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

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