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Apr 23, 2014

NYIT Faculty Discuss Learning Spaces: Physical, Virtual, Social, and Intellectual

“When I started putting the lecture materials online and giving the students exercises to do in class, it felt very strange to be “doing nothing” while the students were working on exercises. Eventually, I realized I was still lecturing, I was just doing it in between class sessions as opposed to during class sessions. I think it’s much harder to put together and post a good set of videos than it is to throw together some power points and recite them in front of the class. I was concerned that the students wouldn’t feel like they were getting their money’s worth if I didn’t stand up in front of them and talk, but that hasn’t been the case.” – Rich Simpson, SoECS

Last month, the Center for Teaching and Learning offered its fourth online workshop, on the topic of learning spaces. Virtual and social spaces are taking their place alongside the physical classroom as a locus for learning. As a result, we are compelled to expand our concept of where and how learning occurs. And what happens if you don’t have an “optimal” learning space? What if your classroom is small, or poorly lit? What if the students in a blended course don’t engage in the online component? What if the students don’t seem interested in working with each other? Interested in these and other questions, 21 NYIT faculty and staff members – from campuses in Central Islip, Manhattan, Nanjing, Old Westbury, and Vancouver – exchanged resources, ideas, and teaching strategies. Here are some highlights from the conversation.

Physical Space:

Workshop participants discussed the rooms in which they teach, describing a wide spectrum of layouts. Cheryl Hall, SoHP (NY), described how she is able to rearrange her rooms for different activities: “Since my courses vary in scope, the purpose of physical space varies for each. For lecture-based courses, the traditional classroom works well. However, when the lecture changes into a case study format, where students problem-solve in small groups, we modify the space accordingly. In addition, when our students are engaging in lab/practical sessions, the Physical Lab accommodates for that need and easily transitions from traditional classroom to the lab space.”

Not all classrooms are that flexible! One participant posed the question of how to get students to work in groups in rooms that are not conducive to rearranging the furniture. Sumiao Li, CAS (Nanjing), responded: “I actually have not had much problem turning such a space into a more interactive one. Some of my strategies are lecturing from the back of the classroom, walking back and forth in the isles, asking students to partner with whoever sit close, or by asking those in the front row to kneel on their chairs or to stand up behind the folded-up chairs so that they can face the students in the next row. Students are quite open to all of these methods.”

Rich Simpson, SoECS (NY), contrasted physical and virtual spaces: “For me, the biggest difference between physical learning spaces and virtual learning spaces is that physical learning spaces are shared synchronously (all the students are in the same place at the same time) while virtual learning spaces are asynchronous. Of course, our DL classrooms fall right in the middle, in that the students are ”together“ at the same time but not in the same physical space. In the DL classrooms, the biggest challenge I’ve had is finding activities that students can do together while in separate classrooms. I’ve had some luck with shared Google docs that everyone in the class can edit simultaneously, quizzes on, and polls with” Rich added that he uses student performance data from online quizzes to determine the content of a short lecture at the beginning of each class, to address any points of confusion before the students proceed to work on activities.

Virtual Space:

James Wyckoff, CAS (NY), pointed out that the ability to contribute to a conversation at different times can “expand” space and extend discussions beyond the limits of the physical classroom. He makes extensive use of social media in his classes, both as a form of communication and as a way to enrich the course with new materials. Danielle Apfelbaum, Library (NY), commented that his strategy “is priming [the students] to use social media in a constructive, professional way. So many important academic and professional conversations are taking place via Twitter; it’s an easy way for students to discover, follow, and (hopefully) participate in them.”

Rich Simpson brought up some of the challenges inherent in using virtual spaces: “Outside of class, the biggest challenge with virtual spaces seems to be fostering student interaction. Forums and message boards are pretty limited, and it’s rare to get many detailed discussions. I’m interested in using things like wiki’s and online mind-maps to foster some more constructive interaction, but I haven’t had a chance to try these in an actual class, yet. … I think the teacher’s role in shaping the social space of virtual environments is under-appreciated. Students know how to behave in a classroom setting. Many of them have little or no experience in a virtual learning environment. This is likely to change as more students get exposed to learning technologies in K–12, but for now it’s still an issue.”

Cheryl Hall described some of the benefits: “There are times that the space seems to ”come alive“ with the infusion of technology, even when the course may be occurring in a virtual space. For example, when I am using Zoom to interact with my students during their off-site clinical rotations, our casual discussions have come alive with the use of ”screen sharing“ of written questions or when providing tutorials for accessing professional/clinical resources. It’s so interesting to see how their interactivity with me and one another increases as the virtual learning space becomes more dynamic, rather than simply just showing up on the screen, as part of a course requirement.”

Social and Intellectual Spaces:

Social space is also important, whether in a physical or a virtual setting. Students who are comfortable with each other are more likely to challenge each other intellectually. Amy Bravo, Career Services (NY), points out that “Working in career services, we regularly get feedback from employers that our students have pretty strong content knowledge, but they lack ”soft skills.“ Among those are communication, confidence, team work, assertiveness and problem solving. I have found that by creating a social space within the classroom or in the community whereby students work on a real world problem affecting the public good, these skills are developed rather organically. I help guide that development via online technology like BB, YouTube, Jing, ZOOM and Facebook–whatever works for my particular group.”

One participant asked for suggestions on how to work with non-native English speakers who are struggling with required reading and writing assignments. Monique Taylor, Campus Dean (Nanjing), provided some good suggestions: “I am a great fan of using op-ed, short news and opposing viewpoints (especially in abridged forms found in course readers) for in-class reading. Just like thinking, reading for academic purposes is something I try not to take for granted with students. I do think with questions that dissect (title, chapter headings, initial paragraphs, concluding words, quotes chosen etc) we can help students tease meanings both surface and deep from texts we assign. Students also can use these short reading exercises as a starting point for thinking about how and why an issue matters, how various actors and institutions represent themselves and advance arguments/stake out positions. Pieces like this can be used to map back onto longer assigned essays and chapters as well as say provide answers to what would XXX theorist or author think? Students can practice at writing their own op-eds or position pieces representing groups or agencies that matter most in their intended professions.”

Dan Quigley, CAS (NY), offered ideas on both writing and thinking: “First, one thing you can do is to get them to think of writing more as a process. You might, for instance, allot class time to get them actually to do the writing in class…I use a ”5 minute forced timed writing.“ Students are given a prompt and told to write for 5 minutes without lifting pen from paper or for the fingers to stop moving on the keyboard. If they can’t think of something to write, they write, ”I can’t think, I can’t think…“ until something comes out. What usually comes out isn’t very good, so I then have them ”loop“ back on the original effort. I tell them, take one idea from what you just wrote and do another 5 minute forced writing on that topic.

So, while we are discussing learning spaces for our students, are we also thinking about carving out ”alone“ space, quiet reflective time for them? One would assume naturally that this should be done at home, but is that always possible? If they live in a dorm, is that a ”place“ to stop and think? To link this back to Amy’s question, can we designate class time and places for this to happen? So, instead of ‘Let’s all break into our groups,’ it might be ‘OK, find a corner to be in by yourself and think through this question…no talking!’”


Monique Taylor summed up the two weeks nicely: “I have really enjoyed talking and learning with you over this last stretch of days. The non-linear ways that our questions and dialogue have wended are for me a great example of how virtual space as a learning environment serves us–global colleagues in a global university–particularly well. I would say we all have lessons learned here that will work their way back to our own physical and virtual class spaces.”



Olena Zhadko, PhD
Manager, Course Development
Center for Teaching and Learning
New York Institute of Technology

Author: francine_glazer

Apr 15, 2014

Bridging the Geographical Divide: Teaching in a DL Classroom

As a new faculty member at NYIT, one of the things I had to adjust to was teaching in a DL classroom. These rooms are connected by videoconferencing equipment, so half the class is always watching me on TV and I’m in the room with the other half. I split my time between the two campuses to get face time with all of the students but it’s still difficult to judge how well students are getting the material during a lecture when I’m looking at half of them on a tiny screen. In addition, there is a lot of variation in what our students know and how well they know it. We also have a lot of students who are working full-time jobs while going to school, so they need as much flexibility as they can get. I use to give quizzes to make sure they are getting the material, which is helpful.

I teach an artificial intelligence class and a programming languages concepts class, and these have been taught in the traditional “read at home, lecture in class” manner. All my students bring laptops to class, so I try to spend as much class time as possible having them doing rather than listening. The problem is that all the students have to move at the same pace, which is too slow for some and too fast for others. That led me to look at blended learning and adaptive learning platforms.

Here’s a list of features that would make such a platform ideal for my needs:

  • Content creation: in addition to pre-designed classes, I can add my own materials
  • Activity tracking: I want to see what each student does on the platform: which lessons they view, their performance on quizzes and other embedded assessments
  • Adaptive learning: students see material of varying difficulty, based on their performance up to that point. Some of our students need to cover basic material before moving on to the actual class material but others don’t; some students get a concept quickly, others need more instruction
  • Encourages interaction: I want the ability to embed quizzes, simulations, and other interactive activities into the on-line material
  • Enables teamwork: Students should be able to collaborate in real time on group activities. This feature would be particularly helpful in a DL room, since it would allow groups of students who are on different campuses to work productively during class

I started by looking at the MOOCs (Udacity, Coursera, EdX) and on-line textbooks (CourseSmart). I’ve also looked at quite a few adaptive learning platforms:

Unfortunately - but not surprisingly - none of these platforms has all the features I’d like. This semester, I am using SmartSparrow to deliver content both during and outside of class. Thee platform has some of the features I’m looking for: SmartSparrow lets me create my own lessons and embed quizzes, and it tracks each student’s progress. However, there are some limitations with it: the authoring tool is pretty clunky, the types of questions are limited to multiple-choice and short answer, there are limited tools for managing a class, and the system has no integration with Blackboard. As a result, I’m reluctant to recommend SmartSparrow to others unless you enjoy tinkering with software and don’t need the Blackboard integration and other course management tools.

Here’s a feature comparison for the platforms I looked at:

  Content Creation Activity Tracking Adaptive Learning Encourages Interaction Enables Teamwork yes yes yes yes no no yes yes yes no no yes yes yes no no yes yes yes no no yes yes yes no no yes yes yes no no yes yes yes no ? yes yes yes no yes yes no yes ? no yes yes yes no no yes yes yes no yes yes no yes ? no ? no ? no yes yes no yes no  

Richard Simpson, PhD
Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering
New York Institute of Technology

Author: francine_glazer

Apr 09, 2014

Techniques to Help Students Think About Their Learning

An essential lifelong skill for students is to think about their learning, or be metacognitive about it. Although metacognition ties directly to student success, it is often not taught, and it is a skill that many college students lack. One of my goals is to purposefully structure my courses to help students focus on and be more aware of their own learning.

The three strategies I use most often to foster metacognition are:

  1. ConcepTests (or clicker questions)—These multiple-choice questions are asked during a break in lecture. Students answer them individually (anonymously), they debate the answer with their peers, and they vote again. These questions allow students to find out how well they understand concepts as they are taught in class.
  2. Online Quizzes—These multiple-choice quizzes test the students on concepts they learned in class, but are completed by students on their own time outside of class. Students can retake them up to three times, with a different selection of questions each time. Students can use them as a way to self-test if they understand the concepts, which is useful both immediately after class as well as a way to study for the exam.
  3. Exam Wrappers— I ask students after each exam to reflect on how they studied, and how they could have “studied smarter.” This technique allows students to think about how their studying was effective and how they might want to study differently to be more successful on the next exam. I also give students time to give feedback to each other, so they can learn from others in the class as well.

I explain to the students that these techniques give them immediate feedback on how well they understand concepts, help them to realize that they are in charge of their learning, and determine what topics they need to spend more time on. Another strength of these methods is that they are easy for the instructor to implement. After the initial set up, none of these methods takes much time, and there is no manual grading.

A challenge to these techniques is the initial time commitment, which varies. Good ConcepTest questions are difficult to write, but there are some websites where instructors share questions, and you can reuse them in following semesters. Setting up and writing good online quizzes also takes time initially, but they can be reused (and some quiz questions can be used again on exams).

I have several indications that these techniques are effective with my students. When I ask students to reflect on how they studied, students report using many of the strategies I provided, such as reviewing quizzes and focusing their studying on areas where their weaknesses were. When I’ve had students who have taken a class in which I used the online quizzes, and then take a class where I have not yet developed them, they unanimously asked for the quizzes, even though they require more work from the student. Although some students complained about the time involved, they also saw how valuable the quizzes were to their learning.

Finally, as measured by the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire survey instrument, students in my classes do not experience a decline in motivation and attitudes during the semester as is commonly seen in other introductory classes. This is significant because research is increasingly showing the importance of student affective domain (motivation and attitudes) on their learning.


  • Pintrich, R. R., & DeGroot, E. V. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance, Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 33–40.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Karen M. Kortz, Ph.D.
Department of Physics
Community College of Rhode Island

Author: francine_glazer

Apr 02, 2014

Catch Up on Missed Classes with VoiceThread

Was your class affected by the weather? Are you behind on your syllabus, trying to catch up while still ensuring that your students have meaningful learning experiences? Don’t wait till the next snow day to engage your students in the course and use new technology to support student learning. Renew and revive your course by simply trying out VoiceThread with your students before the end of the spring semester.

What is VoiceThread?

VoiceThread adds a visual dimension to an online conversation. VoiceThread allows you to have a conversation about objects such as videos, images, documents, and presentations. You can narrate your presentation, and students can pause it at the point where they have a question to make comments using any combination of text, a microphone, a webcam, a telephone, or by uploading an audio file. These conversations are asynchronous, meaning that students can log in and participate at any time. As a result, it’s an ideal way to have a conversation either before or after class, or to make up lost class time. The combination of increased interaction and time for reflection helps to create an engaged learning environment for your students.

VoiceThread is an application that runs in a web browser (in Blackboard, so you don’t have to leave the familiar class environment). There is no software to download, install, or update. Creating a VoiceThread within your Blackboard shell is as easy as creating an assignment.

VoiceThread can be used in many ways:

  • Record an introduction to a project (think mini-lectures).
  • Extend and document class discussion beyond the classroom space and time.
  • Share an image - an anatomical drawing, a circuit diagram, or a floor plan - and have students mark it up and comment on it.
  • Share a few slides with voice-over instruction and have students leave their questions or comments in regards to a specific slide.
  • Students can present their projects on VoiceThread. Have them create multimedia presentations and engage in reflective discussions critiquing each other’s work, without taking up class time.
  • Do you want to ensure that students do their reading prior to class? Have groups of students create short (5 minute) VoiceThreads to present key information and share it the day before class meets.
  • Use VoiceThread as a forum where students can practice using a second language.

Selected Key Features:

  • Upload, share and discuss videos, audio files, presentations, images, and documents. Over 50 different types of media can be used in a VoiceThread!
  • Comment on VoiceThread slides using one of five powerful commenting options: microphone, webcam, text, audio-file upload, and phone.
  • Accessible from Mac/PC (up-to-date version of Adobe Flash is required) and iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch).
  • Seamless integration with Blackboard. Single sign-on (sign in with your NYIT username and password).
  • Share a VoiceThread with your class in Blackboard. Course enrollment: students and instructors are enrolled in private course groups automatically.
  • Share VoiceThreads as easily as sending an email. Receive notifications for new comments on your VoiceThreads.


The Center for Teaching and Learning has purchased an institutional license for VoiceThread - you can access it through your course’s Blackboard shell. Try it out and let us know if you like it!

For assistance getting started, please contact Olena Zhadko or Jea Ahn at the Center for Teaching and Learning:

Olena Zhadko:
Phone: 646.273.6037

Jea Ahn:
Phone 516.686.4031

Author: francine_glazer

Mar 26, 2014

“What a Tangled Web We Weave” ... or Not?


During an in-class presentation about the musical festival Woodstock, a student cited “Joe’s website” as his source. I thought for sure that the student must have been referring to the rock group Country Joe and the Fish, whose performance at Woodstock is legendary, but I was wrong. The student was quoting an unknown Joe. At that moment, I knew I had to incorporate information literacy into my course.


This activity/lesson is divided into two parts. Instructors may or may not decide to follow up the first part (web evaluation) with the second part (oral citation of sources). Additionally, while this assignment was developed for a public speaking class, it can be modified for any subject matter.

(1) Many students seemingly grab web sites at random when selecting sources for a presentation. This activity/lesson seeks to minimize the eeny-meeny-miny-mo approach to selecting web sources by having students play an active role in the web evaluation process. To that end, one goal of this assignment is to present students with a practical guide to evaluate websites.

(2) Part of a speaker’s goal is to establish credibility. One way to do that is by using reputable sources. Of course, students must cite sources in order for audiences to know that the sources are credible. Despite my lecturing students about the importance of documenting sources and providing information about how to cite sources orally when giving their speech, students have problems that include:

  • tripping over their own words as they attempt to provide oral citations.
  • using obvious, unsophisticated phrasing, such as “and I quote.”
  • accompanying citations with “air” quotes and other inappropriate non-verbal gestures.
  • no citations.

Therefore, a second goal of this assignment is to introduce/reinforce a speaker’s ethical responsibility to provide oral citations for material gained from web research.


Part 1: Evaluation of Websites:

  • As preparation for the in-class activity, I determine a topic, usually based on course concepts or current events. This semester I selected anti-bullying legislation.
  • I then provide a general purpose, specific purpose, and a thesis. For the selected topic, I find five different types of websites, such as Wikipedia, .org, .com, a blog, and so on.
  • For a homework assignment, I email everyone the topic information and the website links. With the topic in mind, students visit each of the websites and rank each from 1–5, with 5 being the best. Students should jot down reasons for their choices.

Day 1: (For this in-class activity, it is best for each group to have a laptop.)

  • During the next class session, I divide the class into 4 or 5 groups with about 5 members to each group. Each group member shares his or her ranked order from the homework and provides an explanation.
  • The group then agrees upon a group ranking. Each group puts the ranking on the board, and we look for patterns and variations.
  • As groups defend their choices, I take notes on the side of the board. Invariably, their choices are based on solid web evaluation information, such as accuracy, credibility, objectivity, and so on. I point out their solid reasoning and begin to construct a graphic organizer that they can use to evaluate future websites. Based on doing this activity a number of times, I find that Robert Harris’ CARS (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonable, and Support) works well because the mnemonic device is both easy to remember and easy to apply. Another option is to compare class findings to your college’s web evaluation criteria.

Follow-up: I then direct students to go home and find ONE additional website that adheres to the criteria discussed in class.

Day 2:

  • In the next class session, students return to their group, and each student shares his or her site via a laptop and defends the selection by referring to the web evaluation criteria developed in the prior class session.
  • Group members, using the same criteria, rank the website using the 1–5 system. An average is taken to determine the final ranking. The goal is for each student to identify a website that merits a ranking of 4 or 5.

Part 2: Presenting a Mini-Speech with Citations:

Day 1:

  • Prior to the class meeting, I assign relevant explanatory material from their text. During the class we discuss text-based information on citing sources. Students then watch public speaking clips or videos to identify both research and oral citations of it.
  • For their assignment, I ask students to create a mini-speech that includes a brief introduction, 1 body point, and a conclusion. The body point may be a discussion of the problem, a workable solution, etc.
  • Their topic is the same as the one originally presented to them in Part One. Recently, I have used “Anti-bullying legislation is not an effective way to reduce the bullying problem in today’s school.”
  • For their sources, students can use any web source that the class ranked as a 4 or 5. The source may include the ones I originally provided or any source from a group member. They must use at least 3 sources.

Day 2:

  • Students present their speeches to the class, or if short on time, students can present speeches to their groups. Listeners pay particular attention to the use of research and citation of sources.


A discussion is an essential component as it connects both activities. Typically, a discussion occurs at the end of each activity. In Part One, Wikipedia is often a common topic. Students are also surprised to find that some of their preconceptions are unfounded. Thus, they learn that all .edu sites are not necessarily good, nor are all .com sites bad. In Part Two, students frequently reveal their belief that documenting sources undermined their credibility. Hence, they often did not document sources. Other students note the difficulty with creating a smooth citation.

Because students feel as if they are an active part of the evaluation process, they are connected to the activity. Rather than being handed a document that says, “This is what to look for in evaluating websites,” they have become active learners and are invested in the process. Giving the speech with citations wraps up both activities and allows students to experience the process to its fruition, presenting in front of an audience.


To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Kathleen Beauchene
Professor, English Department
Community College of Rhode Island

Author: francine_glazer

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Jason Rodriguez (B.S. ’08) Jason Rodriguez
Class of 2008
Profession: Lead Petty Officer, U.S. Marines
Alyson Daniels Alyson Daniels
Customer Relations Coordinator
Office: Dining Services
Campus: Old Westbury
Kathryn Boehmer Kathryn Boehmer
Campus: Old Westbury
Major: Occupational Therapy, B.S.
Class Of: 2014