A product of the Reflection on Practice Through Blogging workshop at MiraCosta College in Fall 2014, this blog features the writing of MCC’s own faculty as we talk about teaching. It’s kind of like an online version of a “hallway discussion”, and all faculty are invited to comment and participate.

Faculty may choose to write directly to this blog or post to their own blog and have their posts feed into this site. Please contact Lisa M Lane at llane@miracosta.edu if you would like to join our community.

Having students revise their work

Hi all! Hasn’t been any action this Spring on the Reflections blog – does that mean we’re all too busy reflecting?

I’m enjoying something I’m doing this semester, allowing students to revise their work. I confess I was afraid to do this before! My students post a primary source every week online, and do three writing assignments. With 40 students per section, I was worried that I’d spend all my time re-grading the revisions.

But I talked to my colleague Jim Sullivan, who does many revisions for his English classes. He has clearly worked revisions in as part of his pedagogy. So I made a time limit on mine – one revision by the following Sunday gets a “free re-grade”. Then I spend some time on Mondays doing a quick regrading. As predicted, not that many students take advantage – in fact, I wish more would. It really does seem to help divide out those who care about their work but are having a problem I can help with, and those who don’t care as much.

Just had a student email me to thank me for the opportunity!

A new assignment – getting students to use new technology

This semester I was inspired by a colleague of mine to try a new assignment with my students.  In my online class, I wanted to have students do a small research assignment, but I didn’t want them to write formal research papers.  I decided on having the students create either a short video or the equivalent of a one-page handout with information from the research and visuals.  I thought these would be a lot of fun!

Here’s the potentially tricky part.  I wanted my students to share their mini research videos or visuals in a discussion board so that they could comment on and view all of the students’ work.  However, attaching files can be problematic.  It might be difficult or impossible to open for some students.  I wanted students to submit their work only as a link or as an image inserted right into the post so that no one would have to download anything.

I thought and thought of how students could do this.  Google tools were my first thought, but I knew that there should be more.  I scoured the internet, including Twitter, and came up with a pretty decent list of options for my students.  Some colleagues in a Facebook group about online teacher gave me more ideas.  Besides YouTube, Google Drive, and taking screenshots, I also gave students these options:

One pretty cool thing happened. Two students used tools that I had not even suggested.  One used PowToon and the other used OneDrive.

Many students went the route of inserted images or Google tools.  There were videos.  One student did a Glogster poster-like visual with an embedded webcam video.

I did have to make and find some tutorial videos to assist students.

How to insert a link into a discussion post:

CDWebTeach (2015, October 21). Adding a link to a discussion post in Blackboard
          [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/r2_nz0gteBs

How to insert an image into a post:

Teach Paloma (2015, February 23). How to insert an image into your Blackboard
          discussion post [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/wIrb_JPn0pI

Using Video Everywhere in Blackboard:

sdccdonline (2014, February 7). Creating video discussion posts in Blackboard using Video
         Everywhere [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/PQKiNAFQMeU

How to get a shareable link for Google docs and put the link into a discussion post:

CDWebTeach (2015, October 29). Sharing Google docs and making a link [Video file].
Retrieved from https://youtu.be/3DNctHDxXXg

Overall, I feel like I accomplished what I hoped to accomplish.  First, students in my class might, realistically, be asked to create a newsletter for a job they might hold.  This assignment used some of the same skills that would be used in creating a newsletter.  Second, students were able to share their research with one another.  Third, students could create something that was a little different and more open-ended than a formal research paper.  I liked the way this tied in with Universal Design for Learning.

I had a great time reading, watching, and grading their work on this assignment.  I also learned a lot from people about cool tools that are out there that students and faculty might be able to use to display their work.

Here comes the part where I ask you for feedback.  I am curious to hear what you think about this assignment.  Do you have any suggestions for me?  I am all ears!

Thank you for reading my post.  I cannot wait to hear from you!

Student Blog

Old Man's Cloth El Anatsui

El Anatsui, Old Man’s Cloth, 2003

I started last semester having my students blog in my Art 157 (Art Orientation) class. This came out of the discussion forums I had them doing previously that had met with limited success and participation. Ok. Let me pause. You NEVER get 100% participation. I found that the blog worked a little better, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I had them responding to prompts, posting images, and discussion with each other, but I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over.

During Flex week, I had a discussion with Lisa Lane about discussion forums, blogs, grading, etc. I was interested in her ideas about leaving the forum/blog open for the students to go back, and continue discussions from previous weeks. I had set up the blogs in my classes as prompt-based, but after talking to Lisa about how she allows students to lead, I thought a lot about what I wanted from this assignment, and what I thought would benefit the students. On the first day of class, after handing out the assignment, I asked them what they would want from this assignment. The consensus was that they wanted it to be prompt-free.

I have found that allowing them to choose what they are interested from the week’s material has let to better participation, and more student learning. Also my perception is that the students are more engaged in the learning as a whole, and are doing research on the material that interests them, especially in the Nonwestern Art class. I finally feel like the online assignment is doing what I wanted for the students. Now if I could get the in-class group work there…

So, the lecture model isn’t that bad after all.

As an instructor in humanities courses (I teach music history courses), I have struggled with some of the newer, more post-modern methods of incorporating student group work and critical thinking activities in class. Despite clear instructions and rubrics, the number of students who actually complete the required readings or video viewing prior to class in preparation for group discussions is still quite low. I have tried gaming styles of in-class exercises, write-your-own-exam questions activities, and other various flipped course work activities to no avail. Still only approximately one third of the students bother to even access the course materials. I check online.

Another colleague of mine, who teaches history, shared the following New York Times article with me. Quite a bit of it resonates with me. I do believe in the power of strong, informative, and engaging, old-fashioned lectures, especially for humanities courses like mine. I do not simply stand and read from my notes. As with many of my skilled colleagues, I animate my lectures with real-world examples that bring the material to life. As one of the instructors in the article mentioned, by the end of my classes I am a bit sweaty and tired (in a good way).

I would love your thoughts on this article and on the old-fashioned lecture model as well.

Personally, the article was very validating for my style of teaching.

http://nyti.ms/1QEAdWX – NYT Lecture Me. Really.

lecture image middle ages

Fewer Clicks, More Connection?

This semester, I am trying something new with the way I am formatting content in my online class.  In the past, I would have a weekly folder that contained links to everything students needed to complete.  The lists would be relatively long as they would include all or most of the following:

  • A weekly overview video (generally in YouTube and made with Screencast-o-Matic)
  • The schedule for the week
  • Lecture notes (usually a link to a Google doc)
  • Presentation (usually a link to a Google presentation)
  • Audio of lecture notes (usually a link to a SoundCloud audio file)
  • Video clips to watch (usually 2 or 3 a week, unless there was one long clip)
  • A link to the discussion board assignment
  • A link to the learning activity for the week
  • Any links to assignment descriptions for larger assignments due that week
  • A link to a Turnitin assignment submission area
  • Reminders for the upcoming weeks

As you can see, there would likely be 8-10 items in a folder and students would scroll down to see everything that week.

This semester I have a new prep (I taught it so long ago that I am starting from scratch).  I was excited about the possibility of rethinking my learning modules.  I developed a few goals:

  1. I decided that I really only wanted to have 3-4 items in a weekly folder, not 8-10.  The fewer, the better.
  2. I wanted to insure that there was not less to do, but that it was easier for students to navigate the weekly learning modules.
  3. I wanted the different parts of the class to connect together better (e.g., I wanted the video clip of mitosis and meiosis to be right at the part of my lecture where I talk about mitosis and meiosis).  I didn’t want the lecture to be read in full and then the videos watched later on (or vice versa).  My face-to-face classes aren’t like that!  I basically wanted the flow of the materials to be more like my face-to-face classes.
  4. I wanted my materials to be outside of the course management system so that if I teach the class again, it would be easy to modify things and set things up.  Course copies when there are a ton of items don’t always go smoothly.

I thought about Google sites and Google slide presentations.  In thinking about past feedback in my classes, the slide presentations generally always receive positive reviews.  I am not 100% sure why, but I think it could be because many faculty use presentations, so they are familiar to students. Presentations also give me the opportunity to have a short version (the lists on slides) and then the lengthier “lecture” underneath the slides in the notes area (my “voice”).  I thought that having both formats could be helpful for students.  I could also embed YouTube videos right into the slides.  I could add links to articles, where appropriate.  I could also link to Google documents if there was an assignment description that needed to be read that week.

I was unsure about Google sites because they could easily become difficult to navigate or long lists of disjointed materials, just like my past modules.  Using presentations was a stretch for me.  In my face-to-face classes, I stopped using traditional presentations for years because I didn’t like how linear they were and I thought they could be pretty boring, even if I tried to make them more interesting.  I switched back to presentations mostly because Google made it easy for me to create them and share them with students with just a link.

The things that now appear in my learning modules are:

  • A link to the weekly presentation (a Google slides presentation)
  • The discussion board assignment (and link to the forum)
  • The learning activity for the week (if applicable)
  • A link to the Turnitin assignment where major assignments are submitted (if there is one that week)

Therefore, there are now just 2-4 items inside my weekly learning modules.

My presentations are formatted in almost the same exact way each week.  They outline main points from the readings, but also pull in new and additional information that could help students learn more or learn the content better.  I think that having a similar format from week to week can be helpful for students as they can get used to the routine.

The presentations generally follow this format:

  1. First, there is a title slide that reminds students of the week and the chapter to read.  On this slide, I also remind students to view the notes below each slide and to contact me if they cannot see the notes.
  2. The second slide contains an embedded video of me providing an overview of the information for the week.  I basically talk through the entire presentation (main points of the week), not reading the slides or my notes word-for-word.  It is about 6 minutes in length, on average.  I point out things to read or watch in full and other things that could be skimmed or filed away as a resource.  I sometimes open up links to show students what they will find when they click on different links in the presentation.  I caption these videos.
  3. The third slide goes over the schedule for the week (and has links to any assignment descriptions needed).
  4. The fourth slide highlights major topics for the week.
  5. The fifth slide points out “extras” that may be missed in the readings unless I point them out.
  6. Then, there are a number of slides that go into the content.  I think there are probably about 20 slides each week, give or take.  These slides may contain terminology, videos, links to articles that help explain concepts, and other highlights from the readings.  Slides with text are short lists that contain words and phrases, for the most part.  Under each slide, I have notes where I explain things in more of a written out format (like a blog post or short article I am writing about the slide above).
  7. The last slide contains “next steps” and reminds students to go back to the learning module to turn in any work that week (e.g., discussion board posts, assignments, learning activities).  I link assignment descriptions here for my students one more time.

I was skeptical about how this would go.  So far, I have received positive reviews from my students.  I have surveyed them about what is working for them in the class and almost all of the comments about the presentations have been positive.  There was one student who did not find them helpful and one who felt they had too much information.  Out of a entire online class, I am pretty pleased with the feedback.  Since the majority of comments have been positive, I am going to continue with this format.  The number of positive comments has not declined.  In fact, it seems like students feel more positive about this new format than my previous format.

I realize that some of this could be who is in my class, too.  It has been a good semester so far!

I did run into one snag.  In my view as an editor, I am able to double click on embedded YouTube videos and they will play right in the slide, even if I am in the notes view.  However, students who are in the “view” mode have to view the slides as a full-screen presentation (i.e., click “Present”) to get the YouTube videos to play right in the slide.  One way around this has been to also add the URL to the videos on the slide and in the notes area below.  I had to make a short tutorial video to help students learn that they should either view the slides in “Presentation” mode to watch videos or click on the URL for the videos.

I did not add Soundcloud to my notes this semester.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, I have become a lot more detailed in my welcome videos, so I feel that they are a good replacement for the Soundcloud audio.  Second, I would have to start paying for Soundcloud because I can have only so many files before I have to start paying for more space.  Third, a small proportion of students in past classes actually used and/or commented positively on the streaming audio in past classes.  If something had to go, I felt that the audio could be it.  I think that the captioned overview videos are probably better because they provide audio, visuals, and text.  Because they are shorter in length, they might reach more students, too.

Thank you for reading about my new weekly learning module format.  I welcome any comments and suggestions you may have about this new format.

Now I wish I had created this blog post as a Google presentation with links and the such.

Setting the Tone: A Restart

This opening topic is a fantastic one. I decided, just this semester, to change the tone of my first day/week approach. As the teaching years have progressed I have noticed how my first day routine had evolved into rules, rules, rules, “don’t do this”, “do this”…much like a list for prisoners rather than guidelines for students.

jail hands

The syllabus, course structure, assignments, and class procedures are important (and I still go over them), but my focus this term was flipped to the students rather than on me as surrogate prison guard. In addition to my first day “write your musical story” activity, I asked for a show of hands for various musical activities in their lives. Quickly the class was sharing their musical past, present, and interests without much prodding and poking on my part.

student raising hand

On day one I assign a required article reading in my face to face classes. Then on day two we do discuss this brief article. Since it is accessed by the students online I can see who has taken the time to open the document or not. This gives me a sense of the “go-getters” and those that may struggle or who won’t follow through on assignments.

Also on day two I thank all of them for sharing their stories (by day two I have already read all the music autobiographies), and I share a couple of short stories about my musical life. I purposely pick a silly one like the time my father thought it would be great to have his thirteen year old, 5’11”, spectacle wearing daughter play the accordion; as if I needed anything else to emphasize my awkwardness at that age. I also share with them the awesome experience I had teaching the very course they are taking in China in 2010.

China class 2010

I am pleased with this more personal tone now as my semester is in full swing, and I will continue this first week approach for future semesters.

New Ideas for a New Semester

Source: www.callingmart.com

And so, it is that time again…Time for Flex activities, thinking about our pedagogy, and thinking about making our classes better, more interactive. For me, it’s often the most intense and inspirational of the weeks of the semester. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, but getting ideas and new tools from colleagues changes the way I teach every semester. Students want to be engaged in ways that appeal to all learning styles, and keep them interested in the course and material. I think one of our most important jobs as professors is to find those ways, and share them with each other, benefiting not only our students, but our colleagues and their students as well.

One of my new plans for this semester is to change my in-class group work activity. Previously, I had students reading first-person sources or scholarly articles, and responding as a group to questions I posed, but I, and, based on their surveys, they, didn’t feel that this was engaging or challenging enough. Now, they will have to produce a presentation as a group. BUT, how do I form the groups? How do you make sure the students are holding each other accountable? This is where the Flex workshop on group activities came in. What about if I have them network first? What about if they have the ability to fire people from their group after due process? What about allowing them to complete a survey as a means to sort them into groups?

This all leads me to a discussion of tools and instructor presence, a continuation of the 2 POT workshops of today. There is a need to be sure we as instructors are present in our classes, whether those classes are face-to-face, on-line, or hybrid. Students need to feel we are engaging with them, care about their success, and want them to learn. So, how do we do that? We personalize feedback; we add videos to our online or hybrid classes to make us present; we send announcements and emails, and allow students to take the lead in discussions, as a means of empowering them. But then there is the question of how to get their buy-in and engagement. There are a number of tools that you can use that change both the way we interact with students and the way they interact with each other. A new one I learned about today is Padlet, which acts in a similar fashion to Pinterest. One I have used with success is Thinglink, which allows students (and professors) to tag images relevant to course material with videos, weblinks, and their own information. This can be used to further discussions or blogs, as projects, or as a means to give access to lecture information in a more interactive fashion.

Another tool I have used with success is blogging. Blogging gives students a chance to expand on their knowledge and learning of the material, while assisting another students’ learning. But then, how do we keep that conversation going? Lisa Lane had an idea about using the boards or blogs to allow them to post an image, and something about that image, that would then be used in a different written assignment. This gives students agency; gives them a stake in posting; and then, if the boards or blogs are left open, gives them a chance to go back and discuss what they have learned. And they can and do if we give them the means and the agency. These ideas are changing the blog assignment I give students (for the better, I hope). I am planning on leaving them open; giving students more agency in their own blogs; and I think using words like “access” or “build upon,” as opposed to “comment” with regards to their interactions on the blog may change the way they think about and use the blog.

The eternal optimism of the week before the semester starts…but then, perhaps if we give students the tools, students will give us better work.

Grades: the low-down on the drop-downs

In addition to submitting a grade for each student, and a last date of attendance of they failed, we are now asked to assess the level of learning outcomes for each student for two elements: critical thinking and global awareness.

Our grade sheet is starting to look like a data entry form.

I have heard faculty complain that this is ridiculous and impossible – it would take far too much time to reassess each student’s class performance in outcome areas (last year it was just one) as well as their final grade.

I don’t think so.

I remember many, many years ago, we had a full faculty meeting about developing and tracking our first Student Learning Outcomes. It was the third or fourth iteration of this idea, and we were all sick of it – sick of hearing about this stuff that had clearly come in from the outside, through administrative fiat.  And one of my favorite colleagues stood up and said, “Don’t we already have this? It’s called GRADES.”

I’ve never forgotten that. The grade I give means something. I spend a lot of time determining what percentage of the final grade counts for each assignment and skill. So does my grade now mean nothing when set up against outcomes? Do I really have to reassess each student for their demonstration of critical thinking and global awareness?

No, because these are built into the Course of Study, the class design, and my pedagogy. When I give that final grade, it says something already about the student’s achievement in critical thinking and global awareness.

The drop-downs have levels of achievement on these:surf

My default for a real passing grade (A, B or C) is “Practitioner – Met”. If they hadn’t met my standard for critical thinking and global awareness, they wouldn’t have passed the course.

My default for a D or F is “Apprentice- Not Met” if the student finished the class. If they stopped attending, it’s “Novice-Not Met”.

If I recall their work as being excellent, Critical Thinking jumps to “Expert – Exceeded”. Few get this designation – I am the expert, and few excel in either critical thinking or global awareness. But if they did, I remember it – I don’t have to look anything up.

Similarly, I recall other details leading to exceptions: the brilliant expert student who got a D for not turning stuff in, the B student who didn’t know where China was, etc. Again, no need to look those up.

So even though it seems burdensome, the process goes pretty quickly. Because I trust my grades.

Late work

Well, it’s that time of the semester when students hit the drop deadline and I worry about the ones who look like they’re not going to pass.

We’re so focused on “student success”, but I’m worried about these students as individuals. In particular, I worry about the students who didn’t do their work during the rest of the semester, and now either drop, or try to make up everything.

I consider possible responses. For those remaining, I could allow them to make up everything, individually and on the sly. “On the sly” is needed because surely letting everyone do that means the deadlines didn’t mean anything?

What do those deadlines mean? For me they’re a matter of workload, but for students they’re character issues: planning ahead, persistence, consistency of effort.

Continue reading

Update on New Things I’m Doing this semester

My original post is at: https://wordpress.miracosta.edu/reflectiononpractice/?p=36

I love how I get all the students up at the board doing problems every day. It’s working out great. I now label this Class assignment each time I do this (about twice per class) by number (instead of sorting by date) as it’s easier for them to keep in order to turn in later. Sometimes I have them do a lot of problems, and even though it’s one point, they do it. So if they are in class doing it, they get 1 point. After a few weeks, I collect a certain number of assignments (let’s say #1-16 class work assignments), and if they have them in order (even if they missed class), they earn 16 points. So everyone can earn 1 out of 2 points even if they were absent, and 2 out of 2 if they were there doing it that day. I love being able to walk around and help out, and it’s easy to see from across the room too. They have to keep each problem on the board until I make sure it is correct. It gives me time to get around to everyone without hunching over someone’s desk and walking down crowded aisles, and it gets them up and active and talking, and doing work. They also have to write and do all the problems on their own paper. I find this kind of group work more energizing and active than what I’ve done in the past. Happy!