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Feb 29, 2012

Which Tool? ...  Blackboard? Google Apps? Something else?

Yesterday, the Center for Teaching and Learning hosted a workshop on digital tools that can be used to enhance learning. Four faculty members with expertise in Blackboard (Bb) and Google Apps shared some strategies they use to increase student engagement and learning and answered questions from the other participants about how to achieve certain pedagogical goals using these tools. Here, I share some of the ideas generated at the workshop. Thanks to Dan Quigley, College of Arts and Sciences, and to Kate O’Hara, Stan Silverman, and Mike Uttendorfer, all in the School of Education, for sharing their experiences.

Our panelists prefer Google Apps as a tool for facilitating group work. Do you want your students to write a paper or create a presentation collaboratively? Edit one another’s writing? Collect and analyze data? Google Sites or Google Documents can be used to organize contributions from multiple students, much as you might use the wiki tool in Blackboard. Google Docs includes a word processor, a presentation tool, a spreadsheet, and a form generator that deposits information into a spreadsheet.

Google Forms are especially versatile – the four faculty on the panel use the tool for attendance, for gathering information in one place (e.g., students' choice of topics for papers), for quizzes and anonymous surveys, and as a way for students to get to know one another. This last technique is employed by Stan Silverman, who asks students to answer a series of questions about themselves. All the students can view each others' responses on the spreadsheet, and Stan uses their responses to selected questions in the survey as a way to sort his students into groups.

Blackboard does have tools for groups, and many of those tools can link directly to the grade center. However, as Mike Uttendorfer pointed out, if students are sharing documents back and forth the groups tool in Bb will result in multiple copies of a document at different stages of completion, while Google Apps will maintain a single document, with a history of changes and the ability to revert to an earlier version. 

One innovative idea for integrating the two suites of tools is to embed the Google documents, drawings, forms, etc. on a content page in Bb.  Kate O’Hara, who shared this idea, said it makes the Bb pages more visually appealing to students, and the students can use Google Apps from within the Bb environment. This strategy has the added advantage of giving the student a wider variety of tools to use, and familiarity with Google Apps gives them a skill they can use in a professional setting.

One of the recurring themes during the workshop was how to organize course materials. Mike Uttendorfer does this within Bb by creating a content page for each week/unit of the course, and giving that page a consistent structure each week. The page starts with a weekly 'roadmap' that includes the learning objectives, activities, resources, and approximate time required to complete each task. Folders on the page keep resource materials and activities grouped together, and each unit ends with a self-assessment for the students, so they can gauge their mastery of the material. Frequent use of anonymous surveys helps Mike gather feedback about the course design and any difficulties the students might be having with the material.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth an essay. Several of the faculty use short screencasts to give students a tour of the virtual environment, directions on how to do things, feedback on student work, and to convey content. Dan Quigley asks his students to use a free screencasting tool (two popular tools are Jing – – and Screencast-O-Matic – to provide narration for a slide presentation, as a way to move student presentations online. It is a good idea to provide students with several options when using this approach, because the computers they have at home are going to have a range of ability with respect to the technologies they can support.

A third thread to the conversation was synchronous activities. Students learn best with a blend of asynchronous and synchronous activities – regardless of whether the synchronous activities occur online or in person – especially when the learning that happens in one venue is reinforced in the other. We had a wide-ranging discussion of different tools that are available, each of which has different strengths and limitations. Dan Quigley made an excellent point: when starting out, keep your (and your students') expectations realistic. If you want to experiment with a synchronous online format like a webinar, it might be best to do so as an enhancement to a course that meets in person – that way if the technology doesn't work as advertised, you have the regular class meeting as a backup.

As you can see, there are lots of choices out there. Ultimately, the best choice is the one that allows you to answer “yes” to these questions:

  • Does this tool measurably improve teaching and learning?
  • Will this tool help my students become more engaged with the course material?
  • Does this tool make my work or that of my students easier and more efficient?
  • Is this tool "better enough" than what I am currently using to justify the time and effort required to learn it?

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 22, 2012

Make Your PowerPoint Memorable With Images


Ever receive an email with one of those High Importance icons brightening your Inbox? The icon, being more visual than the printed word, indicates something powerful to the brain. Maybe that’s why those gold stars we all craved on our elementary school papers meant so much to us.

Humans are visual learners. Most of us have learned to apply that principle to our PowerPoints (PPTs), but we’d like to suggest another addition to your PPTs that is sure to improve deep learning and student learning outcomes.

In Learning to Think Things Through (2009), Gerald Nosich defines fundamental and powerful concepts as “those basic concepts that lie at the heart of a discipline or course” (198). Beginning each class with the key concept(s) you’ll be discussing is an excellent way to provide a framework for the day’s material.

So here’s our tip for making those key concepts—and your PPTs—memorable. One way you can minimize PPT clutter while magnifying student learning is through images. On your PPTs, get in the habit of starting each day with a slide that lists those key concepts. And to make your students metacognitive, let them know these introductory concepts are key by adding an image beside them.

For instance, since we want to hammer our students over the head with key concepts, we accompany them with an image of Mjollnir, so whenever they see the hammer of the Norse god Thor beside a key concept, they know—in their terms—it will be on the test.

Now what would happen to student learning if every course in our discipline, our college, or even our university adopted the same PPT symbol? That’s an inquiry for another time.

  • Nosich, Gerald. (2009). Learning to Think Things Through. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall.
  • New York Public Library Digital Gallery (“NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 700,000 images digitized from the The New York Public Library's vast collections, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more.”  
  • U.S. Government Photos and Images ( treasure trove of images in different areas. “Some of these photos and images are available for use in the public domain, and they may be used and reproduced without permission or fee. However some photos and images may be protected by license. We strongly recommend you thoroughly read the disclaimers on each site before use.” 
  • The Morgue File (“Public image archive for creatives by creatives. ... Free images for your inspiration, reference and use in your creative work, be it commercial or not!” See for a summary of their usage policy. 
  • The Commons on Flickr (“The key goals of The Commons on Flickr are to firstly show you hidden treasures in the world's public photography archives, and secondly to show how your input and knowledge can help make these collections even richer. ... Under "The Commons," cultural institutions that have reasonably concluded that a photograph is free of copyright restrictions are invited to share such photographs under their new usage guideline called "no known copyright restrictions." 
  • Stock.XCHNG ( by Getty Images, this site contains nearly 400,000 free stock photos, searchable by keyword/categories or tags.


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 sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet
Teaching and Learning Center
Eastern Kentucky University

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 15, 2012

Focused Listing

Have you ever wondered, at the end of a class session, if your students are leaving class with a real grasp of the day’s content? 

The Focused Listing activity from Classroom Assessment Techniques (2nd edition) can help with this dilemma.  Preparation and follow-up for a Focused Listing activity is minimal, and the potential payoff is big: you quickly learn what the students recall from the class, and you have an opportunity to correct popular misconceptions and areas of confusion. 
First, run through the activity yourself:
1)    Set a limit for the number of items to record (5-10) or the amount of time allotted (3-5 minutes) to create the list.
2)    Write down the main ideas from the class session. Completing the Focused Listing yourself will allow you to confirm whether the main ideas of the day’s class are in fact the most important points, and creates an answer key you can use when reviewing student responses.
3)    Check that your limits are realistic, and revise if necessary. Keep in mind that your students may identify a smaller number of concepts or require extra time because they are novices with the material. 
At the end of a class session, have the students complete the Focused Listing activity. Collect their anonymous responses and review the answers by sorting them into “on target” or “still confused” piles to determine how well students are recalling the main points.
At the beginning of the next class session, review your findings with the students.  List the main ideas from the previous class as you had listed them previously, and be sure to include some of the ideas students provided that were not on your list, but were still relevant. When students see their work included in the summary, it’s a powerful motivator! If there are one or two concepts that very few students identified, take a minute or two to review them.
The Focused Listing activity can help students in several ways:
  • Paying attention
  • Concentration
  • Memory skills
  • Listening skills
  • Note taking skills
  • Study skills
  • Factual recall of the course
  • Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2 ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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 sponsored by Western Kentucky University.
David Sacks
Faculty/Instructional Consultant
University of Kentucky

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 08, 2012

Grade Mechanics Quickly, While Helping Students Learn


When you give your students a writing assignment, tell them that you will be grading them on mechanics by choosing only one page (but you don't tell them which page) from the assignment to note their mechanical errors. On that page, you will be putting a check in the left (or right) margin in line for each error without identifying what the error is or correcting it.

You set the standard in your rubric of how many errors on the page will affect the grade in what ways (e.g., 0-5 errors = 20 points gained for mechanics, 5-10errors = 15 pts. gained, 10-15 errors = 10 pts., 15-20 errors = 5 pts., more than 20 errors = 0 pts.)

After returning the graded assignments to your students, make the required follow-up assignment of identifying and correcting all the mechanical errors (or as many as students possibly can) they have made on that page to gain back points they lost. They will get credit only for accurate correction. So students are motivated to get the mechanics right the first time, you should give them only half the value of the points they lost for each correction.

Tell the students to make their corrections on the actual page of the paper in a different color ink (or pencil) than black and the color you used. Give them three to four days to complete this follow-up assignment and provide them with references to one or more sources of English-language/writing handbooks. (The web has a variety of them.) Of course, you really don't care who or what they consult to identify and correct the errors.

When you collect these corrected pages, you need only look at the number of checkmarks you made in the margin and the number of correct corrections made. And the students will remember errors they looked up and corrected and won't want to repeat the errors again.

On the next paper, select another page for this procedure. Chances are that you won't see a student repeating the same errors. This second (and the third and the fourth) time around, you will catch new errors, and your students will teach themselves additional mechanics lessons.


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 sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D., Director
Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation
Clemson University

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 01, 2012

Tips for Gathering and Responding to Student Feedback

“Students say that the experience of having their opinions, reactions, and feelings solicited regularly, and addressed publicly, is one crucial reason for their coming to trust a teacher.” – Stephen Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher, pg. 49.

One of the best ways to find out if students are learning is to ask them. Whether you use an in-class activity or an out-of-class assignment, there are several efficient and effective ways to gather student feedback in order to gauge their learning. Check out a few options below:

Option # 1: The Minute Paper
At the beginning or the end of class, ask students a question about their learning and have them write for one minute in response. Possible questions include: what is the most challenging concept we have covered thus far in the course? What questions do you still have about topic X? or What has been your favorite activity of the course thus far? Student responses to these questions can help you shape your use of content, help you gauge students’ understanding, and influence your choices for the next time you teach the course.

Option # 2: The Cover Letter
The next time your students hand in an assignment, ask them to provide a “cover letter” in which they talk about the process of the assignment. You might ask your students to discuss particular obstacles they encountered or “ah-ha” moments they experienced. This kind of feedback helps both your students and you focus on the process of learning in addition to the final product.

Option # 3: “One-Month-In” Feedback
About one-fourth of the way into the semester, ask students to respond anonymously to three questions: what is helping them learn? What is hindering their learning? And what about the course would they like to see change? Make sure to respond to this student feedback in the following class and talk about patterns that you noticed in what is working and what might need adjustment in the course.

For each of these options, one of the most important things that you can do is respond. Make sure to spend a few minutes at the beginning of the next class meeting summarizing what you learned and responding to concerns raised by the students. Whether or not you make changes, students like to know that they have been heard.

  • Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Brookfield, S. D. (1990). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers, San Francisco, CA.

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 sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Kathryn Linder, PhD
Assistant Director, Center for Teaching Excellence
Suffolk University

Author: francine_glazer

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Fred Harris (B.S. ’08, M.B.A. ’10) Fred Harris
Class of 2008, 2010
Profession: Senior manager at professional services firm Deloitte in Long Island, N.Y.
Bill Blazey (D.O. ’05) Bill Blazey
Class of 2005
Profession: Assistant professor, Dept. of Family Medicine, College of Osteopathic Medicine/faculty associate NYIT Center for Global Health
Amanjeet (AJ) Singh Amanjeet (AJ) Singh
Campus: Manhattan
Major: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Class Of: 2017