Teaching Tip #6: Losing Time, Finding Creativity

So, looking at your syllabus right now, you may be shaking your head and wondering how in the world you are going to “make up” for lost class time.   Important concepts still need to be explored, tests given, papers written and chapters read.  How can we make lemonade from this lemon of a winter? I like to think of this situation as an opportunity to be creative.

How will you decide what to do?

First of all, this kind of scenario forces us to do some careful thinking about what is most important in our courses.  Which concepts are most difficult for students to master?  Where do they really need your help?  Which information can they get themselves outside of class?  It’s time to focus on your primary goals.  If your class time is overstuffed with content, give yourself permission to unstuff it now; you may find your teaching becomes more effective.

If you don’t decide to schedule additional class time, this can be an opportunity to help students become more independent learners.  Some possibilities include

1)      Give students study questions you want them to be able to answer based on the readings, and have them bring their answers to class.  Or, just have them identify the areas in the reading they did not understand. Have students meet in pairs or small groups to answer each others’ questions and make sure everyone comprehends the material.  Your job is to move from group to group, probing responses, helping groups stay on task, and monitoring their learning.  When you find a topic that all the groups struggle with, you can stop the groups for a moment for a larger discussion or a mini-lecture.   This way, you only have to talk about the most difficult concepts.

2)      If you are planning to ask students to view a video on their own time, help them watch more critically. Preview the types of information you want them to pay attention to, or give students a list of questions based on the video.  Otherwise, it’s very easy to get into a passive viewing mode and not really pay that much attention.  If you need to show a video in one of your remaining classes, is it possible to show only the most important clips?  If so, focusing on them also will keep students more engaged and take less time.

3)      Washington is full of experts in all of our fields.  Could your students interview (in-person, via email or on the phone) an expert about one of your course topics and then report to the class via a presentation, posting to a class wiki or journal, or writing a report?  In fact, using technology like Skype, they don’t have to be limited to our area.  Going to museums or exhibits and talking to curators or tour guides (or writing their own tour guide) works too.

What about using technology?  Clearly, this won’t work for hands on classes e.g. design studios, labs, etc.  But for discussion or lecture-based classes, online options abound.

1)      Discussion boards can use the same types of questions posed for in class sessions.  Create threads for each topic and require students to post responses to the question as well as commenting on others’ posts.  MU faculty who use this technique have developed clear guidelines for what constitutes an appropriate post, how many posts students are required to make, and how these posts will be evaluated.  For example, commenting on a student post has to be more than just “I agree with Jennifer” but must add evidence or a new point to the discussion.

2)      If you want to have an online discussion, the BB virtual classroom or chat function can be used for real time chat.  If you use the whiteboard in the classroom e.g. for working problems, you have that functionality in BB.

3)      Screencasting:  Create a narrated powerpoint using Camtasia.  If you’d like to play with Camtasia yourself, you can download a free 30-day trial at http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.asp.   If you’re not a do-it-yourself type, contact e-learning services.  Make sure that you have students bring in summaries, notes, or give quizzes to make sure that they are using the screencast.  Even better, use class time for activities that require students to access your screencast in order to be successful.

These are just a few ideas.   Please post your creative plans for making up “lost” class time for your colleagues to share.  It would be great to have a collection we can all draw from!

Champion of Techno-revolution Sees Web Bringing Culture to Kitchen Table

In “Three Tweets for the Web,” GMU economics professor Tyler Cowen argues that the decline of the book does not spell the end of literacy.  It’s just “part of a broader shift toward short and to the point.”

Cowen pooh-poohs the assumption that reliance on the Web is shortening attention spans; he sees it as a tool that allows people to follow stories over time and “with greater specialization.”

Once we had a “long-distance relationship” with culture, but technology has turned it into marriage “in the sense that it now enters our lives in an established flow, creating a better and more regular daily state of mind.”

Feel like Surfing?

Yeah, it’s Friday so I’m thinking about the beach. Not really. But it is a good time to surf around on the web and call it work. One great place to land? ProfHacker, featuring “Tips and Tutorials for Higher Ed” I’ll post the link in our links section, but here it is now if you’re looking for some new ideas on a wide variety of topics:  http://www.profhacker.com/.  On today’s front page there are posts on teacher-centered vs. learner centered learning, and teaching political science with technology.

Another great resource?  Tomorrow’s Professor, sponsored by the Stanford Teaching and Learning Center.  This is actually a listserv that you can have delivered to your email inbox, or you can browse past topics at the site. They often have short summaries of longer books or articles that are quick and useful. What’s your favorite?

Thinking about Using a Wiki in Class?

According to Wikipedia, a wiki is an easily created and edited Web site that lends itself to collaborative writing projects.  (Wikipedia is itself a wiki.)

But as Michelle Navarre Cleary, Suzanne Sanders-Betzold, Polly Hoover, and Peggy St. John point out in “Working with Wikis in Writing-Intensive Classes,” composition scholarship on wiki effectiveness has been sketchy to date.  To remedy that, the authors conducted a study with three of their courses over two quarters.  “We studied our use of wikis as a learning tool (helping students develop academic writing skills) and as a teaching tool (allowing us to distribute information, promote collaboration and build a sense of class community).”

Their conclusion? Students’ confidence and writing ability improved, but the authors could not directly link that to wiki use.  They saw a stronger correlation between wikis and community building.

They offer some suggestions for experimenting with wikis in the classroom.

Hello MU!

Instead of publishing our usual newsletter, the CTE and DISCOVER programs have decided to enter the world of blogging.  We will be posting news, updates, links and items of interest here regularly.   We also hope you will comment on what we post, to generate some real dialogue on what we are all trying to accomplish here.

You can visit us either by going to our web address: https://muteaches.wordpress.com OR you can take this moment to learn about RSS and have each post delivered to your computer with absolutely no effort on your part!  For a very quick visual tutorial on how to set up an RSS feed go to YouTube to view “RSS in Plain English” by Commoncraft.

You may be wondering about the name.  I didn’t want to call it something boring like “CTE News” or “DISCOVER teaching” and one of my favorite names for a teaching blog is Artichoke (because it “looks at the heart, leaves and thistles of teaching and learning”).  So, I picked Chocolate Box.  I’ll be giving you some of the reasons I think teaching is like a box of chocolates as we go on, and maybe you will suggest some too.

I hope you’ll join us on this technology adventure!