Rubrics Redux

As the Fall semester draws to a close, now is a good time to revisit our earlier post on rubrics.

Handing out the rubric as you hand out the assignment is often the most expedient way to get students thinking about all the components of a successful assignment. However, if your students have on-going projects, but are now moving into a new phase (say, the write-up of a field experience, or the presentation of a semester’s worth of research), a rubric targeted to this new portion of the overall assignment can still be helpful.

It’s possible that rubrics are something you’d like to use in the future, but the timing isn’t quite right for you or students this semester. In this case, you might consider taking notes on the Fall 2012 work you’re about to grade and using those observations to drive a rubric that you share with your Spring 2013 classes.

For both students and instructors, the most useful rubric is one that contains a range of performance levels. The goal is to make the rubric less like a checklist and more like a detailed teaching tool. For example, reading that a thesis statement should be specific, clear, contestable, and on-topic is one thing; being able to see robust descriptions related to full credit, degrees of partial credit, and no credit can really help one to focus on the elements that set excellent work apart from work that is merely good or adequate.

Are you a rubric user? Share your tips (or links to your rubrics!) in the comments.

Meet Teaching Toolbox!

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

–Maslow, 1966

You may have noticed that our blog has a new title: Teaching Toolbox. We decided to rebrand our blog to showcase all the services and development opportunities we provide at the Koehler Center. Our mission is to facilitate ongoing, reflective discourse about teaching and learning, and the future postings you’ll find on this blog will be dedicated to helping TCU faculty create meaningful learning opportunities for students.

All Koehler Center staff members (and blog contributors) are here to promote student engagement and support teaching excellence, which is why Teaching Toolbox will explore active learning strategies, developing teaching trends, and professional development opportunities. We’ll still discuss educational technologies, of course, but technology is simply one tool in a large collection of pedagogical methods and resources. We aim to support your goals in the classroom, and we hope this blog will provide you with a wide variety of tools you can use to meet those goals.

So, stay tuned for lots of exciting strategies and practices. And if you have any favorite classroom activities, student assignments, or just general fun teaching ideas, leave them in the comment section!

Thanksgiving 2012

For those out there who find themselves somewhere on the continuum between hard at work and hardly working on this last day before Thanksgiving, here are some fun holiday links:

First, if you’re still looking for that one last recipe, here’s a link to a source for handwritten European and American recipes from the 1600s to the1960s. If you can’t find something good in there, you may not be trying hard enough. The bad news is that you will likely have to hit the grocery store. The good news? Digital archives making our lives better (and maybe even tastier?).

Second, here’s some common ground if find yourself needing to make small talk with strangers: crossword puzzles. Love ’em? Hate ’em? Never tried ’em?  There’s enough in there for a few minutes of polite chitchat. If you really want to elevate your game to the next level, however, there’s this video with the puzzle editor of the New York Times offering a behind the scenes look at how crosswords are made. Also, he majored in engimatology. How cool is that?

Last, here’s one more thing to to think about if you find yourself trapped in conversation over the holidays: this TED video starring Adam Savage (host of MythBusters on the Discovery Channel) explains how simple observations can lay the groundwork for great scientific discoveries. Maybe your seemingly dull conversation partner is actually laying the groundwork for your amazing forthcoming scientific discovery! Or, you know, you can take control of the conversation and impress the other person with some great science stories. Actually, I think this short video has a lot of food for thought regarding curiosity, how we can all use observations, and the stories we tell about science and discoveries.

If this post comes too late for your Thanksgiving festivities, never fear – the winter holidays are just around the corner!

p.s. If you’re looking more holiday-related content, you can always check out our post from Thanksgiving 2011 and our 2011 winter break post.

Paper Submissions and Student Reflection

Do you have students complete a post-writing refection as they submit assignments? Having students reflect on the assignment builds their own meta-cognitive skills and awareness of the writing process, lets you know where they struggled and succeeded with the assignment so that you can give specific feedback, and can provide you with valuable information about students’ understanding of the writing prompt and their preparation. Of course, much of this information you can gleam from the student work itself, but why not have students take a critical look at their work as a concluding element to your valuable assignments?

In the blog post Cover Memos as Reflective Writing, Stephen Bernhardt of the University of Delaware describes how he collects post-writing reflections from his students. Bernhardt’s method caught my eye since it is a perfect use of an overlooked feature within many learning management systems. In particular, he takes advantage of the fact that when students upload documents to the dropbox, they are also offered the ability to type comments in a textbox. This textbox – presented just as students submit their papers – is a perfect spot for their reflections. Note that while Bernhardt’s post references the learning management system Sakai, students uploading papers to the dropbox in Pearson LearningStudio have an identical set-up:

screenshot of student view of Pearson LearningStudio dropbox submission

Using the textbox for student reflections is such an elegant solution because it nicely sidesteps the tricky timing issues associated with having students complete a reflection. Ideally, you’d like students to have some critical distance from the written product itself, but not let so much time elapse that students forget the actions, struggles, questions, and triumphs that characterized their writing process. Likewise, you also may not be able to take limited class time away from new business to dwell on past topics.

If you’re not using Pearson LearningStudio, you can still have students complete a reflection. If you’re loathe to use any class time at all for post-writing reflections, they can be done at home. Alternately, you can use the first few minutes of class to have students write, and then they can turn in their printed papers and handwritten reflections together. Students can write on the back of the last page of their paper or on a separate sheet of paper that is then stapled to the final draft. If your schedule allows, you might even build in a transition day between topics where students can write their reflections, discuss them, and then, with your guidance, shift to the next topic as a continuation of their prior work.

Bernhardt provides some sample questions that he asks students to address in their reflections:

  • What have you done well? Where do you need help?
  •  If you had more time, what would you work on?
  • Was this a valuable assignment, a good use of your time? What did you learn?
  • Did anyone help you? Was peer review useful? Did you take advantage of the Writing Center? Should you acknowledge sources of help?

I love that last question. Asking students to take a step back and think about the sources for key ideas in their papers helps build awareness that scholarly endeavors rely on properly crediting others. To that end, I might even ask students to focus on the print and internet sources they used in the hopes that this pointed reminder might prompt them to pause and review whether they’ve cited all the works they consulted.

Depending on the topic, you might add in some more specific questions beyond “What did you learn?” I’m a fan of the following questions:

  • How did your thinking about x evolve as you researched and wrote this paper?
  •  Do you think one argument had an easier case to make? Why?
  • What helped your writing process for this paper? What hindered your writing process?

You can also target your questions to particular requirements of the paper, giving you some insight on how students approach primary documents, make use of the library liaison for the course, consult multimedia sources, integrate interview data, apply your lecture content, etc. With each question, your goal is to draw out actionable information that will either help the students learn something about themselves as writers and thinkers or help you learn something about the ways in which your students understand the topic, write their papers, or apply new knowledge.

A post-writing reflection only needs a few questions, and only need take a few minutes to complete. This isn’t an onerous task; it’s an easy way to gather valuable data.

Koehler Center Event: Using Clickers to Enhance Student Learning

Dr. Tim Stelzer from the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois presented at our Koehler Event about pedagogical motivation  and the impact of using i>clicker in the classroom. Stelzer provided some best practices and success stories.

Below are some photos from our event!

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We’ve mentioned infographics before and we share them with you quite frequently, but we haven’t yet devoted a separate post to the process by which one can make an infographic. As the revelry of fall fades away, Thanksgiving seems ever-distant, and the reading keeps coming, why not mix things up with an infographic?

Infographics are visual representations of data built around a theme. In telling their story, infographics usually have a mix of several small pictographs, a fair amount of data presented in chart/graph form, and a few short paragraphs and key sentences.

Consider my favorite (meta-) example:

Edudemic has a nice summary of the background and educational theory of infographics in their Ultimate Guide to Infographics. They’ve also gathered an informative assortment of education infographics. While the story each infographic tells is interesting, the ways in which the creators have used color, data, images, fonts, and manipulated the size of different design elements provide great examples for those of us thinking about making our own infographics.

You can use the resources below to create one (or multiple) infographics to start discussion with your students. What a great way to illustrate different perspectives, time frames, or sub-topics in a quick and engaging format.

Alternately, it seems to me that creating infographics could be an intriguing exercise for students. Derek Bruff, Director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, has a nice two-part blog post in which he lays out the logic behind an infographic assignment he gave his statistics students in the spring, the ways in which he prepared his students to look critically at visual presentations of data / information, how he created and refined the grading rubric, what tools his students used, and the terrific infographics they produced (post one and post two).

Without further ado, the infographic tools: lets you easily create your own infographics. Using their simple interface and templates, you can upload your own data (in Excel or csv format), add video if you’d like, and then share your product on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, the web, or grab the embed code provided underneath your finished infographic and put your design anywhere you’d like. If, for example, you’d like to place your infographic in your Pearson LearningStudio course shell, you can do so by pasting the embed code into the HTML view in the visual editor, as our documentation illustrates. is another infographic generator. Although it may not be as user-friendly as other options, is specifically designed to help create comparison-based infographics. You can use their provided templates and then enter a pair of Twitter or Facebook accounts, hashtags, or webpages about which you’d like to produce attractive statistics. I think the comparison feature is a nice angle, and certainly a real aid in framing a data-driven visual story.

For a bit of navel-gazing, or perhaps as part of a larger project about society or self, Intel’s What About Me? infographic engine offers to create an infographic based on your Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook profiles (or a combination of all three).

If the options above aren’t quite meeting your needs, you might take a peek at this list of 20 Web 2.0 Tools for Creating Infographics. If you’re still searching – either for theory, examples, data sources, or infographic tools / tutorials – Daily Tekk has a list of 100 Incredible Infographic Tools (these are broken into separate topics, thankfully!)

Last, if you’re using infographics in your course or considering doing so, we’d love to hear from you!