This Case Study was developed as a course assignment in EDF6931 Multiple Perspectives on Teaching and Learning at the University of Florida in Spring 2015

Background

State College was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF), Advanced Technical Education (ATE) grant to expand their information technology curriculum and develop a comprehensive Cybersecurity Curriculum.  As part of the curriculum needs assessment, the industry advisory committee identified several areas of soft skills that are important to employers.  As one local employer put it, “You are doing a great job of preparing your current students for the technical needs of our workforce, but we need them to be well rounded employees.  They need to be able to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing, they need to be able to work collaboratively on teams, and they need to understand how to interact in a professional manner, both with other employees and with clients. Can you include these skills in the new cybersecurity courses?”

Industry research supported the advisory committee’s request confirming that employers want their employees to have strong business skills in addition to technical skills.  According to Closing the IT Skills Gap (McKendrick, 2011) employers are looking for critical thinking (70%), writing/communications (61%), interpersonal communications (59%), and project management (57%).  Thirty-two (32%) of businesses surveyed said the business skills of new hires were unsatisfactory. 

To address the requests of the advisory committee, the project team decided to include specific soft skill development in each of the cybersecurity courses.  They will use the recommendations of the advisory committee and the learning standards that are specified in the State of Florida degree frameworks to guide their curriculum development. The project team is composed of Jane Horowitz, Jose Rodriquez and Jim Anderson. Jane is the P.I and the cybersecurity subject matter expert.  Jose Rodriquez is senior project personnel and faculty in the Information Technology Department (ITE).  Jim Anderson is an instructional designer and a recent graduate of University of Illinois’ Educational Technology Master’s program. 

The Foundations of Information Security class has been identified to align with collaborative team work, including written communication skills.  To accomplish this goal, a weekly threaded case study was designed where students would work together in small groups to collaboratively develop organizational security policies and procedures.  The project team felt this “real-world” style project would be engaging for the students.  The resulting policies and procedures will be more thoughtful and effective than what any one of them could have produced on their own, while at the same time they will be practicing their collaborative team work and written communication skills. 

The Case Study

The weekly threaded case study is built around the scenario that students have been hired as part of a three member team of security interns for App Development, Inc.  They are to develop a comprehensive set of security policies and procedures for the company.  Each week, for 10 weeks, they are presented with a different aspect of the organization’s security needs and asked to develop a policy or procedure to address this need.  At the end of the course, they will compile all of the individual documents into one comprehensive information security policy & procedures manual. See Appendix A: Case Study Example for an example of one week’s assignment.

The group project was designed to utilize the group tools available in the Canvas Learning Management System (Canvas).  The Canvas group tools include a wiki style editor (Pages), two discussion boards (Announcements & Discussions), and a conferencing tool (Big Blue Button). See Figure 1 Canvas Group Collaboration Space. The threaded case study is designed to use the Pages wiki editor to collaboratively create the organizational security policy or procedure.  Students will use the Discussion tool to discuss concepts related to the security needs of the organization.  They will use the Announcement tool to coordinate with the group and to discuss the development of the policy document.  The remainder of the group tools are optional to be used at the group’s discretion. See Appendix B: Assignment Instructions.

Figure 1 Canvas Group Collaboration Space

Figure 1 Canvas Group Collaboration Space

Students are provided with a grading rubric for the group collaboration (Figure 1: Group Participation Rubric) and a separate rubric (Figure 2: Document Content & Quality Rubric) for the finished policy document.  Students are individually graded based on their contributions to the group project.  Sixty percent of the points on the assignment are attributable to the individual students’ contribution to the group collaboration.  Forty percent of the points associated with the assignment are attributable to the finished policy / procedure paper.

Figure 2: Group Participation Rubric

Figure 2: Group Participation Rubric

Figure 3: Document Content & Quality Rubric

Figure 3: Document Content & Quality Rubric

Learning Philosophy

The learning philosophy for the project is based on social cultural theory and collective cognition where two or more people working together can achieve insights that neither could have reached on their own (Lund & Smørdal, 2006).  Learning is developed through independent problem-solving in collaboration with peers (Vygotsky, 1980).

The project was designed based on collaborative learning as demonstrated by using a wiki editor to co-create the group’s policy or procedure document.  Collaborative writing is defined as an activity which involves the production of a document by one or more authors (Meishar‐Tal & Gorsky, 2010). Learning with wikis provides students with the opportunity to construct their own knowledge (Lund & Smørdal, 2006) and to engage in reflection (Forte & Bruckman, 2007).

The Issue

During the first offering of the course, Jane noticed students had a great deal of difficulty understanding the collaborative nature of wiki editing.  They wanted to meet as a group, divvy up the work and each contribute their individual portions to be pasted together like a puzzle.  They were apprehensive about editing each other’s work and they struggled with the asynchronous nature of wiki style editing and the iterative nature of collaborative work.  There were a higher number of students than expected who simply did not participate.  They did not post on the discussion boards and they did not participate in the collaborative creation and editing of the policy and procedure document.

As result, there were several students who complained about having to work on group projects.  They felt their grade was being affected by other students’ non-participation.  They expressed a great deal of frustration over group members who did not “pull their own weight”.  They could not seem to see the overall benefit of what they were learning because they were too focused on the other students who they felt were getting a “free ride.” 

Jane met one-on-one with students, posted update messages in the course, and used other communications methods to clarify the individual grading scheme and the benefits of the wiki style collaboration process.  She contacted the non-participating students individually and was successful in getting some of them to re-engage, but there were still a high number of non-participants.  Jane worried about how she could effectively engage these students.

At the end of the semester, Susie, one of the students who had been very resistant to the collaborative process, showed up in the program Director’s office complaining that her grade had been affected by students who had not participated in the group assignments.  She claimed, she had not been successful in the class because she was graded unfairly based on the non-performance of other students.  She said the group assignments were a waste of time and that she could have done a better job if she could have just done the assignments by herself.  The Director called Jane asking to meet with the project team to discuss problems with the course.

After meeting with the program director, the project team was not ready to give up on the group project just yet.  They felt it was important to help ensure their students had the business skills required by local employers.  However, it is clear they needed to add additional scaffolding to the course to help students understand the requirements and grading rubrics of the assignment.  In addition, they needed to help students learn how to work together collaboratively as a group and on a wiki style project.  The question is, how should they accomplish these goals?

Jim, the recent Ed. Tech graduate, suggested they should consider various learning theories to find one that would help their students. He questioned whether or not the students were ready for a social cultural learning environment.  Maybe we should employ more behavioristic or constructivist approaches to preparing the students for the collaborative assignment.  Once they have had a successful first experience, we can then move them into a more social cultural learning environment.  Jose agreed.  He felt that if they could use early reinforcement to encourage students to at least begin to participate, maybe they could reduce some of the stress over non-participating group members.

Questions

As the instructional design team contemplates changes to the course for the second semester, can you help them evaluate how learning theories can be used to design effective curriculum?  Choose a relevant learning theory and answer the questions below using your chosen theory.

  • What recommendations do you have for improving the group project?
  • What types of scaffolding would you provide to prepare students to work in a collaborative group project?
  • How can your learning theory be employed to help students learn how to work together in a collaborative fashion using the Canvas discussion boards and pages wiki?

Potential Solutions

Appendix C and Appendix D include two potential solutions for this case.  These solutions are designed to help students think about options based on a theoretical learning framework.  We’ve included two different solution scenarios using two different theoretical frameworks.  The frameworks we used in our solution scenarios are cognitive load theory and social constructivist.  It is possible to implement either one or both of these scenarios as they have been written so that they are complimentary to each other.

Teaching Tip:                                    

 If you are using this course in a class, it is recommended you withhold the solutions in Appendix C & D until your students have had a chance to contemplate the case and consider their own solutions.  The solutions can then be used as a guide for classroom discussion or further reflection and learning.

Appendix A: Case Study Assignment Example

Remote Access Control Policy

Learning Objectives and Outcomes 

  • Design a remote access control policy for an organization. 

Assignment Requirements 

You’ve been hired as one of three security interns at App Development, Inc.  App Development, Inc. is a startup application development company. They’ve recently been awarded a 3.5 million dollar three year venture finance investment.  As a part of their finance arrangement, they agreed to do a complete review of their security policies.  Their main office is in Gainesville, Florida, but they employ app developers who live all over the United States, and some outside of the US.  

App Development, Inc. currently employs 100 employees who use desktops, mobile computers, and wireless devices.  With the new capital infusion, they anticipate doubling in size.  They need to be able to secure their corporate network while allowing employees to access from home, remotely while traveling as well as on site in their Gainesville office.   

Work together with the other two interns to design a remote access control policy for App Development using the appropriate access controls for systems, applications, and data access. Include the design and justification for using the selected access controls for systems, applications, and data access.   

Group Self-Assessment Checklist 

  • We have correctly designed a remote access control policy for the given scenario. 
  • We have correctly selected appropriate access controls for systems, applications, and data access. 
  • We have included our justification for using the selected access controls for systems, applications, and data access. 

Note: The core concept for this case study comes from Fundamentals of Information Security (Kim & Solomon, 2014)

Appendix B: Assignment Instructions

For this assignment you will be using the tools provided in your Canvas group to discuss the assignment organization and content. You will then use the pages tool to create and edit a single group document as specified in the assignment instructions.

Due by Monday @ midnight:

Announcements: Use this page for group announcements, introduction messages, and discussions to coordinate group activities, schedule group conversations, determine assignment requirements, etc.

Discussion: Use the discussion page to create and participate in a discussion with your group using the discussion questions listed in the assignment as a guideline.  Please post each question as a separate discussion thread.  All group participants should participate in each discussion thread as you evaluate and discuss each question together as a group.  Check both the canvas assignment and the group assignment .pdf document for discussion topics and questions.

Pages: Use the wiki style editor to work together as a group to create a single group document using the version control system as specified below.  Your instructor will grade the document as posted on the pages tool.

Due by Wednesday @ midnight:

Turnitin Review: The final step in the group assignment is to submit your document for Turnitin review. The Turnitin assessment will verify document content has not been copied from external sources.  All content from external sources should be cited in your reference section and should be written in your own words unless identified as a quote. A group designee will need to copy and paste the content of the group document into a word document and submit the document to the “Case: TurnItIn” assignment submission box within 48 hours after the assignment due date. Once the document is submitted, it may take a few minutes, or even an hour or so to display your Turnitin results.  Please review your Turnitin score to ensure there is no plagiarized content. Any document with plagiarized content will be returned to the group for rewriting.

Group Reflection: Each individual group member will need to submit their group reflection in the comments section of the “Case: Turnitin” assignment submission page, please write a short description of your group process.  Answer the following questions in your description.

  • What was each group member’s contribution to the project?
  • Did you have any group members that did not participate?
  • What could you have done together as a group do to help improve the process?
  • What did you learn from this assignment and from the experience of working with this group?

Appendix C: The Cognitive Load Instructional Design Approach

The project team has recently completed the quality matters peer review training.  After discussing various options, they feel like the quality matters review process could be a good option for tackling this challenge.  Using a structured instructional design approach will ensure course learning objectives are effectively aligned with course content, assignments, and assessments.  By ensuring the course is well organized, they can help reduce the extraneous cognitive overload experienced by students when beginning a new course.  This reduction in extraneous cognitive overload will allow students to concentrate more fully on the course content and effectively interacting in the collaborative group learning environment.

We will begin with a review of cognitive load theory and how it relates to instructional design.  We will then discuss the Quality Matters rubric and how the quality matters process works.  We will conclude with our plan to use the Quality Matters process to review the Fundamentals of Information Security course and apply best practices principles to improving course organization and thus reducing overall extraneous cognitive load.

Cognitive Load Theory and the Concept of Working Memory

Cognitive Load Theory suggests that learners can only absorb a certain amount of information at one time.  In order for them to learn new information, they must commit the current information to long-term memory in order to open up more short-term memory for learning the next bit of information. It is commonly believed that short term memory can only hold about 5-7 items. 

In “The Magical Number 4 in short-term memory” (Cowan, 2001) discusses his theory that there is a limitation to the human capacity to store and process information.  The basis of his discussion originates in Miller’s (1956) “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two”.  Both Cowan and Miller argue that there is a limit to the number of items, or “chunks” of related items, we can store in short term memory. While it is important to consider the concept of a limitation to the amount of information we can store in short term memory, the question of how we combine chunks, and convert short-term memory to long-term memory may have a larger impact on instructional design and the development of effective learning environments.

Cowen (2000) indicates that long term memory information can be used to create larger chunks out of smaller ones.  As we are exposed to new information, we assimilate and use that information thus creating strong associations that allow us to store those items in long term memory.  In “Moonwalking with Einstein”, Joshua Foer (2011) discusses the concept of memory mapping.  Memory mapping is the process of creating building blocks, or associations, in long term memory that can be used as storage points to attach short term memory items.  We are then able to retrieve that information as related chunk of information. 

The question now becomes, “How can we create building blocks in our instructional design that will allow learners to create chunks that can be more readily remembered and assimilated into long-term memory. Using Miller and Cowan’s premise that the maximum number of items that can be retained in short-term memory is somewhere between four and seven, we should consider designs that incorporate no more than four to seven individual elements.  Larger numbers of elements can be combined together by creating associations that allow users to combine them into chunks, thereby freeing up short term memory for new items. Using this as a premise we can look at design from the perspective of grouping like items together and developing associations to previous information as a product or learning environment is explored.

The Quality Matters Review Process

The Quality Matters (QM) review process is a faculty-centered, peer review process that is designed to ensure high quality blended and online courses.  The QM Rubric is research supported and based on published best practices (Shattuck, Zimmerman, & Adair, 2014).  The quality matters review is designed to evaluate the effectives of the course design and the course quality. It assumes that effective learning comes from a course that has well designed learning outcomes, objectives, and assessments (Swan, Day, Bogle, & Matthews, 2014).  It is designed to be diagnostic and help the instructor or course designer to improve the course design.  Quality Matters does not look at specific instances of the course or at teacher effectiveness.

The Quality Matters rubric consists of 8 general standards, and 43 specific review standards, and 21 essential standards.  There are six areas of critical course alignments including Learning Objectives (2 standards), Assessment and Measurement (3 standards), Resources and Materials (4 standards), Learner Engagement (5 standards) and Course Technologies (6 standards) (Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric, 2014). Each standard in the rubric provides annotations and examples of good practice which explain the application of the standard and the relationship between the standards.  This provides the reviewers with specific guidelines for evaluating the course and looking for evidence that the course meets the standard. 

Source: QualityMatters.com

The Quality Matters review starts with a meeting between the three member review team and the instructor/designer.  At this meeting the instructor/designer will provide the review team with a worksheet about the course providing required information for the review.  In addition, the instructor/designer can discuss with the team what their goals are for the review and request that the team review particular components of the course and ask for specific information and advice on those sections.

Once the review starts, each member of the team reviews the course independently.  As each reviewer reviews the course using the QM Rubric they complete a reviewer form which includes all 43 standards.  The reviewer indicates for each standard, whether or not they believe the standard has been met or not met, they then provide evidence for their decision, and recommendations to the instructor/designer on how they could improve the course in relation to the standard being evaluated. Peer reviewers have completed extensive training on evaluating the standards and in giving effective feedback.  The purpose of the reviewer comments is to help the instructor/designer to improve the course. 

In order for a course to pass the QM review, they must meet all 21 essential standards and at least 85% of all standards.  Each standard is assigned a point value of 1, 2, or 3.  Essential standards are assigned a point value of 3, and all 3 valued standards must be met.  In order for a standard to be met, at least two out of the three reviewers must indicate that the standard is met.  In order for a course to pass the peer review, it must earn a total point score of 72 / 85.  If an essential standard is not met, the reviewers notify the team leader, and the team leader works with the instructor/designer to ensure the standard is met before the review continues.  The entire review process should be completed in less than six weeks.

Recommendation

The project team will submit the course for Quality Matters peer review.  State College has set up an internal QM review process in which the Center for Instructional Design will recruit and assign a team of three peer reviewers to review the course.   When completing the course review worksheet, the instructional design team will ask the review team to focus specifically on the collaborative group assignment and make recommendations for streamlining and clarifying the instructions and guidelines for the assignment.

Conclusion

By using the Quality Matters peer review process to improve course design, the design team hopes to lower extraneous cognitive load.  This will allow students to focus more fully on learning the content of the course, and in participating in the collaborative group assignments.  By ensuring that learning outcomes and objectives are properly aligned to course assignments and assessments, it will be easier for students to understand how course assignments will help them achieve the objectives of the course, and they will be able to more easily understand how they will be assessed and evaluated for participating in the collaborative group assignments.

Appendix D: The social constructivist approach

As the project team contemplated how to respond to the concerns with the collaborative group project, they discussed the need to understand how students work in a collaborative environment.  They felt that understanding what types of actions they are likely to take, and what types of actions they are most resistant to could be critical to understanding how to help students work more effectively in a collaborative learning environment.  The project team decided to start by looking at other research and literature to determine what can be learned about how students work together in collaborative editing environments.  Next they would designing a social constructivist style learning activity to help students improve their skills in working effectively in a collaborative wiki environment.  Then to insure continual improvement, they would use the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework to design a course evaluation survey that would help guide future improvements to the course and the collaborative group project.

Collaborative Editing Using a Wiki Environment

Meishar-Tal and Gorsky (2010) attempted to answer the question “What do students do and not do when writing collaboratively on wikis”.  In this study, Meishar-Tal and Gorsky developed a hierarchical taxonomy for classifying the actions students took while collaboratively editing text in the wiki environment.  By tracking those actions, and analyzing the data, they were able to identify trends in the way students collaboratively edit in a wiki.  They reported two main findings on their research.  First, students are more likely to add content to a collaboratively edited document, or wiki, rather than to delete text. Second, students modify existing text more than was previously reported. 

The findings by Hadjerrouit (2014) were very similar to those experienced at State College.  In this study, Hadjerrouit, worked with 16 students in a Web 2.0 technology course.  The students were divided into 6 groups of 2-4 students and tasked with collaborating to co-create a wiki from a teacher education perspective.  Hadjerrouit then looked at how the students worked together to collaborate on editing the wiki document.  The findings were consistent with previous research in that students were resistance or reluctant to edit each other’s work, late participation by students prevented real collaboration, and students exhibited a lack of collaborative writing skills. While the scope of this study was limited, we can see that there is a need for more research, including inquiry into how to help students to develop collaborative editing skills.

Social Constructivist Theory Framework

Interaction is a very important part of online learning. It is through interaction that the learner makes sense of the content and develops true learning (Dewey, 1986).  One of the basic constructs of constructivism is that knowledge does not exist independent of the learner and that knowledge is constructed through interaction either with the content or with others. (Vygotsky, 1980).  For social constructivists, knowledge is constructed as we interact with each other.  This method of constructing knowledge leads to many different possible perceptions.

According to the social constructivist learning viewport the learner learns from many different interactions.  These can include learner-teacher, learner-learner, learner-content and learner-interface. Interactions.  The process of learning also takes into account prior knowledge including the learners cognitive processes, self-reflective skills and the learning process itself (Vrasidas, 2000).

The Community of Inquiry (COI) Framework

While the instructional design (ID) team was doing research about how to best implement the Quality Matters (QM) peer review (See Appendix C), they found literature about the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework.  The COI framework takes a social constructivist approach and focuses more on learning processes, where the QM process focused more on design issues.  They felt this would be a good balance to the QM Review process and would provide an alternative method to consider in addressing the concerns about this course.  The ID team will use the social constructivist theoretical framework and the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework as a guide to evaluate the collaborative group case study assignment and to guide the development of a learning activity that will help students develop stronger skills that will help them to work more effectively in a collaborative learning environment.

The Community of Inquiry (COI) framework looks at learning processes through a social constructivist point of view. The COI framework uses the concept that social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence work together to support deep and meaningful inquiry and learning in an online environment (Swan et al., 2014).

Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1096751600000166

Recommendation. 

The project team will develop a collaborative assignment where students will co-construct a class document which will serve as a help/FAQs document for the group assignment.  Students will use the class wiki to develop the document so students would get experience in co-creating a collaborative document that will be used to essentially govern their classes’ code of participation.  Part of this assignment will be to develop a class contract which outlines how students will work together in completing the group assignments.  This contract can then be used by students to hold each other accountable for effective participation in the group assignments.

Scaffolding will be provided which is specifically focused on helping students develop collaborative writing skills.  The students could be prompted by providing them with a list of questions they should try to answer in their document using the categories as developed by Hadjerrouit (2014) as a guideline to help students learn about the various levels of collaborative writing.  These categories of actions include: actions associated with technical issues, actions on content, and actions on content.

This assignment would give student the opportunity to express their frustration with students who do not participate, or who wait until the last minute to participate, or who feel pressured by students who want to dominate the discussion or the process.   

A survey will also be developed based on the classifications in the community of inquiry (COI) framework.  The survey will be completed by students at the end of the course.  The results of the survey will be used to guide improvements to the design of the collaborative learning project and other course elements so that there is a continuous model of improvement for the course.

Conclusion

By creating a constructivist learning project where students will work together to co-create the guidelines and skills required to successfully work in the collaborative group project, the project design team hopes to both increase the student’s success in the group project and increase their overall satisfaction at working in the collaborative group process. 

References

Capdeferro, N., & Romero, M. (2012). Are Online Learners Frustrated with Collaborative Learning Experiences? International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 13(2), 26.

Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and brain sciences, 24(1), 87-185.

Dewey, J. (1986). Experience and education (Vol. 50).

Foer, J. (2011). Moonwalking with Einstein: The art and science of remembering everything: Penguin.

Forte, A., & Bruckman, A. (2007). Constructing text: Wiki as a toolkit for (collaborative?) learning. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 2007 international symposium on Wikis.

Hadjerrouit, S. (2014). Wiki as a collaborative writing tool in teacher education: Evaluation and suggestions for effective use. Computers in Human Behavior, 32(0), 301-312. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2013.07.004

Kim, D., & Solomon, M. G. (2014). Fundamentals of Information Security: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Lund, A., & Smørdal, O. (2006). Is there a space for the teacher in a WIKI? Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 2006 international symposium on Wikis.

McKendrick, J. (2011). Closing the IT Skills Gap: 2011 SHARE Survey for guiding university and college IT agendas: Unisphere Research, a division of Information Today, Inc.

Meishar‐Tal, H., & Gorsky, P. (2010). Wikis: what students do and do not do when writing collaboratively. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 25(1), 25-35. doi: 10.1080/02680510903482074

Miller, G. A. (1956). The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two. Psychological review, Vol 63(2).

Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric. (2014).  (Fifth Edition ed.): Quality Matters.

Shattuck, K., Zimmerman, W. A., & Adair, D. (2014). Continuous Improvement of the QM Rubric and Review Processes: Scholarship of Integration and Application. Internet Learning Journal, 3(1).

Swan, K., Day, S. L., Bogle, L. R., & Matthews, D. B. (2014). A collaborative, design-based approach to improving an online program. The Internet and Higher Education, 21, 74-81.

Vrasidas, C. (2000). Constructivism versus objectivism: Implications for interaction, course design, and evaluation in distance education. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 6(4), 339-362.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes: Harvard university press.