Great Teaching at University of Michigan

A short video describing this teaching strategy can be seen here.

Robin Queen, Linguistics, lectures to about 150 students in a 300-level linguistics and anthropology course on language and social conflict. To increase student interactions with peers and internet content related to the course, she instituted a blog for each discussion section of 25 students. Queen and her graduate student instructors provided a weekly discussion prompt and seeded blogs with initial posts, to model ways of meeting the desired criteria. Students were randomly assigned two dates when they had to post. Students could either use the prompt to frame their post, or they could post on a topic of their choosing. To earn a “B” grade for blogging, students also had to comment on peers’ posts twice a week. More extensive weekly commenting could earn an “A.”

GSIs monitored and graded blog posts and comments based on content, instead of assigning conventional essays. Queen’s GSIs reported that the effort of grading blogs was comparable to grading conventional essays, but that the degree of student interaction and exchange increased dramatically. GSIs also used blog discussion threads as primers for their weekly discussion section activities.

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Mika LaVaque-Manty,  Political Science, teaches lecture courses with 100-300 students and several GSIs. He has used Google Docs to foster and monitor small group discussions during class. Students are divided into groups that are either pre-assigned or based simply on where they happen to sit.

Depending on the number of groups and the purpose of the assignment, they may work on a single Google Document or generate one for each group. In either case, only one student in a group serves as a “scribe,” although other students may view the shared document. This way, a student’s lack of a laptop is not a problem, and the number of documents remains manageable. In cases where the entire class works on a single document, the instructors create it, share it with the students, and divide it into sections so that a manageable number of groups (3-5) works on each section. They can then project the collectively produced document so that the class can debrief it together. Read more »

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A short video describing this teaching strategy can be seen here.

Melanie Yergeau, English, teaches in computer labs to help integrate technology into her teaching. The twenty-five students in her disability studies course participate in blogging and commenting activities, both in and out of class, supporting student dialogue and critical engagement with course content. Blog posts contain reading responses composed across a variety of media.

For example, during one class, groups of students use digital cameras to create short, impromptu YouTube videos about disability, normalcy, and the built environment on campus and then integrate them into blog posts that are compliant with web accessibility requirements. In another assignment, students synthesize their learning through “carnival” blogging: blog posts that synthesize and link to other blog posts on controversial course topics.

Using students’ carnival blog entries as a starting point, Yergeau invites authors of external blogs to interact with her students on the class blog, creating a dialogue not possible in the context of the traditional classroom.

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Mary Ruffolo, School of Social Work, coordinates an advanced course on clinical practice in which 20 graduate students are concurrently placed in field internships. The class meets face-to-face only once per week, so she uses a blog to facilitate continuous learning and exchange among students. For example, students sign up for a number of weeks to post reflections on challenging clinical experiences as they relate to the weekly course readings. Students also exchange and reflect on the resources and tools used in their fieldwork.

Due to the blog, students report increased engagement and improved dialogues with peers during their fieldwork and class meetings compared to writing traditional reflection papers. The blog enhances Ruffolo’s classroom teaching because she draws from the material to prepare lectures and discussion activities. The blog also facilitates her oversight of the integration of classroom and field internship learning by enhancing student-instructor interactions.

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A short video describing this teaching strategy can be seen here.

Trisha Wittkopp,  Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, teaches genetics to hundreds of students in a large lecture. She uses personal response systems (clickers) to increase interactivity, assess student learning, and address student confusion during class. Nevertheless, between classes, questions remain, and many students have similar questions.

To avoid responding individually to each student, Wittkopp employs Piazza, a discussion forum designed to crowdsource answers to students’ questions. Instead of sending individual e-mails, students post their questions on Piazza, where they can be answered by one of their peers, a graduate student instructor (GSI), or Wittkopp herself. This reduces the number of redundant questions and shortens response time. Students collaboratively edit answers to questions as they would on a wiki, eliminating the need to read through long, threaded discussions or chat transcripts to find the correct answer. Read more »

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