End-of-Course Evauations

If you’re TCU faculty, let this serve as your umpteenth notice to remind your students to complete their eSPOTs.

Once the students complete the eSPOTs (or whatever version of course / teaching evaluation your campus uses), then what? Well, there’s the inevitable waiting until you get the results, of course. When the results do finally come your way, this piece about making sense of student comments may be helpful. In particular, it’s useful to think about how students define particular criteria. After all, for student feedback to be part of a meaningful process of pedagogical improvement, some sense of how students might have understood the survey questions is worth considering.

If you’d like to gather more robust information from your students, you might consider an additional evaluative exercise. ProfHacker suggests that you have your current students write a letter to your future students. The comments on that blog post are also valuable, including the discussion about sharing the findings with your future students. Alternately, you could craft an exercise that provided feedback about your teaching and helped your students gain awareness of their learning habits. Not sure how to do this? The link provides some sample questions to get you started.

Anonymity can be tricky to maintain with these additional exercises. To encourage participation, you might offer a small amount of extra credit (or credit toward a specific assignment) if a predetermined portion of the class completes the exercise. In an online class, you could use an anonymous online form. We’ve discussed some of the options for online anonymous teaching surveys in an earlier post. In a face-to-face class, you could also use the online option or you could have your students type responses that they turn in to you – but stress that they are to leave all identifying information off the papers.

Getting the feedback is great, and making reasonable changes is part of the ongoing craft. But what makes professors seem wonderfully responsive? When professors close the loop and report back to students how they are using student feedback. Ideally, you’ve already done this with mid-semester evaluations in your course. If not, all is not lost. Of course, the students making the end-of-course suggestions won’t usually benefit from changes you may make in your future courses. However, for your future students, the simple act of indicating that you’ve changed a reading, activity, assignment, or policy in response to student feedback communicates that you are approachable and invested in student learning.

Do you have other course evaluation tips or practices? Please share in the comments!

Digital Flashcards

With final exams approaching, this is an opportune moment to talk about digital flashcards. In fact, this may be a post that you’d like to share directly with your students – be our guest!

Once students have the list of topics that the final exam will cover, you might encourage them to come up with a review plan. Smart students don’t just plunge in and review: they develop a strategy that covers all topics, allows for extra focus on areas / topics where they feel less confident, builds in repetition, and provides feedback.

Digital flashcards can help students study efficiently and leverage their classmates’ knowledge. Created through a website, an app, or a free software download, students can enter relevant concepts and review them. There are even options out there that can accommodate equations, pronunciations, and non-Latin alphabets. Many digital flashcard products also have mobile apps, meaning students can review on the go. Students can keep their flashcards private, share them with designated individuals, or opt to make them public (visible to anyone). If your students are ready to get started, we’ve reviewed some great digital flashcard options in a previous post.

But do flashcards work? It seems, for most learners, they do!

Infographic about role of flashcards in memorization process; indicates they are useful for all but kinesthetic learners

Data Visualization Tools

As a follow-up to my earlier post about templates for student research posters, I wanted to share a list of the top 20 data visualization tools, according to informatician Brian Suda.

Data visualization tools nicely bridge the gap between data analysis and the communication of results: sometimes they can help you and your student researchers discover new findings, and sometimes they can help the larger audience really grasp the significance of the work that has been done. A win either way, right?

Best, the list above includes a diverse set of tools. Tools listed range from the very basic and very user-friendly to more complex and code-driven options. Online and offline options are provided. The list also reflects the fact that data output takes many forms, offering tools for making graphs, charts, maps, as well as infographics and interactive data visualizations.

(Many thanks to Kim Mann and the Academic Technology blog at the College of William & Mary for drawing my attention to this resource!)

Templates for Student Research Posters

Whenever I see student research posters, I’m always amazed at the wonderful work our students do: these posters are really detailed and complex.

Throughout my education, the emphasis was largely on the components of good research questions and the varieties of data collection, manipulation, and analysis. Figuring out how to communicate my results was a secondary topic, if it was addressed at all.

And yet, presenting data is a very different skill from analyzing data.

Enter Colin Purrington and his downloadable templates for conference posters. Purrington, a former biology professor at Swarthmore College, provides some truly elegant poster templates. The page is long, but it’s useful, well-written, and quite clever. He also offers a wealth of design advice, including tips on layout, logos, typesetting, color choice, and other things which – when done correctly – can make a poster sing. There’s even an example of what not to do, and several suggestions about how to solicit feedback on your poster.

In helping your students put together their posters, you can share posters you’ve made, posters from conferences you’ve attended, as well as other online examples. But there’s nothing like a well-designed template (or five!) to help students clearly present their findings and teach them the very specific academic skill of poster creation. Successful poster design really is part of acculturation into the academy, requiring that students not only master the skills of summarizing their research and making wise design choices, but also gain an awareness of disciplinary norms and presentation styles.

Although Purrington’s examples and templates favor conference posters for the hard sciences, it would be easy enough to adapt the templates for many social science research presentations.

There’s no need to re-invent the (conference poster) wheel. Note, however, that you must cite the developer of the wheel in some instances. You may use Purrington’s templates without acknowledgement; but should you use text directly from his page, you’ll need to do the right thing. On that note, I originally found out about Colin Purrington via a post on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Percolator blog.

Free Group Video Calling on Skype

Last month, Skype announced a great deal for educational users: free group video calling for a year.

The freebie is associated with Skype’s educational arm, Skype in the classroom. Skype in the classroom skews more to a K-12 audience, but there’s nothing to stop you from joining the Skype in the classroom site and then using those features (such as the group video calling) that work for you. After all, group video calling is an excellent way to chat with far-flung collaborators about research, check-in with  groups of students working together off-campus, or invite a remote panel of experts and practitioners into your classroom.

Previously, users had to pay for group video calling as part of Skype Premium; Now, instructors can video chat with up to nine other users at a time (although quality may decline with more than five users on the call). Directions and screenshots on the Skype blog explain how to get started.

A word to the wise: The process requires you to create a Skype in the classroom account (you’ll need to enter your email address), but you should also take the opportunity to check that the email addresses associated with your primary Skype account are correct and current. This is crucial since once Skype verifies you as an educational user, they’ll send an email with a voucher code for the free group video calling and other Skype premium services.

Once you’re all ready to go – or while your educational user verification is pending – you might want to review our past post all about Skype resources.

Request your summer 2013 LearningStudio course shells

Now accepting summer 2013 Pearson LearningStudio course shells requests!

The request process is directly linked to faculty assignments with the Registrar.

Step 1: Request Shell

Faculty* will go to http://www.my.tcu.edu to make requests. A new, blank course shell will be created as a result of this request.  Use the HOW TO INSTRUCTIONS to walk through the process.

Deadlines: Courses requested after May 6th are not guaranteed to be ready for the first day of class.

*Only faculty assigned to a course may make the request. Please use Class Search for class information and to confirm your assignment. If you find that you are not assigned to your course, please contact your department.

Step 2: Wait for Enrollment Email

Once requested, Koehler Center staff will process the request and enroll professors and teaching assistants.

Beginning summer 2013, faculty enrollments and student enrollments will process at the same time via an automated process. Once enrolled, an email will be sent to faculty members notifying them the enrollment has processed. TA enrollments are still a manual process, so there will be a slight delay for processing.

Step 3: Copy Content

You will be notified via email when your course shell(s) are ready. If you previously had a Pearson LearningStudio course shell, you can use the Faculty Copy Tool to copy all or part of any existing course content into your new course shell.

Motivation & Your Students

Markers of spring: the trees have flowered and are now sporting baby-green leaves, the daffodils have come and gone, and some of your students may have already started to check out.

Summer is upon us! But not just yet. How do you keep your content delivery interesting and your students motivated during these last few weeks of the semester? From Edudemic, here is a short run-down of four ways to increase engagement in the classroom. With the exception of moving around the classroom, the other three suggestions (high expectations, real-world applications, and technological engagement to build connections) would work equally well in an online course. And, if you interpret “moving around the classroom” as part of a larger strategy of mixing up your presentation and student participation styles, even this piece of advice becomes applicable to the online classroom. For example, if you’ve always had students respond to your discussion prompts, you might ask them to submit discussion questions based on the week’s content.

If you prefer your information in visual form, this is a lovely infographic about reaching distracted students. I especially like that two of their suggestions (cooperative learning and peer instruction) focus on the students as communicators and meaning-makers. After all, at this point in the semester, your students should have a decent understanding of the larger course themes and be able to work together to situate new knowledge in that context. This could be done in pairs, small-groups, online in threaded discussions, or in some other format appropriate for your subject, such as a role-play or case-study.

If nothing you’ve read so far seems like it will work for your group of students, your classroom, or your content, this is a laundry list of 21 simple ways to motivate students. Sometimes, sharing control of and responsibility for the learning experience can go a long way toward keeping students interested. Giving students a choice – of which texts to read, which prompts to answer, how to demonstrate their skills, or with whom to work – may be just the trick. Likewise, a clear (and clearly articulated) learning objective can help students focus on what they need to be doing in order to succeed. Changes like this can be made to one lesson or one activity without needing to re-vamp your entire syllabus at this late date.

Best, if you find that some of these strategies work for you and your students, you can add them to your toolkit and pull them out as needed to keep motivation high throughout the next course you teach.

We’d love to hear from you about what you’ve found works well to keep students going in these final weeks of the semester. Comment away!