Upcoming Events

The Texas Language Consortium. 4/25/14 @ 2pm Central / 3pm Eastern. Silke Feltz (Schreiner University) will discuss her experience teaching shared language courses via high-definition video conference, as well as the structure of the five-college language course sharing program.

Moving Beyond Moving Online

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.

The Transition to College WritingThis 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.

E-Portfolios for Student Engagement and Assessment

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.

Blended Learning: A Design-Based Approach

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?


The Kolb Learning Cycle. From http://www.regis.edu.

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”).

lust mapWiniski 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.


Detail from Blended Learning: A Design Based Approach

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.


Detail from Blended Learning: A Design-Based Approach.

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:

Unknown-11Unknown-10Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom.  2011 (1997).Unknown-9



Design for How People Learn. Julie Dirksen. 2011.

Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom.  John C. Bean. 2011 (1997).

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 ShutDonald L. Finkel. 2000.

Establishing and Expanding Research Networks

Pam and Survey results

Workshop participants listen as Pamela Hanson outlines the results of a pre-workshop survey on interdisciplinary and interinstitutional research.

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.

Bryan and Lifesize

NITLE’s Bryan Alexander gives a demonstration of the new LifeSize videoconferencing equipment.

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!

Read more about the workshop here. For more information about the ACS’s Blended Learning Grant program, see our Program Guidelines.

sculpture capitallantern

Transformations explores the role of games in liberal education

A new issue of NITLE’s newly-revived publication, Transformations, explores the emerging field of games in higher education–not just learning about games as cultural artifacts, but learning with games as pedagogical tools. The issue includes interviews and articles from educators in a wide variety of contexts, from foreign language instruction to libraries, profiling both successful experiments and lessons learned.  Ed Webb’s article “Learning (Together) with Games: Civilization and Empire” offers a particularly interesting view into how games reinforce the pedagogy of active learning, while changing the landscape of the classroom.

Teaching with Twitter: How, When, and Why

Check out the conversation on Twitter: @ACSLearning

On Sept. 26th, the ACS Blended Learning Collaboration kicked off its monthly webinar series with an in-depth look at how one ACS professor is using Twitter-based assignments to teach the all-important skill of close reading in his Religious Studies courses. “It may be a little counter-intuitive that a platform based on 140 characters can help you with making close reading a priority,” said Dr. Robert Williamson, Jr. of Hendrix College, “but it really does.” In fact, he explained, Twitter has helped him to accomplish a number of important course objectives and learning goals, including: teaching students how to make claims about a text or a topic (and to engage the claims of other students), increasing contact time with students, and creating a space in which the ideas of quieter students can come into class discussion.

Williamson, who teaches courses on a wide range of Biblical traditions, has used Twitter-based assignments in two classes so far, with good results. (To help his students learn to use Twitter, he has also created a series of short instructional videos). He favors assignments that take place outside of class, such as having students synthesize the view of God expressed by Qohelet (the “teacher” of Ecclesiastes) within the short, succinct space of a Tweet, using a common hashtag. He can then pull up the virtual discussion that results in the next class meeting, or even organize students’ Tweets into relevant categories by using Storify (a social network service that allows you to create stories or timelines out of material on Facebook, Twitter, etc). He also integrates Twitter with more traditional assignments, sending students to the library to research secondary sources on course texts, then boil the claims they find down into Tweet-sized summaries. These Tweets then become the basis for continuing discussion both in and out of class. He has used Twitter to create more public variations on common in-class activities, such as having students Tweet the most important point (or muddiest point) in a given day’s discussion, and he has also tried having students follow the Tweets of experts in the field–bridging into the important question of how social media is beginning to change the face of scholarly communication.

All told, these experiments have been very successful. In their evaluations, students enjoy the way the Twitter assignments broaden class discussion, giving quieter students a means to participate more fully in class discussion. Though some students feel limited by the brevity of Tweets as a means of communication, Williamson–and many of his students–feel that this constraint actually challenges them to use words more precisely and intelligently. Students also remark that having a publicly-accessible record of what they’ve contributed makes class discussion seem more relevant and more present in their everyday lives, building the connection between classroom and world. Bridging that gap–either by bringing social media into academic work, or by inspiring students to act on what they have learned–is an important part of Williamson’s personal pedagogy. He works to create a classroom in which “student, text, and world can interact, collide, and wrestle with one another in ways that illuminate new possibilities for both interpretation and action,” and Twitter has given him a powerful new platform for doing just that.

Our discussion also touched on issues such as how to manage academic vs. personal Twitter accounts (Williamson uses a separate profile, @skepscrip, for his classes), time management and Twitter assignments, accounting for students’ access to the web, and using Twitter-based applications such as #VINE (which allows you to show short, looping videos) and Tweetdeck (which allows you to create categories for navigating and viewing the Twitter stream). Williamson also shared some excellent resources, including:

Twitter How-To Videos (created by Williamson for his classes)

Teaching with Twitter: 5 Resources for Getting Started (five articles that have shaped Williamson’s approach to teaching with Twitter)

Please feel free to watch, share, and comment–we’re eager to hear about your experiences with social media in the classroom.

ACS Blended Learning Collaboration hosts its first webinar


9:26 splash screenSocial Media in the Classroom: Extending the Learning Community  will raise the question of social media’s place in the liberal arts classroom.  Dr. Robert Williamson, Jr. (Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Hendrix College) will discuss how he uses Twitter and Storify to increase students’ engagement with course texts and create a learning community in his classes. Thursday, Septeber 26 @ 3pm CDT/ 4pm EDT. You can access this Google+ Hangout event from the link above. You can access a library of past BLC webinars here.

Williamson teaches classes on a wide range of Biblical traditions, and this semester he will be collaborating with a to offer a section of Hendrix’s new general education course–The Engaged Citizen–on Origins and Ethics. Of his teaching, Dr. Williamson writes: “I strive to create a classroom atmosphere in which these three—student, text, and world—can interact, collide, and wrestle with one another in ways that illuminate new possibilities for both interpretation and action.”

We will share a recording of the webinar with you on this page. If you’d like to join the ACS Blended Learning Collaboration’s listerv, or learn more about how the ACS can help you support digital learning at your institution, please contact Amanda Hagood at amanda@colleges.org.