Thursday, May 20, 2010

Teaching and Learning Symposium 2010 - Day 2

When Bad Things Happen to Good Classes – James Wells & Eileen Callahan

Case Study discussions of ethical issues in higher education.

Letters of Recommendation –
Much of these issues have to do with relationship building. Undergrads especially need to know that part of their job as a student is to get to know the professors and, although the onus may be on the student to do this, the professor needs to create a positive and open environment that invites students into this academic relationship. Student need to be interacting with faculty early in their career and not wait until the last year.

However, if an average or mediocre student asks for a letter, how can a professor handle it? In writing a letter, one must be honest about the student in a respectful way as this is an issue of credibility. In addition, this opens the opportunity to have an honest conversation about the student's characteristics.

Group Work -
The most important issue to address in using group work is the pedagogical reason for it. Does group work provide a better avenue to accomplish the task compared to individual assignments? In addition, there is a difference between cooperative work and collaborative work, therefore the task set needs to match the structure. Cooperative work means that students just need to work together, whereas collaboration requires student to depend on each other's work to accomplish the task.

Once a teacher decides on group work, it is the teacher's responsibility to provide the training and tools for students to be successful in the group work. Too often teachers assume students know how to work together, yet few have had the opportunity to participate in or observe positive group work. (Almost all students have stories of horrible experiences.) Various supports could include having students create group contracts which address deadlines, responsibilities and conflict; periodic reflective writing; peer assessment; and practice within class.

Connectedness of Faculty -
How connected should professors be? 24/7? Set times? Part of the advantage of technology is that people are available at all times, yet that can create unrealistic expectations. Instructors need to be especially clear with how and when they expect to be contacted. Face-to-face office hours are typical, which can be translated to on-line chat.

Student Write to Learn: How instructors are engaging their students through online quizzing, writing, and feedback – Robert Jeanne, Lillian Tong, Amber Smith

We know that writing increases thinking, especially when the writing is exploratory and reflective, Yet in large classes, there is little opportunity for writing and instructor feedback.

Feedback Manager, done in Moodle quizzing module, allows for large scale responses from students. The instructor asks an open-ended question online, the students answer. The instructor reads the responses. The instructor creates generic “tags” - ie, Didn't follow directions. Excellent thinking. Did you think about . . . In addition, the instructor can add individual comments. All students then receive comments via email. This is very similar to computerized report cards with a list of about 50 comments. However, the instructor sets the comments for the assignment – which makes it more relevant.

Even though the responses are semi-personalized, students found it useful to know that instructors were reading and commenting on their work. Plus, with more, but smaller writing assignments, student understanding was better developed and assessed.  There were multiple examples of how various instructors implemented this Feedback Manager in large classes (150+) in chemistry, biology, and ecology.

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