Do Your Students Understand the Assignment?

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education caught my attention this past week: The Unwritten Rules of College by Dan Berrett (September 21, 2015), profiled art history professor Mary-Ann Winkelmes and her quest to help students learn how to learn.

Black and white line drawing of the upper torso of a young male in a thinking pose. Two question marks are on either side of his head.Winkelmes, the former director of Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, has also trained faculty in teaching at the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and, currently, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where she is principal investigator of  Transparency in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. This project seeks “to improve higher education teaching and learning experiences for faculty and students through two main activities:

  • promoting students’ conscious understanding of how they learn, and
  • enabling faculty to gather, share and promptly benefit from current data about students’ learning by coordinating their efforts across disciplines, institutions and countries.

A primary focus for Winkelmes has been reaching out to students who are first generation college students or otherwise may not understand what she calls “the secret, unwritten rules of how to succeed in college.” [See: Winkelmes, Mary-Ann. “Equity of Access and Equity of Experience in Higher Education.” National Teaching and Learning Forum, 24, 2 (February 2015), 1-4.] “As an increasingly broad and diverse cross section of students enters higher education, knowing those rules matters more than ever. Without them, students stumble. They might miss the point of a paper, drift during discussions, or feel overwhelmed or aimless. But all students can thrive, Ms. Winkelmes says, if the tacit curriculum is made plain.”

Winkelmes’ findings from the Transparency in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education project point to giving assignments in a transparent manner as having a “significant effect on students.” Faculty involved in the project considered three questions when creating assignments: the task, the purpose, and the criteria.

Defining the task means that the students are told exactly they are to do. Students should also know the purpose of the assignment. Why are they being asked to do this and what is the instructor’s goal? What are the criteria that will be used to evaluate the work that the students submit?

The article provides details on how several faculty took assignments they had used in the past, reviewed them using the three questions, and then implemented improved versions of the assignments in their classes. While some faculty have pushed back on the process, others have found it to be valuable, saying that clarifying the assignment at the outset helps save time in the long run.

This relatively easy technique has proved to have a big impact. “In the classroom, knowing the task, purpose, and criteria can help motivate students and make their courses relevant. In other areas, the information can help them navigate an intimidating system. To Ms. Winkelmes, the protocol helps students meet higher expectations of rigor, which, in turn, can ensure equity in educational quality.”


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

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The CIRTL MOOC is Back!

Last fall I blogged several times about the CIRTL MOOC. CIRTL—the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning—is an NFS funded consortium of 21 universities whose “…mission is to enhance excellence in undergraduate education through the development of a national faculty committed to implementing and advancing effective teaching practices for diverse learners as part of successful and varied professional careers.” CIRTL promotes three core ideas: Teaching-as-Research, Learning Community, and Learning-through-Diversity.

Screenshot of Coursera course description page for An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching.CIRTL offers a number of courses, some of which are open to participation to those who are not in CIRTL member institutions. Last fall (2014), An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching, developed by CIRTL member faculty at Vanderbilt University, Michigan State University, Boston University and University of Wisconsin-Madison, was launched. You can see this description on the CIRTL website:

  • Instructors: Faculty and staff from across the CIRTL Network.
  • Duration of course: September 28, 2015 – November 20, 2015
  • Format: MOOC on Coursera (
  • Suggested Credits: Coursera version is noncredit; local MOOC-centered learning communities may offer credit locally.
  • Open to: Early or advanced graduate students, post docs, academic staff and faculty
  • Technology Requirements: internet access
  • Accessibility: We strive to be inclusive of anyone interested in participating in our activities, programs, and courses. If you have specific accessibility needs, please let us know in advance so that we may make the necessary accommodations.

The Coursera website description adds: “This course will provide graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) who are planning college and university faculty careers with an introduction to evidence-based teaching practices. Participants will learn about effective teaching strategies and the research that supports them, and they will apply what they learn to the design of lessons and assignments they can use in future teaching opportunities. Those who complete the course will be more informed and confident teachers, equipped for greater success in the undergraduate classroom.”

I took the course last fall and found it to have great videos on topics such as learning objectives, assessment, peer instruction, inquiry based labs, learning through writing, and problem based learning. My assessment is that it is not just appropriate for STEM instructors; anyone teaching at the higher education level could benefit from the course content.

Here are links to last year’s The Innovative Instructor blog posts inspired by the course content:

One thing that I really like about MOOCs is that if you are not taking one for credit or certification, you can go at your own pace, take what you need and skip over content that is not relevant. Moreover, in this case, you will continue to have access to course materials after the MOOC has finished. While you lose the benefit of participation in discussion threads and getting feedback on assignments, being able to view the videos and readings has value.

Whether you are STEM or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics), just starting out in your teaching career or a seasoned professional looking for some new ideas, sign up for An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching.


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

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What to Do When Your Students Arrive Late

It’s the beginning of the semester (or quarter) and already you are experiencing the problem. Maybe it starts with just one student, who every class comes rushing in late. Or perhaps a small group saunters in just as your lecture or discussion is getting going, fresh coffees in hand. Then there is the snowball effect—it starts with one or two latecomers to your early morning class, and then gradually the numbers increase until the disruption of late arrivals is too much to ignore. Whatever the scenario, is there a solution?Digital display You Are Late in white letters on blue background.

The answer is yes, but how you choose to handle the situation may depend on the size of your class, the culture at your institution, and your teaching philosophy. Some instructors take a hard line approach, others may attempt to deal with each offender individually. The latter concept, to speak individually to students who arrive late, is worth considering. If your institution has a large campus, or several campuses from which students may be arriving, it could be that they don’t have sufficient time to change classes. Or there is the possibility that another instructor is consistently running late, leaving students to race to their next class. It is appropriate to work with students to find a solution, before penalizing them and before getting too far into the semester when habits may be harder to break.

Advice from various sources provides a range of strategies. In Late Again? (The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 5, 2015) Stephanie Reese Masson, an instructor of language, English, and communication at Northwestern State University in Louisiana, recommends talking to your class about lateness and potential motivators for punctual arrival. She chose two tactics—marking late students as absent with a grade reduction after four absences and periodically offering unscheduled, short, in-class, extra-credit activities at the start of class. Her essay includes other ideas as well.

Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence has a page of advice on reducing late arrivals, including arriving early yourself so that you can interact with students as they come into class. “If you arrive to class early, you show your students that you value your time with them.  By arriving early, chatting with students, answering questions and starting on time, you build rapport and model proper classroom etiquette.  Do not try to embarrass late students in front of the class.  Statements such as “I see you’re late again,” or “Why are you late, Mr. Watson?” beg for a reply and can easily domino into greater classroom distractions.  A better approach is simply to welcome the late student.  A welcoming recognition of a late student lets the student know that you are aware of his/her lateness without giving opportunity to spiraling incivility.  If a student is habitually late, ask to talk to the student after class and express your concerns to him/her in private.” Other suggestions include starting class with an activity or with something that will intrigue your students.

The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University has a section on their website called Solve a Teaching Problems, which is a great resource for a range of issues instructors are likely to encounter. For each issue, potential reasons are identified and appropriate solutions and strategies are offered. For Students come to class late, possible reasons include: students don’t take responsibility for themselves, students’ expectations are out of line with the instructor’s, students don’t recognize how their lateness affects others, students don’t perceive the beginning of class as important, there is no consequence to being late, students are trying to challenge the instructor’s authority, students are experiencing emotional or psychological problems, and students have physical or logistical reasons for coming late. Each link will take you to a page with applicable strategies.

The key take-away from all the advice offered is that to solve the problem of student tardiness, you must first understand the reasons that students are arriving late.


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Image courtesy of Stuart Mills at

Back to School

It’s freshman move-in day on our campus, signaling the end of summer and the start of classes. Today’s post offers some resources for instructors as the semester begins.

Empty lecture hall, tiered with wooden seats.The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker Blog post from August 13, 2015 by Natalie Houston (associate professor of English, University of Houston), From the Archives: Getting Ready for the New Semester, offers tips on getting ready to teach. Whether you are new to the profession or a practiced professor, there are links to articles with suggestions on learning student names, being prepared for medical emergencies in class, and routines to help you get organized.

In the The First Day of Class: A Once-a-Semester Opportunity (Teaching Professor Blog August 19, 2015), Maryellen Weimer, (professor emerita, Penn State Berks) writes, “There’s only one first day of class. Here are some ideas for taking advantage of opportunities that are not available in the same way on any other day of the course.” She suggests using the opportunity to tell students why the course is important, why you are committed to teaching it, why they should be committed to learning the material. Take the time to learn about your students and begin building relationships with them. “[G]et students connected with each other and the course content.”

Students often complain of poor presentation methods in lectures where instructors use PowerPoint (or other presentation software applications). A common mistake is to attempt to make your slides serve two purposes by being both lecture notes and lecture slides. This leads to too much text on the slides and reading from the slide. Both practices lead to student inattention. Bryan Alexander, in Giving a great presentation: notes on using PowerPoint, (July 27, 2015) tell us, “Your argument…is the essential thing.  The slides enhance your essential argument.  They amplify it and render it easier to understand. Make and use slides accordingly.” While the focus of the article is on presentations in general, there are some good things to consider for your use of presentation software in teaching!

Thinking about flipping your course? Check out Robert Talbert’s post Four things I wish I’d known about the flipped classroom (June 5, 2014), from his blog Casting Out Nines.

Or, perhaps you are considering implementing active learning strategies in your classroom. A recent article in Nature, Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right (July 15, 2015) by M. Mitchell Waldrop, examines the problem of persistence in undergraduate STEM education. “Active problem-solving confers a deeper understanding of science than does a standard lecture. But some university lecturers are reluctant to change tack.” Waldrop stresses the importance of active learning, while analyzing the factors and challenges that contribute to slow adoption. For specific active learning strategies, see Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence website page on Active Learning. If you are going to be using an active learning classroom, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Education Innovation offers advice.

New to teaching or looking to brush up on your pedagogical skills? The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) is re-offering the 8 week-long MOOC: An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching, starting September 28 and running until November 19, 2015. Having taken the course last year, I highly recommend signing up. Here’s the description from Coursera:

“This course will provide graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) who are planning college and university faculty careers with an introduction to evidence-based teaching practices. Participants will learn about effective teaching strategies and the research that supports them, and they will apply what they learn to the design of lessons and assignments they can use in future teaching opportunities. Those who complete the course will be more informed and confident teachers, equipped for greater success in the undergraduate classroom.”


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

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Copyright and Your Classroom

When we think about teaching, intellectual property rights may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet staff in JHU Center for Educational Resources where I work, and my librarian colleagues, are not infrequently asked by teaching faculty to address concerns about copyright and fair use issues in the classroom.Copyright logo - black c within a black circle.

For example: “I am assigning my students to do an online exhibition, if they re-use images and videos taken from the web, can we make the exhibits public?” “It’s educational, so it’s fair use, right?” “I’ve created a library of video clips from popular television series to use in teaching. Is it ok to share these with my colleagues?” “How do I know if something is in the public domain?” “Why can’t the library just digitize their collection of film DVDs so we can stream them in our classrooms?”

Unfortunately, neither I nor my colleagues have law degrees with specialization in intellectual property rights (IPR). We are fortunate here at Johns Hopkins to have an Office of Legal Counsel with someone who is an IPR specialist, and there has been an effort to make policies and guidelines about common educational legal concerns easy to find and readily accessible. That’s not the case everywhere, and not all questions need an appointment with an attorney to answer. Sometimes you just need a quick answer to what is likely a common question… Fortunately there are resources to help you.

Last summer Duke University, in collaboration with Emory University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, offered a MOOC, Copyright for Educators & Librarians. “Fear and uncertainty about copyright law often plagues educators and sometimes prevents creative teaching.  This course is a professional development opportunity designed to provide a basic introduction to US copyright law and to empower teachers and librarians at all grade levels.” I signed on and found it informative and engaging. So, I was excited to learn that the course is now being offered on demand.

The “…goal [of the course] is to provide participants with a practical framework for analyzing copyright issues that they encounter in their professional work. We use a lot of real life examples—some of them quite complex and amusing—to help participants get used to the systematic analysis of copyright problems. This course is intentionally a first step toward bridging the gulf that is often perceived between desirable educational practice and legal permissible activities.”

The instructors, Kevin Smith, MLS, JD, Director, Copyright and Scholarly Communication Duke University Libraries; Lisa A. Macklin, JD, MLS, Director, Scholarly Communications Office, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University; and Anne Gilliland, JD, MLS, Scholarly Communications Officer University Libraries, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill bring knowledge and enthusiasm to the course modules, which are framed as discussions. Now that the course is offered on demand, you can sign up and take it as your schedule allows. There are five units, which cover an introduction to copyright law, a framework for thinking about copyright, owning rights, specific exemptions for teachers and librarians, and understanding and using fair use.

For those of you who need just in time assistance, I can recommend the very thorough LibGuide on Copyright, put together by our JHU librarians. There is a section specifically for Teaching Faculty, with information on the TEACH Act, Fair Use Teaching Tools, guidelines for the use of copyrighted materials within course management software, and more. Additional resources include a discussion of European Copyright law, and links to other university IPR guides and pages. The Copyright Crash Course website at the University of Texas at Austin Libraries is particularly useful.

Ignorance of the law is not a defense in IPR matters. These resources will help you to get a better grasp of the issues that should be of concern to you in the classroom.


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

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The Value of Gaming in Higher Education

A recent article in the Educause Review might be of interest to readers thinking about the value of gaming in the curriculum. [See also The Innovative Instructor May 13, 2014 post What is Gamification and Why Use It in Teaching?] Taking Serious Games Seriously in Education by Kristen Dicerbo, July 20, 2015, examines the value that games provide: “Games can serve as a means of not just developing domain-specific knowledge and skills but also identity and values key to professional functioning. The data from games enable understanding how students approach and solve problems, as well as estimating their progress on a learning trajectory.”

Video game controller on a table, back-lit.DiCerbo, Principal Research Scientist at Pearson’s Center for Learning Science & Technology, notes that while educational gamification first focused on engaging students in the curriculum, it was “…found that games align themselves well with theories of learning in many other ways.” The use of games in the classroom can provide “…tighter ties to research-based learning progressions, better links to elements of professionalization, and better design for assessment.”

The article highlights two games, Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy (designed for middle and high school students) and Nephrotex (17-19 year olds). Argubot Academy intends “to teach and assess skills of argumentation, including identifying evidence of different types, matching claims to evidence to form arguments, and evaluating claim and evidence links in others’ arguments.” Nephrotex provides “a semester-long experience in which players assume roles as interns in a fictitious bioengineering firm.” The games archive data while being used so that faculty and students can receive relevant progress reports.

The two games exemplify two approaches. The first is gamification that helps students develop and hone basic skills needed for a course or discipline (the art of developing an argument in the case of Argubot Academy). The second is a simulation situation that enables students to gain a broader understanding of a particular domain. DiCerbo discusses these two approaches in the sections Games and Learning Progressions and Games and Professionalization. The latter can be particularly useful for freshmen new to a discipline who are lost in the weeds of foundation courses that may not appear have any direct application to the major they have chosen. DiCerbo cites evidence that situational games can provide students with a view of what work in the profession might entail and the impetus to persist through the introductory phase of core courses.

“Apart from learning skills and knowledge of a domain, becoming a professional in a given area involves developing an identity, for example as an engineer, a psychologist, or a biologist. Novices must come to understand the beliefs that people in a given profession hold and assimilate those into their own belief structures. Commercial games have long employed the concepts of identity, allowing players to build avatars, join guilds, and form teams, all around specific combinations of knowledge and skill. Instead of building identities as wizards, can we use games to build identities more applicable to the real world?”

The article also covers the assessment opportunities that games can offer. The possibility of “invisible assessment” that comes from analysis of student interaction with the game, and that doesn’t interrupt the learning is intriguing.

DiCerbo concludes with three questions instructors should ask about games:

  • What is the model of learning embodied in the game? What skills are needed for success in the game, and how are they sequenced in the game? Does that match known, research-based learning trajectories?
  • Can you clearly identify cognitive and non-cognitive skills and attributes targeted in the game?
  • Do reporting functions in the game link player actions to estimates of knowledge, skill, or ability?

Gaming has gained a lot of traction in the past few years. This article provides both evidence and incentive for you to think about how you might bring this pedagogical method “into play” in your classroom.


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

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Twine 2.0: Not just for storytelling

For the past several years, I’ve been interested in storytelling as a means of improving student communication skills in any media. When I talk to students about communication skills, we discuss the importance of knowing your audience and of thinking about one’s research or project a being an opportunity to tell a story. I’m always on the lookout for applications and tools that might be useful in the classroom to help put these ideas into practice.

Black and white line drawing of a figure standing on an arrow with three heads pointing in different directions.A few years ago, I came across Twine, a tool for creating non-linear texts. It had potential, but at that time, the interface was a bit clunky, and didn’t seem intuitive enough for faculty and students to be able to pick up quickly. Enter Twine 2.0. A recent ProfHacker (Chronicle of Higher Education) blog post Starter Exercises for Interactive Storytelling, June 18, 2015, by Anastasia Salter, alerted me to a newer, easier to use version, with options for downloading or using it online. Twine casts itself as a game-writing tool, but more broadly it allows users to construct a story map.

What is a story map? If you were or had a child in the 80s or 90s, you may remember the popularity of the print “choose your own adventure” books. A story map allows you to graphically plot the paths that making a set of choices will take you down. This is the structure behind video games, as well as the “pick your next step” stories.

What can you do with Twine? Here’s what the Twine 2.0 guide says:

At its heart, Twine is a tool for creating hypertext. The difference between hypertext and a linear story, the kind found in books and magazines, is that it allows the reader to have some measure of agency. In other words, the reader has some ability over what he or she reads next. … [In creating a complex story or game] [b]ecause hypertext branches so much, it’s easy to get lost in your own work. Much of Twine is dedicated to helping you keep track of your work’s structure visually with a story map, so you can see what your readers’ experience will be like.

Can you build games with Twine? Of course! Twine has the capability to do conditional logic, so if the protagonist finds a key in an early part of the story, he or she can use it to open a door later on. It can also incorporate variables, which encompass the traditional trappings of games such as hit points and score. These, along with agency, are foundational concepts of interactivity, the currency of game design.

Beyond the gamification possibilities and the ability to create interactive narratives, Twine, and similar applications such as Inform 7 and Inklewriter, could be used more broadly for any activity that involves thinking critically about a decision process. Assignments that involve constructing a logic argument, inserting variables into an experimental model, or constructing hypothetical scenarios could all benefit from the features of Twine. Being able to “play” through the story map allows one to quickly identify flaws or problems.

There is a wiki full of information about using Twine. Get started with Twine 2: How to create your first story. Be sure you read Where Your Stories Are Saved before you start to avoid losing your work.


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

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Quick Tips: Grading Essays and Papers More Efficiently

If you are among those who don’t teach during the summers, grading papers may be the furthest thing from your mind at the moment. Before we know it, however, a new semester will be starting. And now is a good time to be thinking about new directions in your assessment and evaluation of student work, especially if your syllabus will need changing as a result.

Male instructor 's head between two stacks of papers.Earlier this week (June 22, 2015) and article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Rob Jenkins, an associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College, Conquering Mountains of Essays: How to effectively and fairly grade a lot of papers without making yourself miserable, caught my attention. Even the most dedicated instructors find grading to be a chore.

Jenkins, who teaches several writing-intensive courses every semester, notes that it is easy to take on the pose of a martyr when faced with stacks and stacks of multiple-paged papers, especially when the process is repeated a few times for each class. He offers eight guidelines for keeping grading in balance with the aspects of teaching that are more enjoyable. Jenkins proposes that you:

  1. Change your bad attitude about grading. Grading is an integral part of teaching. View grading student work as an opportunity to reinforce class concepts and use misconception that arise in their papers as a basis for class discussion.
  2. Stagger due dates. Plan in advance and have students in different sections turn in essays on different dates.
  3. Break it down. Determine an optimum number of papers to grade at one sitting. Take a break for an hour before starting another session.
  4. Schedule grading time. Literally. Put it on your calendar.
  5. Have a realistic return policy. Jenkins says, “I’ve chosen to define ‘a reasonable amount of time’ as one week, or two class sessions. Occasionally, if I get four stacks of papers in the same week, it might take me three class meetings to finish grading.”
  6. Be a teacher, not an editor. Stay out of the weeds and focus on the major problems with the essay. Jenkins limits editing “to situations where a simple change of wording or construction might have broader application than to that one essay.”
  7. Limit your comments. For undergraduates, a few observations will be more useful as a teaching strategy than pages of commentary. Jenkins tries to offer one positive comment and three suggestions for improvement.
  8. Limit grading time on each essay. Following the suggestions above will help you reduce the time you need to spend on each paper.

One thing Jenkins doesn’t mention is using a rubric for grading. Rubrics can be a powerful tool for consistent grading across the class or sections, as well as a means for students to understand how the assignment is being evaluated. See previous Innovative Instructor posts on rubrics: Creating Rubrics and Sharing Assignment Rubrics with Your Students.

You might also be interested in some of The Innovative Instructor’s past posts on grading: Feedback codes: Giving Student Feedback While Maintaining Sanity and Quick Tips: Paperless Grading.


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

A New Face in the MOOC World – An Online Art School Called Kadenze

New in the Higher Ed world was the announcement this week of Kadenze, a new company offering MOOCs in the arts disciplines. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Art Schools Go MOOC, With a New Online Platform (June 16, 2015 – Meg Bernhard), and Inside Higher Ed, Taking the Arts Online (June 16, 2015 – Carl Straumsheim), both ran articles on Kadenze.

Screen shot of Kadenze websiteThe Innovative Instructor has run a number of posts on MOOCs with a range of viewpoints – you can use the search box (above right) and enter MOOC to see them all. The three biggest players in terms of MOOC offerings are Udacity, Coursera, and edX. Udacity specializes in courses on tech and related skills, such as programming, app development, and how to build a startup. Coursera has a broad range of offerings, including courses in data science, public health, education, science, business, and more. edX also offers an extensive list of courses from many disciplines. All three offer their courses for free, but for added fees, certificates are available in many of the courses.

None of the big three however, offer much in the way of art, beyond a history of art course here and there. Kadenze was founded to fill that gap. From The Chronicle article: “The new virtual art school, called Kadenze, has already teamed up with programs at 18 institutions, including Stanford and Princeton Universities, to create a digital platform designed for arts courses. According to a company co-founder, Perry R. Cook, an emeritus professor at Princeton, the platform will be “multimedia rich” and allow students to create online portfolios, upload music files and scanned art, watch videos, and participate in discussion forums.”

Kadenze is offering courses for free, but has a fee basis for those who wish to receive grades and credit. Again, from The Chronicle, “Kadenze will initially offer about 20 courses on subjects including music, art history, and technology and art. Students will be able to enroll in courses and watch videos free, but they will have to pay $7 a month if they want to submit assignments and receive grades and feedback. Fees of $300, $600, or $900 will be charged for courses that are offered for credit.”

The initial set of offerings includes titles such as Careers in Media Technology, Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists, Major Mind-Blowing Moments in the History of Western Art, Culture and Art Making, and The Nature of Code. Teaching art to large numbers of students in an online environment will certainly present challenges, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on this experiment. Personally, I am thinking about signing up (for the free version, of course) for the course titled, Comics: Art in Relationship. Maybe Kadenze will have an offering that fits your summer personal development goals as well.


Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Screen shot of Kadenze website:

Using the Critique Method for Peer Assessment

As a writer I have been an active participant in a formal critique group facilitated by a professional author and editor. The critique process, for those who aren’t familiar with the practice, involves sharing work (traditionally, writing and studio arts) with a group to review and discuss. Typically, the person whose work is being critiqued must listen without interrupting as others provide comments and suggestions. Critiques are most useful if a rubric and a set of standards for review is provided and adhered to during the commentary. For example, in my group, we are not allowed to say, “I don’t like stories that are set in the past.” Instead we must provide specific examples to improve the writing: “In terms of authoritative writing, telephones were not yet in wide use in 1870. This creates a problem for your storyline.”  After everyone has made their comments, the facilitator adds and summarizes, correcting any misconceptions. Then the writer has a chance to ask questions for clarification or offer brief explanations. In critique, both the creator and the reviewers benefit. Speaking personally, the process of peer evaluation has honed my editorial skills as well as improved my writing. Looking down on a group of four students with laptops sitting at a table in discussion.

With peer assessment becoming a pedagogical practice of interest to our faculty, could the critique process provide an established model that might be useful in disciplines outside the arts? A recent post on the Tomorrow’s Professor Mailing List, Teaching Through Critique: An Extra-Disciplinary Approach, by Johanna Inman, MFA Assistant Director, Teaching and Learning Center, Temple University, addresses this topic.

“The critique is both a learning activity and assessment that aligns with several significant learning goals such as critical thinking, verbal communication, and analytical or evaluation skills. The critique provides an excellent platform for faculty to model these skills and evaluate if students are attaining them.” Inman notes that critiquing involves active learning, formative assessment, and community building. Critiques can be used to evaluate a number of different assignments as might be found in almost any discipline including, short papers and other writing assignments, multimedia projects, oral presentations, performances, clinical procedures, interviews, and business plans. In short, any assignment that can be shared and evaluated through a specific rubric can be evaluated through critique.

A concrete rubric is at the heart of recommended best practices for critique. “Providing students with the learning goals for the assignment or a specific rubric before they complete the assignment and then reviewing it before critique can establish a focused dialogue. Additionally, prompts such as Is this work effective and why? or Does this effectively fulfill the assignment? or even Is the planning of the work evident? generally lead to more meaningful conversations than questions such as What do you think?

It is equally important to establish guidelines for the process, what Inman refers to as an etiquette for providing and receiving constructive criticism. Those on the receiving end should listen and keep an open mind. Learning to accept criticism without getting defensive is life skill that will serve students well. Those providing the assessment, Inman says, should critique the work not the student, and offer specific suggestions for improvement. The instructor or facilitator should foster a climate of civility.

Inman offers tips for managing class time for a critique session and specific advice for instructors to insure a balanced discussion.  For more on peer assessment more generally, see the University of Texas at Austin Center for Teaching and Learning’s page on Peer Assessment.  The Cornell Center for Teaching Excellence also has some good advice for instructors interested in Peer Assessment, answering some questions about how students might perceive and push back against the activity. Peer assessment, whether using a traditional critique method or another approach, benefits students in many ways. As they learn to evaluate others’ work, it strengthens their own.

********************************************************************************************************* Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Meeting. CC BY-SA Marco Antonio Torres