Taking Advantage of the Wireless Classroom

Image wire twisting from Flickr user oskay

During the summer of 2011, wireless technology was made available in all of the Keene State College classrooms thus enabling students to interact with class material and engage in class activities in new ways. CELT has highlighted two proven learning activities that we hope will assist faculty to think about leveraging the ‘net enabled classroom. We also think that it will help facilitate more in depth conversations with colleagues about instructional practices. At the bottom of this post you’ll find resources for learning activities and best practices shared by seasoned classroom instructors.

Using a Blackboard pre-test to gauge students understanding
While there are many, many variations on this activity, the one listed here is pretty straightforward as all it requires is some Blackboard-survey-know-how.

Remember the pop-quiz from middle school? In some ways it felt punitive and did little to help with the learning process. More often than not it was used to make sure students did their homework. But what if faculty could use the same idea and turn it into a real-time-feedback-tool which could be used to help steer the direction of instruction? In others words it’s a strategy to help instructors teach more effectively.

Here’s an example of how to do it in a wireless classroom.

Assign an out-of-class reading to students and use a Blackboard in-class quiz to assess their understanding of the material. The quiz should be about 5 questions or so.  Immediately assess how they did by viewing the results which provide a percentage breakdown for those who answered correctly or, as important, incorrectly. Use this information to immediately address the gaps in understanding.

Another strategy could be to give students class-time to re-read the material and take another quiz. In either scenario, interpreting quiz results in real time informs instructors about where they need to spend valuable class time as well as giving students an idea of where they might need to focus their efforts.

Time required to set up Bb survey: less than 20 minutes
Time required for students to take in-class survey: 5 minutes
Time for instructor to review percentages: 1 minute

Using video to enhance understanding
Like all well-thought-out classroom activities this one from Stephen Brookfield centers on student engagement and active listening and less on wireless technology. It can be re-purposed in so many ways that it seemed like a good example to include in this post.

Use short video segments (5 minutes) to introduce a new idea or concept to students.

Move students into groups of 4 or 5 but be mindful of the groupings as group dynamics can dampen or enlighten the activity.

Assign each group a different video. The topics could be the same but it might make for a more rich report-out at the end if they were not the same.

After the groups have watched the videos ask a question(s)about ideas, concepts or point-of-view. * Each students will answer the questions on their own but will share with their assigned group.

Provide enough time for students to collect and organize their thoughts. Consider raising the level accountability and ask each student to write down their response.

Open up the questions for discussion. Each student has uninterrupted time (1 minute) to share their thoughts.

Once everyone in the group has contributed a second round ensues but with the following ground rules: students can only talk about someone else’s comments and are not allowed to elaborate on their own point-of-view unless requested to do so.

This simple but highly effective group activity can be used in a variety of ways. The reason it is put forth here is to acknowledge that video can be a useful supplemental tool but it needs to be grounded in an activity that involves participation from every student.

CELT Faculty Friday addition
CELT just concluded a conversation with faculty who participated in this 2-hour session. Below are some of the ideas shared:

Require that students complete their homework assignment during class. Use the Bb Assignment tool to collect material. Use this time to coach students having difficulty or who need clarification on the assignment.

Use Google Forms during and at the end of class to survey the students on their understanding of concepts just covered or as a “just-in-time” teaching tool. For instance, use the results to 1) determine if the concepts your covering are understood or 2) are answering the questions in the form in a meaningful way.  If answers are not to your satisfaction, go over the content and guide them to where you want them to be or 3) if this is a one time activity, survey the students to see how the students perceived the value of the activity (or guest speaker, training, workshop, etc.).

Use Google Docs to have students type lecture notes and share them via Bb or keep them on Google.

These were just a few of the ideas share during the session. If you have some ideas that you would like to share please drop us a comment.


Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms – Stephen Brookfield and Stephen Preskill –

Discussion as a Way of Teaching: PDF excerpt – http://www.temple.edu/tlc/resources/handouts/discussions/Discussion_as_a_Way_of_Teaching.pdf

Laptops in the Classroom: Back Row or Front? – Derek Bruff

10 Ways to Use Laptops in Teaching and Learning: Florida State University

The Flipped Classroom

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Your Course This Summer

We thought Dr. Amy Collier’s recent post was so on-target we asked if we could reprint it here.  Thank you Dr. Collier, Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Texas Wesleyan University. Please post any comments on Amy’s blog at http://www.txwescetl.com/2011/06/5-easy-things-you-can-do-to-your-course-this-summer/

The summer is a great time for redesigning or redeveloping a course. The process of redesigning, when it is done well, can take a good chunk of your time. I think the time spent redesigning a course is well-spent; you may see improved student learning and you may renew your excitement for the course.

Alas, some summers are busier than others, and you might not have time for a full course redesign. If that is the case this summer, I have 5 easy things you can do to your course that should make an impact on student learning:

1. Rewrite the student learning outcomes (SLOs).

Ah, the poor life of misunderstood student learning outcomes. They get such a bad rap but they can be one of the most useful and effective components of your course. Review the SLOs for your course and consider revising them to make them more active, measurable, or meaningful. For example:

Turn this learning outcome…

Students will understand the principles of the developmental period between childhood and adulthood.

(this SLO is not active, is difficult to measure, and lacks meaning)

into this…

Students will compare the cognitive, social, physical, and emotional development of typically-developing adolescents and atypically-developing adolescents.

(this SLO involves meaningful application of course concepts in a way that is easier to measure and requires active student participation).

I will talk more about SLOs in video #2 of my blogcast series “Made from Scratch.”

2. Add a real-world application assignment.

Add or change at least one assignment to promote real-world application of course materials. In a chemistry course, students might be asked to analyze the chemical makeup of home beauty products. In an education course, students might write letters to state legislators describing and outlining a resolution for an educational issue. In a math course, students might be ask to use mathematical calculations to determine the answer to some engaging questions (check out this blog post by Dan Meyer).

The real-world assignment helps students to apply course concepts outside of the classroom. It requires students to actively seek solutions to real issues, rather than just regurgitate concepts. Any real-world assignment you use needs to measure whether or not students are achieving the desired learning outcomes. If you want some ideas for real-world assignments for your classes, contact a CETL instructional designer. (or in the case of Keene State, contact Mike Caulfield mcaulfield@keene.edu.

3. Add formative assessment activities.

Formative assessment is assessment for learning. The goal of formative assessment is to give students chances to reflect on their learning and provide feedback on the teaching and learning processes. Formative assessment helps with metacognition, which is a crucial skill for students especially as they move into their careers.

Formative assessments may include self-assessments, reflection activities (journals, blogs), peer assessments, or any of the evidence-supported Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs). For more on CATs, check out these websites: http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/cat.html andhttp://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-guides/assessment/cats/

4. Identify 1-2 “big questions” for the course (or use a course theme).

Big questions and course themes provide an overarching context for a course. In his book What the best college teachers do, Ken Bain says that questions are essential to the learning process and big questions help students to connect concepts to create a big picture. In a world religions course, a big question might be “what purpose(s) do religions serve for humanity?”

In my fall Adolescence course, I will be using the theme of “adolescence thwarted” to talk about typical adolescent development in the contexts of situations where that development is thwarted (e.g., war & adolescent development for child soldiers). By doing this, I am requiring students to learn concepts of typical adolescent development and then to make applications of those concepts outside of typical adolescent development.

5. Add inquiry (and intrigue).

Many times, we approach teaching as if we are giving students all of the answers and information they need. But what if we allowed students to investigate, explore, hypothesize about, and analyze information? For example, in a history class, a professor might tell students that there are 3 different accounts of a historical event and ask the students, usually in groups, to hypothesize, investigate, and draw conclusions on which account is the most veracious. In a biology class, a professor might ask students to hypothesize on why identical twins who grow up in the same home have different personalities.

These inquiries, these mysteries to many students, often add an element of excitement as students search for answers, eliminate answers, identify red herrings, and evaluate their and other students’ conclusions. Start small; add just one or two inquiry elements into your fall course and, if you find that students respond well, you can continue to add inquiry and intrigue to future classes.

I hope that you will find some of these tips to be helpful. As always, our CETL team is ready to work with you on any course redesign efforts– big or small– or new approaches to teaching.



Flipping a Class

Flipping a class is the process of providing students with content, often lecture-demonstration content, outside the class and then applying the concepts in class. The “flip” is that the student does the “homework” in class.

Prof. Dick Jardine explains how he does it in his Numerical Methods class:


Prof Jardine describes the multiplicity of learning tools he makes available to his students to learn concepts before class:

What goes on in class? The fun stuff. Applying the principles to real-world examples like snow boarding and animations.

UC Santa Barbara Prof. Roger Freedman talks about flipping his Physics class in this video.
If you want to join a community  for those interested in flipping, The Flipped Class Network is available at http://vodcasting.ning.com/
Picture Credit: jeffcapeshop http://www.flickr.com/photos/65395926@N00/450922490/

Prof. Jardine’s presentation, titled Can YouTube replace the Chalkboard?, was part of The Secret Revolution, Faculty Showcase which took place on February 18, 2011 at Keene State College, sponsored by the Center for Engagement, Learning and Teaching.