Archive for the ‘DCAL’ Category

DCAL’s first Teaching Science Seminar of 2011 was a discussion of an outreach opportunity for faculty – Science Cafés.  Nancy Serrell, Director of Outreach, started the discussion with an overview of Science Cafés (we had also distributed the article A Scientist Walks into a Bar, by Amanda Thomas describing them).  Started in the UK, Science Cafés are informal conversations about science that have spread throughout the US, as can be seen from the “Find a Café” link on this website:  http://www.sciencecafes.org/ The basic idea is that a scientist  goes to a local venue with a casual environment to start a conversation about science with an audience that may include people who don’t usually talk about science.  Dartmouth graduate students and postdocs have already been involved in bringing junior Science Cafés to local middle schools, usually by talking about topics related to their research with middle school students over lunch or after school.  We now have NASA funding, through Bob Hawley’s grant, to expand the lunchtime Science Cafés in schools and to develop adult Cafés in local pubs or coffee shops.

Science faculty members were excited to learn about this opportunity and had lots of questions.  We brainstormed venues in the Upper Valley that may be good hosts and possible community partners.  Questions were asked about assessment and what makes a good Science Café.  Having a speaker that engages the audience and gets a conversation going is probably the most important element of a successful café.   The audience response will help determine success.  Were they engaged?  Did they talk about it afterward?  Do they return for another café?

Another aspect of the Science Café opportunity is that it’s aligned with professional development for faculty and future faculty.  Nancy mentioned that our graduate students who went to Washington DC for the inaugural USA Science & Engineering Festival last October felt their preparation and experience interacting with the crowd was a bit like the “yes, and” of improv training and that might be a good way to prepare for science cafés.  Brian Pogue, Dean of Graduate Studies, mentioned that this kind of training for scientists was a hot topic at the Council of Graduate school’s annual meeting when Alan Alda talked about the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook.  We watched a video of the type of training Alan Alda offers and talked about next steps to make Science Cafés and the related improv training a reality here in the Upper Valley.

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originally published at http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/student_views_on_technology_and_teaching

Today was one of those days that us educators live for. A recent graduate, Lucretia Witte (who is now teaching 6th graders in Bridgeport CT for Teach for America), came back to campus to lead a session entitled “Student Views on Technology and Teaching” at our Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL).

While a senior, Lucretia did research on what students believe are the most effective practices for integrating technology into teaching. Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, she was able to gather data from a wide variety of students on their experiences (both good and bad) with educational technology. She then synthesized these findings in a Blackboard site that was made available to faculty, complete with anonymous student discussion board postings on the role of technology in learning. You can read more about her research methodology and findings here.

During today’s presentation, Lucretia took the faculty and staff in attendance through her main findings, and offered 4 ideas for immediate improvements that every course could implement.

Synthesis of Research Findings:

Learning Goals : The curriculum and assignments should clearly and explicitly reflect the learning goals for the course.

Engagement: Student engagement with course materials and assignments is influenced both by the degree that students are interested and connected to the material, and by how much that students feel that their professors take a personal interest in their learning and success.

Accountability: Assessment needs to occur frequently and with low stakes, to both hold students accountable for the assigned curriculum and to provide constant feedback and reinforcement.

The four things that every professor can do “THIS WEEK” (Lucretia’s words) to make each course more student-friendly include (with the sentences in quotes pulled directly from the handout):

1. Ensure that all readings, articles, presentations and videos (all course material) are available in the course management system.
2. “Create a weekly reading assessment that asks students to formulate or discuss the most important things you wanted them to get out the this week’s articles.”
3. “Make your syllabus a living document and let students know about changes via class emails – it will put your class in the forefront of their minds.”
4. “Use technology to help students engage with one another – create peer review groups for papers or discussion groups online.”

These methods are ones that we have discussed in various faculty discussions and professional development events. However, when the advice and ideas come from a student (or a very recent graduate), based on research with fellow students, then the impact of the findings are infinitely more powerful than when expressed by one of us. I think all of us want to understand the student viewpoint and student ideas on teaching and technology. We rarely get this opportunity, however, due to a lack of opportunities and incentives for students to conduct and share this type of research.

How can we build in student led research about teaching with technology into our courses and centers for professional development?

Do you have other good examples of student conducted research on technology and learning?

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As part of the ongoing training for Dartmouth’s GK-12 Fellows, participants in a session open to all grad students and postdocs gathered to discuss the questions we ask in class or during science outreach with public audiences.  We generated a list of questions, experienced either as teachers or students, that silenced the room rather than promoted discussion.  After reading “The Right Question at the Right Time,” by Joe Elstgeest (Chapter 3 in Primary Science: Taking the Plunge),  we explored why questions ranging from “why is methylmercury toxic?” to “are there any questions?” didn’t elicit the desired response and how we could revise them to better achieve the goal of the question in the first place.

Suggestions included breaking a big question down into smaller parts, revising the language to better match the knowledge level of our students, finding a related common experience, being more specific (or more general), creating a safe space, and recognizing when the question asked was not leading to the intended learning objective.  We talked about the importance of timing both in terms of allowing enough wait time to generate a response and how a question will be more productive when asked at an appropriate time.  Using the improv acting technique of “yes, and” to give a positive response to an answer that wasn’t expected and building from there was mentioned as another way to create an environment where people want to participate.

Nancy Serrell and Cindy Tobery, who were facilitating the workshop, concluded by using a summary of productive questioning strategies to focus on a specific example from our participants: how to engage the visitors to Dartmouth’s polar ice core exhibit during the upcoming USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC on Oct 24-25.

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John Tansey (Executive Director of Off-Campus Programs), Heather Earle (Counseling and Human Development), Kevin O’Leary (General Counsel), Leslie Seabrook (Risk Management) and Lisa Thum (Undergraduate Dean’s Office) were all on hand to present a thorough program designed to answer a slew of questions and alleviate the concerns of the 10 faculty attendees who will be leading or participating in upcoming off-campus programs for the College.

Each attendee received a three-ring binder of useful information on roles and responsibilities, program orientations, and general health and safety, along with case studies, readings and more.

The program progressed along a planned open discussion of the most frequently asked questions, but even the two-hour block of time could have gone on further.

Since this blogger is not a legal adviser, I will refrain from providing my edited and interpreted responses to the questions, but would like to highlight some of the FAQ that were discussed.

  • What is faculty liability if a student is injured on a program? Does the college cover me for liability?
  • What should I do if a student who will be participating on my program informs me, prior to the program, that he/she is receiving ongoing care for a serious medical and/or mental health condition?
  • Why don’t we ask students to complete the voluntary health disclosure form before acceptance decisions are made for the program
  • If I find that one or more of my students is abusing alcohol or drugs (or violating one of the Off-Campus Programs Norms of Conduct) do I have the authority to remove the student(s) from the program should I decide to?
  • What should I do if one of my students informs me that he/she has been sexually assaulted?
  • In the event of a medical condition, should I recommend that the student visit the medical clinic nearest the host family or university, or should International SOS be contacted for a referral?
  • How does medical confidentiality and FERPA affect Directors?

Often, the answers to these questions seemed like common sense, but it was certainly good to have them clarified. The general advice in most situations was to stay alert, touch base with all concerned, and keep the Off-Campus Programs Office and Dean’s Office in the loop.

Anyone leading or considering leading an off-campus program would be wise to contact John Tansey and his team for more thorough and complete answers to their questions. I know the workshop’s attendees appreciated the chance to learn more from all of the presenters.

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What’s the goal of a syllabus?  What does it tell you about the design of the course and the instructor’s teaching philosophy?  What assumptions and values inform the syllabus?  How can the syllabus better address student concerns? These questions provided the framework for the discussion “From Soup to Nuts:  Crafting the First-Year Seminar Syllabus,” the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric’s first professional development workshop of the term.  The session brought together both new and experienced First-Year Seminar instructors who will be teaching a new writing course this spring.

Participants looked at a syllabus from 20 years ago written by a relatively inexperienced faculty member and a more recent, much more learner-centered syllabus, while reflecting on the courses they are preparing for spring.  The session, led by Karen Gocsik, raised questions to help with course design and provided some useful advice.

How do we get to know our students?  How can we include opportunities to determine their interests and abilities? Some suggestions are to use a pre-course survey and diagnostic assignments during the first week.  We can also ask our students to share with us a paper from their previous writing class that they are particularly proud of to gain insight into their writing preparation.

What are the big questions to be addressed in this class? These are what the students will connect with personally or connect with other classes and eventually take beyond our class.  What are our assumptions and expectations?  Are they implicit or explicit?  How can we connect our goals with our students’ goals?

How rigid or flexible should the syllabus be?  What’s a good balance between course content, writing, and research? One possibility is to include an overall schedule in the syllabus with a more detailed schedule provided every few weeks.  This allows us to make adjustments to meet students’ needs, make room for that interesting conversation, and take into account scheduling issues we could not anticipate.

Where will the learning about writing and research come in?  How can we guide the students to see how the readings and other course materials are in conversation with each other? How can the students join that conversation? Where are the opportunities for reflection on student learning? We can begin by thinking about the goals for each week and for each assignment and how those goals relate to the larger course goals.  Crafting a good writing seminar syllabus means learning to move back and forth between those big questions that remind us why our course exists and the specific goal(s) an individual assignment is designed to meet.

For more on constructing a syllabus, see DCAL’s syllabus template and IWR’s materials for faculty: syllabus and assignment design.

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This spring term’s Teaching with Information Technology session featured four presentations from a variety of disciplines:

  1. Tom Luxon, Director of DCAL and Professor of English, talked about both the logistics and the advantages of collecting and returning student assignments electronically. Both the discussion board and the assignment manager in Blackboard can be used to to collect and redistribute assignments (the  main difference being the level of transparency and privacy). Comments or “track changes” in Microsoft Word are ideal tools for marking up student papers. The list of advantages for electronic document exchange is extensive, but includes:
    • due-dates and times can be more easily optimized for student schedules
    • feedback loops are shortened, and students can access comments on final projects while they still care about them
    • peer review can easily be integrated into the process
    • anti-plagiarism research is facilitated
    • both faculty and students will have access to feedback and comments for years to come
  2. Elissa Faro from the Classis department showed the WordPress blog for the 2009 Greek FSP. This blog, which was easily updated by the class and their TA while on the move for over two months, allowed students to create content for an authentic audience (their peers, family and friends at home, and the world at large), and generated a lot of student creativity. Posts covered the gamut from documentation of daily field experiences, usually including photos and video clips, to more reflective and insightful pieces about cultural and social differences. Classics faculty used the blog to assess the program, and plan to use to for future pre-trip planning as well. View the blog at: http://greecefsp2009.wordpress.com/

  3. Simon Shepherd talked about his experiences using high-definition lecture capture at the Thayer School of Engineering. Much of Simon’s class time is spent on the chalkboard, leaving students “frantically following along, taking notes, and trying to stay engaged”. Automated lecture capture alleviates some of this frenzy, and allows undergraduates to complement their notes, review lecture materials, and reinforce key ideas; or to simply keep up with the course when absent for athletic events or out sick. Simon noted that in his graduate course, lecture capture often played a somewhat different role: while grad students as well used lecture recordings for clarification and review, they also used them to study for their qualifying exams, or to close gaps in skills and knowledge (e.g. Mathlab) without having to enroll in a course to do so.  72% of Simon’s students reported on their course evaluations that the got more out of the class because of the availability of high-definition lecture captures – that’s a healthy student endorsement.
    Related link from the DCAL web site: Lecture capture pilot report (2008)
  4. Barbara DeFelice and Helmut Baer from the Dartmouth College library reported on the Sparky awards. Hosted annually by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), this competition encourages students to submit videos or mashups which emphasize the value of open information sharing. Best practices – such as releasing any entries under a creative commons license – are built into the competition. While this competition is not tied explicitly to the curriculum, Dartmouth classes using video-based assignments could potentially serve as a base to increase Dartmouth student participation. The fact that this is a real-world competition, with a wider real-world audience can be a strong motivator for student participation.
    Related link: http://www.sparkyawards.org/

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Wednesday at DCAL Julie Homchick, Lecturer in Speech, ran a workshop on “Making Sense of Speeches,” offering her thoughts on how to create grading rubrics that transparently and efficiently evaluate student presentations. Homchick began her session by making the important point that the kinds of rubrics we design should reflect our pedagogical aims. In other words, there’s no one-size-fits-all rubric that can be used for evaluating oral presentations. Instead, instructors should think about the objectives of their assignments, as well as the goals of the speaker. Does the speaker wish to persuade? To entertain? To open up a line of inquiry? Once an instructor has a clear sense of objectives, she can carefully design a rubric to assess how well the presenter meets the assignment’s particular aims.

Advantages of using a rubric, according to Homchick, include transparency for students and efficiency for instructors. In terms of transparency, a rubric can help students to see what instructors expect from a particular presentation, and how the instructor will weigh these expected elements. In terms of efficiency, a rubric can help instructors keep track of their responses as they listen to the presentations. Indeed, as Homchick modeled, rubrics can be designed precisely to free instructors from taking notes on the content of a presentation. As an example, Homchick offered a sample rubric that provides the opportunity for students to list, in a left-hard column, their main argument points. A right-hand column provides the professor a place to numerically rate the argument’s evidence, reasoning, organization, and so on. Using a rubric like this one enables instructors to focus their note-taking not on the content being presented, but on the quality of the presentation itself.

To give us a sense of the promises and limitations of rubrics, Homchick invited us to watch a videotaped presentation and to use a rubric to assess it. This particular rubric included categories for persuasion, organization, evidence, language, and delivery. The discussion that ensued was lively, leading us to consider the pedagogical benefits and limitations of rubrics, and to imagine other ways to use them. One participant observed that instructors can invite students to get involved in designing the rubric, thereby encouraging students to define their own standards of excellence ,and allowing them to understand better the expectations of their audience.

Homchick ended her talk by reiterating that no rubric is one-size-fits-all, encouraging instructors to take advantage of a rubric’s malleability to create rubrics that include (for instance) a category addressing the visual components of multimedia compositions, or a category addressing the quality of discussion that the presentation inspires. Participants left the workshop not only with good, practical advice on how to assess presentations, but also with a sense of how they might develop rubrics tailored for their own pedagogical aims.

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Close attention to very small details of student writing can, and usually does, open windows on the larger issues involved in teaching and learning academic writing. Four faculty members from the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric (IWR) presented the results of their painstakingly close inspection of a sample of first-year writing. Karen Gocsik, Sara Chaney, Stephanie Boone and Doug Moody conducted their study under a mini-grant recently received by the IWR.

Gocsik focused her attention on building a taxonomy of rhetorical and linguistic habits frequently evident in first-year writing. She found that students

  • generalize far too much and sometimes never focus attention on specific bits of evidence
  • don’t really own their arguments; they tend simply to report information and others’ opinions
  • fail to do a good job integrating what they read into their writing

Gocsik invited the workshop group to pay particularly close attention to how student use, or fail to use, “evidentials” in their writing. Evidentials are words that express a writer’s attitudes about knowledge, opinions and information. These would include words like

  • Believe
  • In fact
  • Therefore
  • Since
  • Probably
  • Because

and phrases like

  • As _____has claimed
  • In spite of __________’s conviction
  • ___________ thinks
  • ___________ assumes

Novice writers, she finds, use evidentials rarely or improperly, probably because they do not know what they believe concerning the issues and topics about which they write. They have not forged a stance, let alone a voice, in relation to their topics and the evidence they quote or cite. In short, novice writers tend to report rather than argue. One remedy for this, Gocsik suggests, is for instructors to write evidential words and phrases in the margins of students’ papers as leading feedback, prompting them to re-write using evidentials.

Sara Chaney conducted what she calls a “deep audit” of how student writers use sources in their writing. Her concern was not simply proper quotation, attribution and citation, but, like Gocsik, how they use quotations in their essays. Mostly, she found, students “quote drop”; that is, they quote sources without taking any kind of position towards the opinion or information quoted. Like Gocsik, she found novice writers tend to ignore the evidential framing of the sources they use, as if they simply combed through lots of sources looking for thematically similar sentences to quote with little or no regard for the arguments and positions of the sources from which they were lifted. Chaney’s findings reminded me of a story a reference librarian once told me: a student comes up to the reference desk during her duty time and says, “I’ve finished my paper, now I need help finding sources to quote in it.”

Stephanie Boone took a very close look at how novice writers use metaphors.

  • What metaphors do they commonly use?
  • How do they inform arguments?
  • Where do they come from?

Boone recommended Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By as an excellent guide to how metaphors can structure how we see things, what we think and what we do. She found that most novice writers appear pretty much unconscious of the metaphors they use in their writing and she suspects that by raising their awareness of the metaphors they use, we can help them improve their writing.

Finally Doug Moody, joining the workshop by videoconference from Mexico, wrapped up the presentation by suggesting that we routinely invite students to conduct similar close analyses of their own and their peers’ writing:

  • Study how they use evidentials
  • Analyze their use of sources
  • Unpack their use of metaphors

If we build such close reading skill development into writing courses, novices will advance sooner and more confidently.

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Christiane Donahue and Karen Gocsik, both from the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric (IWR) led a very useful workshop on constructing and using rubrics for three purposes:
• Clarifying and articulating what truly matters to instructors when evaluating a graded assignment: this clarification is useful for us as instructors and also, of course for our students.
• For “backwards planning” in course design: once we have a clear sense of what the assignments in a course are for, and how to measure success, it is easier to plan the rest of the course.
• As a formative tool: using rubrics to guide the sort of feedback we give to students on ungraded assignments so they will perform better on later graded assignments.
• To engage students directly in assessment of their own work by having them work together to build rubrics for work we assign to them.

Christiane offered this working definition of a rubric:
A grid of some kind that describes the traits desired in student work. These traits may be weighted relative to each other and the grid may also specify a range of quality for each trait that corresponds to a grade value.

She also outlined some of the pitfalls in using rubrics to grade student work:
• If the trait descriptions are too general or vague, students get mixed messages.
• If the descriptions are too complex and detailed, students try to work to rule or recipe.
• Rubrics are a poor substitute for one-to-one interactions with students; they might make such discussions more fruitful, but they cannot take their place.

Christiane led us through a rubric-building exercise with the help of some examples from Appendix A of Walvoord and Anderson’s Effective Grading (Jossey Bass 2010). Working from an already designed assignment, preferably one we had used before, we asked ourselves these two questions:
• What really matters in this assignment and why?
• For each feature that really matters, what does success look like?
Working in groups of three or four, we listed the features that most matter and then described success on a three-level scale for each feature. In this way, we roughed out a basic rubric for our assignment.

Another way to build a rubric is to start with several samples of student work from a previous assignment and glean from those samples the features that seem most important to success on that assignment. For new faculty, or people designing a new course, this method is less useful.

Karen Gocsik walked us through quite a different way of constructing rubrics for graded work. When she started assigning students to prepare video presentations of various sorts, she decided to recruit students into the process of constructing the rubric that would be used to grade their own work. Karen followed the processes outlined above, and the students worked together, independently of Karen, on their own rubric. Though there was a good deal of overlap, there were also important surprises. Then Karen and her students agreed on a combination of features and values selected from both rubrics and used that to evaluate their work.

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Every course at Dartmouth has a Blackboard site that instructors can make available to students, and every undergraduate is required to have a computer.  Finding technology in classes is therefore no surprise.  But what do Dartmouth students really think about the technology associated with their classes?   That’s what Lucretia Witte ’10 set to find out through surveys and interviews with fellow students.

Lucretia shared the results of her study with a room packed full of faculty, librarians, technologists, and administrators on April 20, 2010.  In preparation for the workshop and as a means to make her results accessible, Lucretia created a Blackboard site as a model for how it could be used for a class.  Students and faculty were asked to share their opinions in response to questions she asked through the online discussion board before the session.  While walking us through her site and examples for using Blackboard, Lucretia shared her findings and moderated a discussion.

The main message from students was a good reminder to us all: More important than any technology (or lack of) was feeling engaged and as if the instructor cares about the community in the classroom and about each individual student.  The students feel small classes are the best and anything that helps them engage with the material, the instructors, and each other makes a good class.  In fact, Lucretia pointed out that learning may not be the main criterion students use to evaluate a class.  They want to know how much work the class will be and if that work will be rewarding.  From this project, Lucretia learned that students were more likely to respond to her when they felt a personal connection to her and the project.  The same holds true for classes.

Although many of the student comments focused on class size and personal interactions, some had strong feelings about how and when technology is effective in their courses. The consensus among students is that PowerPoint is most effective when used for images (from art to biology) and not for text.  Lecture capture received mixed reviews.  Many preferred video to audio-only, but some say any class recordings may make them less likely to attend the class, a concern raised by faculty as well.  One student suggested that specific class sessions could be recorded if requested by a student who would be unable to attend.  Pre-recorded short lectures assigned as part of class preparation were seen as a way to allow for more engaging class time.  The interactive tools on Blackboard (discussion boards, blogs, and wikis) seem to be viewed favorably only when they are used to prepare and be more engaged in a class discussion.  When they are used to wrap-up a discussion and the next in class meeting is on a different topic, they seem less effective.  Many students felt their classmates simply wrote because they had to and the online discussions were not true discussions and often a waste of time.  Pre-course surveys, on the other hand, that allow faculty to learn about their students before the class even begins, were praised by students and faculty.

We were reminded that most of the current Dartmouth students started using computers before the age of 10.  They started reading on Reader Rabbit, relying on interaction, visuals, and sound.  This may be why the students say images, music, and videos are what grab their attention outside of class – not the printed word.  Most course materials are printed text and students think it’s “nice to change up assignments.”

A faculty member asked if the price of required reading influenced course choice.  Lucretia responded honestly on behalf of students that they want easily accessible materials, and for some that means all readings should be posted on Blackboard, and some may not do readings that are difficult to obtain.  Faculty were curious if students read electronic documents online or printed hardcopies and a discussion of reading preferences ensued. Lucretia’s advice was for faculty to make the readings available in different ways (books and readings that can be purchased, borrowed, read online or printed as hard copies) to accommodate students with different preferences.  Copyright issues were mentioned as a barrier to posting readings, especially older works, electronically.   The librarians in the room encouraged faculty to work with them to create e-reserves that could be linked to Blackboard.

The grade center is another Blackboard tool that was mentioned as useful to address another student preference – to be assessed and graded as fast as possible.  Seeing assignments in the grade center and knowing what they are worth is also helpful.  Students really like transparency and knowing the point of an assignment and why the received the grade they did.  Many in attendance pointed out the importance of early assessments and ungraded work that give students the chance to fail and try again.

In the end, the student comments could really be summed up as the basis of good course design:  What are the goals for the class?  What do we want the students to learn and contribute?  How can we best engage students in the class and with the materials?  What technology, if any, will help us achieve those goals?

For those of you at Dartmouth, the discussion continues on Lucretia’s Teaching with Technology Blackboard site where a recording of the session is available.  Let us know if you’d like access to the student and faculty posts already there and to add your own voice.  Plus you may get ideas for how to set up your Blackboard site for your next class.  You also can read more about Lucretia and her project in Josh Kim’s interview with her:  http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/a_student_s_views

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Feral Librarian

Research libraries & higher education. Sometimes music, sports, & other stuff.