Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ideas from Boot Camp for Profs 2008

Last July I had the opportunity to travel to Leadville, Colorado to participate in a week-long set of workshops on teaching. One of the presenters asked us to think of keywords that described a good teacher. Thinking about teaching along these positive lines can be invigorating. I have no doubt that more keywords could be listed, but here are a few that were mentioned: enthusiastic (II), competent, knowledgeable (II), available, treats others as equals/colleagues, authoritative, challenging, inspiring (II), motivating (III), flexible, stimulating, themselves (they do not pretend to be someone else, eccentric, helpful, caring, respected, humorous, nurturing, encouraging, rigorous, committed, and student oriented. True, many of these seem to by synonyms or related, such as inspiring, motivating, stimulating, and encouraging.

The keywords above in the boldface type are my favorites--the ones I want to describe me as a teacher.

Thinking about these keywords that describe good teachers may help those of us who do teach to think about what we want to be and compare that with what we are in the classroom. Sometimes if feels that I am a dull and boring teacher. I need to think of ways to spice up my teaching. Recently, in a conversation with a friend, I heard someone talk about her involvement in a musical. She has performed in this production for a month or more, and there have been nights when it's hard to get excited. Her director encourages her and her colleagues to think of one thing they will do differently during the course of the production. While she may not have mentioned this I imagined they could do a slightly different move or flourish, pick out a child in the audience to sing to or wink at, emphasize a few words differently, etc. She did say that this has helped her perform better. As teachers we ought to consider small things we could do differently, so we can avoid ruts in our teaching.

One presenter at the Boot Camp invited us to write a teaching epitaph [it feels so appropriate to talking about epitaphs right now as Halloween is only two days away]. Here's one that I wrote: "Here lies Spencer Jardine, a competent and loving teacher who inspired students to achieve their great potential--excellence that spilled over into their lives and blessed countless number of individuals." When I was an undergraduate I really liked a class and a teacher who talked about arete = or the classical Greek definition of excellence. It's good to work to achieve personal excellence. It seems that someone else may have written the following epitaph, but I would like to adopt it as well: "Here lies Spencer Jardine who inspired students to engage in the exciting and noble cause of learning."

"Deep, man, deep."

One message that seemed to repeat itself during the conference was that teachers need to do what they most want to do as teachers. Too often teachers do not think about what they want to do most, which means they do not do what they most want to do. How's that as a recipe for dissatisfaction?

Do it. Do it right. Do it right now!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Resizing Photos

Last year I presented a workshop on Picasa and Flickr photo-sharing websites. Several individuals expressed interest in knowing how to resize their photos. A few months back a colleague of mine brought the following website to my attention: ResizR. It allows anyone to upload any digital image they have with a "Browse" button; then they may specify how many pixels large they want it to be. The website resizes it right then and there, so the user can right-click on the image and save it to their own computer or memory device. This has been a handy tool for me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Active-Learning Ideas

Active-Learning Ideas

Listening Teams
Divide the class into four: the Agreers, the Naysayers, the Questioners, and the Example Givers. After lecturing or presenting a demonstration, allow students to discuss in their groups. Agreers will think of two items to agree on about the lecture, while the Nay-sayers consider two items they might disagree with. Questioners make two questions to ask the instructor. They can ask for clarification or any question related to the material, including “So what?” and “Why is this important for us?” Last, the Example Givers provide two examples of how the information presented will be useful. They should work to answer the question: “How can we apply the information given to a given scenario?” Each group reports back to the class. (Silberman, Mel. Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. pp. 72.)

Groups Applying the CRAAP Test
Find enough abstracts for the various groups in the class; make sure they have all the article citation information along with the abstract. Generally, I like groups to have three or four persons working together. Tell the students what kind of research question you have in mind. Write it on the board or display it somewhere so they can see it. They need to determine in their groups if they think the article in question is Current, Relevant, Authoritative, and Accurate. The P stands for Purpose. Student must understand the purpose of the author and the article. After three or four minutes groups report back to the rest of the class. Sometimes it helps to find an article first and develop a question that it answers, so at least one abstract passes the CRAAP Test. It may also be instructive to have an article from a popular source, so you can discuss authoritative issues and so forth. (Evaluating Information—Applying the CRAAP Test.)

Visual Quiz
This is a poor man’s clicker-response system. Create a quiz with a PowerPoint Presentation. Hand out cards with A, B, C, D, and E; large, bold, and colored letters may work best. Divide the class into groups of two or three, and have them work to answer the quiz in their groups. Each group holds up the answer to the question. Ask them not to look at other groups before answering. If multiple groups do not answer the question correctly give some additional instruction. This is a great way to get immediate feedback. Those who think well on their feet may be able to create questions and possible answers in the classroom, but, generally speaking, it may be best to consider beforehand what you consider to be most important and make questions that ask for comprehension of those key points.

Quick/Pop Quiz
Find out what students have learned from your presentation or lecture. Ask them to take out a piece of paper and write down answers to the questions you will be asking. Discuss the answers together as a class. Give the quiz at the beginning, middle, or end of a class. Students tend to learn more the sooner the feedback is returned to them.

Demonstrations aka Demos
No, not the kind of student protests that were popular in the ‘60s, but showing how to use databases. Don’t be afraid to demo the databases. As with any activity, it is important to ask yourself some basic questions: What’s most important for students to know? Can they learn it better with a handout, hands-on time, or some other way? What do you want them to take away from the demonstration? How much should you leave for them to discover on their own? What do you know that will save them time and help them be more strategic in their research.

Worksheets allow students to proceed at their own pace and can be effective active-learning tools. They can walk students through database interfaces and catalogs while instructing them on how to construct effective searching techniques. Try to avoid creating worksheets that serve solely as busy work, but remember that some students prefer hands-on practice over listening to a lecture or demonstration. Most students learn more by doing than by listening. Freshmen and lower-division students in their general-education courses seem to respond more to worksheets better than upper-division students. Students can keep worksheets as a reference guide to help them when they have research questions in the future.

Citation Assignment
This worksheet may be best for upper-division students or for students who already know what they want to research. The worksheet allows students to write down all the bibliographic information for five articles or books they believe will be useful in helping them to answer their research question. The instructions read like this: “identify three to five potential sources that might be useful for your paper and write down all the citation information you can find.” Students apply the CRAAP Test to one of the sources they have selected and write their analysis on the bottom half of the page. This gives them practice understanding all the elements of a citation. You may want to provide some contact information to the Reference Desk, your Ask-A-Librarian service, or your email address in case they have questions later.

Research shows that there are good lecturers and poor lecturers. Robert Leamnson argues: “In spite of the many witticisms to the contrary (‘the sage on the stage’ and the like), a major function of teaching is, and will remain so in the future, talking to students. Everything else (except the diploma, of course) they can get without paying tuition” (Thinking About Teaching and Learning 67). Nonetheless, many believe that the punctuated lecture is best. Lecture for 15-20 minutes then give a quiz, think-pair-share, or another activity. It’s best to get feedback to see if they understand; be willing to adjust your content of the class, so students will learn what you feel to be most important for them. Most individuals learn best when they interact with concepts in a variety of ways: listening, reading, writing, speaking, role playing, etc.

If you have a class that will not respond to you, have them discuss a question or problem with another classmate before having the groups report back to the class. This has helped out in many cases for me. It is great for all classes, but especially for literature classes. I have found it to be beneficial in the Library when we have led discussion on plagiarism. Students take out a piece of paper and write down their answers to a questions, then they turn to a neighbor to discuss the answer. Students will often listen more to a fellow peer than to an instructor. Consider the dynamics of the class first; a quiet morning class may benefit from this activity more than a boisterous afternoon class. Besides, it may be difficult to get the groups to stop talking and gather their attention enough to discuss as a whole class.

Analogies & Stories
Admittedly, this technique may require more active cerebral power on the instructor’s part, but an analogy or relevant story can make the material more accessible for students. The more basic the better. Try analogies that a large audience will understand. If it relates to their own personal experience it will make more sense to them. By and large, a majority of people appreciate stories, so tell stories that illustrate a point about researching and using the appropriate library tools.

Object Lessons
I have not really done this, except to ask students to stand up if they are wearing blue jeans, then for those who are wearing blue jeans and a sweater remain standing. This demonstrates a Boolean search statement. Explain that the more search terms entered in a query with the AND operator connecting them returns fewer results. The OR operator returns more results; connect synonyms or related terms with the OR operator and separate them from unrelated terms with parentheses. Having to stand up really gets their attention. Showing Venn diagrams also seems to be an effective way in explain Boolean operators.

Identify the Term
Give the definition of an important term and ask students to name that concept. Much of learning requires language acquisition, which emphasizes the importance of speaking, hearing, reading, and writing. Robert Leamnson devotes an entire chapter to language in his book Thinking About Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning with First Year College and University Students.

Jeopardy Review
Determine which categories you believe to be important, then ask questions to fit within those categories. Categories for libraries might include the following: databases, Boolean operators, catalog tips & tricks, library miscellaneous, library basics, resources, students and patrons. A PowerPoint presentation can be manipulated quite easily to support the Jeopardy format. Use a table to insert the point values, then right-click the number and hyperlink it to the appropriate slide with the question. The next slide can have the answer in the form of a question with an image hyperlinked back to the grid with the categories and point values. Mel Silberman’s book Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject includes a description of a Jeopardy Review. See page 163.

Student Blogs
For a semester-long information-literacy course, a useful activity may be to require students to create their own blog and post a certain number of assignments. These assignments could discuss their efforts to find good web sites, useful books in the catalog, relevant articles in the databases, and any number of creative assignments that ask for students to analyze, apply, synthesize, evaluate, etc. information.

Student Conversations
If we want students to be intelligent contributors to society, we can help them develop better conversation skills. In classroom settings we can engage the students in conversations about academic and information-literacy issues. Learn how to coach students in such a way that it prompts them to considers sides of an issue of which they may not be aware. Ask them to explain themselves, analyze an issue, evaluate resources, synthesize ideas, and come to conclusions. Of course, this may be best in a semester-long class, rather than a one-shot, library-instruction session. Students need to practice speaking and thinking like adults and in front of others, although they may not be inclined to do this. Always be lavish with your praise when a student does engage in a conversation with you in front of the whole class. This idea of student conversations comes from Robert Leamnson's Thinking About Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning with First Year College and University Students. He used this method in his classes.