Monday, June 29, 2015

Setting the Tone: Consistency

I once had a Morality teacher in high school that was a dense 6’5, 230 pounds. He looked like a man who would beat morality into you if it didn’t go against the very subject he taught. Perhaps it was this odd dichotomy that allowed him play the role of “good cop/bad cop” so fluidly: he was at once adored by his students as he was the main cause for their gastrointestinal issues. 

Early on in the course, he played a rather unfortunate trick on us. He had recruited a student to show up late to class the next day. When the student showed up—ten minutes into class—the teacher started screaming at him. I think he may have even thrown a chair: he was extremely devoted to his character. While the class watched in silent horror as the student left the room, the teacher surveyed the class, daring anyone to speak up. Of course, no one did. He sat down and took a distinct bite out of his second package of Ho Hos.

Then he started laughing. The student came back inside, took a bow, and we all slowly realized we had been duped. He framed this as a moral predicament, challenging us to consider why we didn’t stand up for our classmate when he was clearly being unfair. While this elicited some pretty good discussion, I couldn’t help but think that wasn’t all that was at stake here. What was really being challenged was our will to fight the environment he had established in the classroom since day one, an environment where he was uncontestably in complete control.

I had never realized how much command, how much presence we allowed this man to have. His bluff wasn’t even a gamble: he had known from the onset that we were going to be paralyzed against his injustice, unwilling to contradict a man who had firmly established his dictatorial authority. He was asking us to oppose him as a teacher, and we cowered as students.

I feel very ambivalent towards him now. I do not know how I feel about his iron grip that he held on the class.  But I still respect his ability to set a tone and maintain it. We knew from the first day what we were to expect from him and he never deviated from it. While his method for maintaining command may have been questionable, his consistency never was: he had a class climate that was a sweltering 90 degrees and terrified six days of the working week. And no student, morality lesson, or weatherman was willing to challenge that.  

Write up by: Jon Pumper

Monday, June 22, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Tom Sulzer, Information Systems

Professor Tom Sulzer, Department of Information Systems, shares his active learning activity focused on simulations:

Setting: Simulation activity utilizing pod groups (8-10 pods with 4 students per pod)

Setup for the activity: To prepare the students for this activity I had to help them install an SAP client piece of software. In addition, we talked about Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions in business and had a reading assignment associated with ERP to better help them understand what it is that ERP is about.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: Part of the SAP curriculum is a "Distribution Game" which allows students to role play being the managers of a company that distributes water. The simulation typically lasts 3 classes and allows the students to gain experience using a real ERP system.

  • The first day, students are allowed to modify their product's price and marketing expenditures to get their products to be purchased by a simulated market. Note the market that the simulation tries to simulate is Retail Stores in Germany which is divided up into 3 regions: North, South and West.
  • In the second session, students are allowed to replenish their inventory once as well as set their product's price and amount of marketing as they did the first day.
  • In the third session, students build on what they were able to do in the previous days by having unlimited replenishment capability as well as the ability to forecast and select specific replenishment amounts. Note they still are setting price and marketing expenses as well.

After the activity: After each session, we summarized what occurred and allowed the students to share experiences, good and bad. The intent is to help them appreciate, in a safe setting, some of the real-world types of decisions that managers struggle with. While it is in a contrived scenario, the tools they use and their reactions are very close to reality.

Additional comments from instructor: "I believe that the simulation is able to drive home the use of ERP systems and allows them to get hands on experience with an actual piece of software they will potentially see in a real work environment setting."

Tip provided by: Tom Sulzer

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dr. Allen Keniston on Demonstrating Phenomenon

There is no better way to appreciate the results of research than by participating in the process yourself: Dr. Allen Keniston, Department of Psychology, discusses how he replicates important psychological phenomenon in and with his own classroom:

I always try and find a way to demonstrate the phenomenon we are talking about. For example, if I want to claim that I can influence an individual’s behavior without the individual being aware that I have done so, I like to show the class that I can. This transforms the concept from an abstract idea that is discussed in a reading or lecture into a concrete reality for the students, something that actually happens in their life. You need to demonstrate the claim in order to keep students engaged and to promote understanding.

Interviewed by: Jon Pumper

Monday, June 8, 2015

Active Learning Activities- Ursula Whitcher, Math

While John Conway’s Game of Life (a cellular automaton) appears to be quite different from Milton Bradley’s Game of Life (a rather trite board game), there are a few prevailing similarities. For instance, both represent scenarios where there is a finite number of situations a player can occupy; both involve witnessing the overall evolution of its players; and both can be considered “zero-player” games, in the sense that Conway’s Game of Life requires no players and Milton Bradley’s Game of Life should really never have any players, especially if Klaus Teuber’s Settler’s of Catan is within easy reach. Dr. Ursula Whitcher, Department of Math, focuses less on the comparison of complex mathematical phenomenon to popular board games and more on just the mathematical phenomenon part in her active learning activity featuring John Conway’s Game of Life:

Setting: 20-minute activity implemented in a 100-level course; 6 pods with 5 students per pod

Purpose of the activity: Students explore and discuss Conway's Game of Life using the Google Easter egg, as displayed on pod computers.

Setup for the activity: Googling Conway's Game of Life produces an implementation of the cellular automaton "game."  The game can be paused and restarted.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: Groups explore different starting configurations, trying to answer three questions:
  • Can you make a pattern that stays the same for several seconds?
  • Can you make a pattern that oscillates between a couple of states?
  • Can you make a pattern that moves across the screen?

This activity leads into a discussion of the formal rules of the "game."

After the activity: Students use the formal rules of Conway's Game of Life on homework and exam problems.  Cellular automata are also a possible example for a final exam essay.

Additional comments from instructor: Other possible prompts to explore with this activity include:
  • Can you make a pattern that disappears/dies out?
  • Can you guess some of the rules of the game?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Carolyn Otto, Math

Anyone who has struggled to communicate with another person—or even worse, witnessed another person struggling to communicate with another person—has experienced (or witnessed) the linguistic phenomenon that people relate to words in many different ways. Words such as “palette,” “illicit,” or “please go get me a cup of coffee” are constantly confused, little to the fault of any artist, bank robber, or writing intern involved. But there are some words that are so confusing that they can hardly ever be used in conversation without immediately invoking panicked faces, nervous sweating, or frantic wikepedia surfing. “Fractal” is one such word, a “natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.” 1 Dr. Caroyln Otto, from the Department of Mathematics, devotes an entire class period to the exploration this confusing topic, and describes the lesson plan in today’s issue of “Active Learning Activities.”

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

Setup for the activity: The activity involved the definition of fractals. The students didn’t have any outside information about the topic beforehand. This was introduced during class.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: At the beginning of class, each pod was given a list of questions to discuss. These questions included what is the definition of a fractal, how would we use them, and can you give an example of a fractal. After the students turned in a written summary of their thoughts, the class watched a PBS documentary on fractals.

After the activity: After the video, their summaries were returned and the pods were asked to type up a new summary on their Pod computers. I went around to each Pod to discuss their early answers and new answers. Each Pod emailed me a new summary.

Additional comments from the instructor: “The students were engaged at all stages of this activity. There was a lot of communication between the students and myself as well as attention to the film. The students were excited about the subject and many brought that excitement to the next days of class.”

Tip provided by Carolyn Otto
Framing provided by Jon Pumper