Quick Tips: Facilitating Group Work

With good reason, one of the most common strategies that instructors turn to in the classroom is assigning students to work collaboratively in groups.  Group work, when thoughtfully designed and facilitated, can be a very effective way to engage students in their learning. Though not without challenges, group work offers numerous benefits: 

  • Increased engagement: Group work promotes active engagement and collaboration among students, which can help build a sense of community in the classroom. The learning process becomes more interactive which can deepen the level of understanding of course material and positively impact classroom dynamics.  
  • Diverse perspectives: Group work encourages the exchange of diverse ideas and perspectives. This can lead to a richer learning environment as students are exposed to different viewpoints and alternative solutions to problems.  
  • Skill development: Working in groups, students acquire a range of skills, including communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills. While certainly relevant in academia, these skills can also help students prepare for a professional work environment, where teamwork and collaboration are essential. 

Simply dividing your students into groups with little or no direction is unlikely to lead to the best outcome. Incorporating group work into courses requires careful planning and clear guidelines to ensure its effectiveness. The following is a list of strategies to consider when facilitating group work: 

Group formation:  

  • Consider aligning students with complementary or diverse skill sets. A broad range of skills often leads to creative ways of approaching and solving problems. Administering a survey to students before the project begins can help determine academic disciplines, backgrounds, and relevant skill levels.  
  • When possible, avoid isolating underrepresented minorities in groups. For example, place 0, 2, or 3 women in a team when forming groups of 3 (i.e., do not create a team of 1 woman and 2 men). This helps prevent the underrepresented from being over-ruled or ignored (Rosser, 1998).   
  • Explore technology options. If using a learning management system (LMS) such as Canvas, it will often include a tool to assist with creating and managing groups. Outside of the LMS, there is a free, open-source tool called gruepr that can assist instructors with group creation. CATME is another tool that assists with group creation and peer review. We reviewed CATME several years ago when it was free, but there is now a fee for use. 

Team Interaction: 

  • Establish ground rules for groups: insist on civil dialogue, respect others’ opinions, listen actively, etc. Involving students in creating the rules helps them hold each other accountable throughout the process. Carnegie Mellon has a resource with suggestions for setting ground rules that may be helpful for instructors. 
  • Assign each student a different role in the group and rotate the roles frequently. This helps to ensure that work is distributed equally throughout the project, avoiding situations where a few students are doing all the work while others are just along for the ride (Finelli et all., 2011). Examples of roles include recorder, spokesperson, summarizer, organizer, observer, timekeeper, or liaison to other groups.  Be sure each role has specific tasks that are clearly laid out for students.  
  • Include one or more short, introductory warm-up activities for group members to engage and get to know one another. This will help to build rapport and encourage participation within the group. 
  • Consider the physical space if allowing students to work in groups during class. Is the room conducive/comfortable for small groups to convene? Will students need accommodations? If teaching online, are groups meeting synchronously or asynchronously? Plan accordingly to anticipate space and technology needs.  

Assessment: 

  • Determine how you will assess the project. Depending on the goals, consider assessing both group and individual contributions. Develop and share rubrics with students so they know exactly what is expected. This sample group work rubric from Cornell can be used as a guide and modified for use. 
  • Meet regularly with each group to monitor progress. Set milestones to help students stay on track and meet their goals.
  • Include opportunities for self and peer assessment. Self-assessment encourages critical thinking and fosters greater self-awareness in student learning.  Peer assessment provides valuable insight for instructors about group dynamics and performance. It can also serve to motivate students to take responsibility for their individual tasks. Be sure to clarify for students if self and peer assessment will count towards their grade.  This assessment form from Carnegie Mellon is designed for students to assess themselves as well as group members.  
  • Allow time for reflection. Asking students to reflect on the process can help them extract meaningful lessons from the project’s successes and challenges.  It can also promote a deeper understanding of the project’s goals and the collaborative process as a whole. Examples of reflective exercises include written responses to specific prompts (i.e. what went well, what could be improved, etc.), small group or whole class discussions, and keeping a journal of the learning experience. More information about group reflection can be found in this resource from the University of New South Wales.   

With proper planning, group projects can be a positive and productive learning experience that will help prepare students for real-world challenges. Do you have additional tips to share about group facilitation? Please share them in the comments. 

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation

Image source: Pixabay

References:

Finelli, C., Bergom, I., & Mesa, V. (2011). Student teams in the engineering classroom and beyond: setting up students for success. Center for Research on Learning and Teaching: University of Michigan. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED573963.pdf  

Rosser, S. V. (1998). Group work in science, engineering, and mathematics: Consequences of ignoring gender and race. College Teaching, 46(3), 82-88. 

University of New South Wales. (n.d.) Supporting students to reflect on their group work. https://www.teaching.unsw.edu.au/helping-students-reflect-group-work

Washington University of St. Louis, Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.) Facilitating in-class group work. https://ctl.wustl.edu/resources/facilitating-in-class-group-work/ 

Facilitating Difficult Conversations in Class: Considerations when Teaching Online

In a recent blog post, the CTEI shared strategies that can be used to facilitate difficult conversations in the classroom. The center also hosted a community conversation on the same topic, featuring perspectives from three different faculty members from across the institution. In response, we heard from some instructors who are interested in specific strategies they can use in an online environment. While many of the ideas previously shared can be applied to the online classroom, such as setting ground rules, the following considerations are worth keeping in mind when facilitating difficult conversations online.

  • Establish a positive classroom climate. This is especially important in an online environment where subtle gestures, voice inflections, and facial expressions may be missing. Creating a safe, inclusive environment from the start will encourage student participation and respect among peers. Some ideas include:
    • Engage students in icebreaker or other collaborative activities to ensure multiple opportunities for students to get to know one another.
    • Include a syllabus statement with language expressing a commitment to respecting diverse opinions and being inclusive. Model this commitment by using students’ preferred names, pronouns, inclusive language, and diverse examples. See a recently shared example from Professor John Mercurio in The Chronicle.
    • Communicate regularly with students. Send weekly reminders, post regular announcements, and commit to responding promptly to discussion board posts from students to help them feel connected to the class and to each other.
  • As part of setting ground rules, remind students of “netiquette;” be very clear about rules for online discussions, group interactions, when/if it’s okay to use the chat feature, etc. Consider involving students in creating these rules.
  • Lack of privacy – remember that students on Zoom are not necessarily in a private space and may not feel comfortable speaking or engaging freely with others. Communicate alternate ways for students to engage, such as using chat, polls, or an asynchronous discussion board.
  • In hybrid classes, make sure to include Zoom participants in the discussion. This may require additional or amended ground rules such as requiring everyone to raise their hand (Zoom and in-person participants) before making a comment.
  • Acknowledge and accept that there may be (uncomfortable) pauses due to a bad online connection or people gathering their thoughts.
  • Consider using breakout rooms for students to discuss issues in small groups which may be more comfortable/less intimidating for some.
  • Consider using the chat feature to allow students time to reflect on their response before sharing. The faculty can then selectively address comments shared by students including contextualizing or reframing points made. If you have a co-instructor or teaching assistants, they can help with replying directly to comments posted in the chat.
  • Establish a set of gestures/emojis to be used when asking a question, adding a follow-up idea, agreeing or disagreeing, etc. to keep interruptions to a minimum. (This requires everyone to be in grid view.)
  • As much as possible, keep an eye on Zoom participants for indications of distress. Encourage students to take advantage of university wellness resources.
  • For larger discussions, consider using a Zoom webinar in which you can moderate questions and comments submitted before sharing them. In typical Zoom classrooms, you can ask students to send their comments directly to you in the chat instead of posting to the entire group.

Do you have additional ideas to share? Please post them in the comments.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation
 

Image Source: Unsplash

References:

Rudenko, N. (August, 12, 2020). Facilitating discussions via Zoom (in a college-level classroom). Medium. https://medium.com/@natasharudenko_37929/facilitating-discussions-via-zoom-in-a-college-level-classroom-619d3ac4343b

Supiano, B. (November 9, 2023). Teaching: How to hold difficult discussions online. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/2023-11-09?utm_source=Iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=campaign_8238698_nl_Teaching_date_20231109&cid=te&source=ams&sourceid=&sra=true

Community Conversation: Facilitating Difficult Conversations in the Classroom

The Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted a community conversation on Facilitating Difficult Conversations in the Classroom on Thursday, November 9th, as a follow-up to our recent blog post on the same topic.  The faculty panel included: Sherita Golden, Chief Diversity Officer at the School of Medicine & Hugh P. McCormick Family Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Andrew Perrin, SNF Agora Professor and Department Chair of Sociology, and Mike Reese, Associate Dean of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation & Associate Teaching Professor of Sociology. Caroline Egan from the CTEI facilitated the event.

Mike Reese opened the conversation by acknowledging that current events are an opportunity to apply course concepts but the instructor’s goal is to maintain civility on sensitive topics. He described some of the strategies he uses in his classroom, such as setting ground rules for class discussions. Reese explains the intentions of the rules to his students, which is to create a space that makes everyone feel comfortable participating. Some of his ground rules include:

  • Support arguments with evidence
  • Use ‘I’ statements – do not speak for others in the class
  • Do not generalize about groups
  • Allow students to speak without interruption (with caveat that the instructor can cut them off if they go on too long)
  • Listen actively – be open to what others are saying
  • Name-calling, sarcasm, inflammatory accusations are not permitted

Reese noted in his classes that historically the issue is less conversations becoming heated and more that students are hesitant to talk about politically-charged topics. He mentioned strategies to spark engagement, such as having students first work in small groups to discuss a topic. He also uses structured debate activities where students are assigned a specific perspective. In the debate activity, the pressure is taken off of the student since the role/perspective is assigned by the instructor.

In cases of traumatic events, Reese stated that instructors are not required to discuss the topic if they are not comfortable doing so, but should at least acknowledge the event. Research suggests students want events to be acknowledged, not ignored. Reese shared that a student this past week shared they don’t need to discuss the issue in every course, as the constant reminder may be counterproductive, but would prefer to discuss the event in courses that speak directly to the issue. The main message is be intentional about how you plan to discuss traumatic events and what boundaries you will place on the conversation before arriving to class.

Andrew Perrin continued the conversation by describing two principles he subscribes to:

  1. While all people deserve safety, no ideas deserve safety. The way we honor ideas is by submitting them to rigorous argument and evidence and testing them out.
  2. Emotions running high is not a reason to avoid discussions – it’s a reason to have better discussions. Explain and demonstrate to students how to listen thoughtfully to ideas and make judgments based on evidence.

While he supports Reese’s ground rules, Perrin takes a slightly different approach: he will often set the context for students, explain a scenario, and have them listen to their peers discuss the issue, recognizing their own ideas may turn out to be wrong. His pedagogical goal is to make sure that all reasonable ideas are raised so that they may be examined and challenged. At times Perrin will make arguments that he doesn’t believe in because he feels it’s important for them to be part of the conversation.

He believes most students politically are not committed either to the left or the right; they might be in between, they might not have thought about it much, or they might have mixed opinions. The instructor’s job is to make sure the debate includes more ideas than just those from the 5-10% on the right and left. Perrin acknowledged that it might be hard to engage on difficult topics and students might be uncomfortable, but that is an acceptable outcome in a university classroom. He stated, “Too often we think the goal is to come to consensus. I think the goal is to understand why people feel the way that they do.”

Sherita Golden teaches medical students in a clinical environment as well as staff from all parts of the medical establishment.  One of the issues that she addresses in her classroom is why we continue to see inequities in health, for example, the inequity of non-whites consistently having a higher prevalence of diabetes than whites.  Golden explains to her students how historical discrimination and racism dating back to the time of enslavement have led to the current situation; eugenics theory suggesting the biological inferiority of non-white populations, trust violations by the medical establishment due to unconsented experimentation on enslaved and marginalized communities, as well as healthcare clinician bias against minoritized patients. These are all factors adversely affecting healthcare quality and access today. Another example is the historic practice of redlining, which made it more difficult for African-Americans to obtain mortgages and build wealth through their homes. Golden uses these historical contexts to explain the roots of current social movements to her students and health system staff.

Golden acknowledged that conversations can become politically charged and offered the following suggestions to help diffuse the situation:

  • Acknowledge the humanity of the person speaking – listen with compassion and intent to respond rather than react.
  • Commit to providing information to the person if you aren’t sure how to address the issue in the moment.
  • Adopt a learner’s mindset:
    • What is the historical context of the issue?
    • What do you know about the lived experiences of those expressing the concern?
    • How might you benefit from knowing more in your teaching/leadership role?
  • Recognize that there are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The discussion continued with panelists taking questions from participants.

Q : I appreciate your [Perrin’s] idea of exploring other ideas of a particular subject, but at the same time, as we examine these charged issues and try to be objective, sometimes the discussion becomes politically neutral. I’m struggling with how I can resolve this issue of technical neutrality.

AP: I don’t think there are 2 sides, but actually 4, 5, or even more sides to every story. There are lots of different dimensions. One reason I don’t ask students to debate positions according to what I’ve set is because I think it is important for them to feel like what they’re saying matters and that they care about the issue. I’m not trying to say, “all ideas are fine” but instead, “all ideas deserve to be listened to.”  I do think historical context is important, as well as real world evidence, so it’s important not to let them stick with things that aren’t true.

MR: The classroom space allows students to voice lots of different ideas, and sometimes students come out not knowing where to go from there. Here is where reflection may help – ask them to articulate how they have moved on a particular issue, if at all.

SG: The goal is not to come to a resolution, but help them improve their argument and use of evidence. I encourage students to read constantly – learning is a lifelong process. Reading will help me (and them) back up why I feel a certain way, with evidence.

Q: How do you create space to honor opinions that you feel are wrong or will harm others?

AP: The key is how we say things. There is a reason to challenge the idea because it’s there – it is also submissible to evidence. The person should be able to explain why they think what they think. It really is important for people to be pushed to explain why they think this or that, where is the evidence, what makes this true. I like to ask, “Is there anything you could learn that, if true, would end up changing your position on this?” It is important to distinguish between what is true and what people think. So even potentially harmful ideas need to be discussed, if only to bring evidence to show why they are harmful. That said, it is also important to protect students who may be hurt. I will sometimes remind students that there are probably other students in the room who may be negatively affected by what they’re saying.

Guest: This makes me think about a case in class: we watched a film about a kidnapped woman in China who was sold to a villager as a wife. In the film there was a sympathetic attitude to the men in the villages that I disagreed with. This kind of sentiment was hard to watch.

MR: This is why reflection as the instructor is important, too.  If the discussion did not address your goals for the class, then perhaps reflect on how you might structure it differently next time.

SG: One of my favorite phrases to use in these situations: “Help me understand why you made that comment… What is at the root of what you’re saying?” I work in a clinical setting as well as an educational setting. We must show dignity and respect to all patients. We fall back to the core values of JH medicine: we need to be respectful of different points of view and perspectives.

Q: How do you de-escalate a conversation when it becomes highly charged?

AP: I like charged topics, I don’t feel scared of them. I like to ask students: “Why do you think that, what makes you say that, what do you think your opponents think?” It’s not useful for me to throw around “flashpoint” words; it works better for me to stick to the questions I just mentioned. In the classroom, you do have to move forward at some point. I ask the questions and try to keep the conversation moving.

MR: It’s also ok to take a break.

SG: I suggest listening sessions. This is a very important way to learn – let the person talk, we can all learn from that.

 

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation
 

Image Source: Unsplash

Lunch and Learn: Generative AI – Teaching Uses, Learning Curves, and Classroom Guidelines

On Tuesday, October 3rd, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted its first Lunch and Learn of the academic year, a panel discussion titled, “Generative AI: Teaching Uses, Learning Curves, and Classroom Guidelines.” The three panelists included Jun Fang, Assistant Director of the Instructional Design and Technology Team in the Carey Business School, Carly Schnitzler, KSAS instructor in the University Writing Program, and Sean Tackett, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine.  The discussion was moderated by Caroline Egan, project manager in the CTEI. Mike Reese, director of the CTEI, also helped to facilitate the event. 

The panelists began by introducing themselves and then describing their experiences with generative AI. Jun Fang loves new technology and has been experimenting with AI since its inception. He noticed the faculty that he works with generally fall into two categories when it comes to using AI: some are quite concerned about students using it to cheat and are not ready to use it, while others see a great deal of potential and are very excited to use it in the classroom.  In speaking with colleagues from across the institution, Fang quickly realized these are common sentiments expressed by faculty in all JHU divisions. This motivated him to lead an effort to create a set of AI guidelines specifically geared toward faculty. The document contains a number of strategies for using AI including: designing engaging course activities, providing feedback for students on their assignments, and redesigning course assessments. The section on redesigning course assessments uses two approaches: the “avoidance approach,” which involves deliberately designing assessments without AI, and the “activation approach,” which intentionally integrates AI tools into the curriculum. The document includes specific examples of many of the strategies mentioned as well as links to widely used generative AI tools. 

Fang described a recent scenario in which a faculty member was concerned that students were using ChatGPT to generate answers to online discussion board questions.  To mitigate this situation, Fang suggested the faculty member revise the questions so that they were tied to a specific reading or perhaps to a topic generated in one of his online synchronous class sessions.  Another suggestion was to have students submit two answers for each question – one original answer and one generated by ChatGPT – and then have the students compare the two answers.  The faculty member was not comfortable with either of these suggestions and ended up making the discussion more of a synchronous activity, rather than asynchronous.  Fang acknowledged that everyone has a different comfort level with using AI and that one approach is not necessarily better than another.     

Carly Schnitzler currently teaches two introductory writing courses to undergraduates and is very open to using generative AI in her classroom.  At the start of the semester, she asked students to fill out an intake survey which included questions about previous writing experiences and any technologies used, including generative AI. She found that students were reluctant to admit that they had used these technologies, such as ChatGPT, for anything other than ‘novelty’ purposes because they associated these tools with cheating. After seeing the results of the survey, Schnitzler thought it would be beneficial for students to explore the potential use of generative AI in class. She asked students to do an assignment where they had to create standards of conduct in a first year writing class, which included discussing their expectations of the course, the instructor, their peers, and how AI would fit in among these expectations. The class came up with three standards: 

  1. AI tools should support (and not distract from) the goals of the class, such as critical thinking, analytical skills, developing a personal voice, etc.  
  2. AI tools can be used for certain parts of the writing process, such as brainstorming, revising, or editing, but students must disclose that AI tools were used. 
  3. If there appears to be an over-use or over-reliance on AI tools, a discussion will take place to address the situation rather than disciplinary action. (Schnitzler wants students to feel safe exploring the tools without fear of repercussion.) 

This assignment comes from an open collection of cross-disciplinary assignments that use text generation technologies, mostly in a writing context. TextGenEd: Teaching with Text Generation Technologies, co-edited by Schnitzler, consists of freely accessible assignments submitted by scholars from across the nation. Assignments are divided into categories, such as AI literacy, rhetorical engagements, professional writing, creative explorations, and ethical considerations. Most are designed so that the technologies used are explored by students and instructors together, requiring very little ‘expert’ technological skills.  Schnitzler noted that there is a call for new submissions twice each year and encouraged instructors to consider submitting their own assignments that use text generation AI.

Sean Tackett was initially fearful of ChatGPT when it was released last year. Reading article after article stating how generative AI was going to “take over” pushed him to learn as much as he could about this new technology. He began experimenting with it and initially did not find it easy to use or even necessarily useful in his work with medical school faculty. However, he and some colleagues recognized potential in these tools and ended up applying for and receiving a JHU DELTA grant to find ways they could apply generative AI to faculty development in the medical school. Tackett described how they are experimenting with generative AI in a curriculum development course that he teaches to the med school faculty. For example, one of the tasks is for faculty to learn to write learning objectives, so they’ve been developing prompts that can be used to specifically critique learning objectives. Another example is developing prompts to critique writing. Most of Tackett’s students are medical professionals who do not have a lot of time to learn new technologies, so his team is continually trying to refine prompts in these systems to make them as useful and efficient as possible. Despite being so busy, Tackett noted the faculty are generally enthusiastic about having the opportunity to use these tools.     

The discussion continued with a question and answer session with audience members: 

Q: How do we transfer and integrate this knowledge with teaching assistants who help manage the larger sized classes? What about grading?
ST: I would advocate for the potential of AI to replace a TA in terms of grading, but not in terms of a TA having a meaningful dialogue with a student. 
JF: Generative AI tools can be used to provide valuable feedback on assessments. There are a lot of tools out there to help make grading easier for your TAs, but AI can be used for the feedback piece. 

Q: How might professors provide guidelines to students to use generative AI to help them study better for difficult and complex topics?
MR: One possibility is to generate quiz questions – and then have students follow up by checking the work of these quizzes that have been generated.
CS: Using a ChatGPT or other text generation tool as a reading comprehension aid is something that has been useful for non-native English speakers. For example, adding a paragraph from an academic article into ChatGPT and asking what this means in plain language can be helpful.

CE: This gets to what I call ‘prompt literacy,’ which is designing better prompts to give you better answers. There is a very good series about this on Youtube from the University of Pennsylvania.
Sean, what have you experienced with prompting right now, in terms of challenges and opportunities?
ST: We’re trying to put together advice on how to better prompt the system to get more refined and accurate answers. After a few iterations of prompting the system, we refine the prompt and put it into a template for our faculty, leaving a few ‘blanks’ for them to fill in with their specific variables. The faculty are experts in their subject areas, so they can tell if the output is accurate or not. We’re in the process of collecting their output, to put together best practices about what works, what does not work.  

CE: What would you all like to see in terms of guidelines and best practices for AI on a web page geared towards using AI in the classroom?
Guest: And along those lines, how to we move forward with assigning research projects, knowing that these tools are available for students?
ST: I think it could be useful for students to learn research skills. They could use the tools to research something, then critique the results and explain how they verified those results. It can also be useful for generating ideas and brainstorming. Another thought is that there are a number of domain specific generative AI databases, such as Open Evidence which is useful in the medical field.  
CS: To Sean’s point, I think a comparative approach is useful with these tools. The tools are very good at pattern matching genre conventions, so doing comparative work within a genre could be useful.
JF: I think ChatGPT and other generative AI tools can be useful for different parts of the research process, such as brainstorming, structure, and editing. But not for something like providing or validating evidence.  

Q: As a grad student, I’m wondering how the presence of AI might force us to refine the types of questions and evaluations that we give our students. Are there ways to engineer our own questions so that the shift of the question is changed to avoid the problem [of having to refine and update the question] in the first place?
CS: There is an assignment in our collection that talks about bringing an assignment from past to present. Again, thinking in terms of a comparative approach, ask ChatGPT the question, and then ask your students the same question and see how they compare, if there are any patterns.  I think it can be helpful to think of ChatGPT as adding another voice to the room.
JF: We have a section in the guidelines on how to redesign assessment to cope with generative AI related issues. We suggest two approaches: the avoidance approach and the activation approach. The avoidance approach is for faculty who are not yet comfortable using this technology and want to avoid having students use it.  One example of this approach is for faculty to rework their assignments to focus on a higher level of learning, such as creativity or analysis, which will hopefully reduce or eliminate the opportunity for students to use AI tools. The activation approach encourages faculty to proactively integrate AI tools into the assessment process. One example of this approach I mentioned earlier is when I suggested to a faculty member to rework their discussion board questions to allow students to submit two versions of the answers, one created by them and the other by ChatGPT, and then analyze the results. 

Q: What is the ultimate goal of education? We may have different goals for different schools. Also, AI may bridge people from different social backgrounds. In China, where I grew up, the ability to read or write strongly depends on the social status of the family you come from. So there is some discomfort using it in the classroom.
CS: I feel some discomfort also, and that’s what led to the development of the guidelines in my classroom. I posed a similar question to my students: if we have these tools that can allegedly write for us, what is the point of taking a writing class?  They responded by saying things like, “writing helps to develop critical thinking and analytical skills,” to which I added, “being here is an investment in yourself as a student, a scholar, and a thinker.” I think asking students to articulate the value of the education that they want to get is really helpful in determining guidelines for AI.
ST: Going to school and getting an education is an investment of your time. You pay now so you can be paid later. But it’s not as transactional as that. AI is already in the work environment and will become more prevalent. If we’re not preparing students to succeed in the work environment, we are doing them a disservice. We teach students to apply generative AI in their classes so they are prepared to use it in the workforce.
JF: In the business school, everything is market driven. I think education can fit into that framework as well. We’re trying to provide graduates with the confidence they need to finish the work and meet the market’s need. We know that generative AI tools have really changed the world and they’re starting to emerge in every part of our life. We need to train students to realize that ChatGPT might be part of their education, part of life in the future, and part of the work in the future as well. There are things AI can help us do, but there are still fundamentals that students need to learn. One example is calculators: we still need to learn from the beginning that 1 + 1 = 2. 
CE: This question also reminded me of asking your students, what is the ultimate purpose of a research paper? Where do they think ChatGPT should fit into the research process?  

Q: I work at the library and we’re getting lots of questions about how to detect if students are using AI. And also, how do you determine if students are relying too heavily on AI?
JF: We also get this question from our faculty. The most used detection tool right now is Turnitin, which is embedded in Canvas. But the level of accuracy is not reliable. We encourage faculty to always validate before accepting the results.  For faculty who are actively using AI in the classroom, we also encourage them to provide clear guidance and expectations to students on how they are allowed to use it.  This may make it a little easier to determine if they are using it correctly or not.
MR: There are some other tools out there, such a GPTZero, ZeroGPT, but to Jun’s point, the difficult thing is that it’s different than plagiarism detection which says this is copied, and here’s the source. These tools say there’s a probability that part of this was taken, but you can’t point to a direct source. It’s up to instructors whether or not to use these tools, but consider using them to facilitate a conversation with students. In my own classes if I suspect academic misconduct, I usually start by asking them to explain, talk to me about what is happening before I make accusations. With these tools, there tends to be no hard evidence, just probabilities that something may have happened.  This is definitely an area we’re all still learning about.
Guest: I was just thinking that having a conversation with students about why they are turning to the tool in the first place might prevent misconduct.  Instead of sending them to an academic misconduct committee, we could have these conversations, like Carly mentioned. Making students aware of the limitations of the tool could also be helpful.
CS: Yes, I say that in our guidelines that I’m prioritizing conferences with students over immediate disciplinary action. I try to pre-empt anxiety students might feel around using these tools. Designing your assignments in a way that reduces anxiety is also helpful. For example, I tend to design assignments that build on one another throughout the semester in smaller bits, rather than one giant chunk all at once.  

Q: Is there any discussion around combining AI with teaching, such as generating personalized explanations of a topic? Students will have different levels of expertise and comfort with different topics.
ST: We’re trying to do this, to create a teaching aid for the future. We’re planning to use it to create assessment items.  

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation
 

Image Source: Pixabay, Unsplash

 

Quick Tips: Guest Speakers in the Classroom

Inviting a guest speaker to your classroom can be a powerful and memorable experience for your students. Unique perspectives and expertise shared by an outside professional can be very motivating for students as they consider their own academic goals and career paths.  Hearing from someone in the community can help to reinforce course material in a real-world context and deliver a renewed sense of relevance to the class (Leboff). Guest speakers also have the potential to challenge stereotypes that may exist in a particular field.  Bringing in diverse role models that students can relate to helps to make your course more inclusive and builds community both inside and outside the classroom.   

The following is a list of considerations for instructors when inviting a guest speaker to a classroom:     

Prepare students ahead of the speaker’s visit: 

  • Let students know why you are inviting this particular guest.  
  • Ask students to research the speaker’s background: review personal websites, read articles, review book chapters written by this person, etc. 
  • Ask students to prepare 2-3 discussion questions for the guest. Students could submit these questions to you for review.  

Give the speaker plenty of context: 

  • Discuss with the speaker how the presentation fits into the course. What are the objectives of the course or this specific unit? What happens after this presentation? 
  • Make sure the speaker knows who to expect in the audience. Is this an introductory course or more advanced? How many students will be in attendance? 

Consider the format: 

  • Discuss with the speaker their presentation style. Some may come prepared with a formal presentation, including slides, while others prefer to use a less formal ‘fireside chat’ or ‘Q and A’ format (Leboff). Another possibility is for one or more students to interview the speaker. 
  • Ask the speaker if they have any specific technology needs for the presentation.

     

Follow up with students after the visit: 

  • Facilitate a class discussion (in person or online) where students are able share their thoughts about the presentation. Provide guiding questions to help prompt students.  
  • Turn the follow-up activity into an assignment: 
    • Prepare a written reflection on the speaker’s presentation, how it relates to course topics, ideas they agreed or disagreed with, etc.
    • Debrief about the presentation in small groups and then report out to the whole class. 
    • If there are multiple speakers during the semester, ask students to select the speaker who had the greatest impact on them and write an essay explaining why; or have students compare and contrast two different speakers. 
    • If the speaker is widely published, have students critique an article written by this person.  
    • Write a thank-you note or email to the speaker.  

We’ve heard from some instructors that it can be challenging to find guest speakers with little or no funding. One suggestion is to start with your own network of peers such as colleagues at your institution or nearby institutions. Reach out to your contacts from LinkedIn or other professional networks. Former students who are now “in the field” could be another possibility. Another group not to be overlooked is local business owners or other community members who often appreciate the opportunity to speak to students. If you are struggling to find a speaker, two sites that may be worth looking into are SpeakerHub and Pathful (Shane).  

Do you have any additional tips to share about hosting guest speakers? Please feel free to share them in the comments. 

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation
 

Image Source: Pixabay

References:

Lebhoff, D. (2019, November 22). Making the Most of Guest Speakers in the Classroom. Top Hat. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://tophat.com/blog/making-the-most-of-guest-speakers-in-the-classroom/ 

Shane, S. (2022, March 22). Leveraging Guest Speakers to Increase Student Learning. Edutopia. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/leveraging-guest-speakers-increase-student-learning/ 

Lunch and Learn: Community-Based Learning

On Wednesday, April 19th, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted a Lunch and Learn on Community-Based Learning. Luisa De Guzman, Assistant Director of the Center for Social Concern, moderated a panel of faculty from the Engaged Scholar Faculty and Community Partner Fellows Program. Sponsored by the Center for Social Concern, this program supports partnerships between JHU faculty and leaders from Baltimore City non-profits in co-teaching Community-Based Learning courses. The panel included: Anne-Elizabeth Brodsky, Associate Teaching Professor in the University Writing Program, Alissa Burkholder Murphy, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, Jasmine Blanks Jones, Executive Director of the Center for Social Concern, Matthew Pavesich, Teaching Professor and Director of the University Writing Program, and Victoria Harms, Visiting Assistant Professor in History.

De Guzman opened the presentation by describing community-based learning (CBL) and the opportunities available at the Center for Social Concern. CBL is a pedagogical model that integrates student learning with community engagement. It provides students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in real-world settings and reflect on their service experiences within a classroom setting. By partnering with community organizations, students, faculty, and community stakeholders benefit from the collaborative experience of pursuing mutual goals (Kuh, 2008).

The Engaged Scholarship program at the Center for Social Concern offers various ways to encourage faculty to integrate CBL into their teaching; opportunities range from mini grants of $500 to support CBL activities to an award of up to $5000 with the Engaged Scholar Faculty Fellows program to develop CBL courses with partners in the community. The Spring 2023 Engaged Scholar Faculty Fellows on the panel taught the following courses:

  • Anne Elizabeth Brodsky: Reintroduction to Writing: Music, Young People, and Democracy
  • Alissa Burkholder Murphy: Social Impact Design
  • Jasmine Blanks Jones: Black Storytelling: Public Health Education in the Black World
  • Matthew Pavesich: Reintroduction to Writing: The City that Writes
  • Victoria Harms: Rebels, Revolutions, and the Right-Wing Backlash

De Guzman continued with a question-answer session with panelists, including questions and discussion with audience members.

Q: Describe integrating CBL into your course, and what motivated you?

VH: I heard a talk by Dr. Shawntay Stocks on CBL in 2018. I was relatively new and did not feel very comfortable on the Homewood campus at that time. But my students began asking me more and more questions about Baltimore. CBL offered an opportunity to bring Baltimore into my course from different viewpoints.
MP: I started thinking about how to connect goals in our classroom with the community. Grade school kids, including high schoolers, take courses in storytelling. The partners for us have been students in their late teens and early twenties from all across Baltimore City.  CBL allows me to bring peers to my students from the community.
JBJ: Prior to my current position, I ran a nonprofit in West Africa for twelve years and recognize that the stories, knowledge, and ancestral wisdom of people of color across the globe is intentionally left out of Western academic practices. If we’re going to really think about the cultivation of knowledge, we have to engage with our communities, with people who are doing the work, who are finding solutions. That is my commitment. This is where it starts if we’re going to be better humans, researchers, and scholars.
AEB: I really like the way CBL expands students’ sense of what an education is and also what is considered expertise. Educators are not just those with a particular degree, but include others who are outside of the classroom: administrators, performers, musicians, etc. CBL also helps students expand their sense of what it means to be in college and not be defined by their major or a particular class. It helps them understand what they could learn in the moment, instead of five years from now. It also gives students an interdisciplinary experience and encourages them to question the idea of disciplinary boundaries.
ABM: I teach a year-long multidisciplinary design course where students work with an external project partner for two semesters.  Students like working on social impact projects, being part of something bigger than themselves. I was hesitant at first to bring these types of projects to students without the proper resources; I had some experience working overseas and recognized the challenges of projects like these. The Faculty Fellows program has great structure. It takes massive amounts of time, almost like having a part-time job, but it’s been a great platform to work with Baltimore City Rec and Parks.

Q: How did you manage the logistical side of starting up the partnerships and managing the relationships with the organization you worked with?

MP: It was a rough introduction with Wide Angle Youth Media at first. I came in with a pedagogical model that I had used previously, where students produce work for the organization. The organization’s response was slightly cold – they weren’t sure about our involvement. I stepped back and adjusted assignments and reconfigured the syllabus. We kept communicating which built up trust and things gradually improved. This is all part of the inherent messiness and flexibility that we as teachers have to be ready for.
AEB: I was brand new to OrchKids. My kids play music, so I was familiar with the program, but I was new to them. Once they (OrchKids) got the ‘okay’ to go through with it, we set up weekly Zoom meetings. The logistics were taken care of by Luisa De Guzman.
VH: Finding partners is a challenge and may be a deterrent. You have to acknowledge the legitimate reservations that people have about working with Hopkins. Positionality and cultural humility are lessons that I took away for myself. As a white woman from Hopkins I would show up in certain spaces in Baltimore and not always be welcome. After months of going to events and talking to people, I was able to make a connection at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Like Matt said, you keep building on the relationships.
Q: Do these organizations approach the Center for Social Concern (CSC)? Or is it an organic process?

JBJ: It’s generally an organic process. Luisa is very diligent about not matching people with organizations, or vice versa, but with establishing connections and helping people find their way together. We have a lot of community partners that span our different programs. And we’re looking at ways to continue to encourage more. We’re doing this through community happy hours with our partners and bringing people together just to get to know each other, to see what sparks and what ideas can come into fruition.
ABM: I had a booklet of past projects that I looked through and sought out partners that might have something to do with engineering. I reached out and asked if anyone had contacts, made a few calls, and figured out a project from there.
MP: One thing I found a little surprising – my students got a sense of higher stakes in the class. With the addition of the community partners, it’s like the tent got bigger. The stakes got a little higher, while still being relatively safe enough for novice writers. They realized, “We’re doing something cool. It matters to people more than just us.”

Q: How do you assess student learning in the CBL course?

AEB: The work that was going to get evaluated was the work of writing. I asked the folks at OrchKids if there was something our students could do for them in terms of writing or researching, but there was not.
MP: The answer to the question, which is a great question, depends on the pedagogical context of the content. CBL is essentially introducing students to a context for writing and a community for doing that.
VH: In my class, an upper-level writing intensive History class, there are reading assignments about Baltimore’s history in the 1960s. There are also two research papers, one of which is on Baltimore.  At the end of the semester, I asked students, “What do we do about the participation grade?”  I asked them to decide how they wanted to be assessed on participation and I walked out of the room. When I walked back in, they had a whole argument laid out about why they each deserved 100%. But it was a meaningful argument, so I was fine with it.
JBJ: It’s a real struggle in my course because I have students from many disciplines (public health, anthropology, theatre, etc.). There are public health outcomes that are central points to the course, but also historical content they are exposed to during the engagement with the community. It becomes an evaluation of the discussions that take place in the community, about the readings, and reflecting with each other.

Q: Is anyone documenting this pedagogy?

MP: UWP is constructing a digital resource for teaching and writing: “The Teaching and Writing Toolkit.”  It will contain some subsections about CBL, including community engaged syllabi, writing assignments, and rubrics that folks would need to evaluate this work.
JBJ: We’d like to move towards doing research about our practice and write about it. That’s a direction that we are excitedly heading in.
VH: We are a data-driven institution. I added extra questions on the course evaluations and published an article. You do it through publications.

Q:  One of the challenges of incorporating CBL is the budget and how it goes into the community. And what happens once the funding ends?

JBJ: As a Faculty Fellow you receive $5000 to work with – this can cover a range of things like materials to student transportation. In my case, the money went to transporting my students and the rest of the balance went to my community partner, the Blacks in Wax Museum. In terms of what happens after we’re done, Anand Pandian in Anthropology found a way for his community co-instructor to become a lecturer at Hopkins. It’s on us as faculty to really advocate for these opportunities. We also need to have more ways to build in how we apply for [CBL] grants together. I am hopeful there will be more happening in the way of tenure and promotion that allows faculty to count engaged scholarship and public facing scholarship.
Q: If students are already involved with an organization, is there a way for them to be recognized (with credit or other) for their efforts so that it also becomes a student-driven initiative?

JBJ: I’ve had students do independent studies with me for credit. These students often remain engaged in the work beyond the initial encounter and sometimes end up working as interns at the CSC.
MP: One of the recommendations from CUE2 is about bringing students’ curriculum, co-curricular, and extra-curricular experiences closer together. We need to stand up credit bearing experiences for students that are not just issued from academic offices, but from experiential learning experiences. This is happening across the country. We could position ourselves as leaders in this area.

Q: I feel like the K-12 environment has been doing this work for a long time. How much do you feel like you’re learning from the K-12 space?

MP: It might be telling about the insularity of Higher Ed that I’m thinking to myself, I’m not really familiar with the conversations happening in Primary and Secondary Ed around those ways.
JBJ: The School of Education is taking innovative steps with how they assess their grad students. They are accepting portfolios rather than just a straightforward dissertation. I think there’s movement there, more so with the profession than with the disciplines, which isn’t surprising. In the professions, in nursing and medicine, narrative medicine has been a thing for a very long time. Now there are reports from national academies about how we use a variety of forms of knowledge creation beyond solely the written text. It comes down to how you evaluate it, not just the long-written paper.

Q: Please tell us a word that summarizes your community-based learning experiences thus far.

VH: Cultural humility.
MP: Potential. We got started, something happened. But the future version of it is the most exciting version, I think.
JBJ: Reparative, and beyond just the relational physical repair.
AEB: Plaid. Some of it was a mess, some of it was personal, and it was all very political. So when you put that together, you get “plaid.”
ABH: Hopeful. There are positive responses from the students, and I think that good things are going to come from what they’re producing.


References:

Kuh, George D. (2008). “High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter.” AAC&U, Washington, D.C. 34 pp.

 

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation

Image Sources: Lunch and Learn Logo, Pixabay

Lunch and Learn: First-Year Seminars

On February 15, 2023, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) and the First-Year Seminar program hosted a Lunch and Learn with a panel of faculty members to share their experiences teaching First-Year Seminars (FYS) in the Fall of 2022 as well discuss emerging best practices. The panel included Christopher Celenza, Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of History and Classics; Marisa O’Connor, Associate Teaching Professor, University Writing Program; Lilliana Mason, SNF Agora Institute, Associate Professor of Political Science; and Karen ní Mheallaigh, Professor of Humanities, Classics Chair. Aliza Watters, Assistant Dean for the Undergraduate Curriculum and Director of First-Year Seminars, moderated the discussion.

Dr. Watters began with a short introduction to the FYS program, as well as some high-level reflections on lessons learned from Fall 2022. Part of a series of curricular recommendations from the Second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2), FYS welcomes students to the university in a small cohort experience (12 students per seminar), each one unique, but with shared goals focused on intellectual rigor and curiosity, peer community, and faculty-student interaction and mentorship. FYS were first piloted two years ago in the Fall of 2020; since then there have been over sixty FYS piloted. The Fall 2022 semester was the first semester where FYS were required for all incoming students in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Seminars are three credits, students are graded Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U), and faculty form communities of practice each fall to discuss and learn from experiences across the approximately 75 courses. Watters shared student survey results from Fall 2022 which averaged or exceeded 90% for intellectual experience, connection with faculty, and overall enjoyment.

The presentation continued with each faculty panelist briefly describing their seminar, including approach, highlights, and something learned along the way.

Dean Celenza began with his course, Books, Authenticity, and Truth, which examines the search for truth among selected texts from Roman antiquity through the mid-17th century. Unique to the seminar and most memorable for students were the weekly hands-on encounters they had with texts in the library’s rare books collection, an experiential learning component that complemented the analytical discussions. Early in the semester, Dean Celenza reckoned with the difficulty of some of the sources he was assigning. Rather than a formal introduction to his field, with a focus on developing discipline-specific, complex knowledge, he considered the ethic of the group’s learning in the moment – and the personal and communal stakes of that learning. For him, it was more important to meet students “where they are” in terms of background knowledge rather than try and cover every detail. He also commented that he so enjoyed getting to know his students more personally in the context of FYS, that the S/U grading scheme is essential to this, and how, institutionally, FYS enables faculty to have a far richer understanding of the overall landscape experienced by our first-year students.

Professor Mason continued with her seminar, The Psychology of Mass Politics in the United States. Her course focused on the various misperceptions we have about how people make decisions based on politics, how our thoughts can be influenced and biased through deliberate misinformation, and in getting students to note these practices in the real world. Mason purposely varied the way she presented material to students, regularly using film, video, and podcasts in addition to journal articles, and alternating weeks of heavier and lighter reading. One particularly enjoyable assignment for students was to design and develop a false story about Johns Hopkins University as a way of self-consciously inoculating them against misinformation. Surprised at the divergent levels of basic political knowledge students had coming into her class, including the different branches of government, Professor Mason plans to include more introductory material going forward and even more attention to annotated reading practices. Like Dean Celenza, Mason enjoyed getting to know her students and began all her classes with a more personal check-in before turning to the week’s material.

Dr. O’Connor continued with her course, Is a Corporation a Person?, which presents students with a legal framework for examining personhood and its related rights to free speech in the U.S. The seminar asks students to examine this concept from various viewpoints, including other cultures, political movements, and literature. Dr. O’Connor draws on a great diversity of sources for her students to analyze: film, photographs, political cartoons, websites, and scholarly articles, among others. At one point during the course, O’Connor asked students to read articles by two scholars who had vastly different opinions about a particular subject; students were incredulous that these “experts in the field” were disagreeing with each other so starkly. Dr. O’Connor noted how transformative this experience can be for students: to see intellectual disagreement so explicitly rendered and to be invited, themselves, into the scholarly conversation. And that is how Dr. O’Connor’s course culminates: with each student proposing a research question and project that engages debates of personhood.

Professor ní Mheallaigh described her course, Lunar Histories, as imagining the moon as a magic door or portal for students: how it was perceived by ancient people, how it factored into religious practices, and how it eventually emerged into scientific literature and later became a lodestar for truth in the modern world. Professor ní Mheallaigh found that students enjoyed the interactive parts of the seminar best. To help them process ancient material that could be dense, or overly-technical, she regularly asked students to draw or otherwise visualize what they thought the author was trying to convey in early texts. Another activity that was especially memorable for students was going to the JHU Archeological Museum to examine various ancient artifacts, including a wand used to cast spells. These active learning practice helped take the pressure off of having to comprehend every historical detail while engaging students in the abiding imaginative components of lunar histories. Professor ní Mheallaigh also maintained that they helped engage the students emotionally as well as intellectually.

Lunch and learn panelists speaking.Dr. Watters summarized some of the emerging themes in the presentations and for FYS more broadly, including the need for source diversity and dynamism, modulating overly technical or discipline-specific content, incorporating experiential learning, and creating the space for more personal, low-key interactions between and among students and faculty. She then began the question-and-answer portion of the workshop which yielded active discussion with audience members. Here are some of the queries the panelists addressed:

Q: What is one concrete thing you did that worked really well?

CC: I asked students how they were doing and what was going on at the beginning of each class; it was a good way to “take the temperature” of the students and the room overall.
MO: I had students look at all sources we used in class, build a case, and present results. Finding evidence in the moment and figuring out how to talk about it worked well.
LM: Each week I had students do a written reflection asking what they learned, what questions they still have, etc.
KN: Examining ancient objects and exploring multimedia were very successful.

Q: I’ve heard from students that some FYSs are a lot of work. How did you all think about the work that you assigned to students?

KN: The feedback from my students was that the assigned work was actually light.
LM: I varied the workload each week. Sometimes there was a lot of reading, but then I lightened things up the next week with a podcast or some other activity. They seemed comfortable.
MO: I assigned different sources – documentaries, readings, etc. I tried to have them do something very short before class – fun and relatively easy – but enough that they were prepared to talk about something.
CC: I tried to keep assignments short. Short was key – I wanted to give all students a chance to participate.

Q: When you give writing assignments, do you comment on the writing? Are we trying to make these students better writers in FYS?

KN: Yes, I provided comments. I thought this was a core part of what we were doing and I wanted to help them.
CC: The fact that all students will take a writing-intensive course in the spring semester after their FYS (part of Krieger’s First Year Foundation of FYS plus First-Year Writing), takes the pressure off. I don’t think we need to spend too much time commenting on their writing.
LM: I graded all of my assignments complete/incomplete. I kept my comments at a higher level.
MO: I had the students focus on writing in smaller bits, which kept it doable for them, and therefore, not much commenting from me.

Another faculty member in the audience shared that when teaching his FYS, he included writing assignments where students had to write to different audiences, such as a letter to their parents or through the lens of an art critic. He said this kept them accountable to the sources, but that the versatility helped keep things “new and exciting” for students.

Q: Were students in your FYS from the same intended major or discipline, or were they varied in their academic interests?

A: All panelists said their students intended to major in different fields; the students seemed to realize FYS was their chance to try something different, outside of their intended major or its related requirements. Several students commented to their instructors that the FYS sparked a genuine interest in a new field of study for them.A group of faculty listening to Lunch and Learn panelists.

Q: Who can we contact if we have concerns about something going on with first-year students?

A: Dr. Watters responded that being receptive to student experiences in the context of FYS is crucially important and encouraged instructors to contact the students’ advisors if needed. She also noted the role FYS can play in understanding and responding to broader trends percolating among students.

Q, from another FYS faculty member: In one of my courses, I allow students to co-design the syllabus for the class. Although it can be scary, it also takes some of the pressure off of me, as the students tend to be more prepared for things. Did you design the whole course, or did you allow students to develop any of it?  

A: While none of the panelists allowed students direct involvement in developing their syllabi, some commented that they did give students varying degrees of freedom in their assignments (such as what sources to use), some authority over class discussions, and independence in final projects.

Q: What is something you hope your students got out of your class?

KN: I think the social dimension that is built into this environment is enormously beneficial. For example, I took my students to a local diner, Paper Moon on 29th Street. It was so simple, but I felt like I really got to know them.
CC: Students want to get to know their professors – they are looking for mentor relationships and FYS helps develop those.
MO: The S/U aspect and small size of the seminars supports the social aspect. Students felt comfortable talking to me about their first semester. I was a non-threatening person in their life, despite being one of their instructors. I really enjoyed getting to know them in this way.
LM: I agree, about getting to know the students. I’m already writing recommendation letters for some of them! My hope, though, is that they maintain a curiosity for and joy of learning.

Dr. Watters concluded the session by reading an anonymous quote from the FYS student survey:

My FYS was my favorite class. Most of my other classes were large lecture style classes with 200 people so engaging with 11 of my peers in a small seminar environment helped me build meaningful connections. The instructor was also fantastic and he really got to know me. This was not just a ‘fun’ class. It was a class that was instrumental to making my first semester enjoyable. I made at least 4 friends in my FYS. I went to Peabody and the Visionary Arts Museum with my FYS group and explored Baltimore. Equally as important, it challenged me a lot and I gained skills that are critical.

Aliza Watters
Assistant Dean for the Undergraduate Curriculum and Director of First-Year Seminars
Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation

Image Sources: Lunch and Learn Logo, Beth Hals

A Faculty Follow-up Discussion: Re-engaging Students for the Fall Semester

On Tuesday, November 8th, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted a discussion on re-engaging students for the fall semester. At faculty request, this discussion was a continuation of one initially held in August, when participants explored the challenges they faced with the return to in-person teaching in Spring semester 2022. During that session, faculty offered potential ways to address disengagement in a student population who reported high levels of “stress, fatigue, and anxiety” in a post-pandemic world.male student staring at his computer This phenomenon has been noted in many media outlets, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, which recently hosted a webinar on addressing student disengagement and summarized it in a follow-up article. Mike Reese, Associate Dean and Director of the CTEI, moderated the conversation.  

The session kicked-off with instructors offering their general sense about how student engagement in their Fall courses compared to their Spring courses. The overall assessment was that problems remained, though there were some bright spots:  

  • One instructor noted that attendance in his course’s Friday session, led by teaching assistants, was down almost 50% in the recent week.  
  • Another noted that Fall was “a little bit” better than Spring, when she was still teaching online via Zoom, but she continued to observe a lot of “struggle” among her students, exacerbated by a lack of knowledge of how to address it.  
  • One participant, who regularly polled his students on their overall well-being on a scale from one to five with five being the highest score, said he was seeing a lot of ones and twos among his students. However, he started this practice during the pandemic so he didn’t have any pre-pandemic data to baseline the response.  
  • A fourth participant had observed that her students’ behavior was better, but they also had large gaps in their subject-matter knowledge due to the instructional disruptions incurred by the pandemic. 

Time management issues quickly became the dominant topic when one faculty member pointed out that this was a particular problem for his students. Other participants also offered examples of students struggling with time management; one faculty member said that she had received a lot of requests for extensions from students who admitted these were due to poor time management, and another said that she observed an all-senior class – usually a population with a good sense of time management –also contending with this issue.group of students socializing The reason for this, attendees speculated, may have to do with the full return to on-site courses and residential campus life. Students may be excited to dive back into campus life, trying to take advantage of opportunities, like lab-based research, not available during the pandemic, and becoming over-committed as a result. Another reason offered was that the time management skills needed to negotiate pandemic life and instruction needed to be re-adjusted for more typical university life.   

The post-pandemic gap in content-specific knowledge, particularly in the STEM disciplines, has prompted some academic programs to start looking at ways to make changes to their large introductory or gateway courses. One participant said her program was looking to make data-based adjustments informed by placement tests, in-person attendance at office hours, and data from Canvas classrooms and learning-support software, such as ALEKS. 

As a group, the participants generated several useful ideas to enhance engagement in both large lecture-style courses and smaller seminar courses:  

  • Increasing structure for small-group discussions in large classrooms: One instructor had added question prompts and a pre-identified spokesperson to her small-group break-out discussions to increase student focus, participation, and output during these sessions.  
  • Flipping one class meeting a week to start homework: Another instructor had flipped one class meeting a week to provide students with a pre-determined timeslot in which to start their homework each week and receive real-time instructional feedback. This helped students with time management and on-time completion of the homework.  
  • Requiring a one-to-one meeting outside class: An attendee required that seminar students meet with him one-on-one at least once outside of class, which helped build relationships and comfort with class participation.  
  • Requiring student socialization outside class: A participant volunteered onegroup of students smiling approach that she heard about via the Chronicle Webinar: to require that students meet and socialize outside of class twice a month to work on “conversation fundamentals” – how to have a balanced conversation, how to use open-ended questions – to build “social sophistication and stamina” in in-person environments post-pandemic. 
  • Mid-semester surveys: Two instructors distributed mid-semester surveys to students that specifically targeted issues of classroom engagement, and one queried participants about their time-on-task for assignments and activities. Though survey participation was low in one course, both instructors were reviewing and integrating appropriate feedback.  
  • Panels of former students: One attendee noted that he had invited a panel of former students to talk about their experiences in the class and what contributed to their success. The credibility of the speakers and the authenticity of the guidance resonated with the current students.  
  • Strategic use of Learning Assistants or Course Assistants: Some instructors in large or introductory courses used Learning Assistants or Course Assistants – undergraduate students successful in the subject area who are trained to provide in-class instructional support – to scale up instructional reach and feedback. These assistants had been particularly crucial in courses that needed more hands-on instructional support, structure, and feedback.    

Many instructors found themselves structuring tasks and activities for students that, pre-pandemic, may not have required direct guidance and direction. Given this need, the importance of student meta-cognition – knowing how to learn something – was raised, which resulted in the following suggestions:       

  • Using learning science data to persuade students: One participant noted that her students were very responsive to research-based arguments. When she offered students evidence-based examples of effective ways to learn (she cited  The Learning Scientists blog as a good source of information), they responded affirmatively to these suggestions. Leveraging learning science research when suggesting better ways to study – retain, recall, and synthesize content – might be one way to help bolster meta-cognition.  
  • Building in self-reflection on effective learning approaches: An attendee recommended integrating opportunities for students to self-reflect on the usefulness of teaching interventions, such as the one-course-meeting-a-week flipped classroom for starting homework. Such reflection on why a certain approach worked (in this case, in-class time dedicated to starting homework with in-person instructional feedback) may help students build (or re-build) their meta-cognitive muscles.  

The conversation turned to tools that could support both targeted in-class instruction and meta-cognition skill development. Brian Cole, Associate Director of the CTEI, said that he had been investigating different technologies that would enable real-time assessment of content comprehension and upvoting of particularly confusing content areas. Melo Yap, the new Sr. Educational Research Consultant at the CTEI, volunteered Kahoot as a tool that could offer such flexibility. 

 A faculty member suggested developing a toolkit with proven meta-cognitive strategies that could be inserted into the Canvas sections of each course. Instructors and students could access this toolkit on-demand and integrate into it their course design for both “just-in-time” support (e.g., before a high-stakes test) and more long-term development. The CTEI offered to collect any already-available guidance to help students learn more effectively in an effort to start collating this information in one place.  

Caroline Egan
Caroline Egan is a Project Manager in the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation, supporting instructional training and development for Hopkins faculty, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and staff.

Mike Reese
Mike Reese is Associate Dean of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation and associate teaching professor in Sociology.

Image Source: Unsplash

Faculty Discussion: Re-engaging Students for the Fall Semester

The return to in-person teaching last year brought with it a high degree of uncertainty for students and faculty. Professors reported that stress, fatigue, and anxiety contributed to higher levels of student disengagement, disconnection, and languishing than in pre-pandemic courses. college students in lecture hallFaculty at other schools reported similar trends with several articles and essays published in the NY Times and Chronicle of Higher Education over the past several months. At faculty’s request, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted a discussion for instructors to share their experiences and brainstorm solutions for Fall 2022 and beyond. Over thirty instructors participated. Brian Cole, Associate Director of the CTEI, moderated the discussion.

Faculty attendees reported that students seemed to struggle transitioning from online classes to in-person classes last spring. One person shared that colleagues at other institutions were reporting the same concerns. The behaviors described included students:

  • expressing concerns about being prepared for high-stakes exams
  • regularly being distracted by devices during class
  • skipping class more frequently than before the pandemic
  • requesting more mental health accommodations
  • acting more aggressively toward  instructors (One instructor said this behavior is more likely seen by instructors of certain races and gender.)

Participants felt these behaviors could be traced to several sources. The pandemic was traumatic for many students suffering from social isolation and the stress of living under the threat of COVID. Faculty also felt some students were not as prepared for their classes because pre-requisite college classes or high school courses were online and employed pass-fail grading schemas. Other instructors reported students feeling stressed about other global events (e.g., political polarization, Ukraine war).  While the pandemic may be fading or becoming normalized, faculty shared that other stressors are constants that continue to weigh on students.

This led to a discussion about when it was appropriate for faculty to engage students about their stress and anxiety over global crises. Instructors teaching in the social sciences can more easily integrate discussions of current events into their curriculum. Is it appropriate for faculty in science and engineering to dedicate class time to social stressors that affect students? Most participants said yes. Several shared they provide opportunities for students to talk about current events that may impact them and ask students openly, “How are you doing? What’s going on with your peers?” to give them space to talk. stressed out male student looking at his laptop Several faculty participants asked for advice on how to set boundaries on the amount of time to dedicate to these discussions during class and what types of topics to discuss. Those that dedicate class time to talking about global issues or student mental health concerns felt it was appropriate to occasionally dedicate 15 minutes of class time to connect with students and build relationships with them. As for topics, instructors should choose topics they are comfortable discussing.

Another source of stress mentioned was the number of hours students are working. One professor shared he has seen an increase in students trying to work full time while attending school. It’s not a large number, but definitely an increase that was likely precipitated by the flexible schedules during COVID when classes were more likely to be asynchronous. Another instructor shared that she observed an increase in students working part-time jobs during COVID. She felt it was important to be more explicit with students about expectations for deadlines and the time it takes to complete assignments to help students balance working outside of class. However, many participants felt it was not appropriate for students to work full-time. Another instructor reported an increase in students continuing summer internships into the academic year. Students see this as a pathway to a job after graduation and are motivated to continue working. This may be a good opportunity, but again, faculty are concerned students are overcommitted.

Some faculty record their lectures for students to review later, while others questioned if this would result in students skipping class. Several faculty responded with strategies to encourage students to attend. These included using activities that motivate students to show up and awarding points for participating in those activities.  One instructor said he records the videos, but shares them with students only upon request. If a student is regularly requesting them and not showing up for class, he engages them to learn more about why they are skipping to address any issues. He shares all of the videos with students the week before the exam. Another instructor said she has recorded her lectures for 15 years, and uses activities to encourage student attendance and engagement with each other. She stresses, “I’m not the only person in the room. You also learn from the other students when you are here.”

Another instructor asked if recording the class discourages students from asking questions. Two instructors responded it did not affect behavior in their classes, but that could be because they teach large courses so students are generally less likely to ask questions during class meetings.

While the pandemic was stressful for everyone, faculty reported it provided opportunities to experiment with new teaching strategies. Many are now trying to evaluate which changes to keep or drop. One instructor said their decision is based on the time required to implement the strategy and its impact on student learning.students doing an activity with post-it notes on a whiteboard Another instructor said she offered more low-stakes assessments while teaching online. She felt this helped reduce the stress of high-stakes assessments, but she is now considering if she is requiring too much of students. The value of offering more low-stakes assessments is that students get more regular feedback throughout the semester.

Another instructor is hearing from students that instructors are assigning more applied learning assignments that leverage technology (e.g., arcGIS) which require significantly more time to complete. While it’s good to have interdisciplinary projects and collaborate with other groups, such as data services at the university, we need to remember that this also requires students to work with different groups and learn additional skills, all of which take time.

Overall, faculty felt the goal is not to penalize disengagement, but to encourage students to engage. Faculty participants shared additional strategies to address student disengagement which are summarized below:

  • Eliminate online tools for the course that are not critical.
  • Offer asynchronous work days. This is not an off day, but a chance to work on class assignments.  One instructor shared that students really liked having a day to work on their projects.
  • Clearly communicate expectations for class (e.g., assignment deadlines, pre-class work expectations) on a regular basis and in multiple modalities (e.g., verbally in class, on Canvas, via class email).
  • Build in flexibility to assignment deadlines. One instructor allows students to skip up to two assignments, and their grade is replaced by the average of the existing assignments.
  • Another instructor shared a similar approach: she does not permit any extensions on homework even if a student is sick, however, she replaces missing grades with the average of the other assignments if the student presents a viable excuse for missing the deadline. The instructor uses this approach because it allows her to share the homework solutions immediately after the deadline while students are still intellectually engaged with the assignment.
  • Another instructor builds in quizzes related to the homework to encourage students to look at it early. For example, the day after homework is posted, students are presented with a quiz asking them to describe what the homework is asking them to do. They don’t need to solve it, but it motivates them to look at it early instead of waiting until the last day when they will have less time to get help.
  • Consider using the discussion board in Canvas or encourage students to attend office hours if you don’t want to dedicate class time to check in with them.
  • Share wellness resources from JHU including the Student Well-being blog about talking with students about current events: https://wellbeing.jhu.edu/blog/. They also provide a page for dealing with more acute issues when students are in distress: https://wellbeing.jhu.edu/resources/faculty-staff/
  • Consider limiting the use of devices (phones, laptops, etc.) to minimize distractions during class.
  • Share mental health resources with your students including Mental Telehealth (free counseling via video chat), Calm app (great for sleep, focus, mindfulness), A Place to Talk (peer listening), Stress and Depression Questionnaire (10minute confidential assessment with feedback w/in 48 hours from a Hopkins clinician).
  • Share how you manage your stress to demonstrate that students are not the only ones dealing with these issues. One participant said, “We might feel it, but if we don’t say it, they don’t know it. If you talk about it, then you open up a space for students to talk about their own stressors.”
  • Consult inclusive teaching practices and Hopkins Universal Design for Learning resources which can help instructors build flexibility into their teaching. One instructor said that being flexible includes building in processing time to help students prepare for their assignments. This includes emotional processing time on difficult topics.

female student smiling in classroom with other studentsClare Lochary from the Office of Student Health and Wellbeing shared that the Counseling Center sees two clear spikes in incoming clients each semester. The first is six weeks into the semester when students begin to realize they aren’t doing as well as they want in their courses. The second  is during the last two weeks of the semester as they prepare for final papers and exams. Faculty should be aware of these cycles and pay special attention to student behavior  so they can refer students to help resources or address concerns about academic performance.

Mike Reese
Mike Reese is Associate Dean of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation and associate teaching professor in Sociology.

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Teaching Cinema with Omeka

Since the death of the DVD player, several challenges have emerged for media-based courses: How can we give students access to a wide range of audiovisual, image, and text sources located on multiple different online platforms? What is the most efficient way for the instructor to access these materials in class spontaneously, and for students to be able to work with the materials on their own? Can we do this in a way that allows for critical engagement and sparks new associations? Can we make that engagement interactive? To address these challenges, graduate fellow Hale Sirin and I discovered Omeka, an open-source exhibition software tool developed at George Mason University. We found the Omeka platform optimal for creating media-rich digital collections and exhibitions.Omeka website Home page for Comparative Cinema

In Fall 2019, funded by a Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) Technology Fellowship Grant, we created and customized an instance of Omeka with the specific goal of designing a web-based environment to teach comparative cinema courses. We implemented the Omeka site in Spring 2020 for the course “Cinema of the 1930s: Communist and Capitalist Fantasies,” further supported by a CTEI Teaching Innovation Grant. This course compares films of the era in a variety of genres (musical, epic, Western, drama) from different countries, examining the intersections between politics and aesthetics as well as the lasting implications of the films themselves in light of theoretical works on film as a medium, ethics and gender. We adapted the online publishing software package into an interactive media platform on which the students could watch the assigned films, post comments with timestamps, and help expand the platform by sharing their own video essays. We built this platform with sustainability in mind, choosing open-source software with no recurring costs so that it could be used over the years and serve as a model for future interdisciplinary and comparative film and media courses.

When building this website, our first task was to organize the digital archive of film clips and film stills for the course. These materials were then uploaded to Panopto, the online streaming service used by JHU, and embedded in the Omeka site.screenshot of embedded film hosted in Kanopy We also embedded the films that were publicly available on YouTube, Kanopy, and other archives, such as the online film archive of the production studio Mosfil’m, designing the Omeka site to serve as a single platform to stream this content. Each film, clip, text, or image was tagged with multiple identifiers to allow students to navigate the many resources for the course via search and sort functions, tags and hyperlinks, creating an interactive and rich learning environment. We added further functionality to the website by customizing interactive plugins, such as the “Comments” function, which allowed us to create a thread for each film in which students could respond to the specific prompts for the week and to timestamp the specific parts of the film to which their comments referred.

In order to abide by copyright laws, only films in the public domain were streamed in their entirety. For other films, we provided selected short clips on Omeka, which we were able to easily access during class. Students were able to access the films available on Kanopy through our website by entering their JHU credentials.

Teaching comparative cinema with the interactive website powered by Omeka provided the students with a novel way of accessing comparative research in film studies. The website served as a single platform, interconnecting the digital material (video, image and text) and creating an interactive and rich learning environment to enhance student learning both in and outside of class time. Rather than the materials being fixed to the syllabus week to week, students could search film clips by director, year, country, or theme. Students were thus able to compare and contrast many images and films from across cultural divides on a unified online platform.

Students were not only able to access the course materials on the Omeka site, but also to expand and re-structure the content. screenshot of Scarlett Empress film clip in Omeka site Over the course of the semester, students contributed to the annotation of film clips by uploading their comments to the films and timestamping important sequences. Since they were also required to draw their presentations from material in the exhibition, their engagement on the site was quantifiable on an on-going basis. As their final projects, they had the option of creating a video essay, which involved editing together clips from the films, and recording an interpretive essay over them, like a commentary track. Their video essays were shared with their peers on the Omeka site.

After switching to online learning in Spring 2020 due to Covid19, the Omeka site not only performed its original task, but was flexible enough to give us the opportunity to build an asynchronous, alternative educational environment, now not only hosting the course materials and discussion forums, but also the weekly recorded lectures, recordings of our Zoom discussion sessions, and students’ final video essays.

We thank the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (previously known as the Center for Educational Resources) and the Sheridan Libraries for their support and continual guidance during this project.

Additional Resources:

https://omeka.org/

https://blogs.library.jhu.edu/2016/08/omeka-for-instruction/

Authors’ Backgrounds:

Anne Eakin Moss was an Assistant Professor in JHU’s Department of Comparative Thought and Literature, a board member of the program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality and of the Center for Advanced Media Studies. She was the 2017 recipient of the KSAS Excellence in Graduate Teaching/Mentorship Award and a Mellon Arts Innovation Grant, and a 2019 KSAS Discovery Award winner. Since the fall of 2021, she has been at the University of Chicago where she is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures.

Hale Sirin is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Comparative Thought and Literature. A recipient of the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship and the Women, Gender, and Sexuality teaching fellowship, she has taught courses in comparative literature, philosophy, and intellectual history. Her research interests include early 20th-century philosophy and literature, theories of representation and media in modernity, and digital humanities.

Image source: Hale Sirin