Announcement: Things I say to my BlackBoard students

From the teachable moment to boilerplate.

I realized this morning, when responding to a student on Bb, that it might benefit others if I share some of the things I say to my students on Blackboard.  Here it is ….

I welcome comments and feedback … that’s that whole point of this.

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Post – Sandy internet

Unfortunately, faculty are as much in the dark about what is going on at York and what will happen as you are.

York has been housing evacuees from Queens.  Unlike Manhattan, Queens evacuees’ homes have been damaged and are unlivable, so there is no place for them to “go home” to.  Yesterday York staff was trying very hard to get the evacuees out of the AC building but FEMA seems to have not been helpful.

What this means is that I don’t know if we will be back tomorrow.  Also, we’ve lost over 9 instruction days (almost twice as long as other CUNY colleges).  York has been trying to make up a plan to make up the missed days but two factors prevent us: 1. we don’t know how many days we will be out and need to make up and 2 . we are concerned about our students — many of you have damaged homes, no power, no internet or no homes.

I’ve avoided online assignments over the past two weeks because I’ve known that many of you have no power or internet.  But we need to begin.

This will be a graded assignment due by Friday night.

Go to the Sandy discussion forum and answer these questions:

1. Are you and your family okay?  I’m concerned.
2. What is the current state of your ability to work online?  The same as before Sandy?  No internet?  No computer?
3. How difficult would it be for you to work online like we were before?  Very difficult?  The Starbucks has internet so I’d have to work there … etc.

If I don’t hear from you by Friday night, I’ll assume you didn’t get this message or have no internet.




1. Are you and your family okay?

Yes, my wife and dog and I were very lucky. Tho I did spend all day Monday during Sandy looking at this tree which is over my house, we were okay. Had power and internet the whole storm.
Other people in my neighborhood were not so lucky

fallen tree 2

2. What is the current state of your ability to work online? Same as before.
3. How difficult would it be for you to work online like we were before? n/a

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Postmortem: Research Wiki project

The extended summer session is over as is the work for two groups of students working on the research wiki project in my summer I/O class.

How did they do and how well did the facilitators idea work?

Here’s what happened.

I had assigned students to facilitate discussion and work on sections of the semester project, and then I basically feed instructions to the facilitators.  I did this for the first three parts of the assignment, when the groups decided on a weekly meeting time on Elluminate, and for the first two written projects to be turned in.  I also monitored the group forums and would post in the forum if I thought a direct answer from me would help.

*   *   *

I just spent about 20 minutes reviewing the forums from last summer (without facilitators) and this summer (with facilitators).  As I had hoped, the facilitated groups began earlier without false starts and restarts.  Last summer a phrase that I heard over and over again in the early posts of a forum was confused.  Here’s an example (click to enlarge and read):

This summer, the original set of posts were task directed:

Two things to note, though: 1) The facilitators, this summer, did not do exactly what I asked them to do, which was ask the group to pool their knowledge about the assignments (the first step of logical problem solving is to do that); instead the groups jumped into the problem.  And 2) The use of facilitators was not the only procedural change from last summer.  This summer I was doing weekly Elluminate meetings with each group.  The purpose of these meeting was to overview the project.  Thus, the students’ lack of confusion about the project could be due to me explaining the project in real time.  I don’t see this as likely: only 1 or 2 students from each group (out of 6 students) attended the Elluminate sessions and due to a BB problem I couldn’t post the videos of the sessions.

Finally, this is baffling and frustrating: a group did not incorporate direct feedback from me.  During the Elluminate meeting, after the first written assignment I told the one member present that they should not submit an article because it was not an empirical article, but they could use it to scavenge references to empirical articles.  I even clarified this on their forum:

But the article turned up in the next graded assignment:

And then the next written assignment:

I couldn’t be clearer about what I wanted them to do, but they kept on returning to the same article.  This problem is salient to me because a group last year did the same thing.

Finally, after the third step of the project, I noticed that the groups had developed their own leadership.  So I told the groups just that and said that I won’t be appointing facilitators.

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Something new this summer … student facilitators

I’m doing my summer online course again – Industrial/Organizational Psychology.

Again, I’m having groups of students work online on a written project.  This year it’s a group research wiki on a topic in I/O Psych.

For each step of the assignment, I’m designating a student in each group as the facilitator.  All that the facilitators are responsible for are posting first and I feed them what they should post.

Here’s what I said to my Bb students:

Dear A- and O-,

I don’t know if you checked in Bb yet, but I’ve posted the first group project and I’ve made you the facilitator of your group.

 As a facilitator, I want you to facilitate and be the one who takes the initiative to post first. Giving someone this responsibility – even though it’s a small responsibility — helps the group get moving.

I’d suggest that you begin by asking (by making a post on the group’s discussion board) everyone in the group to post an introduction and then post some ideal times that they would like to meet.

If there is no ideal times which intersect, they you’ll need to suggest something more elaborate such as everyone posting all of the times when they could meet. If you can’t find an intersection then, let me know.


Best wishes,

Dr Ashton

The first part of the assignment was for the student to decide, on the discussion forum, when they could meet synchronously on Elluminate.  No one posted.  Three days later:

Dear A- and O-,

I’ve checked the forums.

I hope you’ve check the assignment on the group page — that will provide you with the background for what your group is doing this weekend and what I assigned you to facilitate.

I’ll be sending out an email to the whole class about checking the assignment and posting in the forum. That’s not your responsibility as facilitators, your responsibility initiate things.

Best wishes,

Dr Ashton

After this assignment was finished, I sent this email to the new set of facilitators:

Dear S- and A-,

I don’t know if you checked in Bb yet, but I’ve posted the next group project and I’ve made you the facilitator of your group.

As a facilitator, I want you to facilitate and be the one who take the initiative to post first. Giving someone this responsibility – even though it’s a small responsibility — helps the group get moving.

I’d suggest that you begin by asking (by making a post on the group’s discussion board) everyone in the group to post their understanding of the project and what are the steps to finish it.

I’ll be monitoring the forum and will help out if I think you need it. It you need help, let me know.

Best wishes,

Dr Ashton

I felt that this was good advice and a good first step because it’s the first step of most problem solving processes – discussing what is know about the problem.

The next section of the assignment marked the first time students had graded feedback on their work.  I sent this to the facilitators of the next section of the assignment:

Dear M- and A-,

You may wish to ask your group to look at my feedback from the outline and discuss it.

Best wishes,

Dr Ashton

I’ll discuss how it’s working out soon.

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Using group wikis online

Dr Wenying Huang-Stolte, the head of York’s Bb program, invited me to give a talk to the faculty in the summer workshop for new Bb instructors.  I’ve attached a copy of my powerpoint show:

Here is a PDF of the slides – group wiki projects june 15

And here is the link to my Youtube video on making wikis.

And my Group Wiki Grading Rubrics

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Research memes

Last semester, I gave my research methods students a new assignment on creating image macros.

There were two assignments, one for the chapter on statistics and the other for the chapter on the philosophy of science.

For the philosophy of science chapter this was voted most popular:

In general, for this first assignment, I wasn’t impressed.  I felt that what the students were doing did not indicate that they had a good understanding of the concepts (good enough to ‘riff on them).

For the next chapter, on statistics, this was voted as most popular:

and I selected three personal favorites:

The first two indicate an understanding of the concept and the third one is just funny.

After doing this once, I will do it again, but be more clear about my rubrics (for my grading and for the students’ voting).  The rubric categories will be:

1. evidence of understand of the concept used
2. evidence of understanding of the meme used
3. how funny and clever it is

While understanding the concept is obviously important, understanding and using the right meme is important also.  That’s what this assignment is about — using memes as a tool to communicate something about research methods.  Not understand the tool and using it correctly is like writing a bad essay, giving a bad talk or misusing powerpoint during a talk.

In my examples, I tried to work within the meme.  For example:

This meme is called “Clueless Claire” and the theme of the meme is that Claire is clueless and illustrates how ignorant she is.  Thus, my clueless Claire meme was

a clueless thing students do every semester —  using a test without presenting evidence that the test is reliable or valid.

So, I feel that this is a very good assignment for research methods students, if I change the assignment to encourage my students to think about the concept and meme.

Finally, this occurred to me after the semester was over.  The Super Cool Ski Instructor meme  may be a very direct way to get students to think about avoiding mistakes in class,

or as a way that one semester’s students can give advice to the students of the next semester.

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The Creepy Treehouse

I originally found this article by Jason Jones on the Creepy Treehouse problem in online courses.    Jared Stein defined the CTE in his blog:

creepy treehousesee

also creepy treehouse effect

n. A place, physical or virtual (e.g. online), built by adults with the intention of luring in kids.

Example: “Kids … can see a [creepy treehouse] a mile away and generally do a good job in avoiding them.” John Krutsch in Are You Building a Creepy Treehouse?”

n. Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.

Such institutional environments are often seen as more artificial in their construction and usage, and typically compete with pre-existing systems, environments, or applications. creepy treehouses also have an aspect of closed-ness, where activity within is hidden from the outside world, and may not be easily transferred from the environment by the participants.

n. Any system or environment that repulses a target user due to it’s closeness to or representation of an oppressive or overbearing institution.

n. A situation in which an authority figure or an institutional power forces those below him/her into social or quasi-social situations.

With respect to education, Utah Valley University student Tyrel Kelsey describes, “creepy treehouse is what a professor can create by requiring his students to interact with him on a medium other than the class room tools. [E.g.] requiring students to follow him/her on peer networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook.”

adj. Repulsiveness arising from institutional mimicry or emulation of pre-existing community-driven environments or systems.

Example: “Blackboard Sync is soooo creepy treehouse.”

And Tyrel Kelsey suggests that you can avoid the CTE by having students build their own tree houses.

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I’ve always been jealous of the methods for assignments Michael Smith and the rest of the ds106 group can use.  Those methods seem to fit the topic of storytelling much better than the topic of research methods in Psychology.  I was thinking about this last week and just decided to “brute force” research methods into one of their assignments.  And it worked!  At least for me.  In 15 minutes I generated several macros based on the next two chapters in my research methods textbook (the chapter on theories and the chapter on statistics).

and I just posted the following assignment on Bb:

This week and next week: Research Method Macros

A “Macro” (or technically, an image macro) is when text is superimposed on an image. The macro is a popular internet meme   (or this).

You are probably familiar with macro-based memes having seen them on the internet.

Several sites have made creating macros easy by providing meme-based stock images and web-based applications to add text.

Here are a few popular ones:

And there are some existing psychology memes:

Psychology student platypus

Psychology major rat


Chapter 3 – Theories

First, read the material above on memes and macros and learn about the memes.

Then, I would like you to create three macros based on the material in chapter 3. Please, you’ll see why in a minute, place each of your macros in an separate post.

Here are a few examples I made:

[see above]

Notice that I matched the statement to the meme.  For example, the phrase, “I’m using a test, it’s not reliable or valid” doesn’t make much sense by itself.  But I superimposed it over a picture of “Clueless Claire” so it means using a test which isn’t reliable or valid is clueless (which I hope you remember when writing your research proposals).

This is due Wednesday night. By Thursday night, I would like you to rate the macros. You will vote using the stars in the corner of the post. Click on the stars – more stars, a higher rating.

We’ll be doing the same thing next week for chapter 4.

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Did I say that?

Dealing with losers?!?!?!


Here’s the email I sent to  student who wrote to me upset about how poorly her project group was working together.  The material between  the six hyphens is copied from the project instructions.

Comments, criticisms or diatribes from any blog readers?  I’m always worried about  being too hard on my students.  But, as I tell my students: I’ve rather have you learn about these things here in college than on the job, because I’ve failed a class and I’ve also been fired from a job.  And the F was easier to take and easier to recover from.

She also, before the assignment was due, offered an excuse as to why she wasn’t able to do her best on the assignment (she was at scout camp with her daughter).

Some people may think that I was either too cold, harsh or pedantic bringing in the self-handicapping issue.  But again, I’m a psychologist and that’s what we do.  Consulting I/O psychologists  would point out maladaptive behaviors.  The research shows that people use self-handicapping often thinking that it will help with their impression management.  The research also shows that the intended targets usually see through the self-handicapping (I need to edit the Wikipedia page to include this side of self-handicapping).


Dear xxxxx,

I understand your frustration with your group, I am frustrated with both groups’ work on the project.  Group work is difficult and I’ll remind you of what I said in the assignment:

Why bother with this?

But there’s the larger question: why do group work if it’s so hard?  In surveys of employee recruiters teamwork skills usually rank in the top five skills recruiters are looking for in college graduates.  There is no need to say more.  If you cannot work with others on a simple project like this, then you have no ability to work on a group in a company.  If you work with others on this project, you will develop your teamwork skills.  This is critically important for your employability in the future.

One important teamwork skill is working with losers.

I’ve been on groups full of people with professional degrees (college professors, MBAs and lawyers) which have been more dysfunctional than what you describe.  In one way, this is good practice for you for your professional career.

But you do two things in your email: you criticize your groupmate’s work and then offer an excuse for your poor performance also.

Look up self-handicapping.  You are identifying a handicap (being at camp) for your potential (individual) failure.  One thing the Wikipedia article doesn’t say is that:

while self-handicapping may make people feel better about a failure, observers can see right through self-handicapping strategies (that is, observers can easily identify that you are trying to manipulate them).  So self-handicapping strategies like this only call attention to your poor performance and create a negative impression of you to the observer.

I’m only mentioning this because:  In your future professional career after York, you do not want to do this.  An important element in your success is how well you manage the impression you present to your boss.

Best wishes,



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More Instructional Technology Themes in this blog — or — a blog on blogs

When I started this blog last month, I thought it would be … things I say to my blackboard students.  However, I’m working on a new class — which is not an online class — which uses other instructional technology.  I will blog about that here.

I’m teaching a new class (for me) this fall which hasn’t been taught for several years.  It’s Psych 252 – consumer behavior.  I’ve been thinking about my approach to the class for a month and really haven’t had anything gel about the structure of the class.  Coincidently, I was called up for grand jury duty, which in Queens County means 9:30 AM to 5pm, five days a week for four weeks!  Most of the time is spent sitting in the jury room (without any internet access!) waiting for cases.  This has given me the opportunity to catch up on what was saved to my mp3 player.  One podcast which I had on my player for a while but haven’t been able to listen to (most of my listening is done on the subway and this podcast’s volume is too low) is a lecture by Jim Groom (U. of Mary Washington) on his and UMW’s  use of pubic blogs in classes.

I starting thinking about the idea of a public blog assignment for my upcoming Consumer Behavior course.  One goal I had in mind for my course was to somehow get students to look at advertising during the course.  Asking them to create and maintain blogs on advertising would be a great way to meet this goal.  Another goal was to create a course different than all of the others I’m teaching.  In all of my existing courses I’ve focused upon semester projects which are based on designing experiments or review the scientific literature.  While this is an important skill for our majors, I’m kinda’ burned out this.  Also, these assignments in my other classes usually produce the need for me to give feedback on proposals which is  an exhausting process.  I’ve scheduled the first drafts for my research methods and social psychology courses not to overlap and I feel that it would be too difficult to schedule in a third 2-week period of responding to proposals.  And, after thinking about the procedure, I realized that the blog would meet a third goal: making my students understand how to use the internet to make money.  An NPR report [I can’t find the link] said that one reason why we have a widening wealth gap in the US is because schools — for the first time in a century — are not teaching students the skills that they need to get jobs using the new technology.  Blogging?  Yes!  The Huffington Post was just bought for $312. Using Bb teaches students to be consumers of online content, but not creators nor sellers of online content.  Finally, this would force my students to write often which is something that they need to do.

The lack of wi-fi in the jury room has one blessing.  I have long periods of time with my laptop and no internet to distract me.  I’ve hammered out a draft of the grading rubrics of the blog assignment.



Orthogonal Rubrics (set weight regardless of other rubrics)

Category: Regularity Weight: 15%

High (100 points) – published schedule (e.g. Mondays; M/W/F; M-F) adhered to

Nominal (85 Points) – posts are spread out equally over the semester [24 posts divided by 12 weeks = 2 per week; are your 24 posts about 2 per week?]

Medium (55 Points) – posts are generally spread out equally over the semester but 4 or 5 weeks have lower than normal number of posts and 4 or 5 weeks have more than normal

Low (0 Points) – posts are bunched up at the end of the semester

Category: Readability/Writing Weight: 10%

High (100 points) – You can be proud that your post is on the internet for everyone to see

70 Points – Up to 3 typos or misspellings per 100 words

Low (0 Points) – reading your post aloud makes you sound like this

Category: Reoccurring Themes Weight: 10%

High (100 points) – All posts are tagged. You refer to previous posts in the theme (to discuss the theme).

80 Points – Your tags make sense and you refer to the themes represented by the tags in your post (to discuss the theme)

Medium (55 Points) – all of your posts are tagged and you have fewer than 10 tags

Low (0 Points) – posts are not tagged

Category: Comments Weight: 25%

High (100 points) – A total of over 50 comments to your posts. Comments are positive or questioning. Comments which express only one idea in the form of a sentence fragment (“cool”, ”good”) count as one-half of a comment.

Medium (55 Points) – A total of 25 comments to your posts (above applies). Many comments are negative (trolling) or spam.

Low (0 Points) – No comments or the comments are spam or negative (trolling).

Category: Links to Weight: 15%

High (100 points) – A total of over 10 links to your blog. The linking blog or page mentions your post or lists you on a blog roll.

Medium (55 Points) – A total of over 5 links to your blog. Some of the linking blog or page mentions your post or lists you on a blog roll; some list your post without context.

Low (0 Points) – No links to your blog. All links are without context.

Category: Course Topics Weight: 15%

High (100 points) – At least 10 posts are related to course topics (lecture; assigned reading); they occur within one week of the topic being covered in class; textbook or academic source (peer-reviewed) cited and forms significant part of post

Medium (55 Points) – at least 7 posts are related to course topics; textbook or academic source cited

Low (0 Points) – No class related topics

Summed Rubrics (weight changes in relation to other rubric in this section) Section Weight: 10%

Category: Length

High (80 points) – Over 200 words of original material (own text, ideas)

60 points – Over 100 words of original material

Medium (40 Points) – Over 50 words of original material

Nominal (10 Point) – Between 15 and 50 words of original material

Low (0 Points) – Less than 15 words of original material

Category: Frequency

High (80 points) – five posts per week

60 Points – 3 posts per week

Medium (40 Points) – two posts per week

Nominal (10 Point) – one post per week

Low (0 Points) – Less than one post per week

Example calculation

Category                           Score Weight Weighted Score

Regularity                              80       15%             12

Readability/Writing             70       10%             7

Reoccurring Themes             70         10%           7

Comments                             80         25%           24

Links to                                 60           15%             9

Course Topics                        90           15%          13.5

Length & Frequency             50            10%           5

Total 77.5

This student’s grade for their blog will be 77.5% — a C +.


The last class of the semester students will submit a self-assessment. In the self-assessment you will need to review your blog, collect and present the necessary data, and draw conclusions regarding the seven rubrics and your blog grade.

Self-assessment document

The self-assessment document will consist of an introductory paragraph and then seven sub-sections on each of the seven rubrics. A conclusions section will present your conclusions regarding your grade.

Data to present

Category: Regularity

Present a table or chart with week of the semester and number of posts as categories. Refer to the post (include direct link url) in which you announce your schedule to provide evidence of a published schedule.

Category: Readability/Writing

Just imagine that your Eng 125 teacher is selecting a number. This is going to be pretty subjective … but my subjective judgment will trump yours.

Category: Reoccurring Themes

State what you believe you have done and cite your tag pages (include urls) to support your belief. Cite examples posts where you specifically refer to themes.

Category: Comments

Present a table or graph with week of semester and number of posts as categories. Cite example comments (include post url) to support your claim about the contents of the posts.

Category: Links to

Attach the print out of a search or analytic output showing the links to your blog. Cite example links (include url) to support your claim about the context of the links.

Category: Course Topics

List in a table the posts with class topics, their urls and dates posted. Cite example posts to support your claim about the sources cited.

Categories: Length & Frequency

I would suggest making a tag for length (<15; 15-25; >50; >100; >200). Then you can go to the tags page and count the number of posts in each category. Use the table below and the point value per length category to calculate your grade for this category. Present to me in a table this information with the length category (see above and provide url links to tag pages) and the number poster per category.

Words points Per week weeks total

<15           1           10         10 100

15-25      2            5           10 100

>50        3            3.3         10 100

>100     5             2            10 100

>200   10            1            10 100


Words Number of posts Points per post     Total

<15                                                   1

15-25                                               2

>50                                                  3

>100                                                 5

>200 10




Academic Integrity Note:

Presenting factually inaccurate information in the self-assessment is a violation of academic integrity; doing so will most likely result in a score of 0 for the semester blog project. In addition, you will be reported to the Dean’s office and record of your violation will be on record. Of course, some elements of the self-assessment are based upon subjective evaluation and are not included in this warning about academic integrity.

What this means is: do not say in your self-assessment that you have 20 >200 word posts when in reality you only have 5 >200 word posts.

Course elements
Exam 1….. 25%
Exam 2 …. 25%
Blog …….. 50%




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