Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Go For the Goal: Goal Setting for Partners in Learning

Howdy, GTCers!

Hope everyone had a restful and recuperative Thanksgiving break! Just before we broke for the holiday, the GTC was fortunate enough to have guest facilitator Melita Denny come and talk to us about the importance of goal setting for creating dynamic and active classrooms. Provided below is her summary of the most important points covered during this workshop:

Is it useful to teach goal setting a part of a class?

Certainly any class would have goals, a particular amount of material to be covered, expectations of skills and concepts that the students should master in a particular amount of time.  Classes are often focused on performance objectives such as exams, and may require the completion of projects.  As teachers we have goals that we set for our students.  We call these the objectives for the class and we hope that our students will be able to master at least some of them over the course of the class.
Taking time to discuss goal setting can help engage the students in taking ownership of their own learning. 

“If you, the teacher, have a goal, and you don't share it with your students, they aren't really your partners in learning.”

Some important concepts in effective goal setting:

Clearly define the expectations for the class -

The most helpful thing we can do as teachers is to clearly state the course objectives.  Make sure the students know what will be expected of them

Involve the student in the process of setting goals -

If the students feel that they are involved with the process the goals will be more meaningful to them.  It might also be useful to understand that students will have different goals.  A student may come in to your class with particular interests and expectations.  A student may not really care about getting an A, he or she may just want to pass the class.  As teachers, we have a responsibility to challenge our students.  Ideally we would like to inspire them to care about the subject and help them find ways to succeed.  But ultimately the choice is theirs.  The goals will only be  effective if the students accept them.

Set specific goals -

Specific goals are much more powerful than vague goals.  As noted above, it is important to make sure your students know what your expectation are for the class.  A well designed class will have specific expectations, amount of material to be covered, skills and knowledge that must be mastered for exams or assignments.  Giving specific information about the course objectives can help the students to make their own specific goals. 

For example, an over-achieving student taking an into biology class might approach the class with the idea that she is going to learn everything there is to know about biology.  This is a laudable goal, but rather vague.  It could be helpful for her to make a more specific goal of being able to answer all the chapter questions in the textbook.

Create a plan of action -

Once the goal is specifically articulated, we then need to create a plan for achieving it.  In most cases it is useful to have a step-by-step process that breaks a large goal in to more manageable pieces.  Many goals require time to achieve.  Building a skill, training for athletics, memorizing material, these things all work best when done a little at a time.  Some teachers will break a large project in to smaller steps to help the students.  For example, a large research paper might require the preliminary steps of: compilation of a bibliography, development of a thesis, rough draft, and editing.  These steps can be separate assignments with individual due dates to help the student work step-by-step. 

A student might not always know how to achieve a particular goal.  If he or she hasn't written a significant research paper before, it would be important that they learn to work through the steps in the process.  If the teacher is explicit about the reason for assigning the project in steps, the students can learn the value of creating a plan of action for achieving a goal and may be more successful when they take another class in which they are left to do the project on their own.

Goals for teachers -

Thinking about goal setting and explicitly making it part of the classes we teach can help us to organize more effectively.  When preparing a class, it is always useful to ask, what are my objectives?  What do I want my students to learn in this class? 

The model I outline above can be used as a guide for developing your class: define your expectations,  set specific goals, create a plan of action to achieve those goals.
The content of lectures, the assignments for the class, and the content a format for your tests should all reflect your goals for the class and your plan to achieve them with your students.

Many thanks to everyone who participated in discussion for this topic!  This is a very interesting topic and I learned a lot from all of you.

Melita Denny

Many thanks to Melita for her thorough and thoughtful recap. Just a reminder that tomorrow, Thursday December 4th, 2013, the GTC will be hosting a workshop entitled "Peer Assessment in the Classroom: Why? How?" facilitated by Melody Schmid. Interested? Please see the flyer below for more details. 

Hope to see you there!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tech Talk: Using Technology to Engage Students as Partners in Learning

Hey GTCers!

Recently the GTC held a lively discussion facilitated by Matt Dumlao on how online interactions can be used to promote a student-centered approach to teaching.  Throughout this quarter we are focusing on how we, as instructors, can get students more involved in the learning process, and technology can be used to achieve those goals.

Direct from Matt, here’s a summary of what we talked about:

What are different types of online interactions?
We began our discussion by listing ways students can interact with each other online.  Students can lead discussions and Q & A sessions in chat rooms (ex. the SmartSite chat room for the course).  They can share and edit files using Google Docs.  For example, potential test questions or study guides provided by the instructor could be tackled by a group of students using Google Docs.  Google Docs could also facilitate peer review of student papers.  In addition, students could make videos or podcasts or summarize content in Wikipedia-like entries, all of which can be both a formative assessment and a way to get students involved in creating content.  Students can also interact via Skype, Adobe connect, Facebook, Twitter, and good ol’ fashioned email.

All of these interactions can be described as synchronous or asynchronous -- i.e., do students interact in real time, or is there a delay --  and each type has different pros and cons.  Synchronous interactions might give students a more personal feel and allow them to tap into nonverbal and contextual cues to help move a discussion forward.  Asynchronous interactions may not have any nonverbal or contextual cues for the students to pick up, but the time delay does allow students to craft a well-written response.

What are the functions and goals of online interactions?
We continued our discussion by brainstorming reasons why one would want to incorporate online interactions in a course.  We all agreed that online forums can provide a place for discussion outside of the classroom.  Discussions started during class or office hours can continue online and new topics that may not be addressed during class can be raised.  In many ways, these interactions can mimic what students do in study groups: they work through concepts together, teach each other, and help each other prepare for exams.  In general, these interactions can extend the learning period beyond the hours spent in class and provide more opportunities to learn the material.

In addition to helping students master the material, we identified several important goals regarding student motivation.  Research has shown that the more ways students are engaged with the material, the more time and effort they will want to put into learning it and the more positive their overall experience will be.  Online interactions can be a valuable tool to achieve these goals.  For example, in the online discussions described above, the students become the teachers, which can give them a sense of ownership over the learning process.  That is also true for assignments like podcasts or YouTube videos, which has the added benefit of involving them in creating content.  Also, online interactions can open up avenues of participation for students who may not want to speak up during class. 

It was also mentioned that incorporating online interactions into the course can be a way to teach media literacy.  Students are often assumed to be “tech savvy”, but that is not always a safe assumption, especially when it comes to finding reliable academic resources online and accessing journal articles.

We also spent a little time discussing how to grade online interactions.  Our ideas ranged from minor participation points to a significant percentage of the course grade.  It all depends on what the goals of the interaction are.  Do you simply want students to discuss topics in online chat rooms?  You might offer them participation points and not grade the content of their comments.  If students are asked to create content (podcasts, wiki-posts, etc) that may be used to teach the rest of the class, then the assignment should be equivalent to a term paper or an exam in terms of the level of scrutiny the teacher gives it and the amount of points it is worth.

We ended this segment of our discussion by reiterating that any use of technology must be purposeful and the goals should be clearly defined.

What is the role of teachers in student-led online interactions?
Just as with in-class interactions, teachers must play several roles to ensure that the interactions are productive. Broadly speaking, the responsibilities of the teacher can be divided into three categories: organizational, social, and intellectual.   From an organizational perspective, the teacher must act as a moderator, setting the agenda for the discussion, outlining the ground rules for all participants, describing expectations, and making sure the discussions remain on task.  The social role involves making sure all participants feel included and comfortable.  Finally, the teacher must also act in an intellectual capacity by asking questions, synthesizing discussion points, and steering conversations in the right direction.  All of these roles can be transferred to students.  To do so, the teacher must first model appropriate behavior and then allow students to take over.  As teachers take a back seat, they should still monitor the discussions to make sure everything is going smoothly.

We also brought up the case of what to do with ESL students.  ESL students often feel self conscious of their communication skills and they may not feel confortable writing in English in a chat room for all to see.  To get around this, someone mentioned Piazza (, a tool that make posts anonymous to other students, but the instructor can still see who wrote the posts.

Some tools for teachers
We wrapped up our discussion by mentioning several web tools that can be used to implement online interactions.  The chat room feature on SmartSite was mentioned as a commonly used tool in a variety of courses on campus.  Google Docs and other aspects of Google Drive have also been used to share and edit files (e.g., study guides).  Diipo and Edmodo can be used for social networking in educational settings, although they have been designed for K-12 classrooms and their usefulness may be limited.

Finally, last year during the TA Consultant workshop series sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Nicholas Hall, Robert Lynch and Philip Matern presented an excellent summary of teaching technologies, including tools that can help with podcasting, file sharing, and real-time video/audio streaming.   Check it out.  It’s awesome.

For more information on this topic, please feel free to get in touch with Matt directly. The handout he provided (see below) may also provide some handy insights as you work on integrating tech into a students-as-partners classroom.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Flipping Out! Techniques and Strategies for Effectively Flipping Your Classroom

Hey there, GTC!
Now that we're past the halfway point of the quarter, our GTC discussion series is definitely in full swing! This time the topic focused on a new and exciting trend among educators: flipping the classroom. Sarah Longo, this week's discussion facilitator, had this to say:
The aim of flipping the classroom is to reverse the traditional teaching paradigm. Instead of a teacher giving lectures in class and assigning homework, basic introduction to knowledge and concepts is done at home by students through readings—or increasingly through online prerecorded lectures in the form of videos, podcasts, or screencasts. This allows classroom time to be for more "homework-esque" exercises such as group projects and problems sets, except that now students have aid and immediate feedback from their peers and teachers. For those of you familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, the flipped classroom essentially inverts the normal pyramid scheme of teaching; students do the foundational but lower-level learning tasks at home (knowledge, comprehension), then they come to class where exercises and discussion guide them to achieve higher-level learning goals (application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation).
The benefits of being flipped: There are some impressive statistics out there showing that the flipped classroom can have a big positive impact on student grades, as well as overall retention and graduation rates. The key to the success of the flipped style is the encouragement of active-learning in the classroom. Teachers usually spend all their class time lecturing, covering basic concepts, then send students home to apply this information through homework assignments. Most teachers would agree that students only really learn the material once they review it and apply it in these homework activities. However, students have many activities and distractions vying for their attention outside of the classroom. In addition, it is very easy for group-work to turn into copying without teacher supervision, and confusion about material may take a while to correct if the student encounters the problem outside of the classroom.  Instead, when students are doing problem sets and working in groups in the classroom, the teacher can manage the time and attention spent on each exercise, provide immediate feedback, and make sure that all students are progressing in their individual understanding.
Integrating technology: One of the major reasons that the flipped classroom style is taking off is due to the increasing wealth of resources available for educators and students to make and access learning materials online. In many cases, flipping the classroom has become synonymized with the integration of online and electronic resources. Certain programs also allow for “mastery learning” in combination with the flipped classroom. For instance, educators can make is so new material is not available before the student has passed an online quiz from the previous material, therefore proving that they have mastered the content.
The importance of partnership: On one hand, flipping the classroom requires students to take a more active and equal share in their own learning by doing the required readings and viewings before class. Students that do not come prepared to a flipped classroom will not be successful. They will not be able to ask questions about concepts they didn't understand, apply information, or achieve the more advanced level of understanding teachers are aiming for because they are missing the basic foundation. In a normal classroom, students usually do fine in the classroom whether or not they have done their homework, since the homework doesn't affect their ability to sit and listen to the next lecture (although their chances of understanding the new material and getting a passing homework grade are still in danger). 
Secondly, since educators aren't spending all of the class time lecturing, the flipped classroom gives teachers more opportunities to involve students in the classroom learning process. Depending on the type of course, grade level of students, and creativity of the instructor, this partnership could take a variety of forms. Perhaps each student is required to present a 5-minute summary of the homework readings and watchings to the class during the course of the semester. Or maybe students are broken up into groups to discuss questions expanding upon the concepts in the podcasts, while the teacher moves between groups to facilitate discourse and challenge ideas where necessary. In-class debates, experiments, skits, reenactments, and demonstrations with students as the primary participants and the teacher as motivator and facilitator become possible.

For more information on this subject, feel free to contact Sarah (