Archives for November 2008

Teaching Journal: After Teaching English 160 (Fourth Attempt)

Today I substitute taught English 160 once again. I think it will be the last attempt for the semester, though who knows?

The students are getting ready to do some peer evaluations on their recommendation reports (a draft of which is due in class on December 2). In order to help them understand what they need to be looking for, Dr. Northcut (through me) asked the students to evaluate a sample recommendation report submitted by a student in a previous class (from 2007). The students in today’s class session were given the rubric that Dr. Northcut will use to grade their recommendation reports.

Before class (yesterday), I sent out an email to all of the students notifying them of the assignment they would be working on. I also listed some of the objectives for this assignment:

The objectives of this exercise are as follows:

  1. Apply the grading criteria that will be used on you
    towards someone else’s sample recommendation report.
  2. Perform a truly collaborative task by developing a
    unified document to be submitted to a third party.
  3. Work within a time constraint to create a document
    (happens to me ALL THE TIME!).
  4. Give you the opportunity to evaluate not only the
    recommendation report but the grading rubric itself. If you see a potential
    difficulty with the rubric, feel free to voice your opinion in your memo–but
    you will need to back up any assertions with a well-reasoned argument!

When the students arrived in class, I asked them if they had received this email. I got a noncommittal response from most of the students. One student flat-out admitted he saw the email but didn’t read it. I wonder if he is going to tell his boss in the real world that he doesn’t read the boss’s emails?

I asked the students to separate themselves into small groups (3-4 people) and prepare a memo analyzing the sample recommendation report in context with the grading rubric they had been given. They had to submit the memo to me via email by the end of the class period. I mostly wandered around the room and made sure they stayed on the task at hand and answered questions about the assignment as best I could.

One group managed to “finish” about 15 minutes before the end of class. Of course, by my own standards, they had barely gotten started, but I think they did make some valid critiques of the sample recommendation report.

Perhaps the most interesting challenge of the day was when a student pulled me aside for a private chat. Apparently he has been having some personal issues that have been affecting his academic performance lately. Of course, I won’t go into any detail here. I am actually quite honored that he respected me enough to share such personal details in confidence, though I am sorry that he is going through a “rough patch” just now. Fortunately, he seemed to get through the class just fine with his fellow group members.

Dealing with a student’s personal problems is not something they really teach you how to deal with as an instructor (as far as I know). I guess we instructors just have to learn to adapt to the changing environment of the classroom. Another student in the class that I am grading papers for (also English 160, though it is a distance course run out of Columbia) has also been having some rough times lately. I don’t know what else to say about that except that students do have lives outside of classroom, so we need to make some adjustments to help them out as best we can without compromising the integrity of the classroom or lowering our grading standards too much.

Teaching Journal: Documentum Training (2nd Attempt)

logo-documentum-full.gifI am scheduled to do some more Documentum Web Publisher training in a few minutes. This will be my second attempt at doing so this semester.

Fortunately, the difficulties that we encountered last time appear to have been resolved. I came into the classroom earlier today to make sure that all of the machines would allow me to edit a web page. Since the last training session, we’ve experienced one significant technical glitch that has prevented people all over campus (including myself) from editing web pages. Fortunately, there is a really simple workaround, but it does require that the user have administrator rights on a machine. You simply have to delete a file that is put into the Documents and Settings root folder on a machine. After that, Documentum Web Publisher allows you to edit web pages. I’ve been told by our web support administrators that Documentum will be sending us a permanent fix for this problem in the very near future, but not soon enough for my class. So I went to every machine in the classroom and deleted the file in order to get the web page editor to work.

Another wrinkle I encountered while removing the problematic file was that all of the machines needed to have Windows updates applied to them. Our network is set up so that a series of Windows patches are released across campus every month. The machines receive those patches and then reboot themselves at or around 3 p.m. the next day. This can cause a problem when you are trying to teach a class using computers and all of the machines insist on rebooting themselves in the middle of class [users with “admin” privileges can opt to reboot at a later time, but general users are forced to reboot]. Fortunately, I was able to apply the patches to most of the machines and reboot them this morning, so we hopefully will not have that problem this afternoon.

In order to help reduce the amount of clutter on the training web site I requested that all of the content be removed with a very few exceptions. This way the students will have a “clean” environment they can use for uploading content to the training web pages.

Finally, I created a sample web page for them to use. We will hopefully be able to all download content from this web page and recreate the web page within the training environment. I strongly suspect I will see minor (and possibly major) variations of the sample web page, but it will be enough to get them started. The sample web page I will be using will require them to upload a PowerPoint presentation, upload one or more images, create lists, create links to absolute and relative pages/documents, show a pullout, and use a sidebar.

Strategies for Encouraging and Increasing Class Attendance

Last week, members of Educational Technology here on campus attended the Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference at UMSL, sponsored by their Center for Teaching and Learning.

One of the sessions I attended was on Strategies for Encouraging and Increasing Class Attendance. I thought this would be a good session to attend for someone who is still very new to instruction. I’ve been directly involved with technology training (e.g. Documentum Web Publisher, Voice-over IP), but I’ve never really had to deal with college students who often don’t show up for class (I am as guilty of that as anyone).

The stated objectives of the presentation were as follows:

  1. Review why attendance is important
  2. Present overview of instructional methods
  3. Discuss strategies for deep learning
  4. Share ideas with a partner

For the first part of the discussion, we actually engaged in one of the learning strategies discussed by one of the plenary speakers, Dr. Allison Morrison-Shetlar. The presenters asked us to come up with two or three reasons why we think attendance is important, write them down on a 5 x 7 note card and then share those reasons with someone else in our vicinity. This is exactly identical to the “one minute paper” Dr. Morrison-Shetlar talked about in her presentation. Once we did that, we were then asked to share our different reasons with the larger group.

 

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FoTT — Plenary Session: Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar

FoTT-Morrison-Shetlar-01.jpgDr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies, as well as Professor of Biology at the University of Central Florida, gave the second plenary session presentation at UMSL’s Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference. Her topic of choice was Interactive Teaching Techniques With and Without Technology. She has had a long and distinguished career in both science and education. It was a very enjoyable presentation as she brings a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to her presentation.

Dr. Morrison-Shetlar’s presentation is available from her web site by clicking the Handouts link. However, her web site uses “lightbox” to show her slides, so it is not practical for downloading a copy of her slides. Unlike Dr. Ray Schroeder, who was the other plenary session speaker, she has embraced PowerPoint for her presentation, though she uses it fairly effectively to make her points.

Her first technique that she shared with us was simply to greet us with “Good morning”. Since our first response was too lethargic, she tried again, “GOOD MORNING!” This time we had no choice but to respond.

Her three main objectives for the presentation were:

  1. Demonstrate strategies that work in large and small classes.
  2. Discuss how to modify the strategies and create new ones that fit different situations and teaching personalities
  3. Show high and low technology adaptations of strategies for engaging students.

[Read more…]

FoTT — Plenary Session: Ray Schroeder

FoTT-Schroeder-01.jpgRay Schroeder presented at the first of two plenary sessions we attended at the Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference in St. Louis. Dr. Schroeder is currently the Director of Technology Enhanced Learning and an Emeritus professor at University of Illinois at Springfield.

The focus of Dr. Schroeder’s presentation was using “transparent” technologies to transform teaching. Dr. Schroeder defines “transparent technology” as those technologies that “do not get in the way of teaching.”

Unlike most of the presenters, Dr. Schroeder used one of his many blogs as his presentation platform: Transparent Technology Transforming Teaching (this was also the title of his presentation). His unique approach has some key advantages over the more “traditional” PowerPoint presentation.

First, all of the content for his presentation is immediately accessible simply by scrolling down the page. You don’t need to scroll through innumerable slides–each of which might have its own unique animation or other content that interferes with your navigation. This makes it very easy to “browse” his presentation, like any other blog out there.

Second, the use of a blog for the presentation allows for a certain degree of feedback from visitors. If a blog is to be used as part of a course (instead of a presentation), the instructor can set up rules for commenting on their blog that allow only registered individuals the ability to comment–this is determined by the blog engine used and by the instructor’s own policies. He (or she) will need to require students to register for the blog so they can post comments. Again, this feature allows visitors to the blog to browse the different entries and provide feedback on particularly interesting ones.

Third, blogs allow for easier hyperlinking than PowerPoint. Because the blog is delivered through a browser, clicking on a link will take you to a new web page without having to open a separate application to do so. “Tabbed” browsing in Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari or another web browser also allows you to navigate to hyperlinks contained in the blog without ever having to close the blog or navigate away from it. This is definitely superior to PowerPoint navigation of hyperlinks.

Finally, presenting content in a blog means you can arrange your content in sequence chronologically or by category. This means that visitors can access content of a particular interest (e.g. the blog you are reading has a “Blackboard” category because we support a number of Blackboard issues). They can also see content unfolded over time, which may be extremely relevant in time-sensitive courses (e.g. political science, technology development).

Oh, one more thing. Because of the way blogs are built, they can easily contain other Web 2.0 technologies such as YouTube flash videos, quick online surveys, “liveblogging” applications, and much, much more. PowerPoint has none of these features.

One of the downsides to creating a blog for presentations is the fact that as an instructor, you will need to take the time to sit down and figure out how your presentation of content will be structured to take into account the many new ways in which a blog can be used to deliver content. Blogs are extremely flexible, however, and very easy to set up. Dr. Schroeder’s blog for his presentation was created using Blogspot (powered by Blogger). It is a very simple blog, but still contains a wide variety of different content. If Dr. Schroeder was so inclined, he could add some customized features to his blog to make it more his own or he could move his blog to a different blog engine (e.g. Movable Type).

Dr. Schroeder’s presentation was a very different experience than most presentations I’ve sat through and gave me quite a bit to think about with regard to developing my own pedagogical style of instruction.

Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference — UMSL

Just this past week, EdTech took a road trip to St. Louis to attend the Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference at UMSL, sponsored by their Center for Teaching and Learning (analogous to our CERTI, I believe).

This conference is very similar in nature and scope to the Teaching and Learning Technology Conference that we held on this campus this past spring. We will be holding the next TLT Conference on April 9-10, 2009.

I did not get the opportunity to attend every session I might have liked to, but I did get to see both plenary speakers and also attend a couple of interesting sessions. I will be posting on each of those sessions/speakers in future posts so stay tuned.

We (EdTech) also had the opportunity to meet with our counterparts at UMSL and also have a meeting of the BbIC, which is the intercampus collaboration of Blackboard support folks from all four campuses. Although we routinely interact with each other via email and other communication tools, it is always nice to actually sit down face-to-face and spend time with them. It is also an opportunity to get outside of our campus and see what other folks are doing on their campuses.

“Andragogy” v. “Pedagogy”

Angie Hammons shares her thoughts on an article she found in Campus Technology:

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[ANGIE] I read an interesting article the other day in Campus Technology (http://campustechnology.com/articles/68283_1/).  It was titled “The Institutional Path for Change in this Age: Andragogy, not Pedagogy.” It solidified some thoughts in my mind about the educational process. The article begins by explaining the difference in pedagogy and andragogy.  Pedagogy was something I focused on with my educational courses in college.  It focuses on transmitting information to students through curriculum.  This was truly the first time I had been introduced to the term andragogy, which is the acquisition of content.  The article goes on to list the five principles of andragogy:

  1. Letting learners know why something is important to learn.
  2. Showing learners how to direct themselves through information
  3. Relating the topic to the learners’ experiences
  4. People will not learn until they are ready and motivated to learn
  5. Requires helping them overcome inhibitions, behaviors and beliefs about learning.

This was truly an eye-opening description as it mirrors my philosophy on education.  I had learned how to be the “sage on the stage” while at university.  But I found in the classroom it wasn’t the best method for students to learn.  Sure they could memorize and repeat for a test.  But how much of that information were they retaining for use later?  I didn’t see the “Aha” that I wanted to see. Then I began to focus on the Constructivist Theory of Learning, which simply states that students needed to construct their own learning for it to become meaningful.  This was my “Aha” moment and truly began to change the way I viewed education.  When put in to practice, I soon began to see students understanding concepts that I had struggled with them to understand.  They were putting together complex processes and it was making sense to them.  Now, I also realize that this doesn’t work for everything.  I do however believe that it can improve the outcome for students.  This article simply reinforces what I have seen in my own classroom.  

With the advent of technology andragogy becomes easier to assess and collect evidence on what students are doing and learning. As the article states, “We are now in the era when student learning experiences can be visible because of the everywhere and all-the-time (ubiquitous and universal) presence of Web connections.”  Students connect beyond the classroom with their peers.  It is important that we recognize this and utilize this in our approach to teach.  Technology can become a powerful tool when utilized effectively within andragogy.

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[MALCOLM] For the most part, I agree with Angie’s interpretation of learning using the andragogical model instead of the more traditional pedagogical model. However, I am not as supportive as Angie is of the Constructivist Theory of Learning. Mainly because it is often used to teach subjects such as mathematics and science which do not lend themselves as much to the Constructivist Theory. The most brilliant minds on the planet have developed mathematical theorems and scientific models to describe reality over the past 500 years (and longer). Unfortunately, there is a tendency for teachers–particular in the lower grades–to encourage students to “independently” discover foundational mathematical principles. Students (and often teachers) simply don’t have the rigorous training in logic required to perform the necessary thought experiments to discover those principles on their own. In many cases, this lack of rigor in student thinking processes can lead to fundamental errors in how they approach problems (such as forgetting that some mathematical formulas will only work under certain constraints–e.g. the Quadratic Formula only works when a is not equal to 0).

Scoff if you like, but the fact that someone actually discovered the Quadratic Formula is really quite an amazing achievement. Higher up the scale of intellectual achievements, it is simply a miracle that calculus was developed to the point that we can use it to observe more about the world around us today than at any other time in human history. We can also use it to create astounding technology sufficiently advanced that it is, in Arthur C. Clarke’s words, “indistinguishable from magic.”

With that said, I do believe it is possible to use a guided constructivist approach when teaching subjects that are less constrained by the rules of reality (the key word here is “guided”). For instance, technical communication is one area that can benefit students a great deal when they are allowed to experiment and test knowledge in a “safe” environment. Students can build presentations, write proposals, and perform other tasks that incorporate “best practices” of technical communication in an environment that is mostly free from any real-world consequences other than a grade. They can also use peer-review with their fellow classmates to check for the usability of the documentation they create under the watchful eyes of the instructor.

One of the challenges I have to face as a potential instructor in technical communication (I am a graduate student of Tech Com) is to somehow relate the content of the course to real-world situations. Often the only way to do this is to engage in “pseudotransactional” activities that simulate the types of documents students will need to create when they are actually employed for a company or other institution. Fortunately, there are any number of examples of “bad” technical communication to illustrate to students just how NOT to do something (especially bad PowerPoint presentations).

EdTech goes to Educause 2008 in Orlando, Florida

Angie Hammons and Lauren Oswald, members of the EdTech group here on campus, recently had the opportunity to do a poster presentation at Educause 2008, which took place in Orlando, Florida, Oct 28 – 31.

Here is what Angie experienced:
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I had the privilege of being accepted to present a poster
session at Educause 2008 in Orlando with Lauren Oswald. I have presented at
multiple conferences all over the United States but wasn’t prepared for what
Educause was truly like. To give you a little idea of what the conference was
like, there were over 8000 attendees from around the world. The theme this year
was “Interactions, Ideas and Inspiration.” It was incredibly exciting to share
with individuals what we are working on here on campus and know that we have
many interested in coming to visit with us to see what we have been doing. It
was a great conference to connect with other professionals involved in higher
education. It was a great opportunity for me to explore the issues surrounding
pedagogy that got me into education originally. So often, I focus on the
technology but truly enjoyed this opportunity to explore how we use technology
in the classroom and how it can truly impact the education process. The
integration of technology into any classroom should not be about having a shiny
new toy. It truly should be about providing new tools that enhance the learning
process. It is incredibly important that the addition of technology to a course
should be carefully planned out and designed.

The poster session was scheduled for late Thursday
afternoon, so I was expecting a lot of people to not be interested in coming.
Boy was I ever wrong. There was an incredible amount of people who descended on
the presentations. For the entire hour and fifteen minutes, we didn’t quit
talking and sharing how we have been transforming informal learning spaces on
campus. I had the opportunity to connect with many universities around our state
as well as around the world. Informal learning spaces have become an important
topic in higher education.

Where does learning take place?

 

This
was a question that began the process of examining the learning spaces on
campus.  Learning takes place anywhere
and everywhere in our society today. Classrooms are no longer the only place on
campus that learning takes place. 
Learning now takes place wherever the learner is inspired. “All learning
takes place in a physical environment with quantifiable and perceptible
physical characteristics.” – Graetz, Ken “The Psychology of Learning Environments”,
Learning Spaces, Educause 2006,
http://www.educause.edu/LearningSpaces/10569

 

How do universities and colleges
transition their traditional spaces to accommodate the needs of an
ever-changing student population?

 

If
learning takes place anywhere, how do we as universities plan spaces or
vignettes that support a process that is ever changing? “Learning is the
central activity of colleges and universities. Sometimes that learning occurs
in classrooms (formal learning); other times it results from serendipitous
interactions among individuals (informal learning). Space – whether physical or
virtual – can have an impact on learning. It can bring people together; it can
encourage exploration, collaboration, and discussion. Or, space can carry an
unspoken message of silence and disconnectedness. More and more we see the
power of built pedagogy (the ability
of space to define how one teaches) in colleges and universities” – Oblinger,
Diana, “Space as a Change Agent”, Learning Spaces, Educause 2006,
http://www.educause.edu/LearningSpaces/10569

 

Our goal was to define a process that could be repeatable on
our campus and others. We have begun the process to standardize how we design
these spaces. It is the design process that can be repeated.  You can’t have cookie-cutter rooms where all
informal spaces are the same. They must truly be tailored for the students and
the discipline that will utilize that space the most. We are continuing to
develop this process and will be excited to share it in the January issue of
Educause Quarterly.

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