The new semester is officially underway–students are back, campus is bustling, and classrooms are full. Of course, faculty have been preparing for classes for quite some time now–so it feels like we’ve been “back” for much longer than a few days–and the educational corner of the Internet has been full of assignment and classroom management suggestions.
Sterne offers a solid strategy for developing multiple choice exams, and while he pitches the quizzes as an alternative to using clickers in large sections, I think the two methods could be easily combined. One could adopt Sterne’s test-writing methods to generate clicker polling activities for students, including the “semi-open book” technique.
What are your thoughts? If you use clickers on TCU’s campus, have you ever tried a method like the one Sterne describes? If not, what are some strategies you’ve found particularly successful?
If you’re teaching fully online, you’ve likely already revamped the way in which you present information to your students. Perhaps you’ve decided to go with presentations / slideshows, audio / video clips, written text, or something else – or some combination thereof. In classes with a face-to-face component, there are lots of options for mixing it up. In particular, the flipped classroom model (where students learn the background information at home and then come to class to practice their skills) is receiving a lot of attention lately.
All of these approaches avoid the traditional lecture format. Lectures present information, but in today’s world, there’s no shortage of information. What a great learning experience provides is the opportunity for the learner to put this new information in context and work towards a deeper understanding of the topic – this is more than just listening and taking notes; these are the actions that are at the core of the educational process.
(However, in thinking about this narrative of the decline of the lecture, I’m struck by the comment another blogger made about the paradoxical popularity of TED talks in the age of the death of the university lecture. Given that TED talks are essentially lectures – and lectures that the vast majority of us are watching on a screen, not live – what accounts for the massive popularity of these talks? Are the people who give them especially magnetic, compelling, or skilled? Are they about the topics that seem truly important or interesting?)
TED talks notwithstanding, there’s ample research to suggest that learners learn best when they are actively engaged in doing something with the content. But what to do if you’ve got a large lecture class? Here’s a great story about two physics professors and their experiences with peer-to-peer instruction in the lecture hall setting. Why is this method so effective? One of the professors, Eric Mazur, notes that the great irony of being an expert in your field is that it is harder to teach the foundational concepts because you’ve become increasingly distant from the conceptual difficulties experienced by beginning students. When the students take time to discuss tricky issues with each other, they are more likely to help each other make the necessary connections. Those students how have mastered the material quickly recall the confusing points and see how a fellow student might have a different idea. With the benefit of a common vocabulary and similar background knowledge, students are well-poised to offer the kind of succinct, appropriate explanations that are sometimes elusive in large lecture classrooms.
Especially interesting from the educational technology standpoint is the way in which Mazur uses both a classroom response system (like clickers) during class and an online pre-class quiz to set up the day’s topics. Although there’s a fair amount of peer-to-peer discussion in the lecture hall, the professor hasn’t abdicated his role. Rather, there is still an intense amount of structure and content provided by the professor – the key is using technology to help meet the learners where they can best meet the material.
First, it gives a great subject-specific overview of how clickers might make a concrete difference in the classroom. Look at all the different types of questions one could ask using clickers: that’s some serious student engagement, reflective thinking, and quick feedback!
Second, it uses Prezi as the vehicle for presenting his ideas. Prezi is sort of like a zoomable, hybrid whiteboard-sideshow that lives in the cloud. If you haven’t seen a Prezi presentation before, give this one whirl. And, if you decide you’d like to try and make your own, note that they have some free educational licenses.
p.s. Should you ever need to put a Prezi on a wordpress.com blog, here is the how-to.
Is digital learning changing teaching? Or, perhaps more appropriately phrased, in what ways is digital learning changing teaching? The core of good teaching may be immutable, but that leaves a lot of room for innovation. Here’s a rundown on one expert’s opinion regarding six ways digital learning is changing teaching. Most intriguing for me? This:
“. . . we’re seeing a general shift from didactic instruction to more interactive learning experiences. With growing adoption of adaptive tools, leveled tasks, learning apps, and flipped classrooms, more students are doing more asynchronous and self-directed learning. This means teachers are doing less delivery and more curriculum architecture, [serving as] advisors as well as instructors.”
I’m not sure instructors are doing less delivery with digital learning; after all, who is providing the content and context for those leveled tasks, learning apps, and simulations? But it is true that embracing some of these digital tools can dramatically change the ways in which content delivery happens. I think that’s promising and exciting.
Now on to something that – on the face of it – is less exciting for many of us: grading (cue the gloomy music. . .). Here’s a blog post by a professor who has moved to having his students submit nearly all their work online. Perhaps you are thinking,”that won’t work for me, I teach math / science / statistics / biology / economics / etc.” and my students have problem sets and calculations to submit. This professor? He teaches calculus. His argument is that going digital saves time, saves money and resources, and saves him from suspiciously missing and misplaced submissions. He details how he adds comments to Word and PDF files (accounting for versions and Mac/PC differences), and even how he records short, individualized videos for feedback on student work.