Quick Tips: Formative Assessment Strategies

Designing effective assessments is a critical part of the teaching and learning process. Instructors use assessments, ideally aligned with learning objectives, to measure student achievement and determine whether or not they are meeting the objectives. Assessments can also inform instructors if they should consider making changes to their instructional method or delivery.

Assessments are generally categorized as either summative or formative. Summative assessments, usually graded, are used to measure student comprehension of material at the end of an instructional unit. They are often cumulative, providing a means for instructors to see how well students are meeting certain standards. Instructors are largely familiar with summative assessments. Examples include:

  • Final exam at the end of the semester
  • Term paper due mid-semester
  • Final project at the end of a course

In contrast, formative assessments provide ongoing feedback to students in order to help identify gaps in their learning. They are lower stakes than summative assessments and often ungraded. Additionally, formative assessments help instructors determine the effectiveness of their teaching; instructors can then use this information to make adjustments to their instructional approach which may lead to improved student success (Boston). As discussed in a previous Innovative Instructor post about the value of formative assessments, when instructors provide formative feedback to students, they give students the tools to assess their own progress toward learning goals (Wilson). This empowers students to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and may help motivate them to improve their academic performance.

Examples of formative assessment strategies:

  • Surveys – Surveys can be given at the beginning, middle, and/or end of the semester.
  • Minute papers – Very short, in-class writing activity in which students summarize the main ideas of a lecture or class activity, usually at the end of class.
  • Polling – Students respond as a group to questions posed by the instructor using technology such as iclickers, software such as Poll Everywhere, or simply raising their hands.
  • Exit tickets – At the end of class, students respond to a short prompt given by the instructor usually having to do with that day’s lesson, such as, “What readings were most helpful to you in preparing for today’s lesson?”
  • Muddiest point – Students write down what they think was the most confusing or difficult part of a lesson.
  • Concept map – Students create a diagram of how concepts relate to each other.
  • First draft – Students submit a first draft of a paper, assignment, etc. and receive targeted feedback before submitting a final draft.
  • Student self-evaluation/reflection
  • Low/no-grade quizzes

Formative assessments do not have to take a lot of time to administer. They can be spontaneous, such as having an in-class question and answer session which provides results in real time, or they can be planned, such as giving a short, ungraded quiz used as a knowledge check. In either case, the goal is the same: to monitor student learning and guide instructors in future decision making regarding their instruction. Following best practices, instructors should strive to use a variety of both formative and summative assessments in order to meet the needs of all students.

References:

Boston, C. (2002). The Concept of Formative Assessment. College Park, MD: ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED470206).

Wilson, S. (February 13, 2014). The Characteristics of High-Quality Formative Assessments. The Innovative Instructor Blog. http://ii.library.jhu.edu/2014/02/13/the-characteristics-of-high-quality-formative-assessments/

Amy Brusini
Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay

Lunch and Learn: Accommodating Students with Disabilities

On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted the second Lunch and Learn for the 2019-2020 academic year: Accommodating Students with Disabilities.  This was a brainstorming session for faculty to share issues they’ve faced as well as ask questions about the accommodations process. Terri Massie-Burrell, Director of Student Disability Services at Homewood, and Cathie Axe, Executive Director for university-wide Student Disability Services facilitated.  The conversation was moderated by Alison Papadakis, Associate Teaching Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences.

Terri Massie-Burrell began the dialogue by giving an overview of the accommodations process.  She described how Student Disability Services (SDS) collaborates with campus partners to create an inclusive community for students with disabilities by proactively removing barriers, raising awareness of equitable practices, and fostering an appreciation of disability as an area of diversity. A step-by-step referral process for faculty is outlined on the SDS website. Massie-Burrell strongly encouraged any faculty that have questions about the process to contact her office. She also noted that accommodations are not retroactive; it is imperative that students contact SDS as early as possible to secure any accommodations they may need.

Massie-Burrell communicated that students may feel a stigma when registering with SDS. She said it is important to let students know we are all advocates for them and will protect their privacy. Sometimes faculty and students aren’t always satisfied with accommodations. SDS will do its best to resolve concerns and will meet students where they are with their disability.  Another point made is that it’s not the faculty’s responsibility to determine if students need an accommodation; the faculty’s role is to recommend students contact SDS and they will take it from there.

The discussion continued with questions and answers from the audience and facilitators, which are summarized below:

Q – What strategies have people used to initiate a conversation with students who may need accommodations?

Regarding students using equipment, one faculty member shared an example of how she attempts to normalize the situation by acknowledging that some people have difficulty with equipment and then lists possible solutions that may help. “Here’s how to deal with that…let’s talk about what’s best for you.” She feels this helps maintain student anonymity, so they are not singled out.

A faculty member who teaches freshmen remarked that her students are still developing and evolving academically and may not realize that they need assistance. She finds it helpful to contact the student’s advisor and the advisor then contacts SDS.

Other faculty members shared how they meet with students one on one to find out ways they can best help students keep up with the expectations of the course. They suggest SDS if necessary.

Q: Do accommodations last until a student graduates?

Massie-Burrell said that is possible, but they will review students’ needs each semester or each year to make any necessary adjustments.

Q: Do SDS staff come into spaces and make recommendations for improvement?

Cathie Axe responded that this is part of her role; she has been to several JHU campuses with facilities staff this past year in order to make suggestions during space renovations.  She said she would be happy to consult about making spaces more inclusive. They are currently taking a closer look at the pathways around the JHU campuses to identify and address gaps. She acknowledged the importance of accessible space when it comes to enhancing teaching.

Q: What types of things are you doing in your classes to reduce barriers?

Faculty members shared some strategies they are using: survey students before the semester begins, email all students individually to find out what their needs are, go through the syllabus with anyone with a disability, allow some flexibility with attendance and course deadlines, and reach out to students after the first exam/assessment to check in and listen to feedback. One faculty member suggested participating in ‘Safe Zone’ training, saying it’s another way of showing support for students, even though it’s not related to Disability Services.

Additionally, members of the CER staff mentioned the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an approach to teaching that removes barriers from the start by creating a flexible learning environment in order to meet the diverse needs of all learners.  Research behind this approach was done by the Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST). A Hopkins Universal Design for Learning (HUDL) initiative was recently started by the provost’s office; each Hopkins division has its own HUDL ambassador who will assist faculty with implementing UDL strategies in their classrooms and answer any questions related to UDL.

Q: A recurring challenge for me is that many disabilities are invisible. How can I address those students proactively?

Axe recommended that faculty tell students who they can contact if something isn’t going as well as they expect. She also suggested including syllabus statements, using broad invitations, and preparing TAs, since they have a great deal of contact with students.

Q: Is there a process for what should be shared with TAs?

Axe replied that it is difficult to standardize this process because it’s not always appropriate to share disabilities with TAs. Yet, in other situations it is necessary.  She indicated that SDS is in the process of putting information together about this topic for faculty. In the meantime, these situations are currently being handled on a case by case basis.

The discussion wrapped up with some general comments from faculty:

One faculty member has observed that students often feel like there is a tradeoff between taking an exam at SDS with their accommodations (e.g., reduced distraction, extra time) vs. being in the classroom where they can ask questions and hear any additional instructions or clarifications provided to the rest of the class. She reminded faculty members to be sure to communicate with SDS any errors or corrections to the exam that are communicated to the class. Additionally, if a TA is present, she suggested giving SDS the TA’s cell phone number so the TA can triage any calls from SDS while the instructor manages the exam room.

Another faculty member suggested that the accommodations process seems focused on undergraduates, potentially excluding faculty or graduate students with disabilities. Axe replied that the SDS office supports graduate students. The Office of Institutional Equity supports faculty with disabilities. They would be happy to provide more guidance on an individual basis if needed.

Several faculty members mentioned the need for training and inquired about packaging all of the information shared by SDS into a program that could serve as a training for everyone. Axe replied that SDS is in the process of developing additional faculty resources which will be shared with all departments.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Lunch and Learn Logo

Enhancing Classroom Communication Through Slack

A few months ago, I posted about Slack, and some ideas for how it could be used in the classroom. In the article, I mentioned that JHU Professor Jennifer Bernstein regularly uses Slack to communicate with students in her classes. Since that time, we followed up with Professor Bernstein to find out more about her experience.

The following is a guest post by Jennifer Bernstein, Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education, Whiting School of Engineering, Johns Hopkins University.

The culture of the medical profession is continually evolving; issues ranging from the cost of health care to demographic changes are just some of the factors influencing the culture surrounding medical professionals in the United States. As an instructor in this field, it is imperative to keep things as current for students as possible. In my class, Culture of the Medical Profession, I am constantly integrating new content from the news, twitter feeds, Instagram, and other sources. When newsworthy items arise, which is multiple times per week, I need to be able to notify students about these developments quickly and efficiently. I also want to spark conversation among the students about these developments as they happen. In Blackboard, where much of my course content resides, the synchronous communication tools available do not offer me an effective solution to keeping students informed and up-to-date; I find posting new content in Blackboard cumbersome and time-consuming, and the chat areas offer little interest when compared with commonly used platforms like Twitter.

Most of the students in my Culture of the Medical Profession class are in the pre-professional program and are planning to go on to medical school, dental school, or some other clinical training program. One of the course goals is for students to explore challenges faced by health professionals on a daily basis and why they are relevant for students considering a life in medicine; following the ongoing conversations about these challenges provides students with an awareness of what issues they may face once they commit to the field. Another goal is to provide students with a platform to communicate their own thoughts and ideas about these issues with me and with each other. In addition to the benefits of being exposed to various perspectives on each of the issues, this exercise helps students learn to clearly convey their ideas and findings to various professional audiences. I need a tool that will accommodate both of these goals: a way to immediately share relevant current events and enable students to effectively communicate about them.

About three years ago, I discovered Slack, an online communication tool used for project management and information sharing. I was on a joint JHU-MIT research team that was using it and soon came to realize how easy it was to synchronously and asynchronously communicate and share resources with other members of the group. In particular, we had fun sharing relevant news items, commenting on those items, or leaving emojis when we were short on time. Slack seemed like a natural fit for my class so I decided to give it a try.

I created a workspace in Slack for my class, which was separate from my research workspace. Slack workspaces are organized into ‘channels’ which are similar to chat rooms dedicated to specific topics. In my case, I created a channel for each topic on my syllabus. The names of channels are preceded by hash tags (e.g., #mededucation, #costsofcare, etc.). Once the Slack space was set up, I walked students through the mechanics of using it. Many of them had used it before and/or currently had their own accounts because they work in research labs and other academic environments that commonly utilize Slack, so they caught on quickly.

I let students know at the beginning of the term that their participation in Slack would count towards their overall participation grade. Two to three times each week I posted articles, tweets, etc. and provided brief commentary on the relevance. I posted not only in whatever channel/topic we were currently studying but also across the other hashtags. Students almost immediately responded with their own articles, reactions, links, etc. Sometimes the online discussions were so lively that they continued into our next face-to-face class meeting. Students also realized they could have conversations with individuals, separate from the group, so there were often several side conversations going on at the same time.

Since using Slack, the level of engagement in online class discussions has been consistently high. Students post to channels on their own, unprompted. Many of the issues covered in class are controversial and not always easy to talk about face to face. Slack provides a safe space to discuss and consider various perspectives of these issues; I’ve noticed that it also gives the quieter students an outlet to participate more confidently.

Community building has also been enhanced by using Slack. In general, I structure my classes so that about half of the time is lecture-based and the other half is some sort of group activity. Because of their frequent interactions on Slack, students now get to know one another beyond the small groups they are assigned to during class. Out of class, they slack each other relevant articles, links, etc. pertaining to whatever project they’re working on.

Feedback from previous students about Slack has been very positive; because of the continuous, up-to-date exposure to various issues in the medical field and the opportunity to communicate about them, students report feeling much more confident and prepared for medical school interviews. According to students, interviewers have been very impressed with their knowledge, passion, and level of commitment.

A few of my previous students, now currently in their gap year or training, continue to participate in the course’s Slack space because they want to keep up with current issues. This has been extremely beneficial to myself and my current students.  As an instructor, it allows me to check in with them to see if there are any changes I should consider making to the course. For current students, it’s a connection to someone in the field, with an authentic perspective.

On the administrative side of things, Slack has definitely saved me time and frustration. It’s a snap to add/update links and notify students of any changes. There are also features that allow instructors to track student participation, if desired. Instructors can opt-in to an automatically generated weekly summary of usage statistics showing how many messages were posted, etc. There is also a powerful search feature in Slack which allows instructors to search and view posts made by individual students. If a discussion happens to get out of hand, instructors (as owners of a Slack space) have the ability to delete inappropriate posts and close it down if necessary.

Instructors have a range of options as they consider how to effectively communicate and share information with their students. Slack is working very well in my class of 19-25 students, but I recognize that it may not be the best tool for all classes. Instructors with large lecture classes, for example, might be challenged to use it effectively. Although I’m not there yet, I’m trying to figure out ways to use Slack in my other classes.  In the meantime, it challenges me to make sure students in Culture of the Medical Profession see the relevance of the class beyond just an academic exercise and realize its value in their life’s work and experiences.

Jennifer Bernstein, Lecturer
Center for Leadership Education, Johns Hopkins University

Jennifer Bernstein is a lecturer in the Center for Leadership Education and has 20 years of experience working on WHO-, industry-, U.S. government-funded research studies and clinical trials. She is an alum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and teaches a number of courses including Culture of the Medical Profession and Technical Writing.

Image Source: Pixabay, Jennifer Bernstein

Teaching a Multi-Disciplinary Course

On Wednesday, October 16, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted the first Lunch and Learn for the 2019-2020 academic year. Steve Marra, Associate Teaching Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Susan Weiss, Associate Professor, jointly appointed in Musicology at the Peabody Institute and the Department of Modern Languages in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Nathan Scott, Associate Teaching Professor, Mechanical Engineering presented on Teaching a Multi-Disciplinary Course.

Steve Marra began the presentation by describing an Interdisciplinary Multi-Institutional Design Experience for Freshman Engineering and Art Students that took place in the Spring of 2018. This was a joint project initiated by instructors from JHU and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). There were 44 students from JHU and 34 students from MICA who participated in the project. Marra described the project as having purposely vague specifications in order to allow for as much creativity as possible. Teams were given $100 to build something safe and interactive, with a variety of hard and soft materials over the course of 13 weeks that would “make your world better.” Each school determined its own grading schema; JHU students were graded on design reports and project notebooks, MICA students were graded on preliminary sketches and documentation, and all students were graded on quality of work. The project culminated with a week-long exhibition at MICA at the end of the semester.

Marra continued by describing obstacles encountered when implementing this project. One of the most significant challenges was scheduling and transporting students between campuses. While the faculty had considered this might pose a challenge in the initial stages of the project, transportation and scheduling conflicts were more of an issue than expected. Another challenge was the separation/isolation of work within student groups; in general, engineering students embraced the engineering tasks while art students gravitated toward the artistic tasks. They did work with each other but took on a ‘divide and conquer’ approach in most cases, rather than collaborating as much as the faculty had hoped.

Other unexpected challenges included:

  • Conflicting advice given to students by instructors. Marra commented that there was not enough collaboration between instructors ahead of time.
  • Staggered spring breaks between the two schools, resulting in two weeks of no work getting accomplished.
  • Multitude and diversity of projects due to vague assignment specifications. Marra commented that diversity of projects is normally celebrated, but in this case it made it difficult to efficiently assist students with their projects.

Despite the various challenges, student teams met their deadlines and created 18 projects in all for the exhibition. These included: a hugging machine, mega backpack, relaxation station, and a marble run. Marra concluded with suggestions for improvement:

  • Plan early
  • Develop a more focused assignment with very clear specifications
  • Schedule a kickoff meeting with icebreakers
  • Take time to teach teamwork and conflict resolution
  • Provide instruction on ideation
  • Develop an advising strategy
  • Do not underestimate the importance of convenient transportation

Susan Weiss continued the presentation by describing the course she co-teaches with Nathan Scott, History and Technology of Musical Instruments, which is offered jointly by ASEN and Peabody. Students are tasked with building their own instruments from scratch or repairing broken instruments in various states of disrepair. Materials used have expanded from simple cigar boxes and PCV pipe to much more sophisticated materials as the course has progressed and more funding has become available. Weiss noted that the content and direction of the course depends on the guests that are available to come in and work with the students during the semester, such as luthiers, professional musicians, guest speakers, etc. Students are graded on journal entries, weekly reflections, and presentations.

Weiss went on to describe some of the challenges with this course. One of the biggest challenges is the constant struggle to find a space for students to construct the instruments. In the past, students have used maker spaces at Homewood but most recently have been using a room in the basement of Peabody’s Leakin Hall. Finding the necessary raw materials can also be a challenge especially with budgetary constraints. Weiss also mentioned how students in this course tend to gravitate to their area of expertise, but that they have checks in place to ensure that students are sharing tasks equitably and learning from each other’s strengths.

Despite its challenges, the course continues to grow and evolve. When it first started, students were making cigar box guitars and other small instruments. Two years ago students built banjos; this past year, they took on the challenge of building cellos which they had the opportunity to play at the Whiting School of Engineering’s Design Day. Weiss noted how highly students rate this course and how much they appreciate the unique opportunity to collaborate and learn from other students.

Nathan Scott extended the presentation into a more philosophical discussion of what it means to be a student who embraces multi-disciplinary studies.  He likened a student who is not merely after a degree to a child who grows up in a bilingual or multilingual home.  That child, he stated, not only learns multiple languages naturally, but also has a brain now trained to learn skills more readily or easily than a child not exposed to multiple languages. He referred to this child as a ‘super learner.’

Scott noted that most research at JHU is multi-disciplinary and that there are fantastic opportunities for undergraduates to take part in this research and experience ‘super learning.’ He believes that our university, as a whole, could better design curriculum to ensure multi-disciplinary education for all students.  He suggested adding a graduation requirement for all WSE majors to complete a substantial, two-semester capstone project.  No classes would be held on Fridays, which would become ‘project days,’ so students from all majors could work together in teams to complete their projects.  In addition, students would have a collaborative space that would be their ‘home’ throughout their undergraduate years to develop community.

Below are some questions from audience members with answers from the presenters.

Q: (for Marra) The MICA/JHU course was worth one credit; wasn’t that a great deal of work for faculty and students?

Marra responded that while the course was only one credit, it was worth it because of the learning that occurred. However, if he did this project again, he would make some significant changes, such as limiting it to only Hopkins students to minimize the issues with logistics and schedules.  Marra did note that the credit hours rarely are a true reflection of the work necessary for the course by students or faculty.

Q: (for all) What is the payoff of the interdisciplinary course?

Scott reported that employers are hungry to hear about these experiences and meet students who have completed multi-disciplinary projects, not just taken x course or y course.  His ideal would be to have a campus design center where artists and experts in residence bring their skills to JHU and have student apprentices.

Marra remarked that interdisciplinary skills are different than team skills and that employers are recognizing the value of interdisciplinary skills. Students are often uncomfortable working in these types of environments and grow from the experience.

Weiss noted that students don’t necessarily have skills in one area or another, but as they collaborate, they discover each other’s abilities, and it is a revelation for them.

Q: (for Marra) How would you manage the issue of students gravitating toward their area of expertise if you ran this project again?

Marra responded that he would make it some sort of requirement that students demonstrate skills in their non-dominant major or skill set.

Read more about Steve Marra’s project in a recent HUB article. Read more about Susan Weiss and Nathan Scott’s course in this Peabody Post article.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Photo credits: Steve Marra and Susan Weiss

Exhibiting the Avant Garde: Rare Primary Sources as Pedagogy

[Guest post by Molly Warnock, Assistant Professor, History of Art, Johns Hopkins University]

The library is often called the lab of the humanities. In my experience, the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries embraces this role. I collaborate regularly with the Libraries’ staff to encourage students not only to use library resources to conduct their research but also to use the physical space to present their findings. In several of my undergraduate art history courses, students curate an exhibition as one of their major assignments. This article provides an overview of my collaboration with the Sheridan Libraries and describes a model that my colleagues are considering adopting for their own course projects.

The collaboration began when I discovered the extensive modern and avant-garde collections owned by the Libraries, which boast vast reserves of journals, rare exhibition catalogues, and artists’ books, as well as posters, pamphlets, and other ephemera. I Students viewing library exhibitwanted to integrate these materials into my courses, and started by setting aside a day or two every semester to visit Special Collections. Now virtually all of my courses at all levels include multiple sessions of this sort. For example, my introductory survey “Modern Art, 1880-1950,” includes thematic visits devoted to such topics as Futurist typography, the role of journals and little magazines in the spread of experimental practices, and utopian urbanism. These visits allow students to see and in many cases handle rare primary materials, adding substantively to our discussions in the classroom. They are almost always surprised to discover the extent of our collections.

The curatorial seminars that I have developed over the past six years are specifically aimed at increasing student engagement with these important library holdings. Each course is in certain respects a traditional seminar, focused on some area of twentieth-century practice. We have weekly readings, look at digital slideshows, and discuss various case studies. At the same time, however, students immerse themselves in a semester-long, hands-on curatorial project centered on one particular aspect of our subject matter. The first such course, “Surrealism,” produced a survey of Surrealist journals (“Surrealism at Mid-Century”), while the second, “The ‘Long Sixties’ in Europe,” turned the spotlight on the library’s wealth of Lettrist books, journals, posters, photographs, and film scripts, among other items (“Presenting: Lettrism”). Additional iterations of “The ‘Long Sixties’” have focused on the library’s recently expanded trove of materials relating to the avant-garde group Cobra (“Asger Jorn and Cobra”) and on the Paris-based journal Robho (“Robho in Context”). Student contributions drive all stages of the project, including: researching and studying the available holdings; crafting a final object list; writing exhibition labels for the selected works; and designing the exhibition layout. At the exhibition opening, the students serve as docents, guiding interested members of the Hopkins community through the show.

Students showing exhibit to library patronsCollectively curating an exhibition in one semester means negotiating difficult time constraints. I start my course planning by identifying a long list of objects relevant to my course. Throughout this period, I consult extensively with Don Juedes, the dedicated librarian for History of Art. We then meet with Mark Pollei and Alessandro Scola of the Conservation and Preservation team to ensure that the pre-selected objects are stable enough to be handled repeatedly and determine vulnerabilities that would have to be taken into consideration for exhibition—whether, for instance, a particular book or journal is especially light sensitive, or can only be opened halfway. Once the semester is underway, students begin working on the exhibition immediately. Within the first week, we’re in Special Collections, where students get their first peek of the objects cleared for exhibition; each selects a few to research individually. I provide some initial context, but encourage them to choose based on their broader interests or curiosity about specific items.

One of the course goals is to teach students how to interpret primary materials using different research strategies. Their first assignment is to outline a research plan for each of their chosen objects. Don introduces the students to library resources and teaches them the skills needed to conduct their research: for example, how to meaningfully generate and delimit searches in our online catalogue and how to navigate various databases and bibliographies. They have to locate relevant materials using the strategies Don has shared with them, and indicate how they plan to build an argument from these sources. This can be quite challenging in the case of objects that have not been studied extensively by scholars to date. I provide feedback and encourage them to think broadly about different angles of attack, from the more obvious (researching the artist or author) to the less immediately apparent (researching a gallery’s broader exhibition agenda).

By mid-semester, we are all back in Special Collections, where the students present their objects and recommend specific display options, based on their research findings and the various larger stories we might wish to tell. We then move into the most exciting—and difficult—phase: experimenting with different installation plans and whittling down our final object selection. We mark off spaces equivalent to the various display cases and physically move things around until we feel we’ve arrived at a coherent, visually compelling narrative.Students making adjustments to exhibit objects The Conservation and Preservation team stop by again to consult with us about our display concept, and then spend roughly a month and a half preparing the featured materials, building customized cradles, and installing the objects. The students use that same period to produce and collectively edit the banner text and individual object labels. The official opening usually takes place in the penultimate week of the semester and serves as a celebratory capstone for the course as a whole.

As an instructor, it is deeply satisfying to see how seriously the students take one another’s research, and how effectively a collaborative project of this sort can help to build community. I find myself continually refining my pedagogical approach to facilitate this. One crucial step was simply to limit the class size to a maximum of ten students. I’ve also explored the potential of new technological platforms to facilitate more lateral processes of peer-to-peer discussion and group editing. For example, having students generate and refine all exhibition-related texts in Google Docs allows me to afford class participants greater responsibility for the finished products, while still tracking individual contributions. This can be awkward at first, as students may not have prior experience giving one another constructive criticism. But they quickly learn that robust peer critique results in a better overall outcome: an exhibition that represents all of their contributions.

In their course evaluations, students rate this experience highly positively. One described “the opportunity to curate an exhibition and work with objects from the library’s collections” as “truly special,” while another called it “unlike anything I had done for a course at Hopkins before,” adding: “Interacting with one another so regularly to work on the exhibition also built a great sense of community among the students.” A third noted: “I really enjoyed getting to spend so much time physically with all these artifacts, and doing research on objects JHU owned.”

This project has also deepened my working relationship with Don Juedes. Don’s assistance has been instrumental at every stage. Early on, he helped me to put together an exhibition proposal and worked with the exhibition committee to significantly expedite the review process, which had previously taken several months. (Based on the success of previous course- related curatorial project, the Libraries now dedicate a regular slot in the calendar to our exhibitions.) He has also worked closely with library staff from multiple departments to streamline workflows and pin down a project timeline.

At the same time, Don and I consult regularly about the collections and often tailor new acquisitions in my research area to the courses I plan to teach and the kind of student-curated exhibitions that might accompany them.Students working to prepare exhibit For the students, there is an added benefit: working closely with Don teaches them the multi-faceted role that libraries play in supporting the scholarly community. They see that libraries are not just passive repositories but have a highly active custodial and, indeed, curatorial role, assembling and caring for the materials that enable forward-looking research and teaching. They learn the importance of developing relationships with library staff that can provide complementary expertise and assist in the discovery process. The students in these curatorial seminars often become avid library patrons, returning to use primary sources for other courses and independent research projects.

My partnership with the library has changed how I teach and opened up new learning experiences for students. I feel incredibly fortunate that the Libraries’ leadership and outstanding staff at all levels fully grasp the importance of teaching with objects and so generously support pedagogical innovation and collaboration in this area.

Molly Warnock, Assistant Professor
History of Art, Johns Hopkins University

In addition to critical surveys of modern and contemporary art, Molly Warnock’s recent and forthcoming undergraduate courses include several seminars with curatorial components, each focused on particular aspects of twentieth-century practice and culminating in an exhibition of journals and other ephemera from the Special Collections of the Sheridan Libraries. Recent graduate courses have explored the philosophical underpinnings of art history as a modern discipline; problems in abstraction; theories of painting and subjectivity; and the concept of an aesthetic medium, among other topics.

Image Source: Don Juedes

Classics Research Lab: The John Addington Symonds Project

This past spring, the Classics Department launched the Classics Research Lab (CRL). Within each CRL iteration, students conduct empirical research with faculty, contributing to a larger, ongoing project. Although the research takes place under the umbrella of a course, it is the larger project that dictates the course’s scope and even duration—extending, if needed, across multiple semesters. The initiative is similar, in some ways, to a traditional science lab course in which students carry out set experiments to learn disciplinary content and skills. But it differs in that CRL research is open-ended and discovery-based; assisting faculty with an authentic research project, students make new observations and original interpretations of the data under consideration. The guiding principle of the CRL is that undergraduate students should have the opportunity to experience the real, hands-on work of the humanities: to engage in the active questions that humanist scholars pursue, to recognize the historical and current stakes of those questions, and to add their labor, as increasingly competent collaborators, to the quest for answers through careful, detailed, discipline-specific research.

A second aim of the CRL is to counter prevailing myths about humanities research by making it more visible and accessible to non-specialists. Accordingly, CRL participants meet and work in a public lab space—a room in Gilman Hall that looks out onto the atrium. CRL work-in-progress is visible through the windows of the Lab as well as online, via the websites built by individual projects. (See, for example, https://symondsproject.org/.)

The pilot CRL project, co-taught by Shane Butler of the Classics Department and Gabrielle Dean of the Sheridan Libraries, focused on John Addington Symonds, a Victorian scholar who wrote a groundbreaking work on Ancient Greek sexuality, A Problem in Greek Ethics. In its first semester, the John Addington Symonds Project (JASP) produced outcomes that not only contribute to a richer narrative about the history of sexuality, showing how Symonds painstakingly built his innovative arguments, but also provide future researchers with a new set of tools. Along the way, students acquired key skills in bibliography, archival and rare book research, and digital humanities.

The discovery-based ethos of the course required some significant departures from the usual pedagogical protocols. In place of a fixed syllabus, with all assignments configured and described in advance, the instructors developed a semi-structured syllabus with readings and preparatory assignments in the first half of the semester and a more open schedule in the second half of the semester. The goal was to empower students to help guide the project’s directions based on what they learned.

The semester started with a collaborative assignment designed to orient students to the topic and to the basic tasks of humanities research. Using Zotero, an open-source, digital reference management platform, students collectively assembled the Sheridan Libraries’ catalog records of books by Symonds. The books were then checked out to the Lab and shelved in its secure, dedicated space, so that students could work with them over the semester. Students also visited the Libraries’ special collections to study rare, non-circulating books. This initial assignment introduced students from a range of disciplines to library resources and humanities research processes, while offering a broad overview of Symonds’ writings and range of interests. At the same time, students read and discussed Symonds’ autobiography and signature works in the history of sexuality to ground them in the topic. And they began their independent investigations of books written and read by Symonds. Using the materials checked out to the Lab and in special collections, students composed short blog-style essays documenting the physical features of these books, relating the books to Symonds’ letters and other writings, and construing from their observations new analyses of Symonds’ bibliographic and social networks. These blog posts, after undergoing peer review and instructor review, have been published on the project website. (https://symondsproject.org/blog/)

The second collaborative project undertaken by JASP was an “index locorum” to A Problem in Greek Ethics—a detailed index of citations. Using digital resources and reference books checked out to the Lab, students retraced Symonds’ own research to identify the specific texts he used in the composition of this seminal essay. This brand-new index makes it startingly clear how Symonds connected a breadth of Greek and Latin sources, integrated works by later writers, and from these foundations drew original conclusions about the evolution of same-sex love, eroticism, and social norms and ideas about gender and sexuality in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds—as well as the legacy of these practices and philosophies. The index locorum, which is still in progress, is published on the JASP website.  (https://symondsproject.org/greek-ethics-index/)

The index brought to the Project’s attention an important gap in Symonds scholarship: the absence of reliable digital editions of some versions of A Problem in Greek Ethics, which has a complicated publication history because of censorship and the practices that publishers undertook to evade it. In keeping with the CRL’s dedication to collaborative leadership, JASP participants decided to dedicate the second half of the semester to two linked endeavors.

Students also contributed to the visibility and ongoing viability of the lab through two “meta-lab” ventures: a video (still in development) about JASP, using footage captured throughout the semester via a camera set-up and workflow established by Reid Sczerba of the CER, and a manual documenting the Project’s research processes, to be used by future students. Finally, JASP hosted an “open lab” at the end of the semester with a display of rare books, facsimile photographs, and the physical manifestations of the reconstructed Symonds library, along with the chance to talk with students about their research.While the CRL will continue next semester with the John Addington Symonds Project, it is not constrained to that topic.  Other faculty will offer their own lab courses, sometimes simultaneously in the lab space, to provide students with a variety of opportunities to apply humanities research skills.

Professors Butler and Dean believe the research-based teaching model of the Classics Research Lab is a contemporary implementation of the historic Johns Hopkins model, as the first modern research university in America. The hope is that this curricular model might scale to other disciplines and other universities. For more information, contact Shane Butler (shane.butler@jhu.edu) or Gabrielle Dean (gnodean@jhu.edu).

Dr. Michael J. Reese, Associate Dean and Director
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Gabrielle Dean, Reid Sczerba

Empowering Students through Guided Reflection

[Guest post by Pamela Sheff, Director, Center for Leadership Education, Johns Hopkins University]

lighthouseEach spring, I teach a course called Culture of the Engineering Profession for the Center for Leadership Education in the Whiting School. Primarily through discussions and projects, students in this class investigate what it means to be an engineer, identify contemporary issues in engineering, and consider the ethical guidelines of the engineering profession. The majority of students in the Spring 2019 class were Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering majors with a Mechanical Engineering student mixed in. This semester, I decided to experiment somewhat with guided reflection, a metacognitive practice that was new for many of these students.

One of the goals of the course is to help students strengthen their communication skills; therefore I leverage a great deal of class discussion including a requirement for students to lead a discussion at least once during the semester. Several times during the semester, I guided the students in reflecting not only on the quality of their discussions, but also on the culture of the classroom as a whole. I raised questions such as the following: What is working well? What could be changed? What values do students want in the classroom? From this reflective exercise the students generated a rubric listing characteristics including accountability, respect, and transparency. Every couple of weeks, I asked them to reflect on how they were doing as a group by reviewing the list.

After about six weeks, I noticed the group coming to consensus on what they felt was working in our classroom practice and what needed to change.  For example, one idea suggested by the group was to speak purposefully during discussions.  Students should not talk simply to be heard, but to move the discussion forward. Results included higher quality discussions and improved leadership skills.

The success of using a rubric to guide class discussions led me to continue using reflection to help students evaluate their major projects.  We talked during class about effective project criteria, for example, and what they should look for in the posters they would see at the course-wide poster fair.  The teaching assistants in the class then compiled the list of suggestions, which helped the students create strong written critiques after the fair. I talked with the class about how to assign grades to the team discussions they had been leading. Again, we worked in class to develop a list of criteria to consider and, the TAs and I developed the grading rubric. I then gave the students an opportunity to comment on the rubric before it was finalized. I also made the decision to allow students to grade their own projects according to the rubric. If I agreed with the grade they chose, the grade stood.  If not, I modified the grade. In a class of 29 students, I only had to lower two grades.  I did raise three grades, in cases where the students were unduly critical of their efforts.

The results of continuous guided reflection? The projects were the best I have ever seen in this class, and I could not have been more pleased. I attribute the high quality of work to students taking ownership of the process. It pushed them to live up to the standards they defined for themselves, and in many cases, go beyond them.  Providing space for students to reflect on what they were working towards led them to act more purposefully and, in turn, allowed me to give them agency over the classroom. I am thrilled with the way this approach worked out and am planning to use it again in future semesters.

Pamela Sheff, Associate Teaching Professor and Director
Center for Leadership Education, Johns Hopkins University

Pamela Sheff is an award-winning writer and marketing communications consultant, with a wealth of experience developing marketing, public relations and communications strategies for clients ranging from start-ups to large corporate, institutional and government organizations. Now a full-time lecturer in the Center for Leadership Education, Pam has taught business communications for private companies and directed the Writing Program at Goucher College.

Image Source: Pixabay

Advising Graduate Students

[Guest post by Anne-Elizabeth Brodsky, Senior Lecturer, Expository Writing, Johns Hopkins University]

Usually teaching offers us a built-in apparatus. There’s a classroom, regular meeting times, a syllabus, an end of the semester in sight.

But advising grad students on their dissertations, or supervising them as their PI, is an entirely different sort of teaching. The familiar structures have evaporated, the final product is hard to envision, and what’s at stake is not a grade but a career.

As faculty we do our best to get it right, knowing that each grad student and each research project differs wildly.

But it’s tricky, as Drew Daniel (JHU English department) reflects in an August 2018  blog post:

“Graduate advising is intimate and intense. . . . It is a partnership but it is also structurally, Drew Daniel, JHU English departmentfundamentally unequal. One of you is learning how to do something; one of you is advising the other on how to do that thing based on prior experience and presumed expertise. . . . The advisor must help the grad student bring something new into the world which is the student’s own and which the advisor does not themselves already completely understand.”

Given that the road ahead is unpredictable, the initial steps we take as faculty become all the more important. It’s crucial that we set up clear terms and reliable mechanisms that will buttress our students, come what may.

What Works

Consider, for example, creating an advising statement to share with prospective advisees. This can be a tangible, transparent way to set clear and mutual expectations in the advisor-advisee relationship. Read more about advising statements in the Chronicle here (October 2018), where Moin Syed (in psychology at the University of Minnesota) shares his advising statement as a google doc you can adapt as your own.

Leonard Cassuto, in the English department at Fordham, explains here (in the Chronicle December 2018) how he sets up dissertation writing groups. This approach structures not only the faculty-advisee relationship but also collegial relationships among grad students at different levels in the program.

Along similar lines, but in the context of lab sciences, Allison Antes (from the Center for Research and Clinical Ethics at Washington University School of Medicine) offers six key steps to strong faculty advising in a November 2018 Nature article. For instance:

Task one: put recurring one-on-one meetings with the members of your group on your calendar. Set up a notebook or spreadsheet and jot down anything you should bring up during these meetings. Set an alert for ten minutes before the appointment to decide how to approach the meeting. Does the team member need encouragement? Career guidance? Feedback on their project and direction for next steps? Are they behind on deadlines or lacking confidence?

Task two: invite people to share both complaints and highlights. Several exemplary scientists explicitly require their trainees to relate a concern or struggle at some point in one-on-one meetings. They want to help people to be comfortable enough to bring problems and mistakes to light, and so address issues early, while they are manageable.

Compass pointing to the word CareerFinally, in March 2019, four professors from across disciplines offer “Three research-based lessons to improve your mentoring:”

  1. Approach the power dynamic between mentor and mentee by invoking relevant research. Aspects of mentoring line up with aspects of parenting; to say this is not to infantilize students but rather to acknowledge the power difference as well as (often) the generational difference—and to avoid reinventing the wheel. Research shows the benefits of “authoritativeness, which is defined by both high expectations and high attentiveness; offering a safe haven in times of distress; and fostering a secure base to promote exploration.”
  2. Communicate your confidence in students’ abilities and potential. Again, from the research: “if students think their professors believe that only a few special people have intellectual potential, it can harm their sense of belonging and their performance.”
  3. Model a growth mindset, and “help mentees embrace failure as growth.” One of the authors, Jay J. Van Bavel, shares his unofficial bio alongside his formal one. Some faculty circulate failure CVs.

Where Hopkins Fits In

Here at Hopkins there has been significant conversation around how best to mentor graduate students, particularly since the publication of the National Academies of Science report on sexual and gender harassment in the sciences. In October of 2018, at a Women Faculty Forum event concerning the NAS report, participants (faculty, students, and staff) generated suggestions for how JHU could implement NAS’s recommendation #5: “Diffuse the hierarchical and dependent relationship between trainees and faculty.” You can read notes from that conversation here.

In November 2018, a faculty coffee hour focused solely on the faculty-trainee relationship at Hopkins produced these suggestions.

Meanwhile, there is a new PhD Student Advisory Committee, convened by Vice Provost for Graduate and Professional Education Nancy Kass. Mentorship, inclusivity, professional development, and grad student well-being are among the key topics discussed. From the Hub: “We get these amazing students, and we want them to be productive, and happy, and feel good about what they’re doing, and then be prepared to do really wonderful things afterwards,” Kass says.

As a result of this work, the Doctor of Philosophy Board just passed two new policies: The first requires PhD students and their advisors to have annual conversations about not only research progress but also professional development goals. The second requires each PhD-granting school to distribute our new mentoring guidance and to put in place at least two “supports”—such as workshops, training, mentoring mavens, mentoring awards, and so on.

Finally, Vice Provost Kass also assembled a university-wide PhD Program Directors Retreat in early May. The focus was on PhD professional development and preparedness for non-academic careers. Farouk Dey, Vice Provost for Integrative Learning and Life Design, was the keynote speaker. His overall message to faculty PhD program directors: “Try not to ask [students] ‘What do you want to do?’ Instead ask, ‘What has inspired you lately?’ ‘What action can you take to turn that inspiration into reality and how can I help you with that?’”

Anne-Elizabeth Brodsky, Senior Lecturer
Expository Writing, Johns Hopkins University

Anne-Elizabeth M. Brodsky has taught in the Expository Writing Program since 2007. In addition to teaching “Introduction to Expository Writing,” she has also taught courses on friendship, public education, and race in American literature. A former member of the JHU Diversity Leadership Council, Anne-Elizabeth now serves as co-chair of the Women Faculty Forum at Homewood.

Lunch and Learn: Strategies to Minimize Cheating (A Faculty Brainstorming Session)

On Wednesday, April 17, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted the final Lunch and Learn for the 2018-2019 academic year: Strategies to Minimize Cheating (A Faculty Brainstorming Session).  As the title suggests, the format of this event was slightly different than past Lunch and Learns. Faculty attendees openly discussed their experiences with cheating as well as possible solutions to the problem. The conversation was moderated by James Spicer, Professor, Materials Science and Engineering, and Dana Broadnax, Director of Student Conduct.

The discussion began with attendees sharing examples of academic misconduct they identified. The results included: copying homework, problem solutions, and lab reports; using other students’ clickers; working together on take-home exams; plagiarizing material from Wikipedia (or other sites); and using online solution guides (such as chegg.com, coursehero.com, etc.).

Broadnax presented data from the Office of the Dean of Student Life regarding the numbers of cheating incidents per school, types of violations, and outcomes. She stressed to faculty members how important it is to report incidents to help her staff identify patterns and repeat offenders. If it’s a student’s first offense, faculty are allowed to determine outcomes that do not result in failure of the course, transcript notation, or change to student status. Options include: assigning a zero to the assessment, offering a retake of the assessment, lowering the course grade, or giving a formal warning.  A student’s second or subsequent offense must be adjudicated by a hearing panel (Section D – https://studentaffairs.jhu.edu/policies-guidelines/undergrad-ethics/).

Some faculty shared their reluctance to report misconduct because of the time required to submit a report. Someone else remarked that when reporting, she felt like a prosecutor.  As a longtime ethics board member, Spicer acknowledged the burdens of reporting but stressed the importance of reporting incidents. He also shared that faculty do not act as prosecutors at a hearing. They only provide evidence for the hearing panel to consider. Broadnax agreed and expressed interest in finding ways to help make the process easier for faculty. She encouraged faculty to share more of their experiences with her.

The discussion continued with faculty sharing ideas and strategies they’ve used to help reduce incidents of cheating. A summary follows:

  • Do not assume that students know what is considered cheating. Communicate clearly what is acceptable/not acceptable for group work, independent work, etc. Clearly state on your syllabus or assignment instructions what is considered a violation.
  • Let students know that you are serious about this issue. Some faculty reported their first assignment of the semester requires students to review the ethics board website and answer questions. If you serve or have served on the ethics board, let students know.
  • Include an ethics statement at the beginning of assignment instructions rather than at the end. Research suggests that signing ethics statements placed at the beginning of tax forms rather than at the end reduces dishonest reporting.
  • Do not let ‘low levels’ of dishonesty go without following University protocol – small infractions may lead to more serious ones. The message needs to be that no level of dishonesty is acceptable.
  • Create multiple opportunities for students to submit writing samples (example: submit weekly class notes to Blackboard) so you can get to know their writing styles and recognize possible instances of plagiarism.
  • Plagiarism detection software, such as Turnitin, can be used to flag possible misconduct, but can also be used as an instructional tool to help students recognize when they are unintentionally plagiarizing.
  • Emphasize the point of doing assignments: to learn new material and gain valuable critical thinking skills. Take the time to personally discuss assignments and paper topics with students so they know you are taking their work seriously.
  • If using clickers, send a TA to the back of the classroom to monitor clicker usage. Pay close attention to attendance so you can recognize if a clicker score appears for an absent student.
  • Ban the use of electronic devices during exams if possible. Be aware that Apple Watches can be consulted.
  • Create and hand out multiple versions of exams, but don’t tell students there are different versions. Try not to re-use exam questions.
  • Check restrooms before or during exams to make sure information is not posted.
  • Ask students to move to different seats (such as the front row) if you suspect they are cheating during an exam. If a student becomes defensive, tell him/her that you don’t know for sure whether or not cheating has occurred, but that you would like him/her to move anyway.
  • Make your Blackboard site ‘unavailable’ during exams; turn it back on after everyone has completed the exam.
  • To discourage students from faking illness on exam days, only offer make-ups as oral exams. One faculty member shared this policy significantly reduced the number of make-ups due to illness in his class.

Several faculty noted the high-stress culture among JHU students and how it may play a part in driving them to cheat. Many agreed that in order to resolve this, we need to create an environment where students don’t feel the pressure to cheat. One suggestion was to avoid curving grades in a way that puts students in competition with each other.  Another suggestion was to offer more pass/fail classes. This was met with some resistance as faculty considered the rigor required by courses students need to get into medical school. Yet another suggestion was to encourage students to consult with their instructor if they feel the temptation to cheat. The instructor can help address the problem by considering different ways of handling the situation, including offering alternative assessments when appropriate. Broadnax acknowledged the stress, pressure, and competition among students, but also noted that these are not excuses to cheat: “Our students are better served by learning to best navigate those factors and still maintain a standard of excellence.”

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Lunch and Learn Logo

Using Slack in the Classroom

If you aren’t already using it, chances are you have probably heard of the online communication platform known as Slack. Slack is a cloud-based software program that is used for project management, information sharing, individual and group communication, as well as synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.  There are free and paid plans available; the main difference between the plans is the number of messages that are accessible (10,000 with the free plan) and how many third-party tools are supported (10 with the free plan).  What began in 2013 as a mode for inter-office conversation between two business offices has quickly expanded to hundreds of workplaces worldwide as well as many classrooms.

With the number of existing communication tools already available, you may be wondering how this one differs and why you might consider using it. Slack is organized into ‘channels’ which are like chat rooms dedicated to specific conversations. Messages posted to a channel can be seen by everyone who subscribes to that channel or directed to specific individuals and kept private. Unlike traditional chat rooms which may be hard to follow, Slack supports threading, which allows participants to respond directly to posts within a channel without interrupting the overall flow of conversation. Slack integrates with several third-party services, such as Box, Google Drive, and Dropbox, as well as developer platforms such as GitHub and Bitbucket. It also has a powerful search feature, making it easy to find files and specific topics in cross-channel conversations.

Slack was designed with efficiency in mind, therefore communication tends to be succinct and streamlined. Generally speaking, participants write short, direct messages closer in style to a messaging app without the ‘formality’ often used when composing an email. While this lack of formality may take some getting used to, many students are already accustomed to this style which they frequently use in various social media apps and when texting. Also unlike email, Slack follows more of an ‘opt-in’ model, where users can join in on conversations they feel are relevant and ignore those that are not.  Settings are available to determine how often users are notified of messages being posted.

The following is a list of possible ways instructors can use Slack in the classroom:

  • Share information – Create channels for posting announcements, sharing articles, links, relevant content, etc. Students can immediately ask questions or comment on the post which could lead to a dialogue around a specific topic. This may help to engage students in the topic as well as build a sense of community in the class.
  • Manage group projects – Each group can have its own channel to collaborate, share files, and communicate with each other. Instructors can post resources for groups in their specific channels and periodically check in and offer assistance as needed.
  • Crowdsource class notes – Create a channel for students to contribute main ideas from notes taken in class. This could eventually be used to create a study guide.
  • Poll the class – Slack includes a free polling tool which can be used to survey students for a variety of reasons in real-time, during class, or asynchronously, outside of class. Polls are optionally anonymous.
  • Include experts ‘in the field’ – Invite subject matter experts and/or those working ‘in the field’ to Slack so they can participate in conversations and answer student questions. JHU instructor Jennifer Bernstein invites former students to stay involved in her Slack channels so that current students can benefit from the perspective of someone who has recently graduated and is now working in the medical profession.
  • Monitor student engagement – Slack provides an optional weekly summary of usage statistics, including charts and graphs showing how many messages were posted, files uploaded, etc.

If you decide to use Slack in a classroom environment, there are some considerations to keep in mind. For example, there is no FERPA compliance in Slack. Sensitive data such as grades and personal information should not be shared in Slack spaces. Instructors should be clear with students about what types of conversations are appropriate for Slack, and what might be better served in an email or face-to-face. Another thing to consider is the capability available to members (students) that are invited to a Slack space. Instructors may be surprised with the permissions and features available to students (i.e. the ability to create their own channels). Therefore, it is recommended that instructors familiarize themselves with the established permissions of Slack before getting started.  Finally, it may be worth noting that Slack is not a course management system (Blackboard, Canvas, etc.), and does not contain many of the features available in those systems, such as a gradebook, assignment creator, rubrics tool, etc. It may, however, provide an interesting, alternative means of communication in relevant situations as determined by the instructor.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image sources: Slack logo, Phil Simon: How I Use Slack in the Classroom