Finding Free Films

Are you in search of a video to share with your students? Video can be a great way to bring outside experts and experiences right to your students. A video need not mirror course readings – rather, a film can slide in alternate perspectives, demonstrate the application of course concepts, or serve as a mini case-study.

Here are some resources for finding videos:

Haven’t found the perfect video yet? Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good: even a few minutes of a bad movie can lead to a great discussion. In fact, films with inaccuracies, exaggerations, or other flaws can be the perfect entry for a critical review of differing perspectives or popular perceptions of course content.

Here are some of our past posts discussing strategies for getting the most out of films: Teaching with Videos, Making a TED Video Your Own, and Video Day.

We’d love to hear about how you use films in your class – please let us know in the comments!

Twitter in the Classroom

We’ve written about Twitter before, including some great getting-started resources. If you’d like to learn more about Twitter or read about some different academic uses for Twitter, our past posts on Twitter are a great place to start.

I had a bit of internet serendipity this morning when two blog posts discussing Twitter popped up right next each other in my RSS reader. After reading them, I started thinking about how easy it would be integrate the ideas in both posts to create really wonderful – and wonderfully archived – learning experiences. Continue reading

Exams

We’re a few weeks into the semester. Most courses are in full swing, and students likely have submitted their first assignments or will do so shortly. For those courses with exams, the exams are coming (if they haven’t already arrived!).

Here are a few good resources about creating multiple-choice tests. First, from the eLearning Coach Connie Malamed, 10 rules for writing multiple choice exams. I’m generally rule-averse, but I do think that these are wise guidelines. I’m not as opposed to “All of the above” and “None of the above” questions as she is, but I think this varies with your subject matter and learning objectives.

As an instructor, it’s hard to write multiple-choice questions where the right answer is clear and the incorrect answers are wrong, yet close enough to be plausible. Questions can’t be too easy, but no one wants a test where the possibility of misconstruing answers leaves students feeling as if the exam was intentionally misleading. Consider this quote from the article cited below:

The thing about multiple-choice questions is that the answer is right there on the screen. So the challenge as question-writers is to construct the question and its answer choices in such a way that the learner really has to master the objective in order to select the correct choice.

So how do you write really, really good questions? What do bad questions look like? And how do you use the data from students’ incorrect answers to help you build better questions in the future? This article is full of good examples, tips, and references.

This is also a great resource on writing multiple-choice questions for higher-order thinking. I find it exceptionally helpful to see both the “standard” question and the question that has been re-worked to stress higher-order thinking skills.

Think multiple-choice questions function best in subjects that put a premium on calculations? This is a great article detailing the mechanics of using comprehension-based multiple-choice questions in a communications course. I love the idea of letting students bring in a sheet of handwritten notes; the cynic in me would either keep these notes or perhaps mark them in some way in order to prevent re-use by future students.

Last, it feels fitting to offer a small reminder about resources for creating rubrics. Rubrics are useful for essay, short answer, or performance items. You might first write something that summarizes your own grading observations, then revise the rubric and share it with students as you communicate information about the exam. If you’re not distributing the question in advance, you can still share the rubric, removing any identifying details that would give away the question or skill to be demonstrated. You may find that using a rubric makes the writing or demonstration process more comprehensible for your students, and the reading or grading process easier and more consistent for you.

Of course, exams aren’t the only way to measure student learning (hardly!). We have posts coming on project-based learning, groupwork dynamics, and alternate research assignments. Stay tuned!

Mistakes and Feedforward

Recently, I’ve come across two interesting perspectives on making mistakes.

First, from the TED Radio Hour, this is a great radio show about making mistakes. In addition to being a really captivating human interest story, the radio broadcast also has a lot to say about learning. Views on mistakes come from a physician (“most of the greatest successes in medicine come from failures”), a noted psychology researcher (“if failure is not an option, then we just have a bunch of scared people hanging around loitering on the outside of the arena”), a jazz musician (“a mistake is an opportunity that was missed”), and a corporate coach (“a mistake offers the greatest amount of insight and the largest room for improvement”). This one is really worth a listen.

Second, I found this video in the course of researching something else, and the snippet below caught my attention.

Although the golf example may not be applicable to you, I suspect that many of us are guilty of folding up too quickly in the face of failure. It’s easy to shut down and turn away. When you know your efforts have gone awry, what do you do? What should you do? Letting the scenario play out with a dispassionate eye, observing what happens, and then reflecting on events and devising a new plan are all challenging skills on their own, never mind in the face of your own mistakes.

How can we help students turn their mistakes into valuable learning opportunities? Feedback is key, of course. I’m assuming that timely and individualized feedback is already part of your teaching practice. But what about the content of this feedback? When instructors give feedback, many naturally focus on the assignment in question. While valuable, reviewing the work the student has done is retrospective feedback. Students may be at a loss about how to translate your analysis into actionable steps for the next assignment. Using your feedback becomes more complicated if the next assignment has a different topic or format. What about offering prospective feedback? That is, feedback with specific attention to the work the student will do in the future? I’d like to share with you the idea of feedforward:

Feedforward is another interesting way to think about the feedback offered students. This more future-oriented feedback responds to what the student did, but in light of what needs to be done on the next assignment. Rather than isolated comments, it distills the feedback into three or four specific suggestions that target what the student should work on to improve the next assignment. . . .

Perhaps students would make better use of our feedback if they used that feedback to develop an action plan for the next assignment. “Based on the teacher’s feedback and my own assessment of this work, here’s the three things I plan to improve in the next assignment.” Maybe students don’t get the grade for the first assignment until the action plan has been submitted. And maybe that action plan then gets submitted along with the next assignment. 

Turning past performances into future successes is tricky. Recognizing mistakes and devising a plan for improving upon them requires both meta-cognitive skills and content-specific knowledge. This is the real work of learning and teaching – and where feedback and coaching can play such a crucial role.

How have you helped students to constructively use your feedback? Do you have any strategies that help students draw lessons from their own (or their classmates’) mistakes?