Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Non-Traditional Classrooms

                     Contributed By: Sarah Heuckeroth and Natalia Ott

This week the Graduate Teaching Community looked at three examples of nontraditional course design: online courses, hybrid courses, and flipped classrooms. Each design has clear benefits for student learning, but also has drawbacks to overcome in order to use it effectively.

In online courses all learning, assessment, and communication is done online. The benefits of online courses mainly focus on flexibility—they are highly accessible, students can choose how to fit the class into their schedules, and students can go through material at their own pace and review it as many times as they need to. Online courses also offer great flexibility to the instructor in terms of when and from where they can teach the class, and once the class is developed the instructor can reuse course content quickly and easily. Additionally, online courses offer students a low-stress environment in which to interact, which can be helpful for shy students, and give students the opportunity to interact with a diverse array people.

Despite their flexibility and accessibility, online courses have several drawbacks. Students are responsible for keeping up with course material and for participating fully in the course, which can take some adjustment from a standard classroom mentality. It can be difficult for the instructor to judge student engagement and to know if the students understand the material that is being presented. This is compounded by the fact that online courses are more impersonal, and students may feel too intimidated to ask a question when they need clarification. While online courses offer flexibility in when and where the they are taught, they are inherently less flexible in content. Experiential and active learning are challenging to implement through online courses, and it is much more challenging for an instructor to makes changes to address the immediate needs of the students. They also require tech-savvy students, a tech-savvy professor, and a user-friendly interface in order to be successful.

Hybrid courses mix online and in-person learning, with a substantial part of the course presented in each format. In many ways they use the best aspects of both, overcoming the impersonal aspects of online courses while still being more accessible and flexible than a purely in-person course. The can be designed to cater to a variety of learning styles and they provide opportunities for independent learning as well as group learning. Unlike online courses, hybrid courses have great flexibility of content which allows the instructor to be more creative and engaging when presenting the material.

The drawbacks of hybrid courses center on teacher utilization of, and student adaptation to, the new course format. From an instructor’s point of view, it could be challenging to utilize both aspects of the hybrid course, rather than relying too heavily on one or the other. It could also take time and effort to determine what parts of the course are best suited for online and which would be best presented in person. For students it may be hard to adjust to the new class style and the necessity for self-driven learning. This could lead to frustration and poor performance, as student and instructor expectations may not align.

A specific type of hybrid course, the flipped classroom, is a course in which material is communicated online and assignments are completed in-person. It is called a “flipped” classroom because in a traditional setting the material is presented in class and the students complete assignments in their own time. A flipped classroom allows students to learn material at their own pace, and then lets the instructor assess students’ understanding during the in-person portion. It allows for active engagement during class time and utilizes the in-person time to have the students connect and synthesize the material they have learned on their own. However, like other hybrid courses, flipped classrooms can be challenging for student accustomed to a more traditional teaching style. In order for the flipped classroom to be successful students must learn the material on their own, and it can be challenging for an instructor to ensure that this is happening.

Diversity Among LGBTQIA in the Classroom and as an Instructor

                                           Contributed By: Phoenix Shetty

People belonging to the LGBTQIA community, especially those who do not identify as cisgender, face a lot of problems in classrooms as a student, especially in STEM fields. First of all, not many people may be comfortable sharing their pronouns or telling their preferences to the professors and the TA’s. Also, they are always at a risk of getting misgendered by the professors, TA’s and their peers. This might make them very uncomfortable.

Also, as an LGBTQIA person myself, I found it very difficult to navigate classrooms. Being a TA can be equally difficult as well. It can be hard to always correct the professor, students and your peers when you are constantly being misgendered. This can be a problem. A simple solution is to have compulsory ethics class for both undergraduate and graduate classes in STEM departments like we have in humanities and also making people aware that these issues are very important.

Culture and Diversity: Strategies to Improve the Educational Experience

                                     Contributed By: Tessa DeAngelo

The University of California, Davis, is a campus with great student diversity. This means that our classrooms are filled with students from various academic and cultural backgrounds. If such diversity is not considered when constructing and administering courses, some students may feel marginalized and not receive the support necessary for them to thrive in academia. Moreover, without considering how varied backgrounds has shaped the unique needs of your students, student engagement, student enjoyment, student appreciation, and student attendance may all fall by the wayside.

To account for culture’s central role in the learning process, it is important to adopt a pedagogy that promotes equitable student learning and one that is characterized by culturally-responsive and student-centered instruction. For example, to emphasize cultural responsiveness, assess your own behavior as an instructor and get to know your students. Remember that all information in the learning process is produced and received through a cultural lens that may impact how course content is understood. Build one-on-one sessions and group discussions into your course activities to foster inclusivity, perspective taking, and cultural awareness. Additionally, reflect on your teaching style and assess it to see if it meets the learning needs of each student. For example, you may want to modify your curriculum content to the academic level of your students or modify activities to include a range of learning methods to more broadly help each student better understand the course material—through interactive, visualized, or even gamified lessons. Most importantly, try to foster an open classroom environment where student-relevant examples are incorporated into lecture to motivate student interest and where students feel welcomed to engage in active discussion that challenges students to think broadly and critically.

Designing Syllabi

                           Contributed By: Jason Mak and Charlotte Glennie

The important goals of a modern syllabus is to leverage them as a tool for communication and collaboration rather than as a contract or statement of power. In practice, an instructor can achieve these goals by using the syllabus to share his or her personality, share his or her love for the subject at hand, and instill the same passion for the subject in the students. Relevant content can include the background of the instructor, a modern "sales pitch" of the class, the use of personable lingo, a conveying of the desire to have a fun course, and the presentation of the upcoming material in an aesthetic and trendy way. Such a syllabus will establish a friendly, community-based environment, where students will be motivated to learn from day one of the class.

Active Learning Through Role-Playing

                                             Contributed By: Irena Acic

To start off our GTC meeting this winter, we have chosen to discuss the methods of active teaching/learning, with a focus on role-play. First, we pointed out some problems with traditional lectures - students are sometimes not following at a all, or they are passively writing down information without thinking about the material. One of the common challenges that teachers face in their work is how to help students remember information while keeping them engaged. This can be achieved through combining traditional teaching methods with active learning.
Active learning can be defined as "anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing" (Bonwell & Fison, 1991). With the help of a PowerPoint presentation, we noted all the key differences between the traditional and active approach. Almost everyone in the room shared their experiences with both of these approaches. Some of them were positive, some will be remembered as an opportunity to grow and perfect ourselves as teachers.
Next we listed major benefits of active learning, according to the Cornell University Center for Teaching and Excellence. Active learning:
  • Reinforces important material, concepts, and skills.
  • Provides more frequent and immediate feedback to students.
  • Addresses different student learning styles.
  • Provides students with an opportunity to think about, talk about, and process course material.
  • Creates personal connections to the material for students, which increases their motivation to learn.
  • Allows students to practice important skills, such as collaboration through pair and group work.
  • Builds self-esteem through conversations with other students.
  • Creates a sense of community in the classroom through increased student-student and instructor-student interaction.

          Active learning s especially important for Generation Z. Because of students' frequent use of technology, we need to take a different approach to teaching. We need to keep in mind that previous generations were patiently reading War and Peace and today students read tweets and Facebook posts that are very short and not so demanding.

          There are many techniques of active learning we could implement in our work. Some of them are: group work, class discussions, student teaching, role-playing and problem solving.

          The Concise Oxford English Dictionary definition of role-playing is "behaving in accordance with specified function." If we translate this to the classroom setting, we will have students who perform an activity resulting in learning outcomes. Students are physically and intellectually involved in their lessons and that allows them to express themselves in a scientific context and develop an understanding of difficult concepts. Role playing allows students to practice what they have learned, to have a concrete basis for a discussion, and to develop increased awareness of their feelings and feelings of others, Role-play also promotes working in groups and can potentially increase student enthusiasm and interest. 

          We listed many disciplines where role-playing can be used as a valuable tool (e.g. sociology, la, medicine, science). Research  has shown that medical students can improve their performance significantly if learning through role-play (Nestel & Tierney, 2007). Another study by McCarthy and Anderson (2000) has shown that the students who participated in role-play in history and political science classes did better on standard evaluations than their traditionally instructed peers.

          Of course role playing has some down sides as well so ideally, we should combine it with other teaching methods. Some of the down sides are:
          Embarrassment and discomfort - Some students might be worried about what others will think of them, rather than how the situation can be solved.
          Disorganization - Role playing works best when the teacher explains the purpose beforehand and outlines ground rules. If not, things can spiral out of control.

          After a lively discussion, we ended the meeting briefly summarizing the steps of preparing and conducting a role-play activity in the classroom:
          1) Warm-up - Prepare students by explaining the goals and rules. Encourage them to interact with each other and work with you. Teachers should select role plays that will give the students and opportunity to practice what they have learned. At the same time, we need a role play that interests the students. One way to make sure your role play is interesting to let the students choose the situation themselves.
          2) Action - Select the role players and start the interaction. Role playing can be temporarily stopped several times to allow for comments and feedback. Whether taking any part in the role play or not, the role of the teacher is to be as invisible as possible.
          3) Closure - Discussion of what is learned during role playing and how it can be used in real life situations. Once the role play is finished, spend some time on debriefing. This does not mean pointing out and correcting mistakes because that might makes students less confidence and less willing to do the other role plays. Follow-up means asking every student's opinion on the role play and welcoming their comments. The aim is to discuss what has happened in the role play and what they have leaned. In addition to group discussions, an evaluation questionnaire can be used. 

Bonwell, Charles C. & Eison, James A. (1991) Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom
Nestel, D. & Tierney, T. (2007) Role-play for medical students learning about communication: Guidelines for maximising benefits
McCarthy P. & Anderson L. (2000) Active Learning Techniques Versus Traditional Teaching Styles: Two Experiments from History and Political Science

Useful links:

Transparency in Education

                                             Contributed By: Marc Pollack

    Transparency in teaching is beneficial for all students, and absolutely necessary for underserved students. For students who have limited experience with higher education, knowing how their work will be assessed is essential to their capacity to succeed, providing them with an even playing field that draws upon their capabilities rather than assumed knowledge. There are several frameworks for improving transparency in higher learning institutions, including the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and the Winkelmes Transparency Framework, that provide a set of actionable means aimed at establishing and improving transparency. NILOA breaks this down into 6 different subsets of the learning environment and online system, improving on access and building regularly on feedback received from the students. Winkelmes focuses on three key features of transparent assignments: a stated purpose, clear set of tasks, and establishing criteria for successful work. Each of these offers opportunities to build on effective teaching and improve both student and teacher experiences.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Teaching Interdisciplinary Students

        Contributed By: Lauren Granillo, Matthew Marquis, and Khang Ton

Teaching interdisciplinary courses involves several unique challenges which stem from student diversity. Students may be in different stages of their educations/careers, may have different interests and long-term goals, and may have been prepared to different degrees by their prior coursework. In our meeting on May 16, 2018, we discussed the current state of interdisciplinary education at UC Davis, the value of interdisciplinary education, and strategies which may be used to overcome its unique challenges.

We began the session by focusing on graduate groups at UC Davis as a model for interdisciplinary education. An open discussion was held regarding the advantages and disadvantages of enrollment in a graduate group and interdisciplinary education in general. members of the group shared their experiences participating in graduate groups and teaching interdisciplinary courses.One major theme that emerged was the advantage of obtaining a breadth of knowledge with the caveat that it must not come at the expense of gaining a depth of knowledge.

The group them moved on to an in-class activity meant to practice one teaching strategy which is particularly useful in interdisciplinary classes. The strategy, called a knowledge assessment exercise, is meant to address variation in student preparedness for a particular lesson. Knowledge assessment exercises gauge the students’ knowledge of  material prerequisite to the lesson and thus allow the instructor to focus effort on explaining topics which students know the least about. GTC members took turns presenting multiple choice knowledge questions to the rest of the group. The challenge to the questioner was to guess what proportion of the group would answer the question correctly. Several members of the group found the exercise enlightening in that they realized that trivia which they take for granted may not be known to people in other disciplines. As concluding remarks, it was noted that knowledge assessment questions should be carefully crafted to directly address knowledge that students will need for the lesson at hand and that the assessor should be cognisant of the inherent challenge in distinguishing a lack of knowledge from a lack of understanding.

Others challenges and strategies were then covered and are are summarized as follows:

Key ideas for instructors to consider when teaching and planning an interdisciplinary course:
  • How can I use student’s aspirations/current careers in examples
  • How can I best evaluate the level of knowledge that students have entering the class
  • Are there areas/examples that I can be more flexible in and open up to ideas from my students
  • How best can I encourage students from different academic backgrounds to work together and engage in interdisciplinary dialogue

The meeting was concluded with a brief viewing of 9 hypothetical steps to success in interdisciplinary teaching which were proposed by Allen Repko, Director of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program for the School of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington. These steps are:
1. DEFINE problems, issues, topics or questions that warrant interdisciplinary examination
2. PRESENT a clear rationale for taking interdisciplinary approach including the advantages to be gained
3. IDENTIFY relevant disciplines
4. CONDUCT a literature review (what is known on the topic from each of the disciplines)
5. DEVELOP a command of each relevant discipline. Set out the analytical structure central to each discipline, identify key underlying assumptions, and methods of evaluation.
6. STUDY the problem and generate insights including predictions from each of the relevant disciplines - in isolation!!
7. IDENTIFY conflicts between and/or areas of complementarity between the insights offered from each discipline
8. CREATE common ground by developing a cohesive framework of analysis that incorporates insights from the relevant disciplines in a systematic manner.
9. COMBINE disciplinary insights to construct a new, more integrated understanding of the problem.