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Mar 05, 2014

Space for Learning

“Since education is the core mission of higher education, learning and the space in which it takes place are of the utmost importance.” - Malcolm Brown, Educause Review, 40 (4), page 30, 2005

When we talk about “learning spaces,” what’s the first thing you think of?

Many people might say “a state of the art classroom.” I’d like to suggest that there are multiple types of learning spaces, and the quality of those spaces can directly impact the teaching and learning that can occur there. Learning spaces encompass the full range of places in which learning occurs, from real to virtual, from classroom to online. Here, we will look at three types of learning spaces.

Physical space includes the size and shape of the room, the arrangement of furniture, the quality of the lighting, and the classroom technology. When teaching in a new classroom, ask yourself how flexible the space is. Are there tables that accommodate more than one student, or are there individual desks? If the latter, are the desks movable, or are they arranged in front-facing rows and bolted to the floor? Do all students have a clear view of the screen and/or board? Can students work in small groups, or is the room designed for lecture?

Virtual space has taken its place alongside the physical space with the recent developments of technology. Virtual spaces range from distance learning classrooms, where class sessions physically meet and interact virtually, to fully online environments including asynchronous interactions in Blackboard or on discussion forums, to real time interactions using Zoom or classroom response systems.

Social space is defined by the students’ backgrounds, their interactions with each other and with you, either in-person or online, the collaborative work entailed by the course, and the intellectual and emotional mindsets that the students bring to the course. The social space is also defined by course learning goals, course content, and the instructor’s teaching style.

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?

One of our jobs as educators is to help our students make the best possible use of those spaces. To that end, I’d like to invite you to join your colleagues in a discussion about learning spaces. The Center for Teaching and Learning is offering an online workshop about learning spaces, beginning on March 24 and continuing, via email, for the next two weeks. Some of our NYIT faculty and staff will be joining in as ‘resource people’ and discussion facilitators providing their expertise and insight. Specific topics will include:

  • physical spaces: intentionally created spaces and unintentionally created spaces
  • virtual spaces: technologically enhanced, blended, fully online
  • social (intellectual and emotional) spaces
  • additional resources

The workshop is asynchronous, meaning that you can read the materials and reply to emails at your convenience. All you will need is a web browser and an email account. Here’s how it will work: On March 24, resources will become available on the web. Participants will then have a conversation by email for 1–2 weeks. Our goal is to bring faculty together from all our campuses, so we can explore the topic from all the cultural and societal frames of reference that comprise NYIT.

Please register to receive the link to materials and to be added to the email list. The registration link for the workshop is at: http://goo.gl/Xt8BpT

I hope you will join us!

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 26, 2014

Novel Strategies to Encourage Careful Reading and Energized Discussions

 

You’re Having Them Read What?!?

Recently, I decided to take a “great minds, great books” approach to the reading list in my Foundations of Research Writing course (FCWR 151). I’m having freshmen students read such long-dead yet eternally important folks as Homer, Sophocles, Aristotle, Plato, Confucius, Sun Tzu, Horace, Ovid, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Hawthorne, Poe, Gilman, and Thurber. Most colleagues I shared this plan with raised their eyebrows and said such things as, “That is very interesting, but our students will never read that!” Well, anyone who knows me knows that if I’m told it can’t be done, I’ll do all I can to prove the naysayers wrong.

It’s critical that we stimulate our students’ desire to read extensively and ability to think deeply about what they read. This is a teaching and learning issue that affects all disciplines, not just literature and humanities. Educators in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) face similar challenges in encouraging students to read difficult material and to think carefully and deeply about it. I’ve found that highlighting the relevance of the content can capture the students’ imaginations, engage them in the learning process, and hopefully lead them toward that deeper understanding we hope they will achieve.

Incentivizing Learning through Highlighting Relevance

One way I highlight the relevance of ancient literature and philosophy is to illustrate various ways in which these texts influence contemporary popular culture. For example, I show scenes from the film Troy to preface our study of The Odyssey, and I play the 25-minute epic song “The Odyssey” from the progressive metal band Symphony X while discussing Homer’s epic poem. I show scenes from the film 300 before discussing themes of warfare, strong women, good political leadership, and civil disobedience in Antigone. I play the “Desert of the Real” scene from The Matrix to illustrate and explain Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave,” and I show battle scenes from the Chinese film Red Cliff when discussing Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Similarly, I show and discuss scenes from the film A Knight’s Tale before exploring key themes from Chaucer, I play portions of Symphony X’s album Paradise Lost when discussing Milton’s epic, and I show and discuss various Pre-Raphaelite paintings when examining Romantic poetry. The point is to engage the students with text, film, music, and art and to show the intellectual interrelationships that span across time, space, and culture.

The same can be done for other courses in various disciplines. The Science and Technology sections of major newspapers are filled with headlines related to practical applications of engineering, biology, cosmology, physics, and applied mathematics. Contemporary film and television, especially science fiction, offer excellent opportunities to illustrate and discuss applied technology. Summarizing and discussing these stories and films from various STEM perspectives is an excellent way of showing students the relevance of their coursework to the culture around them.

Incentivizing Reading and Discussion through Game-Show Quizzes

In addition to demonstrating the cultural and intellectual relevance of the concepts found within the challenging readings, educators also must struggle to get students to sit down and read the material, to grapple with the concepts, themes, and ideas found within the texts, and to discuss the content in class. Again, most contemporary students do not sit down to read something for the sake of learning or for the basic love of the experience. They need motivation. I’ve tried the standard pop quiz method, but that mainly penalizes those who didn’t read, and it does precious little to encourage discussion in class.

Instead, I use a game-show quiz model that incentivizes reading and encourages discussion. For each reading, I come up with several content-oriented questions (at least 5–10 more questions than the total number of students in class). After presenting background information on the text, I lead class discussion much like a game show. Working through the text, I ask the quiz questions, and the first student to raise his/her hand gets to attempt an answer. If correct, the student earns points for that day. If incorrect, another student can try to earn points for that question. Once a student earns points for that class period, he/she does not need to answer any more questions that day, giving other students opportunity to earn points. After the question is answered correctly, I lead a brief discussion of key themes and ideas related to that quiz question. For example, when discussing Antigone we talked about Natural Law theory, civil disobedience, what makes for a good ruler, disobeying parents while still honoring them, and the nature of true love.

The results? Thus far, the students are reading, they are discussing, and they are engaged each class. Even after students have earned points, most are still eager to answer other questions and participate in discussions. I have not ever had a freshmen class more engaged in reading and discussing such difficult texts. It’s working, and I couldn’t be happier or prouder of our students. If it can work for a freshman English course, it can work for history, sociology, bio-ethics, physics, microbiology, and chemical engineering. It just requires a revisioning of our pedagogies of reading and our practice of in-class discussions.

Contributor:
David Hogsette, PhD
Professor, English
Writing Coordinator, Old Westbury
http://www.davidhogsette.com

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 19, 2014

Peer and Self-Evaluation of Participation in Discussion

We often focus on presentation skills as oral communication skills, but students also need to learn skills for leading and contributing to productive group discussions. Small group discussions can easily go off the rails when students indulge in off-topic talking, inadequate listening, and disrespectful behavior. The dynamic quality of class discussion presents challenges to faculty who would like to hold students accountable for the quality of their participation in these discussions.

Multhaup (2008) describes how to prepare students for substantive class discussions and suggests two strategies for evaluating student contributions to class discussion. Many of these strategies can also be adapted for the online environment.

Establish ground rules for effective class discussion (first week of class)
Establish expectations for class discussions by facilitating a think-pair-share activity during the first week of the term.

  • Think. Ask students to reflect silently on the characteristics of great class discussions they’ve experienced and identify things that undermine a good discussion.
  • Pair. Students discuss their thoughts in pairs (not naming any specific courses, professors, or students).
  • Share. Bring the class together as a group and ask pairs to discuss the highlights of their discussion.

Use the comments from the group discussion to identify some ground rules and expectations for individual participation in class discussion during the remainder of the term.

Adaptation for online courses
Create a threaded discussion based on questions such as

  • What kinds of contributions to an online discussion make the thread worth reading?
  • What kinds of contributions help you learn course concepts?
  • What kinds of contributions are not helpful?

Peer evaluation of the quality of participation in discussion
Require students to complete a Participation Survey three or four times during the term. Each student must complete the following three evaluation elements for every student in the class, including themselves:

  1. [Student name]: needs to talk more / talks about the right amount / needs to talk less
  2. [Student name] 6-point rating of the quality of contributions to discussions (1 = unacceptable, added nothing to discussions, 6 = outstanding, comments in every class have been helpful)
  3. Open-ended comment about the student’s role either as a discussion facilitator or participant

Compile the collective (anonymous) feedback for individual students and distribute this feedback to each student. If necessary, edit comments or add your own comments.

Adaptation for online courses
Create an assignment or survey in Blackboard in which students answer these questions. You can make completion of the feedback a graded assignment (completed/not completed), compile the feedback information for individual students, and distribute this feedback through the course email function or provide it as feedback within Blackboard.
If you ask students to facilitate a discussion, gather peer feedback about this skill.

After each facilitated discussion, members of the discussion group complete a peer feedback survey for the discussion leader. The peer feedback answers the following questions:

  1. I was prepared for the discussion (true/false)
  2. The discussion leader was organized and prepared (6-point rating scale)
  3. The discussion leader asked good questions (6-point rating scale)
  4. The discussion/activity helped increase my understanding (6-point rating scale)
  5. Describe one thing the discussion leader did well
  6. What might the discussion leader have done differently to make the discussion better?
  7. Other comments (optional)
  8. Overall evaluation of today’s class (6-point rating scale)

Provide feedback several times during the term to enable students to improve their participation and discussion skills over time.

Resources:

  • Multhaup, K. S. (2008, Spring). Using class discussions to improve oral communication skills. Teaching Tips (APA Division 20 – Adult Development and Aging).

 

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. 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.

Contributor:
Claudia J. Stanny, PhD, Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida
http://uwf.edu/cutla

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 12, 2014

Found Metaphors: A Strategy of Applied Creative Thinking

As English professors in general, and creative writing instructors in particular, we have used the technique of found poetry to convince students that the printed word abounds with more poetry than most people are cognizant of. We assign students to read typical print sources (e.g., newspapers and magazines) as well as atypical print sources (e.g., advertisements and soup-can labels) in order to locate some examples of poetry (e.g., free verse or metered) or poetic technique (e.g., metaphor, metonymy, and caesura).

Now, in teaching applied creative thinking we’ve adapted the found poetry assignment into one involving found metaphors. As we say in Introduction to Applied Creative Thinking (Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press, 2012), a metaphor “is an effective creative strategy for learning about the unknown and gaining a perspective on it” (67). In Borrowing Brilliance (New York: Gotham Books, 2009), David Kord Murray elaborates that “a creative idea begins, either consciously or subconsciously, with a metaphor or analogy. By using a metaphor, a comparison of one thing with another, you intellectually connect the two things” (110). A found metaphor, then, begins by discovering an object (creativity theorists often refer to it as the “vehicle”) that elucidates a subject (something creativity theorists call the “tenor”).

Specifically, we ask students to locate on-campus objects that convey some of the fundamental and powerful concepts of creativity (e.g., perception shifting, collaborating, and piggybacking). To prime the pump we utilize our building. When the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity was constructed in the very center of the University’s Crabbe Library, two synchronistic events occurred, or maybe the construction of the Studio sensitized our own creative thinking. First, as plaster walls, stacks, and lofts were torn down, two covered-up skylights were found in the ceiling/roof. The cover of Introduction to Applied Creative Thinking, in fact, depicts a student with an iPad standing below one of these windows to the outside world. For us that complete concrete image suggests the tenor of creative thinking.

As the Noel Studio moved from concept to reality, a wooden spiral staircase was installed in the middle of the location. In the beginning, the spiral staircase suggested to us the tenor of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy and the movement up it the progress from lower-order thinking to the higher-order thinking. The more we went up and down the spiral staircase, however, the more we began to see another found metaphor. Our University’s SACS-necessitated Quality Enhancement Plan is that it “will graduate informed critical and creative thinkers who communicate effectively.” The spiral staircase suddenly seemed to look like the double helix used in biology to describe the structure of DNA, but for us the two strands envisioned were the inter-related critical and creative thinking.

Because found metaphors abound, the assignment can be adapted by any discipline.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. 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.

Contributors:
Charlie Sweet, Co-Director, Teaching & Learning Center
Hal Blythe, Co-Director, Teaching & Learning Center
Rusty Carpenter, Director, Noel Studio for Academic Creativity
Eastern Kentucky University
http://www.tlc.eku.edu

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 05, 2014

Get Your Students’ Perspectives

On Assessment Day, January 15, one of the topics under discussion was how to gather and use student input to gauge whether you are meeting student learning outcomes at the course- or program-levels. There were some interesting ideas shared:

  • In the College of Osteopathic Medicine, each cohort of students provide feedback at the end of each course. Faculty consider their comments and provide responses in writing. This format allows the faculty members to take time to consider the ideas, and prevents any feelings of being put “on the spot.” More often than not, the faculty incorporate suggestions from the students. If the suggestions seem inappropriate, then the faculty respond with the pedagogical rationale for their decisions.
  • The English department surveys both the students who take writing courses and the faculty members who teach the courses. It’s an interesting strategy, because the faculty can compare their perceptions with those of their students.
  • Larry Herman, chair of the Physician Assistant program, said that in his cohort-based program student representatives will discuss issues with the faculty members. This system preserves student anonymity and creates a constructive dialogue.

There are some simple ways that you, as an individual faculty member, can gather input as well. One of my favorite strategies is to use a Minute Paper, about one month into the semester. Five minutes before class ends, I ask each student to take out a blank piece of paper. This activity is anonymous, so they do not need to write their names down. I ask each student to answer two questions:

  1. What is helping you learn in this class?
  2. What would help you learn better?

Students can respond with things that I’m doing, or with things that they are doing. They drop their papers at the front of the room as they leave. It only takes a few minutes to look through them, and at the beginning of the next class, I spend a few minutes telling the students what I’ve learned. A couple of caveats:

  1. Make sure to “close the loop.” It’s absolutely essential to spend those few minutes debriefing the class. It tells the students that you care about what they have to say, and you take them seriously.
  2. Be prepared to change something. Actions speak louder than words. If you tell the class, for example, that “many of you said you’d like the handouts posted on Blackboard, so I’m going to start doing that,” you send a powerful message to the students. (See item 1.)
  3. You don’t have to change everything. It’s perfectly fine to tell the students that “although many of you asked for x, I’m not going to start doing that, and let me tell you why.” If you explain your pedagogical rationale to the students, you make them partners in the learning process. They’ll know you are not acting capriciously, and that there are good reasons for your decisions - reasons that have their learning in mind.
  4. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know! ’Nuff said.

To follow up on any of these ideas, or to discuss some other ways you can gather useful feedback from your students, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu.

Author: francine_glazer

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