(Virtual) Field Trips

It’s summer, and I’ve got some serious get-out-of-Dodge wishes. In particular, this being summer in Texas, I’m dreaming of Alaska, Antarctica, Nunavut, etc. Time for a field trip!

In all seriousness, what about field trips with your students? Some courses really make it work, but, for most courses, the logistics and the cost are overwhelming.

Enter virtual field trips. Your students get the educational content, you get to skip the organizational stresses. Plus, students can “revisit” the destination as often as needed, rather than relying on their notes or photos. Of course, there are few exact substitutes for the real thing, but, all things considered, the resources below provide some intriguing options.

You can use a virtual field trip to help students visualize names and places from course content. You can also use the virtual field trip portals for more critical inquiry: why these works, why this perspective, and why introduce the content in this manner? A virtual field trip holds a lot of promise as an attention-grabber at the start of a unit or as a culminating exercise.

We’ve written about the Google Art Project in an earlier post, but the site has had a redesign. It’s now easier to search the ever-expanding collection and to create your own galleries from the available works.

If archaeology is more your thing, here is an online 3-D interactive view of the pyramids in Giza. Likewise, Traditions of the Sun offers views of ancient Mesoamerican observatories.

Historypin is like a crowd-sourced field trip. Rather than a slick, uniform view of a place, this site lets users upload their own photos and pin the location of the photo to a searchable map (in some cases, you’ll really need to zoom in close to get the variety of photos to display). The images have dates attached to them, so you can travel back in time, too. A glance at my hometown reveals pictures from 1922 through 2012. In addition, there are also some Historypin thematic and geographical special collections.

Of course, there’s always Google Earth, for a walk / swim / climb around some of the world’s most compelling locations and landforms. Google Earth also has a partnership with 360Cities, a site focusing on interactive panoramic images of urban areas.

Last, if you happen to be taking an in-person field trip or leading a study abroad course, here are some options for how your students can use digital tools to document their field experiences.

What destinations will your courses explore this summer?

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.

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: http://www.jarche.com/2013/05/sense-making-in-practice/
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.

Evaluating Individual Contributions to Group Assignments

Instructional designer Debbie Morrison has an interesting piece discussing different strategies for how your students might evaluate one another upon the conclusion of a group project. While the article focuses on peer evaluation strategies for online learning, everything in the discussion is equally applicable to face-to-face teaching.

The author concludes that the existence of a peer evaluation is rarely a motivating factor for quality participation. However, peer evaluations do a serve a purpose in providing an opportunity for group members to express their dissatisfaction with other students in the group. The piece then addresses how instructors might handle the negative comments that students might make about other group members.

Her preferred strategy for assessing individual contributions to group projects? Self-evaluations:

I believe the learner will benefit far more by completing a self evaluation (that is well crafted to include focused self reflection questions) that forces him or her, to examine how he or she contributed [or did not] to the group process. The tool also encourages the student to consider actions that he or she demonstrated to support the team and to estimate what percentage of the work he or she contributed to the project.  ‘Forcing’ the individual student to assess their own behaviour, as opposed to others is more constructive – it supports the aim of developing collaboration skills, along with the knowledge component.

What do you think? Did you use peer- or self-evaluations for group assignments this semester? Were you happy with the feedback your students provided?


A Closer Look at Multiple Choice Tests

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.

The folks over at ProfHacker always have great ideas, but this guest post by Jonathan Sterne, an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University, contains some strategies that may be of particular interest to TCU faculty teaching large sections and/or using iClickers.

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?

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!

Tiny Habits

I recently came across this video interview with the director of Stanford University’s Behavior Design Lab, B.J. Fogg. I think his point about how to form habits is pretty interesting, especially his perspective on motivation and willpower. I also love that he addresses eLearning directly through the lens of goals/outcomes, habits, and behaviors. I think it’s well worth clicking the link and taking nine minutes of your time to watch it.

I’m interested in what others think. What would this look like in practice in your course or course shell? Do you think you’d see changes in student behavior? And how would you grow tiny habits into mastering course objectives?