As noted in an earlier post, I’m participating in mostly online course about teaching in a “blended” learning environment (partly online, partly face to face). The course is entirely housed within a closed environment on Blackboard Connect, unfortunately, but I’m posting some of my own contributions here so I can have them easily accessible even after the course ends.
During this first week of the course, one of the things we were asked to do was to think about active learning strategies and complete an activity, for which the instructions can be found below in blue. My own answer follows the instructions. After completing this activity we were asked to think about how we might integrate technology into the activity. Since the use of a wiki is already there, I’m not sure I have anything to add to what I’ve already said in the first part of the activity.
1. Identify current practice
To get started, identify a current practice in your course that you would like to make more active.
2. Identify Active Learning Strategies
Drawing from resources presented above as a reference, explore the wide range of active learning strategies. Identify one of these strategies you’d like to try for your class.
3. Plan and Develop at Least One Learning Activity
Plan and develop at least one active learning activity that you can integrate or scaffold (Bilash, 2009) into your course or module.
Ensure that your plan includes:
1. A description of the learning activity
2. Your rationale for creating and using it
3. An explanation of how this learning activity links to course materials and objectives
4. Complete and clear Instructions
5. Complete grading information including a rubric should you choose to use one
6. An overview of potential issues and your plan for dealing with them should they occur
An activity I’d like to change
In some of my philosophy courses, I ask students to do “argument outlines,” where they have a passage of text and they need to provide an outline of the premises and conclusion. We practice this in class with me first providing my outlines for arguments, and then they can practice in groups, and then they have to do one or two on their own on a quiz or exam. I would like to expand this activity so that they learn even more from their peers and get even more practice before doing it on an quiz by themselves. The following gives a chance for students to see more possible ways of outlining arguments, and to discuss amongst themselves which they think is best. It can also help them to see that there may be multiple ways of doing so that are all valid.
How I’m thinking of changing it (description of the activity)
I’ll ask everyone to read a short passage of assigned text, then come up with their own, individual outlines of it. Then, in a small group, they should share their outlines and decide, as a group, on an outline that they think is a good one. Hopefully they will get ideas from each other as to what might work and what isn’t the best way to go about outlining the premises and conclusion.
Then, I’ll have a wiki page for each group on the UBC wiki, where they’ll type in their outline (one person in each group will need to have a laptop or tablet). There is a way (though I’m not sure yet how to do it, I’ve seen it done!) to put all the groups’ individual answers into one page after the groups have finished typing in their answers. I’ll have to figure out how to do that.
Finally, in the last step, each group will take a look at the other outlines on the now-collated page, and decide which of those (including their own) they think is best. I’ll use something like “poll everywhere” to have each group to vote on which one they think is best, and see what the result is. We can then have a discussion about results.
Added July 14, 2014: Actually, I think it would be better if they vote on which outlines they think work, rather than which is best. This can cut down on concerns about students feeling bad that theirs isn’t voted “best,” and also drive home the idea that there may be more than one way to do an outline that works.
Of course, outlining an argument is only the first step; we also need to learn how to criticize arguments well. But that is an assignment for another day!
How this fits with course materials and objectives
Learning to identify, analyze, and criticize arguments is one of the basic skills we teach in philosophy courses. It is something that students can use in other courses and in their everyday lives. They won’t need to sit down and outline arguments as formally as we ask them to do, but to be able to identify what is being argued for and how, and then to be able to isolate particular premises and determine which are weak and which are strong, are skills that can be quite useful in the future. They are also some of the skills I ask students to practice and hone in my courses.
1. Read the following passage [give specifics on what to read] and write down what you think the conclusion of the argument is, as well as the premises (reasons) given to support it. This part of the activity is to be done on your own. You can write this down on a piece of paper or a computer or mobile device. You’ll have just five minutes to do this part of the activity, but don’t worry; you’ll be coming up with a group outline next, so it’s okay if you don’t finish your individual one. You will need to turn in your individual outline, but I’ll just be looking at it to see that you tried to do it, not marking how good it is.
2. In your small group [determined beforehand, making sure that at least one person in each group has a laptop or tablet], share your outlines amongst yourselves and discuss differences. Take fifteen minutes maximum to come up with a group outline of the argument, one that most or all of you agree with. It’s okay if not everyone agrees; know that there may be more than one valid way to outline any single argument, so there may be legitimate differences without someone being “wrong.” It’s best if most of the group agrees, however.
3. Type your group’s outline on the group page on the UBC wiki [URL will be given in advance].
4. After all the groups have finished typing their outlines in, go to [give URL for collated page] to see all the groups’ outlines. I will also show as many of these on the screen at the front of the room as I can, but the space there is limited so it’s best if you can all look on someone’s screen to see them all. As a group, choose which of the outlines you think is best (it may be your own groups’ outline, or it may be that of another). You’ll have ten minutes to do so. July 14 addition: [Instead of voting on which is best, do the following:] As a group, choose outlines that you think offer a good analysis of the argument noting that there may be several different ones that work. So you may choose several outlines.
5. Using poll everywhere, I’ll ask each group to vote on the outline they think is best. One vote per group. Then we’ll discuss the results together as a class. July 14 addition: [Instead of the above, use this:] Using poll everywhere, each group should cast a vote for the outlines they think work (as many as the group thinks are good, not just one only). Then we’ll discuss the results together as a class.
This activity counts as part of your participation mark for the course. I’ll be collecting the individual outlines you are going to do at the beginning of the activity, but just to see that you were there and participating. They don’t have to be finished because you don’t have a lot of time for that part of the activity, but you do need to have started and have something that matches the passage at least somewhat closely. If you wrote it on paper, submit it to me at the end of the class. If you typed it on your computer or tablet, submit it on the course website before midnight on the same class day as you did it. You will get either a plus for full marks, a minus for half marks, or a zero for not completing the activity at all.
Potential problems and how to handle them
One potential problem I see already in what I’ve written above is with grading. At first I thought I’d just do this without any grading at all, but I realized that some students just won’t participate if it isn’t somehow monitored. So I decided to have them submit their individual outlines, and just give them a plus or minus or zero. Most everyone would get a plus unless they just didn’t try at all or weren’t there or were there but didn’t submit anything (zero).
This, of course, only means they need to do the individual portion of the activity. They could then just do other things on their computers during the group portion if I don’t somehow monitor that. If I knew everyone’s names I could walk around the room and see who is participating in the group discussions and who is not, and mark accordingly. I have a few small classes in which I could do that, but many of my classes are nearly 100 students or more, and I don’t know everyone’s name. I could potentially have each group give each other marks, but that seems a bit of work when this is just a one-off class activity for which the groups themselves aren’t getting marks. I could give the group a mark for their outline and then ask each group member to mark the other group members. I’ll have to think about that option. it requires more work on my part (marking the group outlines as well as the individual outlines), and all that adds up when you have so many students!
Another possible concern is that students might feel ashamed or embarrassed in front of their peers if they have to share their individual outlines and then the group comes up with one they mostly agree with; perhaps one or two students will feel that their work just isn’t up to par after this process, and they will be unhappy having shared it with others. Maybe emphasizing that there could be more than one way to correctly outline an argument could help, so those students might think their outlines could still be acceptable. I wonder if coaching the students on how to handle differences constructively might help? And if there isn’t a grade attached to the quality of the outline, just that people tried, this may help too–at least they don’t feel like they are getting a low mark in front of their peers. That’s a reason for maybe NOT grading the group outlines for quality; those groups who don’t receive many votes in the last part of the activity wouldn’t then have to feel that they are going to get low marks and everyone else can see that (which may not be true; popularity doesn’t mean correctness, but they might feel that way anyway). Overall, emphasizing that this is just practice and that mistakes are expected at this point might help as well.