Managing Students’ Emotions while Facilitating Active, Peer-to-Peer and Experiential Learning in the Class

silhouette  of a human torso with heart and brain. How do you deal with disengaged students in your class? Those students can easily be discounted as people who “just don’t get it.” We can label them as “dysfunctional” and be comforted thinking that we can’t make every student happy in our classes. But what if your assumption is that your responsibility is to create a learning environment where transformations – from bored to engaged –can happen? What if the actual content you are teaching, and the learning you are hoping to achieve, has an emotional component?

Key questions comes to mind:

  1. Does learning involve both cognitive and affective/emotional work?
  2. How do we do this affective work and how do we balance the need for dealing with it in a way that doesn’t make the class a “shrink” session?
  3. If we agree that facilitating experiential learning is more effective than lecturing in the class, how do we develop acceptance in instructors and students of the feelings that arise during the learning process?
  4. What conditions can make the work of managing emotions in the class easier for facilitators and participants?

Does Learning involve both cognitive and emotional work?

Dualism, the idea that thinking and feeling are separated can be traced from Plato to Descartes, and from Kant to the Logical Positivists. Day-to-day life is permeated with expressions like “Don’t be so emotional!”, “Let’s leave emotions out of this discussion” or even using the word “passionate” to mean erratic and unpredictable, at least in Anglo Saxon cultures. The message is clear: emotions do not belong in a class.

Dualism has been proven to be false; cognition and emotion appear to be dynamic, interactive and interdependent. Research shows that emotion and cognition jointly contribute to the control of mental activities and behavior. Even in classes where a highly-technical subject matter is taught, the learning process is impaired when educators rely on a theory of learning that is exclusively “above the neck”. This makes emotions not-discussable, which in turn makes this decision itself not-discussable.  Thus the role of emotions during the learning process becomes a hidden process that plays a role never fully understood or leveraged for learning success. Learning does involve both the cognitive and the affective domains and educators can learn how to create the right mix.

As an adaptive leadership practitioner and experiential educator, I treasure the distinction between Ron Heifetz’s learning “above the neck” (the intellectual faculties, the home of logic and facts), and learning “below the neck” (the emotional faculties, the home of values, intuition and inner purpose). Heifetz’s great intuition is that leadership work – and that of educators – is about “managing the gradual process of easing people into an uncomfortable state of uncertainty, disorder, conflict, or chaos at a pace and level that does not overwhelm them yet takes them out of their comfort zones and mobilizes them to engage in addressing an adaptive challenge.”

How do we do this affective work and how do we balance the need for dealing with it in a way that doesn’t make the class a “shrink” session? Are emotions expressed in the class a sign of failure or success?

I see emotions as expressions of deeply held beliefs and our work of educators as getting in touch with this inner dimension in order to gain greater awareness. I can only do this work with emotions in class if I am able to explore and handle emotions myself. Exploring emotions during the adaptive change that deep learning is, I have found that the emotion of fear (e.g., fear of loss, fear of the unknown) has the greatest significance. Fear impairs our individual and collective capacity to learn by distracting us and diverting our energy into self-protection. We can deal with that fear head-on by encouraging our students and strengthening their motivational resilience. Dealing openly in the class to counter the idea that learning is only cognitive affair might be a start, as well as dealing with student’s expectations. Indeed students show up for a class with clear expectations:

They expect the work to be at a cognitive level as many individuals – emotionally intelligent in their personal lives – believe in the classroom they must be completely logical and remain emotionally unaffected by their experiences. This idea keeps students from discovering useful information and keeps them from crafting creative solutions.  They also expect the instructor will convey course content in a traditional way (often through a lecture consistent with their previous experiences).

As educators we can decide to keep the conversation at the “cognitive level”. But if we embrace learning as both cognitive and emotional we need to engage courageously with the following paradox:

  • If we meet learners’ expectations of a purely cognitive experience we do not serve them well especially in classes where the premise and purpose of the work is intentionally transformational and centered on personal growth.
  • If we disappoint learners’ expectations (and teach a kind of knowledge that is cognitive/emotional in nature and process) we may generate anxiety; and force our students to renegotiate the social contract with us as authority figures, a contract with which they are familiar and comfortable.

Expression of emotions are neither a sign of success nor a sign of failure, but I do know that classes where emotions are not expressed are more likely to be ineffective.

If we believe that experiential learning is more effective than lecturing because it mirrors more closely the real world, how do we develop acceptance of the feelings that arise during the learning process in both instructors and students?

While there may be no “right way” to manage this complex process as a facilitator, I have found from my personal experience that the following to be helpful:

  • Listening and speaking from the heart. Listening from the heart means understanding what others are feeling; speaking from the heart means expressing what I am feeling. This communicates the values at stake, the reasons that make it worthwhile for people to deal with their temporary discomfort and stay in the game. For example if I talk about something sad and feel the urge to cry, I do not end my class prematurely or walk out of the room: I allow myself to feel while also seeing my class through. By doing this, I let my students know that the situation is containable, that I can stay with the emotion and that they can, too.
  • Allowing for silence. Resisting the urge to fill the silence might be one of the most powerful ways to support students’ expression of their feelings. Marcia Reynolds, the author of “The Discomfort Zone” states “Silence is holding a space of care and trust as a person’s brain tries to make sense of what it is learning…You don’t want to interrupt when a person is processing a question you asked. Silence is more effective than trying to make someone feel better…If you quickly shift the person from feeling negative to positive, going away from the problem to what is possible…the person might feel ashamed for continuing to feel angry or frustrated during or after the conversation. His or her real needs remain unspoken.”
  • Asking myself “What person’s essential values/commitments has been so violated that it justifies these feelings?” I address this issue openly and encourage a sense of adventure and moderate risk-taking. I remind students that in their professional lives they will probably deal with issues that are confusing and unclear. I continue to issue several invitations that encourage the more controlled-minded individuals to “go with the flow, by “renting the ideas” rather than buying them to see where these ideas might lead them.
  • Being comfortable with conflict. I have no problem with a high range of emotions being expressed in the class. My belief is that the power of dialogue can get people far and that we are all better off when we learn with and from each other. Differences can become an exhilarating window into other worlds and ways of seeing the world.

In summary…

In summary, I hope you can see how the courage to be vulnerable and to embrace emotions in the class transforms the way we teach and the way we learn; and how important it is to model for our students the courage our cognitive as well as our emotional selves be seen. Vulnerability is the path if we want greater clarity in our purpose as leaders.

I have discovered that a learning process that allows for vulnerability both of instructor and students makes it easier to courageously seek our authentic purpose as teachers, learners and leaders.

We will do better in our work as educators when we decide that taking risks, braving uncertainty and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure are no longer weaknesses to be feared, rather crucial decisions that ultimately define the quality of our own learning journey, of our work and ultimately of who we are, for our students and especially for us.

For Further reading

  • Heifetz,R., Grashow,A., and Linsky,M., The Practice of Adaptive Leadership (HarvardBusinessPress,2009)
  • Nussbaum, M. “Upheaval of Emotions”
  • De Souza, Renner “Not Knowing”
  • Reynolds, M. “The Discomfort Zone”
  • Baldwin,C. ;Linnea,A. “The Circle Way. A leader in every chair”
  • De Mello, A. “Awareness”
  • Pianesi, A. “Journey to chaos and back: Unlearning in workplace training programs” The Systems Thinker
  • Web site: caseinpointmethod.com by Adriano Pianesi and Jill Hufnagel

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Adriano Pianesi is a leadership development consultant and principal of Leadersh1p.com. He teaches leadership experientially at the Carey Business School Johns Hopkins University, at the State Department, at the World Bank and at Microsoft. He has worked in the last 20 years in the private, nonprofit, government sector, and in international organizations. A passionate experiential educator, World Café host, and Adaptive Leadership enthusiast, Adriano can be reached at adriano@leadersh1p.com.

Image source: by Macie Hall remixed from “Man shadow – upper” by Mikael Häggström – File:Upper body front.png. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Man_shadow_-_upper.png#/media/File:Man_shadow_-_upper.png and Pixabay.com

Memrise: Making Memorization Fun

Memrise logoRote memorization as a learning strategy has fallen out of favor in recent years, for good reason. When students cram by memorizing facts for an exam, those memories are often fleeting. Long term memory is built differently. Yet a certain amount of memorization of facts is essential to the foundation of any discipline. There can be multiple layers to the need for these foundational facts in a course. In an introductory class, it is expected that students will learn these facts, but as an instructor you may not want to have them spend valuable class time to this end. At higher levels of course work, students may need to do remedial work to brush up on the facts or to learn from scratch on their own. How can you help students with learning the facts for your course?

Enter Memrise, “…an online learning community where one can learn almost anything in the world, entirely for free! Through just the right mix of science, fun and community, learning on Memrise is speedy, enjoyable and lasts.” Moreover, the Memrise app makes it easy for your students to learn on the go using their smartphones. [See: Apple App StoreGoogle Play Store]

Memrise offers existing courses in languages (including vocabulary, grammar, and culture), arts, literature, math, science, the natural word, history, geography, computers, engineering, law, health and medicine, business and finance, prepping for specific standardized tests, and more. If you don’t find a course that meets your requirements, you can create your own.

Memrise “…help[s] you form vivid, sensory memories. We test you continuously, always making sure to give your brain just the right workout. We remind you of what you’ve learned at scientifically optimized times so your memories are always growing stronger, and never forgotten.” Combining this with a gamification element makes the process fun. Students can use Memrise on their own, or there is also a group function that allows students to learn together, which can be created by an instructor or by students. “The group function is beneficial, because the students/group members can compete against each other on the Leaderboards. Also the members can see their overall score all together. This way the group creator/teacher can keep track of the members’ progress and learning easily.”

As a personal endorsement, back in August I tested Memrise by using a course to learn the Greek alphabet. I took two days to go through the process, then put it aside. Three months later, my retention is 100%. Results may vary, but it’s an app worth looking into when you need your students to do some memorizing.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Memrise logo

Where goes the Lecture?

Black and white image of universal sign figure at podium with a point, overlaid with red prohibited sign -- a circle with a slash through it.At Johns Hopkins there have recently been discussions among faculty and high-level administrators around the concept of “blowing up” the lecture. Nationally, we hear and read that the lecture is ripe to be “disrupted” and replaced by online, hybrid, or flipped course experiences. This is a debate that arouses strong feelings for and against the age-old pedagogical method. But what if you aren’t in a position to re-invent your lecture-based course? The three articles reviewed in today’s post offer some insights into best practices for working within the lecture format.

In How to Teach in an Age of Distraction [The Chronicle of Higher Education October 2, 2015], Sherry Turkle, Professor, Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, looks at the broader issue of reaching students immersed in their electronic devices. As almost all instructors today face this challenge, the article is well worth a read, whether or not lecturing is your mode of content delivery.

Turkle defends, with caveats, the lecture, citing anecdotal evidence from colleagues that with MOOCs and flipped classes, students often miss interacting face-to-face with an esteemed faculty member. “A student in an MIT class acknowledges that she gets to listen to the professor speak in an online video, but she wishes she could hear him lecture in person. He is an international figure and has a reputation for being charismatic. She feels she is missing out.” Turkel argues that watching course content videos alone in their dorm rooms isolates students and increases their connecting learning with using electronic devices. Further, she says,

But for all its flaws, the lecture has a lot going for it. It is a place where students come together, on good days and bad, and form a small community. As in any live performance, anything can happen. An audience is present; the room is engaged. What makes the greatest impression in a college education is learning how to think like someone else, appreciating an intellectual personality, and thinking about what it might mean to have one of your own. Students watch a professor thinking on her feet, and in the best cases can say: “Someday I could do that.” What the young man meant by showing up to “something alive” was really showing up to someone alive — a teacher, present and thinking in front of him.

As stated above, Turkel’s essay focuses primarily on the value of face-to-face conversation and collaboration, arguably not the primary components of most lecture-based courses. A well-designed flipped class would be more likely to foster these pedagogies. But, in Turkel’s defense, the flipped-class trend has not guaranteed that all flipped classes are better learning experiences for students than lectures.

In Turkel’s own classes, which are small seminars, students agreed to put away their devices and focus on the discussion at hand. It is not out of the question to ask that your students do the same in a lecture class. Helping students understand what they will gain by doing so may go a long way towards getting buy in. Turkel’s essay will help you make those points.

There are other reasons to eschew the old-fashioned sage-on-the-stage approach in favor of more interactive teaching practices. Annie Murphy Paul in Are College Lectures Unfair?, an opinion piece in The New York Times [September 12, 2015] asks if college lectures discriminate. Specifically, are lectures “… biased against undergraduates who are not white, male and affluent?”

Paul cites studies conducted by scholars at the University of Washington and the University of Texas at Austin that suggest that the lecture format puts women, minorities, low-income, and first-generation college students at a disadvantage. The studies showed that use of active learning strategies in the classroom reversed the effect. “Research comparing the two methods [lecture vs active learning] has consistently found that students over all perform better in active-learning courses than in traditional lecture courses. However, women, minorities, and low-income and first-generation students benefit more, on average, than white males from more affluent, educated families.”

Although Paul looks to flipped-format courses as the answer, there are many examples of ways in which to incorporate active learning into a lecture by using classroom polling systems (clickers), think-pair-share exercises (see more on this below), and other strategies. See Twenty Ways to Make Lectures More Participatory from Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning for more ideas.

Regardless of the content-delivery format, instructors should understand the value of creating an inclusive classroom climate and the importance of teaching to students with diverse backgrounds. The JHU TILE project (Toolkit for Inclusive Learning Environments) is a good place to go for resources. I highly recommend watching the video The Affective Domain: Classroom Climate.

The third article, What If You Have to Lecture?  by David Gooblar, Lecturer, Department of Rhetoric, University of Iowa [The Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae: Pedagogy Unbound, February 18, 2015] addresses the conundrum directly.  Gooblar offers three ideas to keep students engaged for those who “…simply don’t have the option of abandoning a lecture-dominated course.”

Gooblar’s first suggestion is to use regular quizzing. He cites an earlier article he wrote on the benefits of frequent low-stakes testing for student retention of information. He offers the suggestion of handing out a short multiple-choice quiz at the beginning of the class that students will answer as the lecture progresses. All of the questions will be covered in your lecture. The quizzes are collected and graded at the end of every class with each quiz counting as a small percentage of the final grade. An even better pedagogical approach, Gooblar proposes, would be to have students answer the questions at the beginning of the class before the lecture, then correcting their own answers during the lecture. This approach allows students to see what they don’t understand and helps them focus on learning those points.

Gooblar second idea is to incorporate group work, a common active-learning strategy, into your lectures by putting students in pairs. Pairs work best in large lecture settings as it is easy for students to turn to the person next to them, and every student is accountable. He describes the classic think-pair-share activity, but also suggests, “Pair students up and, at various points throughout the lecture, pause and ask the pairs to share and compare notes for the previous section of the lecture. This is a good way for students to discover if they’ve missed anything important, and for misconceptions to reveal themselves quickly.”

Thirdly, he recommends that you “cultivate confusion” by asking students either in the middle of the lecture or at the end to write down their “muddiest point.” If you do this in the middle of class you should then call on students and have them read their responses so that you can address concepts that are not clear.  If students are asked at the end of class, collecting the responses, reviewing them and then responding at the beginning of the next lecture to clarify misunderstandings will help keep them on track. Gooblar maintains that this “…is a great way to break students out of the role of passive listeners….” This kind of formative assessment is a good practice for an instructor as well.

Even if you must lecture, you can ask students to be present and reinforce that by keeping them actively engaged. They can’t be on their cell phones if they are being called upon to answer questions, take graded quizzes, and pair up to discuss concepts with classmates. Be aware of the inequities that lecturing may bring and address issues of classroom climate at the beginning of your course. Use formative assessment to benefit you and your students. As you can see, a lecture doesn’t have to be a passive experience.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Image remixed from Pixabay.com images

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.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay.com

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.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay.com

 

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 https://www.flickr.com/photos/torres21/3052366680/in/photostream/

Definitions

Recently, in discussion with some colleagues, confusion was expressed about the terms inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, case-based learning, and experiential learning. How are these alike and how are they different? Are there overlaps? What distinguishes one from another? I thought providing some short definitions of these terms, along with a few resources, might be useful to others seeking clarity.

Group of students working togetherInquiry-based learning (IBL) is a term used broadly to include pedagogical approaches that put the students at the center of the learning process, allowing them to undertake investigations by asking questions to solve problems. The University of North Carolina has published an annotated bibliography of resources on IBL.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is described by the Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education site, Problem-Based Learning at University of Delaware: “In a problem-based learning (PBL) model, students engage complex, challenging problems and collaboratively work toward their resolution. PBL is about students connecting disciplinary knowledge to real-world problems—the motivation to solve a problem becomes the motivation to learn.”

And in Why PBL?, “In a problem-based learning (PBL), students work together in small groups to solve real-world problems. PBL is an active and iterative process that engages students to identify what they know, and more importantly, what they don’t know. Their motivation to solve a problem becomes their motivation to find and apply knowledge. PBL can be combined with lecture to form a hybrid model of teaching, and it can be implemented in virtually all courses and subjects.”

A widely cited book by Maggi Savin-Baden, Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education: Untold Stories [McGraw-Hill International, 2000], provides an in-depth look at PBL. See an excerpt here.

The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University has a teaching guide on team-based learning. “Team-based learning (TBL) is a structured form of small-group learning that emphasizes student preparation out of class and application of knowledge in class. Students are organized strategically into diverse teams of 5-7 students that work together throughout the class.  Before each unit or module of the course, students prepare by reading prior to class.” The guide provides information on theory and structure, as well as a section called Where can I learn more?, which references the Team-Based Learning Collaborative as well as books and articles.

Case-based learning employs the use of discipline-specific, situational narratives as a launch pad for student learning. A case-based learning wiki from the Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia tells us that “[c]ase-based learning can cover a wide variety of instructional strategies, including but not limited to, role plays, simulations, debates, analysis and reflection, group projects and problem-solving. It provides a great deal of flexibility at the practical level.” The wiki not only describes the characteristics of case-based learning, but also discusses how to implement it – defining both the instructor’s and the students’ roles, offers some information about developing cases and designing learning activities, gives an overview of assessment, and provides references. See also The Innovative Instructor post Quick Tips: Using Case Studies.

The Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas Austin defines experiential learning as “any learning that supports students in applying their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world problems or situations where the instructor directs and facilitates learning.” These experiences can take place in a number of settings including classrooms, labs, studios, or through internships, fieldwork, community service, clinical or research projects. The UT Austin webpage on experiential learning discusses the importance of this method, how it works, what it looks like in practice, and describes the forms it can take. A list of reference is provided. See also: Learning by Doing – Case-in-Point, an Innovative Instructor blog post by Adriano Pianesi.

As this compendium demonstrates, these terms are interconnected.  Inquiry-based learning is an umbrella for the pedagogies described. Case-based learning and team-based learning may be used as strategies in implementing IBL or problem-based learning. Experiential learning allows students to engage in authentic experiences with an instructor or facilitator acting as a guide.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Making Infographics with Easel.ly

Back at the beginning of the year I wrote a post on Scalar (a multi-media authoring tool) that mentioned another application called Easel.ly. I’d first heard about Easel.ly from a colleague last fall and have been wanting to try it out ever since. This week, I got my chance and I am really excited about this application.

Creating an Easel.ly Infographic lists the three steps to creation 1) create an account. 2) select a vheme or blank canvas and drag and drop objects to it 3) share the completed infographic.Anita Say Chan and Harriett Green wrote about Easel.ly in an article published in the Educause Review, Practicing Collaborative Digital Pedagogy to Foster Digital Literacies in Humanities Classrooms (October 13, 2014). Their description captures the essence of the tool: 

Easel.ly is a free, easy-to-use web-hosted platform for creating infographics. Users can insert icons and shapes, change background and orientation, and rearrange the pre-inserted graphics in the pre-set template (called a “vheme”) to create their own vibrant infographics.

We chose this tool because its features let students rapidly build professional, visually captivating infographics in a user-friendly environment without requiring mastery of graphic imaging software (such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator).”

The term infographic has a broad meaning – a visual depiction of information – and the end results of an Easel.ly creation cover a wide range as can be seen from the hundreds of thousands of posted examples. Timelines, annotated maps, flowcharts, posters, public service announcements, instructional guides – if you are thinking in terms of a course assignment that will involve visualization or visual display of data/information – take a look at Easel.ly. Easel.ly also has a feature that allows you to create groups to work collaboratively. See creating groups: http://www.easel.ly/blog/easel-ly-groups-new-feature/. This would be a great way to allow students to work together on a course project.

It’s easy to create an account and start to work. The interface is simple and intuitive. You can start with a blank canvas, pick a template (vheme), or select from thousands of published examples to modify. From there it is a breeze to drag and drop from menus that include backgrounds, objects (images, icons, maps, flags), text boxes, shapes and arrows, and charts. All of these can be easily modified (size, orientation, font, color in some cases). You can also upload your own images, icons, maps, graphs, etc.

Once you have completed your work there are several ways to make it available to others. According to the Easel.ly blog post on sharing options:

Shareable Link: A shareable link allows a user to both See and Reuse your infographic – The only people that can see and reuse the infographic are people who you give the link to.

Embed Code: If you would rather embed your infographic within a blog post and not have to download and upload to your blog, then “Embed Code” is the way to go.

Group Share: Probably our coolest feature. This option allows you to share an infographic that you have created with everyone in your group (see here: Creating a Group) and allow them to reuse your infographic as a template for their work.

If you want more information on using Easel.ly, take a look at the blog. If you’d like more features, there is a paid version available for only $36.00 per year.

I opened a free account on Easel.ly and within an hour had tried out all of the features and created the infographic that accompanies this post. The About Us section of the Easel.ly website summed up my experience:

“…[I]n 2013 Easel.ly was honored to receive the Best Websites for Teaching and Learning Award from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). The AASL commended Easel.ly for being user friendly, intuitive, and simple enough that even a child in the 6th grade could successfully navigate the site and design their infographic without adult assistance.”

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Infographic created by Macie Hall on Easel.ly

 

 

 

Using Twitter in Your Course

The Innovative Instructor has written about using Facebook in the classroom, what about Twitter? What’s next? you might ask, Pinterest? Yes, even Pinterest seems to have inspired faculty to find uses for its boards in the classroom. Today, however, I want to make a case for using Twitter.

Twitter Logo Blue BirdWhat is Twitter? Wikipedia tells us that “Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called ‘tweets’. Registered users can read and post tweets, but unregistered users can only read them.” From celebrities to revolutionaries, the Twitterverse (aka the Twittersphere) is comprised of more than 500 million users; 271 million of these use Twitter actively. While many complain that the content is mostly inane babble, there are serious, even scholarly, conversations taking place on Twitter every day.

This example of an educational use comes from the CIRTL MOOC, An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching, now completed, but due to run again in the near future.  If you signed up for the MOOC, you may still be able to access the content. The Twitter example was presented in Week Five: Inclusive Teaching and Student Motivation.

Margaret Rubega, Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut with a PhD in ornithology, decided to use Twitter, appropriately enough, for her introductory ornithology course. Rubega describes the course as face-to-face with approximately 100 students each semester it is taught. There is no lab component, so she struggled to find ways to introduce active learning in what has been primarily a lecture format. Another issue is that most of the students have grown up watching nature programs on TV (or YouTube videos), which exposed them to the concept that animals and birds are exotic species that live in remote areas. To her incoming students, nature was something that takes place somewhere else.

Rebega wanted to get her students to appreciate the way that biology plays out in their world. That it is something that they could observe when they walked out of the classroom onto campus. She knew that telling them (in lecture form) did not equal an appreciation that comes from observation and experience. She wondered if she could get students to use their electronic devices in some way that would force them to look up and see what was happening around them.

Thus was born #birdclass. The # sign is called a hashtag and is used to identify a specific conversation within the cacophony of tweets. By using the hashtag, Rubega and her students could have a targeted discussion. You can search Twitter for #birdclass to see the class-related tweets. Rubega assigned her students to tweet once a week. Each tweet was to 1) identify where they were, 2) what bird-related phenomena they saw, and 3) how it connected to course content. If it had the required three components, the tweet was awarded three points. She put a cap on the total number of points she would award each student.

Rubega’s initial goal was to make students take the course content outside of the classroom and see that what was described in class actually occurs in their world. She looked at Twitter as a tool that would allow her and her students to gather their observations in a way that was immediate and easy to access. She was not thinking about the social implications.

As soon as the students started using Twitter (and Rubega was posting to encourage them and provide examples of her expectations), their interest in engaging in conversation with her and their peers became immediately apparent. She began retweeting (forwarding and promoting in Twitter parlance) their best tweets to a larger audience interested in ornithology and thus facilitating a broader conversation outside of the class. This provided feedback from others in the field. The social aspect created instructional value that Rubega had not anticipated.

The second year she taught the course using Twitter, she traveled to Belize during spring break. She had not mentioned this trip to her students. While in Belize she began posting a list of birds she seen and asked if her students could identify where she was. Even though it was spring break and she had no expectation that any of her students would be monitoring their Twitter feeds, several student responded immediately. In a series of tweets, they worked on figuring out her location by looking at bird range and distribution charts. Rubega described being “blown away” by this experience. Further, when she returned to class, she gave the winning (first to correctly guess her location) student a token souvenir as a prize. This young women commented that she had learned more about geography in doing research during this tweet exchange than she had in high school.

Rubega maintains that Twitter works for her students because it allows self-directed, real-life discovery of the world around them. Their observations bring affirmation of what they have heard in class. The reward comes via interaction with their peers and a larger community of ornithologists, as well as acknowledgement of their tweets with the point system. By the end of the course, the students are using their knowledge to teach others in the Twitter ornithology community – by correcting and commenting on others’ identifications and observations, for example.

In thinking about the kind of learning that students achieve in the tweeting assignment, many of their tweets involved application and analysis (Bloom’s Taxonomy). This represents a higher level than might normally be associated with a straight lecture format – typically, transfer of knowledge and comprehension by the students.

You can see Margaret Rubega’s tweets at https://twitter.com/profrubega. Besides teaching at the University of Connecticut, she is also Connecticut’s state ornithologist.

If you are interested in using social network applications, such as Twitter, in your classroom, there are several articles by Derek Bruff, director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and a senior lecturer in the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics, that will be informative. In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, A Social Network Can Be a Learning Network (November 6, 2011), Bruff references the concept of “social pedagogies,” a term coined by Randall Bass and Heidi Elmendorf, of Georgetown University. “They define these as “design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with what we might call an ‘authentic audience’ (other than the teacher), where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course.” Leveraging student interests through social bookmarking, a CIRTL Network blog post from August 22, 2012, describes Bruff’s experiences using social bookmarking in two classes he has taught. And his students’ preferences for social bookmarking tools are discussed in a post, Diigo Versus Pinterest: The Student Perspective (May 31, 2012), on Bruff’s Agile Learning blog.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Twitter blue logo https://about.twitter.com/press/brand-assets

Writing to Learn

I’ve been touting the CIRTL (Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning) MOOC, An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching, for several weeks now. The course is coming to an end, but I am mining the materials for content to summarize here at The Innovative Instructor in case you missed it.

Students doing group workLast week the unit on Writing to Learn was particularly compelling. Janet L. Littrell, Ed.D, the Director of Distance Learning and Associate Director of the Engineering Education Research Center at the Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, taught the module. The material presented below is taken from the three videos Littrell produced.

The concept of writing to learn has been around since the 1970s, but has gained traction again more recently. The concept is to view writing as part of the learning process, not solely for the purpose of communicating information, but also as a reflective practice to increase student understanding, enhance learning, and provide instructors with feedback.

How does writing to learn differ from other writing students are asked to do as part of their coursework? Traditional writing assignments usually are done outside of class, are complete when turned in, are graded and returned to the students, and have the purpose of documenting students’ knowledge and comprehension.

Writing to learn assignments are often assigned and completed in class, are short, open-ended, may or may not be turned in, typically are not graded, and have the purpose of helping students think for themselves. Engagement is the goal, errors are ok. The idea is that students are encouraged to explore, question, develop their ideas, and/or reflect on their experiences. A writing to learn assignment is often a jumping-off point; it marks a beginning of a thought process rather than an end product. This type of writing is often referred to as low-stakes writing.

The goal of low stakes writing is to turn students into active learners, to help them find their own voices, and to focus on thoughts and ideas rather than on a formal writing structure. Have your students do smaller, more frequent writing assignments that are not graded. For example, have students keep a journal or learning log to document their ideas, thoughts, reactions, and to comment on class discussions, labs, readings and other assignments. At the beginning of class give students 5 minutes to free-write on a specified topic as a way of helping them gather their thoughts for a discussion. Take a minute or two at the end of class for students to write questions or comments they have on the day’s lecture or discussion. Or, if you sense that students may not be understanding what you are teaching, you can ask for mid-lecture feedback. Although writing to learn assignments are not usually graded, in these last two cases, where the responses provide formative assessment, the instructor should collect and read through them. In other cases, there might be a check plus/check minus system for completion of a writing assignment, with points that accumulate for credit over the course of the semester. You might also consider peer review for a writing to learn assignment.

Using low stakes writing or writing to learn assignments in your classes does not preclude having students write in more traditional ways. You should consider your learning objectives and assign writing accordingly. Consider, however, that the more students write, the better writers they will become. Low stakes writing helps them to understand that putting their thoughts on paper is part of a larger scholarly process involving inquiry, analysis, and critical thinking.

For more on writing to learn see these resources and examples:

You can also Google “writing to learn” for more on the subject.

Finally, hot off the press is a report on a multi-year research study of 2,101 writing assignments across 100 higher ed institutions undertaken by Dan Melzer, Associate Professor of English at California State University at Sacramento: Assignments across the Curriculum: A National Study of College Writing, University Press of Colorado, 2014. This is worth taking a look at as you think about what it means to write in specific disciplines and why you might want to integrate writing to learn into your courses.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art