Providing Alternatives to Traditional Writing and Speaking Assignments with Collaborative Websites

Photo of professor George HoffmanA short video describing this teaching strategy.

George Hoffmann, Romance Languages and Literatures, teaches a course that explores the controversial literature on the Algerian War. Thirty-two undergraduate students are each required to deliver a PowerPoint presentation on a capstone analytical project. In-class presentations are dynamic, but ephemeral, and their engaging material is lost to students in following course iterations. Therefore, Hoffmann uses Google Sites to create a collaborative course website to document and extend the highly visual capstone projects across courses.

Based on his or her PowerPoint presentation, each student creates a media-rich web page, exclusively in French, without having to learn HTML. Hoffmann pairs students to peer review web pages using the commenting feature in Google Sites. Students’ grades reflect both the content of their own web page, and the quality of their peer critiques. Through the combined use of PowerPoint and Google Sites, students not only learn valuable communication skills, but also practice disciplinary skills of close reading and critical evaluation. 

Providing feedback to students
Facilitating collaborative authorship, editing, or peer review
  • Webpage Creation
Arts and Humanities
Discussion
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Using Google Forms to Clarify Difficult Concepts in Large Courses

Professor Pamela Davis-Kean, Associate Professor of Psychology, discusses her use of Google Forms to clarify difficult concepts in her Social Development course (Psych 353), a 150-student course for upper-level psychology majors.  In class, Professor Davis-Kean used Google Forms to engage students in the actual work of developmental psychologists.  For example, she had students practice coding videos of parent-child interactions, submitting their initial codes anonymously via Google Forms. Using the results from this coding activity, Professor Davis-Kean was able to engage the students in a more nuanced discussion of interrater reliability.  

Through this use of Google Forms, Professor Davis-Kean found she could interact with a larger percentage of her students and better gauge their understanding of difficult concepts in class.  Having successfully incorporated Google Forms into Psych 353, Professor Davis-Kean is now exploring other ways this technology can be incorporated into her teaching, even in her smaller courses. She recommends it to others as a technology that assists students' learning rather than distracts from it, that is easy for both faculty and students to use, and that can be easily incorporated into an instructor’s existing lectures.

Crowdsourcing learning activities
Increasing engagement and/or interactivity
  • Google Docs/Drive
Social Sciences
Lecture
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Flipping a Mechanical Engineering Course

Steve Skerlos (Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering), discovered that his graduate students, even those who were quite successful in his classes, were not retaining what they had learned in class in a way that they could apply that knowledge to research questions.  Additionally, Prof. Skerlos had a desire to shift his lecture-based courses to have more in common with senior design courses in engineering, i.e. the instructor and the students all working together to solve problems.  The following description of Prof. Skerlos’ flipped class is for his ME 499 course, Sustainable Engineering and Design.  Prof. Skerlos, though, has flipped many classes, including a 150-person undergraduate course.

 

Students’ First Exposure to Content

 In Prof. Skerlos’ classes, students must watch a video or read a case study prior to class.  In his course syllabus, Prof. Skerlos estimates that the video or reading component of the pre-class work should take about one hour.  Each student is expected to reflect upon the discussion questions posed by the instructor and, prior to class, submit one question that s/he would like the instructor to answer during class.

Student Accountability for Pre-Work

The syllabus for Prof. Skerlos’ class is very explicit about the level of responsibility students have for completing the pre-class work. “Submitting a question without watching the whole pre-class video will be considered a violation of the honor code unless you state that you haven’t watched the video. If you haven’t watched the video, you can still submit a question just put a simple note there that the question is being submitted without having watched the video.”  Additionally, for class periods in which the pre-class work includes a video, the students must complete a quiz inside CTools Test Center after class.

Face-to-Face Class Time

The first portion of the face-to-face class time is spent making sure students’ questions get answered.  Prof. Skerlos provides short mini-lectures based on the themes he identified in the students’ submitted questions.  Additional class time is having the students work together on problem-solving or course projects.

Assessment of Student Learning

Students demonstrate their knowledge through class participation in case study discussions, completion of problem sets and success on traditional midterm and final exams.  Students also complete a term project demonstrating their understanding of best practices for materials selection.

Perceived Outcomes of the Flipped Classroom

As noted above, Prof. Skerlos has flipped multiple classes because he has found the flipped class to be effective for improving student learning.  One of the other benefits to the flipping a class, according to Prof. Skerlos, is that the re-designed class has rejuvenated his enthusiasm for teaching. 

Content delivery (alternatives to lecture)
Answering student questions
Increasing engagement and/or interactivity
  • Google Docs/Drive
Engineering
Lecture
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Flipping an American Culture/History Course

Michael Witgen (History, American Culture and Native American Studies) did not set out to “flip” his class.  He was inspired by colleagues to find some way to integrate technology into his 300-level History course, History of the American West.  Working with the Michigan Education through Learning Objects (MELO3D) community, Professor Witgen and his GSI team created a wiki for the course that, along with a coursepack, served as the course syllabus and textbook.  

 

Students’ First Exposure to Course Content

Each week of the course has its own webpage, which gives students access to the readings and study questions for each class session.  The course “readings” are primary source artifacts from the American West, ranging from images of maps created in the 1700s to letters from Noah Webster to YouTube videos of Daniel Boone cartoons.  The study questions serve as guides for students as they explore the pre-work for the class.

Student Accountability for the Pre-Work

Professor Witgen leverages two mechanisms for holding students accountable for engaging with the pre-work: pop quizzes and social pressures/peer accountability, as the students are expected to be prepared to contribute to small group discussions of the class readings in the face-to-face class session.

Face-to-Face Class Time

At the beginning of class, students are instructed to get into groups of 4-5 students and come to consensus on answers to the study questions listed on the course website.  Students are expected to use evidence from the primary sources to support their arguments.  Professor Witgen circulates among the groups during their discussions.  He then facilitates a large group discussion to hear the range of positions students have arrived at in small groups, adding brief (2-4 minute) “riffs” about important points.  Students are expected to represent the position(s) of their group at least once during the term to earn the participation component of their grade.

Assessment of Student Learning

In addition to the pop-quizzes and class participation requirements, students write three papers (5-10 pages) interpreting and synthesizing the primary source material for each of the assigned topics.  The papers are expected to answer all of the study questions for the assigned topic in a coherent argument presented with supporting evidence from the assigned primary sources and any additional research the student undertakes.  There is also an independent research assignment for the course that tasks students with finding “a historical event, person, or experience and explain why and how you think this subject is important and or meaningful in its particular historical moment, and now in the present day.”  The explanation can be presented in a traditional 12-15 page research paper or by creating a website showcasing the independent research.

Perceived Outcomes of the Flipped Classroom

Professor Witgen has noted multiple changes in how students interact with the course content and with him since flipping his class.  In particular, he sees students “acting as historians” in the small group discussions, in conversations with him during office hours and in their writing assignments.  He also notes that more students come to office hours to have conversations to try to understand the course content; there is generally increased student engagement with the course.

Content delivery (alternatives to lecture)
  • Webpage Creation
Arts and Humanities
All
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Concept Mapping to Synthesize Knowledge and Apply Learning to Real World Case Studies

Professor Laurie HartmanLaurie Hartman teaches two courses in the School of Nursing’s Acute Care Advanced Practice Nurse Program (N610 and N573). N610 prepares the Clinical Nurse Specialists and Nurse Practitioner students to synthesize and apply knowledge to manage and negotiate health care delivery systems that address clinical management challenges. Interdisciplinary problem solving is a key component of the course. N573 is a medical management course focusing on acute health conditions in adults and older adults. Evidence-based, advanced practice nursing interventions are discussed in the context of age, culture, race, gender, sexuality, genetics, psychosocial well-being and socioeconomic status. Diagnostic reasoning and decision-making skills are among the main learning objectives. 

To help students apply content from readings and previous lectures and to practice decision-making, Hartman used Google Drawings as a vehicle for small group discussion activities during class. To prepare for class, she pre-populated a Google Drawing with a real-world problem or situation that required students to utilize knowledge and previously learned skills. Several copies of the same drawing were created and titled as Team 1, Team 2, etc., with 4-6 students assigned to each team. During class teammates would sit near each other and use their own laptop computers to access the drawings electronically. Students were encouraged to type answers and create visual representations of the problem and proposed solutions before them (see examples of student work below).  Student learning was enhanced through this visual mapping of concepts, student-student interaction, and reflective thinking. During the activity, Hartman accessed each team’s Google Drawing to monitor student thinking and to correct mistakes and point out gaps using the commenting and chat features. Students could also type responses back to the instructor. Time was reserved at the end of class to debrief various solutions generated by teams. During the debrief, Hartman displays each team’s drawing using the classroom projection system.

Concept map diagram

concept map diagram

 

 

 

 

Content delivery (alternatives to lecture)
Providing feedback to students
Promoting student reflection and critical thinking
Increasing engagement and/or interactivity
Teaching in an online/blended format
  • Google Docs/Drive
Health Sciences
Lecture
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Managing a Large Course Using Google Apps

Professor Jeff RingenbergFollow this link to a short video describing these teaching strategies.

Jeff Ringenberg, School of Engineering, teaches Engineering 101 which has 675 students and an instructional team of approximately 25 GSIs, graders, etc. Due to the scale of the course, Ringenberg has employed a variety of Google Apps efficiently manage this large number of students and instructors.

ENGIN101 uses Google Docs to (1) create and update course policies for the instructional team, and (2) create and edit instructions for student projects and labs. The ability to collaborate asynchronously on the same document has been a particularly useful feature so GSIs can create the instructions, but Ringenberg can give feedback.

ENGIN101 uses Google Spreadsheets to track grading. Multiple users can edit the spreadsheet simultaneously, which minimizes the time and file management required for data entry. The spreadsheet for this courses has multiple tabs, one for each assignment, which are referenced by the master gradesheet to calculate the students' final grades. In addition, Ringenberg has written numerous formulas that allow for question-by-question analysis of students' performance on assignments.

ENGIN101 uses Google Forms in multiple ways. They are used by GSIs to submit detailed project grades that are automatically added to the grading spreadsheet. Forms are also used by students to submit their projects and to make requests for alternate exam times, which limits the amount of email to the instructional team.

ENGIN101 uses Google+ Hangouts to hold online office hours with students and to hold instructional team meetings. 

Providing feedback to students
Course management
Answering student questions
Managing the instructional team
  • CTools/Course Management System
  • Google Docs/Drive
  • Online Homework System
  • Online Video Chat
Engineering
Lecture
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Crowdsourcing Learning: Students Collaboratively Analyze and Annotate Course Materials

Follow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

Professor Benjamin PaloffBenjamin Paloff, LSA-Slavic Languages and Literatures & Comparative Literature, teaches a comparative literature course where students learn to identify structural components of poetry, such as rhythm and rhyme, that influence the reader's interpretation of the poem's meaning. Students often struggle to extract these elements, so Paloff makes the concepts more concrete using highly visual examples and practice. Using SiteMaker, a customized webpage and database creation tool, students collaboratively edit webpages to build a library of annotations of poems.  Paloff provides tailored feedback on students' annotations to facilitate revisions.  Students can select any poem and view its annotations for a number of literary elements. Consequently, the library created by students serves as the basis for class discussions of the literary elements and interpretations of the course material. 

These annotations have been useful because: (1) students can apply the concepts that are being taught in the course to creating a resource; (2) Paloff can assess what aspects of the course students are understanding well (or not) and adjust his teaching accordingly; and (3) the website's library of annotations is a helpful resource future students and grows with each course offering.

Providing feedback to students
Crowdsourcing learning activities
  • Online File Storage/Sharing
  • Webpage Creation
Arts and Humanities
Discussion
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Increasing Student Interaction in a Large Course via Blogging

Professor Robin QueenFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy. 

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.

Promoting student reflection and critical thinking
Increasing engagement and/or interactivity
  • Blog
Arts and Humanities
Lecture
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Coordinating Multiple GSIs Using a Course Wiki

Professor James MorrowFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

James Morrow, Political Science, teaches a large introductory lecture course that employs a team of GSIs who lead weekly discussion sessions of 20-30 students on assigned readings and lecture content. Training GSIs and coordinating teaching across sections can be challenging in large courses. Likewise, maintaining and sharing institutional memory of successful and unsuccessful teaching practices is difficult, especially given rapid turnover of GSIs across terms.

Consequently, Morrow used the wiki within CTools to collect and archive effective instructional materials and lesson plans for GSI discussion sections. Weekly course meetings with GSIs can include group reflections on instructional practices and updates of wiki content. GSIs in physics have used a similar approach to document and share common student problems and effective teaching practices within and across terms in gateway lab courses. 

Course management
Managing the instructional team
  • CTools/Course Management System
  • Wiki
Social Sciences
Lecture
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Enhancing Small Group Discussions in a Large Lecture with Google Docs and Google Forms

Photo of Mika LaVaque-MantyMika 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.

At other times, LaVaque-Manty asks each group to create its own Google Document and share it with the instructors. He uses this strategy for brainstorming or for answering specific questions. In addition to standard text-based documents, LaVaque-Manty has used Google Drawings to encourage students to engage in visual brainstorming and concept mapping during class. Instructors can read, comment on, and even grade documents and drawings after class.  

He has also used Google Forms during lectures as a surrogate for personal response systems (i.e., "clickers).  To assess student understanding of instigate class discussions, he collects student responses to multiple choice or short-answer questions and display summaries of the data in real-time, leveraging students lap top computers and smart phones to increase engagement and interactivity.

Crowdsourcing learning activities
Increasing engagement and/or interactivity
  • Google Docs/Drive
Social Sciences
Lecture
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