[dropcap]Faculty[/dropcap] across disciplines have been increasingly embracing online learning, with the goal of enhancing student learning. The intention is good, but it doesn’t always produce the desired outcomes. Much of the traditional online content lacks interactivity and fails to engage students.
Today’s learning management systems are designed to support interactive learning. Nevertheless, the types of interactive content that can be developed are still limited. Therefore, it has become very common for online instructors to integrate external tools to complement the learning management system. SoftChalk
, a cloud-based online learning design tool, is one of them.
SoftChalk allows instructors to create interactive and engaging online lessons with a variety of mini learning activities such as multiple-choice and open-ended quiz questions with instant feedback and “hints.” Students can see answer-choice-level feedback explaining why the selected answer is correct or incorrect immediately after each question. The feedback can also include links to recommended videos and review resources. In addition to self-assessment quizzes, instructors can create a variety of games such as labeling, hot spot, crossword, flash card, jigsaw puzzle, pairs, digital photo album, text popper, and so on.
The learning analytics data help instructors track students’ engagement and progress, including how many times a particular student works on the embedded quiz and activities and the score of each attempt. SoftChalk has seamless integration with most learning management systems. If an LTI link to a SoftChalk lesson is used (a standard for linking learning resources to learning platforms), students’ scores will be automatically sent to the gradebook in the learning management system. Alternatively, if tracking student scores is not necessary, the instructor can use an ordinary HTML link to the lesson. Finally, as a cloud-based tool, SoftChalk allows remote collaboration between instructors on online lesson development. Instructors can easily share lessons stored in the cloud with collaborators and invite them to edit.
In an effort to promote active learning and students’ online engagement, we introduced SoftChalk to the dental school in 2017. The implementation started in an oral pathology course, where the instructor developed interactive case-based lessons for students. The lessons used real clinical cases to walk dental students through the step-by-step diagnostic process with a series of learning games such as the ones described above. The lessons were posted on the school’s learning management system and were assigned to students as self-study modules. Students were allowed unlimited attempts and the highest score was recorded in the gradebook.
With the overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, the instructor has recently started to collaborate with a colleague in another department at the dental school to develop cross-disciplinary case-based lessons. Our goal at the school is to develop a library of integrated case-based lessons to help dental students learn challenging concepts and to promote application of foundational content in patient care.
With the initial success in oral pathology, other courses have also started to adopt this technology. At the recommendation of students, the dental radiology instructor has recently started to create interactive learning exercises using SoftChalk (e.g., labeling activities) to help students understand and interpret clinical radiographs. Instructors of microbiology have also planned to develop case-based lessons using SoftChalk to help students integrate basic science and clinical science, a very important skill expected of all dental students.
We learned some lessons from the implementation of SoftChalk. First, it is best to use SoftChalk in online lessons for low/non-risk self-assessment rather than high-stake assessment. Second, online lessons with interactive elements are more likely to engage students. Instructors should avoid creating lessons that are too text heavy without interactivity. After all, the main reason to implement tools like SoftChalk is to promote student learning and critical thinking through enhanced interactivity. Third, online lessons that are short help keep students continuously engaged. In our case, activities in one SoftChalk lesson takes students about 10–15 minutes to complete. Fourth, SoftChalk allows instructors to create a wide variety of learning activities. It is recommended that instructors start small by trying only a few activity types. Finally, while SoftChalk is easy to use, some training for students is necessary to get them started.
There are many online learning design tools out there on the market. Some popular alternatives include Articulate Storyline
and Adobe Captivate
. We chose SoftChalk for the following reasons. First, compatibility. SoftChalk works on Mac and PC, while other tools such as Storyline don’t have a native version for Mac. Second, ease of use. SoftChalk is easier for instructors and course supporting staff due to its simple interface. Third, remote collaboration. All SoftChalk lessons are stored in the cloud, making it easy for instructors to share with collaborators remotely. Based on our experience, SoftChalk is a nice starting point. Interested instructors are encouraged to download a free trial before committing to purchasing a license.
Meixun Sinky Zheng is an assistant professor of dental education at the University of the Pacific.