Podcast #78

This fall Doug and Edward both taught classes of their own. In their latest episode, they reflect on their challenges, what they tried, and what they learned.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

1:09 What’s this episode all about? Looking back at the courses we taught this fall. What were our challenges? Podcaster, teach thyself. The challenges of educational research.

4:33 Doug tries to re-work a course he’s taught many times: applied econometrics, the first economics class to be transformed through Cornell’s Active Learning Initiative. They measure in a baseline semester and then try new things in following semesters.

7:22 Edward designs, writes, and teaches online–so he can help others with the same process. He migrated an online film history course that he teaches for Lake Taho Community College to the Canvas Learning Management System and incorporated student blogging, but now he wanted to revise it.

10:44 Edward’s big challenges were: explaining what historians do, helping students avoid making the same mistakes again and again, helping them to write better, re-organizing the course while it was running, and rethinking assessment.

14:37 Doug wasn’t changing the technology in his course: a laptop and an iPad work together so Doug can avoid being stuck behind a lectern. The iPad hybridizes the chalkboard and slides. Doug’s challenges were two-fold:

  1. Doug used quizzes to encourage pre-reading before the lecture, but that wasn’t working well.
  2. He used in-class “invention activities” to help students understand why the econometric methods were valuable, but sometimes students just drew a blank–so probably some scaffolding was in order.

20:49 Edward also needed to do a lot of scaffolding, as it turned out.His students needed to find and then analyze primary and secondary historical documents, journalistic and academic criticism–as well as other sorts. To scaffold the distinctions, he gave quizzes on primary vs. secondary, journalistic academic, and he started by giving the students documents to use. Then rethinking assessment based on “habits” rather than criteria: writerly, scholarly, critical, and historical. And scaffolding these habits by expanding the rubric week by week.

31:06 Doug and his postdoc (George Orlov) refined their invention activities and plans to publish them this year. Sidetrack #1: Why do we create our own courses and course materials? Why don’t we share and publish materials to be reviewed and evaluated? Doug also gave up on pre-reading quizzes the lecture, and moved the quizzes and reading to after the lecture–and he made the quizzes harder. Sidetrack #2: Using quizzes for a very focused purpose: to help the students go deeper into the material.

36:01 The surgical use of quizzes. Edward’s good news: The students’ writing improved dramatically. Once an auto-graded quiz is written, you can use it forever. You can configure the quiz so the students don’t simply search for the right answers. Three bits of bad news:

  1. Re-building the course as you go leads to instructor errors. Edward learned a few tricks about managing versions in Canvas. Letting students know when you’ve made a mistake.
  2. Challenges using ‘outcomes’ in Canvas: you can’t extract the performance along the dimensions you use for grading.
  3. Rebuilding the course as you go gets you behind in grading. (It turns out, though, the correlation amongst student grades is high.)

46:09 Sometimes our assessment just consists of telling students they did the prep work correctly. Using points rather than letter grades. You can’t assume the students know how to do some of these basic things.

50:11 Focusing on what students achieve rather than whether or not they do all the work. Encouraging students to do the work when they may not have the greatest study skills. The final project or exam may show what the student learned–but it may not. That’s why our grading/weighting schemes are what they are.

57:17 What worked for Doug: The revised invention activities worked much better. Some students responded to clicker systems from their dorm rooms. The quizzes were much harder–but the grades were higher than expected. The students had time to work on them, and they wanted to get high scores. The surgical uses of quizzes (again). A sample Evernote Dossier on BLAZING SADDLES

1:01:14 Edward would like to use peer assessment, give space for students to revise their writing, and separate out dates and times from other forms of content (to avoid misunderstandings about due dates).

1:04:44 Doug wants to focus next on group work and what kinds of standards and criteria students can use to rate each other, ways to improve the students’ poster presentations, and dive into the assessment data and see where the teaching could be improved.

1:09:05 Try debriefing your semester with a colleague over coffee. What challenges did you face? What did you do to address them? What worked and what didn’t? What do you plan to do next? Signing off with “We Three Kings” recorded by Ben Devries