A few weeks back I attended the Fall Forum on Teaching and Learning. This year the theme was Race & Social Identity. This is obviously a very important topic—especially given the polarizing climate that we currently find ourselves in. The Keynote speaker, Terrell Strayhorn, spent a fair amount of time talking about how to create environments in our classrooms that are safe and welcoming for students who come from diverse backgrounds of experiences.
I know that classroom mobile phone policies can be a fraught subject. Student distraction is a real concern, and handheld technology gives students a tool that introduces a constant stream of outside input (social media, news alerts, games) that often seem far more interesting than the class material or activities. One way to combat this is to make the phones or devices part of the learning experience.
During the 2016–17 academic year, the Mobile Learning Initiative (MoLI) conducted a pilot of Poll Everywhere as a classroom response system. Poll Everywhere is a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) clicker system used primarily to poll or quiz students in a face to face classroom. Poll Everywhere allows students to answer questions in class on their personal device (phone, tablet, or laptop) and visualizes their responses in real time. It’s an easy way to engage students, build more interaction into your teaching, and gauge student understanding. It’s also a great tool to use for “fun” in the classroom, from a quick icebreaker to a complex trivia competition.
In 2016 I learned about a conference hosted by Ashoka U, an organization that supports universities in fostering “social innovation” and “changemaking” on their campuses. It sounded fascinating despite the fact that I had no idea what these terms meant. After reading a bit further, I learned that these are relatively new umbrella terms that include elements of social justice and social entrepreneurship. In a nutshell, social innovation in higher education can include any initiative that exposes students to social justice, intercultural collaboration, and concepts like design thinking and business/nonprofit management.
I wasn’t quite sure how all of this might relate to instructional technology, but I had a feeling it could be relevant to the type of online international collaborations we’re establishing at DePaul through our Global Learning Experience (GLE) program. In GLE projects, our students collaborate online with faculty and students at foreign universities, and I’m always on the lookout for ways to help our students collaborate more effectively with peers from different cultural backgrounds. While I can’t fit everything I learned at the conference in a single blog post, I’ve included a few of my favorite lessons below.
When I started to think what I could write about for this blog post, all I could think about was what I could possibly add to the conversation. What perspective do I have that others may not? What insights could I offer? And I began to consider the insanity of this last term. Over the past 11 weeks, I had three roles: I was a student, an instructor, and a staff member. If you had asked me during week 7 how things were going, this is probably what my response would be like:
I teach in the First-Year Writing program at DePaul, and during Autumn Quarter especially, my classes consist mostly of freshmen. I love to watch how their demeanors evolve throughout the quarter as they become more confidently part of DePaul’s academic community—but joining this community isn’t natural for everyone (and wasn’t for me when I was an undergraduate student).
So as I’m submitting final grades for Autumn Quarter, pouring over my course evaluations, and thinking about the fast-approaching Winter Quarter, I’m reflecting on how I can better help the students that don’t as easily find their groove in my classroom and others.
Downward facing dog
Lift your right leg up
Move your right leg forward
Land your right foot next to your right thumb
Move your right arm forward…Warrior II
Bend your right knee, move your left arm up, and right arm down…extended side angle
The voice of my yoga instructor whistled by my ears as I followed the flow of movement. My mind drifted. What should I write for my blog?
Drew Lapp, a product/interface designer and user experience researcher, wrote a blog post that resonated with me, “Design and the Art of Listening.” Over the years, with more design experience, gained trust by faculty, and a desire to move beyond a task list, I listen more. Listening closely and actively to faculty, students, and administrators have enabled me to propose ideas that put me in the position of a co-collaborator. By listening, I am able to empathize and offer an idea for a solution that is relevant and (hopefully) addresses the root of the issue. It’s amazing how much information can come from individual meetings with faculty, hallway comments by students, and discussions in department-wide meetings, just by listening. As I move amongst these user groups, I start to hear common complaints, challenges, and gripes…a designer’s dream! I get fired up to find that solution, but not so fast. As Lapp says, “…much of the time people aren’t able to tell you what they want right away. Sometimes it takes a while to get the answer; sometimes they aren’t able to articulate it themselves. So how do you figure this out? You listen and you listen some more.” Exactly. Back to listening, but now I can ask more intelligent and refined questions that start to get to the heart of the complaint or issue, so that eventually I can, as Lapp so eloquently says “give the people what they want.” Isn’t this the designer’s ultimate goal?
Collaborating across the globe is gaining much-needed traction thanks to the accessibility of technology tools and internet connectivity. While there are some countries that still suffer from digital inadequacies, the proliferation of mobile device and tablet accessibility is changing the game and thankfully, beginning to level the playing field.
Social media and other mediums have shown the humanizing impact that integrating video into a conversation can have that somehow, makes us feel connected to those that we haven’t seen in years and/or live thousands of miles away. And now, other industries are starting to take notice.
The academic and business world as we knew it decades ago is evolving to new heights. With more online courses at the collegiate level increasing to the exponential growth of global virtual conferencing in the workforce, our brothers and sisters around the world are much easier to engage on a regular and consistent basis.
Make no mistake, if you’re going to connect sizeable groups of college students or colleagues in a meaningful and engaging way, it takes time and strategic planning. Unlike social media, in academia, business corporations, healthcare, and other industries, structured and formal real-time (live) video interactions can take weeks, maybe even a month, to execute flawlessly. Continue reading
I’ve been working on a side project recently to help young people improve their financial literacy and job skills, and I needed to create a quiz that would be accessible to anyone with the link. I’d heard from a colleague that Google recently rolled out a feature allowing Google forms to be turned into quizzes, so I decided to give it a try. The process was easier than I expected and, in less than 30 minutes, my “ultimate credit score quiz” was live for the world to see.
If you’re accustomed to having students access your learning materials within a learning management system like Canvas, Blackboard, or D2L/Brightspace, you might wonder why you’d ever want to create quizzes outside your LMS. I had a similar perspective until I began working on projects that included students outside of my institution. For instance, through DePaul’s Global Learning Initiative, I frequently work with faculty who are collaborating with foreign instructors and students.
Before the rollout of Google quizzes, the only way we could provide our non-DePaul collaborators with access to quizzes was to add them to our LMS. This process is time-consuming and tends to reinforce the feeling that, as an American institution, we’re requiring our partners to learn our systems and do things our way. Because Google quizzes can be accessed by simply clicking a link (no login required), and because many Google products are widely used in many countries, we now have an option for online, auto-graded assessments that feels more open and familiar to students outside of our institution.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Brightspace Fusion 2016 conference. While the conference itself is hosted by the team that develops our LMS (Learning Management System), many of the sessions focused on strong use of technology in general, as well as tested strategies for engaging learners, whether online, hybrid, or in traditional classrooms (in other words, these ideas apply regardless of the LMS you may be using). If I had to pick one theme that stood out to me most, it would be the idea of personalized learning and instruction.
I know what you may be thinking now—we’ve been hearing about this for years and it still doesn’t seem to be that common, and most people push back by saying they don’t have time for creating individualized items for every student in the class. I couldn’t agree more; that’s why the point here isn’t necessarily making many individualized items for each and every student, but personalized to different styles of learning, or even to your personal style of teaching your subject. From what I see, the point here is that much of the content for courses is ubiquitous now—anyone can search online for countless bits of information, textbooks, how-to guides, websites, or videos on a topic; because of this, the real art and strategy of teaching is not so much in what we present, but how we present it. The personalization is as much about the instructor’s style as it is the learners’ styles—the questions we need to answer are “How knowledgeable and authentic is the instructor? How can an instructor use their personal experiences or examples to make the content more accessible?”