Archive for the ‘ Teaching and Learning ’ Category

Technology and Learning

The scene in the basement of Notre Dame’s business college Saturday fit the day’s theme: Teaching well with technology.  High-definition monitors decorated the room’s walls, offering participants a look at the cloud-based tools they’d spend the day exploring. Banks of networked PCs allowed them to dive into these tools, or browse the workshop’s agenda and resources, which were posted online. And technophiles Chris Clark (Notre Dame) and Bruce Spitzer (IUSB) brimmed with enthusiasm as they presented and took questions.

For the next several hours, Clark and Spitzer led participants on a tour of tools aimed at helping them to encourage active learning, craft engaging presentations, and gather data from students to enrich their teaching methods.

Clark and Spitzer stressed the importance of a planned approach that begins with defining learning goals and student assessments, continues with determining teaching strategies, and concludes by picking the appropriate supporting technologies

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Dig deeper into this article for the link to the article in Cerebrum, well worth the read. Essentially, creativity is not an isolated characteristic inherent in particular people, but can be fostered through cognitive development of the processes that lead to creative thought. Groovy.

How to Make Math Meaningful

 

This video discusses how to make math more meaningful and less intimidating for students. Short but rich!

The Flipped Classroom: The Good and Bad of the New Old Trend

by Julie Dalley

A new buzz word has been wending its way through the online education forums and blogs: the flipped classroom. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what this means exactly, and here are some borrowed definitions as well as a look at how this method is anything but new.

What is a Flipped Classroom?

A flipped classroom is one in that the students do research, study, and analysis of core concepts and exercises outside of the course, and the instructor has them practice applying these concepts during class time. Most models call for the instructor to pre-record lectures (sometimes as podcasts, mostly as videos uploaded to Youtube.com)  In the flipped model, the core concepts are viewed by the student prior to class and class time is taken up with applying these concepts and wrestling with problems or exercises using this core knowledge. All of the examples I have seen have been math classes, probably due to their heavy reliance on lecture to impart fundamentals and then consistent practice that reinforces learning. In addition, most of the models I’ve found online are K-12, but I suspect that many higher education instructors are using some variation of this model and are just not calling it a “flipped” classroom. For an example, see my first link below under Resources. Kieran Mathieson, associate professor of information systems at Oakland University, also integrates interactive exercises and e-textbooks, in addition to lecture:”My variant on this is that the independent, outside-of-class work also includes many exercises, with formative feedback. See http://coredogs.com/article/tale-two-students for a short story. I’ve been running courses this way for a few years.”

I don’t know if “flipped” or “backward” are appropriate terms for this model of learning and instruction. You actually are NOT reversing instruction (are the students teaching you?), you are delivering it in a different way, so “flipping” may just be a catchy idiom. As one video pointed out, many humanities courses already do this: you read the novel, or essay, or history of a subject first (rather than watching a video, but you could be watching video) and then discuss it in class. The term and practice of “flipping” a course has become quite popular though, and I believe it is because of several factors:

  1. The corporate model. This is how Khan Academy presents all of their material, via the video. Khan is backed by many big name corporate sponsors. Bill Gates is all about this model. As one blogger cautions, though, “A nagging concern that what might come out of this movement is not the freeing up of the classroom, but the intrusion of the bureaucracy, the big business backed educational resource sites such as the Khan Academy.”
  2. The hybrid course model. Many schools are vying to compete in the hybrid/online course market. This method of instruction integrates an online component and also keeps the physical presence and expertise of the instructor available to the student.
  3. Practice. Theoretically, more class time is spent in inter-active, engaged exercises that allow for deeper learning. By allowing students to view or listen to lectures via video/audio casts at their own pace, rewinding and listening to lectures (as well as returning to them for review) as often as they like, instructors can spend class time working one-on-one with students to implement problem-based learning that leverages the knowledge they gleaned from the lectures. More time can be spent on discussion, and on give and take between students and teacher (Socratic questioning), rather than passive information reception on the part of students.

Some Criticisms of the Flipped Classroom Model.

  • Time: Recording and posting videos of lectures prior to each class session (and far in advance of class) takes some technological knowledge, reliance on technology (will all students be able to access it? what if my uploade fails or is corrupted?), ability to record and upload each video, and then notify students of its availability. This takes time.
  • Lack of Flexibility: Some classes really “win” when they happen organically, when the topic can diverge and discussions can be nurtured from without (the days news or events informing instruction, for example) and pre-recording lectures takes some spontaneity out of instruction. However, one can hopefully create spontaneously creative and dialectical moments through in-class exercises and practices.
  • Dated material: one criticism that really resonates is the inability to use lectures from class to class. One assumes that a dynamic class is constantly changing, with new or fresh ideas, material, or curricular activities helping to deliver a lesson from semester to semester, or year to year. Spending so much time pre-recording lectures probably means doing this every time, for every class.
  • Student Preparedness: Some of us already struggle with students coming to class prepared by doing the reading, much less have expectations that they will listen to the lectures and be prepared to engage in active exercises of conceptual knowledge. What if they didn’t “get it”? Do we then waste the time we planned on doing application work with re-explaining what the video was meant to already have explained? As Professor Karl Fisch acknowledges, “First, students must watch/complete the “lecture” or “content-delivery” video portion of the class outside of class. Clearly some college students – as well as some of you – are not doing this. If this part isn’t done, the entire model falls apart.” He does not offer a solution to this problem if it becomes endemic of the whole class. What then?

If you are currently experimenting with or have used the “flipped classroom” model, I would love to hear from you. Please post your comments or experiences to this story and share with other educators around the country.

Resources:

Exploding the Lecture: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/11/15/professor-tries-improving-lectures-removing-them-class

Create a flipped textbook for your course: http://flippedtextbook.com/

A Blog compilation of Flipped Classroom Resources and Articles: http://www.diigo.com/list/warrickw/flipped-classroom

Teaching Communities and Failing Students

Student Failure: The New Old Way of Teaching

Last week at our first Teaching Circle meeting of the semester, we focused on student expectations and failure. There are many sub-categories that fit these inter-connected topics: grading, attendance/absenteeism, why students don’t try harder, school policy versus individual instructor policy, why students resist change/innovation, and much more. We talked for nearly two hours about these central issues, and how they might be addressed in the classroom.

The biggest issue, and one coming under increasing public scrutiny, is student failure. This is a landmine issue for teachers, because, while we want to set high standards and clear expectations for our students, we also don’t want them to fail and some of us even dread the fallout emotional battle that comes with student failure. John Rosemond would say that we are experiencing the products of the “psychological parenting revolution” (which bled into our teaching methods) of the 1970’s and 80’s. This makes us afraid of hurting the feelings of our students, and by extension, afraid to let them fail. For related articles, read the below:

Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Mickey-goodman/are-we-raising-a-generati_b_1249706.html

Teaching Students to Fail Better: http://www.iste.org/learn/publications/learning-and-leading/issues/Feature_Teach_Your_Students_to_Fail_Better.aspx

Tales of Spectacular Failure: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/06/146880518/try-and-try-again-3-tales-of-spectacular-failure?sc=tw

Married to this idea of failure are grading policies and student absenteeism/attendance policies. Nostalgically we discussed our undergrad and graduate days, when attendance was not a requirement or only loosely monitored. Back then, if we wanted a good grade we had to make it to class, make sure we had the notes, or meet with our professor to get/turn in assignments, which were always set ahead of time by the syllabus. That is, our success or failure was totally in our hands. Now, student attendance has become connected with performance: just by showing up, to some instructors (and certainly in the minds of many students) counts as “effort.” Should we grade participation? In addition, the focus on engagement and group work requires that students be present to actually engage. Or does it? How might we engage students in and out of the classroom? Finally, university policies have changed such that they are more and more requiring that attendance be mandatory and that instructors revise their individual policies to reflect university mandates on attendance.

So we have many dynamics at play here: effort, attendance, student failure, and the various methods of considering all these factors when planning our courses. This, in addition to considering how we foster a creative, active, and engaging learning environment and address these, among myriad other, teaching and learning issues. Phew. Enough for you?

We turned our discussion to requiring attendance versus engaging students. Several instructors offered their personal policies on attendance: some don’t even take attendance and give it no reward or punishment, some have very strict attendance policies, some use a middle ground of points, percentages, and grade scales tied to attendance and participation. There is no perfect way, though we discussed how we might create a learning environment that students want to be part of, are compelled (intrinsically) to be there and thus help us put less emphasis on attendance and more on engagement. None of us wants to be the attendance police and spend class time checking off a list of names. We want our students to be there because they realize they need to know what we have to teach them. But we are frustrated and timid about not setting a specific policy for students to follow (what happens if they aren’t compelled to show up? Few of us have the confidence in ourselves and our students to be so hands-off concerning attendance).

There is no one way of doing this, but one professor talked about tying in-class assignments and scaffolding foundational content and concepts with performance expectations. He sets up assignments so that a student cannot move on to the next level without completing the prior level, and to do that, they must come to class. He gives them the defined milestones and a calendar to achieve them, assignments that move them through these levels of knowledge, assessed by conceptual tests, essays, and final projects. Though in some cases a student may try to “catch up” near the end of a unit and thus rush through material, in general he finds that students move through the material in concert and with enthusiasm. I speculated that in some cases it is the relationship with the instructor (trust, respect) that allows for looser “policies”; what works for one instructor may not work for another without building trust and respect.
We spent some time discussing innovation, ways we try to implement new scholarship on teaching practice and student learning, and of course, technology that can help us do that. We acknowledged that ofttimes students display a distrust of, and at times outright dislike, new ways of learning. This may be because they are used to performing and succeeding in a defined way – the lecture, taking Powerpoint notes, working in groups to complete a project – and when we ask them to think or learn in new ways, they are skeptical or resistant. I think this may be, as most teaching methods are and as I noted above, because of their trust in their instructor; we all know instructors that experiment all the time in their courses and are enthusiastically engaging their students, so why can’t we? So we segued to building trust in students: demonstrating that we know what we’re doing, setting expectations to that emphasize that it is okay to try something and have it bomb (even us teachers have failures!), that ultimately, we all want to continue learning. We talked about building in small successes and achievements that lead to bigger successes and investment of the student in reaching those goals. Ultimately, we were intrigued by the idea that we let our students experience failure in order to give success a more genuine sense of achievement on their part.

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