A Tip of the Hat to Tomorrow’s Professor

For writing The Innovative Instructor blog posts I read a lot of books and articles related to teaching and follow various educational blogs.  One resource that I’d like to pass along is the Tomorrow’s Professor e-Newletter. Sponsored by the Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning, Tomorrow’s Professor is edited by Richard M. Reis, Ph.D., a consulting professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford.

Screen shot of Tomorrow's Professor website logo.Twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays) during the academic year Reis passes along articles from journals or excerpts from books on a wide range of topics in the following categories:

  • Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning
  • Tomorrow’s Academy
  • Tomorrow’s Graduate Students and Postdocs
  • Tomorrow’s Academic Careers
  • Tomorrow’s Research

“Tomorrows Professor seeks to foster a diverse, world-wide teaching and learning ecology among its over 49,000 subscribers at over 800 institutions and organizations in over 100 countries around the world.”

The more than 1250 posts to date have been archived so you can search for past posts as well as subscribe to receive new postings via email.

As an introduction, I found a recent post on The Three Most Time-Efficient Teaching Practices [#1218] to reflect some of the pedagogical best practices that The Innovative Instructor tries to promote.  The author, Linda C. Hodges, Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and Director of the Faculty Development Center,University of Maryland, Baltimore County, states:

What constitutes productivity in teaching is a point of debate, of course, but many of us agree that we want to facilitate student learning. When faculty are challenged to change traditional teaching practices to promote better student success, all we may see looming before us is additional class preparation time. The best kept secret, however, is how much more time-efficient some of these touted teaching practices are.

The three practices she describes are 1) beginning planning with the end in mind by using backward course design, 2) generating criteria or rubrics to describe disciplinary work for students, and 3) embedding “assessment” into assessments.

Hodges asserts that spending time in the planning and development of your courses using proven pedagogical methods will save you time in your teaching in the long run. Taking a few minutes each week to peruse Tomorrow’s Professor could help you in all aspects of your academic life.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Screenshot of Tomorrow’s Professor logo

Creative Student Assignments: Poster Projects

Looking for a final course project for your students that might give them an authentic learning experience – building skills they can use in their post-college careers? Think about a poster assignment.

For STEM career-path students, poster sessions are certain to be a part of their futures. Increasingly, those in Humanities and Social Sciences are finding that poster sessions are being seen in their professional/academic conferences. Posters and similar presentation approaches are becoming part of business (including non-profit) practice as well.

Student presenting at a poster session.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Becky Strauss

Poster projects can be designed to foster student research, writing, and presentation skills as well as pushing them to think visually. If having students print out their final product for presentation is too costly and/or space for a poster session is limited, students can present electronically. In fact, the easiest way to create a poster is to use a size-customized (e.g., 48”x36”) PowerPoint or Keynote slide, so presenting on a large screen to a class is feasible and cost effective.

You will want to provide students with specific objectives as well as concrete instructions, and, preferably, a few checkpoint deadlines along the way. Fortunately there are many online resources and guides for poster creators.  Here are three (if you have other sources, please share in the comments section):

SUNY at Buffalo Libraries – Designing Effective Posters
A collaborative effort hosted at NCSU: Creating Effective Poster Presentations
This one combines short videos and text in an introduction to Poster Design, especially good for layout and design elements.

There are many more, as well as YouTube and Vimeo video tutorials.

First time poster creators tend to err on the side of having too much text, so you should give your students some specific guidelines.  These, for example, can be adapted according to your pedagogical goals and academic discipline:

Title = 1-2 short lines
Abstract (if required) = ~50 words
Introduction = ~200 words
Materials/methods = ~200 words
Results = ~200 words
Conclusion = ~100 words
Other sections (footnotes, acknowledgements, sponsors) = ~50 words
TOTAL < 800 words

A total word count of 800 is may be difficult to achieve, but getting as close to that as possible will keep the content concise and focused. It will also leave more room for images and diagrams, the elements that will be most attractive to viewers in a crowded poster session.

You will want your students to think about using consistent design elements (layout, font, color, images, and data display) so that their visual language is both unique and subject-appropriate. This attention to consistent design will also set them apart from other displays. Looking at examples of posters in class and having your students discuss what is effective and what is not can be a good way to get students thinking visually. Use Google Images  to search for “examples of scientific posters” or “examples of humanities posters” or examples in your specific discipline to start the conversation.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Developer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Credit: NASA/GSFC/Becky Strauss

Padlet – A Web and Mobile App with Possibilities

One of my favorite activities as an instructional designer is seeking out and experimenting with new applications. Some of these are web-based and work best on laptops or desktops, others are designed for mobile devices, some are platform specific (Mac, Windows, Android, iOS) and some work well regardless of your hardware and software. Finding apps that have potential for classroom use is always rewarding, especially if the app is free and easy to use. Enter Padlet, a web-based application that gives you a “wall” (think of it as a multimedia bulletin board) that you can drag and drop content onto in service of any number of pedagogical objectives.

Example of a Padlet Wall: photo exhibit of cemetery.A Padlet wall can be adapted for many uses. The first thought I had was to create an exhibit using photographs I had taken at a cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina that had been originally used for slave burials. It was easy to drag images and a text document onto the wall (which can be customized using a number of different backgrounds), and to use the built-in text boxes for annotation.  Audio and video clips can also be inserted, as well links to web materials. In less than 10 minutes, I had a photo exhibition. I’ve recommended other applications for faculty who want students to create online exhibits including Google Sites, WordPress, and Omeka. These offer more features and flexibility, but for being easy to use, Padlet takes the prize.

Other uses include creating timelines, assembling evidence to support an argument, building a visual data set (the world map background might be particularly useful for such an exercise), or to create an online poster presentation. See the Padlet gallery for more ideas.

Padlet’s website lists the application’s features. It can be used as a collaborative tool with team members’ additions appearing instantaneously, making it great for groups that aren’t co-located. The privacy settings are flexible. I set my wall to public so that you could see it, but it’s also possible to keep it completely private or to give others access and set permissions as to their use. Moreover, it works on your laptop, desktop, phone, or tablet.

Take a few minutes and check out Padlet. How would you use it as an instructor?

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Screenshot of Padlet Wall by Macie Hall