Sophie Godley often begins the semester in her community-health class by setting ground rules, including expectations for electronic media. She gently teases students that perhaps they can spare an hour or two away from communicating with others, with particular reference to Facebook, and instead focus on themselves and their learning. During one of these conversations, it struck her that Facebook also had potential as a positive learning resource. Prof. Godley’s students often emailed her links to articles relevant to the current class’s material, and she thought that Facebook offered an easy way for them to share those articles with each other directly.
In fall 2012, she created Facebook pages for her classes at both undergraduate and graduate levels, which she invited students to “like”. She made it clear that students did not have to be her Facebook “friend”, and that participation in the page was voluntary. She has now started three different pages for the three classes she teaches, and has reached 462 students. In addition to generating student content and discussion, past and present students can interact on the page. Prof. Godley can post jobs and internships, and include both current and former students. She can also ask questions about articles and generate back-and-forth in the comments. She has also found it “relatively painless” to manage the Facebook pages, compared to many other administrative tasks of teaching.
This Wednesday, BU engineering professor Lorena Barba will give a Teaching Talk on the topic of the “flipped” classroom, in which course content (such as lectures) is delivered online in order to free up class time for interactive participation. Practising what she preaches, Prof. Barba will be flipping the talk itself. She is asking attenders to view an interactive online presentation before they come to the talk. As a tool, Prof. Barba uses the free TED-Ed platform, which she also uses in her classes (see an example here).
Prof. Barba has written a longer piece in defence of the flipped classroom, with many links, available here.
In his course on investments, management professor Zvi Bodie uses student-created blogs. Students are grouped into teams, with each team creating a blog of its own. The blogs allow students to report quickly on current events in the world of finance, which the course teaches them to analyze. Student teams have made their blogs publicly available and some of them can be viewed here and here.
Prof. Bodie’s students use Google’s free blogging software, Blogger (which provides URLs in the blogspot.com domain). Similar (BU-supported) student blog functions will be available in the new Blackboard Learn system (aka Blackboard 9.1), available now to faculty wishing to use it in Spring 2012 courses.
Professors in several departments at BU (including Computer Science, Chemistry, Physics, and Mechanical Engineering) often use the free social discussion tool Piazza in their courses. Piazza is free, and allows threaded discussions to happen in a user-friendly way. Students in these courses are encouraged to post their course-related questions on Piazza, significantly reducing emails that are directed to the course staff. Questions posted on Piazza are then answered by the course staff, or, in many cases, by other students. Questions posed in these courses have ranged from logistical issues (“Which lab are we doing this week?”) to conceptual issues from students grappling with the material (“I tried solving problem 3 this way, but it didn’t work – can someone point me in the right direction?”) The latter are particularly good at drawing multiple students into the discussion.
Piazza can help you keep on top of what’s going on in your course, while at the same time reducing the amount of time you spend responding to students over email. Piazza posts can be read on the web site, whose features make it easy to see which posts need an instructor’s attention. They can also be viewed and responded to through the Piazza app on your favorite mobile device. You can also choose to get updates from Piazza via email. BU IS&T does not offer support for Piazza, but it is an interesting option for professors who feel comfortable exploring free online teaching tools.
At the top of the e-Portfolios page in Digication, you’ll find a row of boxes labelled “Featured e-Portfolios”. These are portfolios we have selected as strong and effective examples of what ePortfolios can do. As well as the portfolio about portfolios, they have so far included a professional portfolio from a Sargent College student, an interdisciplinary portfolio from a CGS student, and portfolios for teaching purposes from SED’s Colby Young and the School of Public Health’s James Wolff.
Today, we’re adding a newly featured portfolio from Winnie Hsieh, created for a CAS Writing Program course. Many courses in the Writing Program use ePortfolios to allow students to view their writing over the course of the semester and reflect on it. Hsieh’s course section involved writing three papers and scaffolding the working process of writing each paper. In her illustrated portfolio you can find her reflecting on the process of becoming a successful writer.
In the 2012-13 academic year, BU has joined an exciting partnership with Boston College to pilot MediaKron, a new tool for maps and timelines. BC has been using MediaKron in its own courses for a few years, but this year it has chosen a few select institutions to pilot MediaKron for wider adoption, and BU is among them. BU faculty already using MediaKron in the fall pilot include International Relations professor Andrew Bacevich, in his Honors College course “War for the Greater Middle East,” and School of Theology professor Christopher Evans, who is using it now for a graduate course on American church history and will be using it in the spring for an undergraduate survey course on American religious history. In the spring they will be newly joined by Writing Program instructor Gwen Kordonowy, who will use it to map out student-created content for her writing course “Literature and Art of the Depression Era.”
One of the greatest challenges facing educators is to document and assess the learning that takes place in and outside the classroom. For several years Professor James Wolff at the School of Public Health has found Digication e-portfolios to be an exciting and innovative way of reflecting on the learning experience, documenting the competencies and skills acquired during a course, making learning visible by creating a permanent record of classroom activities, and assessing the progress and competence of students.
Wolffy, as he is known by colleagues and students, teaches several courses for master’s students in the School of Public Health, all of which have successfully integrated e-portfolios. His first experience with e-portfolio was in IH 790, Leading Organizations to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals. In this course students reflected on the leadership skills they are acquiring and the e-portfolio was used for both formative and summative evaluations. More
Professors are often reluctant to introduce active learning in class for fear that they will not have time to cover the content. In his Introduction to Epidemiology class, Wayne LaMorte has used online technology to flip the classroom. His course website consists of learning modules, including video, for students to absorb content outside of class time, taking a “pre-quiz” to demonstrate they have retained the content. This process freed up classroom time to explore more complicated topics in greater detail: class time could be spent on discussion of controversies and problem-solving (both individual and team-based). After class, students would then take a more detailed “post-test”.
Students reacted with enthusiasm. 98% of the students “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that the online modules were a significant aid to teaching. Their comments included: “Given that I had already taken more advanced epidemiology courses, my main engagement with the course was through the online modules. This provided an excellent way to accommodate people with different levels of experience who could learn at different speeds.” “Did not find I needed to use the textbook. The online modules were more than enough to understand the material.”
Prof. LaMorte developed the online modules using SoftChalk software. SoftChalk is currently being offered to School of Public Health faculty through the Office of Teaching, Learning and Technology. Faculty. Faculty at other schools may be able to take a similar approach using other available technologies such as Echo360, Digication and Blackboard.
BU mechanical engineering professor Lorena Barba has used several new technologies to transform the classroom experience, integrating iTunes, digital inking, screen casting, and blogging. Her classes often “flip” the classroom – that is, they deliver course content outside of class and refocus in-classroom time on discussion and activity – and allow a blended learning experience, where discussion and activity also happens on the Internet as well as in class.
Using a USB connected graphical tablet and her laptop, Barba was able to annotate her Keynote & Powerpoint slides to derive, in real time, solutions to complex mathematical operations. Further, using a screen capture application and a simple microphone, she recorded the lectures which were then posted for download through iTunes. Lectures for Fluid Mechanics (ME303), Bio-aerial Locomotion (EK131/132), and Computation Fluid Dynamics (ME702) can be subscribed to and downloaded from Boston University’s iTunes U page via iTunes or the iTunes U mobile app. Barba’s innovative courses were recognized among the Top 30 iTunes U Engineering Courses by the Degree Central (2010). Some of her courses have student blogs that allow dialogue about the course materials, screencasts, and Skype interviews.
At the First Annual Instructional Innovation Conference, Barba presented a paper describing the technology and techniques used for Digital Inking and Lecture Screencasts, which can be watched via screencast on YouTube. More information about Barba can be found via her people site, her research group, and at the BU:ENG-Mechanical Engineering website.
Across BU, many professors have adopted Digication ePortfolios to make student learning visible. With the help of a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation, the College of General Studies (CGS) has taken the further step of integrating ePortfolios across its entire curriculum, for both freshmen and sophomores. CGS provides students with a two-year interdisciplinary general-education core curriculum from which they may continue into any of BU’s other undergraduate programs. Students’ ePortfolios include work from each of their CGS classes in different academic disciplines. This makes it easier for them to integrate their learning and create the interdisciplinary reflections that put their work together across different fields.
CGS’s ePortfolio program also facilitates assessment at the program level. CGS uses ePortfolios to assess students according to a rubric, based on models developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The College assesses its students’ progress in seven areas: (1) written and oral communication, (2) analysis and documentation of sources, (3) awareness of historic and cultural contexts, (4) understanding of rhetorical and aesthetic conventions, (5) critical thinking and perspective-taking, (6) quantitative skills, and (7) integrative and applied learning. The portfolio-based assessment process provides both quantitative and qualitative data, offering richer and more nuanced pictures of student progress than standardized tests could.