Friday, March 6, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Teresa Sanislo, History

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 presents Dr. Teresa Sanislo’s undertaking of a semester-long collaborative writing project she assigned in her history class.

Setting: Paper/project utilizing pod groups (10 pods with 5-7 students per pod)

Setup for the activity: Students work in groups in my class online and in class. They write a group paper together analyzing what is the most important factor bringing Hitler into power. This is a theme that the class prepares for throughout the first half of the class. Students have the paper topic and 7 possible factors to work on at the beginning of the semester. Throughout the semester, we work on the question of how Hitler became chancellor of Germany and focus on the 7 different factors that students could write on. We have an in-class debate on this topic right before the midterm. Student groups decide which factor they will focus on for their paper. Students then write individual drafts of the paper and submit them to the D2L dropbox and a D2L discussion forum. They discuss their drafts both online and in-person (in class) and weave the strong elements of their individual drafts into a group paper. The group produces 3 drafts of the group paper and discusses the drafts before submitting the paper to a D2L dropbox.

Students sign up for specific tasks to help produce the group paper. Weavers examine the individual papers, discuss their strengths and weaknesses with the whole group and then create the 1st draft of the group paper. Supporters check the first draft for strength of argument, logic, and evidence and submit a second draft. Finally, editors go over the 2nd draft for grammar and style issues. The editors submit the final copy of the paper to the D2L drop box.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: This semester, I used pod group work days to enable students to discuss their drafts and work on improving them together. The work days were in the syllabus and we talked about them in class before they took place. I devoted 2.5 days this semester to group paper work days. Students posted individual papers to the discussion forum and were supposed to discuss their individual drafts in a D2L discussion forum before coming to class for the first day. We devoted one-half of the class period to talking about the paper and having students discuss the preparation of their 1st draft. The groups used the 2nd and 3rd work days to work on various drafts of the paper.

During the work days, students were able to pull up copies of their drafts on the pod computers and work on the paper together in class. During class, I was able to go around to each group to read sections of their papers, make suggestions for improvements, and answer questions. Most students seemed to enjoy working together on their papers in class. A few really seemed to demonstrate a sense of pride in their work and a sense of competition with other groups.

After the activity: Students submitted their final drafts of their paper to D2L following the group work days. The group paper was worth 25% of their grade.

Additional comments from instructor: "I consider group paper work days to be a successful part of the semester. I assigned the group paper the semester before and students seemed quite frustrated about the difficulties of schedule group meetings to work on the paper. This semester, student seemed to appreciate very much the time devoted their projects in class and the help that I was able to give them. Students demonstrated a pride in their work. No one complained about the group paper project in course evaluations, in fact a few stated that they found it to be a really valuable part of the class. The technology really enabled my students to work together and for me to give on-the-spot feedback that they put to use. There are a few changes that I made to this part of the course.

1. I did not require students to see the first draft of the group paper before coming to class to discuss it. So they used much of that day to read the drafts and had less time to work on it. This fall, I made sure that students had to read the first draft and comment on it in a D2L dropbox before coming to class for the work day on the first draft.

2. I expanded the number of work days so we now have 3 full work days for the paper this fall.

3. I made it a requirement that students participate in all online discussions of the paper and attend all group paper work days in order to earn a grade on the group paper. So a few students (only a handful) didn't show up to class on group paper work days and their group was frustrated with them. They were also clearly not fulfilling their rules assigned to them on the task sheet. I had no way of penalizing the students for doing this.

The group paper work days take up three class periods and these are days that I would have devoted to other topics/content. So I was forced to give up covering important themes related to the subject but I feel like it was a good trade off. The group paper and the work days are an important part of the course and I am willing to sacrifice content to make them work."

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 Teresa Sanislo

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