Lunch and Learn: Alternatives to the Research Paper

Logo for Lunch and Learn program showing the words Lunch and Learn in orange with a fork above and a pen below the lettering. Faculty Conversations on Teaching at the bottom.On Friday, April 1, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted the fifth Lunch and Learn—Faculty Conversations on Teaching, the final event in the program for this academic year. Bill Leslie, Professor, History of Science, and Adam Sheingate, Associate Professor and Chair, Political Science, presented on Alternatives to the Research Paper.

Bill Leslie, who has been at Hopkins since 1981, teaches a number of different undergraduate and graduate courses. He has long been a proponent of finding alternate methods for students to present the results of their research. He pointed out that the key components for traditional humanities courses are to have students working with primary and secondary resources, analyzing their findings, thinking critically about the meaning, and using succinct, precise writing to convey the results. While a research paper is a long-established format for output of this work, there are many other ways for students to learn and practice these key skills.

Leslie mentioned specifically his course taught some years ago, “Monuments and Memory,” a study of the great monuments of Western culture, where as a final assignment, students created either real or virtual models of an imagined monument. Another example cited was “Science on Display,” a history of popular science examined through the study of exhibits in museums, botanical gardens, and science centers. In this course students created their own museums on a subject of interest to them and designed an exhibit that would be found in that museum.  The course used a web-based application developed by the Center for Educational Resources (CER) called the Interactive Map Tool, where the students could easily create web pages to showcase their museum exhibits. A new version of the Map Tool, called Reveal, has been used by Leslie more recently for student assignments in the course “Science and the City,” co-taught with Robert Kargon and Joris Mercelis, both faculty in the History of Science department.

Screenshot from Google Site for the course project “Johns Hopkins: An Idea of a University,” Home Page with Google Map.Currently Leslie is writing a history of Johns Hopkins University, a subject that brings together many of his scholarly interests. As part of this work he has offered a series of courses for undergraduates that draw from his research. For one course he had students write new or edit existing Wikipedia entries pertaining to Johns Hopkins [see: Wikipedia editing tutorial for a guide]. Students learned about responsible research, editing, and engaged in dialog with other Wikipedia editors. The history function of the wiki allowed Leslie to see exactly what changes the students had made and when. This proved to be of value in grading the students on their work.

ThisScreenshot from Google Site for the course project “Johns Hopkins: An Idea of a University,” showing page on the Abel Wolman House. spring Leslie is offering a course called “Johns Hopkins: An Idea of a University.” With a small grant from the CER, Leslie is looking to teach narrative and visualization skills to his students; specifically, students are learning to build a narrative using images depicting the spaces that make up Johns Hopkins: laboratories, classrooms, campus spaces. The students started by learning how to read a single image and moved towards selecting a sequence of images to form a story. He has been working with CER staff to have the students combine Google Sites, Maps, and Drive to display the students’ research projects.

Sheingate assigns his students (class of 20) to groups of four. The students are introduced to the concepts of field observation, interviewing skills, and data collection in the classroom. He works with students to identify an appropriate place in Baltimore City for investigation of the food system—an urban farm, local grocery, soup kitchen, or farmers’ market. Student groups are expected to make several visits to their chosen site. Groups use Google Docs to facilitate their data collection, which also allows Sheingate to monitor their progress.

Sheingate uses Blackboard’s discussion board and has the students write reactions to the weekly reading assignments; this record becomes a collective resource for the class to draw on. Further, he breaks down the final project, which includes a group oral presentation and an individual paper, into assignments that are spread out through the semester. This prevents procrastination. He provides very specific guidelines for the oral presentations including elements that must be included such as data visualizations.

As the final component, each student submits an individual paper written in response to a precise prompt. The paper is based on the group’s work, but relies on the individual’s experience. This makes it less likely that students will be able to cheat or plagiarize. Sheingate provides students with guidelines for what is expected.

He also teaches a larger lecture course on rotation. He has the students in that course complete several small written assignments during the semester based on analyzing primary documents.

Sheingate pointed out that students coming into university today may not be as well-prepared as previously to write a long-form research paper. There are fewer college-level courses where they may be required to write. It’s important to think about how to teach our students to write in ways that will be helpful to their future careers. There are different kinds of writing that can be useful for students to practice, including op-ed pieces, briefs, and scholarly articles. Bringing in a writing coach/teacher to help students in a writing-intensive class might be useful. He emphasized the value of giving students a rubric for a writing assignment that can be returned to them with the graded work. This can act as a diagnostic tool if used early in the semester.

When a research paper is assigned, it is helpful to scaffold assignments to be due over the course of the semester—breaking them down into components (working with primary and secondary sources, preparing an annotated bibliography, writing an abstract) will help students focus on developing specific writing skills with feedback at each step.

In the discussion that followed the presentations, faculty suggested blogging, creating posters, and oral presentations as research paper alternatives they have used successfully.

*********************************************************************************************************

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image sources: Lunch and Learn logo by Reid Sczerba, Center for Educational Resources. Other images are screenshots of Bill Leslie’s students’ work in the course “Johns Hopkins: An Idea of a University.”

 

 

How Do You Get Your Students to Do the Assigned Reading?

Female with glasses reading a textbook.Recently I had a discussion with faculty about reading assignments. The perennial problem? Faculty assign but students don’t read. The faculty I work with aren’t the only ones facing this problem. David Gooblar, They Haven’t Done the Reading. Again. [The Chronicle of Higher Education, Vitae, Pedagogy Unbound, September 24, 2014], starts off by citing research showing that on a given day in class 70% of the students will not have done the assigned reading. He dismisses the use of quizzes as punitive and time-consuming. What to do instead?

Gooblar suggests starting by making sure that the assigned reading is really necessary. Students prioritize their work and won’t bother with the reading if they feel it is not essential. Make sure that your required reading aligns with course objectives and can be completed in a reasonable amount of time. Show students that the reading is, indeed, necessary. At the end of class preview the upcoming reading assignment, explain how it fits into the material to be covered in the next class, and give the students some questions to consider as they do the reading.

Handouts created for the students can be useful, Gooblar writes. These can be specific to each reading assignment or more general to be used for all the readings. Questions posed in handouts help prepare students for in-class discussion. End by asking “What one question would you like me to answer in class about the reading?”  Instead of a quiz, create a questionnaire to gauge problems students are having with the reading. “By asking questions that point to the use you’ll make of the reading, you’ll underline the fact that the reading is indeed integral to the course. You’ll also provide yourself with useful information to guide your lecture or class discussion.” These questionnaires can be used to monitor students’ completion of the reading.

Finally, Gooblar advises making use of the information from the reading assignments in class without repeating it in detail. Why should students spend their time reading if you are going to tell them what they need to know? You want the reading to serve as a foundation for in-class discussion or use lecture time to build on the ideas presented in the reading.

A special report from Faculty Focus on Teaching offers 11 Strategies for Getting Students to Read What’s Assigned [Magna Publications, July 2010]. I’ve summarized the main point(s) of each one after the title, but the articles are all short, so it won’t take long to review the full report.

  • Enhancing Students’ Readiness to Learn: Being explicit with your students about expectations [concerning the reading assignments] and assessing their preparedness improves motivation and learning outcomes
  • What Textbook Reading Teaches Students: Make sure your students understand why you are assigning textbook readings and how it relates to other course content. Don’t repeat the exact information in class and thus make it easy for students to skip the reading.
  • Getting Students to Read: Design your course so that students must do the reading to do well. Create assignments that require more than passive reading, structuring these so that students must engage with and respond to the reading.
  • Helping Students Use Their Textbooks More Effectively: Suggestions in this article include giving explicit requirements, introducing the text in class, and offering students effective textbook study practices.
  • Still More on Developing Reading Skills: Quizzing is not an effective motivator for students to complete reading assignments and may encourage surface reading. Assignments, such as reading responses, that structure reading for the students work better.
  • Text Highlighting: Helping Students Understand What They Read: Have students bring highlighted/annotated/underlined texts to class and share their reasons for the markup. “In this way, the types of thinking that accompanies purposeful, active reading become more apparent.”
  • When Students Don’t Do the Reading: Students won’t read if they know that the material will be closely reviewed during lecture. Let students know that the reading is necessary background that will be referenced and built on.
  • Pre-Reading Strategies: Connecting Expert Understanding and Novice Learning: Examples of scaffolding or structuring the reading experience for students, especially underclassmen, by building a framework for topics, giving them reading strategies, making connections to the course content, identifying roadblocks to understanding, and uncovering the structure of the argument presented.
  • The Use of Reading Lists: The article looks at a British study on how students can be motivated to read outside of required texts for a course. The answer lies in taking time to develop student reading skills and raising interesting, challenging questions whose answers are to be found in the readings.
  • The Student-Accessible Reading List: Structured and discussion-specific lists (of non-required texts) with a limited number of readings are more accessible to students. Annotations direct students to readings that will be useful to them.
  • How to Get Your Students to Read What’s Assigned: The final article provides a nice summary of ideas. Introduce the textbook and encourage use of supplemental materials the textbook provides, identify discipline-specific terminology, have students mark-up readings, structure the reading by providing questions to be answered ahead of class, use the textbook in class to emphasize its importance, teach students to ask questions about the reading, link the reading to exams, and identify and work with students who need help with reading.

Faculty I talked with pointed out that students coming into colleges and universities today may be less prepared to take on reading assignments than in the past. In high schools today many students are being taught to the test and may be associating reading with learning facts, which often means reading on the surface without understanding the big picture. If you teach a course that relies heavily on reading assignments, consider taking time at the beginning of the semester to provide some in-class training on the best practices and strategies that your students should adopt. Have the students scan a text, skimming the abstract or first paragraphs and conclusion, noting the section headings, illustrations and or graphics. Based on this preview, have them frame several questions that they have about the content, before they do a thorough reading. Discuss the value of taking notes and what those notes should cover. Ask them what they highlight when they read and why. Remind your students that they should be bringing questions to class about their reading assignments.

If you have a solution that you’ve used to encourage students to do the reading, please share it with us in the comments.

*********************************************************************************************************

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Pixabay.com

 

Using a Course Blog as a Class Ice-Breaker

In the fall of 2014 I taught a course, Stuff of Dreams: How Advances in Materials Science Shape the World, in the newly created Whiting School of Engineering’s Hopkins Engineering Applications & Research Tutorials (HEART) program. The program introduces undergraduates to engineering research in specific disciplines in a small class taught by advanced graduate students or postdoctoral fellows. The classes meet once a week for two hours for six weeks. The challenge of teaching these one credit, pass/fail courses with no requirement of the students beyond class attendance, is getting the students engaged.

Image showing the word Blogs dropping onto a sheet of cracked ice.The students in my class were freshman, sophomores, and one junior. Not all were engineers, there was one from the School of Public Health. The students had a mix of backgrounds, interests, ambitions. With a two hour class session, I did not want to lecture; I wanted the classes to be discussion based. With no requirements to do assignments, I had to rely on intrinsic motivation to get students to do reading outside of class and participate in discussion.  My first priority was getting them engaged by relating materials science to their interests. I thought I could use a blog to determine what they wanted to learn.

In general, blogging can be an effective way for students to respond to course readings or to work collaboratively in groups. Blogs can also be used to improve students’ writing along with developing their critical and analytical thinking skills. In this case, I used blogs as a way to get to know my students and their interests, specifically as those intersect with materials science.

Materials science is a very broad field. My research uses computational methods based on quantum chemistry not likely to be accessible to beginning students. Before the course started I polled the students using a Google survey to determine which social media platform they would be willing to use. Facebook and Twitter were among the choices that students rejected. I decided to use a blog based on their responses. There are a number of options for blogging platforms, including Blackboard, which offers both course and individual blogs. I used Blackboard for other course materials, but the blog tool didn’t have some features I wanted, including making the blog available to the public, so that it would stand as a record and could be referred to after the course ended. WordPress is a free, easy-to-use option.

I introduced the blog in the first class session, asking the students to spend up to an hour outside of class to pick an area of interest, then research and post two links to resources on their topic on the blog. The students were then asked to do enough background reading on their topic to give a five minute presentation in class at what I called a Wikipedia level. When the students presented in the second class, I used the links they had provided to teach them how to think critically about information on the web. There was a wide range of content collected, everything from Buzzfeed lists to high-level research articles in scholarly journals. I asked the class how they could evaluate the materials. What claims were being made? Were sources cited? Were those sources credible? It was a good way to educate the students on evaluating content for research purposes, something they need to know as they move forward in their education. In this course, I didn’t ask the students to go through the exercise a second time to find better or more appropriate materials, but in a more traditional course, this could be a two-part exercise.

For the second blog assignment, the students were asked to go through the posts made by their peers, read some of the articles, and comment on them. This helped the students get to know each other and to see where their interests in materials science aligned. They engaged by commenting on each other’s posts. Because the students were determining the topics for discussion in these first couple of weeks, it meant that I was teaching on my feet to some extent. If I didn’t know the answer to a question, I would have the students do just-in-time research, using their laptops or other mobile devices right there in class to figure it out.

The blog worked very well as an icebreaker, getting students interested in the course content and engaged in discussions. Student interaction outside of class was another challenge for me, with the course running only six weeks. The blog provided a way for students to continue their work outside of class in a collaborative way. As researchers and instructors our work doesn’t stop at 5:00 PM, neither should class discussion be confined to the time students spend in the classroom. When students are reading they can immediately post what they are thinking, and their peers can respond with comments. This was the case even with the limited use of blogging in my HEART class, but could be even more effective if used throughout a traditional course. I certainly will use a course blog in the future, and have students write more extensively, perhaps in response to assigned readings. I like the idea of having them do peer review of classmates’ posts. Students seem take pride in their writing, especially when it is open to the public and judged by their peers.

Being able to give formative feedback to students for the first assignment was a valuable teaching strategy. I think the students benefited from gaining an understanding of how to evaluate content on the web.

From my perspective there were no disadvantages to using a blog. WordPress was easy to set up and the students found it intuitive to use. That said, there is a need to think about how you set up the WordPress or other blog instance. It is important to organize the pages so that students are clear on where to post each assignment. You will also want to consider what aspects of the blog to make public if that is applicable. As the site administrator you can make these choices. On my blog only the assignments, posts, and my comments are visible to the public; to view and post comments, users have to be registered. This prevents spam comments, which can be a problem. The blog can be seen at https://h2stuffofdreams.wordpress.com/.

*********************************************************************************************************

Anindya Roy,
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, JHU

Anindya Roy received his Ph.D. in 2011 from Rutgers University. As a computational physicist, Roy’s primary research focus is on understanding materials important for energy harvesting, storage and management, using calculations based on quantum chemistry. Besides materials research, he is interested in teaching at the undergraduate level, and understanding the pedagogical aspects of physics and engineering education.

Note: This post has appeared previously in our Innovative Instructor print series: and in interview form in the Center for Educational Resources February 2016 edition of Research & Teaching Tools.

Image source: CC Reid Sczerba, Center for Educational Resources

Art History Teaching Resources: Not Just for Art Historians

Screenshot from Art History Teaching Resources website.The first week in February, I attended the annual College Art Association conference in Washington, DC and co-chaired a panel titled Rethinking Online Pedagogies for Art History. In an era where higher education teaching and learning are being re-examined, and our institutions are pushing faculty to adopt innovative instructional practices, instructors may find themselves at a loss. It’s great to hear about online teaching, flipped classrooms, exciting apps that will engage students, but how exactly does one go about implementing these new strategies? Our approach for the panel was to showcase ideas and tools for teaching art history by having the speakers introduce innovative approaches, with a focus on key takeaways that could be adapted to an individual’s teaching practices. The topics included using peer assessment, student authorship of course content, gaming, e-portfolios, using Omeka, Neatline, and Voicethread, building an app and a website for an onsite course, and a presentation from Art History Teaching Resources, AHTR.

The great thing about AHTR is that it is a resource that has value for art historians, instructors in other humanities disciplines and beyond.  Some of the content is general, for example, the Library of Pedagogy has descriptions of texts that will be applicable to those teaching in any humanities discipline, as well as general books on teaching practices. A section on Syllabi/Assignments/Rubrics includes models, templates, and advice that can be easily adapted to other subjects.

Scan the blog posts in the ATRH Weekly. Posts on Slow Teaching, Field Notes from an Experiment in Student-Centered Pedagogy, and Pedagogy through Observation caught my eye as being broad-based in their application. And finally, if you are interested in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) or want to know more about it, check out What is SoTL?, an article that will be informative whether you are in the humanities, social sciences, or STEM disciplines.

*********************************************************************************************************

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Screenshot from Art History Teaching Resources: http://arthistoryteachingresources.org/

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

*********************************************************************************************************

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.

*********************************************************************************************************

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Memrise logo

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

Image Source: Pixabay.com

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 (https://www.coursera.org/)
  • 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

Image Source: Screen shot https://www.coursera.org/course/stemteaching

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

Image Source: Pixabay.com

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

Image Source: Pixabay.com