eLearning Technology Blog

Personalize It!

by WSU Online 28. November 2013 10:41

When I started thinking about what I wanted to share in this blog post, I reflected on my ten-years of teaching across resident, online, and the variations in between, and asked myself what facilitated some of the best interactions and courses I had taught over the years.  I readily admit I have learned more as to what does not work than I have learned about what does works. However, of all the practices that I have implemented into my classes, the one I routinely share with new faculty and discuss with graduate students teaching for the first time, is the importance of social bonding. 

Who does not like to be referred to by their name? There is nothing more empowering or satisfying as to be acknowledged as a person, by name. Decades of research has demonstrated how important social bonding in the classroom can be in fostering engagement and retention. However, social bonding online can be undermined by the very medium itself. Personalizing your communications to a student is obviously an easy tactic online, their name is right there with their assignment, discussion board post, and other forms of communication. However, merely referring to them by name is not enough to foster social bonding in the online environment. 

To assist me in personalizing the course for my students, and fostering social bonding, I developed a spreadsheet containing the names of each student and several columns where I place specific information about each student. Much of the information is available from the “introduce yourself” threads, where students share something about themselves, but as is often the case, students share only a bit of information that does not provide much opportunity for personalizing my responses and communications. Subsequently, this is why it is so important to not merely reply to student posts in this forum, but to ask more questions about their interests, their passion, their career goals, and what they hope to obtain from the course. Successfully learning more about students is the first technique I use to complete my spreadsheet. I also make it a point to identify areas of interest or topics that seem to really resonate with each student as I grade their discussions and writing assignments. Equipped with this information, I am then able to personalize my communications to students.

The personalization is not disingenuous; it is not a matter of cutting and pasting something from a spreadsheet. I am able to build on the discussion posts by bridging the content to them as a person, not merely as a student in a class. I recognize and value the experiences they possess, and this information enables me to engage with them. This tactic has also aided me in commenting on essays and research projects.

As I reflect on this technique, I want to offer that I do this not merely because I believe it improves engagement and retention, rather I truly do care to know my students. In all honesty, it is as much for them as it is for me because the more engaged they are in the classroom the more enjoyable the teaching experience is. 

Dr. David Makin

Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology
Research Fellow, Washington State Institute for Criminal Justice Research (WS-ICJR) Division of Policing and Security
Washington State University

Resources & Methods for Executing the Flipped Classroom

by WSU Online 13. November 2013 15:16

When considering options to replace lecture during class time, you could try some of these techniques: Peer Instruction, POGIL, Team Based Learning, Project Based Learning and Just in Time Instruction.

Common among all of these models is a focus on active and collaborative engagement rather than passive note taking. These techniques often include opportunities for students to apply ideas in problem solving, reason in new contexts, practice monitoring their own thinking, explain and defend reasoning and analyze others’ reasoning. Students voice their questions, hear those of others, and realize they are not alone in struggling to master the material. All of these techniques provide feedback to the instructor about students understanding (feedback that is much more frequent than Midterm and Final exams). The instructor can then use this formative assessment to guide teaching and address student misconceptions.

Peer Instruction
Peer Instruction was developed by Eric Mazur at Harvard in the 1990’s. This well-researched model has been shown to have a positive impact on learning and retention and is also considered to be an energizing alternative to lecture.

In a recent study Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class, a comparison was made between traditional lecture and peer instruction in two large sections (N = 267 and N = 271) of an introductory undergraduate physics course. The traditional lecture course was taught by an experienced and highly rated instructor, and the experimental course was taught by an inexperienced instructor using research- based instruction. In the results, they found increased student attendance, higher engagement, and more than twice the learning in the section taught with research-based instruction.

See this Peer Instruction FAQ  for other questions you might have. This brief video shows Mazur in the classroom and Richard Zollars (WSU Chemical Engineering) explains how this method has rejuvenated his teaching in a recent panel discussion.

Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL)

In POGIL students have specific roles and work in small groups using carefully designed materials which guide their inquiry.
Samantha Swindell (WSU Psychology) piloted this method in her course and says that it has made her more excited about teaching.  Prior to class students listen to a prerecorded lecture, do readings and then create a list of questions on the lecture and readings. Samantha reviews these questions as students work collaboratively on the structured exercises. They then regroup as a class to discuss the answers. Representatives from each group present the groups answers, questions, and thoughts. Samantha addresses misconceptions and responds to questions. At the end of class the group submits a “master form” which includes the structured work questions with the group’s answers.

Using Angel
A LMS like Angel provides many useful tools for flipping your class. Lecture recordings and readings can be posted along with assignments that help you to understand where the students are having trouble. Prior to class, polling and quiz tools can be used to gather information on student questions, misconceptions or confusion. These tools can also be used to prompt an online version of peer instruction; students respond to online concept tests, then use the discussion forum make an argument for the best response. The discussion forums can be used to collect student questions on the reading and lecture materials. They also allow the instructor to respond to important questions once instead of multiple times as in office hours. Students can return to these responses multiple times or ask further questions when needed.

If you would like to know more about implementing some of these ideas in your course please contact the global campus at global.elearning@wsu.edu.

Theron des Rosier


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