New Ideas for a New Semester
J. Carrubba

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.