The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Individualized Learning in a Large Class

Featured Instructor:

Mark Andersland, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Overview:

Use immediate feedback and individualized instruction to improve student learning and motivation. 

Benefits:

  • Improve student problem solving
  • Increase student engagement
  • Improve student academic efficacy

Description:

Mark Andersland redesigned his large lecture engineering course to include active learning, student-centered instruction, frequent formative assessments, and immediate feedback, which yields increased student engagement and learning. 

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When you're having a dialogue with the students

is when they actually start to process



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because they're put on the spot,

they need to respond in real-time.



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And if I can make that exciting, And they're

thinking on their own, they're gonna learn.



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The name of this course is Electrical Circuits



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taught in all engineering programs to

sophomore level students.



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Traditionally it's been taught in large lecture format,

so we could have 200 students sitting in a lecture.



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Whenever I can I try and engage the students

in, uh, solving the problems themselves.



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And I first discovered how effective that

could be when I was teaching large classes



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and I would offer review sessions.

And during the review sessions,



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the students were directing the discussion

to things that they really wanted to know about.



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And then as, uh, we were going through

the problems, I'd ask them to provide the key steps



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and we'd discuss those and pretty soon

it became quite the dialogue.



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The idea is if I could create that in a classroom

where I could get everybody engaged,



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it's a lot more effective way to learn.



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So this is how the class works:



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Prior to class students get the background

that they need to complete the class work.



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That could include lectures, practice problems,

tutorials, short problem-solving videos.



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Then they come to class with that

background. And then I can give them



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a ten-minute mini-lecture review of

what they need to know to cover the topic



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And then for the remainder of the class



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the students work four to five problems that are

delivered by an online homework platform.



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They are allowed to answer

three times before they lose credit.



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The questions give feedback immediately so

that they know when they're in trouble, and



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the idea there is that they'll immediately learn if they're

doing something wrong so that they'll ask questions.



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Every student sees slightly different numbers.

The answers aren't the same,



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but the questions that they're

addressing are the same.



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When the student gets stuck, they can't just ask

for the answer from their neighbor,



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they have to ask their neighbor,

"How did you get your answer?"



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or the neighbor has to show them, and in any case

they're focusing on the solution process.



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Early in the class if students misunderstand,

they don't realize that that's part of the learning process,





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all they see is the fact that

they're not succeeding the first time,



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not recognizing that in not succeeding,

they're asking questions in the moment



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and getting answers that will help them

never to make the same mistake again.



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So early results from the studies

we've done in this classroom



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compared to conventional lecture classes have

suggested that students are more engaged,



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they feel more satisfied with the class,



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they tend to feel much more comfortable taking exams

because they've worked hundreds more problems,



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and they score higher on average.

For the same subject, they're more satisfied.



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And most interesting, they report spending less

time out of class preparing for better performance.



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The scholarship of teaching and learning is helping me

to try things – be willing to try things.



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So how this might apply to other

disciplines – the big takeaways:



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The space is important. When

you walk into an active learning space



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such as our TILE classrooms,

the tables are round.



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That tells the students something's gonna be different

in this classroom from the time that they walk in.



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What's essential? Foster discussion about process,

as opposed to simply answers.





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And you do that by giving people a common question.



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So the next key is that when you present

whatever it is that you're presenting to the groups,



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each student should have a different piece.

Everybody gets a slightly different problem



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but there's enough commonality that they can

share their insights and build a collective vision



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towards “We can all get a good grade if

we all work together” and this is gonna be be fun.



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So I think you can set that up in any class.



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So in that moment they're ready to learn, and

that's what's very interesting about this approach.



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They get immediate feedback,

they can turn to their neighbor



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and get instantaneous help from

someone working on the same problem:



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So it's fixed, and it sticks

because they have an “aha” moment.

The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Using Collaborative Quizzes

Featured Instructors:

Tania Leal, Ph.D., University of Iowa alumna

Overview:

Cooperative quizzes allow students to use assessment as a learning tool.

Benefits:

  • Encourages student preparation and confidence
  • Encourages student participation
  • Improves student understanding
  • Encourages knowledge retention

Description:

Tania Leal uses cooperative quizzes to turn assessment into a learning tool that improves understanding, retention, and motivation. Cooperative Quizzes (also called group quizzes, collaborative quizzes, pyramid exams, or two-stage exams) are assigned to groups after students have completed an individual quiz. Groups are responsible for coming to consensus on each answer, which will require them to discuss and debate course material. Students’ grades are calculated by weighting both the individual and the group assessment. Leal has found that this strategy encourages thoughtful discussion and more sophisticated understanding of major course themes by engaging students at that key moment when student receptiveness for understanding is at its peak.

Instructor:



Tania Leal, PhD, University of Iowa Alumna



Overview:



Cooperative quizzes allow students to use assessment as a learning tool.



Transcript:







0:00 - 0:10



If you have a class where you have done a lot of group work, and the group work has been established and they’re working in groups a lot,it makes a lot of sense to assess these things in the same way that you have been working.



0:10 – 0:45



A cooperative quiz is the second part of an individual assessment. The first part, the student completes individually and the second part the student is in a group. And he or she receives a different version of the first quiz they got – so the hardest questions or the most complicated or the tricky ones or whatever – they get them again, but this time they have all to agree on one single answer. So even though they get, let's say three minutes for the first time and three minutes for the second one, during the second time they'll be doing a lot of talking and convincing as quickly as they can.



0:45 – 1:16



In a group is sometimes when you have to shine individually the most. You know, if you’re just going by Democracy, you know, “Three members think it's A let's move on.” If you have a really good reason why and you know this is the answer, then you have to develop those skills to communicate to them. It’s not how many people by consensus wins, but who has the best argument. Who can defend this point better? You know, so that is your individual reasoning and critical skills bringing them to the group to enhance the group work.



01:16 – 1:38



These seem to work well for particular groups of students that are quiet. And sometimes it’s their way of participating. So often they like to have frequent quizzes because that's their way of letting the teacher know, “I’m here. I'm reading your material. I might not be raising my hand the whole time, but...” In smaller groups they can build their confidence to say something.



1:38 – 2:32



You have a student that did not study for the test and, let's say, just didn't answer any of the questions and then gets in a group and gets a B or whatever it is. So a lot of people are concerned: Is this cheating? Did they just copy? For this reason these quizzes are always graded using a proportion or a weight. So it depends; it's up to the instructor. But very often these quizzes count either 50/50 or 75 for the individual assessment and 25 for the group assessment. I mean you can, you know, use all sorts of percentages to decide. But this way they're accountable for individual work but they also have to participate in the group work. And the idea of these kinds of quizzes is that they happen often along the semester where students develop this sense of responsibility with one another.



2:32 – 3:10



Very often you find that students right after their test or their quiz they’ll say, “Well, what was A or B?” You know they care at that moment. Two days later when they get the test they just, you know, they'll throw it away without looking at the answers. They just look at the grade because in that moment whatever the answer for it — A or B — is not important anymore. What's important is what grade they get.



So the idea is to capitalize on that sort of need in the moment, like “Oh, what was A? What was A?” To put them in a group and say, “This is what it was I think,” and then to actually get immediate feedback. It’s good to see them interested afterwards, its like “See, I told you!” or “You know, this was the point: I should have said this! Next time I'm gonna!” Those are the kinds of reactions that you want! Right?



3:10 – 3:32



I mean, I think a lot of people hear about these and look at their classroom and how they can interact and think, “Oh, this will be perfect! I mean they’re already working in groups, it would be a sort of a good extension." And if not, you know, if they haven’t been working in groups, then I guess my advice would be look into group work first and then into assessment second, so that your assessment is coherent with the way that you teach.

The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Tapping the Potential of Stories and Models.

Instructor:

David G. Wilder, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering, and occupational and environmental health

Overview:

Use stories and models to improve understanding and interest.

Benefits:

  • Helps students understand concepts
  • Helps students retain information
  • Engages students

Description:

David Wilder explains how stories and models help students to more fully explore a discipline even though they are novices. Explaining concepts in a surprising fashion helps students to retain information.
 

Instructor:

David G. Wilder, PhD

Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Occupational and Environmental Health



Overview:

Use stories and models to improve understanding and interest.



Transcript:



0:00 – 0:17



If you see something that's well-explained in a surprising fashion, is that something you're going to remember or forget? So my goal is to create unforgettable stories.



0:17 – 0:34



We can inspire people with surprise and wonder, and reinforce the concepts I’m explaining by telling stories. One of the things I think is a very effective learning tool, is kind of using the same cadence that people use for telling jokes. Basically you are surprising people with some unique information.



0:34 – 1:04



I like to introduce subjects in terms as simple as possible, because often we as teachers forget that we've been in our business for a long time, and we don't necessarily know the skills and understanding that our students are coming to us with. And so if we can start in as simple a fashion as possible and then build from that, I believe that it helps them.



1:05 – 1:28



You can do experiments on models without having to build the real thing. In engineering we use models a lot, and actually an equation is a model. But we use models a lot to try to represent something else. And what's neat about that is that you can do experiments on models, as long as the model represents what you hope it represents.



1:29 – 1:34



The spine is really a complex mechanism, and what I'd like to do is to tell you some stories about it.



1:34 – 1:57



The spine actually alternates between having hard components and soft components. So we're going to pretend that a couple of cookies are a vertebra. What the body does, is it has an ability to place muscles at some distance away from the spine. We will pretend that the toothpicks allow us to place the muscle, which is the rubber band.



1:57 – 2:20



And look at this, we can both stabilize it, and as long as the muscles - or the rubber bands – are working in a coordinated fashion, we can tip it from side to side under very good control. But again it depends on these working very, very well together. Each one of these levels can move in six different directions. So this vertebrae can move in six different ways compared to this vertebrae.



2:20 – 2:51



I want to make sure that you integrate this into your world view. As you're moving this around, I'd also like you to move your own bodies in a way that would create that kind of motion your own spines. Okay so, it can tip side to side. Okay so what would you have to do to make it tip side to side? Okay good. Okay. And it can also tip front to back. Okay, yes teacher. Okay good. And it can also twist.



2:51 – 3:11



Many students don’t have enough experience in an area to begin to know what questions to ask, and it's been so long for many of us since we've been in that position - if we were ever in that position. Because many students that we have coming in are just trying to explore the area we’re in, so they may have no background in it.



3:11 – 3:32



I started using these kinds of props to explain engineering concepts in simple terms and I've since used this talk to explain how the back works, to groups ranging from nursery school kids up to administrative law judges and Department of Labor testimony.



3:32 – 3:36



I think it affects the ability to synthesize, because they're seeing an example of strange pairings of concepts. And why not give them the permission to do that? To pair divergent concepts to come up with new ideas.

The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Reading Aloud in the Classroom

Instructor:

Wanda Raiford, J.D., Ph.D., University of Iowa alumna

Overview:

Reading aloud in the classroom helps improve students’ focus and understanding. 

Benefits:

  • Helps students understand concepts
  • Helps students retain information
  • Engages students

Description:

The human voice not only transmits meaning but also sets a tone.  Wanda Raiford reads aloud to her students to model fluency and expression, critical thinking skills, and a deep connection with words.  This strategy promotes learning through critical, repeated reflection on a text

Instructor:

Wanda Raiford, JD, PhD

​University of Iowa Alumna



Overview:

Reading aloud in the classroom helps improve students’ focus and understanding.







Transcript:



0:00 – 0:14



The idea that the text is written, and that somebody has crafted each word is really important to me. The idea of reading is that the star is your text; you're just allowing some other person’s artistry to be experienced through your voice.



0:14 – 0:38



There are two aspects to reading aloud in the classroom. One where I read aloud to my students, and one where they read aloud to me. And what I find is that when people prepare a text to read aloud, that nuances of meaning are conveyed through words that are emphasized, places where people pause…



0:38 – 1:08



Language is designed to tune your emotions, and to corral your thinking. When I ask students to prepare to read, even if it's just three or four lines, I can assess often times their level of understanding. So, if somebody is reading something and they don't know where to pause for irony, I think “umm maybe you didn't get the joke.”



1:08 – 1:23



For example, the poem is about a boy who receives advice from an older man. He says, “when I was one and twenty I didn't really understand how life worked and how love worked.” And he received this advice, and in the last line of the poem he says, “and now I'm two and twenty. Oh, ‘tis true, ‘tis true.”



1:23 – 1:51



Right? He can attest to the, to the value of the advice he was given when he was 21, because a year has passed, and he has lived a long time in that year. And so the irony, it’s kind of a joke for people who are past 22. If a person were reading it and didn't get the joke they might say, “now I'm two and twenty and oh, ‘tis true, ‘tis true.” But if you get the joke you would say and now I'm two and 20 and oh, ‘tis true, ‘tis true.”



1:51 – 2:20



One day I didn't do a reading and the student said, “well what are we focusing on, Wanda?” And I said, “well we are focusing on Hester Prynne’s engagement with…” And they were like, “Yeah, but what?” And when finally it occurred to me, I kept trying to explain it and ask anyone in a concrete example from the text in my voice about where I thought this moment of epiphany had happened between these two characters in The Scarlet Letter. And once Iunderstood that I thought, “aww you'd like to hear me read.”



2:20 – 2:55



Even in something where you think about it being really not available to narrative, like math. Math has stories. For example, in pharmacy studies there's always a story. There's always either a story in the sense of, ummm why we might give this set of medications, this set of interventions to this particular patient. There's going to be a narrative with that. And that’s something that a professor might do extemporaneously, “Imagine you got a guy…”



2:55 – 3:20



But if you were reading from someone who had put together a case history and had thought about the sequencing of disclosures and what would come next, and what, even at the sentence level. To have a narrative scaffold, I think would really make it easier for students to remember, in detail, really complicated things that are not narrative.



3:20 – 3:58



I would advise people who are thinking about reading aloud to practice the passage that they're going to read aloud at home with an audience if possible, and to read it more than once. It’s very difficult even when you're just reading three lines of text, not to stumble, not to forget where you meant to pause, where you meant to put an emphasis on a syllable or a word. Those kinds of nuances that communicate meaning, are things that you probably need to prepare. And so my advice is to prepare very carefully. It’s a process of discovering things for me too. And I find that that's really a good use of time.

The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Teaching with Cartoons.

Instructors:

Mark Isham, A.B.D., adjunct lecturer of English and writing consultant at the College of Engineering

Rachel Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of education and art

Overview:

Use cartooning to encourage deep learning

Benefits:

  • Helps students synthesize information
  • Helps students retain information
  • Engages students

Description:

Mark Isham and Rachel Williams describe how they ask students to cartoon as a means of encouraging synthesis, deep learning, and creative reflection. 

Instructor:

Mark Isham, ABD

Visiting Professor, Department of English and Writing Consultant, College of Engineering



Rachel Williams, PhD

Associate Professor of Teaching and Learning and Art Education





Overview:

Use cartooning to encourage deep learning.





Transcript:



0:00 – 0:10



[Mark Isham] You can’t bring out as much asking people to reflect by writing as you can by asking them to draw. Partly because we're so used to being asked for feedback in writing.



0:10 – 0:29



[Mark Isham] We're so used to using formulas – pet phrases that we’re rewarded to use in academia. And we're not very good at editing, partly because I don't think we can see it as clearly as we can in comics, that this has to go, and this needs to stay.



[Rachel Williams] I think that’s one of the other things that’s really nice about comics: is it is a wonderful sort of entry into drawing and writing.



0:29 – 1:00



[Rachel Williams] There's something that is reached in your brain when you draw it, that I think, you know, isn’t as easy to articulate through language in that way, sort of written and spoken language.



[Mark Isham] And they do complement one another. Not only are you writing for a person, a specific audience. But you’re thinking about what they'll do with the document.



[Rachel Williams] Right.



[Mark Isham] And because you’re thinking about what they’ll do with the document, you’re designing a document, you’re not just writing a document.



[Rachel Williams] It really does help people understand a story, in a way that just writing alone doesn't.



1:00 – 1:22



[Rachel Williams] I think there's also so much, you know, the whole saying of “a picture's worth a thousand words” is really true. You can be part of that story as sort of a voyeur. Or in some instances the narrator will address you personally, you know, which is it a completely different thing, as though you're sitting across from that person having a cup of coffee and they're telling the story to you, which is, you know, a very different feel when you're reading something.



1:22 – 1:52



[Mark Isham] And it really does help you be analytical and evaluative about yourself. I have certain cartoons about me saying foolish things in class. And then I have the students there with thought balloons, you know either “blah blah blah,” you know, or just “Zzzzs” for they’re falling asleep. Or they’re thinking, you know, “yeah, right.”



[Rachel Williams] Well that’s the other thing about comics is you can have the unsaid as well as the said.



1:52 – 2:43



[Mark Isham] They all said, as they usually do, “I can't draw.” And once I got them drawing, it just opened up all kinds of things for them. They became very fluent in talking about themselves. And they learned the things you want them to know about writing. Which partly is writing concise documents. To use a lot of visual cues in the documents. The importance of white space. I had some of my freshman, in my freshman seminar say “I learned the importance of silence.” You know the pause, so that you can then have a gap in between the next thing that happens. And then you learn pacing.



[Rachel Williams] Oh absolutely! Time, this is something we haven't even talked about. You have to be very precise in how you do it, and so when you have a comic and you limit people and you say, “six panels one-page,” you know, that's a real tight structure to work within.



2:43 – 3:28



[Mark Isham] Part of this is helping to accommodate different learners. We realize some people are verbal, and I don’t mean to cut that off. But they're also visual, and then they're also collaborative, and they're also aural and the thing is that we’re widening all that.



[Rachel Williams] You know the other thing is comics in the classroom are really great for reaching students who English is not their first language, because they can still follow what's going on. I think drawing causes you also to slow down, and really get to know the subject that you’re drawing. Two stick figures communicate just as well as two photographic portraits.



[Mark Isham] And it’s not a gimmick that we’re talking about; it’s the fact that every document should say “I'm talking to you.” It's really about human interaction and that's really the kind of writing I’m interested in, and that's why I’m interested in cartoons.

The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Stage Blocking - Movement in the Classroom

Instructors:

David McGraw, M.A., M.F.A., senior lecturer in theatre arts, head of Performing Arts Entrepreneurship program

Overview:

Explains how instructors can plan their movements across the space of the classroom to invigorate lectures and discussions.

Benefits:

  • Engages students
  • HIghlights key information
  • Improves instructor-student relationship

Description:

Stage blocking is the carefully planned choreography of performers on a stage designed to affect how audience members perceive the performance.  Instructors can similarly use stage blocking to enliven a lecture or discussion, highlight key information, and improve student engagement.  Using performance techniques in the classroom does not merely entertain students; rather, it helps the instructor to connect with students so they can better understand course content.

Instructor:

David McGraw, MA/MFA

Lecturer, Department of Theatre Arts and John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center



Overview:

Explains how instructors can plan their movements across the space of the classroom to invigorate lectures and discussions.



Transcript:



0:00 – 0:14



The traditional classroom setting can be very effective for a one-time presentation, or to give a very traditional lecture. So I don't think we should discount that, it's very well designed to handle that sort of interaction.



0:14 – 0:23



When we want to change our classroom environment, when we want students to be more engaged participants in a discussion, that's when we need to adjust how we use the room.



0:23 – 0:53



If you're in a play and there's a knock at the door then an actor’s going to get up and answer the door. But many times stage blocking is the manifestation of the thought that's happening at that particular moment. Then based on the language of the play, an actor will move in some way to show that there's been a change in thought: a change in beat is what we say in theater. So if I'm suddenly having a new idea, a second thought, then I might stand up and start to cross.



0:53 – 1:07



So there's a lot of ways that just through, that sort of physical movement, without it being in any way overt, you can express different ideas. And in arts management we cover a number of very political, hot topics.



1:07 – 1:41



And so what I like to do is to start off by walking up to the projection screen or the monitor, and stating the current status quo, just to give the general background on the issue. And then I'll move very far away from that: I want to say “this is the current state of affairs.” And now I'm going to step to one side of the classroom – and I don't tell them that this is why I'm doing it – but I move away from the screen to show that now we're going to look at the issue together, that I’ll actually stand in line with the students. I’ll move over to their desks, I'll face the same direction that they're facing so that we're all addressing the problem together.



1:41 – 2:09



And then once we deal with one side the topic, then I'll move to another area of the classroom and I’ll actually close myself off or I’ll position myself in a different angle, so that those that want to express a different opinion feel that I'm also representative of their side. And that way it's not my topic, I am not somehow proselytizing my audience, my students, but I’m really setting up that there are multiple viewpoints, and here's how I can engage on all those levels.



2:09 - 2:43



The first step would be to actually just adjust body language. You can choose to close yourself off physically, present yourself as more of a confrontation, or that there might be a challenge to this. You can also choose to open yourself up, so you're going to think about your shoulders being pulled farther apart. You can also present yourself more at a slight angle, either in relationship to a problem over here, or even to move the problem to that side, that you’ve got both sides of an argument and that you yourself are standing in the middle, and that the audience, your class, is with you in the middle, away from the two sides.



2:43 – 3:02



Another thing that you can play with is proximity barrier. That your class is accustomed to you speaking to them five, six, seven, feet away. So what will happen to them if you start to pull in, literally? If you come in, and you break that fourth wall with your house,vwith your audience, with your students and address them in a different tone?



3:02 – 3:21



The same could be said of, if you're in your normal position as a lecturer, what happens if you put yourself back? If you want to take that global view of a particular topic and address the larger group, maybe even a group that's not in the room at present, not just your students but the larger community?



3:21 - 3:40



So an easy first step if you’re accustomed to lecturing from just one position, is to literally force yourself to move. Position some of your notes for the lecture so that at some point you need to cross over to another location I often see that when I start to walk, that's when students start to write something.



3:40 - 4:11



Using blocking in the classroom allows you to make topics that a student may not, at first glance, be particularly interested in, but allows them to see your passion for the topic. Anytime that you can force a student to change their field of focus, that you can move outside of their range, then that’s something that you're again engaging them on a physical level, that you're forcing them to kind of change their viewpoint, quite literally. So for them to do that multiple times in a class really kind of brings them back, and makes them explore more.

The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Grading With Recorded Clips.

Instructor:

Wanda Raiford, J.D., Ph.D., University of Iowa alumna

Overview:

Explains how the use of audio or video recordings turn grading papers into an invigorating conversation with students. 

Benefits:

  • Improves student response to feedback
  • Makes grading more efficient
  • Improves instructor-student relationship

Description:

Wanda Raiford explains how she easily provides the same sense of individual coaching for every person in her class by grading with digitally-recorded comments. By allowing students to hear the tone of her voice, she is able to cultivate a working dynamic based on respect and acceptances.

Instructor:

Wanda Raiford, JD, PhD

Universityvof Iowa Alumna



Overview:

Explains how the use of audio or video recordings turn grading papers into an invigorating conversation with students.





Transcript:



0:00 – 0:05



Teaching is a contact sport, you know, you're going to be touched and other people are going to touch you.



0:05 – 0:33



My students weren't really able to hear me when I told them what kinds of things they might do differently on the next paper. And you might have had this in your own undergraduate experience where somebody will write “awkward” or just “awk” next to a sentence and you think, “well gee, I'm not even sure what to do with that.” Right? And so what I decided to do, I first tried to get the students to meet with me and some people came and some people preferred not to come.



0:33 – 0:43



And so then I devised a way where we were definitely going to be in conversation, even if the conversation with initiated simply by my voice talking in their ear:



0:43 – 1:14



“Hi Tyler. This is Wanda. So, Tyler I've read your paper now three times. The first time I just read through to see what you had to say. And the second time I was holding a pencil, you can see that. And that’s all those little marks there. Everybody’s paper has a lot of marks on it, nothing to get wigged out about. And the third time I read it was just now in order to prepare this audio commentary. So let's get started, and hold in front of you while I'm talking. I’m gonna talk for about five minutes and I want us to stay on the same page so when I say turn to page two and look at the first full paragraph, you and I are looking at the same thing at the same time.



1:14 – 1:39



And so then I go on like that, and usually for the first paper only, I let people know the format, which is that I'm going to begin by telling the student in my opinion, my professional opinion, what their strengths are as a writer and what went right with the paper. And that I find makes people a lot less anxious and a lot more porous and able to listen to the part where I say here are some things you might do differently next time.



1:39 – 2:09



Some of the things I have to say especially in that second half, can be really direct, and they're the kind of things that I want people to hear in my voice, that I like them, and I respect them. I might say “you are very good with the incorporation of quotes and support of your arguments Anna.” And then I would say, “This paper doesn't seem organized, and the disorganization of the paper robs your fine ideas of some of their punch.”



2:09 – 2:44



I really don't think it was much more time consuming than writing out the comments longhand, and wondering if anyone understood what I meant by “A W K dot.” They want to do a careful job on the work, because they have a sense that I've read every word and thought about what they were trying to say. And so if they were only trying to play a game where I thought they'd worked hard but they'd really written it in two hours. They don't want to play that game anymore because they're having a conversation with an interested and concerned adult who really wants to know what they think about things.



2:44 – 3:00



I would say to people who are thinking about doing this technique, “go ahead and record one.” Everything that’s valuable doesn't feel like work. And so if it feels fun, and you think it would be of value to your students that’s something to do, that’s something to pursue. That's why I'm doing it.

The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Blogging Science in the University Classroom - Bonus Video

Instructors:

Andrew Forbes, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology

Overview:

Use a class blog to encourage intellectual risk-taking and authentic learning.

Description:

In this bonus video that accompanies his previous video, Blogging Science in the University Classroom, Andrew Forbes, Assistant Professor of Biology, not only demonstrates his students' enthusiastic response to his class blog, but also how he organizes course evaluations as a tool for reflecting on his teaching. 

I try to keep my evaluations in these binders so I can make comments for myself about them.



“Discussion and interaction with fellow students on the blog is a part of the course I like the best.”



“Working in groups and being able to interact with others in the blog is,” again, “another part of the course I like the best.”



They're just writing, “The blog!”. [laughter]

The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Blogging Science in the University Classroom

Featured Instructors:

Andrew Forbes, PhD
Assistant Professor of Biology

Overview:

Use a class blog to encourage intellectual risk-taking and authentic learning.

Benefits:

  • Encourages knowledge retention
  • Encourages student participation
  • Improves student understanding

Description:

Andrew Forbes, Assistant Professor of Biology, uses a private class blog to help his students extend academic conversations beyond the classroom.

The blog is a regularly-updated, online space with distinct entries on which other students comment. Blogs are appropriate for all disciplines, and Professor Forbes finds that the blog is an effective tool for promoting evidence-based scholarly discourse and analytical writing in a science course.

Instructor:



Andrew Forbes, PhD

Assistant Professor of Biology

Overview:



Use a class blog to encourage intellectual risk-taking and authentic learning.

Transcript:





00:00 - 00:31



I think my priority as a teacher is to get the students to really learn big conceptual ideas. And so I'm less concerned with them memorizing vocabulary words and regurgitating things to me. I really want them to come away at the end of the day having learned two big ideas, two big concepts that they'll remember for a long time.



00:31 - 00:57



Scientific knowledge is not just about memorizing things; it's about using it in lots of diverse ways. And if you're only trained as a scientist, and you’re not trained as a writer or reader, and you're not trained to think broadly about lots of different topics, you’ve really limited yourself. I can teach the material. I can tell them about big concepts and evolution. But I can't hear what they think or how they’re interacting with that material.



00:57 - 01:04



And so I wanted to try out a class blog because I wanted for them to have those real meaningful discussions that, to some extent, come from the heart.



01:04 - 01:25



Basically the assignment for the students is that twice during the course of the semester they need to write one substantive entry, and that's usually a couple of paragraphs and maybe a link to a story that they found or something. And then every week every student has to comment on two other blog posts.



01:25 - 01:57



In the first week or so it kind of feels like they're doing it because they have to, and then what you see is that about two-thirds of the class just do it all the time. And they're not commenting on two posts per week; they’re commenting on six to ten. And they haven't just written two of their own posts over the course of the year; they've written five or six. I'm not saying go write six pages on this subject; I'm telling them to write about what they want to write about.



01:57 – 02:15



You're not just blurting something out. You can actually take time to refine an answer and say what you really mean. And of course you can edit it then. And I think the students do that and I think that they write something that they really want to say. And they don't feel as inhibited because they don't have everyone staring at them.



02:15 - 02:40



I think they are getting an opportunity to talk about science in a way that scientists talk about science.When they're constructing a post they need a have a thesis,and then they know that their peers are going to critique them. So both in writing that original blog post and in the critique the students are using scientific knowledge to support a particular idea.



02:40 – 03:05



And I think it's something that faculty in any discipline should want to consider because, again, it allows you to see what your students are thinking; it allows you to see the connections your students are making between the material in your class and their lives; it allows you to see what they're not understanding; and it allows you to connect with your students more than you can just in the class.



03:05 - 03:35



So it helps quite a lot because they don’t just come to class, listen to what I'm saying or do the activities I'm having them do, and then switch off for the rest of the week. They actually go back home and at some point or several points during the rest of the week they’re interacting with the material and interacting with each other. And I think just that connection and that continued connection that they're getting through the blog is helping them learn.