Monday, April 25, 2016

Monday, April 18 -- Instructional Technology

To put a perspective on the discussion, we started by watching this youtube video about the history of educational technology. Teaching technology has been rapidly evolving, though many core-teaching tools are still recognizable despite all the changes. For instance, interactive smartboards are derived chalkboards, and tablets are modernized notebooks, which in turn replaced individual slates. Although technological options may be ever changing, the goal should always be to use tech that facilitates student learning by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of instruction.

PART II: Discussion-- Examples of technology and what is the purpose/use
What Technology are we currently using in our classrooms/for our courses?
1. SmartSite
2. Piazza (
3. iClicker, Top Hat, Socrative
4. SmartBook
5. MS Office (word, excel, etc)
6. Programming Software (R, SAS, MatLab)
7. phEt  (

What can we do with it?
SmartSite (Pros):
-Send to all students at once:
-Email, announcements, assignments (quizzes), resources such as PowerPoint, pdf, book chapters, etc.
SmartSite (Cons):
-Can be quirky- not send mail to intended/unintended recipients
                             -crash, lose assignments/work entered
-Limitations, not as integrative as other platforms

Piazza (Pros):
-Allows individuals to post questions in one common thread for everyone in the course to see
-Allows any individual in the course (student, TA, professor) to answer the question in one common thread for everyone to see
-Can delete/edit responses at any time, similar to Wikipage

-great way to engage/motivate students
-excellent form of real time assessment of how students are doing

-animated activities without a template of many rules
-can use with any grade level. Can design own activity worksheet to any template

PART III: New platform: Transitioning from SmartSite to CANVAS:

One major group of instructional technologies are Learning Management Systems (LMSs), such as Blackboard and Smartsite. LMSs are flexible online platforms that can manage educational content and facilitate learning outside of class. Some features that LMSs typically accommodate include document sharing, assignment submission, quiz administration, and grade storage. UC Davis is moving to a new LMS in the fall called Canvas, and we spent some time exploring the functionality of Canvas from a student’s perspective and discussing features available for instructors. In addition to stability and adaptability, Canvas has many options for students and instructors to customize their interaction with the site. For instance, instructors can choose from different widgets or modules (quizzes, discussions, wikis, and polls). Instructors also have a number of new tools for grading assignments within Canvas, and are able to mark, underline, and comment directly on documents without having to download submissions to their own machine. The integration of Canvas with other forms of technology is impressive; students and teachers can upload media content such as video comments seamlessly within the LMS, and Canvas has improved mobile compatibility. Students also have the ability to customize how they receive notifications (including by text or tweet) and how often (immediately, a daily digest, etc.).
One tool that can be integrated within Canvas or used separately is Piazza. Piazza is a mixture of an online forum and a wiki where students and instructors can post questions to be answered by the class community. One interesting feature of Piazza is that replies to questions are in wiki format, so that a number of students can work together to edit an answer. The instructor in turn can post their own answer separately or can endorse a student response. As with Canvas, students can choose how they would like to receive notifications from Piazza and how often. Although Piazza can be a great forum for posting things like the “muddiest point” questions, some GTC members with experience using Piazza mentioned that it can break down when students do not have an incentive to answer each other’s questions and instead just wait for the instructor to respond.

For more information about instructional technology at UC Davis and in general, we encourage you to check out these other posts on the GTC blog and the UC Davis ATS blog, The Wheel.  DOLCE (Discuss Online Learning and Collaborative Education) is a campus group that meets once a month and posts livestreams of their meetings online.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Monday, April 11, 2016 -- Differentiating Instruction

Hey, GTCers!

During our recent spring quarter workshop on “Differentiating Difficulty,” facilitator Sarah Messbauer walked us through some of the key points to consider when constructing courses for lower- and upper-division undergraduate as well as graduate-level courses.

After an initial brainstorming session, participants discussed what they believe are some of the ways these course levels differ from one another. Among the concepts discussed were:

             Size: In general, class sizes decrease as difficulty levels increase.

Scope: Upper division and graduate level courses often focus on depth over breadth of material.

Title: Related to scope, the titles of lower-division undergrad courses often focus on concepts related to “Introduction” or “Survey” while upper-division courses focus on content-specific keywords related to concepts like “analysis.”

Skills: Lower-division courses traditionally place heavier emphasis on the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (remember, understand, apply) while upper-division courses work more with higher level skills (analyze, evaluate, create).

Assessment: Lower-division courses rely more on exams and other kinds of standardized assessment, while upper-division courses are more flexible and often project-based.

Prior Knowledge: Lower-division courses often don’t have prerequisites and are welcoming to non-majors, whereas upper-division courses are mostly designed for majors, and thus, require prior coursework to perform well.

Relationships: The relationships among participants in the course also differ depending on the level. In lower-division courses, the professor/student dynamic is much more formalized and rigid than in an upper-division setting, where close contact between the two is often a requirement for success.

With these thoughts in mind, Messbauer then introduced some of the most common ways colleges and universities frame the differences between the different levels, particularly within course proposal guidelines. According to these guidelines the focus for each level is the following:

            Lower Division:
Breadth – these courses are designed to provide an introduction to a discipline or subject, and as a result are often broad in scope.

Foundations – because prior knowledge is not expected for lower-division courses and non-majors are often present, the skills emphasized in these courses should revolve around those that are foundational or fundamental to the discipline.

General Education – while foundational knowledge and skills are critical at this level, there should be an equal emphasis on “soft” or “transferrable” skills (working in groups, public speaking, written communication skills, information synthesis skills) rather than focusing wholly on discipline-specific ones. This makes the course more useful to non-majors who do not plan to continue in the discipline, since transferrable skills are desirable in any occupation.

Preparation – the goal of lower-division classes is to prepare students for future work in college (i.e. for upper-division coursework).

Depth/Focus – these courses are designed to provide students with mastery of a particular aspect of the discipline, making depth of content the most desirable trait.

Specializations – because the focus is particular, each course should select one aspect of the discipline to focus on rather than attempting to cover all or multiple aspects.

Refinement – the basic skills introduced in lower-division work (both discipline-specific and transferrable) should be refined in upper-division coursework, ideally through an increase in independent and student-directed exploration of content.

Preparation – at this level, the goal of these courses is to prepare students for future work outside of college (i.e. for professional work or graduate school).

In talking through these issues, participants brainstormed how these differences would actually play out in their own disciplines. Visualizing these scenarios helped discussants to identify what aspects of each course level would be most challenging to deal with. Some potential problem areas included:
Identifying the line between breadth and depth, especially for courses designed for middle-year students (sophomores and juniors).

For upper-division courses: determining how best to prepare students for future work outside of college when the possibilities of what such work entails are so diverse.

Determining best practices for grading when over-standardization in lower-division courses might not best evaluate all students equally and under-standardization in upper-division courses might lead to an imbalance or subjective practice of grading.

Dealing with a lack of background knowledge, either in upper-division courses where non-majors are enrolled or in lower-division courses where “basic” concepts like English language communication, essay writing experience, or access to resources/technology might not have been made available to all students at the grade school level in equal measure.

With these general rules and potential problems identified, participants spent the last few minutes of the workshop discussing how these problems would best be addressed when designing courses. Many participants agreed that Backwards Design, with its emphasis on the overarching goals of a course rather than the specific material covered, presents the best opportunity for ameliorating potential problems before they occur.

Want to know more about Backwards Design? Be sure to check out our posts on it right here in the GTC Blog!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Schedule for Spring Quarter

Theme for Spring Quarter 2016:
Structuring Your Classroom
Mondays, 11:00AM - 11:50AM in 1360 The Grove (Surge 3)

The Graduate Teaching Community is a group of graduate and post-doctoral students at UC Davis. We meet on a weekly basis to discuss teaching practices for undergraduate education, address common teaching challenges, and to just have fun! In addition, this quarter the CEE is also sponsoring snacks for each meeting and a celebratory luncheon at the end of the quarter. Participation in the GTC can result in a certificate that you can add to your teaching portfolio and provide a great talking point for job interviews. 

This quarter, our theme for weekly meetings is "Structuring Your Classroom".  During our organizational first meeting, being able to tackle classroom preparation and everyday occurrences seemed to be the main focus of GTC attendees. This quarter's topics include

April 11th:
 Differentiating Difficulty (Lower division vs. higher division vs. grad classes)
April 18thTeaching Technology
April 25th: Methods to check for understanding
May 2ndUCD Teaching Objectives
May 9th: The Flipped Classroom
May 16th: Effective Assessment Techniques
May 23rd: Lunch Party!

Everyone is welcome to attend one or all of our meetings. Earning a certificate requires you to lead (or co-lead) one week's session, but you can come out to as many meetings as work for you!

If you can't make this quarter's meeting times but want to be kept informed, continue to check out our blog.  You can also get on our email list by either going to, or by emailing one of the co-facilitators and requesting to be added.

Looking forward to a great quarter!

Amanda Fox ( & Michelle Rossi (
GTC Co-facilitators