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

Tutorials: Show us How it’s Done

Here’s hoping your first week has gone smoothly!

To keep things running well, I wanted to share a few tutorial options with you. Linking to or embedding a brief tutorial can be really helpful for introducing students to new technologies, procedures, tools, or other course-related items.

For example, suppose you are requiring students to use a LearningStudio feature with which they may be unfamiliar. Perhaps you’ve explained it in class – and even given a demonstration. But what happens when the deadline approaches and students go to post or submit items and things just aren’t jelling for them? Embedded LearningStudio video tutorials to the rescue!

“Great,” you say, “but my issue is with specialized software / lab equipment / physical actions. My students need to do these things just so.” Time to become a virtual expert and an on-call resource for your students. That is, you can create your own tutorial that students can call up as needed. We’ve reviewed Learnist and Instructables; we’ve also covered ShowMe and SnapGuide.

Better yet, why not have your students create tutorials to teach each other? Of course, there’s a case to be made for you, the instructor, creating tutorials in situations where safety or a lack of specialized knowledge would present a true barrier. But in situations where students could safely and reasonably figure out and then teach each other various aspects of the subject at hand, why not let them? There are a myriad of benefits to this active learning approach: the act of having to teach a concept can help students clarify their own thinking, students are likely to pay close attention to their peers, and successes or mis-steps in the tutorials provide both an authentic opportunity to gauge student learning and some great discussion fodder.

It’s true, students might produce tutorials with misinformation or misleading conclusions. Sharing control of the class can be messy sometimes. In cases where the tutorials aren’t of the quality you’d like, you can then help the students in question – and the rest of the class – discover what might work better. Tutorials don’t have to be right; they just have to be memorable. Doing things incorrectly, generating negative results, or demonstrating a failed reaction are all pretty memorable and, thus, valuable learning experiences. (We’ve written about learning from failure, too. You can think of those sub-standard tutorials as really efficient learning experiences.)

Sample tutorials might include: how to use statistical software to calculate various functions, greetings in a foreign language based on different ages / genders / group size, how to search specialized databases, different techniques for measuring a key course component, etc.

Let us know if you’re using tutorials or considering using them!

Virtual Field Trips, Part II

We wrote about virtual field trips in June, including some options for integrating these into your course.

Virtual field trips are a featured collection this week in the apps and iTunesU sections of the iTunes Store. There are both iPad and iPhone apps that cover museums, historic sites, national parks, libraries, and performing arts.

Here’s a screenshot of just a few of the apps in the collection:

screenshot of iTunes store field trip apps

Sample listing of virtual field trip apps from the iTunes Store.

Happy travels!

p.s. If you’re looking to explore the world in a less focused manner, you can check out my favorite new addiction, GeoGuessr. This is a free online guessing game based on Google Street View images. The game will show you a random image, and you drop a pin on a world map based on where you think the image was taken. The game then calculates the distance between reality and your guess. This is a fascinating way to make the work of decoding images fairly transparent. It’s also a great illustration of how little images really tell us – or maybe I’m just uniquely horrible at the game!

The TCU Student-Centered Active Learning Institute

It’s been a busy week for us here in the Koehler Center. We’ve just wrapped up our first summer session of the Student-Centered Active Learning Institute. It was great! Click on the picture below to see the entire album – faculty were certainly hard at work thinking of ways to increase student engagement, higher-order thinking skills, and hands-on learning.

Faculty discussing student-centered learning opportunities.

SCAL, Summer 2013. Click on the photo to see the whole album.

While the Student-Centered Active Learning Institute is full, there are still seats available for TCU instructors in our Active Learning 101 workshop on Tuesday, August 13th from 1-2:30pm. Registration is required; we’d love to see you there!

You can also check out the complete list of Summer and Fall Koehler Center workshops. Workshops do fill up, so we encourage you to register early if there’s one you know you’d like to attend.

Case Studies

Case studies are a great way for your students to review material, practice authentic skills, and synthesize course content. A cleverly written (or ripped from the headlines) case study also provides a valuable active learning opportunity. You can use case studies to introduce a topic or to review material.

Depending on your format, content, and the complexity of the case study, students can work through case studies in a class discussion, a homework assignment, or group assignment. Case studies don’t have to take a lot of class time, although many instructors feel that some element of (class or group) discussion greatly enhances the case study learning experience.

Carefully structured student interaction ideally shifts student focus from racing to find the one right answer to instead reveling in the process of data analysis, applying context-specific knowledge, and weighing the relative importance of key factors. After all, these latter behaviors represent the transferable skills from this exercise. The case study solution is only a best outcome for one single scenario; the process of applying course content while in problem-solving mode is the gift your students will hopefully share with others down the road.

In planning for student interaction around a case study, this list of insights about the case study discussion process from a professor of strategic management at Harvard might be helpful. Likewise, this piece discusses how individuals might take on different roles in the decision-making process, a process that more closely mimics how many organizations make decisions. If you choose to employ the roles of leader, decision-maker, and advisers, a random assignment of roles is probably most efficient. My two favorite in-person ways to randomly assign roles are via playing cards (for example, the student who draws the ace is the leader, the student who draws the king is the decision-maker; and the rest of the students with numbered cards form the advisory panel) and picking numbers (student who has selected the highest number is the leader, the student with the next-highest number becomes the decision-maker, and all other students are advisers). For online courses, you might use a random number generator and post the results for your students to see.

In closing, I also love to throw a cognitive in wrench in things: once students have worked out what the best course of actions is for a scenario with x,y, and z; I then ask about w, x, and y (or a,b, and z). Does that change the outcome? If so, why? This wrap-up piece is great fodder for a class discussion or a written reflection on the activity.

Project-Based Learning

Well-designed projects put the students in charge of finding new information, processing this data in accordance with what they already know, and then sharing their newly acquired insights. These are, obviously, skills that will serve students well as they journey into the world. Moreover, this process also invites students to actively engage with course content in order to construct meaning from their research efforts. Years later, most students will remember the ways they applied course content far more than they’ll remember content covered on tests or written about in papers.

From a faculty perspective, transmitting course content in the form of a lecture or a reading is sometimes easier than helping students wrestle with information they’ve found on their own. Indeed, projects can be more work for both students and faculty. Yet, this sort of in-the-trenches learning provides an opportunity to really see the ways in which students are deeply engaging with course content, solving problems, and applying course concepts. A broken clock is right twice a day: students can guess or deduce the right answers to test questions. Student projects, on the other hand, provide a variety of opportunities that allow the instructor to assess student learning with greater confidence.

Here’s a short video about project-based learning. (The content is a great introduction to project-based learning; the faceless people are a little creepy, but, hey, so it goes, right?)

Perhaps you’re now thinking about incorporating project-based learning in your next course? Or maybe you already use projects, but you’re looking to tweak them a little? Time for some resources! While the exact tools you suggest (or require) students use will be a function of your course content and project parameters, the links below might help you think through building in opportunities for students to act as meaning-makers and knowledge mediators via course projects.

Ten Reasons to try 20% Time in the Classroom. The premise here is that you give over 20% of class time for students to focus on self-directed projects. If you’re on the fence about incorporating a major project into your course, these reasons might be worth considering.

The Eight Elements Project-based Learning Must Have. I’m no fan of firm of numbers (nor of the word “must”), but this article does have a handy checklist / simple rubric that is a great starting point for guidelines and rubrics you might give your students.

11 Essential Tools for Better Project-based Learning. Some of these tools we’ve discussed before, some are new to the blog; some have a cost, and some have lite or educational options that make them free or more affordable. Tools range from mind-mapping and visual thinking tools (Mindmeister and Glogster) that might be helpful in the early stages of the project to digital story-telling and presentation options (Animoto and Audioboo) and  that can help convey final results.

Project Ideas. This extensive list of potential project ideas comes from the Kaneb Center at Notre Dame. Note that this a list of ways students can convey their findings, rather than individual topics themselves.

Developing Alternate Research Assignments with Students and Faculty. This link is actually a short case summary of alternate research assignments in two music courses. In particular, I like the perspective offered here by the inclusion of the subject librarian.

Do you have a successful project that you assign? What makes it work so well? Alternately, if projects haven’t been your thing or haven’t quite clicked for your courses, tell us about that, too.

Knowledge Acquisition

In thinking about the ways in which we can ask our students to do more with course content, I recently ran across the graphic below. The image illustrates the different ways in which knowledge can be acquired and subsequently processed (PKM in this context stands for personal knowledge management).

Flowchart graphic showing three main routes of knowledge acquisition: seek, share, sense.

Image credit:
Based on content from the book You Can Do Anything by James Mangan.

My favorite method above is “walk around it.” While this may work in an experimental setting or with physical artifacts, this is a trickier approach for abstract concepts. I like to think “walk around it” in this context might mean something like “How can I think about this theory or problem differently?” or “Coming at this issue from another perspective, I find that. . .”

Seeing the options for knowledge acquisition laid out like this illustrates the wide variety of learning experiences. Student interaction with course content is richer than scribbling notes during lecture and then writing a paper or taking an exam. Of course, well-crafted writing prompts and exam questions may ask students to do some of the things in the graphic above. However, if the first time all students are being asked to actively draw upon their course knowledge is the paper or the exam, well, that may have predictable results for some of them.

The trick is to incorporate active learning experiences that reach all students long before the major paper, exams, or other grading milestones. In the abstract, we all know this: student engagement and success in the course are both likely to be higher if all students are asked to evaluate and apply course concepts along the way. In the trenches of the day-to-day class sessions, though, it’s easy to lose sight of this – especially in the context of the amount of material that has to be covered throughout the term.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be exploring active learning opportunities and showcasing some ways to mix up your content presentation, boost student engagement, and help you and your students get the most from peer- and small-group learning.