Harmonize Tackles Some of Online Learning’s Toughest Problems

Jan 21, 2021 8:23:50 AM

In 2020, online learning platforms became a familiar feature across the education landscape as many colleges and universities sent students home or sequestered them in their dorm rooms in an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, demand for online education was growing as learners sought more flexible and affordable ways of learning. Post-pandemic, we will likely see institutions adopting various learning modalities, including online learning, both as a way to serve more students at scale and as a way to meet the demand for new kinds of credentialing apart from the traditional four-year degree. 

In 2021 and beyond, online learning will continue to evolve as educators look for better ways to engage students and deliver successful learning outcomes. With the experience of 2020 behind them, educators today are more savvy than ever about the importance of building online connections, making time for students to share their ideas with their peers, and helping students reflect on their learning in meaningful ways. 

Whether they were teaching and learning online for the very first time or old hands at distance learning, both instructors and students did a fantastic job in 2020, but, for some, it took a toll. Instructors were often overburdened with the task of reading, responding to, and assessing online discussions, which are, arguably, one of the most important spaces for students to expand and deepen their learning. And students, some of whom were taking a full course load online for the first time, often found it hard to keep on task. In other words, getting to those great student experiences and excellent student outcomes wasn’t without some stress and anxiety. 

While we can’t change how 2020 unfolded for instructors and students around the country, we have been giving a lot of thought as to how we can make 2021 better. We’ve recently released two new capabilities in Harmonize that will help instructors focus more fully on student learning by giving them the tools they need to structure more engaging discussions and assess those discussions with greater ease. 

Auto-Grading helps instructors track and assess student participation in online discussions quickly and easily--giving them more time to devote to student learning. Auto-Grading will make life a little easier for instructors by automatically calculating a student’s participation activity and assigning a score (which the instructor can review and adjust). 

Milestone Dates lets instructors assign multiple due dates for each discussion topic.. Milestone Dates makes it easier for students to keep ahead of discussion requirements and make more thoughtful and considered contributions to class. 

Shouldn’t instructors be grading class discussions?

Yep, and they still do. Auto-Grading is a first step. Using Milestone data, It automatically calculates the level of student participation based on the number of posts, comments, replies for every discussion you assign. Instructors can review auto-calculations and adjust grades based on the criteria that matter to them to keep the quality of discussions high. 

What are Milestones and why are they important? 

With Harmonize, instructors can now assign participation requirements along with due dates, to a single discussion topic, setting clear expectations for students and helping them engage more successfully throughout the course. We announced Milestone Dates late last year. You can read more about it here. When students post earlier and engage with each other more consistently, class discussions get better, learning deepens and student outcomes improve. 

Delivering Synergies

Both of these capabilities were among the top features instructors have been asking for--and we understand why. They are easy-to-use tools that we believe will have a tremendous impact--for both students and instructors. 

As we continue to see increased adoption of online learning modalities in the months to come, capabilities like these will make a real difference in what it means to engage and learn. 

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