Video Papers

Background

As a third-year faculty member, I’ve begun to cross over the bridge between teaching mostly new preps every semester to repeating some of my favorite classes. I’ve reached a point where I can focus on improving the experiences within the courses I teach, as opposed to being primarily concerned with having a lecture and activity ready for each day. One of the classes that I’ve been lucky to teach more than once and have begun to refine is SPST 270, Culture Through (Sport) Film. Per the course description, “This course uses sport films to examine relationships of power in society and the way those relationships are contested and reinforced.” This course provides a great medium for examining race, class, gender, and socioeconomic status through sport documentaries. For example, in past semesters we watched “Kicking It”, a documentary about the Homeless World Cup and discussed the use sport to stimulate social change. We analyzed power, support structures, and resources after we watched “Chiefs”, a documentary about high school basketball players on the Wind River Indian reservation in Wyoming.

I love teaching SPST 270 and have found that students really enjoy the experience. Many sign up for the course because there’s an assumption that the course is easy and that we’ll watch popular movies like Varsity Blues, so of course it’s going to be fun as well. After the initial shock of realizing that we primarily watch documentaries, and that many are in foreign languages with subtitles, the students typically respond in two ways: 1) a few students check out and refuse to become engaged, and 2) most students rise to the challenge and get excited to learn about sport and culture, beyond what they’ve seen on Sports Center.

For each class period, students are expected to come prepared having read journal articles related to the film’s dominant themes. The class period begins with a pre-lesson, and then we watch the movie and finish with a group discussion. In my first two semesters teaching the course, I utilized traditional papers as the primary means of assessment. Each week students were required to analyze the culture specifically portrayed in the movie and the themes from the reading and pre-lesson. The benefit of using the traditional paper assignment was that the format remained consistent throughout the semester. Students felt confident in the format of the papers, which aided them in focusing on developing their cultural commentary, as opposed to stressing out about the structure of the assignment. The detriment of such an assignment in this course is that it got very repetitious and by the fourth paper of the semester the analyses becomes somewhat rote. Over time I noticed that the quality of the commentary dropped off and students wrote generalized statements about culture instead of focused analyses on the particular social world we viewed in the film. In addition, in a class of 30-32, grading that many papers each week became quite tedious.

Adaptation

So what did I do? I started brainstorming (and Googling – why reinvent the wheel?) ideas to shake up the class. I wanted to get the students more actively participating in the cultural analyses and find a way to develop skills in addition to writing, like oral presentation skills and the digital literacies required to create and deliver a presentation using a technological solution. I recognized that the students would benefit from the practice of making an oral argument in a traditional class presentation activity. The problem with in-class presentations was that I had 30ish students each semester. To go through that many presentations would have eaten up a substantial amount of class time, and the chances of keeping the whole class engaged during that time was slim to none. So, I opted to assign video papers instead.

What is a video paper?

The idea behind my video paper assignment was that the assignment remained the same, the mode of delivery changed. It was a bit of a combination between writing a paper and presenting orally. Students were required to answer seven questions that were designed to build upon one another. This design allowed for a smooth transition between topics and created the sense of a naturally flowing conversation. The only thing I changed in adapting the assignment was to include technology requirements and clearly spell out the professionalism expectations for a video presentation, as you typically would do with an oral presentation assignment. I was particularly interested in getting students who would not dialogue in front of the rest of the class to be able to speak intelligently on the topic in a confident manner. Ultimately, I wanted them to be able to verbalize their analysis while speaking in a “normal” voice, speech pattern, and tone. I wanted students to recognize that they could give a formal presentation, but still be themselves, not a stuffy “official” version of them.

(Key Lesson Learned: One component that I added to the assignment after trying this the first semester was the requirement that students cannot read from a script. Some students resisted the change in modality, wrote the regular paper, and then read it in front of the camera. I added a clause in the assignment that stated that any student who appeared to read a script/paper was automatically assigned a zero. It seems harsh, but it prevented students from reading a paper verbatim and ignoring the intent of the assignment. I’ve never actually had to assign the zero once this rule was implemented.)

Technology

I worked with Katie (McDonald) Sabourin to prepare the assignment and make sure I had all the technical support the students would need. Katie sent me a list of technical requirements that I was easily able to copy and paste into the assignment. Students used SJFC computer lab computers, personal computers, tablets, and cell phones to record their videos. Some devices produced a better picture and provide for better audio than others (i.e., computer over cell phone), but the assignment was not about production value, so that did not impact my assessment of the students. Katie worked with me to set up server space using Ensemble for the videos and a link on Blackboard for submission. For a detailed look at the assignment and the technology details, you may access the assignment by clicking here: Final Movie Review.

My results

The following is a summary list of the results I experienced over two semesters of assigning video papers as final assignments:

Introverted Students Embraced It

Students who didn’t participate much in class embraced the format and went at the assignment with gusto. Students who barely spoke in class were quite articulate and thoughtful in their commentary. It reminded me that there is a difference between students who check out/ zone out and students who aren’t comfortable with sharing in front of a large class. This is particularly relevant to this course because with a P5 Core designation there is typically substantial variance in the majors represented. The students don’t necessarily have the level of comfort with their peers as they do in a major course. Unfortunately, this difference in assignment did not seem to make a difference with the students who were truly checking out/ zoning out.

Do Overs Made a Difference

Overwhelmingly, students expressed an appreciation for being able to pause their recording, regroup, and then proceed. They were happy to be able to record one answer, review it, and then rerecord if they didn’t like it.

Students Had Fun

My impression was that students who wanted to have fun with their assignment were more likely to do so when they risked being “geeky/nerdy/dorky” in front of their professor only and not their peers. For example, one student who was generally reserved in class recorded his video paper in eight or nine different segments. He changed his tie every single segment. He never drew attention to it in the video, but commented to me later that he was hoping I’d notice and find it funny.

You can also see an example of a video paper that was turned in the second semester I assigned the video papers here.


This student put a little polish on her video by adding some graphics and music at the end. Students knew that this was not an expectation, nor would it directly relate to their grade, but some still put the extra effort into they assignment.

Technology Can Still Be an Issue

The biggest technical obstacle to the video papers was the uploading part of the submission process. Generally speaking 95% of the students had no problem. However, students off campus tended to have more difficulty in getting the videos to fully upload. My suspicion was that this problem was related to network speeds. Students had a much easier time uploading videos on the campus network. So, for commuters my recommendation was that the students uploaded their video while on campus and not from home.

Personal Messages

At the end of approximately 25% of the videos submitted, the students gave me personal messages. Some were reflections on how much they enjoyed the assignment. Some were commentary on the course and me as their professor. While there is no guarantee of receiving such a message, it is quite touching to get a personalized “thanks for the semester” message. Each time it’s given me the warm, fuzzy feeling that we often need during finals week.

Grading

The video assignments did not lend themselves to giving detailed feedback. Unlike with a traditional paper, it is impossible to circle words, sentences, or phrases and write a comment about them in detail. However, they worked perfectly for giving overarching feedback on analyses and delivery. This is part of the reason why I felt the video paper was particularly appropriate as an end of the semester assignment. Although the videos felt more fun to grade because they got me out of my habits as well, they were not any faster to grade. Students recorded videos that varied in length from around five minutes to around 20 minutes. Instituting a cap on time may be beneficial for some assignments.

In terms of student performance, what seemed to change the most was the depth of the cultural analyses. I believe the assignment modality itself led to this, but I’m not exactly sure why. The content of the assignment was almost exactly the same as previous traditional papers assigned in the course, but with a different film. This was the eighth time in the semester that students answered this set of questions. There’s always a chance that the film was more accessible and they had a great degree of practice in answering the questions, so that resulted in a deeper cultural analyses. However, anecdotally the assignments seemed better than even the traditional papers turned in the week before that corresponded with a very engaging film.

The Biggest Take-Away

Ultimately, the biggest take-away for me was that the students were engaged and produced quality work, and the introduction of a video paper brought variety into the course. I didn’t need to know that it was more effective than a traditional assignment. Rather, I was pleased that it was different and effective.

If you would like to learn more about my experiences with assigning video papers, don’t hesitate to email me at kburakowski@sjfc.edu.

3D Printing @ Fisher!!

Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, we in the Biology department were able to acquire the newest 3D printer made by Makerbot. Here I will try to briefly explain what 3D printing is all about, with the goal of encouraging anyone in the Fisher community to have access to and take advantage of this machine. I will also mention in passing a new silhouette cutter we recently acquired.

What is 3D printing?

The idea of 3D printing comes from the concept of bottom-up construction or manufacturing. Instead of cutting pieces of materials and then putting them together, one can design a 3 dimensional structure and have a machine “print it” by depositing melted plastic on a very fine scale.

http://mashable.com/category/3d-printing/
http://www.makerbot.com/
https://www.ted.com/talks/lisa_harouni_a_primer_on_3d_printing

What machine did we acquire?

The new Makerbot Replicator Mini makerbot_mini

http://store.makerbot.com/replicator-mini

microfluidics

Why did you buy this?

The Nanobiology Lab at Fisher builds microfluidic devices; we need to produce custom-made cases and scaffolds for the chips we make.

What things can I make?

That’s where your imagination comes into play. Anything you can design/draw can be produced (within certain limits of size and resolution). If you have never used the free versions of SketchUp from Google, you will find it a very approachable modeling program that will produce files our machine can print. There are also plenty of already-designed objects that can be downloaded either for free or for a fee.

http://makezine.com/3d-printing/

What are they made of?

PLA, a biodegradable plastic derived from corn starch.

What is a silhouette cutter?

Think of a printer that instead of depositing ink, has a blade that cuts the pattern you feed into it. It is used to cut a range of sheet-format materials, like paper, cardboard, silicon sheets or vinyl.

thin2

thin1

Where can I go to learn more about this?

Who do I contact to start 3D printing?

You can contact myself (fontiveros-llamas@sjfc.edu) or Mike Boller (mboller@sjfc.edu) in the Biology Department.

We are excited to have this kind of equipment and happy to share it with anyone interested in using it!!

To learn more about the Nanobiology Lab at Fisher, please visit our site.

 

Dealing with Student Resistance to Change in Teaching Strategies

As we start another academic year, there are many faculty on campus who are trying new teaching strategies in their courses. These may include many forms of the flipped classroom style of teaching, incorporating more active learning activities during class time, encouraging more collaborative and team-based projects and assignments, or maybe using student polling for the first time. Some of these techniques may involve a new technology and some may just be an adjustment to the way class content is designed or delivered. Regardless of the type of change you might be making to your course, it is very common for some students to show resistance. Change in itself is not easy and students have very clear expectations on how learning should happen, mostly based on a long history of their previous experiences in educational settings where they have been exposed to what they would consider the “norm” or traditional style of learning (Johnson, A., Kimball, R., Melendez, B., Myers, L., Rhea, K., & Travis, B. 2009). In most cases, the expectation is to get to class on time, sit in your seat quietly and listen to the instructor unless directly asked a question. Though this passive participation in class is what might be most comfortable for students, it does not mean it is the most beneficial to their learning and growth.

If you are experiencing this type of resistance to change in your courses, don’t give up! This issue is a common occurrence for many faculty and there are things you can do to respond to student concerns and reinforce your intentions with students to make the transition easier for everyone.

One of the main strategies to address this issue is to confront it head on early in the semester. Talking with students directly about your plans for the course and how it will work, what will be expected of students in this new course style and the reasons why you have made the changes are all important points to discuss as a group. The changes made in the course may require students to take more ownership of their own learning. Clearly identifying this change and examples of how that might be seen in student actions should be outlined. Felder and Brent (1996) provide the suggestion “to minimize resistance to any student-centered method, try to persuade the students from the outset that you are neither playing a game nor performing an experiment, but teaching in a way known to help students learn more and understand better.”

Another key strategy is to collect feedback on how things are going periodically throughout the semester. This may be done in the form of a mid-course survey to all students, anonymously asking how the techniques used in the class are helping them learn the material of the course. It is a good idea to share with students the feedback you are receiving and the specifics on how you plan to use it. It may be that the resistance to the new style of teaching only comes from a minority of the students and sharing overall survey results with the group will allow those student to see it is working well for others and possibly be more open to the change (Felder 2011). Creating an open environment of communication will provide you with insights that will allow you to improve your technique with the new teaching strategy and its overall impact on students.

In the article “Sermons for Grumpy Campers”, Felder provides a series of possible responses to common student complaints related to the transition to more student-centered teaching methods. The student remarks might be very similar to those you have heard in the past from your own students. Felder’s responses are helpful if you struggle to find a response to these kind of comments. He always shares with students his motivation to improve their overall learning experience. Just as an example, here is one of my favorites:

Student:

“Those group activities in class are a waste of time. I’m paying tuition for you to teach me, not to trade ideas with students who don’t know any more than I do!”

Professor:

“I agree that my job is to teach you, but to me teaching means making learning happen and not just putting out information. I’ve got lots of research that says people learn through practice and feedback, not by someone telling them what they’re supposed to know. What you’re doing in those short class activities are the same things you’ll have to do in the homework and exams, except now when you get to the homework you will have already practiced them and gotten feedback. You’ll find that the homework will go a lot more smoothly and you’ll probably do better on the exams. (Let me know if you’d like to see that research.)

Even Jose Antonio Bowen’s, a strong advocate for active learning and the author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning has experienced the phenomenon of student resistance to changes in  course delivery strategies. “The biggest resistance to Mr. Bowen’s ideas has come from students, some of whom have groused about taking a more active role during those 50-minute class periods. The lecture model is pretty comfortable for both students and professors, after all, and so fundamental change may be even harder than it initially seems, whether or not laptops, iPods, or other cool gadgets are thrown into the mix” (Young 2009).

Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning also happens to be the Book of the Month in the new Teaching and Learning Book Collection located in the Educational Technology Instruction Room in Lavery Library, room L109 (Yes, that was a blatant plug!) and is an excellent resource for those of you looking for ideas on how to create a more active and student-centered course experience. His book includes both the research on why these kinds of teaching strategies work to improve student learning, as well as practical tips and ideas that are easy to apply in a variety of content areas.

It is important not to give up too soon on the new strategy, technique or technology you are trying to implement in your courses. It takes time and practice and even a few failures to learn what works best for you and your students. Teaching in a new way requires a willingness on the part of both instructors and students to work outside your comfort zone, but can result in great outcomes and increased engagement with students.

What other techniques have you found to be helpful when dealing with student resistance to change in teaching strategies? Please leave your ideas in the comments section.

Resources

Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction. College Teaching, 43(2).

Felder, R. M. (2007). Sermons for grumpy campers. Chemical Engineering Education, 41(3).

Felder, R. M. (2011). Hang in there! Dealing with student resistance to learner-centered teaching. Chemical Engineering Education, 45(2).

Johnson, A., Kimball, R., Melendez, B., Myers, L., Rhea, K., & Travis, B. (2009). Breaking with tradition: preparing faculty to teach in a student-centered or problem-solving environment. Primus: Problems, Resources & Issues In Mathematics Undergraduate Studies, 19(2), 146. doi:10.1080/10511970802409164

Young, J. (2009). When computers leave classrooms, so does boredom. Retrieved from: http://chronicle.com/article/Teach-Naked-Effort-Strips/47398/

autotext apps are a shot in the arm for your grading blues

Barney’s and Jeremy’s posts about electronic grading got me thinking:  is there an autotext app that would work across platforms, whether we’re grading in Word or Blackboard or googledocs or Pages?  For years I’ve used the Quickwords function in WordPerfect – I type a short word like /awk and it inserts an entire comment about what’s awkward about the sentence in question.

Program-linked utiliies have their problems, though.  My Quickwords don’t work when I’m grading in Blackboard or turnitin or Word.  And every time I update my software or hardware or use a different computer, I have to remember to recopy the template file, and it’s buggy and doesn’t always work properly.

The freeware utility PhraseExpress is the solution to this dilemma – and almost too good to be true.  Download, install, and, from the system tray (remember to turn on the icon) it allows you to copy frequently used snippets of text and insert them into any document, any program, any platform. . .except, naturally, Macs (see alternative below).  Now, no matter what program I’m using, when I type in the word “orgno,” PhraseExpress inserts my suggestions about how to reorganize a chaotic paragraph.  I have a library of these snippets from my 25 years of teaching, and it took me about half an hour to insert all of them into PhraseExpress.  When I create new ones, all I have to do is click the icon, select “new snippet,” and it’s added to my library.

Image

There’s a USB-based portable version of PhraseExpress if you use multiple computers.

PhraseExpress also allows you to import a variety of files like Word AutoCorrect and AutoText entries so that you don’t have to retype the snippets you’re already using.

A couple of suggestions:

When you name a snippet, give it a name that doesn’t correspond to an existing word.  My system of naming enlists an abbreviation of the issue (such as “org” for organization problem) plus the word “yes” (for “you’re doing it well!”) or “no” (with instructions about how to do it better).

I keep a list of these snippet names next to my computer for easy access when I’m grading.

For Mac users, AutoTextExpander is a similar utility.  I found it slightly less intuitive than PhraseExpress, and it costs $29.95 after a brief trial period, but it’s a full-featured alternative that works in both Mac and Windows.

Image

Happy grading!

- Lisa

A Review of the Blackboard Online Grading Tool

Regardless of the specific tool used, online grading offers a green solution that is more easily archived for students’ use. In addition to eliminating problems of not-so-legible handwriting, students and teachers benefit when a student can read over a professor’s comments prior to coming to class, and only ask questions after having time to contemplate the feedback. Microsoft Word offers this capability and two previous posts on this blog have covered shortcuts available with this option. However, Blackboard now provides an online grading tool distinctly different from Word.

Comment and Score

The grade and feedback section in the Blackboard Grading Tool.

The most significant advantage of the new tool is a simplified workflow. With Microsoft Word, one must download the papers after they are submitted through the Assignment feature. Each paper is graded and either uploaded back into Word or e-mailed to the student. With the new integrated Blackboard tool, students more reliably receive and keep the graded paper. Additionally, since all grading is completed in Blackboard and a final comment and score can be included to the right of the paper, the grading process is faster. (See the screenshot to the right.)

After submitting a student’s score, Blackboard automatically switches to the next paper. Each comment is saved as it is made, and the dilemma of where to put the final summary feedback in Word is eliminated. (I always used to debate between including this final comment on the paper itself or placing it within the feedback section in Blackboard.)

Notably, the options available for grading are quite different from Microsoft Word. While Blackboard does not include the ability to create keyboard shortcuts, other convenient tools missing in Word are available. A cross-out tool allows an instructor to place a line through unnecessary text and make a quick comment above (or fill in a more appropriate word choice.)  Three separate tools allow one to comment on highlighted text, a user-defined rectangle, or a specific point placed anywhere in the document. Microsoft Word requires that each comment be placed with highlighted text, but highlighting an entire paragraph can be messy and confusing.

The Blackboard grading tool also offers the ability to ‘draw’ on the student’s paper, which can come in handy if one wants to suggest moving a given paragraph to another location in the paper. A text tool allows the instructor to write anywhere on the document. This technique more closely simulates grading with pen or pencil on hard copy than any of the Microsoft Word options.

The instructor can use highlighting, comments, flexible placement of text, and strikeouts when grading.

The instructor can use highlighting, comments, flexible placement of text, and strikeouts when grading.

While the screen size appears to be an issue as it can be hard to see the paper and the comments at the same time, Blackboard fortunately offers a full screen mode accessible by clicking on the four arrow icon in the upper right. (See the first screenshot above.) In this mode, the screen is more open and ample area exists in which to grade.

One small problem that I’ve noticed (at least on the Mac): when resizing the screen using Command-Shift-‘+’ or Command-Shift-‘-‘, the comments can get shifted from their original placement.  Returning to the original magnification fixes the problem.  An easy solution would be to set your magnification before starting to grade a given paper and don’t change it during the process.

I’ve tried to work with the Blackboard Grading Tool on the iPad. A single option allows the user to click anywhere on the document and type a comment; the full screen mode creates a reasonable workspace. However, the onscreen keyboard makes the workflow cumbersome; those using an external keyboard will likely find this process more efficient. Improvements are coming, including the ability to write comments right on the iPad screen with a finger—although that recreates the problem of potentially bad handwriting. A quick Google search suggests that alternative grading options for the iPad exist, so this topic could be another post for Geeking Out at Fisher. (Anyone want to be a guest blogger?)

Despite some limitations, and the fact that the ability to add keyboard shortcuts should be part of Blackboard’s next upgrade, the convenience of grading and commenting in one place, along with the combination of drawing tools and text fields, make the Blackboard Grading Tool worthy of consideration both for those already using another online grading tool and for those interested in trying online grading but concerned with the logistics of using Microsoft Word.

Shortcut Keys and Macros

After reading Todd Sodano’s entry on shortcut keys, I thought, “Hmm…that’s easier than what I do for some things” … only to find out that, in another skirmish between MAC and PC, it ain’t so easy on PC. There is, however, more that we can do in MS Office to make our lives easier. Office allows for the use of macros to perform repetitive tasks. All recent PC versions of Office, and most recent iOS versions allow for macros. (One recent iOS version featured a MS Office suite without macros.)

There are a surprisingly large number of things that I do repetitively in MS Word. In particular, when I grade, edit or review, I find that there are mistakes that my students make frequently, resulting in comments that I make frequently. For example, in formal papers, I require my students to use formal grammar and style. Therefore, it seems like I’m always putting the following comment into papers:

Figure 1

Without macros, I would find myself using the mouse to highlight the problem, then going to the menu (or “ribbon,” to give that object its official name), clicking on Review | New Comment, and then typing in “Colloquial”… many, many times.

Fortunately, there is a better way: one can record a macro, assign it to a shortcut key, and then use the shortcut key to complete the task very quickly. The process to create a macro on a PC is as follows:

1. If you are going to do something that connects to highlighted text – e.g., change font, or highlighting, or insert a comment, remember to highlight the text first! That applies to the example here.

2. On the menu, choose “View” and then drop down (i.e., click the little downward pointing triangle) under the “Macros” button to reveal the following:

Macro

3. Choose “Record Macro” to get the following dialog box:

Figure 2

4. Type in a macro name, one that is informative. Then, make sure that “Store macro in:” is set to “All Documents (Normal.dotm).” Next, click on the “Keyboard” button, and assign a shortcut key to the macro. For example, when I created the above macro, I used the name “Colloquial.” Clicking on the Keyboard button pulled up another dialog box:

Figure 3

I pressed the “Alt” key and the “Q” key, and it showed that “Alt+Q” was “[unassigned,] i.e., not assigned as a shortcut for anything elsePress “Assign” and then “Close.” You are now ready to record the steps of the macro.

5. For this macro, I chose “Review | New Comment” and then typed “Colloquial.” In general, do whatever is needed for your task. Some other examples of things I do frequently:

a. When reviewing a paper, I find that authors frequently leave a citation out of their reference list. Hence, I have a macro named “Missing Reference” that recorded the mouse clicks: “Review | New Comment” followed by “Reference is missing in reference list.”

b. I have a macro named “Grammar” assigned to “Alt+R” which highlights in red whatever text has been selected. This macro recorded the mouse clicks for “Home | Highlight dropdown (in the “Font” section)| Red.” This is used for marking grammar/spelling mistakes.

6. When you have completed all the steps of your task, go to “View,” drop down under “Macros,” and choose “Stop Recording.”

That’s all! From then on, you can highlight text (if needed), press the shortcut key, and move on. Yes, this requires a bit of time upfront to set this up, but given the number of times I have to note that a student used a colloquialism in a formal paper, the initial couple minutes for setup has saved me hours of time.

A few final notes:

Make a cheat sheet to keep by your computer until you have done things enough times for the shortcut key to be automatic. For example, you could have something like this:

Figure 4

Important: This process stores everything in “Normal.dotm.” Without going into details, Normal.dotm is the file that MS Word uses as a template to create and/or open documents. If this document gets replaced, which has been known to happen on some networks, you will lose all your macros. I strongly suggest that you find this document, and make your own backup of it, just in case. (This backup will also allow you to easily move Normal.dotm from home to office or vice versa, so that you have your macros in both placed.)

Lastly, there’s another use for macros, outside of the context of grading or reading: From time to time, I have used macros in a consulting role by setting up MS Excel workbooks for various nonprofits who want to analyze the data that they collect. In doing this, one sheet was set up for data entry, and that sheet has a single button on it: When pressed, that button runs a macro. Hidden worksheets literally and figuratively “behind the scenes” allow for all sorts of calculations, and are all activated upon the push of the button. Usually these macros are more involved than the above, but they still aren’t incredibly hard. Using macros this way allows for many tasks to be executed without having to train people to do them. It isn’t necessarily a time saver for you, but oftentimes clients have appreciated having automatic analyses.

Digital Badges: What Are They & What Can We Do With Them?

Have you heard of badges? No, I don’t mean those that are worn by police or military officials, or even merit badges collected by boy/girl scouts and displayed so proudly on the child’s uniform, though digital badges are somewhat modeled after these badging systems. According to the MacArthur Foundation, “a digital badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality, or interest that can be earned in many learning environments.” Similar to the physical badges that signify the completion of a task or acquired skill level, digital badges can be used to visually display a wide variety of skills and competencies online, including both physical and virtual skills, as well as hard and soft skills. Digital badges also take some principles from video game design as they can be used as a reward for completion of a task or a means to unlock additional tasks that must be completed in a sequential order.

So, now that we know a little more about what digital badges are, why would we want to use them in an educational setting? In general, digital badges are a relatively new educational technology so the answer to this question is evolving. However, there is a significant amount of research on topics that overlap with the use of digital badges like the effects of student motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic, on achievement, as well as the use of rewards and recognition within virtual communities. These techniques can be implemented in a variety of ways, but digital badges have become a new option to incorporate these strategies into educational settings. Digital badges really started to get attention in 2011 when the Mozilla Foundation announced the Open Badges Project, which provides a set of standards for creating, credentialing and displaying badges of all kinds. Without this type of underlying infrastructure for badges there would not be the attention from the education market that we see today. Digital badges also overlap with ePortfolio technology, as one of the main components of collecting badges is to display them to others as evidence of your skills or accomplishments on given topics. ePortfolios can be a useful place to display this type of information for academic and professional reasons. Digital badges have also generated discussion around the tracking and credentialing of informal learning. With the increase in MOOCs and other non-credit educational experiences and the issue of how to assess and award credit for these types of learning experiences, the use of digital badges have been suggested as one of many possible solutions.

Please take a few minutes to watch the following video to learn more about digital badges and how they may be used within education.

Source: MacArthur Foundation (http://www.hastac.org/digital-badges)

Below are a few examples of those using digital badges in higher education:

University of California, Davis – Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Program

“Instead of being built around major requirements and grades in standard three-credit courses, the Davis badge system is based on the sustainable-agriculture program’s core competencies—”systems thinking,” for example. It is designed to organize evidence of both formal and informal learning, from within traditional higher education and without.”

Read the full article here: http://chronicle.com/article/A-Future-Full-of-Badges/131455/

Purdue’s Passport Project

“In one early example of Passport’s use, instructors are giving out badges for students who pass an 8-week MOOC-like course in nanotechnology that doesn’t have credit attached. In another example, the provost’s office has created a badge related to intercultural learning that students can earn for their work in different disciplines and departments.”

Read the full article here: http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2013/06/20/How-Badges-Really-Work-in-Higher-Education.aspx?Page=3

Carnegie Mellon University – Computer Science Program

“Carnegie Mellon University has included badges in the Computer Science Student Network (CS2N), which provides a distributed learning infrastructure for computer science and STEM skills. Learners participate in a scaffold environment and work on achievements ranging from entry-level skills to industry certification. Badge pathways provide a clear view of progress, as learners can clearly see how lower-level competencies lead to higher-level competencies. Creative competitions provide additional motivations and opportunities for peer review and learning from others’ work. Learners can progress to the levels of achievement that tie into industry-accepted certifications and entries to employment.”

Read the full article here: http://edtechdigest.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/put-a-badge-on-it/

As well as the above examples, Blackboard has also recently released a tool to allow faculty to create badges and award them to students directly within their courses. The Blackboard Achievements tool connects with the Mozilla Open Backpack project, so that students can display badges acquired within a course on a public page for individual use. Here at Fisher, the Achievements tool was part of the recent upgrade to Blackboard that was completed over the holiday break. If you would like to know more about the Achievements tool, please contact me directly and we can discuss your own badging ideas together.

Would you like to learn more about digital badges and discuss their use in education with other interested faculty at Fisher? On behalf of the Educational Technology Roundtable and the Fisher Geeks Blog, we would like to invite all interested faculty to participate in the following webinar sponsored by Pearson and hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as participate in an open discussion following the webinar.

Designing Your Own Open Digital Badge Ecosystem

Thursday, February 6, 2014
 2:00 p.m. in Nursing 209

For a full description of the webinar, please click here.

Keyboard Shortcuts for Grading Writing Assignments

We’ve made it to the end of the semester! Before you take a deep breath in anticipation of the onslaught of student essays you will receive over the next few days, I’d like to share with you a few tips and tricks for streamlining the grading process. Earlier in the year, I described how you could use podcasts to communicate with your students. In this entry, I will show you how just a few keyboard shortcuts can save you time and give your students more useful feedback on their writing assignments.

Within the last two years I have required students to electronically submit their writing. I had traditionally graded and annotated student papers in ink. However, in trying to minimize printing, I began requiring students to submit (via Blackboard) their essays. In so doing, invention became the mother of necessity. Students now can upload their documents in a .doc or .docx format, and I can grade them directly in Microsoft Word using keyboard shortcuts, which allow me to perform tasks without having to use the mouse and navigate menus and submenus. (The instructor can also grade directly in Blackboard, providing even more convenience. If you’ve experimented with that technique, please share your insights below!)

First, create an official assignment on the course’s Blackboard page: click Assessments (in a content tab from the far left menu) followed by Assignment (see below).

Creating Assignment on Blackboard

Students can upload their writing assignments to that location, where you can download all of them at once and eventually upload your subsequent graded and annotated document too. After you’ve downloaded your students’ essays, change the name of the document (click File -> Save As) so that you acknowledge that this is the one that contains your comments and corrections; e.g., change “Pat Smith COMM 264 Research Essay.doc” to “Pat Smith COMM 264 Research Essay GRADED.doc.”

After you have downloaded the student’s file and renamed it, click Tools -> Track Changes -> Highlight Changes

Highlight Changes

and activate all four options; by clicking “Track Changes While Editing,” Microsoft Word will keep track of all the edits and comments you make for the student to see. Once you have activated Track Changes, you are ready to grade and annotate the student’s essay.

I primarily use three shortcuts: highlight, strikethrough, and new comment, through which I can emphasize student errors, cross out superfluous words or phrases, and comment directly, quickly, and legibly on what the student has written.

To create these keyboard shortcuts, which fortunately you do not have to recreate every time you open up Word, click on Tools -> Customize Keyboard. Once that window opens up, scroll all the way down in the Categories section and click All Commands. In the Commands section of this window, find the word Highlight and assign a keyboard shortcut to it.

Highlight

You may want to use “Control” and “H” (for highlight), so that every time you want to highlight student’s text, you can use the cursor to select the passage in question and press Control and H simultaneously. Of course, you may wish to use a different combination of keys or even change the color of the highlighted text (my default color is yellow), which you can do by using the pull-down menu in the toolbar next to the italic and underline tools (see below).

Changing Highlighting Color

You can then create more keyboard shortcuts, such as Strikethrough. Again click Tools -> Customize Keyboard, select Categories -> All Commands, locate the Strikethrough option, and assign Control + S for Strikethrough.

Strikethrough

Do the same to Insert New Comment (I use Control + C), where you can write marginal comments for your students to read.

New Comment.

If you type faster than you write, this offers a great opportunity to provide useful feedback. Furthermore, this is a wonderful solution for those of us who have poor penmanship, so that students don’t waste time deciphering what we have scribbled on their pages.

Because you created an official assignment through Blackboard, you can avoid having to email each student his or her graded assignment. You simply click on Grade Center -> Full Grade Center -> Assignments and upload the “GRADED” file where you enter the student’s grade.
NOTE: Students probably cannot read your marginal comments in the Word document on their smartphones. You might wish to advise your students to download the graded document to a computer, where they can read what you have written.

Grading papers often feels like a challenging, neverending task. Keyboard shortcuts can help you to save time and offer more constructive criticism to your students. Do you grade essays electronically? If so, do you have any tips or tricks or shortcuts that you’d like to share? Have you used Blackboard’s new features that allow you to grade student essays directly in that program?

The Affordances of the Whiteboard

All too often, professors and administrators view educational technology as an expensive and specifically digital tool.  I prefer a broader definition and so for this blog, I argue that reconsidering the use of whiteboards is indicative of the ways in which educational technology can be repurposed and redefined—the tools should serve users rather than dictate uses.

The whiteboard in the Mac Lab, with student work displayed.

A student’s wireframe for a website can be marked up in a classroom critique.

In the Macintosh Computer Lab (Basil 101), we have several whiteboards and I put in the request a couple of years ago to have a whiteboard placed under the screen.  The request was questioned, and I made assurances that this was not a mistake.  Typically, one projects on the screen and then writes around it, but I (and others) find it often helpful to write on the display. Projecting onto a whiteboard has often proved invaluable for discussing designs or student writing with the entire class. (Of course, Smart Boards have this feature and also can save the written content.)

Similarly, I’m now teaching a programming class and I often need to explain to individual students concepts best clarified visually. For the first few weeks, I walked to the board, which was a distraction for other students working on their own projects and created physical and cognitive distance from the student needing help.  Other times, I would write in a student’s own notebook, which had the advantage of giving him or her a permanent record of our discussion, but didn’t allow the student to reproduce the drawing (which would help to solidify understanding) and led me to feel oddly intrusive—I was writing in the student’s notebook.

My Own Whiteboard

Translating coordinates from (0,0) on the x-y axis and then determining the x and y coordinates of a moving circle using the radius and angle of a right triangle.

Finally, I purchased my own paper-sized white board—the kind you stick to an office door.  Now, I have it with me during lab time and I can write all I want when working with a student one-to-one without wasting paper or using the student’s notebook pages.   It’s easy, personal and green.

Technology can work for you.  A technological affordance refers to a way in which particular technology can be used, and often a meaningful affordance differs from the officially described use.

Case in point: the college recently installed Vision Classroom Management Software in PC labs.  The company’s website emphasizes its classroom management functions over pedagogical advantages. Consider its harsh and somewhat alarmist tone: “[m]ake classroom screens go blank in a click, locking students’ keyboards and mice. Capture attention and stop all activity the instant you need to,” or, “[v]iew an expandable thumbnail image of each student’s screen on your computer, so you can follow their activities from your desk in real time.” These “opportunities” are questionable.  I’d rather walk among the students, observing first hand what they are doing; if I am standing at the teacher’s station, I’m not sure I want to be aware that one student is virtually sneaking off to a social media site.  It would be hard to ignore, and yet I’d hate to disrupt my own lecture and the collaborative tone of the class to take time to penalize that single individual.

Some features of the system do function reasonably: sending my screen out to all student screens while demoing a new technique is appealing and limits distraction in a non-threatening manner. However, much of the promotional wording takes a “lock down” approach, which I found eerily close to philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s conception of the Panopticon (discussed almost two centuries later by Michel Foucault), whereby prisoners’ behavior is self-monitored through the fear of observation. While students self-policing may be effective, this prisoner metaphor creates a disconcerting mindset for a liberal arts classroom.

However, this particular problem can be resolved by imagining pedagogical uses.  I haven’t been able to put any into practice yet: I’m teaching this fall in the Mac Lab (as mentioned above), which does not yet have the software.  However, when I find myself in a PC lab, I will reconsider the Vision Classroom Management Software as a teaching tool which can facilitate more efficient design critiques and peer reviews of writing. Like my hand-held whiteboard, I prefer to think of Vision as flexible enough for creative uses (and in my humble opinion, the company should rewrite its website.)

Balancing a Pencil.

Before dismissing a given technology, we should imagine everything it can do. Rather than place emphasis on official recommendations, we would do well to reconsider affordances that can address our pedagogical needs and teaching styles.  A pencil can be used for writing.  It also can demonstrate how to distribute weight evenly, be used to estimate distances or be used to poke someone.  It’s our call.

The Power of Learning Analytics: The Wegmans School of Pharmacy Approach

As a follow-up post to The Power of Learning Analytics from last spring, guest blogger Jane M. Souza, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Assessment in the Wegmans School of Pharmacy at St. John Fisher College, shares the strategies used within the school to collect, analyze and continuously improve the Pharmacy program through the use of the computer-based exam management software, ExamSoft and the School of Pharmacy assessment process.

All courses have learning outcomes listed on the syllabi. All faculty members strive to teach learning outcomes in ways that encourage student achievement. These facts are nothing new and are common among any undergraduate or graduate level course, but the way faculty in the School of Pharmacy are looking at student progress on learning outcomes is new. Rather than relying solely on test grades to assess student progress, they are tracking density of coverage on each course outcome along with whole-class as well as individual student achievement within each of those areas. How are they managing that much data? They are testing in an electronic environment using ExamSoft. The implications for change management at the course level are outstanding and only exceeded by the ability to drive quality improvement at the program level and opportunities for self-monitoring at the student level.

So how does this work exactly? It all begins with pulling data out of existing exams maximizing the potential of embedded assessments. Test items, or questions, have been crafted and honed by faculty over years of teaching experience. The items include true/false, fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice and essay questions. Using ExamSoft, each item is electronically tagged or coded to identify the question on multiple levels including the following: learning outcome, program standard, accreditation standard, and level in Bloom’s Taxonomy (e.g. knowledge, application, synthesis). Questions can be tagged several times as needed. For example, one question may be addressing course learning outcomes 1, 3; program outcomes 1e, 2g. 3a; accreditation standards, 16.2, 32.1; and application level.

When students take their exams, data is collected for each test item. Faculty are provided a wealth of information previously unavailable to them. They know how much time, to the second, students spend on each question – both individually and as a class.  WSOP_1This is great information for time management and test construction. They know how many questions they asked per exam and per semester on each learning outcome. Most importantly, they know the student achievement on each of these learning outcomes. Consider the two tables to the right and below. The table to the right shows the course-level information available prior to electronic testing. The table below shows the detail currently available and how faculty might use the data.

WSOP_2

From the tables above, it is easy to see how faculty can make evidence-based changes to their classes. The same information can drive curricular reform. Consider the old-style curriculum map. It documents that the curriculum has been taught, but does not record what was learned.

Old Style Curriculum Map

WSOP_3

Evidence-Based Curriculum Map with Density of Coverage and Student Performance (note the opportunity for improvement)

WSOP_4

At the student level, individualized learning analytics help students consider their own strengths and opportunities for improvement. Whereas, in the past students were monitoring their progress through course grades, they are now able to reflect on their strengths and weakness at the learning outcomes level. Previously hidden deficiencies are now revealed and can be addressed promptly.WSOP_5

The student represented in the table to the right appears to be strong in each area, but are there hidden deficiencies?

The student may have a lack of understanding for a single learning outcome, but the deficiency is masked by high achievement in other areas. When students are able to see their performance at the learning outcome level, as shown below, they are able to work on remediation well before they encounter critical assessments such as exit or licensing exams.

WSOP_6

The learning analytics made possible through electronic testing have been put to good use in the Wegmans School of Pharmacy. The faculty are employing the data to make course-level changes, the students are addressing their areas of weakness, and curriculum and assessment committees are analyzing the data for continuous improvement at the program level.

Feel free to visit us at Wegmans School of Pharmacy to see this process in action, or stop by and see me. I am always happy to talk assessment.

Jane M. Souza, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean of Assessment, Wegmans School of Pharmacy