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Enriching Scholarship 2017: Inclusive Engagement – From The Classroom To The Meeting Room May 4, 2017

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Just a note before you begin: you might notice as the week goes on my grammar and spelling get worse. That’s because I have less time for proof reading and editing. My apologies if this seems less than professional, but I still have all my regular job duties to do too.

People perform best in an environment where they have the flexibility to follow their own ideas, but are given enough direction to guide them, get them started, and to keep them focused on the task at hand. They also have different preferred ways of interacting with others. Liberating Structures (LSs) are a tool for for providing both structure and flexibility, with many different ways of interacting with each other to help ensure that everyone has a voice and the opportunity to perform to their best potential. They are open source/creative commons noncommercial  so you can use them however you want, as long as you don’t try to make money off of them.

In this workshop we tried out four types of liberating structures. One was used as an icebreaker, the others all helped with generating ideas and expanding communication. In almost all of them, the amount of structure given really helped get the conversation started and give it direction. Everyone in the room was engaged in the process. Many of them have kinetic components, so they help keep the participants energized. While I can see pros and cons of individual LSs, as a toolkit, they appear to be a good set for improving engagement and inclusivity. At the end of each, we also evaluated what was liberating and what was structured.

The room we were in is a flexible space and was open in the middle with chairs arranged in groups of 4 around the perimeter.

The ones we tried out were Impromptu Networking, 1-2-4-All plus TRIZ, Fishbowl,  and 25/10 Crowd Sourcing.

Impromptu Networking was the icebreaker. We were told to gather in the middle of the room and given a prompt. Then we had to find someone we didn’t know, and had 2 minutes to talk about our answer to the prompt. At the end of two minutes, we had to switch partners, and repeat. In the end, we’d talked to 3 people, and gotten 3 different perspectives, which we took back to our seats. It wasn’t enough time to actually get to know anyone, but it was enough to promote a sense of familiarity latter in the session (and in fact, latter in the day!)

TRIZ is a Russian acronym for stopping counterproductive activities. It was paired with 1-2-4-All, which is a lot like think-pair-share.  First we were given a prompt and 5 minutes to write about counterproductive activities (since that’s a little vague, I’ll be more explicit: we were to identify activities that would exclude people from meetings or classes, i.e. be counter-productive to inclusivity.) That became the 1 part of 1 -2-4-all. After that, we were given 2  minutes to share with one of the other people in our group (so groups of 2). After that, we shared with all 4 in our group, and came up with a couple group ideas. Finally, we went around the room and each group shared their top ideas. The slow build up of sharing was very comfortable and helped make sure the quieter members actually did contribute, but the more vocal member could share with the whole class. That does leave an opening for quieter members to end up ignored by the class. Also, we didn’t plan in advance who from our group would be the spokesperson, which made things uncomfortable.

Fishbowl is remarkably like what it sounds. 4 people are chosen to talk and everyone else stands around and listens. It can work really well for things like software users who discuss what they like and dislike while the software developers listen. It can be particularly helpful if there are ideas or viewpoints that need to be heard but are often drowned out in conversation, or if you have a group who really need to hear something from a different perspective without interrupting.

25/10 Crowd Sourcing: Take a few minutes to generate big ideas (e.g. we were asked for the best idea to promote inclusivity if money is no object.) Each person writes ONE idea on an index card. After everyone has written down their idea, gather in the middle of the room. Pass the cards randomly around the room (the moderators used music to time the card shuffling part.) After several exchanges, the cards should be well shuffled. Each person reads the card, and rates it on a scale of 1 – 5 where 1 is meh, 5 is awesome, and writes the rating on the back. Once everyone has rated the cards, turn the idea up again, and repeat the random exchange and rating. Repeat 3 more times until each card has been rated 5 times. This means the maximum value for the card should be 25. After that, select the 10 highest scoring cards. This is a good way to generate lots of ideas and share them in a low stakes way. It might be a good thing to try with students to generate ideas for studying for the exam. However, it really felt like it needed more followup.

Enriching Scholarship 2017 Lightning and Thunder Talks May 2, 2017

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This year’s enriching Scholarship saw a new format of presentation: lighting and thunder talks. First each presenter gave a lighting talk about their topic. After everyone did their presentations, we settled in around some tables for small group discussion of their topic. Below I give the synopsis of their lightning talk, followed by any notes that came out of the table discussions I attended (two of them). Each of these people had a full length session later in the week as well.

Melissa Gross: Anatomize
This is a 3D touch enabled virtual dissection table in the Duderstat and available to anyone at the U. While she showed images of human anatomy classes, you can load any thing for which you have a 3D rendering, such as a mouse, or a flower. It allows you to engage your students in an active learning environment.

Jamie Vander Broek: book making
Last summer, the U acquired a letter press printing studio as part of the Alternative Press poetry magazine collection. In addition to art students, she also had a class in history and american culture that did field trips, like printing, as extra credit. Modern students did not grow up with this sort of technology (not even things like typewriters) so they develop a new appreciation for the difficulty in information sharing in the pre-digital age. Many have trouble setting the type, especially setting it in the correct order (backwards!) They also come away with a product they can show and share with others.

Benjamin Blankenship: using Twitter in the classroom
Twitter is everywhere, and many of the students see it, even if they aren’t active users of it. It provides a platform that extends beyond the boundaries of the University. It can be a place to obtain resources, to interact with other students, or with the instructors. However, there are some challenges. Not everyone uses Twitter, and even the ones that do may not be comfortable sharing class information with their followers (this is a Psychology of Education class.) Students will need help getting started, setting up accounts or creating new accounts for class and making sure they can switch between them, and understanding things like privacy and the way Twitter threads messages. Assessment can also be a challenge, especially with a large class. There are tools to help with this. Twitter archivers can help with assessment by saving tweets to a Google sheet, CSV, or proprietary report form. You can go simple, like an IFTTT applet, somewhat complex like Twitter Archiver, a Chrome Add-on, or a complete analytics platform like Tweet Archivist. In general, you are still going to need to sort through them all by hand to see if students did a reasonable job, just like you would with any other assessment. If you have a GSI, you can have him/her monitor the class twitter hashtag during lecture like a back channel, so introverts can still get their questions answered. You can also use an app like twitter fall to display a running feed of tweets. Students may use this as a reminder during class discussions if they tweet thoughts during lecture, or to share ideas. It can also be used for free association or warm up activities. If you do decide to do this, you’ll need a course hashtag. Think carefully about it, and test it multiple times before the class!

Perry Samson: Wireless Indoor Location Device (WILD) Learning System and Mining Student Notes
Students who are using the LMS Perry developed several years (LectureTools/echo360), ago already have their notes online. Analytics tools are able to parse the notes to do things like identify common themes and subjects students wrote about, connect resources like a link to the chapter in the eBook, and even relate back to notes from previous semesters that are also in the system! This system is still in early development stages.
WILD is a device that can pinpoint its 4 dimensional location to within a few inches. The device can also communicate with devices like smart phones and computers, so you can design activities that require the students to move around. For example, a windspeed can be assigned to each device, and students have to self organize into a hurricane. The instructor’s computer could display the result, so students can see if they’ve reached hurricane status, and what happens if they move out of place (I can see similar ideas for simulations of an accretion or protoplanetary disk.) Since it is 4 dimensional, you can include a height and movement, so you can do a scale model eclipse. You can also collect data on the other devices nearby, so you can do something like track social interactions, which might be especially good for something like a foreign language practice class. This is still in development, but he’ll be trying it in his class this fall, and soliciting ideas for more classes and applications over the summer and early fall.

Pamela Bogart: Gameful Canvas
Canvas has a robust multimedia discussions tool, and learning outcomes with rubrics, which lend themselves nicely to multiple methods of content delivery and assessment. Modules allows options or alternative pathways to success. Students do a set of activities that are required by all (such an the midterm and final), then select a subset of other material and activities, which allows tailoring of classes to what students need to get out of the course. Since the other activities have varying deadlines, it also give the student flexibility with his/her schedule. However, this works well for students with good executive skills. Procrastinators and students who have difficulty in unstructured environments tend not to perform well. I will be attending the full length session later in the week, so look for a future blog post.

Enriching Scholarship 2017 keynote May 2, 2017

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When watching the keynote address at Enriching Scholarship, there are generally three questions that I ponder: What is this person trying to say; How can I apply what s/he is saying to the astronomy classroom; and is what I’m hearing him/her say the same thing that everyone else is picking up on? So, here is my annual attempt to summarize the important points. If you got something else out of it, please add a comment!
This year’s speaker was Scott Page from UM. He began by telling us that Technology, Diversity, and Complexity were the big ideas he wanted to address. Although he did address them roughly in that order, since I’m doing the book report version, I’m going to address them a little differently.
One of the issues Dr. Page addressed was that our students will leave here and go out to become workers, leaders, citizens, and policy-makers in a highly complex world. Simple solutions and right answers often don’t exist. It takes cross disciplinary work to understand these problems and come up with workable solutions. However our current university model segregates both students and faculty into departments, and focuses value on individual work. This leads redundancy in teaching and a failure to make connections. For example, students learn about collective intelligence in many classes. It may be the way bees communicate in a biology class, the law of supply and demand where market tolerance forces a return to equilibrium, or development of a computer program to evaluate complex data sets by breaking them into smaller data sets and evaluating the different components before merging the results into a singe output. They are all just different versions of the same idea, but students often don’t recognize that fact. We fail to help them make that connection because we ourselves are unaware of what others are doing, or what past experience the students have. It also means that some students get the same material several times, while others may never experience a presentation that is effective for their learning style.
In addition, many of the issues our students will face after graduation are too complex to be understood by any individual. It takes groups to understand the problems and come up with the better solutions. Again our current university model falls short because it values “right” answers and individual work over collaborative work and open ended solutions. There are many examples of estimation problems, which show that although a random individual may be terrible at estimating something, a group is often much better. The example he used was the weight of a steer: most of the people in the class did a terrible job of estimating, but their average was within a pound of the actual weight. Most companies and organizations know this, so they hire people to work in teams, not as individuals. Also, students who learn in teams have the opportunity to develop expertise in one area, while benefiting from the group knowledge in other areas. The more diverse the group is, the better the outcomes tend to be. If you put all your math majors in one group and all the art majors in another, the projects they produce usually aren’t early as good as if you mix the math and art majors up among the groups. It is important to remember that diversity applies to many different aspects, including preparedness, background, and learning styles, not just race, gender, or culture. We need to address the diversity of students in ways that help them become valued contributors, not the ones holding the class back. When building groups, we need to make sure that all group members have shared sense of purpose, fell safe and respected, and believe that their group is an ongoing concern.
Technology should be the thing that makes all of this possible. From creating effective groups, to tailoring education to individual students’ needs, we have the tools to do all that. The key is figuring out which is the right tool. Dr. Page shared a story about a trip he was on where they saw a stampede of bison, and many people were taking pictures. Later they went to Mt. Rushmore, where many people were taking video. Right tools, wrong applications! We need to consider which tools to use, and to reassess whether or not they are still the right tools.
Working backward is a good way to get started on that. Begin by determining what your goals are. follow that by answering what assessments would show you that the goals have been achieved. Then, what will the students need to complete those assessments. Finally, what tools will enable them to complete the work, and what tools do you need to complete the assessment. Is there tech that can provide them options, so those who prefer to read and those who prefer to watch a video can make those choices. Is there a technology that can enable coaching type interactions, so they can iterate their way to a good solution, or try something and fail without failing. Is there a “worst practice” for this technology, and are you avoiding it (for example, the Gettysburg Address as a powerpoint). However, all of this applies primarily to individual classes. For solutions to issues like repetitiveness, interconnectivity, and best resources, we need institutional solutions.

Lyrid meteor shower 2017 April 17, 2017

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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The first potentially big warm weather meteor shower is coming this weekend. Predictions of the peak’s timing all place the peak during daylight in the Midwest on the 22, but this shower usually has an extended peak. In fact, you may see as many meteors on the 21 or 23.

The radiant lies in Lyra, near Hercules. It’s not really high enough to observe until 2 AM, it transits the meridian around 5:30, and it starts getting light out at about 6 AM, so the best time to observe is about 4 – 6 AM local time. Here’s a map for 5 AM with the stars of the summer triangle marked:


The Lyrids are an irregular shower, usually producing a mere 10 – 20 meteors per hour, but occasionally reaching rates of around 100 meteors per hour.   This year is expected to be a pretty average year, which means waiting several minutes between meteors. If you don’t have dark skies, it may mean 10 – 15 minutes between bright meteors.


Additional resources:

American Meteor Society guide to the Lyrids

EarthSky All you need to know: Lyrid meteors