Putting it All Together

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In this blog, I pull together several of the concepts discussed in previous posts, such as Portals and WikiProjects, and consider how you can begin to develop course materials and assignments for a Wikipedia-based course.

Let’s say, for example, that you are teaching a physics course and want to assign students the job of editing or writing physics-related articles. A good place to start, for both student and instructor, is the Physics portal, which briefly reviews the field and links to the main article on Physics (see excerpt below).

Physics Portal Main PageIt also has a tab entitled “Topics, Categories, Textbook, and Featured articles,” which links to Wikipedia articles on classical physics, modern physics and cross-disciplinary topics, as well as a “textbook” that slots Wikipedia physics articles under chapter headings. While the textbook remains a work in progress, it is a more efficient way to gauge Wikipedia’s coverage (or lack thereof) than simply using the Wikipedia search engine. Apart from the main Physics portal, other relevant portals might include Astronomy, Cosmology, Electromagnetism, Gravitation, and Science.

The third tab on the Physics portal page is “WikiProjects and things to do,” which I turn to next.

WikiProjects

Table of physics articles by quality and importanceThe Physics portal lists four WikiProjects and task groups: WikiProject Physics, WikiProject Space, WikiProject Time, and WikiProject Cosmology. WikiProjects are valuable both to the quality of Wikipedia and to instructors; for an explanation, see my two-part blog, “WikiProjects, Article Importance, and Article Quality: An Intimate Relation­ship” (http://bit.ly/2l8fSEa and http://bit.ly/2lH9hjJ).

One of the key things that a Wiki­Project does is rank Wikipedia articles for importance and quality on a two-dimensional grid. For example, shown here is the grid from WikiProject Physics (screen shot of 27 May 2017, linked to the current version). I’ve selected 822, which is the number of stub-class articles of mid-importance to WikiProject Physics, a list of which can be accessed by clicking on the number.[1] Stub-class articles can be a good starting point for student projects, though start-class articles are also good. An example of a start-class article that is also considered to be of top importance (of the seven in this category) is Classical physics.

It is a good idea for students to become familiar with the different categories of importance and quality in Wikipedia articles, so they know what to strive for and how things can be improved. For example, it would be instructive for them to review at least a couple of the project’s 61 Featured articles,[2] one of the six List articles,[3] a few of the 144 Good articles,[4] and a smattering of the remaining categories. Reading the Talk pages associated with these articles and looking at their View History pages is also a good introduction to the kinds of issues that student editors might face. See, for example, the “Classical physics” Talk page.

One of the things an instructor should consider doing is creating a list of articles that need work and that are within the scope of knowledge for a particular course. Students choose an article to edit from this list, and may also be assigned the task of peer-reviewing another student’s edits to that student’s chosen article. Both the editing and the peer reviewing can be graded. The aim should be to take assigned pages to Good article status, or as close as possible. (Students can make significant contributions to articles, even if, for example, they only start within C-class status, which is not the same as a “C” grade on the U of S grading guidelines.) Here are some Wikipedia articles that might be candidates for editing in a basic Physics course, arrayed in a table that also shows their importance and current quality assessments within WikiProject Physics, along with assignments to a hypothetical set of 15 student editors and peer reviewers:

Article Importance Quality Editor Reviewer
Aerodynamic force Mid Stub-class Student 1 Student 15
Avogrado’s law High Start-class Student 2 Student 14
Electrical energy High Start-class Student 3 Student 13
Focus (optics) High Start-class Student 4 Student 12
Liquefaction of gases Mid Stub-class Student 5 Student 11
Magnet High C-class Student 6 Student 10
Materials physics Mid Stub-class Student 7 Student 9
Measure (physics) Mid Stub-class Student 8 Student 8
Neutron-proton ratio Mid Stub-class Student 9 Student 7
Newton’s laws of motion Top C-class Student 10 Student 6
Pressure Top C-class Student 11 Student 5
Quantum mechanics Top B-class[5] Student 12 Student 4
Quantum vortex Mid Start-class Student 13 Student 3
Rarefaction Mid Stub-class Student 14 Student 2
Time dilation High C-class Student 15 Student 1

The Wiki Ed Advantage

Instructors should also take a close look at the Wikipedia Education Program, set up through the Wiki Ed Foundation to support instructors and students. Help ranges from accessing brochures to training to designing and implementing a 12-week course with Wiki Ed support and an instructor dashboard. The dashboard is a powerful resource that lets you see what aspects of the training that students have completed, as well as all articles or other projects they are working on. You can get started at the main page for educators and proceed to various pages, such as the one that provides case studies of assignments and grading.

Let’s consider an example of a Wiki Ed course, this time from the life sciences. The course is “Molecular Genetics” and the main course page shows that it was taught this spring by Eric Guisbert of the Florida Institute of Technology, with assistance from Wiki Ed’s Ian Ramjohn. Clicking on the Dashboard link takes you to the details for the course; the header excerpt, linked to the Dashboard, is shown below.

Wiki Educator Molecular Genetics Page

This header, and further information found by clicking on its links (Timeline, Students, Articles, etc.) show that of the 27 students who registered for the Wikipedia option, 23 completed the training, and that this cohort edited 55 articles and created three new ones—about 1100 edits comprising some 31,400 words. The articles were viewed by Wikipedia users about 1.7 million times during the course, which provides a sense of the real-world impact—positive or negative—that student editors can have.

Let’s look at the work of one student with username Ncameron2013 (accessed via the “Students” link). Ncameron2013 was assigned (or chose) the article “Receptor Tyrosine Kinase” to edit and was also assigned (or chose) three other articles for peer review—that is, the student was tasked with reviewing and commenting on the work of the three student editors for those articles.[6]

View of student changes page

We can find out what Ncameron2013 did by clicking on the dropdown arrow on the right. The resulting screen shows that after completing the training modules and preliminary assignments,[7] Ncameron2013 was active, first in the Sandbox, commenting on the work of LBates2008 and Cbyrd2011 and creating a new section of the article entitled “Regulation” (March 12–15); then working on the article live from March 15–16. (See below.) Clicking on the “Show” button for any of these entries allows us to see the work that Ncameron2013 did on these occasions. This feature is helpful in giving an instructor a precise understanding of a student’s contribution to article development; it is especially useful in the event that another Wikipedian edits or deletes the student’s work (as has happened more than once with my students).

Table showing list of changes and contributor user names

In the case of Ncameron2013, the most extensive edit was the 8148-character addition on March 15 at 3:29 pm adding two new sections to the article—“Regulation” and “Drug Therapy”—as well as subsections, body text, references, and a table. (See the excerpt from the “Show” screen below; It shows the first two sentences and the relevant citations in Wikitext format.)

Snapshot of changes made by a student during one session

Ncameron2234 continued to modify this addition to the article over the next 24 hours before wrapping up on March 16 at 3:20 pm. You can see the net effect of Ncameron2013’s edits by using the “diff” feature in the View history tab for the article:

Changes made by an individual student in a 24-hour period

This generates a page that shows the differences between the version of the article before Ncameron2013 started working on it (version saved by Headbomb on 2 March 2017 at 5:30) and the by the time Ncameron2013 finished working on it, ignoring any edits in between (version saved by Ncameron2013 on 16 March 2017 at 21:20).[8] The current version of the article (with subsequent edits by others) can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Receptor_tyrosine_kinase. A screen shot from that version, reflecting Ncameron2103’s additions, is shown below:

The version of the page after student has completed updates

Finally, the citations that Ncameron2013 added to support these edits are shown below:

Citations included by student to reference sources

I hope that these blog posts have provided greater insight on how you can use Wikipedia assignments to help your students make the leap from consuming knowledge to creating it. From here, my recommendation is to “just do it” and learn how to adapt all of this to your own context. And if you’re excited about getting more involved, consider attending the annual international Wikimania conference, being held this summer in Montreal. Conference themes include the contributions of academic and cultural institutions within the Wikipedia movement, privacy and rights, and the role of technology in disseminating free knowledge. As for me, this will be my last blog post in this series before I take up my new position next month. I thank the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning for giving me this forum to share my thoughts, and invite you to stay in touch with your stories about the use of Wikipedia in higher education.


John Kleefeld is an associate professor at the College of Law, a 2017 teaching fellow at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, and incoming dean of law at the University of New Brunswick. Portions of this blog series are from an article that he and a former law student wrote about using a Wikipedia assignment for class credit. See J. Kleefeld and K. Rattray, 2016. “Write a Wikipedia Article for Law School Credit—Really?” Journal of Legal Education, 65:3, 597-621.


Notes

[1]    Hyperlinks in this grid direct to an external site, Wikimedia Labs. The link for the first 1000 entries in the stub-class, mid-importance category (that is, the intersection of these two ratings) is https://tools.wmflabs.org/enwp10/cgi-bin/list2.fcgi?run=yes&projecta=Physics&namespace=&pagename=&quality=Stub-Class&importance=Mid-Class&score=&limit=1000&offset=1&sorta=Importance&sortb=Quality. However, each of these categories has an equivalent article in Wikipedia itself; here, the relevant article link is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Stub-Class_physics_articles_of_Mid-importance.

[2]    See https://tools.wmflabs.org/enwp10/cgi-bin/list2.fcgi?run=yes&projecta=Physics&quality=FA-Class or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Physics#Featured_articles.

[3]    See https://tools.wmflabs.org/enwp10/cgi-bin/list2.fcgi?run=yes&projecta=Physics&quality=FL-Class (see especially the Featured List article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nobel_laureates_in_Physics).

[4]    See https://tools.wmflabs.org/enwp10/cgi-bin/list2.fcgi?run=yes&projecta=Physics&quality=GA-Class or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Physics#Good_articles.

[5]    This is a former Featured article, which means that the quality has slipped over time (see the articles’ Talk page).

[6]    The articles, not shown here, were “PLCG1,” “TLR4,” and “Classical genetics.”

[7]    See https://dashboard.wikiedu.org/courses/Florida_Institute_of_Technology/Molecular_Genetics_(Spring_2017)/timeline. See also the thorough set of assignments there, designed to gradually bring students up to speed on Wikipedia conventions and editing practices.

[8]    Times shown here are Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), closely related to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and used by Wikipedia to keep track of edits. For the “diff” comparison between former and revised versions, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Receptor_tyrosine_kinase&type=revision&diff=770669168&oldid=768683561.

Creating Articles With Wikipedia’s ‘Requested Articles’ Feature

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In my previous two posts, I discussed how instructors and students can use WikiProjects to select articles for editing in Wikipedia-based course assignments. In this post, I discuss the creation of new articles, using WikiProject Requested articles (WP:WPRA) as a starting point. This is not the only way to start creating new articles, but the process allows you to see whether the article you are thinking of writing, or one like it, has already been requested, and to see how that request fits in with the larger subject of which it is a part.

What is “WikiProject Requested articles”?

The WPRA page explains that WikiProject Requested articles is one of Wikipedia’s oldest projects, and “offers individuals the ability to suggest articles that should be created but which they do not wish to write themselves.” This is usually done by creating red links. These links, unlike the blue links that allow you to jump to other Wikipedia pages, indicate that the linked pages don’t exist‍—but that the linkers wish they did. This is another example of crowdsourcing philosophy at work, and may at first seem like a recipe for chaos or clutter. In fact, it has been one of the main drivers for Wikipedia’s growth. I adverted to this in a previous post, where I wrote about a project that aims to turn redlinked articles on women into bluelinked ones, and in a field in which Wikipedia is greatly underrepresented.

What is the “Requested articles” page?

Wikipedia Sidebar
One of the WikiProject’s outputs is the Requested articles page (WP:REQ). Near the top of it, you’ll see a couple of things of interest. First, there is a table of contents that puts article requests into 14 categories (see sidebar). These categories are idiosyncratic and are open to criticism; one could argue, for example, that categories based on the Library of Congress Classification system would be more helpful. For better or worse, though, this is the system adopted for article requests, so it helps to get to know it. Second, there is an Article creation infobox with links to various Wikipedia processes, policies and tools to help in the creation process once you’ve settled on the article you want to create.

How do I find out whether an article I want to create has already been requested?

A sigittal or side view image of a human head. The upper alveolar ridge is located between numbers 4 and 5.

Source: Wikipedia, “Alveolar ridge

Let’s say you’re in Dentistry and thinking of creating an article on alveoloplasty, which also goes by the shorter term alveoplasty. Wiktionary, a Wikipedia companion project, defines this as the “surgical modification of the alveolar ridges in preparation for the fitting of dentures.” On searching for this term in Wikipedia, though, you find there is no article on it. However, your search yields three pages that contain the longer version of the term, all of which show it in red.[1] A little more searching also reveals two stub articles that might be related to the proposed article: Alveolar ridge and Dental alveolus. You also decide to look for “Dentistry” in the Requested articles page. At this point, you might get stymied because it is not immediately obvious where it falls. But with a bit of imagination, it is not hard to find: Dentistry is on the page for Requested articles in Medicine, which in turn is a sub-category of Requested articles for Applied arts and sciences, one of the 14 top-level headings mentioned above. The page syntax follows a common format for article requests:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requested_articles/Applied_arts_and_sciences/Medicine#Dentistry (#Dentistry refers to a section on the Medicine page).

This section sets out several redlinked articles, including three relating to alveoloplasty: interradicular alveoloplasty, radical alveoloplasty, and simple alveoloplasty. But you decide, wisely, that it would make little sense to have three articles on these procedures when there isn’t even a general article on alveoloplasty. The appropriate strategy, it seems, is to create an article entitled “Alveoloplasty” (which would include a redirect from “Alveoplasty” so that those searching for the shorter term would end up on the right page) and which might use the redlinked article nomenclature (simple, radical, interradicular) in headings for some of the sections within the main article. The article that you create might also link to the articles on Alveolar ridge and Dental alveolus; this is good practice, as such interlinking binds the various pages of Wikipedia into an interconnected whole and might lead to edits on those pages as well.

Of course, you can go straight to the subject headings in “Requested articles” and simply browse, as in a library. This can yield plenty of ideas. For example, the Psychology subheading (under Social sciences) has a long list of redlinked articles, organized alphabetically and annotated. Interspersed among these are blue links, indicating that someone has created an article on that topic or redirected it to another article or article section dealing with the topic. When that happens, the previous red link turns blue. See, for example, “hedonic psychology,” formerly redlinked but now showing in the list as bluelinked and which, on clicking, redirects to Happiness economics; and “externalizing disorder,” which redirects to a section within Emotional and behavorial disorders. Perhaps music, rather than psychology, is your thing. If so, you can find requested articles for jazz performers and venues, classical compositions, instruments, and music organizations, to name just a few topics. If you’re mathematically inclined, the Mathematics heading has 57 categories of requested article categories, ranging from Abstract algebra to Topology (mathematics is one of the most under-developed areas within Wikipedia). And for the list-oriented, there is even a page of requested List articles, ranging from Fictional desert planets to Regional Differences in Medical Terminology. In short, there is something for just about everyone here, and the response to “I don’t know what to write about” may well be: “Go to Requested articles!”


John Kleefeld is an associate professor at the College of Law and a 2017 teaching fellow at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, where he is coordinating a campus-wide project on integrating Wikipedia assignments into course materials. Portions of this blog series are from an article that he and a former law student wrote about using a Wikipedia assignment for class credit. See J. Kleefeld and K. Rattray, 2016. “Write a Wikipedia Article for Law School Credit—Really?” Journal of Legal Education, 65:3, 597-621.

[1] The pages, from a search done on 12 March 2017, are List of MeSH codes (E06), ICD-9-CM Volume 3, and List of MeSH codes (E04).

Taking a Fresh Approach to the Course Design Institute

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For more than a decade, the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL) has offered the Course Design Institute (CDI). Throughout the CDI, facilitators from the GMCTL work with instructors on developing or redeveloping a course. We go through learning about your students, writing learning outcomes, choosing teaching strategies, developing assessments, and putting it all together through constructive alignment and the blueprinting of your course.

While the CDI had been an intensive four full-day experience within one week, a few years ago we revamped it to offer it in a “flipped” mode, with participants meeting face-to-face three half days over three weeks, plus completing activities and posting to the discussion forums to provide feedback to each other in BBLearn (our learning management system). This year, we’re taking that approach and modifying it again.

On day one, Tuesday May 2, we’ll meet with participants for a half day to cover knowing your students and writing learning outcomes.

On day two, Thursday May 4, participants will choose one of three options for a day-long elective. Participants may choose from indigenization, open pedagogy, or sustainability. Lunch is included on this day.

On day three, Tuesday May 9, also a half day session, we will talk briefly about the participants’ respective experiences in their day-long elective sessions, review their learning outcomes, and talk about assessment and rubrics.

On day four, Thursday May 11, again a half day session, we will discuss constructive alignment, instructional strategies, blueprinting your course, and course syllabi.

In between the sessions, participants will need to complete activities related to what has been covered or prepare for what will be covered in the next session. Following the CDI, participants will need to complete a brief reflective paper and, once they have begun blueprinting their course, meet with one of the facilitators for a one-on-one consultation.

For more information about the CDI or to apply to participate, please see the Course Design Institute page on our website or contact me at the GMCTL.

Teaching Students About Research: Open Data = Quality Data with Easy Access

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When we teach students research skills and ways of approaching being a researcher, we know that research is more than just plugging in numbers or following a script.

Canadian Open Government Data Lib GuideIn a statistical analysis, being able to select the variables to use (and not use) and the analysis to answer the question is as important as running the analysis.

We want students to design their own questions and analysis. The challenge though is where to get appropriate data easily and ethically?

At the U of S, we are in luck! Our librarians have identified several key Open Data sources:

Canadian Open Government Data
http://libguides.usask.ca/c.php?g=16466&p=91079
Site has 120,000 data sets that are freely available for anyone to use. They are from ten departments: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Environment Canada; Department of Finance Canada; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Library and Archives Canada; Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada; Transport Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat.

  • Canada Open Data Pilot Project – “This pilot portal will make more than 260,000 datasets from the following ten participating departments available to all Canadians: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Environment Canada; Department of Finance Canada; Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Library and Archives Canada; Natural Resources Canada; Statistics Canada; Transport Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat.
” (U of S library guide description)
  • 2011 Census of Canada Web Module
 – Released February 8, 2012
    http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/index-eng.cfm
    includes the Census of Population and the Census of Agriculture.
  • CANSIM – “Cansim is Statistics Canada’s key socioeconomic database of survey data. Updated daily. FREE as of February 1, 2012. License Information: This is an Open Access resource freely available on the Internet. Systematic copying or downloading of electronic resource content is not permitted by Canadian and International Copyright law.
” (U of S library guide description)

United States Open Government Data
http://libguides.usask.ca/c.php?g=16472&p=91152

  • Data.gov
  • White House Open Government Initiative
  • NASA Open Data

These datasets are either exportable or have web portal access to aggregated data. Contact your Librarian to learn more and for Government data, contact Rob Alary at Data Library Services: robert.alary@usask.ca

Have a question about teaching research design, or an exciting way to use Open Data in your course? Connect with me at the GMCTE or carolyn.hoessler@usask.ca

(Thank you to Darlene Fichter, U of S Library, for providing feedback and up-to-date information)

Hands up! How We Increase (Or Decrease) Student Participation

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We design courses with many opportunities for students to learn by completing assignments, readings and answering questions in class. But does our teaching increase such behaviours or decrease them?

One lens, psychology of learning, suggests we likely do both. B. F. Skinners’ operant conditioning suggests that how we respond to student behavior can either increase (reinforce) or decrease (punish) our students actions including participating in class discussion or completing homework.

What is Operant conditioning?

As Thorndike’s Law of Effect and B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning note we are influenced by the consequences of our actions. Good consequences encourage more of this activity, while unpleasant (or unhelpful) consequences encourage less of this activity.

Reinforcement increases the frequency of behaviours through either the addition of a pleasant stimulus (positive reinforcement) or the removal of an unpleasant stimulus (Negative reinforcement).

Punishment” decreases the frequency of valued behaviours through either the addition of an unpleasant stimulus (positive punishment) or the removal of an unpleasant stimulus (negative punishment).

What about Encouraging students to answer questions in class:

Hands up! How We Increase (Or Decrease) Students Answering QuestionsWe might beneficially use punishment to decrease of disruptive behaviours such as disruptive side conversations, interrupting classmates, or answering cell phones by adding the unpleasantness of awkwardness when we stand near by, interrupt to redirect conversation, or let silence fall during the phone call.

Our effect may also be neutral leading to attenuation where the lack of a reward results in decreased responses, including when an instructor neither confirms or discounts the response and simply says “next” until they have 3 responses regardless of correctness.

Over time, behaviours do not need to be (and should not be) actively reinforced each time to maintain higher participation or lower skipping class (see information on schedules and fixed versus variable intervals and ratios).

Experiment!

Try seeing how the number of students’ answers increases (or decreases) with different responses. Predict via the lens of operant conditioning. For example:

  • What happens if I ask questions that are too easy? -> Students likely not rewarded by answering.
  • What happens if I ask questions that are too hard? ->Students might not be able to answer and receive the explicit or implicit feedback that they are wrong.
  • What happens if I present my answer(s) on a slide after I ask them? Students might not be rewarded by answering
  • But what if I skim by pointing out all the parts they identified and building on their answer? -> Students might be rewarded and increase participation.
  • What if I summarize the readings? -> Students who read now have the frustration of listening again and having “wasted time” while students who did not read are reinforced that their decision was correct.
  • What if I have them pull out the readings or use a specific page or section for an activity -> Students who read ware rewarded by not having to quickly skim, students who did not read might experience uncertainty or struggle.

Applying operant conditioning is not about “coddling” or saying “good try” without correcting flawed knowledge, but creating a learning experience that is encouraging of participation, reading and incorporating feedback into later performance. Even when a students’ answer is incorrect there are ways to reward behaviours that lead to improvement (e.g., asking questions) and provide feedback to modify that knowledge by “rewarding” the correct bits, “punishing” incorrect parts, and because we can speak better than pigeons, suggesting how to improve.

While it is useful to be cognizant of how our actions may act to encourage or discourage specific student behaviours, self-determination is still valued and people may not want themselves or others to be treated as treating people like lab rats such as by Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory:

Resources:

Using Forums Effectively: Ways to improve engagement

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By Katharine Horne

This post originally appeared on the University of Sussex Technology Enhanced Learning Blog. It is being republished here with permission.

In a Virtual Learning Environment such as Study Direct (Moodle), forums can be a great way to share course information, build community and allow students to easily share resources and ideas.

Last year our post The benefits of lurking in higher education explored the ways in which learners engage with forums.

However, often these forums can seem quite sparse and neglected. So how can we encourage students to actively engage with forums? Below are a few key tips to help you make the most of the forums in your modules.

Set out clear expectations

It is important to set out clear expectations at the beginning of the module, both expectations that you have of students as well as what students can expect from you. Make it clear how often you would like students to contribute to the forum as well as your commitment to monitor the forum and respond to queries and requests. Be sure to set out clear instructions and guidelines in the description of your forum. In these instructions you might also want to ask students to read previous posts before asking a question to check if their question has already been answered. Also encourage students to give threads clear titles so that information can be found easily. This will avoid you having to write the same response numerous time, and might even cut down the number of questions you receive by email!

Set specific tasks

blurbs-300x268

flickr photo by tecabh shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Focussed tasks give students more reason to write a forum post. You could set exercises in seminars and lectures that involve students reflecting on the week or finding an interesting journal article or news item and sharing it with the group.

This could also be an opportunity for students to work in pairs or study groups, for example completing peer review exercises, something that again may encourage students to engage with forums whilst building a sense of community among the cohort. You could start off by asking students to introduce themselves to the group, this helps students get used to using the forum and alerts them to where it is positioned on the site.

Consider separate forums

You may want to think about creating separate forums for different functions, for example one forum to deal with general requests around admin issues and one for topic discussions. However, be careful not to overpopulate your module site with too many forums.

Consider group size

You may want to consider the number of students that have subscribed to a forum. If your lecture size is 500 and all students are actively engaging, this would make for a very busy forum! In this case, splitting your students up into smaller groups, perhaps seminar groups, would be a better option. At the same time, a group of five or six would probably result in less interaction as the group is so small. Think carefully about what would work best for your students. See this Study Direct FAQ – How do I set up groups? – if you would like help setting up groups in your module site.

Add a first post

A blank canvas can be quite daunting, it may be a good idea to add the first post on your forum yourself. This could be an introduction and welcome to the course or an ice breaker activity for students to complete perhaps asking them to explain their interest in the module.

Remind students

Remind students throughout the module to continue their contributions to the forum. A small reminder in your lecture slides or during seminars might be useful as will the specific forum tasks and activities mentioned above.

Encourage commenting

kboard-201x300

flickr photo by jamespia shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Forums are about building interaction between students. You can encourage this by getting students to not only author posts but also comment on others’ posts, building a dialogue between students. You might also want to encourage students who ask particular (non-personal) questions via email to add these to the forum so that other students can benefit from the answers.

In Study Direct, the University of Sussex’s Virtual Learning Environment, there are four different forum types to choose from:

  • A single simple discussion – this forum type allows for one topic to be discussed and appears on a single page, this is useful for short discussions that are focussed around a single topic
  • Standard forum for general use – this is the most appropriate for a general purpose forum and allows both students and tutors to post a new topic at anytime
  • Each person post one discussion – each person subscribed to the forum can post one new discussion topic which everyone can then reply to, this could be used for example to ask each student to reflect on the week’s topic
  • Q and A Forum – this forum type requires students to create their own post before being able to view other students’ posts, after they have added their post students can then review and respond to other posts

Forums can be a positive way of developing a dialogue, creating community and allowing students to reflect and feedback. Furthermore, forums are a useful way of turning your module site from a passive to an active environment and have the added benefit of reducing the number of emails you receive from students! If you would like further help with using forums please contact your school’s Learning Technologist or email tel@sussex.ac.uk.

Ideas about Assessing Student Participation

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Recently we completed another Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) at our Centre.  This an intensive and engaging 4-day workshop where faculty and instructors learn about and practice participatory learning strategies, and upon completion, receive a certificate of completion that is nationally recognized.

As the workshop unfolds, important questions are brought forward by participants.   Given our focus on student participation in the ISW, the question of how to (and whether to) give participation marks arises.  While the answers depend on the context of the course, the teaching approach, and the design of the learning experiences and assessments, specific ideas from others can help us arrive at ways of doing this that can fit our individual teaching.

So, when I came upon a link to this blog post by David Gooblar –  I thought it was worth highlighting to our recent ISW graduates, and to readers of Educatus.

In particular Gooblar links to an article by Tony Docan-Morgan that includes a participation log template that can be found here.

We would welcome more ideas from our readers on this teaching topic.

Building Capacity for Effective Group Work

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By Megan Marcoux, Student Employment and Career Centre

A session on this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight on Monday August 22, 2016 from 1 – 4 PM. Register here.

Over the past several years, the Student Employment and Career Centre (SECC) has had the opportunity to expand its in-house offerings to support teaching and learning in classrooms across campus. The work has leveraged tools like the StrengthsFinder and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to give groups of students the opportunity to enhance their self-awareness and deepen their competency development in the classroom. One student competency that has been focused on and developed with great success is the ability to work more effectively in teams, which is not only included in the learning outcomes associated with the Learning Goals of the U of S Learning Charter, but also in the Career Readiness Competencies outlined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). These documents highlight the necessity of effective group work for success in both learning and the world of work.

The StrengthsFinder is a 177-item assessment based on positive psychology that supports individuals in identifying their most natural ways of thinking, feeling and behaving (i.e., their raw talents). Assessment results provide an outline and descriptions of an individual’s Top 5 Talent Themes (out of a possible 34), which have the potential to “serve as the foundation of strengths development” (Gallup, 2014). Reports for the assessment include a Signature Themes Report, which provides general outlines for each of the Top 5, as well as an Insight and Action-Planning Guide, which weaves together all five themes to produce unique descriptions for each and outlines steps for strengths develop.

While the StrengthsFinder helps students identify their raw talents and develop them into strengths, the MBTI supports students in better understanding their personality through measuring four pairs of opposing preferences. These preferences speak to how individuals prefer to focus their attention (i.e. Introversion or Extraversion), take in information (i.e. Sensing or Intuition), make decisions (i.e. Thinking or Feeling), and deal with the world around them (i.e. Judging or Perceiving). This assessment has a longstanding history of supporting team development through enhancing people’s understanding of their own and others’ preferences for communication, work styles, etc.

From first-year Arts and Science classrooms to a fourth-year Nutrition capstone course, ESB classrooms to Grad Studies courses, the SECC has had opportunities to work with instructors and incorporate the assessments into a variety of course curricula. Through interactive workshops, students are able to further understand the theory and language behind the assessments, reflect on their results, and engage with their peers to understand how their strengths/personality can be supported and leveraged to maximize their learning and development, both in the classroom and beyond.

First Day of Class: Providing students a relevant and engaging initial taste

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Sessions related to this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight:

  • Why Teach With Top Hat? (Monday, August 22, 2016 from 10-10:25 AM) – Register Here
  • Building Student Capacity for Effective Group Work (Monday, August 22, 2016 from 1-4 PM) – Register Here 
  • Preparing & Personalizing Your Syllabus (Tuesday, August 23, 2016 from 1-2:50 PM) – Register here
  • Exploring Methods for Preventing & Detecting Plagiarism (Wednesday, August 24, 2016 from 10-11:30 AM) – Register Here
  • Attention & Memory: Increasing Student’ Learning (Friday, August 26, 2016 from 9-10 AM) – Register Here
  • Assignments, Rubrics, and Grading in Blackboard – It’s Easier Than You Think (Thursday, September 1, 2016 from 3-4:30 PM) – Register Here

As people, our perceptions and routines are engrained early on for places and people. Our experiences and decisions shaped by earlier ones. Find yourself or your students returning to their same seat? Initially excellent (or poor) meals at a restaurant tinting later dining experiences? Buying a book when the first few sentences catch your attention?

The first day of class is similar: it sets the focus of the course; instills interest; sets the context including layout and participation levels; invites selecting (or dropping) a class; and builds initial credibility and approachability.

As the recent Chronicle Vitae post by Kevin Gannon (Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning and Professor of History at Grand View University) noted just reading the syllabus and ending class is not enough. You miss modeling how you expect students to engage in the classroom, and missing the opportunity for intriguing questions and enthusiasm for the topic. As Kevin Gannon notes “Whatever your plan for the first day, students should get some idea of what’s expected of them throughout the semester, and also have the opportunity to discern their place in the class and its activities.”

One example of engaging students in the content of the course and the level of participation and thinking you expect to see, is highlighting one of the essential ideas of the course in a way that is immediately relevant to students. Create that initial, individual, motivating connection to what they will learn.

keyholeAllow your students to glimpse the potential and be curious about where it will lead.

Highlighting a core focus of the course

1) Identify key principles, lessons or concepts that are foundational to your course

  • Resources: decoding the disciplines & threshold concept literature in nearly every discipline offers ideas to select from
  • Stats class example: ability to read descriptions of quantitative research to identify and critique reported and missing components of data description and analysis
  • Qualitative research class example: all forms of reporting involve speaking for the other person, including choosing what is conveyed and how.

2) Convey the hook of curiosity & why it is inherently meaningful to them.

  • Tip: Each discipline arose to explore and work on essential and important inquiry. As experts in the discipline, the importance is obvious but often hard to articulate to a novice.
  • Resources: Reflect on what makes this topic inherently so important and relevant. Not sure how to describe it? Try talking it out with a colleague outside your discipline (or one of us in the GMCTE).
  • Stats class example: a sample online news report of a relevant hot topic based on “research”
  • Qualitative research class example: meet and then introduce a classmate

3) Connect what students already know with what they will learn

  • Tip: Having a clear framework early on in a course allows students to organize their new ways of thinking and new information. Referring to the example, diagram, key ideas throughout the course reinforce them and help to encode new memories.
  • Resource: The meaning step in 4MAT approach to lesson planning. Attention and memory literature. There is an upcoming fortnight session on Friday August 26th.
  • Stats class example: identifying the statistical & research pieces in the news story provided and missing pieces. The initial step for critiquing.
  • Qualitative research class example: experiencing the sense of responsibility and uncertainty when speaking for another person (especially when they are sitting beside you). Wondering did they say enough or too much? Were they accurate or misinterpreted? And then connecting it with the key idea of self & research within qualitative research methods.

Photograph courtesy of David Hetre under a CC-BY license.

Stories from Librarian and Faculty Partnerships

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By Kristin Bogdan, Librarian, College of Engineering

Sessions related to this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight:

  • Integrating Digital Information Literacy Into Courses (Wednesday August 31, 2016 from 9 – 11 AM) – Register here
  • Stories From Librarian and Faculty Partnerships (Thursday September 1, 2016 from 1- 2:30 PM) – Register here

Students should be equipped to be life-long learners. Ensuring that students receive information literacy sessions, particularly those integrated within their courses, will foster life-long learning. Information literacy (IL) is “a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” (ACRL). IL is no longer just about finding peer-reviewed articles in library databases. Teaching students how to critically evaluate sources like Wikipedia, and how to get the most out of using online tools like Google Scholar helps them add important tools to their research toolbox. As scholarly communication channels change, students should be taught how to find articles, books, and data within the library system as well as the other sources that they will have access to regardless of where their careers take them.

Librarians on campus are well equipped to teach information literacy skills and competencies. When faculty and librarians collaborate to offer these sessions they create life-long, information literate students.

How do we offer integrated library sessions?

An example can be seen in the ongoing collaboration between Donna Beneteau, Departmental Assistant in Mining, and Kristin Bogdan, Science and Engineering Librarian. Donna and Kristin collaborated to provide instruction to an engineering design class where students were required to write an engineering feasibility report. These reports are grey literature, which is sometimes indexed in major article databases but is also found in other sources like the websites of government agencies and corporations. In order for Donna’s students to write an appropriate report they needed to first see how those reports looked when they are produced by practicing engineers.

Donna and Kristin did a session on advanced Google searching, where Kristin demonstrated where to look for the reports and Donna talked about the reports themselves. Students were then given time and assistance in finding the reports they needed for their project. These are search skills that will help the students in their professional careers, where they may not have access to library resources.

This is just one example of collaboration between instructors and librarians. The world of information is changing quickly to include sources that do not fit in the classic academic frameworks. Students will benefit from faculty and librarian collaborations as they will be well equipped with tools to find the information they need.

Collaborations between instructors and librarians can lead to rich classroom experiences for everyone involved. In a world where students are bombarded with information from all directions, it is important to teach them how to filter not only based on the legitimacy of the source but also on the relevancy of their work.