Posts by BethPless

Flipped Learning Ideas

Want a fun flipped learning activity that gets your students up and moving as they learn?  I recently used an activity in a couple of different classes that my students seemed to enjoy.

For lack of a better name, I guess we could call it the “Human Timeline” or maybe the “Human Puzzle.”  In one class, students will be required to list the 10 steps in a jury trial from start to finish on an exam.  So I printed each step on its own sheet of paper and handed them out randomly to students.  They had 30 seconds to put themselves in the correct order.  Then they had to explain to me what each step involved.  Students did extremely well on this exam question!

In another class, students are required to use correct legal citation form, which involves many different components (including punctuation).  Again, I had each component (including some commas and a period) on a separate sheet of paper, and also had some erroneous components.  We went through several different types of citations.  Sometimes everyone participated; other times we had one or two “judges” who decided if the order was correct.  One other time, the “judges” had to place the students in the proper order.

For larger classes, this could be done with 2 or more groups that then face each other and decide if they all got the correct order.  There are many variations on this activity, and it’s fun!

To be Online or Not to be Online? That is the Question!

I’m sure many of us have had the experience of teaching online or blended classes (with both online and in-person components).  More and more students are taking online courses and students are requesting the opportunity to take even more courses online.

So, should everyone take an online course?  Should everyone teach an online course?  Despite the fact that we want to give our students multiple and flexible course delivery options to increase persistence and retention, putting students and instructors who lack the skill sets needed to be successful in online learning environments can have the opposite effect — sometimes devastatingly so.

There are lots of articles out there about skills and characteristics of successful online students.  Generally, they boil down to students who are

  • active, rather than passive learners
  • self-motivated to learn and do learning activities, rather than needing to be prodded, reminded or cajoled
  • really good with time-management and self-disciplined, rather than needing the structure of a classroom and the requirement to get to class on time
  • strong and uninhibited communicators, rather than those who silently sit in confusion rather than ask questions. This is not the same as being extroverted rather than introverted!  Sometimes introverts actually do better in online environments than in classrooms because the learning environment is quieter and feels “safer” — sometimes it’s easier to ask the instructor written questions one-on-one than raise questions in a classroom setting
  • critical thinkers and problem solvers, rather than those who identify obstacles without brainstorming resolutions
  • familiar with technology, and unafraid to learn new ways to use it, rather than a computer novice who panics if the thing s/he is looking for isn’t on the top half of the web page that first comes up.

But what about instructors?  Are there skill sets we should have before we dive into online teaching?  Absolutely!  Again, there are several articles out there about the skills and characteristics of successful online instructors.  Generally, they boil down to instructors who are

  • facilitators who create learning activities and environments that encourage students to learn from each other and collaborate (for learning, not necessarily assessment, though that also has its place), rather than the “sage on the stage” who merely imparts information in non-interactive content.  Sorry, but posting your lecture notes online doesn’t count.  Even videotaping yourself delivering a traditional one-sided lecture doesn’t cut it.
  • motivated to create learning activities that are engaging and require students to be active online (and no, this doesn’t include clicking to advance PowerPoint slides), rather than, well, see the bullet point above.  Use activities that guide students toward learning and finding answers themselves.  Lead them down the garden path, show them the open gate, but don’t push them through; let them walk through and discover the garden themselves.
  • conscious of the time they are asking students to put into learning the materials online, rather than piling on additional reading assignments.  Categorize learning activities into required/crucial for success, recommended/capitalizing on success and supplemental/building on success.  It’s similar to must have, nice to have, and extra niceties.  Help students prioritize.  Extrapolate snippets from articles/case studies that are crucial to learning success, and provide the rest for those students who are hungry for more.
  • continuous and supportive communicators, rather than providing feedback on assignments once a week — and then only pointing out what’s “wrong.”  You’ve heard it over and over — frequent and early feedback is important.  Then keep it continuous, meaningful and be sure to point out what’s “right” as well.
  • flexible and willing to provide support to students outside of the “traditional” M-F 9-5 work week — not that many of us at NWTC really have one of those anyhow 🙂
  • develop forums and activities that allow students to meaningfully connect to, interact with and support each other. Group assignments that encourage online students to use collaborative tools to come up with “group” answers to hypothetical questions have worked really well for me. There was also a great post on 2/18/15 “Discussion Board Live” by Valarie Schwartz that hits this nail on the head with respect to Discussion Boards.
  • familiar with technology, and excited to learn new ways to use it, rather than someone who returns to the good old standbys of posting lecture notes, magazine articles, PowerPoints, etc.  There is so much cool and fun stuff out there with which you can be creative — and a lot of it is free!  Here is my plug for our Talent Development team — they have some great resources out there for you, ranging from lists of websites and interactive online activities to check out, to PD sessions that teach you how to use some of this stuff, to being willing to schedule one-on-one time with you (or team time with your team) to teach you or help get you unstuck after you start using it.

As important as it is for students to honestly assess whether their current skill set, work ethic and personal situation are likely to enhance or hamper their ability to succeed in an online learning environment, it is equally important for us as instructors to ask the same questions of ourselves.  Don’t teach an online class rather than an in-person class because you think it’s easier (it’s not), it’s less work (it’s actually more), it places less demands on your time and skills (wrong!), it’s more convenient because you set your own hours (LOL), or it basically teaches itself (ROTFL).  Instead, teach an online class because you possess a good number of the skills and characteristics recommended for successful online students and instructors — you accept and look forward to the challenges and rewards of online teaching.

OK, this post has nothing to do with Hamlet, but it’s a catchy title, don’t you think?

Thanks for reading.

Teaching Practices Inventory Helps You Examine Your Teaching

Recently I received an e-mail from the Faculty Focus newsletter (great free resource, by the way) with a link to  the Teaching Practices Inventory (click to open), which can help you document, examine and perhaps even revise your commonly used teaching practices.  It lists various teaching practices and tools that can help you review and spot gaps in your class materials (especially your BlackBoard shells).  It only took me about 10-15 minutes to complete it.  There’s a scoring rubric you can use to examine your data (remove the dummy data and insert your own).

These tools could lead to some interesting Instructional team — or Department-wide — discussions!

Read more about this tool here.

“If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are … a different game you should play” ~ Yoda

“Decide you must, how to serve them best.” (Yoda again).  You’ve got a great learning plan and an excellent platform.  You’ve even got a stellar delivery mode.  But some of your students are still failing to succeed in one of your capstone assignments.  It’s not that you haven’t spent a lot of time in class on it that is the problem … or maybe it is.

I have the opportunity, in upcoming semesters, to offer the same rigorous class (Legal Writing) with its most intellectually challenging assignment (Legal Research Memorandum) in several different delivery modes over the next several semesters (fully online, blended with class meetings every other week, blended with shortened class meetings every week, and blended with a “lecture” each week followed by a “lab” that same week).  In addition, our program has implemented a weekly Paralegal “open lab,” which is held in a classroom and facilitated by two of our instructors.  Students are encouraged to come to the lab with any questions they may have about their Paralegal classes, or just to sit and do homework, knowing they will have immediate answers to questions that come up.  The students really like these labs because they are smaller, more informal, and don’t have the “stigma” the writing lab might have (as in, the writing lab is for people who can’t write well, if at all — a misnomer this is, but believe it they do).

My plan is to gather data from each class and compare student success based on numerous factors — class attendance, class engagement and participation, questions asked in class and outside of class, open lab attendance relating to the memo assignment, and grades — how many of each grade, what was the grade “spread” (from highest number of points to lowest).  I’ll also track resubmits on this assignment to see if students take greater advantage of this opportunity in one delivery mode or another.  Basically, I want to see if one delivery mode has a greater impact on student success than another.

Stay tuned for updates on how this is going; As Yoda tells us, “Always pass on what you have learned.”

Welcome to the world of Why – Changing Your Song and Dance

“Why is the grass green?”  “Why do I have to make my bed when I’m just going to mess it up again sleeping in it tonight?”   Ah, Memories … those years when everything I said or asked my kids to do was met with “why?”  One of the things I’ve learned is that sometimes “why” is the most important question we can ask before we can make real changes that will have positive impact on student success.  And that when asking this question, the most important person whom we can ask this question is “The Man in the Mirror.”

Specifically, we need to look at each of the things we do as instructors, from classroom policies to teaching methods, to each and every way we interact with our students, and ask “Why” – why do we do them/impose them/use them?  What truly do we hope to accomplish for students through these things?  For example, take a look at your assignment policy:  Do you allow assignments to be turned in late?  If so, do you impose a penalty?  Do you have a policy that “excuses” lateness or allows for extensions?  Look at each component of that policy and ask why that is your policy.  Where did it come from?  How is it designed to benefit students?

As we question why, we must follow some simple rules:  (1) don’t be Vain – be prepared to consider constructive change without being defensive; (2) don’t be Tainted by the Love of your own ideas such that you can’t see their faults; (3) never Say (Say Say) “because this is how I’ve/we’ve always done it” or “because this is what a more experienced instructor gave me” as an answer to the question.  If, for a particular practice, you can’t come up with a good reason why, or a concrete and measurable way the policy benefits your students, then STOP! (In the Name of Love – or rather, learning)

Are your old ideas in Jeopardy?  Then it’s a Good Day (Sunshine)!  And if your questions lead you to see a need for change, Don’t Worry … Be Happy that you are on the road toward enhancing student success!  And then start Sharing the Love by engaging other instructors in these conversations so that we can all become citizens of the world of Why.

*special thanks to the Backstreet Boys, Michael Jackson, Annie Lennox/Jason Aldean/Secondhand Serenade, Carly Simon, Soft Cell/Gloria Jones, Paul McCartney, The Supremes, Greg Khin Band, the Beatles, Bobby McFerrin and Chaka Khan for their musical contributions to this post.

Using Announcements to Stay Connected During “Off” Weeks in Blended Classes

I don’t know about you, but I found that when I first started teaching blended classes, students treated the weeks that we didn’t meet as a class as “off” weeks — in other words, they didn’t do anything! When we came back to class the following week, people seemed disconnected and somewhat surprised that I had expected them to do some reading or some online activities during the previous week when we didn’t meet in the classroom (this, despite what I thought was pretty clear language to the contrary in the syllabus)

I didn’t like feeling disconnected, and wanted students to be able to refer back to something to remind themselves what they learned in class during the previous class meeting, as well as a fun way to remind them there was no “off” week — just an “online” week.

Here’s what I do. I use the Announcements feature in BlackBoard.  To memorialize what we learned during an in-person meeting, the announcement thanks them for coming to class, summarizes what we learned in class, and lets them know what’s coming up (what assignments are due, and what we’ll be doing during our next class meeting, as well as materials they need to review/bring to the next class meeting).

During the “online” week, I put together a simple GoAnimate video to remind them what they should be doing that week so they are prepared when we meet in person again.  Here’s an example:

Click here to view your notes Cool

Ok, I admit maybe I have too much fun with the GoAnimate videos.  But the students seem to like it, and they’re more engaged and better prepared.