Monday, August 31, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Debbie Ernie, English

While this seems like a prime moment for me to engage in the whimsical rhetoric my writing typically includes, I will spare you from some bizarre analogy or tangential introduction and instead let you immediately get to a better piece of rhetoric: Professor Debbie Ernie’s active learning activity focused on (you guessed it) rhetoric.

Setting: Activity implemented in multiple sections of same 100-level course; activity takes about 20 minutes in active learning classroom (5 pods with 4 students per pod) but time varies in traditional classrooms due to prep and transition time for class sharing (see extended discussion below)

Purpose of the activity: For the Blugold Seminar in Critical Reading and Writing, we place a large emphasis on rhetoric as a way for students to transfer knowledge learned in the seminar to other classes or writing they will do on their chosen career paths. A good entry point for many students is through advertisements and social media, examples of rhetoric they come into contact with regularly, examples that might have more obvious elements of rhetoric. For this activity, done both in an active learning and traditional classroom, my students were identifying rhetorical choices made in advertisements. The goal here was to review concepts we had been discussing in their own words and through their own analyses of use of the term.

Setup for the activity + how the activity unfolded in the classroom: This activity would come toward the beginning of a discussion of the elements of rhetoric, but after having done some work/reading as an entire class on these elements. This activity is thus a bit of review/testing student knowledge, as well as a chance for students to begin to play with these devices themselves. This activity took place in both an active learning room and traditional classrooms. I will discuss the procedure for the active learning version. Then, I will discuss the differences when placed in a traditional space.

Active Learning Procedure: Before the students arrived, I wrote one element of rhetoric we had been discussing on each whiteboard (near each pod). We had one extra whiteboard. On that board, I listed some options –print advertisement, YouTube video, meme, etc. Once students had taken their respective seats, I discussed the activity:
  1. As a group, find or create a strong example of use of your board's element.
  2. This example can take any of the forms listed on the extra board.
  3. Be prepared to share with the class. You will need to define your element in your own words (review) and explain your example's use of said element. Why is this a strong example? How is your concept at work here.
Students took time searching and/or creating as a pod-group using the computers at each pod. I walked around to answer questions and comment on their finds. All groups sought out several examples and then voted on the best use of their given element, which I was pleased to see! This is why I allowed for some wiggle room as far as time. Once each group had made their final choice (two created something, three found something), we shared. I displayed images from each pod to all of the other pods and projector screens as groups discussed.

Traditional Classroom Comparison: This was a fairly simple but effective use of our technology. Just how effective this was came into play when attempting similar activities in my more traditional classrooms. Because of a lack of pods, a more traditional classroom has certain limitations that lead to needed prep work by the instructor or students. Some options: I bring magazines into the classroom, this of course limits options for discovery; students are asked to bring in advertisements, this is an issue for coordinating group work on this small of an activity, as well as the issue that many students print in black and white, which plays into rhetorical concerns; students bring in laptops; or I instruct students the day-of to make up their own advertisement or meme (could do so with scratch paper or laptops). Even in making these decisions, the small activity becomes more complicated. Because I teach several sections, I tried a few variations. I brought in magazines, a wide variety, but felt students spent less time analyzing multiple options, and rather just picked one at almost-random (NOT a goal of this activity). I also asked students to choose their own advertisements before class, as well as bringing in laptops. With the choosing of individual ads, students were given assigned elements ahead of time.

The group work once in the classroom felt limited with the group search aspect removed. I certainly could not assess their searching and critical thinking involved in person. We also had to waste some time moving into groups, no matter the prep chosen, especially in a classroom filled with rows of desks. While the project got them reviewing rhetoric, and while I would not necessarily cut it from future classes in more traditional rooms, these versions certainly presented more challenges. Lastly, sharing could be done one of two ways –groups coming up to the front to display their ad/meme, or small groups sharing with another nearby group. Again, a little more finagling required and time-wasted.

After the activity: The assessment was tied into the sharing portion of the activity, both the review and analysis of the use of the concept for each group. Assessing their work and knowledge was certainly more easily observable in situations where they were searching while in the room.

Additional comments from the instructor: On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 = high success), I would rate this activity as a 3-4 for a traditional classroom. It requires more prep from the teacher and/or students and makes the group aspect and sharing of the activity less accessible. If I were to rate this in an active learning setting, however, I would give it a 4-5. This activity runs smoothly in these classrooms, and is an easy and fun way to utilize our technology.

Tip provided by: Debbie Ernie
Write up by: Jon Pumper

Monday, August 24, 2015

Active Learning Activities - Abra Brisbin, Math

Tragically, many students come to college with very little modeling experience. Not modeling in the sense of fashionably wearing retail clothing or modeling in the sense of painstakingly gluing tiny pieces together in order to make ostentatious little cars, but modeling in the sense of deriving mathematical equations to represent real-world phenomenon. Dr. Abra Brisbin, Department of Mathematics, utilizes an active learning teaching technique called “information search” to get her students to interact with models in a meaningful way.

Setting: Activity utilizing pod groups (5 pods with 3 students per pod), groups reporting out, and a discussion involving the whole class

Setup for the activity: Students were assigned to read two papers ("Just modeling through: A rough guide to modeling" by Michael Pidd and "It's the findings, stupid, not the assumptions" by Stephen Shugan) and write answers to three questions about the papers before class.

How the activity unfolded in the classroom: I assigned each group one of the first 5 principles of modeling discussed in Pidd's paper. They discussed their assigned principle within their pod, and used the whiteboards to write answers to the following questions: What does this principle mean? Why is it important? Give an example of applying the principle. While discussing within their pods, several groups used the computers at each table to bring up a copy of the paper to refer to.
After about 15 minutes, I asked a member of each group to explain their answers to the rest of the class. I solicited discussion on connections between the principles and students' prior knowledge by asking, "Did any of the principles surprise you?" and "How could this principle apply to the model of the wolf population we worked on last week?"

After the activity: The presentation by students and discussion were part of the activity. On a subsequent homework problem, students were asked to build a model of the number of restaurants in the United States, and write a paragraph describing how their model-building process illustrated a principle of modeling.

Additional comments from the instructor: "I was pleased that this activity got students to think about the broader context of modeling, in contrast to the specific mathematical tools for modeling that are the focus of most of the course. In the future, I would like to spend more time discussing the Shugan paper (most of the time was spent discussing the Pidd paper), and integrate additional questions throughout the term to call students' attention back to this activity."

Tip provided by Abra Brisbin
Write-up by Jon Pumper

Monday, August 17, 2015

Dr. Anne Hlas on Attention

Attention is a limited resource and one that must be established, directed, and maintained. Dr. Anne Hlas, Department of Languages, provides strategies on how to structure your class to get the most out of student’s attentional resources:

The first 10 minutes of the class is the most attention rich time for students. When we are passing back papers or going over logistics the beginning of class, it’s not as effective as if we were to use that time to target new material. Last semester, my student researcher, a colleague, and I conducted research on attention where 274 students—from all different levels of Spanish—were given clickers so they could self-report when they were having an attention lapse.  In addition to learning that students were paying more attention the first 10 minutes of class, our findings also suggested that more active learning techniques, such as cold calling (randomly calling on students), interactive speaking tasks, and working on individual white boards, may also increase attention.

For more information on this subject, consider checking out the book Brain Rules, by John Medina. 
Interview by: Jon Pumper

Monday, August 10, 2015

IF-AT Testing: Up to Snuff, Up to Scratch

I’ve never been a man to go for a lottery ticket. Perhaps I was dissuaded by an old economics professor of mine who asserted that the odds of you winning were only marginally increased by actually owning a ticket: that is to say, the odds of you purchasing the winning ticket are only fractionally better than the odds of the winning ticket spontaneously blowing into your hand as you munch on your afternoon sandwich. Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but it sticks with you.

While IF-AT tests have all the appearances of a lottery ticket, their chances of generating a winner are substantially better. In fact, the creators of the new testing system would suggest the chances are even better than traditional multiple-choice tests. IF-AT (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique) tests provide students with immediate feedback as they answer questions, encouraging strategic test-taking and facilitating retention of material.  The test is fundamentally a giant Scantron with its answers buried under a layer of scratch-off coating. After reading the question, students will scratch off the box they believe is correct. If they reveal a star, they can move on; if the space is blank, they continue to try until they get the right answer.

Example of Team IF-AT Test
The benefits of this approach, according to the company, are as follows:
  1. Immediate feedback is superior to delayed feedback: students who answer correctly right away affirm their learning, while students who need multiple attempts will understand their error as they are taking the test, ultimately resulting in a better understanding of the material.
  2. Teachers won’t have to waste class time going over tests.
  3. Partial credit can be easily assigned, (i.e. half credit for a correct second choice) relieving students from the nasty pressure of deciding between two tough choices.
  4. Scratching makes for a more interesting, interactive test.

If you would like to give this method a try, stop in at CETL to request your own set!
If you would like to learn more about IF-AT testing, take a look at their official website here.
You scratch their backs, and they’ll scratch your test.

Tip provided by: Jon Pumper

Monday, August 3, 2015

Dr. Eric Jamelske on Guest Speakers

The phrase “could not have said it better myself” is one of those phrases that on the surface appears to be solely complimentary but deep down often times contains a hidden truth. For instance, I might say after listening to a lecture on quantum mechanics that I “could not have said it better myself,” for the very distinct reason that I could not have said anything at all about quantum mechanics. The world is so dense with knowledge that we rarely can say anything “better ourselves” except for maybe the discipline we have specialized in and what we would like for dinner. Dr. Eric Jamelske, Department of Economics, embraces this truth, and seeks out guest lecturers for areas in his course that are not his direct specialty.

In the classes that I teach that are naturally interdisciplinary—like Health Economics or Environmental Economics—I try to get guest speakers to talk about the components I know less about. For instance, I will get a chemistry professor to talk about the science of climate change, or a philosophy professor to talk about environmental ethics. Being trained public speakers, we can all pool together resources and give a presentation on any topic, but if you don’t own it, or are not passionate about it, it’s not as effective as if you were to get an expert on the material. I’ve had great success reaching out to other faculty and community speakers to come in and present on special subjects, and it really enhances the course. I think faculty are very open to the idea and all you have to do is find the right person for it.

Interview by: Jon Pumper