Category Archives: Teaching Strategies

Book Review: Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Book review written by Dr. Caroline Critchlow, Assessment 
Coordinator for the Wegmans School of Nursing & Ralph C. 
Wilson, Jr. School of Education & Dr. Cathy Sweet, Assessment 
Coordinator for the School of Arts & Sciences. 
Drs. Critchlow and Sweet have over 40 years of experience in 
teaching K-16, including a decade teaching undergraduate 
and graduate students. 

In Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014), authors Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger, and Mark McDaniels contend that a great deal of what we think we know about how to learn is taken on faith and based on intuition but does not hold up under empirical research. They claim that much of what we’ve been doing as teachers and students isn’t serving us well, but some comparatively simple changes could make a big difference.

Relying on ten years of research in the cognitive sciences, the authors apply their knowledge of cognitive science and psychology to the process of learning – not education – but of human learning; how we acquire knowledge and skills in order to have them accessible for future use.

With chapter titles like “Get Beyond Learning Styles” and “Embrace Difficulties” the authors lace anecdotal stories with scientific research in order to offer new strategies to improve how we support student learning. For example, one story recounts how medical students are taught surgical procedures, a process that must be learned outside of the actual environment in which it will be applied. The chapter, “To Learn, Retrieve” explores the process of reflection in the attainment, retention, and retrieval of knowledge. “Reflection can involve several cognitive activities that lead to stronger learning: retrieving knowledge and earlier training from memory, connecting these to new experiences, and visualizing and mentally rehearsing what you might do differently next time.” Practice at retrieving new knowledge or skill from memory is a potent tool for learning and durable retention.

Other chapters address misconceptions such as innate learning styles and massed practice, and are followed with strategies to improve the learning process like delayed feedback, interleaving of different but related topics, retrieval and blocked practice.

We think you’ll enjoy reading this book as much for the summaries of recent research studies as for the practical teaching strategies. The book contains extensive notes as well as a list of suggested reading that includes the articles and books referenced throughout the book.

MAKE IT STICK: THE SCIENCE OF SUCCESSFUL LEARNING
By Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel
313pp. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. $27.95

Please note this book can also be loaned from the Teaching & Learning Book Collection found in the Educational Technology Instruction Room in the lower level of Lavery Library, room L109.

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ePortfolios: Benefits, Tips and Ideas for the Future

Like many academics, I have a healthy skepticism of assessment. As a social scientist, I usually object on methodological grounds. In particular, assessment instruments often focus on immediate or short-term gains and do not account for deeper and longer-term learning. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for assessment, I have come to appreciate the increased intentionality that comes from participating in formal assessment. Thinking about assessment increases the amount of thinking I put into assignment and course creation. In other words, assessment usually produces shallow understandings of student learning but it does make me a more effective teacher.

In most courses, most of us typically assess a small sample of students on a few assignments. While this is very useful for thinking about the content and approach to a specific course, this does not really speak to questions about durable learning, i.e., the acquisition of skills across an undergraduate career or throughout a course of study. E-Portfolios offer a remedy to this problem.

This platform, available to all Fisher students via access to Google sites, allows students to archive and reflect on their entire collection of undergraduate work. The space also allows students to establish a professional web presence that may be of use as they apply for graduate school or enter the labor force. The Google E-Portfolio offers a number of advantages that can benefit the student and the faculty member, including:

  • It is intuitive, free, and easy to customize.
  • They platform is portable and students will retain control over the context after they graduate.
  • The College has developed a generic template that provides a useful structure for organizing student work. This template has built in categories that provide spaces for students to upload files and engage in meaningful reflection on the value of that work for designated requirements, i.e., the first-year program, the core, etc.
The_Core_-_SJFC_ePortfolio_Template

Click image for larger view

 

  • Individual departments may also amend or expand the generic template to serve their own needs (more on this below).
  • Students control the privacy settings that range from closed, i.e., not visible to anyone other than the student, all the way to publically visible to anyone.

I have been using the E-Portfolios in most of my courses for a few semesters, including major courses, core courses, and courses in the first year program. The results have been uneven but are improving. Below, I have listed some tips that I believe enhance the quality of the portfolios and stimulate more metacognition through directed reflection.

  • Introduce the E-Portfolio early in the term and walk the students through setting up it up using the computer and projector. Reinforce this by distributing the link to the online help (http://www.sjfc.edu/campus-services/ed-tech/technologies/eportfolio/).
  • Show students an example of a complete and successful E-Portfolio. This can help students develop a sense of buy-in. Have an in-class discussion on how a successful and professional E-Portfolio might help the student, e.g., providing a professional showcase for their work that might help with graduate school admissions or landing a job.
  • If you plan to use the space as a means to collect written work (or plan on grading the E-Portfolio, including student reflection) you should spend additional time on the privacy settings. In my courses, I require all students to set the privacy settings so that any member of the Fisher community can see their portfolio. This limited visibility serves several purposes. It allows other assessors, e.g., the Core Committee, to review the work. In addition, by opening the E-Portfolio to campus visibility it creates some incentive for students to take the work seriously.
  • Require students to post the artifact and author reflection as part of the grade. This, too, helps create an incentive for students to think more carefully about creating a professional looking E-Portfolio. In the first few term that I used the E-Portfolio, I required that students post the artifacts and author reflection by the end of the term. I quickly realized that this was a bad approach since most of the students waited until the very late minute and the quality of their E-Portfolio suffered as a result.

All of the preceding commentary is in the context of an individual class. However, it is possible to use the E-Portfolio to assess a body of student work over multiple terms. Political Science, for example, has recently agreed to create POSC 400: Portfolio and Presentation. This one-credit course is required in the major. In order to pass the course, students will have to create an E-Portfolio that explicitly articulates how the cumulative body of their political science work meets our departmental learning objectives. The culmination of this work is an oral defense. We are hoping that we can record these defenses and then have the students embed them into their E-Portfolio (and this might be useful for a range of oral presentations). We plan on introducing these requirements next fall and our plan is that students will be working on their E-Portfolio as their work towards completing the major. In doing so, we hope that students will engage in more reflection and metacognition.

Be Sure You Pack Your Librarian

Nearly two years ago on campus, Dr. Joellen Maples waved in my direction, “Get ready!” she laughed. “I am taking my capstone course online… and I am taking my librarian with me!” While I had no idea of the details of her statement, I was thrilled to be included. Joellen’s remark acknowledged the value of Lavery and research skills as a vital part of the course experience. So, let the adventure begin.

Piece of cake, right? Hundreds of times I had conducted 55-minute face-to-face library sessions that positioned students to perform research efficiently and effectively. What could be so difficult about using yet-to-be-determined technologies to transform that same 55-minute session into a virtual experience that would occur without a physical classroom and within a flexible timeframe that allowed students to work at their own pace? Looking back, without a doubt I have had a marvelous growth experience and a ton of fun partnering with Joellen and the College’s Educational Technologist, Katie Sabourin to create an online Library Module tailored to a specific course.

Between Katie and Joellen, I had two capable folks to help me. And, I knew my material well. Still, I had no idea where to start. So as I do when planning a face-to-face session, for my first step I met with the professor so that I could understand my role in the course. Dr. Maples was ready for me. She explained that Week 2 would be where the students would complete the Library Module. The timing was selected so that students would have time beforehand to determine the focus of their literature review. Week 2 signaled the beginning of their literature review research. I would be entering the online dynamic at the optimum moment that librarians call “the point of need”. Student motivation and engagement are at their peak at the moment students are poised to begin research.

My second step was to complete the College’s Online Education Workshop and Fundamentals of Online Teaching, both offered by Katie Sabourin. These are definite Must-Do’s. The structure I learned gave me the theoretical framework for all that I created; it also provided guidance concerning my online interaction with students in the course.

Next, I identified technologies I’d use. For a few weeks I immersed myself in TechSmith’s Camtasia. I broke apart the face-to-face session’s material into 11 segments and wrote scripts explaining each segment. Then, using my scripts and the library’s databases, I created 11 brief online tutorials totaling 26 minutes viewing time. In this way students would be able to view and review each video as needed. I also used Camtasia to create and record a step-by-step overview of the components of the Library Module. All of this material I uploaded to YouTube and then into the Library Module folder in Blackboard. Here is one of the mini-tutorials I created:

Using Doodle, I created a calendar where each student could schedule his or her follow-up one-on-one virtual meeting with me via Blackboard Collaborate. I posted the Doodle link in Blackboard with instructions to the students. I prepared for each virtual meeting by reading the course discussion boards in Blackboard to gain an understanding of each student’s area of research so that when we met online I was able to efficiently discuss their research needs. During our meeting, Collaborate’s screen-sharing feature allowed me to share my screen with a student so that I could model search strategies and database use. For the weeks that followed, I monitored the discussion board in Blackboard in order to make research suggestions if needed.

Dr. Maples selected the Library Module as one of the course’s “accountability moments”. As a result, she requested I create a quiz in Blackboard. Students were required to complete the library quiz with 80% or better in order to continue in the course. Each student was given two attempts to successfully complete the quiz. I structured the quiz with feedback for each question. In this manner, for any incorrect answer, I was able to indicate to the student the specific video in which the correct answer could be found along with a suggestion to review the video before re-taking the quiz.

Each term since summer 2013, I continue to assist Dr. Maples by providing the Library Module for her capstone literacy course. The course always culminates with an evening of student presentations. Dr. Maples plans for two or three virtual performance rooms in Collaborate. In each room over the course of the evening, students present their capstone research to a virtual audience of peers, family, and friends who are able to attend simply by logging onto a computer anywhere with an internet connection. The evening is taped for later access. I have the honor of hosting one of the rooms. What a joy it is to participate in a moment filled with such student accomplishment.

Joellen and I are thrilled by our observations regarding student engagement in the Library Module. The online library module demands active participation by each and every student in the course. To both of us the quality of research being performed in the literature review appears better since moving to the online format as a result of student engagement in the library module. Occasionally, we are even amazed and amused by the unprecedented student embrace of library resources. For example, a student once exclaimed, “Oh, I just love Ulrich’s! It is such a lifesaver!” Haha, rarely does a non-librarian articulate such passion for a library resource.

At the end of each semester, we confirm with each other what we observe individually. When we are engaged, students are engaged; they participate, they support each other, and they enjoy the online experience. In the future, I hope to work with additional faculty to provide a virtual library module as part of their online course. Is every course meant for the online format? Probably not. Still, if you have thoughts of taking your course online, take your librarian with you! The course experience will be the richer for it.

Reflections on Flipping: Three Semesters Later

At some point, I heard about flipping. I heard students liked it but more importantly, I heard it “worked,” anecdotally. As an economist, I wanted to know if it actually worked. Was there a significant improvement in student learning? Could I quantify an effect of flipping the classroom on undergraduates’ learning? My curiosity as an economist and my desire to change up my class, to make it more hands-on and more student-centered, drove me to flip my course.

For a few semesters, I had felt guilty lecturing for an entire class period. I wanted to make class more engaging for the students, who at times looked like they were being tortured. I know, you’re thinking, “It’s econ! How could students not be engaged? How could they not be at the edge of their seats every minute of class time?” Trust me, I hear you. At the same time, I liked to give students hands-on time with the material. I wanted to give them more hands on time with the material. I had heard about some “fun” activities to do in class to illustrate economic concepts, but I had no idea how to add in these activities without cutting material. Of course, I could not cut material. That would be blasphemous. Therefore, flipping, if effective, seemed like the answer to all of my problems.

I also thought if I was going to do this, I was going all in and I was going to flip my entire course. Not only that, but I was going to attempt to quantify the “flipping effect” and determine if there was a significant difference in student outcomes by teaching one class in a traditional manner and one class in a flipped manner. This would enable me to change up my teaching, to do something innovative and breathe new life into my course, and to do some research on the topic.

I next had to decide how I was going to have the students experience the lecture in the flipped class. It was very important to me that the students had some sense of continuity throughout the course, especially as this class structure would be completely foreign for most of them. I also wanted the students to know that I was in it with them, so I decided to make all of my own videos. Furthermore, because I was implementing a treatment-control experimental design, I needed the lecture notes to be the same for the two groups of students.

My basic inspiration for the videos was the Khan Academy. I had seen a couple of those videos, and I really liked how they conveyed information. I believe in economics it is important to see equations solved and graphs drawn by hand, so I knew I wanted the ability to talk through the graphs and equations while writing them out by hand, just as I would do in a typical lecture. Katie Sabourin helped me identify the technology needed to make the videos: Echo 360 to record my computer desktop and voiceover and a Wacom Tablet (pen-tablet) so I could draw on the screen.

All of my videos had the same format: a PowerPoint shell with a black background. I pre-loaded definitions, data, and some text into the PowerPoint presentation, where they would animate upon a click. Using the screen-capture technology, I recorded a voice-over of the PowerPoint slide show, and where appropriate, I annotated the slides using the pen-tablet technology. For example, axes and titles of graphs were animated to “draw” on the screen. Meanwhile, I hand drew the supply and demand curves, shaded in the areas of consumer and producer surplus, and solved calculations by hand. As another example, table shells were pre-loaded into the PowerPoint, but I explained how to fill them out and filled them out by hand on the recordings as I talked through the tables (just as I would do in a lecture class). To keep the videos “interesting” (as if the content weren’t enough!), I included relevant graphics. The videos ranged in length from 4-21 minutes, with an average of 11 minutes.

Here is a short clip from one of my video lectures to give you an example of how the lectures looked online and what I meant by “pre-loaded” and being able to annotate them.  It also illustrates that both the audio and video don’t have to be perfect (which was hard for me to accept as I made the videos):

Interestingly, figuring out how to get the content or lecture to the students was the easiest part. The next step was figuring out what to do during the class time. I now had 3 hours of empty space to fill each week! We started off each class with an open notebook, 5-minute quiz based off of the lecture material from the videos that were due for that class period. This had the additional benefit of incentivizing students to watch, take notes on, and pay attention to the videos. After the quizzes, students engaged in different activities depending on the day and material. They participated in economic experiments, discussed and analyzed popular press news articles or video clips from tv shows, created mind and concept maps, and completed worksheets for each of the activities. Students also completed worksheets identical to those the traditional class completed for each chapter. Finally, they also spent one day per week working on online problem sets. To keep it interesting, sometimes we worked together as a class as a whole, while other times students worked in small groups, pairs, or individually, depending on the content and the activity. While the students were engaged with the activities, I circled the room and answered questions that they had. Actually, I tried not to answer the questions that students had, but instead, I tried to get them to learn how to figure out the answers for themselves. Sometimes, if I noticed the same question over and over, I’d have them take a mini-break while I did a mini-lecture.

This is my third semester teaching in a flipped format. Why do I continue to do it? First, it works. My analysis indicated that students in the flipped class scored significantly higher than in the traditional class on midterm and final exams. Controlling for student academic and demographic characteristics, the effect had a lower bound of roughly two-thirds to an entire letter grade. (Note: It worked in economics. It worked in a small, introductory economics course. My findings do not indicate that it will work in every single class. In fact, I have no doubt that there are classes out there for which this structure just wouldn’t work. I also can think of other classes of mine for which a full flip wouldn’t work either, but a partial flip might. So, it still depends on the instructor’s desire to flip, the content and course, and a host of other things.) Second, the students seemed to like it. Okay, they didn’t hate it. Some of them really liked it. Some of them indicated that this structure taught them about themselves as learners! Once I saw that flipping worked, and once I saw that the majority of students didn’t hate it, I wasn’t sure how I could go back to teaching this class in a traditional manner.

From a personal standpoint, the marginal cost of flipping from one semester to the next is pretty small. I also really enjoy the format, as each day is a little different. Every semester, I look to improve the flip, change activities, make sure activities work out the way they should, etc. I still think that there are some topics that are better suited to a flipped structure than others. I continually worry that class is not engaging enough, or that students resent having so much problem solving and group work in class when they might want lecture (okay, maybe I’m projecting here, because I loved lectures and was not a fan of group work as a student). I’ve found that flipping helps me to get to know my students more. I have a better sense of who is keeping up with the material and who is falling behind.

Flipping has also changed my outlook on some of the other classes I teach. When you flip your class, you have to change the way you think about it. You start to question things you teach, why you teach them, and how you teach them. I find this is helping me in my other classes as well, and I am working to identify different ways to keep improving my courses. For example, in the future, I want to implement partial flips in different classes, such as statistics and econometrics. I think there are some topics that are appropriate for out of class delivery and some topics for which I really must do a “live” lecture.

My advice: flip a class you know. Flip a class where you can anticipate the questions because you already know where the students struggle. It will also help you to decide how to best utilize your class time.

 

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.

Dealing with Student Resistance to Changes 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.

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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.

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Happy grading!

– Lisa

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

Geeking Out In the Cloud with Evernote

Last week my parents brought a dusty box to my home. “What’s in here,” I asked, as I looked around my den, already cluttered with magazines and random papers. “It was in the attic.” Ugh. I don’t have anywhere to put this, and if I haven’t needed it for 18 years, why would I need it now? I opened the top of the box and discovered notebooks and binders and papers from my undergraduate studies. That got me thinking about how over many years, moves, and changes in technology – it has been awhile since I’ve worked from a 3.5″ floppy disk – I lost some good work, including graduate research and writing still relevant to my professional work today. I wish I knew where it was and could access it with ease. I also wish that the students with whom I work had a simple way to archive and access their college work. And that got me thinking about Evernote.

What is Evernote? This 50-second video explains the cloud-based storage service for information and ideas.

Evernote’s best features include ease of depositing information and easily retrieving it anytime, anywhere.

A few quick examples of things that you can do with Evernote (occasionally referred to as “EN” from this point forward):

Academic – Professionals
  • assemble content (PDFs, Word and Excel docs, etc.) for use in lessons, write and store lessons and syllabi
  • quick access and easy retrieval of ideas: thoughts typed out, pictures taken with a mobile device, articles (full or snippets) seen on the web, musings recorded on smart phone – a great help in the car, EN can even transcribe your long voice note into text
  • record audio from a student presentation with a smart phone, reference it for grading and send back to students for their review
  • collect e-mails, papers, and other items to reference for annual performance review

Academic – Students
  • store scans or photos of returned papers, tests and quizzes for future reference, creating a simple to use, easily accessed e-portfolio
  • using a mobile device, take pictures of the white board at the end of class and pay more attention to the lecture (with instructor permission?)
  • type outlines for class notes and readings – review anywhere
  • rehearse for a presentation by creating an audio note on a smart phone
  • collect research materials for papers – Evernote automatically records the URL of all saved content

Personal
  • keep pictures of a driver’s license, ID card, library card, medical insurance cards, important receipts, contents of a suitcase, closet, or other valuables in a residence hall or home
  • storage for all instruction manuals (PDF, scanned, web) and warranties
  • recipes clipped from the web, scanned from a recipe box or as pictures taken from a magazine with a mobile device
  • lists containing long term goals and checklists of things to do and items to pack for different kinds of trips
  • pictures of price tags for items when you’re comparison shopping – should I buy razors at Target, BJ’s or on Amazon?
  • record audio notes and capture artwork from young children, automatically stored in the cloud and easily shared

Getting information into Evernote is easily accomplished with desktop, web and mobile applications. You even get your own Evernote e-mail address: anything sent there goes right into your EN account. Notes can be placed into a specific notebook, much like a folder on a PC, and individual notes can also be assigned tags. For example, I have dozens of notes in a “Tricks” folder where I keep different activities for warming up a group, goal setting, decision making, self-disclosure, etc. Some of the activities are specific to only one purpose, and are tagged as such. But I can use my “Face to Face” activity as a general group warm up or to focus specifically on disclosure, so that note gets both tags.

EvernoteScreenShot1

As you can see, this note was once an index card, one of many, but the EN version also contains my notes on uses for the activity. Now that I’ve scanned my “bag of tricks” index cards I can easily search for a group activity or study strategy at home, in my office on campus, or in the classroom.

Organizing notes can be as simple as throwing everything into one notebook, or more complex by utilizing multiple notebooks nested into different stacks. No matter how you work it, EN’s search functionality makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. It even recognizes pictures of handwriting and typewritten words, so if you’ve taken a picture of a poem that you scrawled out on a napkin a couple of months ago, just search for a word from that poem and the note with the photo should show up. Here’s the main page of the EN for Android app looks like. To take a picture of that napkin and automatically send it to EN, I just press “Snapshot.” 

EvernoteAndroid1
If the note wasn’t legible, search all notes with pictures by date – it’s in there!

Notes can be shared by e-mail and to various social media hubs. My Freshman Seminar Peer Advisor and I would meet to discuss upcoming classes, and I’d take notes during those meetings in EN. From those notes, I’d write a lesson plan, complete with all attachments and links to other relevant notes that I had already created. Then I’d e-mail my Peer Advisor the link to that note, which brought her to a neatly formatted page, locked from editing. I wrote this blog post in Evernote – here’s the shared link: http://www.evernote.com/shard/s55/sh/393ed150-445c-4982-8285-952e1c27f46c/69f4b8a06381209c5551fbd144d74ade. If I want to break the link, I can tell EN to stop sharing.

You can even share an entire notebook, giving individuals various levels of access: view, modify, and invite others.

Notes can also be linked together. Students who take pictures or scan their returned papers and tests into Evernote could link them together to create a coursework master note, allowing them to easily reference those materials as they prepare for a final. If students were encouraged to use Evernote to do this with all of their work, they’d be developing their personal e-portfolios.

Evernote has a number of companion products. I recommend Web Clipper, a browser plugin that simplifies importing web content, and Clearly (Chrome and Firefox), which creates a distraction free web page reading experience. They’ve also developed partnerships with existing companies and software that you might already use. Check out what they’ve done with the iPad in Evernote PeekLivescribe and Moleskine. The company has done a nice job cultivating communities (education, organization, parenting, etc.) with Evernote Ambassadors. Foodies will like Evernote Food, a separate but similar application that is especially robust on the iPhone and iPad.

Concerns about privacy are addressed in a reasonably written privacy policy. Your information is password protected and your password is protected by encryption. That said, Evernote is among the most recent victims in a history of hack attempts on major web service providers. They responded quickly by notifying all users by e-mail and forcing password resets. They are aggressively pursuing two-factor authentication for their users, a security option that Google, Dropbox, and others offer. Evernote also allows you to selectively encrypt text in individual notes, but there’s no way to retrieve that text if you lose your special encrypted password. If you ever want to pack up your data and go elsewhere, you can export your notes.

Want to try Evernote for yourself? Get started with a free account for basic use. Overall storage is unlimited, but the amount of synchronized data that you can add in any given month is capped at 60MB/month with a 25MB limit per note. There’s no limit to local storage. You can go premium for $5/month or $45/year and enjoy 1GB of uploads each month, single notes up to 100MB, and a number of other features. I started as a basic customer, but after a year I decided to upgrade when I scanned my wife’s grandmother’s recipe box into EN and then shared that folder with her. She still uses the box, but when she can’t find what she’s looking for I swoop down to the rescue.

So what of that box from the attic? For now I’ll just wedge it into a corner in my attic. Maybe someday I’ll get a scanner with auto duplex and stuff those papers into Evernote.

What uses have you found for Evernote?

Listen, Watch, and Read: Using VoiceThread for Assessing Student Reading

Making sure that students read assignments can be a challenge.  Some professors use reading quizzes or one-page papers, while others create discussion boards on Blackboard, Facebook, or Yammer. But as a given semester nears its end, those options can seem laborious to both students and the instructor. Voicethread offers an alternative that gives students options of how they respond, while still satisfying the goal of assessing how well they read assignments.

Voicethread Example

Students in the VoiceThread environment

Voicethread allows a user to create a page in which the person “in the middle” (see screenshot above) first records a short video about an assigned topic or reading using the webcam on his or her laptop or desktop.  This person can be the professor. However, for my Emergent Media and Web Culture class,  I require each student to take a turn asking the rest of the class about an assigned reading.

After creating this initial video, each student distributes the link of the VoiceThread.  (Here’s one from my class. And a second example. )

Students can respond to the question a number of ways:

  • They can type a response.
  • They can create a video response.
  • They can create an audio-only response either through their computer microphone or by phoning a specified number.

VoiceThread places all the submitted answers in one place on one user-friendly screen. Prior to class, I review the answers and then make a note of who completed the VoiceThread afterwards. I emphasize that this assignment cannot be made up—the VoiceThread’s purpose is to prepare for class discussion, so completing it late has little value.

A few considerations:

  • Students like a venue that’s easy to access (VoiceThread only requires a username and password) but doesn’t interfere with their other social media use. VoiceThread is almost exclusively used for educational purposes.
  • Students can express themselves briefly, but sufficiently, so that I can tell they’ve completed the reading. I typically give students a check for completing each VoiceThread. In the few cases when an answer makes it clear that the student did not complete the reading (or skimmed it too quickly), I do not issue credit and explain why.
  • Students tend to submit text responses, although I’ve stressed that video is probably easier: no proofreading is required.  It’s also more interesting for everyone to view video submissions.
  • While completing every assigned reading is expected, I typically ask students to complete ‘x’ number out of the total.  This eliminates excuses and requests for forgiveness due to occasional unforeseen circumstances.
  • I require that students share this link two different ways: they e-mail the class through Blackboard and also post to a shared Google doc.  They have to complete the task approximately 36 hours before class. (e.g., for a Wed. 10:10am class, they have to have it done Monday night at 10pm. For the Monday class, I set the deadline at 10am Sunday morning, although a majority of students have had it completed by Friday or Saturday night.)
  • Students have to be reminded to create questions that truly require that the reading be completed.  (Alternatively, the professor could create all the questions, but I believe that students tend to write questions for their peers that are more likely to motivate discussion.)
  • A user can only create five VoiceThreads before having to purchase a Pro Account.  You can delete a fifth thread to add another one.  Another option (which I follow) is to have each student create the one VoiceThread that he or she is presenting so that no one student (or professor) has more than one or two threads throughout the semester.
  • The work is easily assessed and exists as long as the student doesn’t deactiviate his or her VoiceThread account.

Ultimately, Voicethread offers a platform that visually simulates a real discussion and helps to prepare students for class in an engaging manner that offers practice for not only writing but (for some students) oral presentation skills.