As more and more faculty experiment with class blogs, Twitter assignments, and other ways to use social media to connect their students to a larger audience, small group videoconferencing may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Videoconferencing, with its familiar problems of delay and interference, can be tricky medium–especially when differences in time zone, schedules, and bandwidth are added to the equation. Add to this the uncertainties that come with introducing new voices to even a conventional classroom discussion, and you have a potentially challenging teaching situation.
On the other hand, small group discussion is a tried and true method for helping students to work through new concepts, solve problems, and practice both critical and creative thinking. It is a technique used extensively by Alisa Gaunder, Professor of Political Science at Southwestern University, and her colleague Sarah Wiliarty, Associate Professor of Government and Director of the Public Affairs Center at Wesleyan University, who recently discussed their parallel course, Germany and Japan: Losers of World War II? in an ACS-sponsored webinar. Gaunder and Wiliarty share more than a favorite teaching strategy, however. As graduate school colleagues at the University of California Berkeley, where Gaunder focused on twentieth century Japan and Wiliarty on twentieth century Germany, the two began taking an interest in one another’s work. Moving into their post-graduate careers, they continued to collaborate, developing a joint syllabus and authoring shared lectures for their Comparative Politics classes in their first year out of graduate school–just as they would eventually do for the Germany and Japan course. This extensive cooperation, they acknowledge, is only possible because of the deep level of trust they have built up over years of working together.
With syllabus and lectures in place, the next logical step for the Germany and Japan course was creating a joint assignment–one that would benefit students in both classes but would also fit their varying profiles (Gaunder’s students were primarily upper level Political Science majors, whereas Wiliarty’s class was composed of a mix of sophomore and junior majors, as well as some non-majors). Their first thought was to host a class-to-class videoconference, but they soon discovered their campuses weren’t necessarily equipped to support this in a clear, reliable format. But then came another idea, based on years of successfully using small group discussion in their classes: why not use Google Hangouts–a free, easy-to-use videoconferencing platform–to facilitate a series of discussions between small groups of students at each campus?
For the first such meeting, students prepared by reading an assigned article, then gathered in their around a designated terminal and invited their remote counterparts to the videoconference. Each group played the role of a particular German or Japanese political party, responding to questions about their party’s platform and history. The second meeting was organized by issue, mixing student “representatives” from various political parties who described their party’s position on key issues and how it has changed over time. During both meetings, Gaunder, Wiliarty, and the IT staff providing support for the project circulated between groups, listening and guiding the conversation just as they might in a typical classroom setting. Both found it useful to include a debriefing session with students after each video conversation to review what had happened and what was learned, though it was not always possible to do so immediately afterwards.
In the end, Gaunder and Wiliarty found that the experience replicated many of the same benefits of face-to-face small groups–giving students and chance to listen, articulate, and rearticulate new concepts and information–as well as many of the advantages of bringing “visitors” into the discussion, with different perspectives and experience brought to bear on the same material. The new medium, and perhaps also the excitement of connecting with peers on a distant campus, motivated the students, by their own admission, to prepare and participate more fully in the discussion. The group also learned, from experience, that holding multiple discussions in the same space was difficult, due to interference and a lack of available ethernet connections. But even so, they plan to try these conversation again. The connection to other learners sparked a new enthusiasm in their students and helped them feel both accountable for what they were learning and excited about what they could teach. And that is certainly an experience worth repeating.
To learn more about this project, read this article in Southwestern University’s Newsroom.
Recently, Dr. Michael Dillon, Chair of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages at Morehouse College, discussed how he is using an open source course management software called Moodle (Modular Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) to design new learning experiences for students and gather data that can be used in departmental assessment. Among the many benefits he described are the program’s easy set-up (including no licensing or fees), the ability to control and manipulate all data gathered through tests, quizzes, and other assignments, and the possibility for creating digital learning environments (including discussion boards and glossaries) in which students can learn collaboratively. Dr. Dillon also created a sample Moodle space in which language faculty can test some of the available features–please contact Amanda Hagood at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in getting involved.
The Associated Colleges of the South is pleased to announce the revival of the Circuit Riders Program, which will offer up to $1000 in funding to sponsor peer-to-peer training workshops for ACS technology professionals. Building on the success of the faculty-to-faculty training model practiced in its earlier incarnation (1997-2005), the new program will be focused on the professional development of faculty and staff working in academic technology at ACS institutions. Many of our IT departments are already overburdened with service requests and maintenance duties, lacking the additional time needed to master new technologies or determine best practices for service delivery. This initiative, which provides incentives for ACS staff to develop workshops to be delivered at partnering campuses, will supply a cost-effective alternative to hiring expensive outside consultants and will promote further communication and collaboration between our institutions.
January 2014. Each participating department will complete a brief survey assessing its interest in and potential contributions to the program.
February 2014. The ACS will work with participating institutions to identify and develop potential Circuit Rider & Host Campus partnerships.
March-May 2014. Participants will submit a 1-2 page proposal identifying potential Circuit Riders and Host Campuses, describing activities to be completed under the grant, and outlining all project expenses in a simple itemized budget. Grant funds may be used to cover travel costs and the development of training materials for either virtual or in-person workshops. Grant activities must include the development of at least one sharable digital resource (e.g. tutorial, list of resources, etc). Proposals should be sent to Amanda Hagood (email@example.com) no later than Friday, May 16, 2014.
July-November 2014. Funds for selected proposals will be made available as of July 1, 2014. All workshop activities should include an assessment component.
December 2014. Participating institutions will submit a 2-3 page report describing project activities and assessing their impact and effectiveness.
GUIDELINES FOR FUNDING:
Stipends. The ACS will grant a $500 workshop development stipend to Circuit Riders (individuals or groups) for preparing and delivering a workshop (virtual or face-to-face).
Travel. The ACS will cover up to $500 in travel expenses to cover each Circuit Rider’s or Circuit Riders’ travel to a host campus (or campuses).
Host Campus Expenses. Each host campus will be responsible for covering additional workshop related expenses, including: food and supplies for training sessions, as well as accommodations and local transportation for Circuit Riders. Any planned expenditures in this category should be noted under a separate heading in the project budget.
Please direct any questions about the Circuit Riders Program to Amanda Hagood, Director of Blended Learning Programs (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Making Connections: Interdisciplinary Learning with Lecture Capture and Blogs
Supporting interdisciplinary learning has long been a priority at liberal arts colleges–in fact, one could argue that interdisciplinary is central to the liberal arts mission itself. But for all their importance, interdisciplinary learning opportunities can be surprisingly difficult to create and sustain. It is often not enough simply to expose students to new ideas or methods of analysis; to understand a new way of thinking, students may need space for interaction, time to process new information and ask questions, and opportunities for applying new methods of analysis.
These are precisely the elements Dr. Rachel Simmons (Professor of Art and Art History, Rollins College) and Dr. Laura Hobgood-Oster (Professor of Religion, Southwestern University) attempted to create in bringing together their classes, Landscape Art (Simmons) and Animals and Environmental Justice (Hobgood-Oster). While both courses were already a part of the professors’ established teaching repertoire, the two educators felt a certain need for enrichment. Simmons, for instance, wanted to provide her students with a vocabulary of ethics they could use in examining how nature is portrayed in landscape art, whereas Hobgood-Oster felt her students could benefit from the ability to examine critically images associated with environmental justice. Their solution, facilitated through an ACS Blended Learning Grant, was to bring their May 2012 courses through captured video “guest lectures” and a shared class blog. Each created a specialized lecture which, together with selected readings, was shared with her partner’s students and further explored in class discussions. Simmons’s students also shared much of their artwork, as well as progress reports about how their perspective on landscape art was evolving, on the class blog Art and Nature.
Each of these elements, though used different by each faculty member, had a noticeable impact on the course. Hobgood-Oster recalled the excitement of watching Simmons’s lecture, “The Ideal and the Real,” with her students in class, slowly unpacking and exploring it as they might a printed text. Simmons, who assigned Hobgood-Oster’s lecture “Environmental Justice and Animals” as homework early in the course, noticed her students’ growing awareness of environmental justice issues within the landscapes they studied throughout the semester, reflected in both their progress reports and their course evaluations. The lectures, crafted by using Apple Keynote to add each instructor’s voice-over to a PowerPoint presentation, were both easy and challenging to create; while both found the technology itself relatively simple to use, transforming the face-to-face lecture into a compelling lesson meant to be viewed alone required much more preparation. As Hobgood-Oster noted, face-to-face lectures, with their potential for questions, interruptions, and changes in course, risk falling flat when “canned” and reproduced on the small screen. Instead, each partner worked to create a presentation that would be visually compelling and information-dense. One interesting advantage of captured lectures, though, is their reusability. Simmons has already assigned “Environmental Justice and Animals” in a second class, and, as she points out, students watching assigned lectures will often “pause and rewind” to go over more difficult points once again.
Both Simmons and Hobgood-Oster felt that an important part of this project lay in the idea of enrichment. Although their courses were not fully integrated with one another, the lectures and blog helped introduce students to a new way of thinking about and discussing environmental issues, adding a new dimension to each new topic approached in their courses. For faculty considering an interdisciplinary and/or insterinstitutional collaboration, but unsure of how to begin, Hobgood-Oster and Simmons felt their collaboration was a very satisfying starting point, introducing some important new concepts to each group of students and opening exciting new questions to pursue.
Digital Storytelling and the L2 Curriculum
Dr. Felix Kronenberg, Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures and Director of the Language Learning Center at Rhodes College, made an excellent case for the effectiveness of digital storytelling as tool for language learning in a recent ACS webinar. Broadly defining digital storytelling as the process of pairing images with students’ writing or speech, Kronenberg demonstrated a wide range of possibilities for assignments, including everything from video diaries in which students practice a new language by describing their daily experience across a semester (using a simple software such as VoiceThread), to comic strips that overlay images with student-generated scripts, to machinima–the practice of putting an original audio track over a borrowed video clip. In one unique project (the “That’s How I Got to Memphis Project”), Kronenberg asked students to interview immigrants in the Memphis community about their experience of learning to live in a new culture, then create a short film using material gathered from those interviews.
For a closer look, and to access links to further information, see Kronenberg’s presentation Digital Storytelling and the L2 Curriculum.
ACS CIO Hangout with David Hinson (Hendrix), Bob Johnson (Rhodes), Vicki Sells (Sewanee), and Pat Schoknecht (Rollins)
This has been a busy semester for the Chief Information Officers of the Associated Colleges of the South. But even in the midst of their many responsibilities–managing a wide array of information services on their campuses, evaluating new technology solutions, and working with a myriad of campus groups–the CIOs are finding time to just “hang out” with one another. More precisely, they are using Google+ Hangouts to host intercampus conversations about everything from learning management systems to information privacy concerns to the need for recognizing and respecting individual campus cultures when introducing new technologies. This dialog has been supported by Hendrix’s Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer David Hinson, who is using a new version of the Hangouts platform–Hangouts on Air–to open these hangouts to viewers across the consortium and to make recordings of all past conversations available through an ACS CIO Hangouts YouTube page.
This new energy also buzzed throughout the meeting of Instructional Technology personnel (representing ten different ACS institutions) that gathered at Rollins College to do just that. This collection of Chief Information Officers, instructional technologists, and library staff, convened by Rollins’ CIO, Pat Schoknecht, spent two days discussing IT needs and strategies, exciting new projects, and possibilities for future partnership.
The conference began with a tour of Rollins that highlighted several new teaching and learning spaces on campus. A common theme running through the design of these new classrooms and laboratories is adaptability: many feature modular furniture that can be easily rearranged to suit a variety of learning activities, or “whiteboard” walls that can be used for note taking and diagramming. Some are equipped with large monitors which can display not only the contents of an instructor’s screen, but also that of students’ computers, offering a high-tech twist on the time-honored technique of pairing and sharing. Each of these spaces is designed to allow students greater access to information and new tools for creating, analyzing, and collaborating.
Participants then listened to a series of presentations highlighting exemplary work on each of their campuses. Topics included new teaching and learning spaces, strategies for addressing information services needs and technology training, and software solutions for data storage and departmental assessment. As participants listened and learned from one another, enthusiasm grew. The many challenges of this moment, they agreed, are the material for exciting collaborations ahead. Look below for a listing of presenters and topics, and links.The Relationship between Librarians and Instructional Technologists Jonathan Miller, Library Director, Rollins College Rhodes Helpdesk: Blending Library and IT to Help Campuswide Wendy Trenthem, Rhodes College Collaborating to Redesign Library Spaces for Students Candace Wentz, Centre College Davidson’s Center for Teaching and Learning Paul Brantley, Davidson College Digital Storytelling Across the Liberal Arts Fred Hagemeister, University of Richmond When HD Videoconferencing and MondoPads Enter the Scene Jan Pontia and Anthony Hambey, Birmingham-Southern College Lessons Learned from Designing and Teaching and Blended Learning Certificate Program Anna Lohaus, Rollins College The Many Uses of WordPress Jessica Vargas, Rollins College 3D Printing as a Means Toward Visual Spatial Learning Fred Hagemeister, University of Richmond FolioTek Amy Sugar, Rollins College Introducing a Moodle Upgrade with Lunch and Learns Wendy Trenthem, Rhodes College P2Ps, MAWs, and FITIs Carrie Schulz, Rollins College Qualtrics and Camtasia Relay Greg Longoria, Trinity University BOXing the Cloud Michael Vick, Furman University
When was the last time you found yourself thumbing through a writing handbook? Whether it’s a style manual, a new standard such as They Say, I Say (Graff & Birkenstein), or even the time-honored Strunk & White, such handbooks are still very much a part of how we learn (and teach our students) to write. All writers need such a reference occasionally, and for maturing writers, guidelines about how to structure arguments, smooth and strengthen transitions, and properly cite evidence can be absolutely vital. But, as Joe Essid, Director of the University of Richmond’s Writing Center, pointed out in a recent ACS webinar, the printed handbook is perhaps no longer the most effective way to reach today’s learners.
This was a lessen well learned for Joe and the other creators of the University of Richmond’s Writers’s Web, an online reference for Richmond’s students. When Writer’s Web first began, in 1992, it looked much like the pages of a print handbook, with topic pages accessible through a listing of links. Indeed, at that point, many of the resources were designed with printing in mind. But within a few years, this idea began to evolve: rather than a digital version of a print-oriented text, Joe and his colleagues envisioned resource that would, in some measure, duplicate the experience of being in the classroom. Instead of many paragraphs of text, it could have a lively mini-lecture; instead of a form to print and fill out, it could have a short quiz. Assisted in part by and ACS Blended Learning Grant, Joe and his colleague David Wright (Furman University) began to produce items such as The Thesis Statement: Where to End, Not Begin and The Thesis Statement Exercise, which give us an exciting look at the interactive possibilities of web resources.
This change in form also brought with it some important assumptions about how students would use Writer’s Web. Beyond learning how to argue, cite, and structure sentences, students may have even more basic questions about what writing means within a particular writing context. A student may be confused, for example, about why what “works” in a history paper does not work in a writing assignment for biology class. Influenced by the research of, among others, Keith Hjortshoj (The Transition to College Writing)–who argues that we should understand students’ perspective on first year of college writing as a web of occasionally conflicting obligations and expectations–Writer’s Web sought to become a space where faculty can articulate disciplinary expectations. The Writing in the Disciplines section provides a wealth of written resources and student-produced videos that help outline these important conventions. Before the conversation had ended, too, participants had suggested even more perspectives to add: what, for instance, might seniors or majors be able to offer in the way of advice to first year writers? Look for more additions as the web continues to grow.
And for now, enjoy paging–or clicking–through this exciting new handbook: The University of Richmond’s Writer’s Web.
As part of a new ACS webinar series on teaching with technology in the language instruction classroom, Anna Lohaus of Rollins College share her experience with e-portfolios. She described how she has used them to help students compile a dynamic and attractive portfolio of written and oral work that can serve not only as a record of achievement, but a useful item to share with potential employers. Anna also showed us how e-portfolios adapt easily to the assessment process, allowing instructors to enter criteria into an easy-to-use rubric, create random samples of student work, and easily generate statistical analyses of student performance. Best of all, she shared the digital sandbox she and her colleagues at Rollins have created for faculty to experiment with this and other new technologies that will be discussed in the series, as well as a sample of student portfolios.
Recent scholarship on teaching and learning has made a strong case for why we should flip our classrooms. We know that moving some tasks that traditionally take place in class–lectures and demonstrations, for instance–into an online environment can leave more time in class for hands-on, higher order learning tasks, such as applications and problem-solving, and that doing so can create appreciable gains in student learning. But less has been said about how we should flip our classrooms: which learning experiences work best in an online environment, and how can we, as educators, design these online elements to support meaningful learning?
Mike Winiski, Associate Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Furman University, and Jeremy Donald, Technology Interface and Assessment Coordinator at Trinity University, are exploring this question in their GIS (Geographic Information Systems) courses. In a recent ACS webinar, Winiski and Donald described their collaborative effort to create online tutorials to help students learn to understand and analyze complex maps. For them, the Kolb Learning Cycle, which emphasizes the importance of building abstract concepts upon the experience and knowledge students bring to the classroom, has been a major inspiration for rethinking their teaching. While a typical lesson on maps might start by introducing important concepts or terms in map-making, a Kolb-informed lesson might instead start with looking at a map itself–a “concrete experience” that leads into conversation about what the map might represent, how we arrived at that particular interpretation (“reflective observation”), and how mapmakers measure and visualize the information they wish to show (“abstract conceptualization”).
Winiski and Donald demonstrated this learning process firsthand by presenting a map with all its indices removed, then asking the webinar audience not only to guess what was being represented, but to describe the experiences, be it cross-country travel or observation about their local environment, that lead to those guesses. Only after we had engaged in a thoughtful conversation about all that the map could represent (agricultural land holdings and poverty rates were popular guesses) did they reveal the surprising results! Having practiced making and explaining our observations, we were so much the more ready to grapple with the complex question of how this mysterious index was measured and defined.
But what happens when you take this emphasis on experience online, and how do you know which stages of the learning process work best in an online environment versus a face-to-face environment? Though content-heavy items, such as recorded lectures, may seem like a natural fit for out-of-class study (not unlike a homework assignment from a print textbook), the collaborators have found that using such items for students’ first exposure to a new topic can be counterproductive. Introducing abstract concepts online has all the normal pitfalls of doing so in person, with none of the safeguards of sharing a face-to-face environment–such as instructor supervision, switching to a different mode of teaching, or moving into small groups. Indeed, as Winiski argues in a recent blog post, The Flipped Classroom: Traps and Before the Lecture,
As we create flipped experiences for students, we’re bound to have a laser-like focus on the quality of the recorded lectures, making it easy to lose sight of the importance of contextualizing those lectures—either within the lecture itself or with activities beforehand. The best pre-lecture activities leave students perplexed and wanting to know more, but also help them situate what’s to come with what they’ve already learned. Maybe the experience unravels a misconception. Perhaps it oversimplifies a complex topic and encourages the student to develop probing questions.
Accordingly, the collaborators’ GIS tutorials emphasize personal interaction, exploring maps in a conversational way and providing questions for students to answer. These tutorials are then followed by a classroom experience that includes discussion, evaluating the usefulness of the same maps, and working in groups to develop a guideline for mapmaking based on what has been learned so far. This is followed by an application-based homework assignment that allows students to try their newly-developed guidelines on a new set of maps. The entire cycle is infused with the progression of the Kolb Cycle, and inspired by Dan Meyer’s call to bring the fun and creativity of real-world problem solving into academic learning.
As compelling as their example is, the Winiski and Donald both underscored the point that each instructor considering a flipped classroom needs to determine for herself what part of the course should be moved online. The flipped classroom is not just a strategy for creating more class time for certain kinds of learning activities; it is also a chance to rethink what it means to effectively engage students in multiple environments.
A few useful resources the presenters shared for thinking through the flipped classroom are:
Design for How People Learn. Julie Dirksen. 2011.
Team-Based Learning: The Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching. Edited by Larry K. Michaelsen , Arletta Bauman Knight , & L. Dee Fink.
Teaching with Your Mouth Shut. Donald L. Finkel. 2000.
What are the greatest barriers to conducting interdisciplinary and interinstitutional research in the science classroom? The answers to this question, according to participants in a recent NSF and ACS sponsored workshop at Birmingham-Southern College, are quite familiar to anyone immersed in academic work: time, funding, and the difficulty of finding suitable collaborators. But in the short space of two days, workshop organizers Pamela Hanson and Laura Stultz found exciting and creative ways of addressing all three. With participants representing fifteen different colleges and universities (including eight ACS institutions), Hanson and Stultz lead a program that included a discussion of the benefits of and barriers to collaborative, problem-based research in the classroom and a tour through digital tools for collaboration with NITLE‘s Bryan Alexander. Examples of some successful interinstitutional research projects were discussed, including Karen Kuers’s work with the Ecological Research as Education Network and the collaborative research on ruthenium complexes conducted by Hanson, Stultz, and Mary Miller (Rhodes), along with a review of options for funding this type of work. The workshop also included ample opportunities for break-out sessions by research interest, allowing new project ideas to percolate among participants.
Together, attendees tested some new technologies for collaboration, such as Skype sessions with potential research partners, lecture capture for the flipped classroom, and a videoconference conversation in ‘Southern’s brand new tech-ready classroom. Each participant also contributed to a workshop wiki that will now serve as the basis for further interest group collaboration. Perhaps the most challenging part of this busy and productive meeting was the scavenger hunt that Hanson and Stultz arranged, charging each research interest group to practice using the wiki by collecting and uploading images of campus sights–some easier to spot than others!