Friday, February 27, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Harry Jol, Geography

The "Active Learning Activities" series will focus on what its name suggests: activities provided by our very own professors to be utilized in active learning classrooms. This post focuses on Dr. Harry Jol’s use of “Buzz Groups” – informal groups of four to six – to give students a chance to connect course content to the real world and establish meaningful connections with each other.  

Setting: 5-minute activity regularly implemented in a 300-level course; 8 pods with 6 students per pod

Purpose of the activity: The purpose of this activity is for the students to find a linkage with the course material and activities/processes that happening in the world.  A secondary purpose is provide students time for pod (team) building and allow time for each pod to check in with each other before the class begins.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: Each pod is asked to provide one example of an environmental hazard in the world as they walk into the classroom (becomes routine as the semester progresses).  (Note: each pod is the same individuals once a pod building and selection is complete at the beginning of the semester.)  The pods are allowed to use any resource they want (computers, smart phones, newspapers, etc.). After several minutes, each pod briefly reports out to the class.

After the activity: The results presented tie directly into past, present and/or future content and discussions for the class.  Examples from these discussions are also in the class exams.  In addition, the exercise allows the students to transition from earlier classes/activities/getting to class to touching base with their pod members and then starting to think about class content.

Additional comments from instructor: Based on end of the semester class assessment, the students enjoyed the time to touch base with each member and that the exercise built community amongst individuals who did not know each other at the beginning of the semester.  There was some concern from some pods that we should do it only weekly not at every class as they felt it became repetitious.

For additional examples of active learning from UW Eau Claire instructors, follow this link to our website or click on the "Active Learning" tag located on the right side of the blog.

Tip provided by Harry Jol

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Carolyn Otto, Math

The "Active Learning Activities" series will focus on what its name suggests: activities provided by our very own professors to be utilized in active learning classrooms. This post focuses on Dr. Carolyn Otto's use of "Artifacts" - visual representations and/or handheld objects" - to stimulate discussions on the different types of mathematical infinity. 

Setting: Activity utilizing pod groups (6 pods with 4-6 students per pod)

Setup for the activity: Our class was learning about different types of infinity.  In order to do this, I discussed the notion of 1-1 correspondence.  I brought in a set of plastic bags each filled with a different amount of skittles, rubber bands, and M&Ms with one paper plate.  I wrote a power point on the definition of 1-1 correspondence and gave them a sheet explaining what to do with the plastic bag of supplies (1 per pod).

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: Each pod completed the questions on the sheet by manipulating the objects in the bags with their hands.  They were given thought questions about how to find the needed correspondences and what that meant.

After the activity: After the activity, I went around to each pod to discuss the activity.  Then each student had to complete an assignment outside of class that recapped the activity and built on the ideas.

Additional comments from instructor: "The students worked well together to figure out the activity.  The talk in the room focused on the activity and good questions were asked.  The assignment was well received and most students received 100% on it."

For additional examples of active learning from UW Eau Claire instructors, follow this link to our website or click on the "Active Learning" tag located on the right side of the blog.

Tip provided by Carolyn Otto

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

D2L Tip: Displaying users without D2L Dropbox submissions

One of my favorite features of our current version of D2L is the ability to leave feedback for students who did not submit a file to the Dropbox.  Even the initial step of that process – filtering the Dropbox to show the users without submissions – is helpful so that I know who to reach out to when, for example, the due date for a high-stakes assignment is around the corner.

Here are the steps for displaying the users without submissions:
  • In the Dropbox tool, click on the title of the Dropbox folder to access the Folder Submissions view.
  • Select “Users without submissions” from the Submissions drop-down menu (highlighted in image below).
  • Click on the magnifying glass icon/button (circled in blue in image below) to display all users without submissions. 
Note: Additional criteria can be entered in the “Search For” box to narrow the results even further.

The link to “Evaluate” work will appear to the right of each user’s name even though they do not have a submission:

This ability to leave feedback – a grade and/or comments (text or audio) – for users without submissions is especially handy when a student accidentally submits to the wrong dropbox folder or sends a file via email; in the case that the Dropbox folder is linked with a Grade Item, I can leave feedback right in the Dropbox folder, and the grade and/or comments will display in the Grades tool. 

The ability to use the same approach for every student, regardless of whether or not the file made it to the Dropbox folder, is greatly appreciated.

Tip contributed by Laura Middlesworth

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Knowing Your Students: What’s in a Name?

There is a unique feeling associated with being called by name for the first time by a professor. And I don’t mean the time during roll call when the professor proposes something that only vaguely resembles your name, a grotesque mutation of phonetics that would remain unclaimed and untouched if it weren’t important to be counted in attendance. What I mean is the first time a professor notices your hand raised in the air and doesn’t say “uh-huh” or “go ahead” or “you with the pit stains speak your mind,” but rather includes the word that suggests they actually know you, appreciate you, or have spent countless hours looking at a copy of the seating chart: your name.

Suddenly you feel real, tangible, distinctly differentiated from the sea of nameless strangers that surround you. You exist, you matter; you feel almost as if it was your destiny to answer that question about the consistency of paraffin wax. In the classroom of life, you have just been heralded into existence.

Feeling like you exist is a big thing for students (and people of all occupations I’d imagine). Studies have shown that classrooms where names are commonly used tend to be more relaxed, comfortable, and engaging. Learning the names of students can help them feel less isolated and anonymous, factors that lead them to shut down or not participate in class. Since learning names is never easy—especially in large lecture halls—here are some tips to help you create that more personalized environment:  
  • Use name tents-- ask students to write their names in large letters on both sides of a folded 5 x 8 index card and to keep this card on their desks for the first few classes.
  • Ask students to give their name each time before they speak. This can be continued until everyone (instructor and the students) feels they know the people in the room.
  • Strive to memorize a row of students per day. In the few minutes before class begins, review what you've already memorized and then add another row of students to that list.
  • Students with the same name as another person the instructor knows can be associated with that person in the instructor's memory. This association is a good memory-jogging tool.
  • For large classes—dividing the entire group into smaller "working groups" will help facilitate name recall. Classroom time can be used to give small projects for each group to work on. Only having to remember 8-9 people in a small group is much easier than looking at 250 faces. Work on visualizing which faces sit in which seats. Then work on memorizing every name from a particular group.

Be realistic with yourself and honest with the students: expecting to memorize every name in a lecture hall is unreasonable. However, learning students’ names is vital for creating an active classroom and making students feel worthy of your attention. 

Credit goes to for bulleted ideas. 

Tip contributed by Jon Pumper

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Faculty Projects: Working with the Textbook

Professor: Andrew Sturtevant

Department: History

Name of Group: First Year Only Sections Community of Practice

I have never gathered the statistics, but I’m fairly certain the number of Americans who keep a history textbook on their night stand is fairly low. Textbooks don’t exactly make for “light reading,” and often act as the factual and financial falchion stuck in college students’ sides. But their importance for learning cannot be overlooked: in the history of pedagogy, the textbook has stood the test of time (in addition to recording it).  Dr. Andrew Sturtevant, Department of History, looked to re-emphasize the importance of the textbook in his FYO classroom, by providing strategies and techniques for students to implement as they dive into the dense waters of history:

“I hoped to help students read their textbooks more effectively. I’ve noticed that students are often overwhelmed by the reading and unable to pull out the importance and significance of the reading. I hoped that if I shared a little bit about how textbook chapters are arranged and what to look for then students would be less intimidated by the readings."

His project was to create a step-by-step instructional worksheet that provided students with advice on how to read the textbook. Sturtevant outlines it as follows:
  • "[The worksheet] started by asking the students to 'pre-read’ the text, looking at the images and captions, titles and subtitles, and other signposts and then to determine from these what the subject of the chapter might be."
  • "Next it encouraged students to identify the major points and arguments of the chapter by identifying annunciatory language and to think about how the details and evidence fit into this larger schema. I encouraged them to express this graphically with a thought-mapping diagram that had them identify the main idea, subordinate/supporting ideas, and then supporting evidence.  I hoped thereby to help students who find it difficult to tell 'what’s important' in the reading." 
  • "Finally, the worksheet encouraged students to do a few minutes of reflection after reading to think about what the most important takeaways of the chapter was and compare it to larger course themes and other readings.  We then walked through the worksheet in class."
As is the case with most projects, Sturtevant found it difficult to fully assess the effect the worksheet had on his students. Interestingly enough, he noted that that there was actually less understanding of the course materials in his “worksheet” section compared to a "non-worksheet" section of the same course, though—as he points out—this could be due to any number of external issues. Despite the ambiguous results, Sturtevant deemed the project a worthwhile endeavor:

“I thought the experience was a useful one for me and the students alike. Although textbooks have a clear pattern and formula, this isn’t always apparent to students. Decoding and demystifying that pattern, I hope, makes the textbook less intimidating. For me, it’s useful to remind myself that things that are obvious to me now, and were obvious when I was a student, aren’t always so obvious to my students. I’m using the worksheet again in my regular section of the course this semester. If nothing else, it points to the importance I place on the readings and to the students’ learning.”

Write up by Jon Pumper

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Dr. Lisa Quinn-Lee on Online Videos

Besides all conveniently starting with a “c,” cars, corn, and classes have something else in common: they are steadily becoming more and more hybrid (except maybe for corn, which has been a hybrid product for quite some time*).  A hybrid course can open up a lot of new teaching and learning opportunities that were not originally present in traditional face-to-face meetings. Dr. Lisa Quinn-Lee, Department of Social Work, shares her experience with hybrid courses and online videos:

I’m a big proponent of hybrid classes. I periodically switch a regular meeting day to online when I want to utilize a video that is difficult to grapple with or contains high-emotional content. As a professor of social work, this happens quite frequently. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from my students regarding this: students say that they are happy they were able to deal with the emotional content privately, stopping and starting the video on their own terms when it gets too difficult to watch. As an additional bonus for me, I don’t have to watch the video a million times! I have the students respond to the video on a D2L discussion board, which I think is extremely useful: students who aren’t as comfortable talking in class—either in general or with these more difficult subjects—are much more comfortable discussing in an online format, which generates a lot of rich, meaningful discussion.

To view some quick tips on setting up a blended/hybrid course, view University of Milwaukee’s resource page here.

*For more information on hybrid corn, view History of the US Industry Hybrid Corn here.

Interviewed by: Jon Pumper