Thursday, April 30, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Louisa Rice, History

In general, generalities are never all that useful. This is primarily due to the fact that the person relaying the generality usually rarely has any specific details to support the generalized statement. I’d give examples, but then I’d actually disprove my point. Dr. Louisa Rice, Department of History, tackles the issue of student-produced generalities by constructing a close-reading active learning activity that gets students to dive into specifics:

Setting: Close reading activity utilizing pod groups (11 pods with 4-6 students per pod)

Setup for the activity: The class focuses a great deal on the ability to complete a close reading of historical documents (often to "figure out" what those old words actually mean or imply). There are many of these documents in the textbook, and they are all no longer than one page. Students were assigned these 1 page documents on multiple occasions as part of their reading preparation for class; sometimes there were accompanying quiz questions, sometimes there were not. Prior to the class in which we would discuss the assigned document I scanned the page and made it into a PDF which I then posted onto the "news" section of D2L. Theoretically, then, the students had read the document and contextual information before they came into class (although some had not). They could then access a PDF version of the document at their pod when they came into class.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: In class, I would lecture a little on the context of the document and then asked students to complete some annotations on the document as a group (we went over the Adobe annotating tools a few times in class). Usually this involved a series of questions that I put onto a PowerPoint slide (so that they could still see the questions on the large screen while they completed the work as a group on the small screen). The questions varied, depending on the source, but they all asked them to mark-up the document. For example, for work on a document by Christopher Columbus—his first reflections upon arrival in the United States, I asked them to highlight where the audience for the document was indicated, and underline places in the text where Columbus is revealing a motive in producing the document. Finally I asked them to decide as a group which of the motives revealed (denigrating the indigenous people, claiming a Christian mission, identifying riches) seemed to be the most influential or important, and to explain that importance in a sentence as a textbox on the document. In other documents I asked them to highlight important words (for example, in poem written about World War I) or to underline phrases where the meaning was unclear to them.

After the activity: Students completed the work and saved it to their group locker in D2L—so that I had a record of this (ungraded) work and also so they could return to their group commentary to study for exams. In class, I often pulled up one response on the large screen and then asked whether other groups reached similar conclusions. This normally produced a larger group discussion on what we should take-away from the document and enabled me to connect their conclusions or questions back to the larger theme or argument of the class period.

Additional comments from instructor: "Prior to the version of the activity described above, I asked students to bring the documents to class for discussion and often they did not do that. Usually our discussions were based on the "general" ideas they had discerned from the documents, not the specific details (often very relevant) of the author's writing. This way, I was actually getting them to really READ the texts closely, and I think versions of this exercise would work really well in any class where textual analysis was important."

Tip provided by: Louisa Rice
Write-up by: Jon Pumper

Monday, April 27, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Kelly Murray, Biology

It isn’t often that I employ personal opinions on this blog; as I’m constantly reminded in the CETL office, my opinions are only valuable if they are accompanied by a handful of M&M’s or the delivery of a fresh cup of coffee.* But for this post, I will indulge myself and give my opinion as an undergraduate student who has spent a lot of time in the classroom. And as an undergraduate student who has spent a lot of time in the classroom, I can tell you that the best class periods are the ones that end with you wishing you had a little more class time.** Kelly Murray, Department of Biology, has that very good problem with the active learning activity depicted below:

Setting: Discussions utilizing pod groups (5 pods with 4 students per pod) and whole class

Setup for the activity: Prior to the in-class activity, students completed 2-3 readings and posted two questions/comments to a D2L Discussion board outside of class.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: The group in charge of facilitating that day's discussion gave a brief introductory presentation (typically using PowerPoint and video clips) on the large screens. Pod groups were given discussion questions/tasks. These often included one or more tasks in which group members were asked to list or diagram on the whiteboard. A large-group discussion followed with each group sharing information from their pod discussion and whiteboard notes.

After the activity: At the conclusion of in-class discussion, students were provided with 1-2 prompts; each student was asked to reflect on the discussion as part of a 1-page response paper which was submitted to the D2L Dropbox by the following evening. The material from the in-class discussions was also covered on unit exams.

Additional comments from instructor: "This was a 1hr 15minute class period – but we were short on time – my main issue with the activity. I was pleased, though, with the process and felt students approached the discussion from a more-informed perspective. I prefer this versus a lecture where I show a bunch of graphs, etc. to outline evidence.

*The people of CETL have never actually requested me to fetch a cup of coffee, and actually value my opinions quite frequently. I truly fulfill the role of “oppressed intern” only in my imagination.

**this of course bars any class periods that contain graded work such as labs and tests. Ironically, the opposite effect is true in these cases: these are the worst class periods.

Tip provided by: Kelly Murray
Write-up by: Jon Pumper

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Jean Pratt, Information Systems

Communication in the virtual world is a precarious thing: one constantly runs the risk of mistaking sarcasm for sincerity, assuredness for obliviousness, or smiley faces for extraordinarily poor punctuation practices :). The students of Jean Pratt’s Information System’s course ran into this very problem in her active learning activity centered on communication between collaborative, virtual teams:

Setting: Activity utilizing pod groups (8 pods with 3-4 students per pod)

Setup for the activity: Students were instructed to work through some similar diagramming activities in a PowerPoint slide deck prior to coming to class. We had worked through a similar activity in class in the preceding class period. One purpose of this activity was to give students more practice in applying the concepts and skills. Another purpose of this activity was to expose students to working in virtual teams, which are predominant in the field of information systems.

The activity had three parts:
  1. Given a scenario, students would collaboratively define business rules.
  2. Given business rules defined by another group, students would collaboratively design a data model.
  3. Given business rules from one group and resulting data model from another group, class would discuss both relational database design principles and communication across members in virtual teams
How the activity unfolded in the classroom: We started with two business scenarios requiring data collection and storage. Half the class received one scenario; the other half received the other scenario. Each group developed a set of business rules based on the scenario (business rules are the foundation for designing a relational database model). Groups were then instructed to share their business rules with another group on the other side of the classroom. The recipient group was to then develop a data model based on those business rules.

The first half of the activity went well. Student groups used the screen at their pods to define collaboratively the business rules. The last part of the activity also went well. I was able to bring up on the big screens—in a split-screen display—the business rules defined by one group and the resulting data model developed by another group. The design group didn't always design a model the way the business-rule group anticipated!

After the activity: At the end of the class period, students groups were directed to apply outside class the same concepts and skills to their 15-week client project.

Tip provided by: Jean Pratt
Write up by: Jon Pumper

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Active Learning Activities—Tom Hilton, Information Systems

Research is very often a lonely pursuit in the undergraduate world. That could possibly be why the library is so often flooded with students weeping over their laptops, sobbing next to bookshelves, or blowing their noses into textbooks that had not previously been used for anything else. Professor Tom Hilton, Department of Information Systems, provides a support group for lonely scholars in his active learning room by assigning group research projects like the one depicted below:

Setting: Group-based activity (10 pods with 4 students per pod)

Setup for the activity: This activity was associated with a text chapter students were to read before class. Aside from the reading, the only advance preparation required of the students was me teaching them how to manage the pod technology, particularly how to display their own laptop screen on the pod display, how to switch the pod display among pod group members' laptops, and how to send their pod's screen to all pods.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: To start, I displayed from the instructor station on all pod screens a list of discussion questions that were answered or partly answered in the reading. As a class, we briefly reviewed them to establish a baseline of understanding of the questions.
Next, each pod group collaboratively chose one or two questions (depending on the number of questions and the number of pod groups) to answer. I explained that all members were to contribute to the development of a whole-pod-group-approved answer.

For 10-15 minutes (depending on the number of questions and the time available), each pod group developed answers to their chosen question/s. Each member used his/her own laptop to search the Web, text pdf (sometimes available), do calculations when needed, and/or write a summary answer. Members shared what they found by talking and by displaying their own laptops on the pod screen. During this time I circulated among the groups clarifying the question being research, (re)directing the discussion, and occasionally arbitrating disagreements.

After the activity: After the research time, each pod group presented its question and related answer. They displayed on all other pods' screens their pod's written paragraph, web resources, or whatever support they found. Usually one member spoke for the pod group, but sometimes all members contributed to the presentation. I encouraged all the other class members to ask follow-up questions for the presenting pod to answer, but this was sometimes hard because students either didn't know enough to come up with additional questions, or they were worried about embarrassing the presenters. To help with this, I would ask follow-up questions as examples. The whole class could respond to the questions, so the presenters weren't left on the spot.

Additional comments from instructor: "I use this activity in several different classes, and sometimes (as in the senior seminar) it has been appropriate to gather the answers into a text addendum of sorts. This has often become a point of pride for the students: extending the text information right up to the state of the art."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch on Scripts

A class script is a student produced summary, interpretation, and commentary on a class discussion. Each class period, one student is assigned the role of “scribe,” where they must document the class conversation, noting everything from who-says-what to specific references made to texts. Additionally, scribes are responsible for analyzing and synthesizing the discussion within the framework of the course. Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch, Department of Languages, speaks to his success with implementing scripts:

It works very well with courses that are heavy discussion. It’s almost an automatic flipped classroom in a way, where the learning goes on outside of class and then you deepen and extend it through conversation. Students get accredited for their contributions, and this reinforces the notion that everyone’s input is equally valued. In the end, you have a record not of what the professor thought the course was, but what it looked and sounded like from the student perspective, with all the commentary, humor, and acerbic asides included.  

Interview by: Jon Pumper 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Bob Eierman, Chemistry

Many people have fond memories of making crafts, gluing together Popsicle sticks, and coloring inside (or outside) the lines of a dinosaur coloring book either as a kid or with their kids (for you older folks in the readership). A much fewer amount of people have fond memories doing a lot of the same things when they were in Middle School and they were desperately trying to assemble a poster that could kick the crap out of Danny Jones’ poster at the science fair. And an even fewer amount have fond memories of doing the same things at the collegiate level where supplies of colored pencils, glue, and artistic motivation are often quite depleted. But the poster—an excellent learning and presentation tool—cannot be written away simply because it can often be a pain to create. Dr. Eierman, with the help of Gene Leisz, keeps the poster a part of his curriculum by introducing a digital template that the students can work on together in the active learning classroom: 

Setting: Students presented research projects with the aid of digital posters at the pod stations (15 pods total with 3 students per pod)

Setup for the activity: As part of the final project in Chem 213 (lab), each student independently selects a research question, gathers and analyzes samples in the lab, completes calculations and statistical analysis, and draws conclusions. The design and presentation of the poster is the culminating event of the research project.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: Each student created a digital poster using a PowerPoint template designed (by Gene Leisz) to fit the pod screens in the active learning rooms. There were three students to a pod and they pulled up all three of their posters onto the desktop. The first student displayed their poster; we then spent about 30 minutes visiting the displayed posters in both rooms (CEN 3814 and CEN 3504), and non-presenters moved around viewing the posters. Next, we switched to the second student at each pod and visited them for the next 30 minutes. A final 30-minute session allowed us to visit the last of the posters. In about 2 hours, we displayed 46 posters. The poster quality was high and students said the posters were easy to create starting with the provided template.

After the activity: Students also submitted the posters through the D2L Dropbox, and I was able to grade them electronically in the comfort of my office. No printing was necessary and students were able to include graphs, photographs and other imagery that enhanced the posters. In addition, the students and I will be able to retain a copy of the poster(s).Students and faculty recognized that this was an excellent way to create and display high quality posters.

Additional comments from instructor: "I have been doing poster sessions like this for over 20 years, typically with posters mounted on cardboard. The old way was a pain for the students to create and difficult physically for me to grade. As a group, these were the best looking and highest quality posters I've ever seen. Many students commented that this was an extremely convenient way to make and display this important product of the culminating event in the course. I will definitely do this again with my Chem 213 class."

Tip provided by: Bob Eierman
Write-up by: Jon Pumper

Monday, April 6, 2015

Dr. Eric Jamelske on Simulations

Biology classes have labs; social work classes have case-studies; economic classes have market simulations. Dr. Eric Jamelske, Department of Economics, speaks to the importance of including simulations in the classroom:

I think any activity that allows for simulation is really useful. If I want to get students to really understand how markets work, the best way is for them to actively simulate a real market, by participating as buyers and sellers. In Economics we have a lot of graphs, and if there’s a way I can bring a graph to life –let the students actively discover how equilibrium is derived—I think it sticks a lot more. Not every day has to have an activity, but I keep three or four on reserve to use over the course of a semester.

To read more on learning simulations, consider checking out The Gamification of Learning and Instruction by Karl M. Kapp, a book that provides strategies on designing and implementing game-based learning. We have it here at the CETL library. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

D2L Tip: What is the difference between “Due Date” and “End Date” for the D2L Dropbox?

D2L’s Dropbox tool offers three options for attaching dates to a particular dropbox folder; these options are located in the Restrictions tab while in Edit Folder mode (see screen shot below).

I happen to be a fan of the “Has Due Date” option and, more specifically, prefer it to the “Has End Date” option.  Why?  With the due date option checked, students will see the corresponding date/time along with the other dropbox details, which may help reduce the number of “when do we have to turn it in by?” questions.  When those date and time details are associated with the “Has Due Date” option (with no end date), then the D2L Dropbox will still accept file submissions past the specified date and time; however, the late submissions will be flagged on the instructor’s end.

       Example late flag in a dropbox folder with specified due date (but no end date):

How would this differ if using the “Has End Date” option?  The dropbox folder closes – that is, it stops accepting file submissions – at the specified date and time.  Will this magically ensure that all students will turn in their work on time?  Probably not.  In my experience, when a dropbox folder stops accepting submissions, any late submissions either end up in my email inbox or a dropbox folder for a different assignment where the files are easier for me to overlook or forget about.  I happen to be an instructor that enforces deadlines, but there are occasions when a late submission is reasonable – an authorized absence or unexpected D2L downtime are two examples that come to mind.

If you already have dropbox folders set up (or have copied them over from a previous semester’s class) and would like to adjust dates, consider using the Bulk Edit option to change dates for multiple dropbox folders on the same screen; the steps for using Bulk Edit are available on the Dropbox page in the D2L Faculty Guide.  

Tip contributed by Laura Middlesworth