Classics Research Lab: The John Addington Symonds Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: Gabrielle Dean, Reid Sczerba

Using Slack in the Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

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

Lunch and Learn: Community-based Learning

On Wednesday, December 12, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted the second Lunch and Learn for the 2018-2019 academic year. Shawntay Stocks, Assistant Director of Engaged Scholarship, Center for Social Concern; and Dora Malech, Assistant Professor, Writing Seminars; presented on Community-based Learning.

Graphic illustration of Community-based learning process.

Shawntay Stocks opened with a presentation on community-based learning (CBL) at Johns Hopkins speaking about how her organization—the Center for Social Concern (CSC)—can assist faculty who wish to use the CBL pedagogical model in their courses (see slides here). The Center for Social Concern is the part of the Homewood Student Affairs division of Johns Hopkins University that focuses on volunteerism and community engagement; Community-based Learning is just one of their programs.

Stocks described CBL as “…a pedagogical model that connects classroom-based work with meaningful community involvement and exchange.  Within the context of equitable partnership, community organizations and students mutually benefit from the CBL experience both by meeting course objectives and addressing community-identified goals.  Students may engage with groups including, but not limited to: nonprofits, government agencies, grassroots collectives, and other educational institutions.” She noted that collaboration is the key for faculty, students, and community groups in pursuing mutual goals and course objectives, and that faculty must provide adequate preparation for their students to engage in CBL. The Center for Social Concern offers training for faculty, stipends to support faculty and community partners, and provides a TA for courses using CBL. At the core CBL is an equal partnership. The community partner may not have an advanced academic degree, but does have expertise, relationships, and contextual knowledge to bring to the table.

Students benefit because CBL allows them to connect theory to real-life experience and to think critically, in our case, about urban life in Baltimore. They have the opportunity to work collaboratively and collectively and gain an understanding of diverse perspectives. The skills they develop will be transferable to other aspects of their lives. Students often transform their thinking about the city in positive ways as they gain knowledge through reflection.

How can faculty ensure a successful CBL experience? Stocks emphasized the importance of “doing your homework” in terms of the community partner. You should think about these questions: What are the areas of commonality? How do your academic goals and their programmatic goals overlap? What are the expectations on both sides? What types of training will students need for a successful partnership? What are the logistics for partnership meetings? What commitment is being made (e.g., one semester, multiple semesters or academic years) and what is the potential for an ongoing partnership? What type of action are you planning for your CBL course—research, service, community building, advocacy, dialog?

Critical for the student experience are reflection and assessment. Reflection deepens learning. Instructors must allow for students to express their discomfort, frustration, anxiety, anger as well as their positive, affirmative feelings. It’s important to have conversations around the emotional impact of their experiences and acknowledge difficulties. Assessment of learning can be done through journaling, discussion, essays, or presentations.

At the end of the course there should be a project evaluation that includes the community partner. How did the partnership work? Were the learning goals accomplished? What would make the partnership work better? What were the pitfalls? How can these be navigated next time?  CBL courses may be iterative processes and such evaluation will allow for continuous improvement of the experience for all involved.

Dora Malech won the Crenson-Hertz Award for Community Based Learning and Participatory Research from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Concern in 2016. For the past several years she has worked with CSC, partnering with the Writers in Baltimore Schools (WBS) program to give her Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars students a CBL experience. The WBS website has more information on this partnership. Malech shared her experiences with developing and teaching her course, Poetry and Social Justice.

Malech teaches undergraduate and graduate students now, but previously, at the University of Iowa, she directed a K-12 outreach program, which gave her an appreciation for community partnerships. In thinking about CBL, an important component for her is the concept of cultural humility, which comes from social work, a profession that emphasizes diversity and cultural competency. This idea of respecting the different experience of others and being open to learning from them works well for those interested in implementing CBL.

When she was first considering CBL, she made a lot of phone calls to prospective partners. Malech recommends meeting face to face, having coffee, getting to know the person. She ended up partnering with Patrice Hutton from the Writers in Baltimore Schools program. The program starts with Middle School students who participate in “in-school, after-school, and summer programming that builds skills in literacy and communication while creating a community of support for young writers.” Malech’s Writing Seminars students worked with Baltimore City high school students who had been program participants.

For the students on both sides, it is important to frame the relationship as a two-way transaction. The high school students have the experience of growing up in Baltimore City. They have cultural wealth and knowledge, and can articulate the community concerns. These students are college bound, but university culture is very much an abstraction for them. The JHU students may know nothing about inner-city life; the high school students give them the benefit of their urban experience, while the JHU students can help break down the mystery of what college life will be like for their high school partners.

Malech is explicit with her students about the course requirements. Participation in events outside of class time is mandatory—these include field trips, interview assignments, literary readings. Students are expected to get to these events on their own. Purchase of a Maryland Transit Administration CharmCard is recommended, and students should become familiar with public transportation such as local buses, light rail and the MARC train to DC. Due to logistics (the high school students are coming from all across Baltimore City), and to the high school students’ expressed preference, the class meetings are held on the JHU campus.

Malech said her role is to be explicit that the text is the community itself and that the students will build it together in the classroom. An on-going class blog—Poetry and Power—captures student writings. From the web site: “POETRY & POWER is the website and blog of “Poetry & Social Justice,” a Community Based Learning class that brings 15-20 Baltimore City high school students and 15- 20 Johns Hopkins University undergraduate students together to explore the intersection of poetry and social justice. They’ll write and read poetry together, engage with visiting writers, interview local poets and activists, and hold public performances of their own.”

As Stocks emphasized, Malech also views critical reflection as a key component for CBL. She uses the DEAL Model for Critical Reflection from Patti Clayton’s web site PHC Ventures (Mission: To build capacity for and generate best practices around community-engaged teaching, learning, and scholarship.), which Malech recommends as a great resource for those engaging in CBL.

A discussion followed the presentations. Stocks gave examples of different models of CBL. In one case a STEM faculty member and his class developed course modules to augment STEM programming at Margaret Brent Middle School. She fielded questions about whether it would be possible for Engineering capstone courses to use CBL with identified partners, specifically whether Civil Engineering students might partner with city agencies to identify and resolve infrastructure issues. This is an intriguing possibility that may be pursued with faculty and deans in the Whiting School of Engineering.

A question was posed about how to get departmental buy-in and funding for CBL courses. Malech noted that she had to prove that the concept was pedagogically sound and not overwhelming for the students. Strong positive feedback from the students showed that this was a high-impact teaching model. She said that she worked very hard to make the course a success. Getting positive publicity can be a strong incentive for department backing. Media attention acts as a “witness” to the process and as pressure for the administration to continue a project. She also presented at conferences and made the connection between strong writing and community engagement. Malech stated that culture change is an uphill battle where positive community feedback can really help. Being flexible and willing to scale up or down is important as well. The JHU President’s Office is advocating for community engagement, which may also be useful in getting departmental approval.

Stocks reminded us that CSC has resources for faculty and can assist even if someone wants to start on a small scale and build up to greater community engagement. Mike Reese, who uses CBL in his Sociology courses (focused on Baltimore City) noted that CSC had helped him get a JHU van to transport students for field work assignments. Stocks referenced the CSC website page for faculty wanting to use CBL—there are resources listed. She invited interested faculty to come have a conversation and learn more.

A question was asked about how a course could be restructured to include a CBL component. Faculty who have implemented CBL agreed that the activities must be the core course fabric. Traditional assignments can be swapped out for CBL assignments; class time can be used, or time outside of class can be substituted depending on the activity. Both the Center for Social Concern and the Center for Educational Resources can assist faculty with course planning.

Several participants who have used CBL in their courses stressed the importance of structuring and scaffolding the experience for students to assure that they buy into the concept. Malech emphasized that students should be prepared for the fact that there will be a certain amount of chaos inherent in the program, and that interpersonal relationships can be challenging. That is part of any real-world experience, but if students are prepared, they will be able to adapt. Another faculty CBL user noted that it is never a majority of students who feel “unsettled” by the realities of city life and partnership, but for those who are it is important to keep communication lines open and be flexible. And someone else noted that the “chaos factor” is also part of the equation for faculty and doesn’t go away even after multiple experiences offering CBL courses. In her experience, the chaos is well worth the meaningful, long-term impact for students. Malech commented, “That’s what college should be all about.”

Ahmed Ibrahim, Senior Education Research Consultant in the Center for Educational Resources, has been analyzing data on CBL courses taught at JHU from 2015 to 2017. He shared that students indicated that the best aspect of CBL courses is the personal interaction. Students asked for negative aspects made comments when the course was not well-structured.

Mike Reese, Director of the Center for Educational Resources asked Stocks and Malech what the best thing about CBL has been for them. Stocks answered that she enjoys creating CBL partnerships and wants to further engage faculty in a CBL learning community. For Malech, it has been the publishing and presenting as an educational expert outside her field of poetry. In terms of the learning process, she has come to think differently about course content. While originally she was focused on social justice and lived experience for the high school students, they challenged her to allow them to be creative writers. She’s appreciated the chance to be more open about her own assumptions of what the community partner wants and needs.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Sources: Center for Social Concern, Community-based Learning web site: https://studentaffairs.jhu.edu/socialconcern/programs/community-based-learning/

 

We Have a Solution for That: Student Presentations, Posters, and Websites

Some of our faculty are moving away from traditional end-of-semester assessments, such as term papers and high-stakes final exams, in favor of projects that can be scaffolded over a period of time. These may include having students share their research in an oral presentation, poster, or website. The question is, how do you support their research output? Fortunately, we have some solutions!

If your students are doing either oral presentations or electronic posters, check out Prezi Next, the new version of the online presentation application. [See our post on the original version, The Power of Prezi, from October 2014.] The new version, which runs on HTML5 rather than Adobe Flash, offers many more templates, a more intuitive interface, supports more file types, and is easier to navigate while presenting. While Prezi is great for a linear presentation, one advantage is that presentations can be designed to be non-linear, useful for facilitating a less formal discussion for example.

Looking for a presentation software that allows for easy collaboration among student team members? Check out Google Slides. Like Google Docs and Google Sheets, access to the slides can be shared and multiple users can work on the sides remotely and simultaneously—there’s even a chat feature to make group editing easy. There are some nicely designed templates, themes in Google-speak, and you can easily integrate content from Google spread sheets and documents. There is also a downloadable version of Google Slides for desktop use.

If you don’t like the templates in PowerPoint or Google Slides, check out Slides Carnival, which has many creative templates available for download, including fonts, icon sets, maps, and charts, graphs, and tables styled for each template. These work with both PowerPoint and Google Slides.

If you are looking to have your students create a website, Google Sites has recently come out with a new version of its website creation application. When you sign into Google Sites you can choose to use the classic version or the new one. The new version gives you fewer options (just six themes available currently), but is a snap to use, being essentially drag and drop. There no messing with HTML code, and it is easy to tie into the content from your other Google apps. There is an “add editors” feature that will facilitate group work. It’s a great option when you want your students to be focused on creating content, not on struggling with technology.

We also have some resources for students doing presentations and posters—online videos on creating and designing effective PowerPoint presentations and posters, as well as some handouts on these topics. See Presentation Strategies on the CER website. If your students (or you) are looking for freely-available and rights-free visual resources (images and multimedia) check out CER’s Visual Resources page.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: cc Wikimedia Commons

Making Infographics with Easel.ly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

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

 

 

 

Summer Reading: Three Articles for Your Consideration

Celebrating the end of the academic year and looking forward to some time for summer reading? It’s always good to have solid research to back up our teaching practices. Three recent articles highlight scholarship behind the claimed benefits of collaborative learning, improved student performance with the use of active learning, and taking notes by hand provides better cognitive retention than using a laptop.

Woman lying on grass reading a book.A tip from the Tomorrow’s Professor mailing list sent The Innovative Instructor to IDEA (Individual Development and Educational Assessment) and POD (Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education). “IDEA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide assessment and feedback systems to improve learning in higher education.” [http://ideaedu.org/about] As part of IDEA, POD produces “succinct papers” to address specific ways for instructors to employ innovative teaching methods. The POD Center Notes on Instruction is definitely worth a look.

POD Item #5 Formed “Teams” or “Discussion Groups” To Facilitate Learning Overall, reviews the research supporting the benefits of collaborative learning. “Learning is enhanced when the material to be learned is thought about deeply and also when related material is retrieved from memory and associated with the new material. When students have an opportunity to work together to learn course content, particularly when applying that material to a new challenge, both deep thinking and retrieval of associated materials are realized.” Specific tips are presented for implementing group work in a course, including setting clear expectations and monitoring group progress. Applications of group work for online settings are examined, and assessment issues are addressed.

Next, a study on lecturing versus active learning was recently highlighted in both Inside Higher Education and The Chronicle of Higher Education. The results of the research, Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics, were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Scott Freeman, Mary Wenderoth, Sarah Eddy, Miles McDonough, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Hannah Jordt, and Michelle Smith. The lead researchers are in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle.

From the abstract: “This is the largest and most comprehensive meta-analysis of undergraduate STEM education published to date.” “These results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sections, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” As for the significance of the report, “[t]he analysis supports theory claiming that calls to increase the number of students receiving STEM degrees could be answered, at least in part, by abandoning traditional lecturing in favor of active learning.”

From the April 2014 Psychological Science, The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, reports on the benefits students gain by taking lecture notes longhand rather than on a laptop. Although using laptops in class is common (and instructors complain about the distractions laptops present), this study “…suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing.” “In three studies, [the researchers] found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.” The authors conclude “…that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Image Source: CC Spirit Fire on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spirit-fire/5733726521/

Resources for Peer Learning and Peer Assessment

Students doing group workSeveral weeks ago our colleagues in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health presented the very informative half-day symposium Peer to Peer: Engaging Students in Learning and Assessment. Speakers presented on their real-life experiences implementing peer learning strategies in the classroom. There were hands-on activities demonstrating the efficacy of peer-to-peer learning. Two presentations focused on peer assessment highlighting the data on how peer assessment measures up to instructor assessment and giving examples of use of peer assessment.  If you missed it, the presentations were recorded and are now available.

A previous post highlighted Howard Rheingold’s presentation From Pedagogy to Peeragogy: Social Media as Scaffold for Co-learning. You will need to bring up the slides separately – there is a link for them on the CTL page.

For additional material on peer learning and assessment the JHSPH CTL resources page is loaded with information on the subject, outlining best practices and highlighting references and examples.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

Two Keynotes – Part 2

In the last post, I wrote about a keynote presentation by Philip Yenawine, the co-founder of Visual Thinking Strategies. A second remarkable keynote address came during a half-day symposium, Peer to Peer: Engaging Students in Learning and Assessment, sponsored by colleagues in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (JHSPH).

Screenshot taken from Howard Rheingold's websiteHoward Rheingold delivered his presentation From Pedagogy to Peeragogy: Social Media as Scaffold for Co-learning remotely as seems appropriate for the person Wikipedia  describes as “… a critic, writer, and teacher; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing).”

Rheingold is a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in the Department of Communication where he teaches two courses, Virtual Communities, and Social Media Literacies. He is also a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley in the School of Information where he teaches Virtual Communities and Social Media. He is the author of numerous books including Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, [2002, Perseus Books], and Net Smart: How to Thrive Online [2012, The MIT Press]. He has given a TED Talk titled The New Power of Collaboration.

On the bleeding edge in terms of technology and thinking about the power of the human mind, Rheingold has long been an advocate and advancer of the collaborative nature of networked communities and communication. Rheingold spoke to the audience at JHSPH on the evolution of learning from lecture-based to learning-centered, self-directed, social, peer-to-peer, inquiry-based, cooperative, and networked models.

He started in the mid-2000s with the Social Media Classroom, a wiki-based site that acted as a place for communication and served as an asynchronous element to a face-to-face class he was teaching. In the process students, working in teams, became co-teachers. He promoted the use of blogs, and mind maps that provided students with a non-linear way of looking at materials and making connections between things. In an effort to reach out to different learning styles, Rheingold presented the course syllabus as a concept map, a Prezi, and on the wiki.

Since then we have seen a proliferation of peer-to-peer learning platforms such as YouTube and Khan Academy, as well as self-directed, peer-supported courses such as ds[digital storytelling]106. Since January 2011 ds106 has been taught at University of Mary Washington (UMW) and other institutions as a course for credit but also has at the same time been open (non-credit) to participants from the web (learn more about ds106).

Howard Rheingold’s Rheingold U. is a natural extension of this phenomenon.  “Rheingold U. is a totally online learning community, offering courses that usually run for five weeks, with five live sessions and ongoing asynchronous discussions through forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, and social bookmarks. In my thirty years of experience online and my eight years teaching students face to face and online at University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University, I’ve learned that magic can happen when a skilled facilitator works collaboratively with a group of motivated students. Live sessions include streaming audio and video from me and from students, shared text chat and whiteboard, and my ability to push slides and lead tours of websites.”

Rheingold asked, “What do self-learners need to know in order to effectively teach and learn from each other?” This question led him to the development of the concept of peeragogy (a collection of techniques for collaborative learning and collaborative work) and The Peeragogy Handbook: a peer-to-peer learning guide in the form of a wiki-based “textbook” created cooperatively. Of this Rheingold says, “I was invited to lecture at UC Berkeley in January, 2012, and to involve their faculty and their graduate students in some kind of seminar, so I told the story of how I’ve used social media in teaching and learning – and invited them to help me create a handbook for self-learners.”

Rheingold inspires us to rethink traditional teaching models, reminding us that not only do we learn best by doing, but also that teaching someone what we have learned reinforces our own knowledge.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources
Johns Hopkins University


Image Source: Screen shot from http://rheingold.com/

Bring on the Collaboration

Getting students to participate in class discussions is a common challenge. Every instructor has faced the dreaded silence after posing a question. Active learning activities can stimulate student engagement, but they can be difficult to implement in classrooms that were designed for lectures –  fixed seating inhibits opportunities for collaborative exercises such as group work and discussion.

Research has shown that active learning strategies can improve students’ retention of content taught in class [Michael Prince. Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 2004. http://ctlt.jhsph.edu/resources/views/content/files/150/Does_Active_Learning_Work.pdf.] A variety of teaching methods – such as peer-instruction, discussion groups, and collaborative problem solving – can foster greater student engagement. Each of these methods requires students to connect, share information, and discuss possible solutions to posed problems, anticipating real life workplace situations.

eStudio-309_2D-finalFaculty who want to implement active learning strategies may find it challenging to manage in a space designed for lecture-based instruction. In the last decade, universities have introduced classrooms to address this challenge. Typically known as studio  or collaborative learning classrooms (CLC), such spaces often have round, movable tables for group work, ample whiteboard space, and large display screens for each group. This learning environment has a positive effect on students’ engagement; it alters their roles in the classroom from passive recipients of knowledge to active participants in their own learning.

At a National Academies Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Education last summer, several Hopkins colleagues and I participated in group work in a space designed for collaboration. We were impressed by the power of that learning experience. Shortly after the workshop, we learned that the Provost’s Gateway Sciences Initiative would be underwriting the conversion of a traditional learning space (Krieger 309) into a collaborative learning classroom.  I decided to offer my Biology Workshop course in the new CLC in the fall semester of 2012.

The course was designed as a guest lecture series with some meetings set aside for group discussions.  Although we continued to offer the guest lectures in a large hall, we moved to the CLC for the group discussions and were delighted to take advantage of the features of this new space. During a typical class, I provided a 5 to 10 minutes overview of the day’s lesson plan, often using the instructor projectors to play a video or podcast highlighting a current event or controversial topic in biology. For the majority of the class time (30 minutes), students worked in groups using their own laptops to conduct research, discuss potential answers to questions, create charts and other graphics, and post content to the course Blackboard site. For ten minutes at the end of class, groups took turns presenting their work to the entire class, using their team projectors to display their work.

View of collaborative learning classroom - Krieger 309 - no studentsThe room’s design allows students to work comfortably in groups, using tools ideal for collaboration. Each group has a whiteboard adjacent to its table where students can jot down notes or conceptualize and work out problems. Students can easily project their individual laptop screens for viewing by the whole class. In addition, the instructor has control over two large screens, which is helpful when presenting materials to the entire class or sharing a group’s display with the class. The room’s layout facilitates instructor visits to each group while they work, something that is difficult in a lecture hall.

One of the nicest things about teaching in the new CLC was that students seemed toStudents inCollaborative Learning Classroom - Krieger 309 know what was expected of them. Seeing the space they knew the class would not be a typical lecture format, which intrigued them. Moreover, the students responded positively as they engaged in the discussions and participated in their groups, producing a higher caliber of work than I experienced in this course previously.

Students were amazingly “on task” during group work, which speaks to their high level of engagement and enthusiasm. They clearly felt a strong sense of responsibility for their group’s performance, particularly when presenting their findings to the class.

View of collaborative learning classroom - Krieger 309In comparison to previous iterations of this course, the students’ grades were in the same range; however, the level of engagement was much higher and it was a significantly more enjoyable teaching experience. I know that the students appreciated the active learning aspect of the course because when I presented in lecture format for more than 15 minutes, I could see them squirming in their seats.  They couldn’t wait to get started on group work. It has been a challenge to limit my introduction to just a few minutes, and then post supporting material for the students to explore during class with their groups.

Because this class had more discussion and collaborative work than when I previously taught the course, I found that it helped to prepare learning objectives for each session. This kept the focus in place during class and ensured that the group work would meet the goal for the day. It also helped set the students’ expectations for what they needed to accomplish and learn for tests.

A number of faculty have taught in the new CLC since its creation, from the departments of Chemistry, French, Physics, Mathematics, and Civil Engineering. The room is flexible enough for a number of uses and can support classes from any discipline. The way I conducted my course for instance, is similar to the teaching approach for humanities courses in which class discussions are standard. Although the students in my Biology Workshop did not often use the whiteboards, other classes used them frequently.

There are many methods for generating effective group assignments in class. I found that when my 35 students first entered the CLC, the room’s layout clearly suggested that they would be working together at the round tables, which seat seven. They gravitated naturally to self-defined groups around the tables. This proved to be effective way of forming lasting and productive groups for this class.  Other instructors may wish to randomly assign groups or to purposefully break and re-form groups throughout the course.

Additional Resources

The text for this post originally appeared in the print series of The Innovative Instructor.

Rebecca Pearlman received a PhD in Biology from the University of Wisconsin.  She has over fifteen years of teaching experience ranging from small laboratory courses at a two-year college to large lecture courses at Hopkins. She is delighted to be a lecturer in the Biology Department working with amazing colleagues who are dedicated to improving the undergraduate experience.  Her past collaborations with the CER include work on creating videos of laboratory techniques and piloting in-class voting and course management systems.


Images Source: © Reid Sczerba.

 

Making Group Projects Work

Instructors often find that student engagement increases when active learning strategies are implemented in the classroom. One strategy is to assign problem-based collaborative learning projects. Well-conceived group projects help students develop critical thinking skills, learn how to work in teams, and apply theories learned in the course to real-life situations, producing an appreciation for how the knowledge gained will be useful once the class is over. The end result is a richer learning experience for the students.

Drawing of chairs around gears, screw driver tightening screw in center of second gear.

Students are more likely to appreciate and retain information when they see a correlation between course work and what they expect to experience as working professionals. Problem-based group projects typically require an array of cognitive skills, induce collaborative learning, and allow students to take ownership of the process. Moreover, students who learn to work in teams are better prepared for their future work environments.

Developing effective problem-based group projects requires assignments that reflect your course learning goals and incorporate course information, permit management of the student groups, and facilitate assessment of student progress. Advance planning and thoughtful strategies will go a long way towards ensuring successful implementation.

I. Setting Student Expectations

  • Weight the project fairly. You want your students to take the project seriously but you don’t want to weight the project so heavily that experimentation or risk-taking is stifled. Consider dividing the project into parts and grading each separately, so the team understands which aspects of the project went well and what needs improvement.
  • Discuss student roles and what’s needed. Get the students thinking about what will be required of their team and how they can organize and manage the project.  Emphasize the importance of a team schedule. Discuss the qualities of a good teammate so that students begin the project with mutual respect.
  • Start with small exercises as a warm up. Consider starting with a couple of smaller in-class team-based exercises so that students get used to working collaboratively

 II. Group generation methods

  • Allowing self-selection of teams can create problems. Students like to choose friends as teammates. Personal issues then carry over into the project, friendships may suffer, or the members may take the project less seriously, resulting in poor group performance.
  • Random selection is a reasonable alternative to student choice. This method is the fastest way to generate groups and more reflective of the real world. While random selection is convenient, consider ensuring diversity in each group to the extent possible.
  • Skills based alignment is ideal for creating groups. Identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses through in-class exercises can help establish well-rounded teams. As a part of the preparation for the project, generate a list of the skills needed, have the students identify their strong and weak areas, then group the students accordingly.

 III. Getting each student to contribute

  • Assign the students to roles. The difference between a dysfunctional group and a successful team lies in assigning roles. If students are assigned tasks with deadlines, they are more likely to take ownership and responsibility for completing their work as part of the team. Establishing roles can be a part of the group creation process. Avoid having students doing the same task for the entire length of the project. Instead, make the skill requirements for the team more conceptual. Use abstract concepts (Researcher or Synthesizer; Gatherer of Data or Analyzer of Data) so that broad expertise is required for each role.
  • Require that a different student present the team’s progress for each report. Make sure that each student has an opportunity to participate in an in-class presentation. Presenting their work is a skill that all students will use in the future. As it involves an understanding of all the parts of the project, these presentations by each team member also help to ensure successful group collaboration.

 IV. Assessing the team/individual in and outside of class

  • Have the students do evaluations. This can be done both during and after the project. Evaluations serve as reflective exercises for the students, allowing them to comment on how the process could be improved. Evaluations are particularly useful for gauging the team and individuals’ contributions for grading. Questions that require students to evaluate their own performance, the performance of each team member, and the team as a whole can provide insight into how the team functioned.
  • Schedule time for team work in class. Scheduling group work outside of class is always a challenge for students. By allowing time during class for team work, you also will have an opportunity to monitor student progress. This is a great way to gauge whether the students are experiencing difficulties and provide an opportunity for questions, clarifications, or assistance with problems. Some of the best learning comes from spontaneous discussion in class, and peer-learning can be extremely effective when students are working together to solve problems.
  • Ask for regular status updates. Starting class with a brief progress report from each team will bring up questions and concerns that can be addressed at once, eliminating redundancy and saving time.

V. Build in time for reflection

  • Reflection is key to learning from failure as well as success. Make sure you build in time for students to reflect on their progress. The best time to get the students to reflect on their experience is after the project during a debriefing discussion. Questions such as “What went well or not so well?” and “What would you do differently?” will enhance the opportunity for learning from their failures as well as their successes.

This post was adapted from The Innovative Instructor article series: http://www.cer.jhu.edu/ii/InnovInstruct-BP_MakingGroupProjectsWork.pdf

Pam Sheff,
Senior Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education, Johns Hopkins University
Pam Sheff is an award-winning writer and marketing communications consultant, with experience developing marketing, public relations and communications strategies for clients ranging from start-ups to large corporate, institutional and government organizations. Now a full-time lecturer in CLE, Pam has taught classes on business communications and entrepreneurship.

Leslie Kendrick,
Senior Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education, Johns Hopkins University
Leslie Kendrick has taught in the CLE program since 2002 and developed the five core marketing courses. She has 12 years of experience as a marketing practitioner. She has  worked for Harper & Row Publishers, Londontown Corporation, and Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.


Image Source: © Reid Sczerba, 2012