A 100-year-old Lesson in New Media: The Challenges and Opportunities of Teaching in the New Technology Language

Engagement and interactivity are teaching buzzwords, but they are not new concepts. Technological engagement and interactivity is how our students relate to the world, but how do we bring this to our classrooms? In her classic 1912 study, Romiett Stevens found that 80% of class time was spent on teacher questions and student responses. Perhaps part of the future of instruction can be rooted in the past.

YouTube logoThe truth about Romiett Stevens is that most of those early teacher’s questions focused on recall of facts versus questions that prompted thought. Does recall still have a place in education? Of course. Every discipline has its base principles and concepts, yet we must also teach critical thought and empower our students to learn by doing.

We need to involve students not only for their own deeper learning, but also for their knowledge and understanding of new technology. They’re living it. Many of us may still be reading about it, but true understanding only comes from use. I saw a response on Yahoo! Answers by a retired math teacher who said, “Asking a question is a sign of intelligence not stupidity.” So let us ask ourselves some questions about how we are instructing our students and preparing them for the 21st century.

We now have computers, projectors and Internet access in the classroom, but are we using them and how? When I first taught a Law & Ethics class I received a student comment that said, “Use more YouTube.” It would have been easy to dismiss that comment with rationalizations about the way I had to learn or that I didn’t have time to find relevant examples or dedicate classroom time to funny cat videos. Yet today I use YouTube a lot. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and are no longer the future. They are how our students communicate.

How did I start using YouTube? One example is a video of Phil Donahue interviewing Ayn Rand to kick off an activity where students are assigned a viewpoint and have to make arguments for or against her ethical perspective. What better way to learn about a moral philosophy than to hear it directly from the philosopher’s mouth?

I also used to spend most of my time lecturing. I delivered a lot of information followed up by, “Does anyone have any questions?” Now I try to involve the student’s perspective and practice as much as possible. But engagement and interactivity takes time. I had to give up content and the false expectation that I can and should cover everything. My PowerPoints today have roughly 30% fewer slides than when I first started teaching. And those remaining slides contain less content, more examples (case studies) and more questions (application exercises).

What does this look like? A Federal Trade Commission law or regulation I’ve introduced comes to life with a local news report video about the corporate sponsorship of new fitness equipment in a public park. Are the signs on the equipment considered advertising? Do they go against the city ordinance that forbids it? I divide students and ask them to argue for their assigned point of view: the corporation, the city, the protesting citizen group. I intervene to bring the discussion back to the law. Forced perspectives helps them learn how to see all sides of an issue and make a better argument.

I also try to listen more. Are you okay with silence? Ask a question and wait. Wait longer. In some courses, I assign topics related to what we will be discussing in class and let student groups present the concept and provide an example for the first 5 to 10 minutes of class. I and the other students ask questions and they have to defend what they’ve presented. We get new student relevant examples every class and the students feel empowered to learn on their own.

Not all interaction has to take place in person. In my Social Media Marketing course (scroll to 660.453 for description), I have students continue our in class discussion virtually throughout the week via a course hashtag on Twitter. How? By asking them to respond to questions related to a core principle. They learn by doing and bring more new, relevant information to the course. Plus, each student participates equally – something we don’t always have time for in class.

Technology is changing so quickly it can be overwhelming. The good news is that the way to keep up is to go back to something teachers were doing over a hundred years ago: ask more questions. What are ways you are bringing engagement and new technology into your courses?

Keith A Quesenberry, Lecturer
Center for Leadership Education
Johns Hopkins University

Image source: YouTube logo by HernandoJoseAJ via Wikimedia Commons
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/Solid_color_You_Tube_logo.png

Using Facebook in the Classroom

The idea of using Facebook in the classroom may seem radical to some. The standard advice is to not friend your students due to privacy issues – yours and theirs.  Yet there is a way to leverage the power of social media in teaching without actually friending your students. It turns out that by creating a Facebook group for your course you can provide a means for students to communicate and collaborate outside of the classroom in a medium with which they are very familiar.

Facebook logo: blue square with with lowercase f.

Dr. Alexios Monopolis teaches in the Global Environmental Change & Sustainability (GECS) program at Johns Hopkins and serves as the program manager for JHU’s Sustainability & Health doctoral program. He is a strong advocate for using Facebook groups in his classes and authored one of our Innovative Instructor print series articles on the subject: Interactive Collaboration Using Facebook (April 2014).  Noting that most students are already familiar with Facebook, Monopolis states: “I wanted an online application that would facilitate communication and collaboration between faculty and students, allowing for interaction and the sharing of information beyond the confines of our formal classroom. It needed to be asynchronous so that students could easily access and use it at any time. I also wanted a way for students to reflect on the content learned in the classroom, as self-reflection is an important means of reinforcing learning. With Facebook, when one student offers an observation or posts an article, video or link, others can respond by commenting on the post. Although Blackboard offers a discussion board tool, Facebook has the advantage of being instantly familiar to students, and they have no hesitation using it. Its interface is also simpler and more intuitive.” The article details the process for creating a Facebook group and discusses other reasons to adopt social media in the classroom.

What if a student doesn’t have a Facebook account and doesn’t want to create one? The answer may depend on your institutional policies. Dr. Monopolis acknowledges that he has “…been fortunate that all of [his] students were Facebook users and did not object to using Facebook for academic purposes. In the future, if a student does not already have and does not want to open a Facebook account to join the group, an accommodation would be necessary.”

Dr. Monopolis is not alone in his enthusiasm. According to a recent article in The Chronicle for Higher Education, Why This Professor Is Encouraging Facebook Use in His Classroom by Avi Wolfman-Arent, August 5, 2014: “Kevin D. Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University, has spent the last two and a half years measuring how the Facebook group he created for his introduction-to-sociology course affected student performance.  He found that students who participated in the online group enjoyed the course more, felt a stronger sense of belonging, and got better grades than those who did not participate.” Dougherty’s class had 250 students and while they were not required to participate, those who did formed a strong learning community.

Matthew Loving and Marilyn Ochoa, faculty at the University of Florida, Gainesville, went even further in their study in 2011, Facebook as a classroom management solution, [New Library World, Vol. 112 -3/4, pp.121 – 130]. They concluded that University of Florida faculty found “…the tradeoffs between the appropriation of Facebook as an online classroom management solution and using a conventional CMS [course management system] were relatively few and in many ways worth the necessary workarounds. Facebook allows instructors to distribute documents (via posting and messaging), administer discussion lists, conduct live chat and handle some assignment posting as long as it is alright to cut and paste and share between students. Areas where Facebook cannot compete with other CMS is in grading, assignment uploading and online testing.” They offered other solutions for these tasks.

A number of studies have linked social engagement to student retention. Kelly Walsh, Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY, reviews the research literature on both social engagement and student retention, and more specifically, the use of social media and student retention, in Can Social Media Play A Role in Improving Retention in Higher Education? Research Says it Can [October 28, 2012, Emerging Ed Tech]. As the article title suggests, her findings support the argument for using social media as a tool for engaging students and increasing retention.

KQED, a pubic media outlet for northern California, posted 50 Reasons to Invite Facebook Into Your Classroom by Tina Barseghian, August 5, 2011, on the blog Mind/Shift. This list provides some food for thought if you are weighing the pros and cons of adding Facebook to your teaching tools.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: By Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cd/Facebook_logo_(square).png

The Virtue of Virtual Exhibitions

In a previous post on multimedia assignments, I mentioned some applications for creating online exhibitions. Today I’d like to expand on the topic by looking at the value in having your students create virtual exhibitions as an assignment or class project.

Screen shot from the online exhibition The Authority of Ruins: Piante del Molo Adriano and Forma del Molo ne la Parte di FvoriAn online exhibition can be created around any topic that involves students making a collection materials or objects, examining and discussing their relationships, and establishing a thesis or argument for the assembly. Online exhibitions are by nature visual, so materials and objects that have visual interest work best. Images must be available or students must be able to create images. Talk to your librarians about resources for high quality images on your campus. At Johns Hopkins we have a great LibGuide on Finding Images that includes resources not just for JHU exclusive use, but also many that are available to all.

Creating these collections involves several skills that are desirable for students to learn and cultivate: writing (text for the exhibition catalog), visual literacy skills, digital literacy skills, and in some cases, a basic understanding of copyright law and fair use guidelines (see more below). Not to mention critical thinking. Depending on your learning objectives, students can be assigned to work in groups, individual students can contribute to a group exhibition, or each student can work on a separate project.

Recommended applications for these projects include: PadletOmekaGoogle SitesWordPress, and Tumblr. Your choice will depend on a number of factors.

I’ve written about Padlet in a previous post. It is free and easy to use; the display is basic and functional.

On the other end of the spectrum is Omeka, a free, open-source application designed at George Mason University specifically for online exhibits. See the Omeka showcase for examples. You can download and set up Omeka on a server at Omeka.org, or look at various hosting options at Omeka.net. “Omeka.net is web-publishing platform that allows anyone with an account to create or collaborate on a website to display collections and build digital exhibitions. No technical skills or special server requirements are necessary.”  For even more functionality, see the Prof Hacker (The Chronicle of Higher Education) blog post on Neatline and other plugins that can be added to Omeka. Neatline allows for an interactive interpretation with maps and timelines.

Google Sites is technically a wiki application, but it allows users to build websites and is easily adapted to online exhibitions. The Authority of Ruins is a great example created by a former Johns Hopkins assistant professor, Herica Valladares, and her students.  Google Sites is free and flexible. You can keep the site private while work is in progress and then choose to make the site public or not later.

Word Press allows you to easily create a website and offers both free and paid hosting depending on your needs. There is also an option to download the application and set it up on a local server. Like Google Sites there are a number of ready-to-use themes and the application is flexible offering users a number of options.

Tumblr is a similar application, but geared towards blogging and the use of multimedia materials. It comes down in the category of social media due to the fact that sharing and commenting are featured components. This is not to say that it has no use in the academic milieu. The Johns Hopkins George Peabody Library’s special collections use Tumblr to showcase materials in their online Wunderkammer.

As a final note, if your students’ exhibitions are going to be publicly accessible, you will want to think about copyright issues. Just because an image is found online does not mean that it is in the public domain and free to use. This can be a good opportunity to teach your students about copyright and fair use. Depending on your institution, there may be library staff able to provide assistance or other resources available, perhaps through the college or university office of legal counsel. We have a great LibGuide entitled Copyright and Fair Use: Trends and Resources for 21st Century Scholars here at JHU to get you started.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Screen shot from The Authority of Ruins: Piante del Molo Adriano and Forma del Molo ne la Parte di Fvori

Quick Tips: Creating Your Syllabus

With the fall semester rapidly approaching, it seems like a good time to provide a post on syllabi.

Stack of book in library.

I’ve written about this topic in the past (see: Rebooting Your Syllabus from November 2013), but just came across a post in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog ProfHacker, From the Archives: Creating Syllabi, that is chock-full of great advice.

The article covers the basic elements you should include such as contact information and institutional rules and regulations as well as course objectives, technology policies, and accessibility statements. There are also suggestions about logistics and design.

As you move from summer mode back into the swing of the academic year, these will be some useful tips to consider.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Microsoft Clip Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should you require class attendance?

Do you have an attendance policy for your classes? Do you reward or penalize students for attending class? Or do you leave it up to the individual student to determine how to acquire the knowledge necessary to pass the course? Does mandatory attendance equate with a higher success rate for students in the course?

Handwritten attendance sheet.Research studies have not shown mandatory attendance to insure a higher success rates for students. An oft-cited article by Karen L. St. Clair, A Case Against Compulsory Class Attendance Policies in Higher Education, Innovative Higher Education, Vol. 23, No. 3, Spring 1999, examines and evaluates the research literature on the relationship between attendance and academic achievement. St. Clair applies Paul Pintrich’s model of college student motivation in the classroom to the issue surrounding attendance policies. [Paul Pintrich, Student motivation in the college classroom. From: K. W. Prichard & R. McLaran Sawyer (Eds.), Handbook of college teaching: Theory and application, Greenwood Press, 1994.] She finds that attendance is linked to motivation and required attendance does not guarantee high achievement. Low achievement in a course is usually due to a number of factors. Moreover, an attendance policy will not guarantee attendance. “Classroom environments that engage students, emphasize the importance of students’ contributions, and have content directly related to knowledge assessed will undoubtedly provide encouragement to students to attend regularly.” (p. 178-179) St. Clair notes that there are exceptions when it is necessary for students to attend class to demonstrate proficiency, for example, in foreign language and laboratory classes, small discussion sections or seminars where “…attendance is compulsory because it is part of the grading structure.” (p. 179). Otherwise, St. Clair concludes that class attendance should not be compulsory.

St. Clair’s work dates from 1999, and it could be argued that much has changed in the classroom and in institutions of higher education in the past fifteen years. While more recent studies on attendance have been conducted, these have focused on attendance for online courses or other issues, for example, whether providing lecture materials online causes student class attendance to decline. However, instructors have written articles based on personal experiences that may provide insight for your consideration of the issue.

Inside Higher Ed featured an article, Attendance Not Required (December 17, 2012) by Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. Bugeja, who taught at Ohio University and Iowa, accepted any reason for not attending class (as long as a test or project presentation wasn’t scheduled) because he wanted students “to assess their priorities.” He required students to email their excuse for the absence with the criteria that they be completely honest. He collected and posted the reasons, because he felt that faculty are not well informed as to why students miss classes. He explained to his students that attendance correlates with achievement and had the data to prove it. Perhaps not everyone will want to duplicate this approach, but his reasoning and results are worth examining.

On the other side of the discussion, in 2013, Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska adopted an extremely tough “three strikes” attendance policy. “Once a student skips class, flunks a quiz or fails to turn in their homework (or any combination thereof) three times, the vice president for academic affairs, Steven Bullock, decides whether the student is out — of the class, in this case.” (Carl Staumsheim, Striking Out of Class, Inside Higher Ed, April 11, 2013). The key here was a perceived need for early intervention for struggling students. “Administrators stressed the policy was created to motivate, not weed out, lazy students. As students begin to accumulate strikes, they are sent to Midland’s advising center to get help with their coursework and study skills.”

A recent post (July 14, 2014) in the Advice section of The Chronicle of Higher Education, presents the views of Michelle LaFrance and Steven J. Corbett in A 21st Century Attendance Policy. LaFrance, an assistant professor of English and director of the writing-across-the-curriculum program at George Mason University, uses a prompted freewriting exercise at the start of each class as a means of both encouraging and taking attendance. Students receive points for each completed freewrite, but the exercises are not graded.  In anonymous surveys, students have been positive about the process. It also serves as a formative assessment as LaFrance writes: “But I like how this activity makes keeping attendance much simpler for me and, at the same time, is a useful means of taking the temperature of student learning. Instead of standing at the front of the room placing check marks and late notes by student’s names on a roster, I return to my office later that day and spend some time reading their warm-up thoughts. I’m not only keeping track of attendance, I’m gauging how the course is going and where I may need to make adjustments, based on their comments.” Corbett, a visiting assistant professor of English at George Mason University, has a much stricter policy based on a concept of professionalism – in the real world if you don’t show up you don’t get paid. Students are allowed two or three absences after which each absence takes a mark off their overall grade. Both LaFrance and Corbett have clearly stated policies. “We talk to our students throughout the semester about our expectations, reminding them frequently about how their choices will affect their final grades, a clear motivator for the 21st-century student. But we also remind them that learning is an investment of time and energy that only they can bring to the table.”

Barbara Gross Davis in Tools for Teaching (Jossey-Bass, 2009, p. 17-18) offers some good general advice: “Let students know in the syllabus and on the first day of class that you expect them to come to class regularly. Do your best to make class time worthwhile – a time when real work takes place. Students are also more likely to attend if they know that exams will include items that have been discussed in class only. Some faculty use attendance as a factor in grading, but many do not. If you want to reward good attendance, let students know how you will determine whether they come to class. Rather than penalize absences (by subtracting points), reward perfect or near-perfect attendance (by giving bonus points); the numerical result will be the same, but students feel better about the latter. Set a good example by arriving early to class, starting and ending on time, and staying late to answer questions.”

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Microsoft Clip Art

 

Sharing Assignment Rubrics with Your Students

We’ve written about rubrics before, but it is certainly a topic that bears additional clip art image of an Instructor grading using a rubriccoverage. In its broadest meaning, a rubric is a guide for evaluation. More specifically, rubrics establish the criteria, qualitative markers, and associated scores for assessment of student work. Recently I have been talking and thinking about rubrics in a number of contexts – in consultations with faculty, as a workshop facilitator, and in planning for a hands-on exercise for an instruction module.

In consultation with faculty on assessing assignments I sometimes hear, “I’ve been teaching this course for years. It’s a small seminar so I assign a term paper. I don’t need a rubric because I know what qualifies as an “A” paper.” What that means is that the person has a rubric of sorts in his or her head. The problem is that the students aren’t mind readers. As useful as rubrics are for an instructor to insure that grading is consistent across the class, they are equally useful when shared with students, who then can understand the criteria, qualitative markers, and associated scores for the assignment.

As a workshop facilitator I recently saw the advantage for students in having a rubric to guide them in preparing a final project. Beyond the instructions for the assignment, they could see clearly the points on which their work would be evaluated and what would constitute excellent, good, and unacceptable work. Unsure about how to create rubrics to share with your students? There are some great resources to help you develop rubrics for your classes.

The University of California at Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning webpage on rubrics offers general information on using rubrics and on how to create a rubric. The CTL notes that “[r]ubrics help students focus their efforts on completing assignments in line with clearly set expectations.” There are also examples rubrics for downloading and bibliography for further reading.

The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University has a section on rubrics as part of their resources on designing and teaching a course (also worth a look).  Their advice on sharing rubrics with students: “A rubric can help instructors communicate to students the specific requirements and acceptable performance standards of an assignment. When rubrics are given to students with the assignment description, they can help students monitor and assess their progress as they work toward clearly indicated goals. When assignments are scored and returned with the rubric, students can more easily recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their work and direct their efforts accordingly.” There are also examples of rubrics for paper assignments (Philosophy, Psychology, Anthropology, History); projects (including an Engineering Design project); oral presentations (including group presentations); and for assessing student in-class participation.

The Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence section on rubrics states that “[r]ubrics are a powerful tool for supporting learning by guiding learners activities and increasing their understanding of their own learning process.” They provide a template for creating a rubric – a rubric for rubrics, so to speak. There are a number of sample rubrics and scoring feedback sheets, sources for sample rubrics, and links to presentations on using rubrics.

All three of these sites gave me useful examples and resources for developing a rubric to use in the instructional module I’ll teach in August.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Microsoft Clip Art, edited by Macie Hall

Creative Student Assignments: Fast-Paced In-Class Presentations

Students given presentation to a class.

CC Photo by Creative Services: http://spirit.gmu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/student-presentation-ncc.jpg

In our teaching and learning center we talk to a lot of faculty who are seeking to give students assignments that provide authentic learning experiences as well as offer variety over the course of the semester. Instructors like the idea of having students do projects and present the results during class, but often find that the end results are uninspired PowerPoint presentations full of text-heavy slides. One solution is to have student give presentations using one of the popular fast-paced styles such as Pecha Kucha 20×20, Lightning Talks, Ignite Events, or 24×7.

Pecha Kucha is a Japanese word meaning chit chat (listen to various pronunciations by native Japanese speakers).  PechaKucha 20×20 is a presentation format developed by Tokyo-based architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham in 2003. The concept is to show 20 images, each for 20 seconds, thereby delivering a talk in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. The images advance automatically as the presenter talks along to the images. Klein and Dytham sponsored PechaKucha Nights, informal gatherings where creative people get together and share their ideas, work, and thoughts in the PechaKucha 20×20 format. These events are now held world-wide.

Lightning Talks use a similar format, and evolved in the tech world at Python and Perl conference in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The format varies but typically is limited to 5 minutes, and slides may or may not advance automatically. Barrie Byron, a self-described communications professional and experienced presenter, offers a description of lightning talks and some tips for execution on her blog. She describes a format where slides advance automatically every 15 seconds. Byron notes that the format tests resilience and oratory skills. “A good lightning talk is insightful, inspiring, thought-provoking, useful, humorous, controversial, or enlightening. Lightning talks are almost always fun, for both the speaker and the audience.”

According to Wikipedia, Ignite Events are typically organized by volunteers and have been held around the world. Participants speak about their ideas and personal or professional passions according to a specific format. The event has the motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick!” The presentations are meant to “ignite” the audience on a subject – awareness, thought, and action are generated on the subjects presented. At an Ignite event each speakers gets 5 minutes, and must use 20 slides with each slide advancing automatically after 15 seconds, forcing speakers to get to the point, fast.

24×7 presentations, another variation on the theme, allows 24 slides in 7 minutes. Variations allow for slides to advance automatically or manually.

The advantage that these short, structured formats offer is that they help students focus on their key points and important content. Their presentation style matters. The fact that the slides are only visible for a short period of time means that any text used must be short and to the point. Organizing an end of the semester presentation event using one of these methods will challenge your students to get to the point, practice their delivery style, and provide an informative and entertaining performance for you and your class.

Here are a few resources on presentations to help you and your students:

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: CC Photo by Creative Services: http://spirit.gmu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/student-presentation-ncc.jpg

Post-Semester Reflection

Woman in business suit with fountain pen looking thoughtful.

Now that your last class has been taught, exams given and grades turned in, it’s time to kick back and enjoy some rest and relaxation, right? Not to say that you haven’t earned it, but first it might be a good idea to add a third “R” to the mix. That would be reflection.

While the first thing the word reflection might bring to mind is the scientific definition, the Oxford Online Dictionary gives the second meaning as “Serious thought or consideration.”

The Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Washington (Seattle) lists among its resources a section on Self Reflection on Teaching.

“It is key to engage systematic reflection on your own teaching. Some easy yet consistent strategies for keeping track of your teaching are to annotate assignments, tests and class plans on an ongoing basis. This will help you keep track of things to keep and/or eliminate when you teach the class again. End-of-term summaries also help you reflect on your teaching and provide excellent fodder for the development of new classes and or improved versions of the same class.”

In Wilbert J. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers the author notes, “One key to improvement is reflection – thinking about what you want to accomplish, and what you and the students  need to achieve these goals.” [p. 6-7 in 11th edition, Houghton-Mifflin, 2002]

While the semester is still fresh in your memory, ask yourself some questions. What was successful? What wasn’t? Were your goals and objectives for student learning met? Do your assessments accurately capture student learning? What do you want to do differently the next time you teach this course?

If your classes went smoothly and students seemed engaged, there may be few changes to implement with the next iteration.  If you are feeling that the entire course was a disaster, Using Failure to Reflect on our Teaching, a post in the Chronicle of Higher Education ProfHacker blog written by Janine Utell, Associate Professor of English at Widener University in Pennsylvania, will help you to take something positive from the situation.

Utell offers strategies for assessing specific failings and finding remedies –looking at past successes can help you to solve current problems.  She writes: “If I can pinpoint a specific strategy that failed, I stop thinking of myself as a failure and can find something concrete to fix. I can use past problem-solving to remind myself of my strengths: I’ve fixed that before, I can fix it again. I can see, too, if perhaps a class going badly came from something that was out of my control. Every class has a life of its own. That means every class that fails, fails in a particular way. It also means that every class that succeeds does so at least in part because of a particular and providential confluence of our strengths and those of the students.”

Taking time for reflection now will prove beneficial at the end of the summer when the next semester starts.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

Summer Reading: Three Articles for Your Consideration

Celebrating the end of the academic year and looking forward to some time for summer reading? It’s always good to have solid research to back up our teaching practices. Three recent articles highlight scholarship behind the claimed benefits of collaborative learning, improved student performance with the use of active learning, and taking notes by hand provides better cognitive retention than using a laptop.

Woman lying on grass reading a book.A tip from the Tomorrow’s Professor mailing list sent The Innovative Instructor to IDEA (Individual Development and Educational Assessment) and POD (Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education). “IDEA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide assessment and feedback systems to improve learning in higher education.” [http://ideaedu.org/about] As part of IDEA, POD produces “succinct papers” to address specific ways for instructors to employ innovative teaching methods. The POD Center Notes on Instruction is definitely worth a look.

POD Item #5 Formed “Teams” or “Discussion Groups” To Facilitate Learning Overall, reviews the research supporting the benefits of collaborative learning. “Learning is enhanced when the material to be learned is thought about deeply and also when related material is retrieved from memory and associated with the new material. When students have an opportunity to work together to learn course content, particularly when applying that material to a new challenge, both deep thinking and retrieval of associated materials are realized.” Specific tips are presented for implementing group work in a course, including setting clear expectations and monitoring group progress. Applications of group work for online settings are examined, and assessment issues are addressed.

Next, a study on lecturing versus active learning was recently highlighted in both Inside Higher Education and The Chronicle of Higher Education. The results of the research, Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics, were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Scott Freeman, Mary Wenderoth, Sarah Eddy, Miles McDonough, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Hannah Jordt, and Michelle Smith. The lead researchers are in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle.

From the abstract: “This is the largest and most comprehensive meta-analysis of undergraduate STEM education published to date.” “These results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sections, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” As for the significance of the report, “[t]he analysis supports theory claiming that calls to increase the number of students receiving STEM degrees could be answered, at least in part, by abandoning traditional lecturing in favor of active learning.”

From the April 2014 Psychological Science, The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, reports on the benefits students gain by taking lecture notes longhand rather than on a laptop. Although using laptops in class is common (and instructors complain about the distractions laptops present), this study “…suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing.” “In three studies, [the researchers] found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.” The authors conclude “…that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Image Source: CC Spirit Fire on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spirit-fire/5733726521/

What is Gamification and Why Use It in Teaching?

A few weeks ago The Innovative Instructor had an inquiry from a reader who wanted to offer an online gamified Gothic art history class and was looking for models. Today’s post seeks to provide information on gamification, why you might want to consider using it in your teaching, and how to go about implementing gamification.

Gamification is defined as the application of typical elements of game playing (rules of play, point scoring, competition with others) to other areas of activity, specifically to engage users in problem solving. [Wikipedia and Oxford Online Dictionary] It has been used in marketing, but also has applications in education. In addition to promoting specific learning gains, games are a form of active learning. In some cases gamification includes the use of badges – think scouting merit badges in digital form – to promote learning and recognize competencies (e.g., Khan Academy has a badging system).

My own introduction to gamification came last October when I attended the annual Educause conference. One of the keynote speakers was Jane McGonigal who has a Ph.D from UC Berkeley and is a world renowned game developer.  Her 2012 TEDGlobal talk has had 4.5 million views, and her website is a great place to start learning about the value of games. “She points out that we like people better if we’ve played a game with them; we bond and build trust. And contrary to popular thinking, she explains that games are not so much a tool for escapism but rather a way to use our best selves. Gamers are extremely productive and collaborative within the realm of a game.”  [Friedman, Stan. “Finding the Future: Inside NYPL’s All-Night Scavenger Hunt.” Library Journal. July 13, 2011.]

It’s not all just fun. Games can be about finding solutions to serious problems as McGonigal states: “Many of my games challenge players to tackle real-world problems at a planetary-scale: hunger, poverty, climate change, or global peace, for example (see: EVOKE, World Without Oil, Superstruct).” [http://janemcgonigal.com/]

A search for scholarly articles on gamification [Google Scholar gamification in education] will get you to research on why gamification is an important teaching and learning strategy and how to incorporate gamification into your curricular planning. “In today’s digital generation gamification has become a popular tactic to encourage specific behaviours, and increase motivation and engagement. Though commonly found in marketing strategies, it is now being implemented in many educational programs as well, helping educators find the balance between achieving their objectives and catering to evolving student needs.” [Huang, Wendy Hsin-Yuan, and Dilip Soman. "Gamification Of Education." 2013. p.5]

Huang and Soman define a five part process for applying gamification to the instructional environment.

Flow chart defining the steps to implementation of gamification in instruction.

The flow chart starts with knowing who your students are and where the course/training/instruction fits into the larger curricular framework. Context also refers to the type of instruction and where it will take place (individuals, groups, class size, face to face, online). Identification of “pain points” (factors that prevent learning advancement) will help the instructor define learning objectives and structure the placement of game elements in the curriculum. Then you can begin to identify resources – pre-existing games or ones that you will develop, which can range from complex to very simple. Finally, you will implement the gamification strategies.

Keep in mind that the objective is to gamify the process not the outcome. “Ben Leong, Assistant Professor at the School of Computing, National University of Singapore (NUS) states that there should be a clear understanding that gamification is independent of knowledge or skills. Gamification directly affects engagement and motivation and it indirectly leads to acquiring more knowledge and skills. Gamification encourages students to perform an action; for example, motivating students to practice computer programming will increase their skill and motivating students to memorize consistently can increase their knowledge.” [Huang and Soman. p. 15]

For many the big question will be “What games should I use?” There are a number of already developed, sophisticated games applicable to a variety of disciplines – STEM, humanities, social sciences – out there. For example, Entering the Education Arcade  [Jenkins, Henry, E. Klopfer, K. Squire, and P. Tan, “Entering the Education Arcade,” ACM Computers in Entertainment, Vol. 1, No. 1,
October 2003, Article 08] describes three games made by the Microsoft-MIT iCampus project, namely Supercharged!, Environmental Detectives, and Revolution. “Has education become nothing but fun and games? Not exactly. In each case, the games are being integrated into a range of other curricular activities. Games are enhancing traditional educational tools such as lectures, discussions, lab reports, homework, fieldtrips, tests, and textbooks. Games are being allowed to do what games do best, while other kinds of teaching support those lessons.” [Jenkins et al. p.2]

These links will take you to the games cited above and others developed by the MIT Education Arcade.

Also check out Games Learning Society, another developer of innovative educational video games, which “…promote engaging ways of learning about biological systems, civic activism, pro-social behavior, programming, and many other STEM domains.”

You don’t have to rely on existing video games, online simulations, coding your own games, or having students code in order to bring gamification to your teaching. Keep in mind that you are looking to identify a “pain point” and find a way to help your students learn that material. Role playing, research-oriented scavenger hunts, adapting classic television games or shows (e.g., Jeopardy, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Mission Impossible) to the classroom, are low-barrier methods to consider.  As this video demonstrates, it can be as simple as bringing buckets of ping pong balls to class. Here at Johns Hopkins, Professor of Biology Vince Hilser demonstrated the concept of equilibrium to students in an introductory biochemistry class by having them throw ping pong balls across the room. Specific rules, timed segments, and a spirit of competition fulfill the requirements for the activity to be a game.

Now, Innovative Instructor, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to develop a game to help students conquer a learning obstacle in your class.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Macie Hall adapted from Huang, Wendy Hsin-Yuan, and Dilip Soman. “Gamification Of Education.” 2013. p.7.