Monday, May 25, 2015

Dr. Leah Olson-McBride on Role-Playing

Role-playing exercises offer a unique way of learning material: they require a high amount of imagination and communicating skills that are useful in any discipline. Dr. Leah Olson-McBride, Department of Social Work, shares how she uses Role-Playing exercises in her class:

One thing I’ve started doing in my Groups and Families class—a class where we teach the students how to be social workers with groups and family units—is a fishbowl activity, where students will actually role-play and act out a scenario. In the middle of the class, after teaching specific techniques regarding the upcoming scenario, I put up a case study on the screen and pull some students from the class to live out the situation. One person will play the social worker, other students will be the family, etc. After the performance, the class will give feedback on what the social worker did well, and what they could improve upon. Students seem to be really anxious about participating, but always give good feedback on it. A common response I’ll get is: “I was really nervous being chosen, but I’m really glad I got to do it.” If it’s really hard content, sometimes I’ll have them show me the worst way to do it first: it takes the pressure off performing perfectly, and, of course, the students think it’s really funny.

Role-playing can actually be applied to nearly every discipline: view creative examples and types of role-playing exercises at Carleton’s teaching website here

Interview by: Jon Pumper

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Final Reflection - An Intern's Farewell

For those of you who get nervous reading a title such as this, I can assure you that this post will not be a sentimental, cheesy, or vomit-worthy piece of rhetoric: if you are interested in reading something of that sort, feel free to ask Angie about her fifth grade love letters. This is a blog for a professional organization, after all, and as such I will not splatter my own slushy blubbering all over its front page.

This is not me.
Many people believe that CETL stands for Center of Excellence in Teaching and Learning. They would be only partially correct. There is a lesser known interpretation that still floats around among a select group of people who have taken way too much time in thinking up an alternative form of the acronym (me).  That interpretation goes something like this: Caring Entities Teach Life. The “entities” in question are the familiar faces featured below:

The featured faces belong to (from left to right) Angie Stombaugh, Andy Hanson, Cindy Albert, Avonlea Hanson, and April Pierson. While Kelly and I are in the picture, we are not the the Caring Entities I am referring to at this moment (Kelly is actually a rather monstrous person for those who were wondering).

For anyone who is familiar with this blog, you are probably aware that I have a strong propensity to make some pretty outrageous claims, segues, and analogies. The majority of my posts could at the very best be considered “whimsical” and at the very worst “borderline unprofessional.” I have not historically been the type of writer who thrives in the realm of seriousness: as such, I will be breaking from tradition momentarily to unpack the lesser known CETL acronym in a manner that could almost be considered sincere.

I really owe a lot to these individuals. You certainly could not find a more caring, passionate, or easy-going group out there. Beyond the help that they have provided countless of faculty members with this past year, they have also taken some time to directly teach this student a few life lessons along the way. While the list could go on for quite some time, I will limit it to one for each person, as attention spans could probably not handle any more and I’ve got quite a few papers left to write this finals week.

Cindy Albert: Cindy taught me what it means to be a balanced supervisor. She conveys just the right mix of expectation and leniency in order to keep people like me motivated without feeling strangled. If I ever take on a supervisor role in the future, I will be borrowing a lot of techniques from her.

Angie Stombaugh: Angie taught me not to get in a van without windows. Thanks, Angie. J In all seriousness, anyone who knows Angie knows she has a fiery sense of humor. No matter where I end up working, I can only hope I keep people laughing half as well as she did.

April Pierson: April has an extremely low-key demeanor about her. Unless you get her near a stack of crooked books. I didn’t get a chance to know April as much as everyone else—she’s in high demand around these parts—but I always admired the calming presence she would bring whenever she came in. While they say you cannot teach “cool,” I’d like to think I learned a thing or two about being “cool” simply by being around April every now and then.

Avonlea Hanson: Avonlea is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met: thank goodness she married that old crab Andy in order to balance him out a little bit. I learned from Avonlea that a simple smile, friendly hello, and a twinge of a Minnesotan accent can really make a person feel happy to come into the office.

Andy Hanson: Most of you reading probably know Andy, the proverbial face of CETL. Andy is a gem among gems; a diamond in the rough; and many other jewel-based metaphors. Andy has been working diligently on a Master’s degree in history for the time I have been here: I am enormously proud to say that we will be graduating together, as Bachelor and Master. If one ever needs a lesson in persistence and consistency, Andy positively embodies both.

Kelly Hughes: *sigh* I guess I’ll include Kelly. I have had this fake animosity towards her that heralds back from the times in which we would fight for our supervisors’ affections (I may have been the only one fighting now that I reflect on it). I learned from Kelly that not everyone is phased by my tough rhetoric; in addition, I learned that even my “affection competitor” could become an extremely loyal friend.

I’ve worked for CETL for about a year now. As a young professional, that seems like a rather long time. In the grand scheme of things, I will most certainly be occupying jobs that will last for a lot longer, but I doubt many more will have as big of an impact that CETL has had on such a crucial time of my life. It has been a distinct privilege to have worked here, and I will sorely miss it. Fortunately for you, dear reader, you do not have to say goodbye to me just yet: while this is my last post, you all have another summer of hearing my disembodied voice (I worked ahead) so try to enjoy it while it lasts. J

An enormous thank you to Cindy, Angie, April, Andy, Avonlea, and Kelly: I believe I speak for everyone who has ever posted, read, or subscribed to this blog when I say you all do amazing things.

Jon Pumper 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Richard Spindler, Math

What do pancakes, classrooms, and The Bird have in common? They can all be flipped! Professor Richard Spindler from the Department of Mathematics speaks to his success in flipping the classroom in this active learning activity post:

Setting: Problem-solving activities utilizing pod groups (6 pods with 3-4 students per pod) and Q&A, as needed

Setup for the activity: Students were required to watch a video and read an assignment on the topic before coming to class. I then provided questions and problems they would work on together in class, and I circulated in the classroom to answer questions.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: The students began their work together in their pod groups, discussing each problem. As they worked, they called me over with questions, and I discussed the issues either with the entire group or with the one or two students who had the question. Occasionally, if a common issue arose, I discussed it with the entire class, using the projector.

After the activity: I summarized any important points or issues that arose. After class, the students took a D2L Quiz on the topic.

Additional comments from instructor: "The students are more engaged, relaxed, and they are more likely to ask questions. In addition, the flipped nature of this activity allows me to work with them on problems as opposed to a lecture format where I would have much less time for that. From past experience, many of them typically could not do the problems independently outside of class."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Faculty Projects - Clear Assignments

Professor: Manuel Lopez
Department: Philosophy and Religious Studies
Name of Group: Successful Teaching Practices and Teaching International Students

It is an unfortunate reality of life that words often make much more sense in our minds than they do in written or spoken form. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told by my mother to retrieve the “dingy” on top of the “thingamabob” which, while undoubtedly clear in her mind, never lead to a successful retrieval of the item she needed. Sometimes additional clarity is needed even when the person giving the instruction is under the impression of being quite clear. Dr. Manual Lopez, from the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, speaks to imbuing clarity in his assignments as a result of attending CETL’s Successful Teaching Practices sessions:
"I felt my assignments were not as effective as I wanted them to be. Sometimes the general idea of the assignment was right but there was not a clear/focused goal. Sometimes I needed to clarify the presentation of the assignment (generally tended to be vague). I wanted to improve my assignments (their rationale, their goals, their effectiveness). I changed all of my assignments following ideas I learned during the Successful Teaching Practices workshop. I also implemented some ideas learned in the Teaching International Students workshop."
He lists the changes he implemented in order to create more effective assignments below:

  • I rewrote all of my assignments for World Religions (which I will use for the upcoming summer session) and made some changes to my current Religion and Popular Culture course. My assignments are now more focused and with clear goals.
  • I also added more variety of assignments testing different skills. It is not only about writing a paper (thesis, argument, etc.), but about helping them analyze a text, or expose them to world religions news, or make them think about what religion is (there is more scaffolding on the way I have designed the assignments).
  • I started using rubrics in a more systematic way. This has helped me reduce grading time and also make my grading more consistent.
  • In my Religion and Popular Culture class I had a final paper. During the workshop it was suggested that this is not always a very effective way of designing an assignment since, after the paper is done (especially if it is due at the end of the semester) all of my feedback is practically useless since there is no way for them to change their paper and, at that point, they do not care as much. I added the need to deliver a draft so I can give early feedback on the paper. They also have to come and discuss my feedback with them.
  • From the Teaching International Students workshop I have applied a couple of changes. The first is to write my assignments not as a narrative but as a list of requirements their papers need to have. I am doing the same with email responses to students. This has reduced student questions regarding the nature of assignments.

As a result of these more lineated assignments and the addition of organized rubrics, Dr. Lopez writes that his grading has become more “systematic and objective” in addition to taking less time, that his students have produced the “best” papers he has seen (despite the assignment being the same last semester), and that he receives less complaints for the reason behind a specific grade from his students.
 Write up by: Jon Pumper

Monday, May 11, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Biology Department

Much like iClickers, Google Docs, or water gun carnival games, Padlet is a technology that allows people to see real-time effects. Probably most professors who have used iClickers before have noticed that a lot of their power resides in this “real-time effect,” as students reconsider and debate over answers when they see what the majority of the class is thinking.  Padlet is another user-friendly tool to engage in this type of teaching, and the featured technology in this active learning activity post provided by the Biology department:  

Setting: 10-minute activity implemented in a 100-level course;8 pods with 4 students per pod

Purpose of the activity: The activity was designed to allow students to report back their individual results to their group-mates, to compare and evaluate these results, and to discuss patterns and differences among group members and in comparison with an average American.  They were asked to reflect on solutions –based on previous class material.

Setup for the activity:
  1. In-class time the week prior was spent introducing students to the technology –Padlet (  Students were given a simple, fun task to explore using the technology –answering "What is your favorite Thanksgiving food?"  Each member was asked to write a text response, including his/her name and students were encourage to add images in order to learn how to do so.

    *Note, this activity occurred late in the semester when group rapport was already well-established. Issues of consumption and waste were previously covered in class.
  2. Students completed an online Ecological Footprint inventory.  Each student took a screen shot of the output data and graphs and saved the picture.
  3. Each student accessed their group's Padlet via a link provided on D2L and inserted the screenshot into the page .I also posted mine.
How the activity unfolded in the classroom: After comparing the results, students then addressed several questions about their own and other group members' results:
  1. How does your footprint compare to the US average?  To your instructor and/or classmates?
  2. What accounts for the greatest proportion of your footprint? Is this surprising? Why or why not?
  3. What could you do in order to decrease your footprint?
After the activity: Students were assessed based on their written answers to the prompts using our standard rubric for class activities (shared below).

5 pts
4 pts
3 pts
2 pts
Needs work
1 pt
0 pts
·meets all format standards
·key points clearly summarized
·thorough and thoughtful analysis provided
·reflection includes appropriate references to background info, opinion, connections to other class material
·1 minor issue with format or content
·2 minor issues with format or content
·Several minor issue with content or format
·1 major issue with format or content
·Numerous issues
·Reflects minimal understanding or effort
·Does not meet standards
·Does not reflect understanding

 Additional comments from instructor: Padlet was an effective means of sharing information among group members and by having it online students had more time to reflect than they might if the results were shared during a face-to-face discussion in class.  However, in retrospect I think the Padlet was not best suited for an out-of-class activity.  During our practice with Padlet the students seemed most excited about how the page updated in real-time during class as different class members added things and updated it.  Since they worked on this assignment outside of class it was unlikely that students were updating their page simultaneously and thus the 'real-time' effect was lost.  The Padlet was still a sufficient way of reporting back to the group but I think many other technologies might have worked equally well –such as a Google doc, etc… I would consider using Padlet for something like this again, though, as it is user-friendly and visual, so I do still think it's useful.

I think using Padlet is best suited-for a project/activity when students are simultaneously working on a project in-class together.  This Ecological Footprint Activity isn't necessarily something we would want to produce into a large document as it would likely be overwhelming – so I don't think I would do that with this assignment.  I am still not sure the best way to have students share and reflect on their Ecological Footprints – or if sharing is necessary.

Note that I do still recommend Padlet as a tool –and think it can be useful for both real-time activities and as a more general repository for information.

To check out Padlet, visit the Padlet website here

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Dr. Jan Stirm on Word Paragraphs

As a learning tool, writing gives students practice in organizing and articulating ideas, fundamental communication skills necessary in all disciplines. Dr. Jan Stirm, Department of English, discusses how she uses frequent, low-stakes, writing assignments to give her students opportunities to develop their composition and critical thinking skills:

In my Shakespeare or Chaucer classes, I ask students to write what I call a “word paragraph” on a short passage in the text. They choose one word from the reading, and explain why they've chosen that word and why it is important in the text. The key is that it is a low stakes, fairly easy, and short (it’s only a paragraph, so it’s not very scary) assignment, and I give them lots of opportunities to do it. I like these because it allows students to learn through writing, getting them to critically think about the text as they read. As a result, I often notice a big change in in how fully a student can develop their ideas about the text over the course of a semester. I try not to worry as much about grammar or proofreading: the important piece is whether or not the student can assert an idea and helpfully support it with evidence from the text.  

Interview by: Jon Pumper

Monday, May 4, 2015

Interactive Case Study - Dr. Pehler, Nursing

In the spring of 2014, Dr. Shelly Rae Pehler from the department of Nursing participated in a CETL Successful Teaching Practices workshop that focused on developing interactive case studies. Dr. Pehler had the idea to replicate a real-life case that involved a patient whose symptoms could easily lead the nursing staff into two different interventions (as an interesting aside, the real-life staff actually ended up choosing the wrong intervention). After a year of researching the case, drawing out concept maps, and working closely with instructional designer April Pierson and her intern Sammi Nelson to translate it into the Articulate program, Dr. Pehler was able to trial the case study in her Pediatrics course this spring.

The format of the interactive case study was very much like the popular Choose Your Own Adventure Books of the 70’s: each slide presented the student with a choice that would lead them down opposing paths. Some paths provided the students with a chance for correction: while their first decision might not have been the right one, their next decision could allow them to get back on track. Consistently making the wrong decisions ultimately lead the student to the wrong plan of care for the patient. Alternatively, making all the correct decisions brought the student expediently to the correct intervention. In those cases, Dr. Pehler encouraged the students to go back and redo the case study, trying different decisions to see how the different choices will ultimately change patient outcomes.

After participating in the interactive case study, students were asked to provide feedback via a Qualtrics survey. The majority of students felt the case study reinforced course content, allowed for use of critical thinking skills, while also being fun to complete. Students unanimously voted for the creation of additional case studies to reinforce class content, and many comments centered around the desire to make the case study longer. While the resources to do so are pretty substantial—mostly in regard to time commitment—Dr. Pehler plans to add a new case study each year to her curriculum. She finds that the students really enjoy the interactive application of class material, and that case studies are personally quite fun to map out and put together.

For more information regarding interactive case studies, feel free to contact instructional designer April Pierson.