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Tips for teaching intro astronomy July 12, 2017

Posted by aquillam in Science, teaching.
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First and foremost: this may be the only science class some of these people ever take, so think carefully about what you want them to get out of the class.

  • How do you want to change them? What do you want them to remember 20 years from now, even if they don’t specifically remember that they learned it in this (or any other) class. Always keep this in mind when making lesson plans.

Make lesson plans

  • A complete, formal lesson plan includes goals for the unit (usualy a chapter from the text), the most important ideas, a brief outline of the lecture material, notes on potential problems, topics covered in lab/discussion and homework, and what details will come from the book only.
  • If you don’t do a formal, complete lesson plan, at least write down the items from the unit you want to change them, the items they need to understand future units, and the items you want them to know for the exam. If the only thing you have is items you want them to know for the exam, consider dropping the unit.

Be aware of student expectations

  • Many students take astronomy thinking they will learn things like the names of constellations, mythologies, or how to read a sundial.
  • Many students take astronomy because they are afraid of taking a “hard science” class like physics or chemistry, or they think astronomy will have less math.
  • Be up front with them about the topics covered and the necessity of using math as well as fundamental physics, chemistry, and possibly geology and biology.

Don’t repeat the book

  • The book is expensive. If you’re just going to repeat it, don’t make them buy it. Instead, cover the material from a different angle, point out connections students are likely to miss in the reading, address common misconceptions, and use active learning techniques to engage the students and increase their level of understanding (in other words, make reading the book homework, and use class time for homework-like activities.) Let the book fill in details like numbers or specific features. Don’t add extra details unless it’s to tie things together or involves a discovery too interesting to skip or too recent for the book.

Be aware of deadlines

  • Know when the last day of drop-add is and be prepared for students who add the class on that day.
  • Make sure there is enough evaluated work or sample of the exam so students can assess whether or not they should drop before that day.

 

Enriching Scholarship 2017 Lightning and Thunder Talks May 2, 2017

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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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

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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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.

Teach Feast 2014: Assessments December 5, 2014

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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On Nov 21, the Friday before Thanksgiving, the Teaching and Technology Collaborative (TeachTech) hosted a one day series of workshops. These are my notes on the sessions I attended.

This session provided a brief overview of some of the alternatives to CTools for student assessment. It covered Google Forms, Qualtrics, and Canvas quizzes. There is a comparison chart at the end.

Google Forms

All faculty and students have a Google Drive account, so you can be sure you and your students have access. You can force survey participants to login, collect use names, and tie it to class lists, so it’s easy to restrict who sees it and ensure you know who responded. There are also anonymous options for polling. You can even add a drive folder to your CTools site (but that means everyone in your CTools site will be able to access the results!).
There are multiple options for display, including emailing it, providing a link to the form on the web, or embedding it in CTools (very handy for LessonBuilder.)
Creation is very easy, and the interface is easy to use. However, it is a basic form: no branching based on responses, no
Grading can be prohibitive unless your class is small, or you are clever with analysis software. Responses are recoded in a Google sheet, which you can export as a csv and analyze/grade using other software like Excel or Mathmatica.

Qualtrics

Everyone at the university can create a Qualtrics account for free. You can force participants to log in through Cosign, collect usernames, and do anonymous polls. It can be tied to a class list. It is possible to embed a survey in CTools, but that function is still in pilot mode, and we experienced some load problems with only a dozen simtaneous users. They have only just started on the Canvas interface, but it should be coming.

The interface is not quick and easy to use, buts it’s not terribly difficult either. There are a lot of options for everything, but the interface is well laid out and clear.

Qualtrics offers a lot of options for everything. There are many different question types, and many options within question types. You can embed short videos, images, animations, and other objects within both the questions and answer. There are also non-question objects. Objects can be grouped, and each group can be displayed on a separate page. You can also create triggers, so the next thing the respondent sees can be determined by their answer. For example, you can have an introduction screen, then a screen with a video, then a question. If the student gets the answer right, the survey ends. If they get it wrong, you can open up a new set of questions to guide them to the correct answer.

Probably the best thing about Qualtircs is that it can grade for you. The software is designed to enable quick processing of surveys with a large respondent group, which means it needs a mathematical way to represent responses (think about the results from teaching evaluations). However, instead of giving a scale of 1 – 5, you can give each response a different point value, so you can have a correct answer worth 1 point, and all the other worth 0, or you can do 2 points for the best answer, one for the good distractors, and 0 for the throwaway. Text based questions will have to be hand graded. At this time, you have to download the results, process the file, and upload it to the gradebook.

Canvas

There will be a separate post about this, so I’ll keep it short here.
The website is umich.instructure.com/

Canvas is a Leaning Management System, so it is a replacement for CTools, including Assignments and Test Center. It also has (or will have) plugins for other systems, including Google and Qualtrics.

Canvas considers all scored items “Assignments”, and all assignments go to the gradebook. In CTools, you can create “tests” that aren’t sent to the gradebook, like a practice exam, but the students can try it and see how they do. You can also create an assignment that requires the student to do something, but becomes part of another item, like requiring an idea, outline, and rough draft for a project, but only the final score actually gets sent to the gradebook. Canvas won’t allow that.

For added security, you can “Require access code”, which is essentially a password for the assignment. You can also set an IP, so you could make them use a specific computer or set of computers.

Comparing the Options

Google Qualtrics Qualtrics in CTools Canvas
Authenticated/user name collected
Anonymous no not sure
Auto Grading no no some
Uses class rosters no no
uses MCommunity groups not sure not sure not sure
can embed in email no not sure
flexible format/ triggers no some