Mom – this is your life! I have been on this rollercoaster without an OFF button for a good decade now with no slow-down in sight.  My plight isn’t different from any other working mom – the only difference is I often have to manage the chaotic out-of-control rollercoaster from across the parking lot, across the state, and sometimes even from across the country.  Sometimes no matter how many times I text or how many nagging phone calls I make – my reach is limited and the house, kids, and even cats move on without me. So though it may appear that you have it all and are doing it all, it is probably coming at the cost of a little less free time and a lot of personal sanity.  It ultimately becomes a question of how much are you are willing to give up to pursue or keep the dream of flying for a profession.  Similarly, if you are still flying to keep money flowing, your financial situation or limited “Plan Bs” may require that you continue to ride the rollercoaster whether you want to or not.

But What If I Go?

The other side of the coin is of course to not pursue or continue to pursue the lifestyle of the Airline Pilot Mom.  Sometimes this lifestyle just doesn’t work for you or your family.  It may be just too hard emotionally, logistically, or financially to miss events at school or be away when a child falls ill. I often get a bit teary-eyed 57424408_aa3efab52a_zwhen thinking about what it would be like to turn in my badge and manuals and hang up my uniform for the last time.  Every one of us, male or female alike, that have reached a flight crewmember position in a commercial airline have worked hard and sacrificed even harder.  The countless hours of studying, many dollars spent on training, special events/occasions that have been missed, and friendships/relationships that have been lost are all steps towards what we all hope will be the attainment of the “brass ring.”  For some this brass ring may come in the form of a attaining a particular position, aircraft, route (domestic vs. international), organization, schedule, or even pay rate.  When you add children and all of the responsibilities that they bring with them – the order often gets jumbled up a bit.  In my experience, the emphasis turns more to stability, quality of life/schedule, and pay as opposed to personal fulfillment. I think Karlene’s blog post which includes an article by Lisa Endlich Heffernan does a fabulous job of exploring some of the emotional issues that come with the choice to stop work either temporarily or permanently.  Though parents usually fancy themselves as martyrs, personal fulfillment is incredibly important at least on some level. Ultimately, in the end you will have to choose what is best for you and for your family armed with the knowledge that either way something will have to give.

The Other Half of the Airline Pilot Mom Team

And then there is the support system. As an Airline Pilot Mom, you won’t find many others out there as described with my Loch Ness Monster analogy.  And if you do, she is probably walking briskly through the concourse or multi-tasking at the playground. We are often busy ladies organizing play dates via text, thinking ahead about what needs to be done on days off, or finding a few free moments to enjoy the quiet. What you will find behind most Airline Pilot Moms is a supportive other half.  As Clint White, CEO of Jet Right Aviation Services, notes in a recent LinkedIn post – aviation spouses are the “unsung hero of the aviation world” (White, 2014). White’s post reminds me of a passage I read some years earlier  in Highest Duty by the infamous Captain Sully Sullenberger of US Airways Flight 1549 which landed on the Hudson River in 2009.

For our entire marriage, Lorrie spent long stretches as a single parent.  I’d be off on trips, and she’d be dealing with everything in the household.  It seemed like things always decided to break when I was gone – the car, the washing machine, the oven.  Once, I was on a flight doing preparations before pushing back from the gate, and my cell phone rang. It was Lorrie in a panic.  Water was pouring down the side window of our house.  At first she thought it was a bad storm, but then she realized that the seal on our pool pump had broken, and water was gushing into the air like an open fire hydrant….’I’m about to push back,’ I said to her, which meant I was required to turn off my cell phone.  ‘Turn off the filter pump and call the pool guy.  I have to go.  I’m sorry.’  And then I shut off my cell phone, taxied toward the runway, and left her on her own to stop the rain.  No woman dealing with an emergency like that wants her husband hanging up on her.  Again and again, my flying career came at a cost” (Sullenberger, 2009, p. 300-301).

Both White & Sullenberger reiterate the simple and very real notion that in the end, Airline Pilot Moms not only have to be a “mom of all trades” to survive the crazy chaotic rollercoaster life that is running a household and flying at an airline but almost always need an assistant.  Whether that is a spouse, a parent, a brother/sister, or a trusted friend; these assistants are integral to keeping the household running while you are away.  They also feel and live with the cost of swimming around in the merky depths of multi-day trips and long periods of being gone.  Without them, our chances of getting lost in the Loch are high.


Pettit, K.  (2014, June 11).  Pilot moms.  In Flight to Success.  Retrieved from

Sullenberger, C.  (2009).  Highest duty.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers. White, C.  (2014, June 5).  The aviation spouse, The unsung hero of the flying world.  [LinkedIn post].  Retrieved from

Photo Credits

Loch Ness Monster: sheepvsgravity via photopin cc

Super Mom: happyworker via photopin cc

Decisions: fling93 via photopin cc

A Balancing Act Part I: Technical Support and the Online Instructor

So excited that a series of articles that I have been working on for quite a long time finally made their way to E-Learn Magazine.  Please check out Part I of A Balancing Act:  Technical Support and the Online Instructor. What are your experiences of providing technical support with your online students?


Needs, Wants & BoilerMakers

My boys love Under Armour brand clothing.  In fact, some days they could easily pass for walking billboards for the Under Armour brand. Being the great mom that I am with a desire to get the boys stocked with clothing that would make it through the school year, I recently splurged a bit and bought them some Under Armour shirts and shorts to add to their collection.


To my dismay, within a few weeks the shorts were full of torn threads and the shirts were faded. It was clear that though Under Armour is a well known and generally respected brand of clothing and sporting goods, it could not withstand the wear and tear of three boys.  In the end, Under Armour didn’t meet my short-term or long-term needs for clothing that would last for at least a few months let alone an entire semester.  So in the future, I look forward to lots of complaining and “Mom, you don’t love me” when I am less than excited or willing to purchase Under Armour brand clothing for the boys.  Though the boys will want it, it isn’t what they need.

Higher Ed Has a Product You Want – But Do You Need It?

Though institutions of higher education don’t make t-shirts or shorts, they do offer a product – a degree, certificate, a “college experience,” etc.  Just as I looked to Under Armour to meet my need of filling the boy’s closets with sturdy clothing and their wants of being “cool”, prospective students look to higher education institutions to meet their present day wants of air-conditioned dorm rooms, inter-mural sports teams, great food at the dorm cafeteria, and sometimes even needs such as a degree program in a specialized domain or availability of course offerings in their chosen subject.  These needs and wants may change over time but it often boils down to most students wanting higher education institutions to contribute to their future with an all important entry on the resume and the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed to seek additional education or obtain gainful employment.

When perusing the products that can be purchased in higher education, there may be one or hundreds of programs to choose from ranging from certificates to bachelors and graduate degrees or even PhDs.  At some point to maintain sanity amongst the course descriptions and mission statements, you have to know what your end-goal is or at least think you know.  Even better, can you truly wrap your head around how a particular course, degree/certificate program, or course of study will fit into that goal?  Once you have these details firmly rooted in your mind, it becomes much easier to see past the well-designed webpages, flashy student union buildings, and overwhelming number of options available within an academic program.

Purdue – Only the Best School Ever

I am an alumni of Purdue University, which if you are not familiar is only the greatest school on Earth!  The thought of attending Purdue again, even if only virtually, still gives me goose bumps and makes me happy happy! I have been eyeing their Masters degree program in Learning Design & Technology for quite a long time now – a few years to be exact. However, when it came time to choose based on curriculum and on money (let’s not beat around the bush — this is always a factor when considering advanced education), I just couldn’t commit.

Pick What You Need, Not What You Want

Education is big business and certainly a school’s reputation and ultimately their brand are important.  However, in the end there has to be something that makes that brand worth buying and the name can’t be enough – it should be what is behind that name that is of use to you.  So as much as I wanted to be a Boiler again, the Purdue program’s curriculum just didn’t match what I needed at this time or what I think will best suit me in future.

purdue 1

Since I had a clear vision of what I am trying to achieve and what course work I believe will help me get there, I was able to sift through the multitude of wonderful instructional design/workplace learning/educational technology programs out there and enroll in Boise State University’s Occupational Performance & Workplace Learning’s (OPWL) program which I believe contains courses that I feel will best fit my needs at the present and goals of the future.

So, though Purdue Pete has my heart and I wanted to recapture the Boilermaker magic of my undergraduate years, I needed the curriculum found at Boise State.  I promise Purdue Pete, I will only lend a tiny bit of my heart for a little while to that blue and orange Bronco at Boise State.

When have you had to forgo something that you really wanted but realized that it wasn’t what you needed?

Photo Credits: 

Purdue Pete: TownePost Network via photopin cc

Please Forgive Me…It Has Been Six Months Since My Last Blog Post has been almost six months since my last blog post. Life gets in the way and my eyes are always bigger than my stomach. Blogging is hard work especially to do it well and consistently!

Despite my desire to find the 25th or 26th hour in the day, I can’t and won’t because it doesn’t exist! Instead, what I can do is try to make the 24 hours that I have work for me. This is a tall order indeed!


So the goal is to write less but more often. In the past, my posts have been mini-term papers with multi-edits, extensive research, and stress over proper presentation and grammar.  Though an exercise in stretching those thinking and writing muscles, these lengthy academic-style blog posts were time consuming and potentially defeating the main goal of getting creative, reflecting, connecting, and collaborating.  So instead, it is back to short, sweet and to the point with “less is more” and continually reforming the wordy girl.

Photo Credit

photo credit: hooverine via photopin cc

Student Feedback – Anonymous, Confidential, Useful?

It’s that time of the year again when the end-of-the-semester reviews roll in.  Though student evaluations of teachers/instructors is commonplace in today’s performance-driven world of higher education and corporate training, the method in which those evaluations are obtained is still highly variable.


Some schools and/or organizations have streamlined and automated the process of obtaining feedback and attempting to quantify instructional success while others still rely on paper evaluation forms or Scantron sheets.  Furthermore, some schools and training programs rely on instructional designer/instructor created feedback mechanisms woven into the course design or tacked on at the end.  I have had the privilege of engaging in all of these listed above as both student and instructor and have to say that I can find the positives and negatives of each.

Regardless of the type of collection method used, student feedback regarding instructor/teacher performance has been found to vary depending on a whole host of factors including student expectations, individual characteristics of students (including culture), instructor characteristics (age, ethnicity, tenure vs. non-tenure status), and characteristics of the class (type of class, number of class meetings, required course, etc.) (Meagher & Whalen, 2011).

Confidentiality versus Anonymity

In addition to this wide variety of student feedback collection methods, there is also some issues in the area of reliability and evaluation of student feedback.  Often, the actual student feedback and interpretation of that feedback can be inconsistent and questionable (Meagher & Whelan, 2011).

In order to improve the consistency and reduce the potential bias found in student feedback, many schools and organizations utilize the concepts of confidentiality and anonymity.  It is important to distinguish between these two vastly different concepts:

  • Confidentiality refers to a process where student feedback is collected by a data collector wherein the identity of the student is known to the data collector.   Once the data is received by the data collector it is de-identified either before or after the evaluator and certainly before the person being critiqued which in this case is the teacher/instructor who will ultimately receive it (Meagher & Whelan, 2011).
  • Anonymity takes the confidentiality concept one-step further and de-identifies the student and his/her feedback at the point of data collection.  The student’s identity is not known to the data collector, evaluator, or instructor/teacher.  The ability to obtain complex feedback such as found in focus-groups is greatly limited when anonymity is included in feedback collection mechanisms (Meagher & Whelan, 2011).

Is Anonymous Feedback Better?

It is no secret that students are often grade driven and fear that their grade may be adversely affected by providing honest and potentially negative feedback regarding an instructor/teacher’s performance.  On the flip side, instructors and teachers are keenly aware of the very important role that student feedback plays in the world of Human Resources including awarding of future contracts, promotions, and tenure (Meagher & Whelan, 2011).  

medium_2443128847 (1)

Anonymity Isn’t All Good.

In order to avoid some of these fears, biases, and promote student participation in the feedback process; anonymity has been included in many feedback collection mechanisms to provide students with a feeling of safety from potential “instructor revenge.”  There is conflicting data supporting the presence of a positive bias in feedback provided in a non-anonymous versus anonymous feedback mechanism with many students grading their teachers/instructors slightly higher when their identity is known (Meagher & Whalen, 2011).  Offering anonymity within student feedback mechanisms may help to reduce this positive bias and increase validity.   

However, anonymity is not all good.  There is statistical support for the presence of other types of biases, prejudices, and expectations when students are allowed to provide feedback anonymously.  Students, because they cannot be identified, held accountable, or their feedback directly addressed, often use the anonymous feedback opportunity to focus in on misconceptions, prejudices, and/or untrue statements of fact.  Therefore, anonymity does solve some of the fear and lack of participation issues, but it leads to a host of other biases and unreliable results (Meagher & Whalen, 2011).

How To Digest All This Anonymous Feedback?

It depends whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person.  Is it better to have some feedback even though it may be unreliable and biased or to have none at all?  In the first years of teaching, I took all my student’s feedback to heart, especially the negative.  Though the positive feedback was meaningful, the negative feedback always got my attention.  After repeatedly being hurt and upset with negative feedback semester after semester, I decided several years back to try to put a positive spin even on the most negative of feedback.  How could I use this feedback to better myself and better my courses?

Greg Reihman, Director of Faculty Development at Lehigh University, gives some great tips of how to read student feedback with a thick skin and what to do with all of it.  His tips (Reihman, n.d.) include:

  • Prepare Yourself With an Open Mind:  Reihman suggests placing yourself in a mind-set that will allow you to make use of even the harshest of criticism.  Don’t simply dismiss the feedback or explain it away as “he/she doesn’t know what they are talking about” or “that comment is right on, the students all love me.”  Each piece of feedback is useful in modifying your instructional techniques, your content, delivery methods, and maybe even your own beliefs and attitudes.  Don’t dismiss feedback on either the extreme positive or extreme negative, go into the process with an open-mind, thick skin, and desire to utilize feedback to its fullest.
  • Phone A Friend:  If feedback (especially the negative) gets you worked up and you just can’t seem to keep an open mind, have another instructor or friend review the feedback and help you to see it in a more positive light.
  • Focus on the Middle:  Often the bulk of your feedback will establish main trends and reoccurring themes.  Concentrate on these trends and think about how you can utilize this information to better adapt your course, its content, or your teaching methods.  Outliers always exist even in the best courses.  Though you want to consider the outlying feedback and extract any usefulness it may provide, not all outlier feedback is worthy of the same weight as reoccurring themes from the masses.
  • Put Yourself in the Student’s Shoes, Think Perception:  When considering feedback, try to put yourself in the student’s shoes.  Some students may utilize the feedback mechanism as an opportunity to vent about a frustration or expectation that has roots in a place far deeper than your course (financial aid, school administration, personal limitations, hardships, etc).  In some cases, if you are consistently receiving negative feedback about an area that you believe to be more than adequate, re-frame your thinking.  One example Reihman describes is:  In order to be accessible and available you establish an open door communication policy, have office hours, and return emails within minutes of receipt.  However, you continually get low marks in the area of availability on your end-of-the-course feedback.  This type of situation may require that you rethink the issue and evaluate if there is a perception problem.  Do students know you have office hours?  Are all students aware of your quick response policy?  Though you know you are available, do students know you are available?  This may be a perception problem that can easily be fixed in the next semester.

Ask for Feedback More Often

As Debbie Morrison explains in her Online Learning Insights blog, as an online instructor you should include student feedback in your online course evaluation and re-design process.  Utilizing feedback from each semester gives you an opportunity to amend new semester content and delivery in an effort to fine tune the course.  It is a dynamic closed loop, constantly changing process that truly never ends.  Student feedback, no matter how negative it is, can provide a window into what works well and what doesn’t work at all within your online course (Morrison, 2012).


Ask Questions and Be Ready to Hear the Answers.

Part of this dynamic process can include mid-course/training program feedback.  Both Morrison (2012) and Reihman (n.d.) suggest soliciting feedback at the mid-point of the course/training program from some or all of your students while there is still time to make changes.  This can be done via a personal e-mail or more formal feedback mechanism like SurveyMonkey.  Mid-course evaluations may also give an opportunity to identify and diffuse the frustrations of students who are having a hard time with the course or distance learning in general and wipe the slate clean for a more positive second half of the course.

In addition to a mid-course feedback mechanism, you can also supplement the school/organization’s end-of-the-course/training program feedback mechanism with your own personal feedback form, survey, etc.  This can provide additional feedback in areas not covered by the school/organization’s questions especially in areas where you have been focusing such as a special assignment, assessment, project, etc.  Furthermore, these course-specific feedback mechanisms don’t have to be limited to just the mid or end-point, they can be used periodically throughout the course/training program (Reihman, n.d.).

It should be remembered that when using additional feedback mechanisms keep it simple.  Students get “form fatigue” and asking too many questions or requiring too much additional work on their part may result in diminishing results and feedback that is either incomplete, unreliable, invalid, or generally not-useful.  Try to create feedback mechanisms  that are simple, require minimal time from the student to complete, and solicit meaningful and useful feedback through well thought out and composed questions with open ended often being the most helpful (Morrison, 2012).

Small Changes From Big Data

When you solicit feedback, you should be ready to hear it and act upon it.  If you asked, you must be ready to listen!  Once you receive feedback, follow Reihman’s advice as listed above and then make small, simple, calculated, and substantial changes.


Like a Sloth – Start slow and make small, calculated changes.

You should start small and pick one or two areas from general trends that you identified in your feedback analysis.  These changes may also come from areas that were perceived differently than you intended such as Reihman’s “availability example.”  Target these areas with changes that you can make that will result in substantial and meaningful outcomes for the course/training program.  You can’t change your course or your teaching style overnight.  Instead, making small changes over time will lead to much greater success and less chaos and panic (Reihman, n.d.).

If you need help in knowing where or how to change things in your course to achieve the desired student outcomes, consult your Personal Learning Network (PLN).  Your PLN may include peers, friends, associates, professional development departments at your school/organization, or even social groups through Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.  Often there is a wealth of information available by connecting with like-minded professionals via social media or subscribing to blogs in your area of expertise.

Feedback Doesn’t Have to Feed Unhappiness

Before I open up the feedback from my students each semester, I take a deep breath since some of it will sting and some of it will make me smile.  My hope is that my students will see how much of me that I have invested in them and in the course.  Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t and each semester is unique.  Even though they may not always like me, hopefully they have an important “take-away” from the course that will benefit them in the future.  That is the wish of most teachers, I think.

One thing that has helped me to understand the source of feedback and sometimes even relate to it is to put myself in the shoes of the student.  Signing up and participating in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) (most of which are free), enrolling in a personal development course through a professional organization or local college/university, or even pursuing an advanced degree reminds me of what it is like to be a student.  When exploring a course from a user’s (in this case student’s) point-of-view, I have found that I am better able to manage the design, development, and teaching of my own courses and even reduce some of the frustration and potentially upsetting negative feedback comments that come at the end of the course.

So when facing student feedback:

  1. Ask the Questions Often
  2. Be Ready to Hear the Answers
  3. Analyze Feedback with the Glass Half Full
  4. Be the Sloth and Make Small Meaningful Changes
  5. Remember What it is Like to be “Them”

What is the worst feedback you have ever received?  How did you deal with it?

Photo Credits

Anonymous photo credit: Scott Beale via photopin cc

Feedback photo credit: via photopincc

Sloth photo credit: Taraji Blue via photopin cc

Question photo credit: Marcus Ramberg via photopin cc


Meagher, K., Whelan, S. (2011). Confidentiality is not enough: Framing effects in student evaluation of economics teaching. International Review of Economics Education (IREE), 10(1), 70-82.  [Electronic version].  Retrieved from

Morrison, D.  (2012, June 1).  How [unfavorable] student feedback improves online courses.  [Blog post].  Retrieved from

Reihman, G.  (n.d.).  Making sense of student evaluations.  In Faculty Development.  Retrieved from

Getting Something for Nothing? Reliability & MOOCs

Dead on arrival…that about describes my blog for the last two months.  Yup, two months.  Life has gotten in the way and along with holiday preparation and activities, blog writing has fallen by the wayside.  I still am not sure that I am sold on this blog posting stuff – it is a lot of work!  However, I have an open mind and so am trying to make a habit of it.  But just like kicking a bad habit is quite hard, so too is picking up a good one.  Blog writing on a regular basis (sans MOOC or structured course) has been a tough habit to get a hold of.

An Interesting Email

I did get an interesting e-mail recently and Tweeted about it.  Fellow Twitter-er @LaticiaWilliams suggested I write a little blog post about what appears to be a slight lapse in the reliability of those all too important Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) badges and completion certificates.  I thought this would be a great topic to ease back into blog writing following my unintentional hiatus.

Back in October, I made an impulsive decision to sign up for Desire2Learn’s (through World Wide Ed) Online Instruction for Open Educators MOOC.  After seeing a Tweet advertising the MOOC, my curiosity was sparked and it fell perfectly in-line with my “MOOC craziness of Fall 2013” phase where I was enrolled in several MOOCs at one time.  So, of course I signed up seconds after seeing the Tweet.

Week #1 began and I enthusiastically signed in and viewed the first Module’s materials as well as completed the virtual introduction.  I was really impressed that the MOOC Lead Instructor, Jenni Hayman, responded to each introduction post.  This is something I try to do within my own e-learning courses and was interested to see how it would play out in a MOOC setting.

Unfortunately, as the week went on, it was clear I had added one-too-many things to my plate.  I tried to stay with it for a few more days but ran out of time and motivation.  Sleep became more important and I quickly became part of the 93% where on average 7% of MOOC participants actually participate in and complete the MOOC .  As difficult as it was to admit defeat, I no longer logged-in, participated, contributed, or even viewed the MOOC materials.  The weekly e-mails from Hayman highlighting the activities and events within the MOOC became a reminder of how I had failed and was destined for MOOC hell.  I was part of that 93% where:

  • I logged in for the first week and only the first week
  • I signed up but did not complete
  • I did not earn that completion badge
  • And….My Mozilla backpack would stay empty

But Wait…Maybe My Back Pack Isn’t Empty?

As I clicked the trashcan icon each week moving the Online Instruction for Open Educators MOOC emails from inbox to trash, the feeling of failure as a MOOC non-participant slowly subsided.  Then, the emails stopped coming.  That is, they stopped coming until the end of November.

After not participating in the MOOC with the exception of my one paragraph virtual introduction in October, I was surprised when I received a Completion and Collaborator badge for the MOOC!  Had I completed the MOOC activities and assessments in my sleep?  Was someone else pretending to be me and with good intentions completing the MOOC activities for me?  What exactly were the MOOC activities to be completed in the first place?  I had clearly not contributed to the MOOC in any meaningful way and so the result was a MOOC badge that I didn’t really earn or deserve.


It was clear that we had a MOOC mix-up on our hands and I later received another email from Hayman that the Mozilla Badge system was presenting some challenges.  However, I was still offered the chance to receive a badge if I so desired through email.  This follow-up process did not question whether or not I had participated in the MOOC or was actually deserving of a badge.  The honor system was in full effect, it was up to me to accept the badge or not.

Motivating the Masses…Reliably

One of the reasons that I and I am sure many others take part in MOOCs is for personal development and fulfillment.  There is no credit or degree on the line and MOOCs provide access to interesting content in a semi-scholarly setting with the potential of meeting and collaborating with like-minded individuals from all over the world.  All MOOCs are not created equal and certainly there is a variety of presentation and delivery methods employed, types of activities included, multi-media resources utilized, and availability of collaborative opportunities.  Some of these factors for the wanna-be instructional designer like myself are just as interesting as the content and can make MOOC participation a meaningful experience on multiple levels.

Many desire for MOOCs to become mainstream and an integral part of higher education in the near future.  This desire will be even greater when MOOC developers figure out how to profit from their creations.  In the meantime, the average 7% completion rate (Parr, 2013) is disappointing for higher education administrators and MOOC investors.  Likewise, MOOC participants may find themselves frustrated and disappointed over the lack of course credit, contribution to a degree program, or pot of gold at the end of the rainbow upon MOOC completion.  In response, many MOOCs have included elements of gamification in their design through implementation of course completion certificates/letters and/or completion/task/micro-badges.  These certificates, letters, and/or badges provide a little tangible token to motivate the masses.


Many MOOCs have included elements of gamification in their design through implementation of course completion certificates/letters and/or completion/task/micro-badges. These certificates, letters, and/or badges provide a little tangible token to motivate the masses.

Regardless of the success of these reward systems on MOOC participation rates, the reliability and accountability in issuance of course completion certificates, badges, and the like is paramount to MOOC survival.

With no reliable system of accreditation and reward, MOOCs continue to suffer from a lack of clear, marketable point – which to some is the purpose of education (Roberts & O’Loughlin, 2013).

Without reliability and accountability, the individual effort of participants is degraded and reward systems become meaningless.  For mainstream success, intrinsic motivation of participants is clearly not enough and reliable reward systems may be key in elevating participation and completion rates.

Lessons Learned – Beyond the Badge

Though I did not get a chance to take part in Hayman’s Online Instruction for Open Educators, I think I learned some valuable lessons none-the-less.  Here were some questions that came to mind:

  • Are we back where we started?  Do MOOCs bump-up against traditional education methods and philosophy where participation verification is managed and required?
  • In order for MOOCs to be truly successful and accepted within educational communities, do we need to have more standardized procedures or best practices for participation verification and completion badge/letter issuance?
  • Should MOOC participation verification and assessment validity and reliability measurement be completed by a party outside of the MOOC?
  • How valuable are MOOC badges/letters of completion?  Is there a way to make them more valuable and if so do we start to institutionalize the MOOC stripping away some of the benefits especially in the area of self-directed learning?

What do you think?  How important are those little badges or letters of completion?  Have you received something for nothing in the land of MOOC?


Parr, C.  (2013, May 10).  Not staying the course.   Times Higher Education.  Retrieved from

Roberts, J.J.  & O’Loughlin, J.  (2013).  The season of the MOOC.  Universitas, 8. Retrieved from

Photo Credits:

Badges photo credit: Warm ‘n Fuzzy via photopin cc
Inbox photo credit: dampeebe via photopin cc
Oops photo credit: ktpupp via photopin cc

What’s Your Problem? Problem-Based Learning & Online Learning (Week #5 #TOMOOC Reflections)

The How to Teach Online Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) is coming to an end.  As usual, I am fashionably late.  However, with this reflection post, I am almost done!  It has been a struggle the last few weeks to keep up with all of the other projects on the stove.  However, this MOOC has been so informative and given me so many things to think about and do that I just couldn’t give up!

Critical Thinking Meets Authentic Learning

Week Five was all about Authentic Learning and Problem Based Learning. Some of the concepts introduced this week were an extension of those presented last week in our discussion on critical learning.  As mentioned by Dr. Linda Elder of The Critical Thinking Community in the Week #4 webinar, one of the problems in today’s approach to education and training is that we teach learners a lot of this and that, that and that, and this and that.  As part of authentic learning, we need to join this and that together into a connected and relevant whole as part of a student-centered learning experience.  This is especially true in what can sometimes be an isolated world of online learning.  This concept of connecting individual pieces into a meaningful whole was also expressed by Professor Lani Uyeno in the Week 5 Panel Discussion.


As part of authentic learning, we need to join this and that together into a connected and relevant whole as part of a student-centered learning experience.

When we include terms like connected-ness and meaningful wholes, the ultimate question continually emerges:  Isn’t this what education and training is all about?  The real purpose is or should be to provide opportunities for learners to acquire real-world knowledge and develop skills that meet the specific requirements of the job for which they are training and solve domain-specific problems.  This sentiment is supported by developmental psychologist Jerome Bruner when he says that students need to learn to be something instead of learning about something.  In other words authentic learning helps students be and think like an aviator, physicist or business person instead of learn about being an aviator, physicist or business person (Lombardi, 2007, p.2).

We can join the this and that and that and that into a meaningful whole by incorporating elements of authentic learning. This encompasses a real world and multi-disciplinary approach (Lombardi, 2007) to framing the presentation of content and creation of activities which includes (Herrington, n.d.):

  • Authentic Context
  • Authentic Task
  • Expert Performance
  • Multiple Perspectives
  • Collaboration
  • Reflection
  • Articulation
  • Coaching/Scaffolding
  • Authentic Assessment

In addition to being thoughtful and purposeful in our presentation of content, creation of activities, and utilization of assessment tools; we can employ vehicles such as experiential learning experiences and more specifically Problem Based Learning (PBL).

Learning From the Project

PBL is valuable for a number of reasons.  Not only does it give the learner an opportunity to connect independent pieces of knowledge together into a whole and “think like” an industry professional in the field of study, but it also fosters and supports the development of problem solving skills.  As described by Dr. De Gallow (n.d.), Director of the Instructional Resources Center at the University of California at Irvine, problem solving skills are skills that have legs and are a valuable part of critical thinking and authentic learning.

As Professor Lani Uyeno indicated in the Week #5 panel discussion for instructors and trainers designing, developing, implementing, and facilitating PBL activities is hard work.  Just as with critical thinking, students engaging in PBL activities must invest a great deal of effort and time in sensing, processing, and comprehending information from multi-disciplines and applying it to a problem that may not be well-defined.  This process of research, analysis, and problem solving skills often inches closer toward critical thinking and farther away from the pouring of knowledge and mastering of the test mentality to which so many of us have become accustomed.

Pouring knowledge into the student rarely works.

Pouring knowledge into the student rarely works.

Because incorporating authentic learning into your online course assists in development of critical thinking and problem solving skills, PBL is worth the effort.  However, it should be noted that PBL is not a project and it is not part of a learn-then-apply process.  The strength of PBL lies in the learning that occurs during engagement in the problem solving process.  In other words, learners are learning new things and creating new connections because they are engaged in solving the problem not just applying what they have already learned (Miller, 2012).

So What Now?

In my online courses, I have incorporated some activities that have roots in PBL.  These are scenario-based training/activities that allow students to explore a variety of different decisions and actions and the effect that those decisions/actions have on an outcome.  These type of scenarios are reminiscent of the “choose your own ending books” where the outcome is based on your decisions and choices throughout the book.

Though these type of scenario based activities are not on the same wave-length of PBL because they do not include elements of collaboration, span a longer time period such as weeks or days, and include accountability and feedback from a real-world audience; they have tiny roots that touch the realm of authentic learning and critical thinking.

Including the collaborative, time commitment, and accountability elements make PBL activities harder to plan and implement requiring me to take baby steps towards incorporating them in my online courses.  Even if I am not able to implement full PBL activities right away, one important lesson that can be learned almost immediately is understanding the importance of authentic learning and critical thinking which is at the core of PBL.

While taking baby steps towards creating and implementing PBL activities into my online courses, I can take big steps in ensuring that presentation of content, creation of activities, and especially development of assessments are firmly rooted in some of the tenants of authentic learning.  This may include focusing on authentic context and tasks, providing access to multiple perspectives, supporting learners as they articulate and reflect upon their ideas and experiences in comprehending and applying knowledge and skills, adopting a coaching and scaffolding role by assisting students in questioning and digging deeper, and employing authentic assessments (Herrington, n.d.).


Problem Based Learning – Dive Right In!

It all sounds like a daunting task and so I will have to take a page out of Leeward Community College Professor Dr. Peter Leong’s play book as he described his approach to PBL in the Week 5 Panel Discussion:  Dive right in!

Photo Credits:

Balloons photo credit: las – initially via photopin cc

Diving photo credit: (davide) via photopin cc

Pouring Knowledge photo credit:  Federal Aviation Administration.  (1977). Aviation Instructor’s Handbook.  (AC60-14).  (p. 16).  Washington, D.C:  Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration.


Gallow, D.  (n.d.).  What is problem based learning?  Retrieved from

Herrington, J. (n.d.). Authentic learning: Resources and ideas about authentic learning and authentic e-learning. Retrieved from

Lombardi, M.M. (2007, May).  Authentic learning for the 21st century: An overview. Retrieved from

Miller, A.  (2012, August 6).  Getting started with project based learning (Hint:  Don’t go crazy).  In Edutopia.  Retrieved from

Time Machines, Hard Work & Critical Thinking – Week #4 Reflections

This week’s module was on creating Critical Thinking learning environments.  I have to say that when I first started reading the materials for this section of the How To Teach Online Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), I felt a bit like Marty McFly:

The concept of Critical Thinking and integrating it into an online course is a bit like Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) seeing the DeLorean time machine for the first time.  McFly quickly recognizes the DeLorean as just an automobile like students recognize a discussion board/forum as the main location of asynchronous communications in an online course.  However, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) quickly explains to McFly that the DeLorean is more than just an automobile – it is a time machine capable of great things.  Like the time machine, asynchronous communications in an online course can be so much more than a series of questions and answers.  It can be a site of higher level thinking through the integration of probing questions and facilitation of discussion.

Critical Thinking is Hard Work

As Greg Walker mentioned in the Weekly Roundup, it is difficult work in trying to conceptualize and wrap your mind around the concept of critical thinking and even more difficult to engage in it.  After reading through the Week #4 materials and giving my mind a chance to process, the concept of critical thinking started to make a bit of sense.  Once I started to truly understand what critical thinking was about, I then realized how little critical thinking I do on a day-to-day basis.  Though my ability to think critically has increased over time, it is not something that necessarily comes easy or automatically.  As mentioned by The Critical Thinking Community (n.d.), these type of thinking skills are honed over time with dedication and effort.

So what is Critical Thinking?

According to The Critical Thinking Community (n.d.,a), critical thinking is:

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.

Part of Critical thinking  is coming to the realization that your mind has quite a bit of baggage that it brings along which interferes in one’s ability to think in a fair and unbiased manner with a high level of cognition.  Critical thinking challenges us to get to the heart of the matter and be able to answer the so what question.


Critical thinking challenges us to get to the heart of the matter and be able to answer the so what question.

Engaging Your Students in Critical Thinking

As important as understanding what critical thinking is, it is as much or even more important to understand how to cultivate a natural critical learning environment for your online students.  One area that can be utilized to promote critical thinking is the hub of asynchronous communication in most online courses – the discussion/forum board.  As described in Facilitating Student’s Critical Thinking in Online Discussion:  An Instructor’s Experience”, critical thinking can be supported in asynchronous communications through a four-step process of critical inquiry developed by Garison, Anderson & Archer (Bai, 2009):

  1. Triggering Event – a problem is defined
  2. Exploration – brainstorming and exploration occurs regarding the problem, information is shared
  3. Integration – information/knowledge from exploration phase is integrated along with other knowledge and meaning is derived – a concept is formed
  4. Resolution – A solution is tested and implemented in the real world and its relevance defended

As one might except, Bai found that as you move from step 1 to 2 to 3 to 4, the ability of students to participate in the level of critical inquiry became less frequent.  Integration and Resolution were the hardest of the levels to achieve in asynchronous communications and highly dependent on facilitation and guidance by the instructor/teacher (Bai, 2009).

This difficulty in getting students to engage in higher order thinking is reiterated by Vanessa Paz Dennen’s 2005 study of asynchronous discussions.  In Dennen’s study, a majority of asynchronous discussions included lackluster responses that achieved little higher order thinking in the realm of Integration or Resolution.  Dennen (2005) suggests that discussion board/forum questions include several characteristics to increase the potential for plentiful and real discussion that enters the realm of critical thinking.  These characteristics include:

  • Relevant questions
  • Goal-based questions/activities
  • Focus on the importance of discussion to the learning process
  • Optimal levels of instructor presence and feedback


So why is critical thinking important?  As Dr. Linda Elder of The Critical Thinking Community powerfully stated in her webinar, today’s educational methods and system suffer from fragmentation where there is no integration of information as part of a whole.  Instead of teaching information as part of a big picture (holistic approach) and helping learners to hone their skills of questioning information, applying information as part of problem solving, and integrating that knowledge into a greater whole; we teach students a lot of this and that, that, and that, and this and that.  For me, this statement was a light bulb moment and simple way of illustrating a powerful concept.  Much of the information and concepts that are taught are often individual parcels of information not connected to a greater whole and certainly not challenged as to their purpose or meaning in that greater whole.

Through critical thinking and critical inquiry, we can get rid of the this-and-that and that-and-that type of pouring knowledge into the head of learners and return to a questioning of knowledge and ability to connect knowledge to other knowledge.


So we know that critical thinking is good for our brains but how can we include it in online courses and specifically asynchronous discussions?  One such method is Socratic questioning.  This method of questioning uses a response to a question with another question as a method of further developing thoughts and ultimately finding the foundation of knowledge.  With Socratic Questioning, knowledge is part of a connected system of thoughts and through questioning you can continue to peel back the layers of these thoughts (The Critical Thinking Community, n.d.,b).


With Socratic Questioning, knowledge is part of a connected system of thoughts and through questioning you can continue to peel back the layers of these thoughts (The Critical Thinking Community, n.d.,b).

A study Yang, Newby & Bill (2005) demonstrated the positive effect of Socratic questioning within asynchronous communications on increasing student critical thinking.   Yang et al. (2005) found that by having instructors utilize Socratic questioning in asynchronous discussions, there was an increase in student’s abilities to examine their own thinking, exchange ideas/viewpoints, adapt meaning placed on content, and explore problem solving methods and application in the real world.  In other words, by utilizing Socratic questioning, instructors could foster critical thinking amongst students.  In addition to increasing critical thinking skills, these skills continued as demonstrated in asynchronous discussions after modeling and facilitation by the course instructor concluded.

So…What Now?

Through the MOOC resources, additional research, and just plain old thinking, my discussion board questions need a little work.  Like the majority of those in Bai’s (2009) research, I too have been good at giving students the opportunity to engage in Triggering Event and Exploration questions.  However, in order to help them engage in more Critical Thinking there needs to be much more Integration and Resolution.  I am certainly not alone in my quandary as indicated by the research of Bai (2009) and Dennen (2005).  The ability to integrate questions and activities that reach the level of Integration and Resolution is a problem that many online instructional designers, instructors, and facilitators face and there is no one size fits all approach.

With my new knowledge and understanding of Critical Thinking, I will make the following changes:

  • Emphasize Importance of Discussion:  In my online classes, I am going to make it clear in the introductory video that discussion is an important part of the student’s learning in the course.
  • Be Mindful of My Role as a Critical Thinking Helper:  Being mindful and aware that as an instructor I can play a role in helping to elevate discussions to a higher level of Critical Thinking and assist in connecting individual parcels of knowledge into a connected whole
  • Change Discussion/Forum Questions:  Some of my discussion board/forum questions need a bit of an update to promote thoughtful responses that focus on integration of knowledge and application to real world issues.  Instead of being scared of integrating real world hot topics or controversial issues, I should embrace them as important opportunities for discussion
  • Change My Response to Discussion/Forum Questions:  Responses like “great job” or “I agree” do little to promote Critical Thinking.  By changing my responses to questions based in the Socratic Questioning Method, I can promote additional thought by asking for clarification, probing student assumptions, or challenge reasons and evidence provided by the student (Yang et al., 2005).
  • Make it Relevant:  Continually updating online course materials and discussion/forum board questions is important in making the content and discussion interesting and relevant to the student’s lives and interests (Dennen, 2005).  By making it relevant and interesting, students will be more willing and able to engage in higher level thinking.

When further time allows, I would like to review an example of this type of Socratic Questioning discussion as provided by The Critical Thinking Community (n.d., b).  These types of examples are helpful in understanding how to engage students in lively and productive discussions that help peel back the layers of their knowledge and make important connections between those layers.

Photo Credits:

Onion photo credit: DigiDi via photopin cc

Question photo credit: Tsahi Levent-Levi via photopin cc


Bai, H.  (2009, Summer).  Facilitating students’ critical thinking in online discussion:  An instructor’s experience.  Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 8(2), 156-164.  Retrieved from

Dennen, V.P.  (2005, May).  From message posting to learning dialogues:  Factors affecting learner participation in asynchronous discussion.  Distance Education, 26(1), 127-148.  Retrieved from

The Critical Thinking Community.  (n.d.,a).  Defining critical thinking.  Retrieved from

The Critical Thinking Community.  (n.d.,b).  The role of Socratic questioning in thinking, teaching, and learning.  Retrieved from

Yang, Y.C., Newby, T.J., & Bill, R.L.  (2005).  Using Socratic questioning to promote critical thinking skills through asynchronous discussion forums in distance learning environments.  The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 163-181.  Retrieved from

Being a Fish in the Online Education Fish Bowl – Reflections on TOMOOC Week #3

I have a three hour layover at the Detroit-Metro Airport and I am determined to be a productive bee and utilize this time to get caught up on Week #3 of the How To Teach Online MOOC (#tomooc).  This week’s information (which was actually last week’s information) on building an online community is particularly relevant to the online courses that I teach.  Not only is building an online community challenging but it takes a lot of time as mentioned in Greg Walker and the MOOC Team’s Weekly Roundup for Week #3.  Meaningful and consistent community building and lively and worthwhile class discussion is an area that I continue to struggle with.  With that being said, I believe that its value is so great that I continue to hone my skills in this area and dedicate time and energy to the cause.

Fish Bowls & Online Learning

I am going to take the liberty of borrowing an analogy from Pat’s blog post reflections on Week #3 materials.  In her blog post, Pat talks about being a “fish out of water” in the area of online asynchronous discussions and community-building and feeling at a loss to know exactly how to achieve success in this area.  Pat is not alone!


Using Pat’s fish analogy, I believe that many students often feel like a fish in a fish bowl.

Pat’s fish analogy resonated with me and I decided in the spirit of the Teach Online MOOC’s “remixing and reusing” theme to change the application of this analogy just a bit.  Using Pat’s fish analogy, I believe that many students often feel like a fish in a fish bowl.  These online students are isolated in the bowl by themselves (learning management system) and often left to swim alone in the murky waters haphazardly bumping into trees or plastic castles (pieces of content, online discussion forums, or opportunities for engagement).  The fish is fed fish food once or twice a day (pieces of content delivered in the neat containers of a .pdf file, video, module folder, discussion question) and continue swimming around and around aimlessly searching for something greater (the desire to engage and participate in a community).  They are outside looking in or inside looking out at a world that surrounds them full of blurry undefined objects and movements (potential learning and collaboration).  This is the isolated and lonely life of a fish and more often-than-not of an online student.

What I Have Done

So what can we do to change this?  Week #3 of the How To Teach Online MOOC offered us some ideas with many of them focused on creating and growing rich and engaging online discussions.  As Pat mentioned in her blog, this is great in theory but creating it in real life is quite a different story.  There is a lot of planning and effort that must be dedicated to creating and maintaining a living, breathing, and worthwhile online discussions.  Unfortunately, despite the planning and effort that I have invested, I have not yet achieved what I believe to be success in this area.  Here are some of the things that I have done:

  • Polls:  I have started to included warm-up polls that are relevant to the module’s discussion/forum board question.  These polls are an extra activity with no credit associated and their intent is to determine student’s attitudes towards a topic, spur additional discussion amongst students, and provide insight into potential future discussion/forum board topics.  The results of these polls are highlighted in the module wrap up email.  The results of participation in these polls has been rather low.

  • Replies:  Since I have not instituted the box checking exercise of requiring students to respond to x number of learner posts and only require that they post their own opinion/thoughts, I find that my discussion/forum boards are rather flat with a surge of activity about 9 p.m. on a Sunday evening (with due dates just shy of midnight on Sunday evening).  It can be assumed that most students are interested in achieving full credit for their responses and read few if any of the other student’s posts.
  • Discussion Topics:  Unfortunately, meaningful “discussion” is often the exception rather than the rule in most of my online courses.  Though there have been some back-and-forth discussions amongst students, this is often the exception.  I have found that current-day or controversial topics often breed the most discussion amongst students and with the instructor.

  • Modeling & Rubrics:  I have instituted a rubric which is published for students ahead of time and I do moderate/participate in the discussions/forum to model behavior and appropriate responses.  Through this rubric, students are aware of what type of qualities will earn full credit for the assignment.  My current rubric does not award credit for additional posts beyond their response to the discussion board/forum question.

  • Follow-Up Questions to Spur Discussion:  I do respond to a majority of discussion board/forum question responses not in an effort to dominate the conversation but to let each student know that their response was “heard.”  I often utilize the response as an opportunity to support the student, correct any inconsistencies/incorrect statements, and ask follow-up questions to spur discussion.  The amount of student response to my follow-up questions is hit-or-miss with the miss being the majority.

  • Positive Motivation:  I try to set the tone as one of personalized, supportive, and positive communications in the discussion/forum board from the beginning with an introduction post as part of an “Introduce Yourself” forum.  In each of the forums/discussion boards, I try to illustrate the positives of each student’s post through supportive replies and challenge the student to think about the topic in a different way through follow-up questions.  It has been noted on end-of-the-course surveys that students appreciate and notice my replies but this appreciation or recognition rarely results in actual follow-up conversations with students.

How Things Can Change

After viewing Dr. Farmakis’ video, the Week #3 roundup video, Week #3 MOOC materials, and other MOOC participant reflections, here are some of the things that I can or need to do in the future:

  • Course Introduction Video:  However, it may be time for another course introduction video that really highlights the importance of participation on the discussion/forum board.  By encouraging the students and creating a supportive tone in the beginning, they may feel more comfortable and willing to engage in communication beyond what is required.
  • Email Support:  If there is positive discussion that occurs amongst students, I can further encourage students to engage in additional “extra” communications (not required for a grade) throughout the course.  This encouragement can come through a short and supportive “great job – love the discussion” post on the discussion/forum board.  In addition, a short e-mail to thank individual students for their participation and encourage future participation on the discussion/forum board may prove useful.

  • Revisiting Rubrics:  My course discussion/forum board grading rubric does not reward points for follow-up or additional posts beyond the student’s response to the initial question.  Perhaps, it is time to revisit this rubric and include points for replying to other student posts or replying to student/instructor follow-up questions.  This may be an area of experimentation to determine if it is feasible and successful in generating additional discussion/forum board discussion and/or community building.
  • Update Discussion Questions:  Online courses require a continuous process of revision and discussion/forum board questions so be no different.  Since I have seen the most success with the injection of timely/controversial discussion/forum board questions, it may prove useful to update the current questions and be willing to be flexible in changing those questions during the course of the semester.  If a controversial or relevant current event occurs, determining which discussion/forum board question might be amended to address this topic or event may produce some rich discussions and community building amongst students.

Finding the How

The desire to create, grow, and participate in rich discussions within a community of students is the goal of most online educators.  The result of these discussions is respect for other points-of-view, consideration of factors or ideas that you didn’t even know existed, building of a connected personal learning network and community within the course, and learning from the community as a whole which is often much greater than that which can be achieved only from the instructor or textbook.  Though the who, what, where, and when is well defined, the how is not so easy.


The result of these discussions is respect for other points-of-view, consideration of factors or ideas that you didn’t even know existed, building of a connected personal learning network and community within the course, and learning from the community as a whole which is often much greater than that which can be achieved only from the instructor or textbook.

As Pat indicates, finding examples of these rich and mentally stimulating discussions are difficult to find and even harder to create.  The how will continue to drive online educators everywhere to experiment, learn from each other, and continue to hone skills in the art of online learning.  This is all in an attempt to widen the fishbowl and make it an enjoyable place, bring other fish to the fishbowl, reduce the fish’s aimless wanderings, and eliminate the blurriness of the outside world.

My three hour layover is about over, my free wi-fi session is up, and I am caught up! =)

Photo Credits:

Community photo credit: mallix via photopin cc
Fish Bowl photo credit: bloomgal via photopin cc

Reflections on Connectedness & Relationships -Week 2 of the “How to Teach Online” MOOC


Aloha!  Yes, I really am that far behind and yes the MOOC gods are laughing.  I am still on Week 2 and the MOOC train is passing me by.  So, in the spirit of Dr. Melissa Kaulbach’s challenge to #TOMOOCers, I have made a video reflecting on the things that I have learned and done in Week #2 of the How To Teach Online MOOC.

Photo credit: Andy Beal Photography via photopin cc


The End of a MOOC – Reflections on Human Factors in Aviation

I have completed all of the requirements for the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Human Factors in Aviation (HFA) Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and so instead of participating in the last blog post on NextGen, I thought I would spend my time reflecting on the MOOC model as applied to the aviation domain.

As mentioned in my previous post “MOOCs & Aviation – Lots of a Potential or Certain Disaster?”, I was very excited to participate in this MOOC for two reasons a) the focus of the MOOC was Human Factors which  is an area of interest and study for me in the aviation domain b) I am interested to see how the MOOC pedagogy/tools can be applied to aviation training.


I would say wholeheartedly that participating in the ERAU MOOC was a positive and worthwhile experience.

I would say wholeheartedly that participating in the ERAU MOOC was a positive and worthwhile experience.

Here are just some of the take-aways from my experience in the HFA MOOC.

  • Content Relevancy – I found the content to be relevant and timely to the present-day aviation industry.  Some important topics that were touched upon included fatigue, NextGen, aircraft design, and automation.  This MOOC provided an opportunity to reflect on some of the recent events in the aviation industry including the crash of Asiana Flight 214 and development and wide-spread utilization of unmanned aerial vehicles.  There was also multiple opportunities to apply human factors concepts to these events as well as many others.
  • Content Presentation & Organization – Presentation is an area that many MOOCs struggle with.  In addition to the massive number of participants, many MOOCs usually include a massive amount of content presented in an illogical or confusing manner.  Often, learners are participating in a game of hide and go seek to find content and assignments.  The HFA MOOC, which categorized content  by week (Week 1 – 5), was very well organized and the Coursesites website very easy to navigate.  Getting lost or not understanding what to do would have been relatively hard in this MOOC.  Many points to the course development team for keeping it simple and easy to engage with content!!  The only comment that I would make in the area of content is to specify/clarify the expected level of engagement with all the content.  It was unclear (unless I missed it) if it was expected that participants would read all of the content in each week (there was a number of resources that seemed a bit overwhelming at times) or if one should pick and choose content that interested them.  If it is expected that all content be reviewed, perhaps reducing the amount of content in terms of resources might be helpful in curbing that feeling of being overwhelmed for many participants.
  • Course Media & Lectures- MOOCs should and usually do include a variety of types of content including text, video, audio, asynchronous and synchronous activities, etc.  By utilizing multiple modalities and methods of presentation, you are catering to learners who have different learning styles (does this even exist?) and preferences (more likely that this exists).  Again, I felt that the HFA MOOC accomplished this well by incorporating videos, webinars, audio, text, and forum discussions.  The amount of course media was well balanced especially with the inclusion of only a few webinars as opposed to one every week.  The webinars were interesting and provided for a comprehensive question and answer session following presentation of content.  Though I was not able to attend the live webinars, the MOOC team provided a timely recorded video for participants to view at their convenience.  In addition to webinars, there were recorded short lectures (between 5 to 20 minutes).  I am not sure that many of these recorded lectures added interesting content from my point-of-view, but for those interested in human factors in military applications there may have been value in these recorded lectures.
  • Assessment – This is an area of contention and may be the wolf that blows the MOOC house down.  How exactly do we assess what a student has learned during the course of the MOOC?  Current assessment methods include multiple choice or free response questions, peer reviewed assignments, blogs, wiki contributions, forum discussions, artifact creations, and webinar attendance/participation to name a few.  The problem that many have with the current method of assessment in present-day MOOCs include the limited or non-existent oversight of student learning by the course instructor(s) as well as the ability of current assessment methods in measuring actual learning in accordance with course objectives.  In other words, is self-monitoring, completing short multiple choice or computer graded essay question tests, and limited engagement with the instructor and/or other participants really a valid method of measuring how many and how well you have learned and can apply the material?  The HFA MOOC employed many of the same methods of assessment as a majority of other MOOCs – blog posts that encourage application of and reflection on the content; forum discussions which include peer review, collaboration, and reflection; and a multiple choice computer graded quiz which included questions that tested limited area of content (big picture approach).  I felt the multiple choice quizzes addressed some important areas of content but were not comprehensive in nature – they only addressed a very limited sample of the overall content presented.  To utilize the MOOC model for an aviation course offering credit and/or as part of an aviation degree program, I believe that valid, reliable, and comprehensive assessment of student learning will be key to its success.


    Assessment – This is an area of contention and may be the wolf that blows the MOOC house down. How exactly do we assess what a student has learned during the course of the MOOC?

  • Participation – The ERAU HFA MOOC suffers from what all MOOCs suffer from – lackluster participation.  There is often a great amount of excitement in signing up for the MOOC and the first week of class.  However, as the MOOC continues on many participants either move toward lurker status or stop logging in all together.  Though I didn’t keep track of participation levels, it does seem that there was a group of regular and active participants in the forums, a few participants that posted every-so-often, and those that dropped in at the rush toward badge completion by deadline.  Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomena and one that MOOC providers will have to either accept or find new and creative ways to address.  From a participant stand-point this shedding of non-committed participants is actually helpful because it reduces the number of posts and reduces the MOOC size to a manageable participant level that mimics that of a normal online course.  As a participant, it is easier to engage in discussion and form connections with a few participants versus hundreds of participants.  As a MOOC provider, this type of participation and low completion rates attack the foundation of successful MOOC implementation in higher education.

I think the HFA MOOC created a well-organized space with interesting and engaging content focusing on human factors in aviation.  As with all MOOCs, you get out of it what you put into it and I believe that I dedicated a fairly significant amount of time to the MOOC and was well-rewarded.  For those that are self-motivated, interested in the content, and can engage in the course without being reminded or coaxed to log-in, MOOCs offer a variety of free learning opportunities.

This MOOC was certainly an experiment for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, one of the largest suppliers of aviation education.  It will be interesting to see with time if it is an experiment that they choose to try again or if the tool that is MOOC was ultimately more hype than it actually delivered.  One thing remains, the controversy of MOOCs in higher education, including aviation education, continue on.

Photo Credits:

Smiley Face photo credit: Nick Humphries via photopin cc

Wolf photo credit: ucumari via photopin cc

Hearing Isn’t Always Hearing – Aural Warning Systems & Eastern Airlines Flight 401

Week 4 of the ERAU Human Factors in Aviation (HFA) Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) has been an insightful journey into the discussion of automation. Though automation can quickly become a complex discussion with lots of acronyms and technical terms, it is an important discussion within the aviation industry that is long overdue.  With the microscope focusing closer in on accidents where automation has played a key role like Asiana Flight 214 (still under investigation) and Air France Flight 447; we may begin to see a shift in the general philosophy towards automation and their Liveware operators.

Valuable Lessons From the Past – Eastern Airlines Flight 401

These two recent accidents (Asiana and Air France) are notable and yield valuable lessons from the post-accident investigation and analysis process.  However, valuable insights may also be derived from those accidents of the past that are woven in the quilt of aviation history. One such accident is Eastern Airlines Flight 401 which crashed in the Florida Everglades following a gear indication problem in 1972 (National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB], 1973).  Ultimately, it was determined that distraction associated with a burnt out light bulb contributed to a series of errors, subsequent events, a very unnecessary accident, and a movement called Crew Resource Management (CRM).

The reading of the Flight 401 accident report is an exercise in shaking one’s head and clinching one’s teeth during the final moments of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) transcript.  Why didn’t the crew hear the aural warning or look outside and see the black, featureless terrain of the Everglades rising up to meet them?  Why did the aural warning system installed in this new technological marvel, the L-1011 “Whisperliner”, appear to not alert the crew of an altitude deviation?  Why did the crew appear to not have heard the aural warning and continue attending to the distracting landing gear indication light?

Though there are many ideas as to why the crew didn’t appropriately respond to the aural warning including task saturation, loss of situational awareness, and distraction (NTSB, 1973); one hypothesis that remains relevant to a discussion on automation is the idea that the crew did not adequately

sense the aural tone.  In other words – they didn’t hear it.

Can You Hear Me?  Aural Warning Systems

In order to explain, let’s talk about aural warning systems.  The Liveware – Hardware relationship includes design and installation of aural warning systems in a majority of today’s flight decks.  These aural warning systems include horns, whistles, sirens, bells, beeps, buzzers, chimes, clackers, synthesized voice messages, and tones (Hètu, 1994) which draw attention to a current or impending abnormal condition as well as provide limited information about that condition.  By receiving information about abnormal system operation, flight crews can achieve higher levels of efficiency, situational awareness, supplement visual warning systems that have some environmental limitations (glare, line of sight, etc.), and safety within the flightdeck (Burt et al., 1995; Burt 1999).

There is a lot to an aural warnings in terms of acoustic characteristics which include length, intensity, frequency, amplitude, speed, and pitch just to name a few.  One important acoustic characteristic that will affect the pilot’s sensory ability to sense the auditory stimuli (i.e – hear) of the aural warning is intensity or the loudness (Patterson, 1989).  Though we want the aural warning to be loud enough to be heard by exceeding the masked auditory threshold and therefore detected by human sensory organs (Patterson, 1989; Wilkins & Acton, 1982), it should not be so loud that it can damage the pilot’s hearing, startle them resulting in slower reaction times, and/or interfere in communication, coordination, or decision making (Cooper 1977).  This “too loud” has generally been determined to be at approximately 110 dB (Meadows, 2002).


Though we want the aural warning to be loud enough to be heard by exceeding the masked auditory threshold and therefore detected by human sensory organs, it should not be so loud that it can damage the pilot’s hearing, startle them resulting in slower reaction times, and/or interfere in communication,

The intensity must also be high enough that the aural warning can be heard over other noise that is present.  This background noise may come from air rushing over the fuselage, engine noise, air conditioning systems, radio communications, and radio static (Meadows, 2002).  By calculating a signal-noise ratio through measurement of background noise for a specific environment, the intensity (decibels) can be set at an appropriate level for that flight deck (Patterson, 1989; Wilkins & Acton, 1982).

In the analysis of an intermittent horn aural warning system on the Boeing 727 aircraft by Patterson  in 1989 (p. 19), it was found that some parts of the intermittent horn warning were below the human auditory threshold (lower frequency) and may not be sensed and perceived by a majority of pilots.  The aural warning at these frequencies may be further “masked” by excessive background noise which may prevent the pilots from sensing (i.e – hearing) the aural warning.  In addition, other parts of the horn warning that are at higher frequencies may be set at too high of an intensity exceeding a normal envelope for aural warning intensity making it too loud for most pilots.


In the analysis of an intermittent horn aural warning system on the Boeing 727 aircraft by Patterson in 1989 (p. 19), it was found that some parts of the intermittent horn warning were below the human auditory threshold (lower frequency) and may not be sensed and perceived by a majority of pilots. The aural warning at these frequencies may be further “masked” by excessive background noise which may prevent the pilots from sensing (i.e – hearing) the aural warning. In addition, other parts of the horn warning that are at higher frequencies may be set at too high of an intensity exceeding a normal envelope for aural warning intensity making it too loud for most pilots.

It can be a challenge to design an aural warning device that can be heard amongst a wide range of environmental noises.  In older flight decks, many aural warning devices were found to be too loud, startling, distracting, difficult to cancel, and potentially ineffective (Cooper, 1977; Edworthy et al. 1991).  It is also possible that some aural warning devices were set at too low of an intensity for the background noise present and could not be sufficiently heard.  Was this the case in the flightdeck of Eastern Airlines Flight 401 that late December evening?

When designing and installing an aural warning system, some factors to keep in mind:

  • Standardization – Ensuring standard presentation of an aural warning will assist in recognition of the warning, reduced confusion, and reduced response time (Cooper, 1977)
  • Feasibility of design – The aural warning design should fit into the existing design philosophy of the flight deck, warning should be of adequate length not to exceed short term memory limitations, warning should not create distraction or task overload, and be of appropriate intensity to be sensed but not cause hearing damage or interfere with other tasks including conversation (Munns, 1971; Wheale, 1982)
  • Installation – The speaker for the aural warning device must be properly located to avoid excessive loudness and startle effect.  The warning system should also be designed with a method to inhibit or cancel the warning so the flight deck crew can attend to the warning but maintain an ability to control workload to acceptable levels (Cooper, 1977)
  • Cost – Do the benefits received equal or exceed the cost of including the aural warning device?  Shouldn’t install just to install – ensure there is a purpose (Munns, 1971)

Why Didn’t Eastern Airlines Flight 401 Hear?

Eastern Airlines Flight 401 descended into the Everglades in December 1972 following an abnormal nose landing gear indication light.  The autopilot was inadvertently disconnected and the aircraft descended slowly and undetected making it one of many Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) accidents.  At approximately 250 feet below the selected altitude of 2,000 feet, a C-chord aural warning was triggered with the speaker located near the Flight Engineer’s panel.  This warning lasted in duration approximately 0.5 seconds.  There was no response or reaction to this warning by any of the crewmembers as noted in the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) transcript and according to some sources the aural warning could hardly be detected when listening to the CVR audio tape.  The crew received another warning at approximately 50 feet above the ground.  Unfortunately, due to the design of the visual warning systems in the L-1011, there was no visual warning to accompany the aural altitude deviation warning at the low altitude of 2,000 feet (National Transportation Safety Board, 1973; Fuller, 1976).

Is it possible that the crew was limited on cognitive resources due to distraction with the landing gear indication light and did not have the cognitive resources available to attend to, process, and respond to the aural warning (Burt, 1999)?  Is it possible that the intensity or other acoustic characteristics of the altitude deviation aural warning were set at an inappropriate level (below auditory threshold or appropriate aural warning envelope) and did not allow it to be heard amongst the environmental background noise present in the L-1011 that evening (landing gear down, low altitude)?

My guess is it is a little bit of both.

Un-linking the Accident Error Chain

So what could have been done differently?  By removing the distraction of the gear indication light from the flight deck that evening, an important link in the error chain could have been removed by increasing attention on monitoring of flight instruments, increasing cognitive resources available to sense and perceive auditory stimuli such as an aural warning, and reducing the possibility that an altitude deviation would have gone unnoticed.


Another important change to the error chain lies in the area of automation.

Another important change to the error chain lies in the area of automation.  By changing the design of the aural warning device in the L-1011, there is the possibility that the aural warning would have been of significant intensity and acoustic complexity that it would have been sensed and subsequently perceived by the flight crew (National Transportation Safety Board, 1973; Fuller, 1976).

The role of aural warning devices in the Eastern Airlines Flight 401 is all hypothesis and speculation.  However, it does illustrate the importance of automation in the relationships of the SHEL(L) model.

Some of the factors included in the SHEL(L) model when focusing on aural warning systems as part of automation include:

  • Hardware
    • Aural warning system design
    • Warning system implementation
    • Warning system reliability
  • Software
    • Procedures for monitoring and responding to aural warning devices
    • Inclusion of inhibit features
    • Utilization of aural warnings appropriate to phases of flight
  • Environment
    • Measurement of background noise present in actual environment and calculation of signal-noise ratio
    • Reduction in environmental (background) noise that has adverse affects on aural warnings resulting from masking and distraction
  • Liveware
    • Pilot knowledge of aural warning devices and appropriate response to warnings
    • Understanding of human limits in the area of aural sensation and perception by aural warning device designers, manufacturers, and operators

Finishing Up the MOOC

The who, what, where, when, why, and how of automation will continue to be a topic of discussion.  There is a balance within this Liveware – Hardware and Liveware – Software relationship.  Though many would like to eliminate the Liveware component all together, this is not possible as Liveware infiltrates all levels of the system.  Instead, it will require that the industry remain dedicated to finding that balance through discussion, discovery, observation, analysis and most likely regulation and procedural amendments.

Beyond aural warnings and automation is Week #5 of the ERAU Human Factors in Aviation MOOC.  This week will bring the MOOC to a close.  Time to finish up activities and add a badge to the wall.


Bertone, C.M.  (1982).  Human factors considerations in the development of a voice warning system for helicopters.  In C.W. Conner (Chair), Behavioral Objectives in Aviation Automated Systems Symposium Proceeds No. P-114.  (pp. 133 – 142).  Anahiem, CA:  Aerospace Congress & Exposition.

Burt, J.L., Bartolome, D.S., Burdette, D.W. & Comstock, J.R.  (1995).  A psycho physiological evaluation of the perceived urgency of auditory warning signals.  Ergonomics, 38(11), 2327-2340.

Burt, J.L.  (1999).  Empirical studies concerning aural alerts for cockpit use leading to an aural alerting signal categorization scheme.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.  [On-line].  Retrieved from

Cooper, G.E.  (1977).  A survey of the status and philosophies relating to cockpit warning systems.  (NTIS No. NASA-CR-1552071).  Saratoga, CA:  National Technical Information Services.

Edworthy, J., Loxley, S., & Dennis, I.  (1991).  Improving auditory warning design: Relationship between warning sound parameters and perceived urgency.  Human Factors, 33(2), 205-231.

Fuller, J.G.  (1976).  The ghost of flight 401 (pp. 92 – 100).  New York:  Berkley Publishing Corporation.

Hetu, R.  (1994).  Mismatches between auditory demands and capabilities in the industrial work environment.  Audiology, 33(10, 1 – 14.

Meadows, J.A.  (2002).  The effect of background noise on the perception of aural warning signals in aircraft cockpits.  Unpublished manuscript, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

Munns, M.  (1971).  Ways to alarm pilots.  Aerospace Medicine, 42, 731 – 734.

National Transportation Safety Board.  (1973).  Aircraft accident report:  Eastern Air Lines Inc., L-1011, N310EA, Miami Florida, December 29, 1972.   (Report No. NTSB-AAR-73-14).  Washington, DC:  National Transportation Safety Board.

Patterson, R.D.  (1989).  Guidelines for the design of auditory warning sounds.  Proceedings of the Institute of Acoustics, 11(5), 17-24.

Wheale, J.L.  (1982).  Performance decrements associated with reaction to voice warning messages.  In G.H. Hunt (Chair), AGARD Conference Proceedings No. 329, Advanced Avionics and the Military Aircraft Man/Machine Interface (pp. 18:1-2).  London:  Technical Editing and Reproduction, LTD.

Wilkins, P.A. & Acton, W.I.  (1982).  Noise and accidents – A review.  Annals of Occupational Hygiene, 25(3), 249-260.

Photo Credits:

Big Eared Dog Photo Credit: San Diego Shooter via photopin cc

Chain Photo Credit: Bob.Fornal via photopin cc

Online Education – The More You Know the More You Don’t Know

This week was Week #1 of the How To Teach Online Massive Open Online Course (#tomooc).  It was a bit of a struggle to keep up with finishing up one mooc and starting another.  But I am motivated, and motivation is always worth its weight in gold.

The content this week was surprisingly interesting.  As with all MOOCs, I am trying to get used to the format of the How To Teach Online MOOC as well as what the expectations are.  I have been teaching online for over five years and during those five years the learning curve has been pretty much vertical.  As much as I think I know about online learning, there is always so much more to learn.  My only limitation is the amount of time that I have in the day.

Substantive Interaction

One concept that was presented as part of Week #1 was that of substantive interaction.  This concept of substantive interaction separates online learning from correspondence courses and plays a significant role in accreditation. Guidelines in this area are set forth by the U.S. Department of Education as as “regular and substantive interaction between these students and the instructor (Poulin, n.d.)”  The question for educators becomes how much, how often, using what types of technology, and to what level does interaction meet the regular and substantive guideline?


Guidelines in this area are set forth by the U.S. Department of Education as as “regular and substantive interaction between these students and the instructor (Poulin, n.d.)”

This area of communication and interaction between instructor and student and student and student has always been a struggle for me in online courses.  Not only did I experience the lack of student – student and student – instructor interaction during my graduate online studies, but I have also experienced it from the other side of the computer screen as an instructor.

As a student it was one of the most disappointing parts of obtaining a degree online.  I join many other students when I say I felt isolated and a bit hungry for interaction and intellectual discussion.  As an instructor, I would have to say that creating connections and interactions with students in the online learning environment is one of the most challenging if not the most challenging part of the job.  Often students want to log in, finish their tasks, get their grade, and move on.  I really delight in the opportunity to interact with a good group of students who are interested in engaging in conversations or synchronous communication methods.  However, this has often been the exception rather than the rule.

So, during the next few weeks I hope to learn more about the how versus the why of creating social interactions and community within an online course.

Nine Steps to Quality Online Learning Reflection

The focus of my artifact for this week is Tony Bates’s Nine Steps to Quality Online Learning.  Though I have engaged in many of these steps through trial and error, it was nice to see an organizational process as well as supporting content and documentation to add to my knowledge of each of these areas.  Some of the steps I feel as though I have really achieved some success with my online courses such as course organization, communicating expectations, continuous evaluation/innovation process.  However, there are other steps that I still have much work to do like fine-tuning course structure and creating opportunities for communication and interaction.

I have turned to another one of my Web 2.0 tools, Prezi, for creation of this week’s artifact.  I am not sure that I love Prezi as a presentation tool, usually the response is a bit of sea sickness, but it is a constant process of experimentation and so I decided to give it another try.

These are my reflections on Tony Bates’ 9 Steps of Quality Online Learning and Week #1 of the How to Teach Online MOOC.  Enjoy!

(There seems to be some issue with embedding Prezi into WordPress.  If the Prezi does not load, click the hyperlink above to access).


Bates, T.  (2012, May 2).  9 steps to quality online learning:  Introduction.  Retrieved from

Poulin, R.  (n.d.).  Is your distance education course actually a correspondence course?  Retrieved from

Photo Credits:

Communication photo credit: krossbow via photopin cc

Turbulent Connections Between Liveware, Hardware, Software & Environment


I am actually hanging on to the horse this week.

The Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Human Factors in Aviation (HFA) Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) marches on and I am actually hanging on to the horse this week.  Poison ivy is starting to finally creep away (thank you for the comments of concern!) and I think I am staying on track.

This week’s MOOC materials continue the analysis of the Edward’s SHEL(L) model components keeping focus on the Liveware component and adding in Environment, Hardware, and Software.  As part of the Blog assignment, participants were asked to review some aircraft accident reports.  I decided to focus in on Continental Airlines Flight 1404 that crashed in December of 2008 in Denver Colorado.

Just Because It Doesn’t Make it Big Time Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Notable

I have to admit, I try to keep up on accidents and current events, but I was not completely familiar with this accident.  Taking a chance to read the accident report and reflect on it was a great opportunity to become knowledgeable about the course of events and revisit the effects of the Hardware, Software, and Environmental components on the accident chain.

This accident is a bit different from some of the other accidents that have been reviewed in the HFA MOOC.  The crash in Denver took place in only a matter of seconds and there was no loss of life other than aircraft damage and injuries.  Perhaps, this is why this accident has remained relatively free from typical aviation human factors discussions.  Unless there is subsequent loss of life, substantial aircraft damage, or notable circumstances, many aircraft accidents don’t make it on the radar of most outside of the industry.  One recent example is the crash of UPS Flight 1354 which took place in the early morning hours outside Birmingham, Alabama resulting in only the death of the crew, loss of aircraft, and loss of cargo.  Though this accident may yield a number of interesting insights into training, automation, and fatigue just to name a few (investigation still pending), there has been a general lack of significant prime time news coverage or industry focus on the accident.

Regardless of how news-worthy or headline making an accident is, just because there is no significant loss of life like that found in the Pan Am/KLM crash in Tenerife, successful outcome like that of US Airways Flight 1549 in New York, or unraveling of a long error chain at the hands of a lightbulb like Eastern Airlines Flight 401 in the Everglades doesn’t mean the accident isn’t a “game changer” or lacks the ability to impact true industry change.

I am not sure that the Continental Airlines Flight 1404 accident was a game changer or has greatly impacted the industry like other recent crashes such as Colgan Airlines Flight 3407 that occurred in 2009.  Over four years later, the effects of the Colgan crash are still being felt on an operational and regulatory scale and will continue to come to fruition in 2014 when new crew duty rules are implemented.  Despite this, there are some notable lessons to be understood from Continental.

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As one is reading the accident report, there few threats or errors that scream out and makes one realize that at some point the accident error chain was in full motion and imminent disaster awaits.

Where are the Big Red Flags?

As one is reading the accident report, there few threats or errors that scream out and make one realize that at some point the accident error chain was in full motion and imminent disaster awaits.  In fact, I was looking for these items throughout the report and am left wondering “if the sam of circumstances arose again – would the accident happen again?”

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), several pilots placed in a simulator in relatively similar conditions achieved a successful takeoff as part of the post-crash investigation.  If one is predicting future success on the number of successful attempts accomplished, then I suppose you can chalk the events of December 20, 2008 to a really bad day.  What these simulator pilots had at their disposal that the accident crew did not was the safety of an artificial operational environment, knowledge that “something bad would happen,” and the luxury of hindsight.

Some Take-Aways

So here are a few quick take-aways in regard to the Liveware – Software, Liveware – Hardware, and Liveware – Environment relationships found in the Continental accident:

  • Hardware is really important – A majority of the accident report is spent analyzing the Liveware – Hardware component interaction including focus on the rudder, ailerons, and nose wheel steering system.  Though the design or operation of these systems was not questioned, the Captain was not able to fully harness all that they had to offer by maintaining directional control utilizing a coordinated effort or aggressively applying enough or full available control deflection at least according to the accident report.  Ultimately, hardware is only as good as the human using it.  In this case, according to the NTSB, the Captain should have been slightly more aggressive in utilizing rudder deflection to control the aircraft.  This is in stark contrast to the case of American Airlines Flight 587 in Belle Harbor, New York the First Officer’s aggressive use of rudder input caused structural damage and catastrophic failure of the empennage.
  • Software is often a guideline – Continental Airlines had crosswind limitations located in their manuals and training procedures for operation in crosswinds as part of their training/evaluation events.  However, these regulations/guidelines in the form of limitations, procedures, policies, cautions to operators, and/or advisory memos are often blanket rules of the road for a dynamic industry.  Many cross-wind limitations are “demonstrated” which means that during testing the aircraft has been able to perform satisfactorily under those set of conditions.  However, in this accident mountain waves, gusts, and constantly changing wind directions and speeds bite holes into the edges of this satisfactorily-demonstrated performance model.  Though the crew may have chosen to delay the departure if additional weather information had been given by the Air Traffic Controller prior to departure in accordance with these software elements, chances are many aircraft have and will continue to depart under rather similar circumstances.  This is where the Liveware – Software relationship will continue to evolve with a fine balance between implementation of regulation, policy, procedure, work methods and placing/keeping faith in the knowledge, training, and experience of flight crews.
  • The Environment will always throw a curveball – The environment will always present elements that are expected and unexpected.  It is truly a threat that is always present even on the nicest of days.  Through Threat & Error Management (TEM), it is importance to expand the safety margin as large as possible to accommodate for dynamic and sometimes dramatic changes in weather.  Not only is giving yourself space and time to make decisions based on changing   conditions important, but it is also important to not stick with one decision.  Often changing weather may call for changes in the “original plan.”  As difficult as it is to create a Plan B, C, and maybe even D, it is important to give yourself time and resources to make alternative plans, be willing to admit “defeat,” and consider a new course of action if needed.

Horse Photo credit: Eduardo Amorim via photopin cc

Red Flag photo credit: gregorywass via photopin cc

Not-So-Little Problems At Little Rock – American Airlines Flight 1420

In a continued effort to get caught up, I am finishing up Week #2 of the ERAU HFA MOOC.  The topic of this week’s conversation turns to fatigue – something that is on the mind of most industry members as the flight crew duty regulations are preparing to change in 2014.  One doesn’t have to look far to find an accident that contains some element of fatigue in the error chain.  One such accident occurred in a big place called Little Rock on a dark and stormy night in 1999.


One doesn’t have to look far to find an accident that contains some element of fatigue in the error chain. One such accident occurred in a big place called Little Rock on a dark and stormy night in 1999.

Fatigue Interrupts the Chain

The American Airlines Flight 1420 accident in Little Rock, Arkansas on June 1, 1999 perfectly illustrates the aviation accident error chain in full play.  Though certainly not the first, this accident cited fatigue as a contributing factor in the accident.  The first National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident report to cite fatigue as a contributing factor was in 1993 following the crash of Kalitta Airlines Flight 808 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Since 1993, there has been a host of other accidents including fatigue as a contributor including Go! Flight 1002 Hilo, Hawaii;  Pinnacle Airlines Flight 3701 Kirksville, Missouri; Comair Airlines Flight 5191 Lexington, Kentucky; Colgan Airlines Flight 3407 Buffalo, New York; perhaps the latest UPS Flight 1354 in Birmingham, Alabama (findings still pending); and of course American Airlines Flight 1420 in Little Rock, Arkansas (Rosekind, 2012).

As one reads through the lengthy National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident report, the threats and errors continue to mount and poke holes in the Reason accident Swiss Cheese.  This poking holes in cheese and roughing up interactions between blocks of the SHEL(L) model seem to be a reoccurring theme in almost any accident and especially during our discussion of Human Factors this MOOC.

Just A Few Threats & Errors

A brief scan of the accident report yields some threats and errors that were present that evening:

  • The Crew:  The Captain was a training/base pilot and the First Officer relatively new to American Airlines
  • Circadian Rhythms:  The Captain slept in later than usual on the morning of the accident – deviating from his usual awake/sleep times.
    • Both crew members were hovering around a 13 hour duty day at the time of the accident and had been awake for more than 15 hours
  • ATC Controller:  The Little Rock Air Traffic Controller on-staff was also suffering from an odd sleep pattern preceding his duty period during which the accident took place.
  • Time of Day:  The accident occurred late at night (close to midnight local central time).
  • Operational Pressure/Stress:  The crew had to proactively work with American Airlines to get an aircraft swap in Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) after their assigned airplane was running late.
    • There were looming duty time constraints that made expeditious departure from DFW necessary to avoid crew “time out.”
  • Known Weather:  The potential for convective weather moving towards Little Rock at the time of arrival was known from forecasts, reports, advisories, and Dispatcher communications creating a “race to the airport” scenario.
  • Last Minute Changes:  During arrival there was a change of runway after the initial approach brief resulting in an abbreviated brief in a time-compressed manner.
  • Verbal Cues:  Both the Captain and First Officer verbally expressed their dislike of the situation and the pressure they felt to get to the field before the thunderstorm.
  • Deviating Outside of Normal:  Due to last-minute vectoring to an alternative runway (4R) and dynamic weather conditions, the crew accepted deviations from what would be the “norm” before even starting the approach (Controller alerted them that they would not be properly on course around the outer marker).
    • The aircraft was approximately 25 knots faster than normal on approach which would be considered to be an unstabilized approach.
  • Vague Organizational Policies:  Some of American Airlines policies and procedures were vague (stabilized approach concept, spoiler system arming procedure) but they did have policies and procedures in place for operation in adverse weather conditions and for beginning and continuing an approach.
    • The American Airlines safety culture appeared to be well established as they openly invited critique from third parties during the post-accident phase.

Something Called Risk

Any one of these threats or errors would not have necessarily and individually resulted in the partially fatal crash of American Airlines Flight 1420.  However, as the Reason Model visually illustrates and the ragged intersections of the SHEL(L) model blocks demonstrate, together threats and errors can equate to big problems.

This desire to get to destination and complete the mission (sometimes pilots are known to like to do that) with minimal operational deviation or passenger discomfort begins to strengthen into a narrow focus as fatigue sets in.  The crew of American Airlines Flight 1420 allowed threats and errors to continue to occur and mount in rapid succession opening the risk envelope wide open.  They became task saturated, overloaded with data resulting in misinterpretation, and focused on getting on the ground as quickly as possible accepting deviations beyond what they were authorized to accept or what they were comfortable with as noted by the First Officer in a very quite “go-around” command.


The crew of American Airlines Flight 1490 allowed threats and errors to continue to occur and mount in rapid succession opening the risk envelope wide open

This crew was certainly not alone in their attempt to penetrate adverse weather for the sake of “getting it done.”  Rhoda & Pawlak of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1999 as cited in NTSB, 2001) found that pilots are more willing to penetrate adverse weather and continue to the airport if they are flying at night (dark), behind schedule (more than 15 minutes), and/or following another aircraft.  These findings are not very surprising since pilot self-talk includes “the other guy is getting in so we will get in to,” “we need to get there,” “let’s hurry – we can get there before the storm,” “I’ve done this before – it turned out last time” and quickly cement the potential for success within the pilot’s brain and create an expectation of success from consensus.  This is further muddled with hazardous attitudes of resignation, invulnerability, or macho-ism along with a healthy dose of “get there itis.”

Threats & Errors Compound With Fatigue

This narrowing of focus, poor decision making, loss of situational awareness, willingness to accept deviations outside of normal operating parameters, and reduced information processing capacity/ability heightened as the duty day went on and are known factors of fatigue.  An NTSB study in 1994 (NTSB, 2001) found that when pilots were awake for more than 13 hours significant errors start to take place.  This certainly was the case in this accident.  There was little or no talk of holding out and waiting for this storm to pass or deviating to another airport. Just holding a few moments would have allowed the storm to pass off the field, the margin of risk to be decreased (safer operation),  and for the flight to make an approach behind the storm to 4L/22R or again to 4R/22L with the potential for a more standardized and normal approach.

It’s Easy to Be Judgy

It’s very easy to be judgy in the post-accident analysis.  We as readers of accident reports or industry professionals have the luxury of viewing the accident and all of its threats and errors from the “big picture” point-of-view.  This crew never had the intention of crashing that evening or getting into a race to the airport that included operating outside normal parameters or conducting what would be considered a very busy and abnormal approach.  They sought to balance the plates of technical skill, decision making, risk management, desire to obtain mission completion, and most likely being a little tired.  They tragically lost.

Fatigue is a tricky and very individual psychological and physical factor making it difficult to identify and rectify.  The only true fix for fatigue is to take yourself out of a stressful situation and sleep – an option not available at 30,000 feet.  The focus then must turn to awarenessprevention, mitigation, and management.

This includes keeping yourself out of a fatiguing event through awareness and prevention or if you are in one mitigating and/or managing it to maintain the highest margin of safety and lowest risk possible.

In Little Rock, this may have meant:

  • Awareness:  Realizing that fatigue had or would be setting in by thinking about the days events and having knowledge of physiological circadian rhythms
  • Prevention:  Preventing fatigue by perhaps not taking off from DFW or engaging in some anti-fatigue countermeasures such as a quick nap or cup of coffee
  • Mitigation:  Reducing threats and errors as much as possible by taking a weather delay in DFW, holding near LIT and letting the storm pass through, or deviating to another airport with the potential of not landing at LIT that night
  • Management:  Beginning the approach under the current conditions with a clear exit plan and narrowly defined ideas about what would constitute a go-around and then continuing the flight by adhering to those conditions

More to Come

In 2014, flight crew rest requirements will be debuting and appear at first glance to have the potential for reducing the fatigue threat but increasing the operational pressure threat in many aviation organizations.  We will have to stay tuned to see what new holes may be slowly appearing in the Reason Swiss Cheese.


National Transportation Safety Board.  (2001). Runway overrun during landing, American Airlines Flight 1420, McDonnell Douglas MD-82, N215AA, Little Rock, Arkansas, June 1, 1999(Aircraft Accident Report NTSB/AAR-01/02).  [Electronic version]. Retrieved from

Rosekind, M.R.  (2012, September 12).  Managing fatigue in aviation ops:  An NTSB perspective.  Presented at the Malibu Mirage Owners & Pilots Association September 12, 2012.  [Powerpoint presentation].  Retrieved from

Photo Credit:

Risk photo credit: anarchosyn via photopincc

Thunderstorm photo credit: char1iej via photopin cc

Aloha! MOOC madness from Hawaii

One lonely Sunday night, searching the Twitter feed, I come across an interesting post from an Australian in my Personal Learning Network (PLN) @ActivateLearn.


Somehow instead, I think the MOOC gods have already started laughing.

After a few clicks, I am now enrolled in yet another Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) titled “How to Teach Online”  presented by Leeward Community College in Hawaii.  At least when at my computer, I can dream of the beach!  Somehow instead, I think the MOOC gods have already started laughing.

So, this is the test post to connect with my new #tomooc friends in MOOC land.  A good ying to my yang of Human Factors MOOCing at ERAU, it will be a busy next couple of weeks submersed in a virtual world.

Photo credit: Andy Beal Photography via photopin cc

Winding the Clock – The Tenerife Accident & Time Management

We are moving right along in the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s The Human Factor in Aviation (HFA) Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).  Of course we are now well into Week #2 and I am finishing up Week #1.  I blame this on my horrible relationship with poison ivy the last week or two.  If you haven’t ever had the enjoyment of having an allergic reaction to this three leafed plant, I highly suggest it.  It really tests one’s limits of dealing with frustration, lack of control, and constant itching.  =(

Threats, Errors and a Place Called Tenerife

The topic of Week #1’s blog post assignment in the HFAMOOC is to reflect on one of the world’s most deadly and notorious aircraft accidents.  In 1977, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Flight 4805 and Pan American Airways Flight 1736, two Boeing 747 aircraft, collided on a fog covered runway in Tenerife, the Canary Islands resulting in hundreds of deaths (Aviation Safety Network, n.d.).  As with many agents of change, the accident at Tenerife was a watershed moment when all in the industry were able to collectively ask “why,” quickly band together with a common purpose, and assure the dead that they did not die in vain.

In hindsight, Tenerife was really no different than many of the other accidents occurring throughout aviation’s relatively short history.  Like others, the presence of threats both big and small, commission of errors, and interaction between them led to the perfect storm of threats, formation of an error chain, and ultimately one of the most fatal aviation accidents (Aviation Safety Network, n.d.).

Certainly, none of the members in the flight decks of these two airplanes at Tenerife were inexperienced and there was no catastrophic failure of the aircraft like in United Airlines Flight 232 Sioux City, Iowa or American Airlines Flight 191 in Chicago, Illinois.  Instead, the KLM and Pan Am crews both suffered from a litany of unexpected, distracting, and frustrating threats and both made a host of seemingly harmless missteps and unintentional errors.  These actions and behaviors of these two crews, who were trying desperately to get out of Tenerife that afternoon after a drama-filled morning, provided a launching point for regulations, procedures, best practices, and awareness that is still felt in the industry today.

Perhaps, Tenerife’s biggest threat was that it occurred in a pre-Crew Resource Management (CRM) environment where awareness and tools to recognize as well as manage threats and errors had not yet been fully realized.  Though these skills are part of basic airmanship, professionalism, and partially a result of training and experience; these two crews were not able to truly take advantage of a culture of heightened situational awareness or some of the soft-skills such as threat and error recognition and management included in today’s CRM and human factors training.

In the end, Tenerife’s biggest accomplishment may be that it has brought awareness to many  active and latent threats present in many aviation operations and became one of several memorable accidents contributing to the growing aviation human factors/Crew Resource management movement around the late 1970s.

Holes in the cheese

Much of Week #1 in the HFAMOOC was spent discussing what human factors is, who it includes, and utilizing models to categorize some of the factors and their relationships that are important in the study of human factors.  This included the introduction of Reason’s Swiss Cheese Model and Edward’s SHEL(L) model.  Whether you are employing the SHEL(L) model, Reason Swiss Cheese model, Threat & Error Management (TEM) framework, etc., the result is the same in the analysis of the Tenerife accident.  There were a host of obvious and identifiable as well as un-observable latent threats and errors that paved the way to certain disaster.  In the Reason Swiss Cheese model, these errors (active or latent) are represented by holes in the cheese and in Edward’s SHEL(L) model they are represented by the ragged edges in interactions between liveware, software, hardware, and environmental components.


There are certainly numerous examples of each of the SHEL(L) components and so many holes in the Reason Swiss Cheese that it vaguely resembles cheese by the end of the Tenerife analysis.

It would be repetitious to categorize and reflect on the various threats and errors that were present in the Tenerife accident.  There are certainly numerous examples of each of the SHEL(L) components and so many holes in the Reason Swiss Cheese that it vaguely resembles cheese by the end of the Tenerife analysis.

The Gift of Time

The two crews involved in the Tenerife accident were irritated and suffered from an extreme desire to depart, otherwise known in human factor’s circles as “get-there-itis.”  In their quest to get airborne, the crews encountered numerous interactions of SHEL(L) model components and errors creating holes in the Swiss Cheese.  These included passenger handling issues, lengthy ground delays, ground movement and servicing issues, regulatory constraints, confusing communication with Air Traffic Control (ATC), and tense communication with their respective companies.  The operational pressure to keep passengers happy and to keep aircraft on schedule as much as possible not only acted as a distraction but also an ignition source for errors contributing to the ever-building accident error chain.

In my opinion, the concept of time management especially when existing in an environment rich with operational pressure is one of the many valuable take-aways from the Tenerife tragedy. As a flight crew member, one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself in terms of safety is the gift of time.  Not only is this a gift, but it adds a layer of cheese to the Reason Swiss Cheese model further protecting against the growing number of holes (errors).

All too often when trying to fit in more and more things in a compressed time period, something is going to be over-looked or missed due to the limited nature of cognitive resources.  In a multi-crew flight deck where effective crew communication and group dynamics exist, these cognitive resources can be greatly increased through the utilization of several crewmembers to effectively and efficiently complete tasks.

Despite efficiency and effectiveness that may be gained in using multiple crewmembers, the 24-hour day eventually comes to an end and there are limitations on time no matter how much your watch says you have.  This was the case for the crew of United Airlines Flight 173 that crashed in Portland, Oregon following a gear malfunction and subsequent fuel starvation.  This crew, and especially the Captain, were unable to mange time and ended up with an extreme warped sense of time available that was not realistic based on fuel quantity resources available.

The Portland accident reminds us that it is important to give oneself time to manage a flight operation but this time must be balanced with what is appropriate for the given situation and resources available.  This is why situational awareness (awareness of what is going on around you) is heavily related to time management with time management really being an extension of situational awareness.

large_2829021471In the Tenerife accident, both crews could have given themselves the gift of time and perhaps picked the more conservative but more time-consuming option.  In turn, this may have broken the error chain and prevented this accident.  In accidents such as these, the delays, passenger complaints, additional effort on behalf of Air Traffic Control, etc. all become the opportunity cost of increasing safety.  These crews, like many both past and present, often decide that the opportunity cost is too high and forge ahead hoping that skill, motivation, and a little luck will keep the right side up and allow them to get to destination.

What if Air Traffic Control only sent one aircraft out to takeoff at a time leaving the rest on the ramp?  What if the KLM flight was cognizant of the rest requirements but chose to operate the flight with heightened situational awareness potentially risking the inability to complete the flight within the duty regulations?  What if the Pan Am crew took a few extra moments to brief the effect of reduced visibility on their ability to comply with takeoff weather requirements?  What if Tenerife airport had spent more time and money in installing effective taxiway markings and maintaining operational lighting?

Easier Said Than Done

In the heat of the moment it is not quite so easy to disengage, wind your watch, and slow down the pace of the operation.  Whether you are operating at a slower pace than the rest of your environment or not, time marches on, fuel still burns, passengers still have complaints and demands, and ground personnel may still present challenges that require extra and unexpected minutes to rectify.  All of these moments and how you may manage them may add to the layers of Swiss Cheese and smooth the lines in the SHEL(L) model or eat away at the Swiss Cheese and roughen-up the interactions between SHEL(L) components.

In the end, it is awareness, experience, and a culture of safety that will all help to support one’s ability to take a moment, evaluate the circumstances, make the proper decision in terms of safely, and re-evaluate this decision considering the time available in mind.


Aviation Safety Network.  (n.d.).  Accident description.  Retrieved from

Photo Credits:

Swiss Cheese photo credit: thenoodleator via photopin cc

Time photo credit: FJTUrban (sommelier d mojitos) via photopin cc

MOOCs & Aviation – Lots of Potential or Certain Disaster?

From the time I enrolled in my first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Instructional Ideas & Technology Tools with Dr. Curt Bonk from Indiana University (Hoosiers – blah!) last winter, I wondered about the potential application of MOOCs to the aviation industry.  Several MOOCs later with the most recent through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I still believe there is potential in applying the MOOC learning environment to the aviation domain.  And just when my curiosity was peaked comes the opportunity to engage in an aviation-centered MOOC hosted by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), home of my graduate degree.

Revolution in Aviation Training

The aviation industry has and continues to be in the down swing of “the cycle.”  Most agree that the aviation industry, like many others, is a cyclic industry with many often predictable highs and lows.  Though the future is looking promising as we start to move into the up part of the cycle with major airlines returning to profitable levels and some hiring taking place, there are still many segments of the industry that are fighting to survive.

medium_9401420814 (1)

The aviation industry has and continues to be in the down swing of “the cycle.” Most agree that the aviation industry, like many others, is a cyclic industry with many often predictable highs and lows.

One area that remains constant regardless of cycle upswings or downswings is that of training.  As of late, there appears to be an observable and small revolution taking place in aviation training.  The long-standing tried and true but “not necessarily effective” method of training aviation professionals, especially pilots, is being aggressively modified by regulatory agencies (mainly the Federal Aviation Administration) as well as industry leaders including training programs and academies, airlines, and corporate/charter flight training departments.

This revolution comes at an important time when cost-savings is a primary industry focus and the massive influx of Generation Y-ers (millennials) into the workforce is among us.  Generation Y-ers are characteristically different from their predecessors, Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers, because they often do not subscribe to the traditional “paying your dues” or “do as you are told” mentality.  And unlike their predecessors, many generation Y-ers often resist or reject less-than engaging or not immediately useful and relevant training materials and objectives (Brack, 2012).

In order to adapt to these new types of learners entering the field as well as achieve higher efficiencies and hopefully levels of safety, there has been a markedly higher utilization of scenario-based training.  This type of training often based on real world data and actual events can supplement and/or replace exercises in rote memorization, regurgitation, or performance of seemingly isolated and questionably-relevant maneuvers such as chandelles and lazy eights.

In addition to the increased utilization of scenario-based training, there is also an observable shift in focus to assessing the pilot’s ability to connect and apply individual pieces of knowledge and skills in realistic scenarios while effectively engaging with other crew members and utilizing well-developed soft-skills such as decision making and crew coordination.  Regardless of the utilization of these new tools, pilots have and always will be required to successfully demonstrate mastery of well-defined knowledge areas and performance tasks despite changes in presentation.

Dollars & Aviation Training


And if it is anything that we know in aviation, it is that cash is king. Today’s aviation industry organizations are about spending less and saving more – this includes training.

There is a balance in the aviation training world of maintaining an acceptable level of skill and knowledge amongst the pilot group which in turn allows them to achieve high levels of operational efficiency while maintaining low levels of incidents and accidents with minimal financial investment.

In general, aviation industry members receive as much training as is regulated and required to meet the needs of the organization.  If it is one thing that we know in aviation, it is that cash is king.  Today’s aviation industry organizations are about spending less and saving more – this includes training.  Spending more than that can cost the organization valuable dollars in profit, market share, and make them less competitive in an industry where future work and contracts are often based on the lowest cost provider.

However, the flip side exists where the money that might be saved in training costs can quickly be lost in lawsuits, penalties, and reduced marketability if an incident or accident occurs.  So here lies the paradox – sometimes you have to spend a little money to make a little money – but not too much or you become extinct.  How the organization chooses to engage in this concept of balance is often incorporated in the organizational safety culture (Federal Aviation Administration, 2000).

Saving A Little With MOOCs

In addition to scenario based training, e-learning is taking a prominent role in today’s aviation training environment.  It is becoming commonplace for e-learning modules to be included in initial, recurrent, and supplemental training which increases pilot utilization by decreasing the amount of time pilots are away from the “line.”  Furthermore, incorporating e-learning also helps to decrease overall training costs through reduction in overhead expenses.  With the increasing utilization of e-learning, it seems a natural part of the evolution of aviation training that the new kid on the block, MOOCs, might play a valuable role.

Could MOOCs have a positive and effective role in aviation training at some level  Here are some of the positives of MOOCs when applied to the aviation domain:

  • Low overhead:  Since MOOCs are online, they have potential use as stand-alone training events or as part of a blended learning environment.  MOOCs require little or no need for a physical space, hourly/salaried instructors to present information on a reoccurring basis as found in classroom presentations, or costly software programs or presentation tools.
  • Economies of scale:  You can provide training to an entire pilot group with a lower average cost per pilot through potential reductions in instructional time and overhead costs.
  • Reduced impact of training on learner’s routine:  Since information can be accessed in a typical 24/7 online learning environment, the ability to access information anytime and at anyplace remains a major selling point. Learners (in this case pilots) will not have to interrupt normal school or work schedules to engage in the training program.
  • Diversification of learners:  In the spirit of the Open Education Resource (OER) Movement, open access to materials allows learners to gain perspective and insights from other participants all around the globe which may not be achievable in a brink-and-mortar classroom.  This may not be applicable for content that includes sensitive information or of interest only to a particular organization, but the idea does have some collaborative potential amongst organizations contributing to a global aviation culture.
  • Learner buy-in:  In a recent survey, many corporate employees (especially millennials) see MOOCs as having a relevant place in the training environments of today and tomorrow.  MOOCs may also fulfill some of the need by millennials for access to self-directed learning and engagement opportunities (Meister, 2013).  The more you can get learners and pilots on-board with expanding their knowledge base, the greater the level of effectiveness.
  • Active learner role:  It is no secret that MOOCs require learner motivation and organizational skills to be successful.  In MOOCs, learners are provided with additional learning resources in which to explore as well as opportunities to engage with content and collaborate with other learners.  By requiring learners to take a more active role in their learning experience, the potential for success is increased.

So in very simplistic terms MOOCs, if designed and developed properly, can offer a lot of bang for the buck.  However, MOOCs do have some baggage in the form of design, development, and implementation problems.  Potential problems associated with MOOC implementation in the aviation domain include:

  • Self-Discipline:  As stressed above, MOOCs require additional learner motivation and organizational skills for success.  Learners must log on, engage with content, take the time to interact with other learners, and sometimes endure the inevitable technical issues such as broken links or non-supported flash content.  In other words, learners aren’t spoon fed as they might be while listening to an instructor present content in real-time.
  • Poor success rates:  One of the biggest issues that plague MOOCs is completion rates which hover around 10% depending on your source (Kolowich, 2013).  This certainly changes when MOOCs are utilized in the framework of compliance training.  Required participation or not,  there will be a learning curve that may bring some employees to the brink of a temper tantrum.
  • Design and development flaws:  MOOCs, like the early days of e-learning, have and continue to experience flaws and errors in design, development, and even pedagogy.  When presenting content en mass, the rules change a bit.  This was especially apparent in Coursera’s MOOC gone bad earlier this year.  Ironically, this MOOC’s topic was on how to teach online classes and has quickly become the standard for what “not to do” (Oremus, 2013).
  • Limited application:  Though MOOCs can take the place of the Saturday morning ground school or core aviation classes, there are some things they will never be able to replace – flight training.  There will still need to be interaction between pilots and their instructors in aircraft, simulators, ground training devices, etc.  This will continue to keep the cost of training high and unavoidable.
  • Regulatory by-in:  At the end of the day, aviation is a highly regulated industry.  In the U.S., regulatory oversight is provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  In order to be truly useful on a grand scale outside of academia, MOOCs will have to meet strict regulatory requirements and receive the stamp of approval from the FAA.  Since this is a long and arduous task, regulatory compliance may ultimately be the hangup in pushing MOOCs as an innovative supplement or substitute in many areas of aviation training.

The Journey Begins

So my five week journey begins!  Not only is this an awesome opportunity to reconnect with my graduate study focus of Human Factors but also as an opportunity to observe and participate in an innovative aviation learning/training environment.


So my five week journey begins!

Kudos to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University for being willing to take the leap and see where it takes us!


Brack, J.  (2012).  Managing millenials in the workplace.  Retrieved from

Federal Aviation Administration.  (2000, December 30).  Principles in system safety.  In FAA System Safety Handbook (pp. 3.1 – 3.19).  [Electronic version].  Retrieved from

Kolowich, S.  (2013, April 8).  Coursera takes a nuanced view of MOOC dropout rates.  In Wired Campus.  Retrieved

Meister, J.  (2013, August 13).  How MOOCs will revolutionize corporate learning and development. Retrieved from

Oremus, W.  (2013, February 5).  Online class on how to teach an online classes goes laughably awry. Slate.  Retrieved from

Photo Credits:
Ferris Wheel (Photopin:  Richochet in Time) by Thomas Hawk

Money (MorgueFile:  coinsN0207.jpg) by Clarita

Journey (MorgueFile:  IMG_4909.jpg) by Inkogutto

So It Has Really Been Two Months (Almost)!

So it has really been almost two months since I have posted a post.  Time goes by quickly when you are grading papers, studying for check rides, and managing the day to day.  I haven’t found a way to fit in the 25th and 26th hour of the day, but I am always looking.  Here are some great tips from a blog post I came across in my daily perusing of the Twitter feed.


At the end of the day, feeling productive and being efficient feels way better than feeling relaxed and being lazy.

As much as I hate a schedule partially because I am glued to one at my day job (it’s all about the on time performance!), it is what works almost all of the time.  It is part of life’s best practices.  Though rigidity in schedule often makes one feel like a robot and forces out any little kernel of spontaneity, it yields productivity and efficiency.  At the end of the day, feeling productive and being efficient feels way better than feeling relaxed and being lazy.

Photo credit: JGKphotos via photopin cc

Hanger Talk & the Computer – Sharing Experience Digitally

In my previous post “Learning to Fail & Failing to Learn – The Cognitive Power of Error,” I stated:

… One resource that can allow pilots to learn from error is by learning from the errors of others.  Though not a first person acquisition of experience, the pilot can learn through scenarios that have happened to other pilots, analyze the actions that were taken, and then reflect on how he/she might act in that same type of scenario.  This type of “arm chair flying” through visualization, practice, reflection, and learning from the mistakes of others has long been a part of pilot training (Shamsy, 2013).”

Hanger Talk

This armchair flying is also part of what many pilots refer to as hanger talk.  Under the umbrella of mentorship, the term hanger talk may conger up the picturesque image of a group of pilots both young and old cleaning and fixing an old taildragger in the local airport’s old weathered aircraft hanger on a Sunday afternoon.

airport hanger

Hanger talk continues to remain an integral part of aviation history and culture.

With the hustle and bustle of modern life as well as the increasing financial cost of participating in general aviation, you may not find as many pilots gathering at the local airport anymore.  Though hanger talk amongst pilots sitting around in the old hanger is becoming more of an anomaly, the concept still lives on in the airport jetway, pilot lounge, airport cafe, or on the terminal ramp.  The strength of hanger talk is in the act of sharing stories and passing down experience from one pilot to another not necessarily where it occurs.  Hanger talk continues to remain an integral part of aviation history and culture.

Twitter & Digital Hanger Talk

In response to the Learning to Fail & Failing to Learn blog post, one of my Twitter followers @monalisa1n forwarded an abstract of a recently conducted research study on this very subject.  In addition to the timely and relevant nature of this study, the act of sharing information amongst aviation enthusiasts is a wonderful example of how Twitter and other types of social media are part of the new and updated hanger talk concept.  In today’s aviation industry, the sharing of stories, experiences, and information not only occurs in person but also digitally through forums, social media platforms, websites, research studies, incident/accident databases, etc.   Those gathering in the virtual airport hanger are not only pilots but also Air Traffic Controllers, dispatchers, operational specialists, mechanics, managers, Flight Attendants, teachers, administrators, and educators.  All of these virtual resources are chock full of experiences, stories, and resources and are part of a very valuable Personal Learning Network (PLN).

social media

The sharing of stories, experiences, and information not only occurs in person but also digitally

Academic Support for Hanger Talk

The study abstract shared by @monalisa1n is a summary of the “Hanger Talk Survey:  Using stories as a naturalistic method of informing threat and error management training” study conducted by researchers Suzanne Kearns and Jennifer Sutton.  As the authors point out in the abstract, the aviation industry is expecting a shortage of qualified and experienced pilots in the coming years.  Though there is some evidence and a lot of opinion to indicate that the impending pilot shortage is a myth instead of truth, none-the-less pilots are getting hired with less hours than their predecessors years ago.  In addition to less total flight hours, the type of training these pilots have received is quite different.  Despite the highly structured, focused, and purposeful nature of today’s pilot training, one valuable and powerful component is often missing – mentorship.  Learning from the experiences of those that have come before is not only a way to learn with little or no risk or cost, but is also a method of expanding your own personal knowledge and experience (non-technical skills) beyond that which you could accomplish yourself.  The value of mentorship partially lies in synergy.

Through deployment of a Hanger Talk Survey (HTS) and subsequent analysis of responses, Kearns & Sutton (2012) concluded that pilots do in-fact find the stories and experiences of others to be helpful in skill development.  Decision making and proficiency errors found in the experiences of one pilot can be collected and utilized to assist other pilots in developing and enhancing their non-technical skills (Kearns & Sutton, 2012) such as situational awareness, decision making, and risk management.  This study supports what many seasoned pilots already know – there is value in learning from the mistakes of others!

Engaging in the New Hanger Talk

There are many ways to engage in hanger talk both virtually and/or independently.  Dedicating even just a few moments to learning from the experiences of others is worth the time!

Here are some tips:

  • Establish a PLN using social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and aviation education forums.
  • Keep in touch with former flight instructors, mentors, peers, and those that have a passion for aviation.  Surround yourself with those you would like to emulate and take the opportunity to learn from their experience through conversation and reflection.


Kearns, S.K. & Sutton, J.E.  (2013, April). Hanger talk survey:  Using stories as a naturalistic method of informing threat and error management training.  [Abstract].  Human Factors:  The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 55(2), 267-277.

Shamsy, J.  (2013, June 11).  Learning to fail & failing to learn – The power of errors.  [Blog post].  Retrieved from

Photo Credits:

Airplane Hanger photo credit: arbyreed via photopin cc

Social Media photo credit: Rosaura Ochoa via photopin cc

Learning to Fail & Failing to Learn – The Power of Errors

Reactions to Inside the Box

Clive Shepard wrote an interesting blog post back in January 2013 titled “The Cognitive Power of Error.” Clive’s comments directly translate to where we are today in aviation training.  In his post, Clive summarizes some of his take-aways from the UK Learning Technologies 2013 Conference.  One of the main themes that he recounts is the theme of teaching learners how to deal with “out-side the box situations.” (Shepard, 2013)

Historically, we as aviation instructors have been bound by regulation to teach learners how to apply rules and standardized procedures to situations.  This has included, but not limited to, well defined learning objectives and outcomes, repetitious exercises, worksheets, standardized question and answer banks, and standardized tests (written and practical) in our box of instructional tools.  These instructional methods have formed a process where students learn rules, policies, procedures, and standardized methods; analyze the situation; decide which rule, policy, procedure, or method applies; apply the rule, policy, procedure or method to the situation; and then determine if this application of the rule, policy, procedure, method was appropriate and successful as part of a feedback loop.  This type of process is effective when a well-defined problem exists for which there is a prescribed solution created by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), aircraft/equipment manufacturer, or operator.

Reactions to Outside the Box

However, in scenarios like the United Airlines Flight 232 accident, there is not a prescribed policy or procedure to apply rendering this type of “if-then” process useless.  In this type of situation, the learner (or pilot in this case) must apply his/her knowledge to an unexpected and outside the box situation.  The how of dealing with these unexpected situations comes from the collection of real-world experiences especially those real-world experiences that are negative in nature.

“As Itiel [Dror – cognitive neuroscientist] explained in his talk, we are programmed to respond to bad experiences (or the bad experiences of those we observe). We are motivated to avoid this happening again. This is the cognitive power of error.” (Shepard, 2013)

We all have those “I will never do that again moments” that stick with us forever.  And, with more experience comes more of those moments.  As pilots, we can recount in great detail an event of landing when it was much too windy, flying too close to a thunderstorm, or continuing an approach when we should have quickly gone-around.  By reflecting on these memorable events, there is a strong take-away of why we would never make the same mistake again.  In fact, a high value is placed on recounting these events and subsequent reflections during job interviews.  The interviewer is interested in how you address these outside of the box events as well as determine how capable you are of learning from these teachable events.  Therefore, if job interviewers are placing value on these life lessons than perhaps so should we?

Learning From Others

Error is something that we aviation industry professionals don’t really like.  In fact, we have created an entire operational philosophy called Threat and Error Management to prevent, reduce, and/or manage error.  As aviation professionals, we are interested in preventing threats and subsequent errors through policies, procedures, work methods, training, etc.  Though it is well accepted that we cannot realistically achieve zero errors in aviation operations; the goal remains to trap, contain, and minimize the damage of errors that do occur.


Error is something that we aviation industry professionals don’t really like.

The idea of creating errors just to learn from them with multi-million dollar aircraft and passengers lives at stake isn’t really an option, at least not in real-time.  This is where the “sim world” comes into play providing realistic multi-axis simulators that can be utilized to place pilots in threat and error rich environments and allow them to react without the repercussion of aircraft damage or loss of life.

However, sim world is not without its own limitations.  Because these simulators are expensive, the time that pilots spend in them are limited (approximately 8 hours a year) and the mission very focused with a long list of regulatory requirements to meet.  Thus, this amazing opportunity that pilots have to learn from error without consequence is riddled with time constraints and narrow instructional focus.  This is not conducive to allowing for  full participation in the discovery-based approach to learning from error that Clive speaks about.  (Shepard, 2013)

So what is a pilot to do?  How can one safely add to his/her bank of knowledge by learning through the cognitive power of error?  Does one wait until the statistical gods deliver an abnormal or emergency scenario from which he/she can learn?  Some pilots may go through their entire careers without ever declaring an emergency or having to manage a truly abnormal situation.  So for many, this type of real-world training from error may never occur.

Instead, pilots often shoulder the burden alone of trying to know more than what they need to know.  One resource that can allow pilots to learn from error is by learning from the errors of others.  Though not a first person acquisition of experience, the pilot can learn through scenarios that have happened to other pilots, analyze the actions that were taken, and then reflect on how he/she might act in that same type of scenario.  This type of “arm chair flying” through visualization, practice, reflection, and learning from the mistakes of others has long been a part of pilot training.


…the pilot can learn through scenarios that have happened to other pilots, analyze the actions that were taken, and then reflect on how he/she might act in that same type of scenario.

Today, aviation organizations elevate this tradition of storytelling at the aircraft hanger to de-identified incident summaries provided by the the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Aviation Safety and Reporting System (ASRS).  In addition, industry organizations and the FAA have expanded this concept to include Aviation Safety Action Programs (ASAP) which are organization-specific incident reporting programs.  These programs also offer de-identified incident summaries, analysis, and reflection regarding in-house incidents.

Utilizing these resources, pilots can learn vicariously through their peers and harness the wealth of knowledge that comes from the cognitive power of error.


Shepard, C.  (2013, January 13).  The cognitive power of error.  Retrieved from

Photo Credits:

erase4A by jdurham (

Yikes! by wallyir (

Lifelines & Phone A Friend – Mentorship in Aviation Training

The Need For Mentorship

As much as aviation is a community, it can be a lonely place at times.  Late at night when you are mulling over confusing and laborious regulations as a private pilot or trying to figure out what to include or not include in a lesson plan as a flight instructor, there are few people resources to turn to.  With the evolution and 24/7 nature of the internet as well as the growing diversity and globalization of the aviation industry, this is starting to change.

It is important that aviators, especially professional pilots, establish close and genuine connections with peers in the industry.  It is these people resources that can understand and sympathize with the difficulties of being a professional pilot, act as a support system and shoulder to lean on when you are stuck on your sixth day of reserve, and as a resource to call upon when you find yourself in the gray area of decision making.  Though a source of shared experiences, support, and advice; people resources that are at the same level of training or in the same position as you may not always be able to provide the needed assistance because they are also experiencing the same gaps in knowledge or real-world experience as you.  It is at these times that it can be helpful to bridge the gap of knowledge and experience with an outside resource – a mentor.


It is at these times that it can be helpful to bridge the gap of knowledge and experience with an outside resource – a mentor.

Colgan Airlines Flight 3407 Renews Need for Mentorship

In 2009, Colgan Airlines Flight 3407 – a Bombardier Q-400 turboprop aircraft contracted as Continental Express, crashed outside of Buffalo, New York.  Left in its wake was a flurry of knee-jerk reactions, finger pointing, and the beginning of a very long regulatory journey.  Since the crash over four years ago, new regulations have been passed and the industry has changed – slowly.  However, most industry professionals would agree the same core problems that existed pre-Colgan continue to exist post-Colgan and these new regulations only act as a weak band-aid at best.

The requirements to obtain an airman certificate or rating are clear – they are outlined in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) and detailed in the Practical Test Standards (PTS).  Though each airman must demonstrate a satisfactory level of general knowledge, there are many other pieces of detailed knowledge and experience that lie between the lines of the regulatory black font.  Industry leaders acknowledge this difference between the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required by the FARs and PTS and KSAs that should be possessed by deeming the new certificate a “license to learn.”  (Federal Aviation Administration [FAA], 2009, p.1)

In years past when aviation was still in its infancy, pilots learned from each other by spending weekends at the aircraft hanger and talking about their experiences.  This “hanger talk” was an informal type of collaborative learning and provided ample opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others through observation and reflection.  This was an early form of mentorship – the “old salt” aviators/aviatrixes passing down knowledge through storytelling gained from hours and hours aloft to the beginner and inexperienced pilots.


This “hanger talk” was an informal type of collaborative learning and provided ample opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others through observation and reflection. This was an early form of mentorship – the “old salt” aviators/aviatrixes passing down knowledge through storytelling gained from hours and hours aloft to the beginner and inexperienced pilots.

Acting as a mentor or being the mentee has always been an extra bonus and part of the social aspect of aviation.  However, it has remained relatively absent from inclusion in regulations.  The Colgan accident resulted in the creation of the 2009 Call to Action on Airline Safety and Pilot Training which called for implementation of professional development committees focusing on leadership, mentorship, and professional development.  It was the belief that establishment of such committees and likely development of training programs/systems would help to maintain and improve pilot performance.  However, to date, there has been no definitive regulation outlining the who, what, where, or when of these subcommittees.   Furthermore, industry members (especially at the regional level) remain reluctant to establish such committees and training due to the high cost of such programs in an already profit-thirsty industry.  The financial reward of such programs are generally non-existent.  This resulting low return on investment (ROI) almost certainly results from training a pilot group subject to high levels of turnover that exist at most regional airlines.  (Scovel, III., 2012)

What Exactly is Mentorship?

So the stage is set – mentorship is a valuable tool in filling in the gaps of experience and acts as a support system for industry members.  But what is mentorship?

Mentorship, as defined by Bell (in FAA, 2009, p. 2), is:

“At its most basic level, mentoring is a process in which an individual with more experience or expertise provides encouragement, advice, and support to a less experienced colleague, with the goal of helping the person being mentored learn something that he or she would have learned more slowly, less effectively, or not at all if left alone.”  (FAA, 2009, p. 2)

Mentorship exists in two forms – formal and informal mentorship. (Air Line Pilots Association International, 2009)  As described above, hanger talk is a type of informal mentorship that occurs between peers and friends at anytime and anyplace.  In recent years, hanger talk has expanded from the aircraft hanger to the internet in the form of bulletin boards, chats, webinars, forums, etc.

Then, there is formal mentorship which is the target of regulators.  In today’s aviation industry, formal mentorship is well established in the workplace and often riddled with problems.  Often, formal mentors come in the form of Chief Flight Instructors, Chief Pilots, Program Directors, Vice Presidents of Departments, etc. and are  forced to wear the hat of mentor to those that they supervise, hat of administrative liaison, and hat of disciplinarian.  This creates a paradox where those that hold administrative positions are also given the responsibility of mentoring.  In this precarious position, those that act as mentors may be the very person that must also impose disciplinary action.  These mentors may want to offer the pilot some type of advice or share an experience from their own life but feel it contradicts the desires of the company or undermines their authority.  This certainly illustrates the need to separate the role of mentorship from the role of governor/disciplinarian within an aviation organization.

Ultimately, a mentor should be able to communicate his/her relevant experience in a comforting manner that results in an effective personal connection.  This type of genuine communication should not occur under the umbrella of fear of disciplinary action.  According to the FAA (2009, p. 3). positive mentorship includes:

  • Listening to the all of the information (i.e. – the whole story)
  • Asking what the mentee needs
  • Reminding the mentee that you are one resource and that the ultimate decision lies with him/her
  • Affirming and supporting the final decision of the mentee
  • Following up – maintaining a personal connection with the mentee

From this list of what a mentor should do and who he/she should be, we can see that mentorship isn’t just one conversation, one event, or one comment/piece of feedback.  Simply, mentorship is a process!

How Do We Mentor?

The how is the biggest piece of the mentorship puzzle.  Building your personal learning network (PLN) by talking to people at the airport or with whom you fly, building connections and shared experiences with class or training mates, participating in online professional discussion boards/webinars/chats, obtaining internships in/participate in/or learn about different parts of the industry, and participating in observational or experiential learning experiences are all methods to increase your sphere of resources.  The wonderful thing about aviation is that rarely have two people followed the same path and we are all unique products through our training, operational experiences, knowledge base, attitudes, and goals.  Therefore, you should never run out of interesting and useful resources to add to your PLN.

Additionally, it is important to expand your sphere to those that may not be on the same level as you.  Often the “old salts” t can provide an immense amount of knowledge through stories of “I will never do that again” and their reflections on the industry.  It is important for newer generations to be open to receiving this knowledge and likewise for those with more experience to realize their role as mentor and to effectively guide newer pilots (Captain and First Officer relationship).  (Air Line Pilots Association International, 2009)  “Paying it forward” and acting as a mentor can be just as beneficial and rewarding as being the mentee.

In a few organizations, formal mentorship programs exist.  In such cases, you should (and may be required) to take part in these programs.  Formal mentorship may also be found  in the publication of air carrier incident reports and accident reports, air carrier safety bulletins, NASA Aviation Safety and Reporting System (ASRS) reports, and data from air carrier Safety Management Systems (SMS) which may include Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) and Flight Operation Quality Assurance Program (FOQA) data.

Though formal mentorship does exist in various forms at most air carriers, it is on the shoulders (right next to the epaulets) of every professional pilot to seek out informal mentors and bootstrap off of their years in the air and reflections on the ground.


Air Line Pilots Association International  (2009, September).  Producing a professional Airline Pilot: Candidate screening, hiring, training, and mentoring.  ALPA White Paper.  Retrieved from

Federal Aviation Administration.  (2009, December).  Best practices for mentoring in aviation education. Retrieved from

Scovel, III. C. L.  (2012, March 20).    Progress and challenges in responding to key provisions of the Airline Safety Act.  Statement of The Honorable Calvin L. Scovel III, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Aviation United States Senate.  Retrieved from

Photo Credits:

Bridge photo credit: Michael Connell via photopin cc

Early Pilots photo credit: Boston Public Library via photopin cc

MIT Learning Creative Learning MOOC Reflections: Beyond the MOOC?

A Big Take-Away From A Big MOOC

I have finished and SURVIVED the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Learning Creative Learning Massively Open Online Course (MOOC).  Though I did not participate in the MOOC as much as I would have liked, I am confident that I learned a few things and have some good take-aways.  This MOOC challenged me to think in a different way about the who, what, where, when, and why of information presentation.  Furthermore, it has increased my awareness that not all of us learn in the same way and traditional learning methods are not a one-size-fits-all.

Learning - MOOCs

For me, the awareness and alternative way of thinking was the biggest takeaway from the MOOC.

Through this blog, I have reflected on a variety of the LCL MOOC topics over the last several months.  In these reflections, I took the information that I learned from the MOOC Google Hangout recordings and associated readings and linked it with training in the aviation industry and online learning course design.

In the aviation industry, we generally see a very traditional presentation of information, expectation of the learner to process and “learn” the information, and then testing of the learner on that information through written and practical exams.  It is only recently that we have seen an inclusion of soft skills such as decision making, situational awareness, communication, and workload management skills being incorporated and evaluated in training programs.

The LCL MOOC was certainly an opportunity to evaluate some of the individual parts of this traditional process of learning in aviation training.  The concepts presented  made me evaluate –  Do some of these individual parts need to be at minimum remodeled and at maximum revamped or demolished?  Unfortunately, I didn’t come across any big MOOCey ideas that will transform training but instead continue to engage in a process of reflection about more innovative and effective ways of presenting information to and training of future aviation professionals.  For me, the awareness of an alternative way of thinking was the biggest takeaway from the MOOC.

Smaller Takeaways – Reflections on Isolationism

A smaller takeaway from the LCL MOOC came from the last Google Hangout session which was a wrap-up/reflection session amongst LCL MOOC team members at the MIT Media Lab.  I found one comment made by Philipp Schmidt, Executive Director of MIT’s Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU) and MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, to be particularly interesting.  Towards the end of the final wrap up discussion, Schmidt talked about the separation between learners that were experiencing the MOOC on-line and those that were experiencing it in real-time for college credit on the grounds of the MIT campus.  Schmidt indicated that this separation was a conscious decision during the creation and design of the LCL MOOC experiment.  However, in reflecting on the MOOC, Schmidt re-considered this decision and posed the question – should the two groups be joined together?  (Philipp Learn, 2013)

It has been well established that one of the biggest pit-falls of MOOCs from a learner’s point-of-view is the feeling of isolation (Baker, 2013).  The success or failure of one’s participation in a MOOC rests greatly on his/her ability to self-motivate, self-organize, and create and execute a personal learning strategy.  Though there is often an effort on behalf of MOOC participants to create independent communities, websites, and even meet up in person (Baker, 2013); this is not yet the norm.  For the majority, how much of the MOOC they finish and what they actually get out of the MOOC are left in the hands of the individual.  In addition, individuals may spend much time in creating connections and a sense of community, but even those efforts may not yield fulfilling results.


It has been well established that one of the biggest pit-falls of MOOCs from a learner’s point-of-view is the feeling of isolation (Baker, 2013).

This feeling of isolation certainly is one that I felt during my on-line graduate studies.  Though there were some limited opportunities for interaction, many of the courses implemented the traditional e-learning course design (late 1990s and early 2000s) of “watch the lecture, read the book, take the test, write the paper, and get the grade.”  Though as part-time students and full time working professionals this type of process fit the bill, it always teetered on being “just enough” to support a fulfilling learning experience.  The only real interaction that I found bridged this valley of isolation was the archaic VHS tapes of on-campus lectures that we watched during each module.  Though these videotapes were mass produced and utilized semester-after-semester, it was a comfort to see the “sage on the stage” (the professor) and the same students (albeit the backs of their heads for most of the course) from week-to-week.  Today, an e-learning student would certainly laugh upon receiving a box full of video tapes and most likely deposit them in the trash can.  However, during my studies, this sense of community that was derived from seeing the same real live students and professor each week made it feel like a classroom even though I was watching as an observer many months or years after-the-fact.

Though my graduate school course video tapes were part of the early years of e-learning and I am so grateful to Ebay for helping me to sell them so I was never became an academic hoarder, they may be more than what MOOC participants are getting today.  Through my videos, I could identify with these students by observing what they were wearing each week, their mannerisms during class, and how they interacted with the instructor.  This sense of being part of a community allowed me to share in a laugh when someone made a joke or feel the frustration when there was a concept that was not being understood and subsequently hands shot up in the air.  Though I was on the outside looking in, I was experiencing the class with those students and it created a sense of community however false or unrealistic it really was.  In today’s MOOCs, this type of feeling may be even harder to come by.  In the MIT MOOC, the same type of interaction and sense of community that I experienced during graduate studies could be observed during the weekly Google Hangouts – at least part of the time.  The only real constant was Mitch Resnick, Academic Head of the MIT Program of Media Arts and Sciences and moderator of the MIT MOOC.  The remaining interactions were with guest speakers, limited learner – learner interactions in Google + groups, and optional backchannel chats with other learners during the Google + hangout.   The opportunity was there for interaction and creation of community but it still didn’t seem consistent or quite measure up to that found in a brick and mortar classroom setting.

As mentioned, some interaction was available through smaller Google+ groups created by the MIT MOOC.  These groups provided opportunities for personal interactions, sharing, and community building.  However, on the whole, these groups failed due to low participation rates.  Only a few Google+ groups prospered with the most successful most likely being the general MOOC Google+ group open to all participants.

In today’s online learning environment, we must continue to foster community building and even better opportunities for collaboration in subtle and simple or in highly complex and technological advanced ways.  I would like to see continued evolution of the MOOC as part of a multi-faceted online learning experience (like blended learning) instead of a stand-alone tool.  In this type of scenario, other opportunities such as on-campus meetings or online synchronous or asynchronous activities will give smaller groups of learners a sense of community through interaction and collaboration with the other learners in the course.  These type of rich and fulfilling interactions just can’t be fostered amongst a large group of 10,000 or 20,000 participants at a time.

So in the end, it all goes back to good analysis, design, creativity, and a little luck.  There needs to be an analysis of what the course is trying to achieve and then how this can be best accomplished.  Much of what is going on in MOOCs today is still experimental and not based on tried-and-true methods.  Furthermore, what works in one on-line learning environment may not work in another.  Learners still crave the community and interaction but with quick content access – we need to find a way to give learners what they need and what they want.


Baker, C.  (2013, March 6).  MOOCs – Massive open online courses – are sparking gains and feeling growing pains.  Deseret News.  Retrieved from

Philipp Learn.  (2013, May 13).  LCL – Session 11 – Looking backwards & looking ahead (final session).  [Video file].  Retrieved from

Photo Credits:

Collaboration photo credit: Mike Licht, via photopin cc

Fish School photo credit: via photopin cc

When is Flexible too Flexible in Online Learning?

I recently viewed a recording of a Student Panel Discussion of San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) students and faculty focusing on personal online learning experiences.  The discussion was hosted by SDCCD and SDCCD Online Learning Pathways which provides institutional support and personal development training for SDCCD online students and instructors.

This was an excellent opportunity to understand some of the successes and pitfalls of online learning from the learner’s point-of-view.  How often do we get to hear and see through expression and body language what students really feel about their online learning experiences?  Historically, course feedback is gathered through text-based surveys and open comment windows on the end-of-the-semester course feedback form.  Though this feedback is always helpful, it is static and uni-directional.   Thus, observing a dynamic discussion amongst faculty and students was an hour well spent.  I was particularly struck by a comment made by one of the students which made me think: How flexible should on-line learning be?

Online Learning Isn’t Exactly as Advertised!

The comment that spurred this question was made by SDCCD student, Josh, who stated:  “….I wanted that flexibility that an online environment allows.  But that being said, I’ve discovered that they’re not as flexible as they’re advertised and the pitch doesn’t kind of match the delivery. ” (Dave Giberson, 2013)


“….I wanted that flexibility that an online environment allows. But that being said, I’ve discovered that they’re not as flexible as they’re advertised and the pitch doesn’t kind of match the delivery. “

This word “flexibility” is thrown around a lot in online learning with many learners citing it as one of the top if not the top reason that they participate in the process.  But what exactly does flexibility mean and what role should it play in online learning?

Turning to Merriam Webster, the word flexibility is defined as a capability to be flexed or a capability to adapt to changing requirements. When learners say they want flexibility in an online course, what they are really saying is they want the capability to adapt the course to the changing requirements of their schedule.  Simply, they want a learning environment that can easily be flexed in both time and place to meet the dynamic and challenging nature of their own schedule.

Flexibility in Place

Remember Sally Struthers in the International Correspondence School commercials when she asked “Do you want to train at home for a better career?”  Online learning has certainly allowed many to accomplish this and flexibility in terms of place remains one of its most valuable selling points. Online learning allows for flexibility in terms of place by reducing or eliminating the requirement that the learner must report to a specific space (classroom) at a particular time on a particular day. This may or may not be replaced with an optional or required synchronous online event at a designated time. Even if participation is required at a particular time, the place remains the choice of the learner.  Flexibility that allows for learning at any place is vital for learners that lack transportation, physical mobility, work better in pajamas, or want to engage in a learning experience that is far away from their current location.


Online learning allows for flexibility in terms of place by reducing or eliminating the requirement that the learner must report to a specific space (classroom) at a particular time on a particular day

This flexibility in place will continue to expand with the explosive growth in smart phone/cellular technologies, laptop and  tablet technologies, mobile learning technologies, and design for mobile learning (m-learning).  In the future, learning can and will occur at any place.

Flexibility in Time – Accessibility

Just as important if not more important to the online learner is flexibility in terms of time.  With this type of flexibility, the learner decides when learning will take place – or at least partially.  This means that the learner can still work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at their place of employment or have the time that they would otherwise be confined to a classroom to schedule doctor’s appointments, act as a care giver, pursue other interests, or just simply not be confined to a classroom.  For many learners with busy professional or personal lives, eliminating this constraint of learning at a particular place and at a particular time is the only way to achieve advanced training or a degree.

I believe that this is the area of flexibility that SDCCD student Josh was most likely commenting on when he said that online course flexibility was not exactly as advertised. Ironically, this is also an area that I believe most online instructors struggle with including myself.  How rigid, in terms of time, should an online course be?

As. Dr. John Gundry from Knowledge Ability, LTD. explains the reality of offering learning at any time and any place is not always so simple.  In general, online learning has evolved through application of design and technology to allow accessibility at any time to almost all of the content in a course. This may include instructor/institutional-created content, web resources, recorded lecture videos/podcasts, assessments, discussion forums, etc.  In most cases, the only area of the course that is not available on a 24/7 basis is contact with the course instructor/other learners and access to an assessment or assignment that is designed with limited access in mind. (Gundry, 2003)

So the content is available and the students have access to it at any time. But is this what Josh really meant by flexibility and more specifically time flexibility?  Probably not.

Flexibility in Time – Due Dates

Though I haven’t asked Josh, I am guessing what he really meant by time flexibility was flexibility in due dates.  This is where the real dilemma surfaces.  Do we, as instructors, impose a rigid course schedule on our online learners or do we allow submissions throughout the course at the convenience of the learner?  There are a couple of different options with due dates:

1.  Correspondence/Self-paced courses: In the past, there were correspondence courses where you would complete the work, submit, and then receive a grade/feedback for the course.  Some online courses still follow this structure with a set of objectives that must be met and assignments that must be completed prior to a final grade/completion certificate being issued.  These courses are often referred to as self-paced courses (Weiland, 2011) and in recent years seem to be re-emerging in popularity. (Parry, 2013)

In these courses, the where and when of the course is really up to the student given everything is turned in by a final due date or prior to issuance of a grade/completion certificate. Though the negatives associated with this type of course may be very apparent for some, for others this “temporal freedom”  (Weiland, 2011) is important.  For the adult learner in particular, self-paced courses allows a maximum amount of freedom in deciding when the coursework will get done with the responsibility of getting it done resting squarely on his or her shoulders. However, for the average learner, self-paced courses aren’t a good fit.  They require a large amount of self-direction, self-control, and self-discipline.  The learner must essentially map out a plan of progression through the content and then must hold him/herself accountable for completing the tasks.  Though course structure may vary, the learner does not have that weekly meeting to emphasize important content or remind them of upcoming assignments. (Weiland, 2011) Thus, the success of a self-paced course really depends on the learner.

2. Semester Long Self-Paced Courses:  A variation on the self-paced course is a self-paced course with a hard date of completion.  In this case, there is no open-ended finish date for the course or program. Instead, all work must be completed by a certain date (usually the end of the semester or close to it).  Just like the open-ended self paced course, this type of course is perfect for the self-directed learner.  However, there is one element that is lost in this type of learning environment – incremental feedback. When students turn in all of their work on the last day, they are selling themselves short in participating in a building-block concept of learning where they can utilize the feedback on one assignment to better complete subsequent assignments. In addition, a sense of community with other students as well as benefits from collaborative efforts may be lost.

And even if the student fairs well in such an environment, this type of course structure can be overwhelming in terms of workload from an instructional standpoint.  Unless instructors utilize computer-grading programs through Blackboard, Moodle, or other Learning Management Systems (LMS), there would a large increase in workload (grading) in a short period of time.  In these types of courses, instructor workload and lack of incremental feedback would be important variables to evaluate during the design process.

3. Rigid course structures:  And then there are the majority of courses that impose some type of rigidity when it comes to due dates.  From a course management perspective, imposing some type of due date (usually weekly) is important in managing instructor workload, keeping the cohort of learners moving at a similar pace, and creating and maintaining a course culture that provides opportunities for collaboration and interaction.

More important than inflicting pain on learners, imposing rigidity through inclusion of due dates reiterates the philosophy of school as preparation for the real world.  There are few activities in the “real world” of an employer-employee relationship that allow a person to turn something in or complete a task whenever they feel like it.  Often, assignments or tasks are accompanied by rigid due dates.  Thus, the development of an ability to complete tasks by a particular time is preparation for the reality of employment demands in the working world.

Above All – Consistency & Simplicity

The concerns of SDCCD student Josh are valid.  Flexibility is a major benefit of online learning!  With the growth of mobile learning, development of smaller and more capable electronic devices, and more effective apps; the potential for learning at any time and any place has never been greater.  However, with this new potential comes a need for heightened awareness of how we interact and manage this freedom.  Should learning turn into a free-for-all or must we maintain some type of temporal constraints over when students are required to engage and when they will be assessed?


Flexibility is a major benefit of online learning.

According to Gundry (2003), online learning designers and instructors will have to strike a balance between maximum flexibility and maximum achievement of learning outcomes.  This balance between the desired levels of flexibility of the student and necessary levels of rigidity to achieve learning outcomes must be addressed during the design and development phase of the course.

Furthermore, the answer is individual for each course instructor and is part of the reason why online education remains more of an art form than a well-rehearsed science.  Whether you choose to let your learners turn in assignments and complete tasks at a pace that is comfortable for them or you set due dates in stone through the course website and syllabus; the one rule that trumps all is maintaining consistency.  Students are sensitive and very aware when they are not being treated fairly.  This is why a late submission policy (preferably a simple late policy that is clear and concise) is so important and should be noted in the course syllabus and emphasized the first day of class.  Students must understand what the late policy is and then the instructor consistently enforce this late policy for all students throughout the semester.   As a wise mentor once said, “what you do for one you must do for another.”


Dave Giberson. (2013, May 7).  student_panel2013.  [Video file].  Retrieved from

Flexible.  (n.d.).  In Merriam-Webster online.  Retrieved from

Gundry, J.  (2003, September).  How flexible is e-learning?  Retrieved from

hereinmylifetime.  (2009, February 13).  Sally Struthers for International Correspondence School.  [Video file].  Retrieved from

Parry, M. (2013, April 18). Competency-based education advances with U.S. approval of program. The Chronicle Of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Weiland, S.  (2011).  The case for the self-paced online course.  27th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning.  Retrieved

Photo Credits:

Airplane car photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc
Flexible Dog photo credit: stewartcutler via photopin cc
Girls on the Beach photo credit:  Spree2010 via photopin cc

Time Well Spent – Tinkering & Airplane Parts: Ongoing MIT MOOC Reflections

We are starting to come to the end of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Learning Creative Learning (LCL) MOOC.  Though the topic area of this MOOC is certainly not in my area of interest or expertise, I do believe that I have gained a few pieces of wisdom throughout the course.  At this point in the process, I freely admit that participating fully in the MOOC has just not made it to the top of the “To-Do” list.  I have reverted to a minimal level of participation by viewing the weekly Google Hangout videos and reflecting on the concepts discussed – beyond that, I am afraid I am clearly a no-show.  And so goes another MOOC with its recipe well intact – one part happiness of being exposed to new types of information, self directed learning, and potential connections with others around the world and two parts guilt with feelings of limited time resources to complete the activities and participate fully in the MOOC community to a fulfilling level.

And so goes another MOOC, with its recipe well intact - one part happiness of being exposed to new types of information, self directed learning, and potential connections with others around the world and two parts guilt with feelings of limited time resources to complete the activities and participate fully in the MOOC community to the level which I desire.

And so goes another MOOC with its recipe well intact – one part happiness of being exposed to new types of information, self directed learning, and potential connections with others around the world and two parts guilt with feelings of limited time resources to complete the activities and participate fully in the MOOC community to a fulfilling level.

Consistent with my one-week-behind-the-syllabus-schedule style, I have finished viewing the MOOC’s Lesson 9 Google Hangout lecture.  The topic of this lesson was Tinkering.  According to Merriam-Webster, tinker means to “to repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled or experimental manner.”  (“Tinker,” n.d.)  This definition of tinkering is a rather simplistic and haphazard definition, at least according to the folks at the MIT Media Lab.  The Media Lab, and other institutions like it, have taken tinkering to a much deeper level.  In the Lesson 9 video, Media Lab faculty and guest hosts discuss what tinkering is and is not.  In the end, they summarize that tinkering is much more than just experimenting, putsing, or messing around just to participate in the act of doing such.  Tinkering is about having the ability and independence to experiment and play with objects – a liberating process that is outside the box of traditional academia.  Furthermore, tinkering doesn’t or shouldn’t just result in a playful afternoon but in an engaged process with the end goal of reaching some type of outcome whether that be a planned or unplanned result.  As Media Lab faculty member Natalie Rusk indicates: Tinkering is really about engaging in the process – it isn’t about meaningless playing around.

So what application, if any, does tinkering have in the world of aviation?  Ultimately, aviation is a breeding ground for tinkering.  Many a pilot or mechanic may spend hours in their hanger tinkering with an engine or aircraft part.  A pilot may stay aloft for as many hours as the thermals or avgas will allow him/her while honing his/her aeronautical skills.  Actually, Wilbur and Orville Wright were master tinkerers borrowing equipment and ideas from automobiles, engineering, and bicycles to create an aeroplane responsible for the first recognized flight in 1903. (First Flight Society, n.d.)  Just as in the case of the Wrights, the time spent tinkering isn’t time poorly spent.  Instead, it is an opportunity to learn from interactions and cause-and-effect relationships with the machinery and the environment as well as engage in a sense of community and foster interpersonal relationships with fellow tinkerers or passer-bys.

Wilbur and Orville were master tinkerers borrowing equipment and ideas from automobiles, engineering, and bicycles to create an aeroplane responsible for the first recognized flight in 1903.

Wilbur and Orville were master tinkerers borrowing equipment and ideas from automobiles, engineering, and bicycles to create an aeroplane responsible for the first recognized flight in 1903.

The aviation industry appears to have firm roots in tinkering and tinkering continues to play a role in the many segments of the aviation industry in many different ways.  At the general aviation level, tinkering helps to maintain a rich sense of community through hanger talk and lazy Saturday afternoons at the aircraft hanger.  In the experimental arena, future development of advanced technologies and equipment occurs through tinkering with new materials and processes.  However, tinkering in the training segment of the industry is non-existent and for good reason.  Aviation training maintains a high level of rigidity with roots deep in regulation and supported by fear of inadequacy and error with subsequent financial retribution.  The ultimate authority and regulator of aviation training in the United States remains the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  In addition to promotion of air commerce, the FAA is also tasked with overall regulation of the industry with safety at the forefront..  To be successful in this mission, the FAA does not and cannot support or allow tinkering in aviation training or industry operations.  To allow experimentation or deviation from regulations or an approved policy, procedure, or accepted work method would not only create a chaotic operating environment but a dangerous one as well.  As most in the industry know, much of aviation regulation is written in the blood of those that have died before making the same mistake.  Though the numerous regulations that exist lead to a culture of tedious compliance, standards are needed in this high risk and dynamic industry.  Thus, the operational philosophy and requirements in the aviation industry, as maintained by the FAA, remains one of strict compliance with no room for deviation or tinkering.

So what role can tinkering play in the aviation industry and more specifically training?  As we mentioned, tinkering already plays an important role in the culture surrounding general aviation and a more integral role in experimental aviation.  Its role in commercial aviation, continues to be rather non-existent at least in day-to-day operations.  Going forward, I would suggest that one of the most useful roles for tinkering in the aviation industry is to continue to foster a connection between the enthusiast (whether new or old) and aviation.  More specific to training, tinkering may assist in filling in the gaps in knowledge that can’t be obtained in traditional aviation training.  Aviation training is generally rigid and it presents and tests a pre-determined and well-defined body of objectives, tasks, and elements of knowledge.  These objectives, tasks, and elements are not by any means comprehensive and no aviator is all knowing – there are still many things to know and understand. Through tinkering with mechanical, environmental, software, conceptual, and even interpersonal relationships, an aviator can widen his/her depth of knowledge and enhance his/her ability to function operationally.

It is not so much the question of why tinkering is useful in building spirit and connection with aviation, as well as a greater understanding of the elements involved in aviation; it is more a question of timing.

It is not so much the question of why tinkering is useful in building spirit, connection with aviation, and a greater understanding of the elements involved in aviation; it is more a question of timing.

It is not so much the question of why tinkering is useful in building spirit and connection with aviation, as well as a greater understanding of the elements involved in aviation; it is more a question of timing.

As emphasized, compliance is mandatory in the general aviation and  even more so in commercial aviation.  There is no room for tinkering and experimenting in a world of rigid regulations, policies, and procedures where threats and errors can quickly lead to dangerous scenarios.  However, this does not stop the aviation enthusiast from spending time observing and tinkering with thoughts on the ground in a journal, during hanger talk amongst friends and/or colleagues.  Tinkering can be found in the building and flying of a remote controlled aircraft, in experimenting with airfoil designs and paper airplanes, or in armchair flying and imagining new techniques in handling emergency situations.

Thus, tinkering does have a powerful place in the aviation industry, but more importantly it has a time.  As aviation industry professionals know, timing is everything!


First Flight Society.  (n.d.).  Wilbur and Orville Wright.  Retrieved from

Tinker.  (n.d.).  In Merriam-Webster online.  Retrieved from

Photo Credits:

Clock photo credit: slack12 via photopin cc

First flight, 120 feet in 12 seconds, 10:35 a.m.; Kitty Hawk, North Carolina photo credit:  Library of Congress

Recipe photo credit: shimelle via photopin cc

Classroom Management & The Online Class – Twitter #IOLchat

I  had the great honor of acting as guest host for the Twitter #IOLchat last Wednesday.  This chat is hosted by on Wednesday afternoons at 12:00 noon ET and has been a great way to meet new people, add to my Personal Learning Network (PLN), and learn from the experience of others in the online learning/training world.  Click here for a summary and transcript.


The topic of Wednesday’s chat was the role of instructor as technical support in an online course.  Any instructor that has taught an online course has received at least one frantic e-mail from a student regarding technical issues during the span of a semester.  Of course it is only one e-mail if you are lucky – often it is many many more.   These e-mails may range from “I don’t know how to log in and get into the course?” to ” why can’t I log into an assessment?”  The former is often time consuming to addressrequiring several communications while the latter may require a simple e-mail or screencast video to address.  However, the real question arises – is any of this really the online instructors job or responsibility?

We as educators understand that we often have to do many things that are not “our job” or “our responsibility.”  This is especially true when communicating from a distance where accessibility can be limited.  A well-defined technical support or online learning department within the educational institution can help to divide and conquer the workload of providing students information on how to access the course materials as well as answer questions when they stumble.  However, for those instructors that are in the position of running a “one man show,” providing technical support often becomes lumped in with the responsibilities of designing, implementing, and instructing the course.

Prior to researching, guest hosting, and participating in Wednesday’s #IOLchat; I supported the notion that technical support issues are best handled by institutional support services such as online/distance learning educational departments, tech support help lines/chats, internet help topic videos and forums, and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) documents.  This viewpoint was balanced with the real-world knowledge that many institutions lack these dedicated resources to support their online course offerings and thus many of the resources are not available.  Furthermore, my first hand experience taught me that it is often quicker and easier to answer a student’s question as opposed to passing the buck and directing to a person in another department, tech support help line, or internet resources.

However, my viewpoint has slightly changed as a result of the #IOLchat and the outstanding insights provided by participants.  One participant (@mrsfaircloth) indicated that tech support is just another part of classroom management in an online course.  Just as a teacher would answer questions in the classroom, direct students to the right “cubby hole” to submit their assignments, or write reminders on the chalk board; online instructors must do the same in the virtual environment.  Though it may require some additional work, being a contact point for technical questions is an integral part of the online course environment and should not be ignored.  Not only does the course run smoother when everyone can access the content and is “on board,” but it strengthens the relationship between instructor and student.  With effective and genuine support of students including technical support, student develop the trust that the instructor is there to support them and act as coach through the online learning process.  This type of supportive relationship can replicate or even surpass what is found in a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom and creates a positive online learning experience.

So instead of viewing student technical questions as an email to pass along to another person or department, I try instead to embrace the opportunity as a way to answer the student’s question and get them the help that they need as well as further strengthen the relationship that I have with that student.  The thoughts shared in the #IOLchat really solidifies what many of us in the online learning world have come to discover through research and trial-and-error:  the vast and rich role of the online instructor involves a powerful coaching and mentoring component that is equal to if not more powerful than communicator or deliverer of content.

Photo credit:  Matt Hamm (Flickr)

Dante, Hell & MOOCs

I think many of us have had a brush with the infamous Dante Alighieri’s Inferno somewhere during our high school or college careers.  My High School English teacher was passionate about literature and made our examination of this great work challenging and exciting…at least I think.  It is really too bad that I don’t remember more of the details of Dante’s poem and have to default to Wikipedia to fill in the blanks of my aging mind.

Despite my memory for the subtle details, who would have thought that Dante’s nine circles of hell would prove a useful analogy for so many things in life?  One such example is rooted in my participation in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC.  Although not nearly as traumatic as being forced to live all of eternity in one of Dante’s nine circles with Satan at the middle, I do think that the journey from one feeling to the next during a MOOC is worth a look.  During the lifecycle of a MOOC, participants may experience feelings of excitement and ambition to increasing feelings of being overwhelmed and even annoyed or guilty.  If you aren’t familiar with MOOCs, click here to learn a little more about them.

I am not one to rely on Wikipedia for anything other than a source of creative commons images, the big picture, or as a collection of primary sources.  However, time being limited and my average 7 to 10 day blog-posting schedule well below my goal, Wikipedia it is for background information on Dante and his nine circles.

In the Inferno (one part of an epic poem) published in 1300s, the road to Hell for Dante and his guide Virgil is a long one including passage through the gates of Hell and then a ride on Charon’s ferry.  This journey must have been one of great anticipation and fear and in great contrast to the ride to the MOOC.  The beginning of the MOOC is often paved with lots of buzz and marketing, anticipation and high expectations, and the feeling of exclusivity and belonging by limiting participation through enrollment limits and registration forms.  For better or worse, once securely enrolled in the MOOC this anticipation and excitement may quickly transform to anxiety, fear, and maybe even regret for some participants.

As Dante and Virgil continue their journey, they learn of the nine concentric circles leading to the core of Hell where Satan is kept.  These nine circles house sinners which are being punished for their sins on Earth.  The nine circles can be likened to levels with intensity of sin and corresponding punishment increasing as you advance from one circle to the next.  This is similar to the emotional levels in a MOOC ranging from excitement to despair.  This advancement may be a slow progression perhaps even undetectable for some, while for others it may be a quick advancement from one to nine as found in the recent debacle involving the Coursera MOOC.  I think anyone who has been involved in a MOOC for any period of time can relate to at least a few of these emotional levels (circles) at some point through their participation.

So let’s take a little tour of Dante’s nine circles as they apply to MOOCs.  Just as a disclaimer, this is all in good humor and fun, certainly participation in a MOOC is voluntary and should not conjure up the types of feelings or images that migth accompany eternal existence in Hell.  Dante offers an analogous framework in which to describe some of the thoughts and feelings that go on during participation in MOOCs – no more, no less.

Whatever your tolerance for pain, I think anyone who has been involved in a MOOC for any period of time can relate to at least a few of these circles at some point through their participation.

Whatever your tolerance for pain, I think anyone who has been involved in a MOOC for any period of time can relate to at least a few of these circles at some point through their participation.

  • Circle 1:  In Dante’s world this was Limbo where the unbaptized or non-believers were housed.  Just as in Dante’s world, in the world of MOOC, this circle is where the compulsive “signer-upers” live – those that think it sounds like a good idea or want to try out the super-hyped MOOC but generally don’t make it beyond the “Welcome to the MOOC” email.  It isn’t that these are bad people or they don’t believe– in fact I respect them.  They quickly realize their own limitations and have come to the understanding that MOOCs either don’t fit into their personal learning plan or they don’t have the time or resources to give to the ever-demanding MOOC.  Repentance:  MOOC participants that recognize they will not participate should have a willingness to un-enroll before the start of the MOOC so that those that   would really like to participate can.
  • Circle 2:   This is the circle where the lustful are blown about by violent winds.  So too is the beginning day of the MOOC filled with a frenzy of welcome messages and forum postings.  MOOCers in this second circle lust after the completion badge, the t-shirt, or the new resume entry announcing to the world that they have completed the MOOC.  In the MIT MOOC that I am currently participating in (just barely), one participant expressed that he would feel as though he earned the honor of wearing an MIT t-shirt if he was able to complete the MOOC.  Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation is weak, and often these MOOCers quickly lose interest and move on to the next quick fix. Repentance:  Take an honest look at extrinsic and intrinsic motivation – why are you really here?  Will this source of motivation be able to provide the needed self-discipline, flexibility, and time that the MOOC will require of you?
  • Circle 3: In Dante’s world, the gluttons fill the third ring where they lie in cold and icy blindness.  For MOOCers, this third ring may include those that become overindulgent in the MOOC itself.  Though not nearly as painful or as cold as in Dante’s world, MOOCers in this circle engage in MOOC-ery 24/7.  They post introductions, videos, articles, links, and the like often forgetting to feed their kitty cat or engage with their families.  They dive head first into the MOOC trying to absorb everything and react to everything and everyone.  MOOCers soon find out that this is impossible – they can’t read, absorb, and respond to everything that thousands of other MOOCers are creating.  The choice quickly becomes – fight or flight.  The MOOCer will either decide to stay and meet their goal of MOOC completion finding ways to pace themselves and limit their participation to more reasonable levels or they will flee deciding that that this MOOC and potentially all MOOCs are too chaotic, not for them, or useless as educational tools.  Repentance:  Overcoming the addictive nature of MOOCs and social media in general may include reflection and an exercise in setting limitations and boundaries.  For goal oriented MOOCers, this is often a harsh realization that you can’t do it all and for gluttons you can’t have it all.
  • Circle 4:  The greedy and hoarders fill Circle 4 of Dante’s Inferno.  These sinners are forced to carry heavy weights in repentance for their hoarding of material goods.  In the world of MOOC, I think that Circle 3 and 4 have some connection.  There are clearly star participants that arise early on in MOOCs.  These participants dedicate great time and effort to publishing intelligent and well-researched postings, participate in discussions, and/or contribute something greater than the minimum the MOOC requires.  These contributions certainly should not be de-valued and are actually needed as participant levels drop quickly during the early weeks of the MOOC.  It is often these “star students” that hold the MOOC together by challenging and providing inspiration to those that are struggling to forge ahead (like me).  With time, these MOOCers may begin to feel the weight and isolation of being one of the few active participants as the MOOC stumbles along. Repentance: For those that attempt to make the MOOC a meaningful experience through full engagement with the content and collaboration with other MOOCers, establish personal limitations on time and effort spent on the MOOC.  Furthermore, one should balance the effort put forth with that which is received from participation in the MOOC.
Circle 3 & 4 - MOOCers dive head first into the MOOC trying to absorb everything and to react to everything and everyone.  MOOCers soon find out that this is impossible – they can’t read, absorb, and respond to everything that thousands of other MOOCers are creating.

Circle 3 & 4 – MOOCers dive head first into the MOOC trying to absorb everything and to react to everything and everyone. MOOCers soon find out that this is impossible – they can’t read, absorb, and respond to everything that thousands of other MOOCers are creating.

  • Circle 5:  And then comes anger.  In the fifth circle of Dante’s journey to Hell, the angry muddle around in swampy waters never to find happiness or joy.  So too are MOOCers during the latter stages of the MOOC.  The remaining participants, often well below 50% of original enrollment, are now left to wade through dwindling forum posts, reduced enthusiasm, and piles of unvisited links, articles, and videos.  The MOOCer becomes angry at the MOOC for its existence and constant need for attention and effort, at him or herself for getting into this mess in the first place, and at the MOOC creators/instructors for selling an experience that invariably will not live up to the high expectations and objectives set forth in the beginning days of the MOOC.  What is a MOOCer to do?  Again the flight or flight decision stares one in the face.  Do I finish this up no matter what the cost to quench the need of not leaving things undone or do I quit now, regroup, and try again at some later time?  MOOCers, just as the angry sinners, are left to wade in the murky waters of isolation, self-doubt, and bitterness.  Repentance may not be possible in this circle since you must continue to give of yourself in terms of creative and time resources to complete the MOOC.  Likewise, if you choose not to give up the free time and energy that the MOOC requires, you will be left with feelings of guilty and the heavy burden of leaving the MOOC unfinished and ultimately labeled as a “quitter.”
  • Circle 6: Dante provides little acceptance for non-believers in his circles of Hell and dedicates Circle 6 to heretics kept in flaming tombs.  Safely protected by freedom of speech, general acceptance and openness found on the Internet, as well as disclaimers emphasizing the experimental nature of MOOCs; there is little penalty for non-believers in the transformational power of the MOOC.  Non-believers need not travel far to find a home with other non-believers.  Though many institutions in higher education are jumping on board with MOOCs hook-line-and sinker, most educators and MOOC participants on some level question the MOOCs usefulness and place in the future of higher education.  Though certainly safe from flaming tombs, every MOOCer at some point or another questions the successful-ness and potential of the MOOC model.  Some come away staunch supporters and believers in its future in higher education, while others shake their heads in disbelief not understanding what all the fuss is about.  Regardless of one’s opinion, the benefit in MOOC participation might not be in acquisition/learning of content that is supposed to take place but instead in the process of self discovery and learning about your own personal learning style.  Repentance:  One participates in a MOOC, it is wise to remain open to the MOOC process and perhaps move the focus from obtaining knowledge (content) to obtaining a deeper knowledge of your own personal learning style.
Regardless of one’s opinion, the benefit in MOOC participation might not be in acquisition/learning of content that is supposed to take place but instead in the process of self discovery and learning more about your own personal learning style

Regardless of one’s opinion, the benefit in MOOC participation might not be in acquisition/learning of content that is supposed to take place but instead in the process of self discovery and learning more about your own personal learning style

  • Circle 7, 8, and 9:   In these circles, the gravest of sinners are housed and often include several sub-circles or rings.  In Circle 7, the most violent of sinners (violent against themselves or others) wade in rivers of boiling blood and fire while Circle 8 houses those guilty of fraud or known evil.  Finally, Circle 9 includes treacherous sinners encased in layers of ice.  These sinners have betrayed the trust of those closest to them.  Though there is no violence, fraud, or treachery in a MOOC (hopefully), there is certainly a level of expectation and trust.  MOOC creators and instructors are charged with an important task – to deliver meaningful content to the masses in an intuitive and easily navigable format.  It has been observed that when this trust is broken as found most recently in the Coursera meltdown or in cases where instructors have left MOOCs early due to differences in teaching philosophy; the repercussions from stakeholders (financial investors and participants) is great.  Quite literally, the future of MOOCs hinges on these early successes or failures.

Though it seems as though MOOCs are here to stay, there is an evolution and process involved in any MOOC participation.  It often starts as being a non-believer in the state of limbo followed by deciding to actively participate and feeling lustful, glutton-ess, and greedy in regard to the amount of content and potential connections with the thousands of other MOOCers from all over the world.  Finally, the MOOC process moves towards a realization that there are limits to the time and resources needed to read, view, process, and respond to the massive amount of content that is present in the MOOC.  This may quickly result in feelings of anger and/or betrayal and eventually movement toward non-belief in MOOCs all-together.

Though Dante’s circles of Hell lead to Satan, I would like to believe that the process of traveling through the circles in a MOOC lead to course completion.  This completion may be a certificate, badge, notation on your website, or entry on your resume – but more importantly it is a successful journey through learning where hopefully you learned a lot about you and picked up a few pieces of knowledge along the way.  In my humble opinion, MOOCs most likely will not save the world of higher education or thousands of poor students from high tuition bills.  Instead they may be the method of transportation, for those that are willing, on a personal journey of learning and self-discovery.  With this thought in mind, I forge ahead and try to get caught up on the countless videos and articles that I have not yet viewed or read that are part of the MIT LCL MOOC – the MOOC that slowly slips away through fingers of procrastination and the limited resource of time.  Forge ahead – I will!


Inferno (Dante).  (n.d.).  Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Jaschik, S.  (2013, February 4).  MOOC mess.  In Inside Higher Ed.  Retrieved from

Kolowich, S.  (2013, February 18).  Professor leaves a MOOC in mid-course in dispute over teaching.  In Wired Campus.  Retrieved from

Photo Credits:

Concentric Circles photo credit: Tom Haymes via photopincc

Too Much photo credit: John Flinchbaugh via photopin cc

Journey photo credit: Stephan Geyer via photopin cc

Guest Blog: How to Hire an Aviation Professional

I was recently asked to write a guest blog post for on insights and tips of hiring an aviation professional.  The blog post requirements included a post that was of approximately 700 words in length providing the best advice for those hiring aviation professionals.  Fabulous…wait…700 words?!?!


For this wordy girl, expressing my thoughts in 700 words is a challenge.

For this wordy girl, expressing my thoughts in 700 words is a challenge.  I often start talking or writing first and then go back and edit.  This often results in lots of words that convey a simple idea   I’m a girl, I like to talk, what can I say?  Obviously, I had my work cut out for me!

Following much brain storming and research, I wrote a comprehensive blog post of just a few words – 2400 words to be exact.  Trimming down 2400 into a little over 700 words was not going to be an easy task – bring on the challenge!

After thinking about what I wanted to say, crafting my message, learning to adhere to the KISS strategy (Keep It Simple, well you know!), editing, and more editing; my blog post is complete.

Click here to check it out.  How did I do?

photo credit: Darwin Bell via photopin cc

My Not-So-Big “Big Idea”

As part of Week #4 in the Learning Creative Learning (LCL) MOOC, we are revisiting more of Seymour Papert’s research in “What’s the Big Idea:  Pedagogy of Idea Power.”  For me, one specific theme continues to surface as I reflect on the concepts presented in the LCL MOOC including Papert’s “Big Idea” article.  I think I am starting to truly understand and appreciate that not all of us learn in the same way including factors of process, time, source of motivation, etc.  Though I seem to thrive in an academic setting where there are clear objectives, assignments, and processes (just like Mimi Ito, panelist in Week #2 of the LCL MOOC), others do not thrive in such an environment (like LCL MOOC Week #2 panelist Joi Ito).  Many learners have to touch things, tinker with things, transform data, or work with data in a tangible form before it becomes real and can be understood.  This need to engage in learning on multiple levels is emphasized by the introduction to a student in Papert’s article, Michael, who is unsuccessful in a traditional socially accepted model of learning we call “school” but highly successful when allowed to learn in alternative ways.

As a reflective assignment, participants in the LCL MOOC were asked to describe a powerful idea in their own life and reflect on the people, materials, and/or environments that have supported this idea.  The most powerful ideas, according to Papert, are applicable in a wide variety of domains, are easy to grasp, and are rooted in experience.

big idea

The most powerful ideas, according to Papert, are applicable in a wide variety of domains, are easy to grasp, and are rooted in experience.

My “big idea” or “powerful idea”  is really not big or powerful at all.  I believe it is easy to grasp, understand, and can be applied to almost any domain.  It is a result of many failures which have brought heartache, disappointment, and more importantly a realization of my “big idea.”  My “big idea” comes from a lifetime of these experiences and subsequent reflection.

So what is this not big, “big idea”?  It is really more of a mode of thinking, a lifestyle, a one-liner from a greeting card, and a caption on a motivational poster.  Simply, my “big idea” is don’t believe in the concept of CAN’T or WON’T.  As a lifetime learner, which we all are in varying degrees, don’t build walls or set limitations where there aren’t or don’t need to be any.  Many of these walls and limitations are self imposed – they are mental and therefore the hardest to climb over and overcome.  Certainly there are limitations all around us and for some learners they are greater than others.  However, I truly believe that, in general, if there is a will there is a way.  Though a corny motivational adage used by teachers and parents for decades, I have found it to be true.

Some type of physical, financial, social, or time constraint will be present in some form throughout the different phases of one’s life.  Though I keep petitioning for a 25 or 26 hour day, it doesn’t seem as though I will be successful with that venture anytime soon.  So in the meantime, the time constraints of 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and 365 days in a year remain firm.  In addition, there may be physical limitations such as an illness or handicap as well as financial constraints such as a job loss or unexpected expenses.

It is important to keep in mind that most limitations, constraints, or barriers are often temporary – few last a lifetime.  Therefore, just because you can’t accomplish a goal now, doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to in the future.  Sometimes goals need a bit of handling whether it is to make small adjustments, drastically overhaul them, or put them off to the side for a rainy day.  And for limitations, barriers, and/or constraints that will last a lifetime, one’s goal may have to be changed or achieved in an alternate way.

Really, if I think of my life as a whole and the goals that I have set for myself, there are very few of them that I have not been able to accomplish with time, effort, and a plan.  Just like Papert’s example-student Michael, the achievement of a goal has  not always been through traditional paths but in some cases through alternate routes.  In addition, there have been many times where that which has been achieved in the end doesn’t necessarily resemble that which I envisioned in the beginning.  In fact, goals are allowed to take a journey of their own and morph into something that can be quite different from where you started.

As mentioned in an earlier post on the Morgan Spurlock’s Failure Club project “one of the lessons of Failure Club, and is emphasized early on in the year-long process, is the development and maintenance of the ‘final goal.’ (Shamsy, 2012)  Despite the development and maintenance of a final goal, how you get to that goal and even the goal itself may change during the journey.  It really is the process that is generally more important than the end point.


The achievement of a goal might not always be obtained through a traditional path, but instead through an alternate route.

Setting goals is important but coming up with and executing the plan is even more important.  In creating the plan of action, you must research, think, research some more, ask questions, and search out information – often relentlessly.  Once you have decided how you will go about reaching your goal, you must then make the decision to jump off the bridge with research and plan in-hand and hope for the best.  It is during this phase that you are out there doing it and the positive self-talk and affirmation kicks in.  It is here that you begin to tell yourself: “I am actually going to be able to do this.”  This is the phase where successes can motivate and propel you forward but failures can suck you into negative self-talk, despair, and abandoning of goals.

Finally, you must continuously engage in a  process of re-evaluation.  You should  reflect on what has been successful and what has not.  Instead of listening to the “I can’t” or “I won’t,” you analyze what you have done and determine what you can do better or differently to reach your goal.  Utilizing this knowledge to help change your course as necessary is an important part of the journey.

I have used and continue to use this constant process of setting a goal, creating a plan of action, executing, re-evaluating, and reformulating to reach my goal.  This is especially true in the pursuit of my aviation goals.  When I started taking flight lessons at the age of 16, as a female, the odds were stacked against me.  Only approximately 5% of United States’ pilots are women, and in the United States there are only about 450 female Airline Captains.  (Pawlowski, 2011)  Who would have thought that a couple of decades later, I would be one of those 450?

Once I found my passion for flying, I quickly engaged in the beginning of this process, my journey to the flightdeck.  This included taking something of interest and transforming it into an undying passion, determining and visualizing the goal/end point through research and thought, developing a plan of action that could and has been amended several times, executing the plan with unshakable commitment, and re-evaluating the plan on a continual basis. This re-evaluation included a long, hard look at my failures along the way that are too numerous to count.   The lows of having bad training experiences, spending holidays in hotels far from family and friends, and being away from home more than I would like has brought loneliness and overwhelming feelings of failure.  My re-evaluation also included, albeit brief, a reflection on my achievements and the highs of passing check rides, getting jobs, and flying different aircraft which have been truly amazing, uplifting, and brought me great pride.  My completion of the goal to reach the flight deck as not only a job but a profession has opened the door to the amendment of old goals and creation of new ones.

In reflection, the journey of a high school girl with a passing interest in aviation to a selective group of 450 women was not such a big idea at all.  It wasn’t a conscious process of beating the odds or making my way to a selective group.  All along the way I achieved, failed, and re-formulated the direction of my journey.  At times the word “can’t” did come to mind but not for very long as I circumnavigated around the “can’t” to find alternative ways to achieve my goal just like Michael.  In the end, it was not only the final goal but the process of achieving that goal that continued to propel me forward and help me achieve my goal.

A Big Idea – maybe, but I wouldn’t know how to do it any other way.


Pawlowski, A.  (2011, March 18).  Why aren’t ore women airline pilots?  In  Retrieved from

Shamsy, J.  (2012, October 14).   You must fail to succeed.  [Blog post].  Retrieved from

Big Idea photo credit: nhuisman via photopin cc

Path photo credit: Earl-Wilkerson via photopin cc

Airplanes, MOOCs, and Childhood Gears

I am in the midst of yet another Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), this time led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Media Lab. So far, I’m quite impressed with the Learning Creative Learning (LCL) MOOC’s user-friendly design and level of course organization. These ease-of-use characteristics have often been lacking in other MOOCs in which I have participated.  Granted, I don’t claim to be a seasoned veteran or certified expert in MOOCs, but would like to think that I am not a causal or naive participant – To date, I have at least a few MOOCs under my belt!

What MIT has done that is unique from other MOOCs, is the creation of smaller groups/communities from the approximately 28,000 registered participants. I find this technique quite effective.  Within the MOOC, each pre-assigned group has their own Google + page which allows for the creation of collaborative participant communities through posts and comment features. This enables learners to interact with other MOOC participants in a more manageable way by decreasing the number of posts and creating a ready-made group of participants available for meaningful interaction. This interaction and collaboration with participants from all corners of the world, as well as access to educational resources previously available only through exclusive enrollment and high cost tuition continues to be some of the main selling points of MOOCs.

Week 2 off the LCL MOOC has learners returning to kindergarten and evaluating the role of creative learning in their own life through reflection.  One of the readings assigned to LCL participants as part of Week 2 was Seymour Papert’s Gears of My Childhood.  Participants were asked to reflect on a childhood object that interested and influenced them – an object that was a spark igniting passion for exploration and learning.

This assignment took a bit of thought on my part!  Upon reading about Papert’s childhood inspiration found in automotive gears, visions of toys from my own childhood popped into my head – Barbie dolls, bikes, swim goggles from the pool, crayons and coloring books to name a few.  All of these objects bring back childhood memories from yesteryear and all remain strong symbols of favorite activities or events that have played a role in my evolutionary from childhood to my present adult life. However, in the spirit of the reflective assignment, I was to simply pick just one object.  After much deliberation, I settled on the airplane.  From my earliest recollection, the airplane has been an important object of my childhood that has filled the gaps of time and place and remained a constant during my journey from child to adult.

flying picture

The airplane has remained a constant during my journey from child to adult. (Author circa 1982)

My journey into the seat of an airliner was a slow one and certainly not a straight line.  The earliest memory that I have of anything airplanes is the Pan Am Boeing 747 airplane play set that I received for a gift when I was around four or five years old.  Whether it was inspiration found in the solid plastic Boeing aircraft toy or something else along the way, the idea of flying a plane sounded cool, fun, and different.  No one I knew was a pilot or had any idea about small airplanes, so the helpful guidance of a mentor or even someone with basic knowledge about flying was a lost cause.  Being the focused and take-charge-kind-of-teenage-girl that I was, I contacted several flight schools and took an introduction lesson.  My first instructor was a mean blonde haired, blue eyed, albeit not bad-looking young man from Sweden whose accent made English sound like a foreign language.  Lessons with the Swede were not much fun given his inability to cater to my timid learning personality, low level of subject knowledge, and lack of skill.  He was sick one day and I lucked out when Jeff the Flight Instructor filled in.  Jeff made flying fun and enjoyable.  With Jeff, I found flying was something that I could stick with and eventually master, despite already being at the ripe old age of sixteen.  Add to this:  Four years of college, lots of studying, even more money, much personal sacrifice, and today I find myself flying an airplane almost every day and getting paid to do it.

Despite the trials and tribulations of working in “the industry” for a good number of years, I can’t seem to get rid of the idea that jet fuel and the sound and smell of an airplane is who I am.  It isn’t just a job, or just something I do on weekends – I am airplane and airplane is me.  I am left to ponder the questions:  Where do these intense feelings come from?  Why, despite the physical and mental fatigue that comes from another four day trip, can I not seem to give up this life?  Dr. Amy Fraher, Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England, in her work Dreaming of Flying While Grounded: Identity Narratives of Furloughed Pilots (n.d.) might have the answer and it might date back to childhood.

In the above-mentioned paper, Dr. Fraher discusses the role of childhood dreams and fantasies in creation of identity especially for occupations such as nurses, firefighters, and airline pilots.  Pilots often rely, at least partially, on childhood memories of airplanes and flying as well as the dream of fulfilling the fantasy of flight in creating their identity termed identity anchor phenomena (Fraher, n.d., p.3)

The importance of childhood dreams in identity formation and the strong and non-wavering identification with airplane piloting that result makes the pilot profession different from many others.  This almost primal craving to take part in and fulfill the dream of flight (termed the Phaëthon dream) whether or not it is actually possible provides motivation, carries pilots through turbulent times, and makes transitions to jobs outside of flying much more difficult.  (Fraher, n.d., p. 24, 26)

Phaëthon, a Greek Mythological figure, had an unquenchable desire of taking flight in the chariot of his father, Helios – the sun god. (Wikimedia Commons)

As Dr. Fraher masterfully points out in her research with furloughed airline pilots:  Childhood dreams, specifically the Phaëthon dream (a powerful childhood dream from Greek mythology), provide a valuable contribution to the storyboard of one’s life especially in the process of identity creation with roots firmly planted in childhood.  Though airplanes and the dream of flight are just as inspiring and motivational to pilots as the automobile gears were to Papert, these childhood fantasies may be so much more.  Pilots hold this Phaëthon dream close absorbing its motivational powers during early training, rely on it to provide strength while enduring hardship and sacrifice, and call on it to provide comfort and identity when all else is lost.  (Fraher, n.d., p. 29)  For pilots, these childhood dreams may not only be sources of inspiration and life-long springboards for learning but may be at the core of their identity and being.


Fraher, A.L.  (n.d.).  Dreaming of flying while grounded: Identity narratives of furloughed pilots.  Manuscript in preparation.

The Constructivist Cockpit – Part III

The source for these thoughts comes from an Northern Illinois University podcast.  Click here to access the NIU Constructivism podcast:  Constructivism: A Holistic Approach to Teaching and Learning – 9/25/2008

One of the concepts of Constructivism is to enrich the creation of knowledge and meaning by the learner through coaching, instructing, and suggesting.  As the NIU Podcast mentions, it is easy to be the “sage on the stage” and to get up and lecture for an hour on any topic ad nauseam, including aviation.  However, it is much more effective, according to Constructivist learning theory, to help lead learners to the correct answer or to a body of knowledge through discussion, exploration, and facilitation.

Unfortunately, aviation has long taken advantage of the low cost method of “pouring knowledge” into the minds of students or opening the fire hose and hoping that learners drink at least some of the water that gets sprayed.  In many ways, aviation education has been a hazing process much like those large lecture hall classes in college such as Economics or Physics 101.  Students that are able to absorb the knowledge quickly enough or have the determination to make it through will succeed and those that don’t tend to flunk out only to return the next semester for another “stab” at it or pursue something else altogether.

Pouring knowledge into the learner rarely works.

Ironically, it was the anniversary of the fatal crash of Continental Express (Colgan) Flight 3407 just a few days ago.  This accident on February 12, 2009 outside of Buffalo, New York was what many considered a watershed moment in the aviation training world.  It shed a blinding light on many of the inadequacies in the world of aviation training, particularly at the regional airline level, and brought to the forefront rest rule requirements that pilots have been fighting since about the 1960s.  Initially after the accident, the industry as a whole underwent a knee-jerk reaction observation/audit by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  Over the last 4 years since that accident, there have been a few additions/amendments to training requirements with the current push to ensure that all pilots operating in commercial operations (Part 121) possess advanced certificates and training include the highest pilot certificate available – the Air Line Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.  Despite these changes, little has changed in the grande scheme since that dark and cold night 4 years ago in Buffalo amongst industry members or within the regulatory machine of the FAA.

The good news is that there has not been a fatal air carrier accident in the United States since that night.  The bad news is that there are still deficiencies in the system and little of the regulations that have or will be implemented in the near future do anything to fix those deficiencies.  Could Constructivist learning theory offer up some helpful hints for this conundrum?  If noting else, it may provide ideas of making aviation education/training more learner centered resulting in a more positive and successful learning experience as opposed to a series of exercises designed to check regulatory boxes.

So back to the idea of helping learners to explore and effectively reach a desired outcome through the holistic approach that is Constructivist learning theory.  Though the required outcomes of aviation education and training are for the most part highly regulated by the FAA (demonstrating a maneuver such as a stall recovery procedure or displaying a minimum level of knowledge as set forth in the Practical Test Standards), how we get the learner to achieve those outcomes is partially up to the instructor.  The instructor can act as a pourer of knowledge or he/she can instead act as a mentor/coach and facilitator helping the student to explore and master skills and knowledge.   Specifically, the Constructivist learning theory, as the NIU Podcast indicates, suggests supporting and assisting supports learners in the learning process by:

1. Adapting training to the student beliefs (where they are right now)

I believe as we move well into the 21st century, Generation Yers (millennials) as well as the influx of aviation professionals from other countries will force aviation education and training programs to re-evaluate their training programs and adapt to a new type of student.  Generation Yers, as well as those from other cultures, have distinct learning styles, advanced technological know-how, and a strong expectation that education and training programs are not “wasting” their time with unnecessary or useless information or requirements. Old training philosophies and outdated training materials or modalities may not be so successful in this new environment.

2. Providing real-world scenarios and experience

As we have mentioned in a previous post, aviation education is getting much better about providing real world scenarios and experience through the utilization of simulators, real world oriented flight scenarios, and through utilization of “from day one” training methods borrowed from ab-initio training programs where students utilize real world skills from the beginning (examples being procedures such as checklist usage, transfer of controls during briefings, and Crew Resource Management).

3. Seeking the students point of view

Students are some of the best proofreaders and test-groups around.  Asking students what they think is important – it gives them an opportunity to have some control over their own training experience and contributes to their sense of community. It also provides an opportunity for developers/trainers/teachers/instructors to obtain realistic feedback on how information is being received and what deficiencies may exist.  In the world of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis, and YouTube video channels – people and especially learners want to share and be heard.

4. Adapting training to what really goes on out in the real world (social context)

In aviation, especially in commercial aviation, there is often a clear division between those that train and those that learn.  Often commercial aviation organizations, such as airlines, have a training department with employees (pilots, flight attendants, course development specialists) that are just involved in the training of personnel and no longer take part in live operations on a regular basis.  Often these personnel, and those that create the training program, are far removed from what really goes on “out in the real world.”  The reasons behind this are numerous including under/overstaffing issues, contractual limitations, personal preferences for work schedule and type of duty, medical ineligibility, as well as organizational culture and policy to name a few.  Often front-line employees are the first to encounter a gap or even errors in current policies or procedures with this information slowly flowing upstream to management and training departments.

Though the division between instructors/management and front line employees may not disappear anytime soon, there have been greater efforts to obtain feedback from front-line employees through organizational data collection programs. This includes programs such as Aviation Safety Action Programs (ASAP), Reportable Incident data programs, and Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) for general and commercial aviation. Not only are organizations seeking out data from employees through voluntary and often anonymous reporting programs; they also obtain this data though electronic data collection as found in Flight Operations Quality Assurance program (FOQA).

So certainly aviation education and training has embraced some of the fundamentals of the Constructivist learning theory especially in the last decade.  However, there are still deficiencies in the area of education/training philosophy (lack of learner centeredness) and in creation of efficient and effective training materials and procedures that are realistic and contain meaningful social context.

Image Credit:  Federal Aviation Administration.  (1977). Aviation Instructor’s Handbook.  (AC60-14).  (p. 16).  Washington, D.C:  Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration.

The Constructivist Cockpit – Part II

In Part I of the Constructivist Cockpit, I posed the following questions:  Can the application of Constructivist learning theory be useful in enhancing aviation education?  Can we reduce or even eliminate meaningless memorization and information overload-style presentations through poorly designed training materials whose sole objective is meeting pre-determined standards published in highly regulated documents?  Could aviation education ever become an engaging learning experience that allows students to meaningfully master the required concepts while obtaining experience and advanced knowledge under the watchful eye of mentors and thoughtfully designed training materials?

The source for these thoughts comes from an Northern Illinois University podcast.  Click here to access the NIU Constructivism podcast:  Constructivism: A Holistic Approach to Teaching and Learning – 9/25/2008

I think that in the world of aviation training, we have been hell-bent on old school methods of listening to the sage on the stage in ground school, reading the textbook/flight manuals, taking standardized tests from a published group of test questions, and leaving the Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) or Instructor Pilot (IP) to connect all the loose links.  It general, this system has worked “okay” because you are dealing with a group of highly motivated airmen/airwomen whose motivation and determination bridges the gap of poor instruction and causes them to be in a hyper meta-cognitive state where they seek out that which they know they do not know or scour books and analyze situations to determine that which they do not know.  The alternative to this “making it despite poor instruction” is just simply dropping out and internalizing the idea that you weren’t good enough or just didn’t have the “gift” and weren’t meant to be a pilot.  Though there are clearly those that lack the physical (motor skills), psychological, and/or cognitive abilities to master aeronautical knowledge and decision making, some of these drop outs are unnecessary casualties of poor training.


Motivation comes in many forms. For many aviators, it is intrinsic.

So can the Constructive Learning Theory provide a glimpse into some of the things that we should be striving to include in aviation training programs?  I think so.  Let’s consider one of the concepts included in Constructivism:  In order to create an accurate and rich construction of the world around us and of the material that we are “learning,” we must engage in realistic and authentic tasks and experiences.  In the past, aviation training, especially at the primary level (Private and Commercial Pilot) has been very much about mastering tasks listed in the Practical Test Standards (PTS) published by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  Master and demonstrate these tasks to an acceptable level, and you pass your checkride!  You are then deemed safe by the FAA.  However, as we have found in many an accident and incident, the ability to transfer information from the mastery of Turns Around a Point or Chandelles (two maneuvers that are required by the PTS) to the real world is mediocre at best.  What do these maneuvers really have to do with the price of milk other than you need to learn them to get through your checkride so you can make it to the next step?  Constructivism would tell us that we not only need to create these learning objectives (tasks) with real world application in mind, but we need to present it as such, and continue to reinforce this.  As aviation trainers and educators will become painfully aware as Generation Yers enter the training field, there is little patience, time, or effort devoted to things that don’t make sense, that don’t yield immediate gratification, or are a “waste” of time deemed by the student.  Generation Yers are very much wanting the “here and now” which starts to chip away at the dying art form of old school aviation training which has not only required high levels of intrinsic motivation to earn the right to engage in one’s passion as well as an exercise in patience.

We have started to see the integration of this valuable concept from Constructivist Learning Theory especially in commercial aviation.  The widespread integration of Line Oriented Flight Training (LOFT) into commercial airline and corporate training programs has proved invaluable not only to the organization but to the professional airmen and airwomen (students).  Realistic line operation scenarios based on real world data from programs such as Flight Operational Quality Assurance Programs (FOQA) and Aviation Safety Action Programs (ASAP) have been integrated into recurrent flight training programs.  This ensures that the student (professional aviator) is participating in and practicing skills involved in scenarios that are authentic and realistic because they have actually happened in the real world.  This is a much richer and much more useful experience than practicing individual skills that are not only unrelated to each other but unrelated to anything that occurs in the “real world.”

photo credit: via photopin cc

The Constructivist Cockpit – Part I

I was listening to a podcast the other day by the Northern Illinois University (NIU) Faculty Development Series through I-Tunes.  Some of the podcasts that I have downloaded are hit or miss and some are a bit long winded – but I have been in the mood lately to try to utilize those 10 or 15 minute breaks here or there to learn something new or get caught up on industry events.  Podcasts, blog posts, news articles, Twitter feed, etc. are all great ways of doing this.  I often use the Pocket app to save things that I can’t get to at the present moment – it has been a great organizational tool!

I found the NIU podcast, which was really a recording of an interactive Wimba platform webinar, a bit long winded.  I think it is always ironic when those that are encouraging us (us being online educators) to keep things short and to the point fall off the wagon so-to-speak and become what Cathy Moore humorously calls “the drone” in her “Dump the Drone” presentation.  BTW, if you haven’t viewed Cathy’s presentation, it is simply awesome and inspires us all to get to the core message – sooner rather than later.  I am sure in this Blog I will easily violate many of her guidelines.  But staying in the Constructivist spirit, this will be a piece of reflection.

Despite the length, the core message of this podcast/webinar recording was to discuss the learning theory of Constructivism.  The Constructivist theory (according to the NIU podcast) suggests that a person constructs their own understanding of the world through their own experiences and reflections on those experiences.  This construction is an active (cognitive miser) and personal process, resulting from experience, and emphasizes problem solving and reflection.  Constructivism encourages a holistic approach to information presentation based in real world scenarios.

As the NIU podcast points out, Constructivist learning requires feedback and learning experiences that are authentic as well as reflect on the learning outcome as well as the process involved in achieving that learning outcome.


Under Construction

So does Constructive learning theory have a place in aviation education?  Aviation education, on-the-whole, is still highly regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States.  There are regulations, advisory circulars, test standards, books, etc. all written with the expressed intent of dictating the who, what, where, when, and why of aviation education.  It is obvious that because the aviation industry is of public interest both as part of national commerce and transportation as well as playing a role in national security; it is imperative that there is some type of quality control process in place when evaluating those that are in charge.  When putting an individual in charge of the management, operation, or repair of a multi-million dollar aircraft with one, ten, or hundreds of lives at stake; it is necessary that the information that has been learned and the skills that have been mastered are evaluated and meet a minimum standard level.

This minimum level of skill mastery and the way in which knowledge and skills are obtained in aviation education was called into question one cold dark New York night almost four years ago.  The crash of Continental Express/Colgan Airlines Flight 3407 on February 12, 2009 was a watershed moment causing all in the industry to reflect on the training of aircraft pilots.  The sustainability of long-standing traditions found in aviation education such as “drinking from the fire hose,” cramming to pass the checkride, memorization of questions from test question banks and study guides, and zero to hero 90-day flight training programs continue to be analyzed.  With razor thin profit margins often hovering around a few dollars a ticket; the Federal Aviation Administration (the agency that regulates training) must carefully balance cost, efficiency, and safety.  The mandated training requirements set forth by the FAA are often the minimum and maximum levels of training that industry workers receive.  This tide is slowly changing as organizations are beginning to see the value of investing in training program research and development as part of a holistic Safety Management System (SMS).

So the question that this post poses is:  Can the application of Constructivist learning theory be useful in enhancing aviation education?  Can we reduce or even eliminate meaningless memorization and information overload style presentations through poorly designed training materials whose sole objective is meeting pre-determined standards published in highly regulated documents?  Could aviation education ever become an engaging learning experience that allows students to meaningfully master the required concepts while obtaining experience and advanced knowledge under the watchful eye of mentors and thoughtfully designed training materials?

In Part II of the Constructivist Cockpit, we will explore how Constructivist learning theory could be applied to aviation industry education to enhance the learning experience for industry employees.

Click here to access the NIU Constructivism podcast:  Constructivism: A Holistic Approach to Teaching and Learning – 9/25/2008

photo credit: anyjazz65 via photopin cc