All posts by Adam Finkelstein

Techno-geeky, hyper-connected, educational technology, social media dad with a academic, educational developer, teaching and learning, social wrapper.

Why Flipped Classrooms Fail


Julie Shell (@julieschell) from peerinstruction.net provides some interesting insight into flipped classrooms and the #1 reason why they don’t work (and how to ensure that they do). Have a read a let us know what you think in the comments!

Turn to Your Neighbor: The Official Peer Instruction Blog

“I tried Peer Instruction and it didn’t work.”

As a champion of the popular flipped learning method developed by Eric Mazur, this phrase always hits me hard when I hear it from fellow educators. And I do hear it.

Over the years, I’ve run into many different accounts of experiments in innovative teaching and flipped classrooms, not just Peer Instruction, gone awry.  I have heard many refrains about clickers, “I tried clickers and it was a disaster.” About flipped learning with videos, “I tried it but my students didn’t watch the videos.” And even about the student engagement all-star, project-based learning: “I gave it a shot but my students perform better when I lecture.”

Of course, there are sundry reasons why one venture toward innovative teaching succeeds and another stumbles. I don’t claim to have the one answer or a lock on the perfect explanation. In this 3-part series, I…

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Expectations (of graduate students and supervisors)


A very thoughtful post from Prof Chirs Buddle on the importance of setting expectations for graduate students and supervisors.

Interested in discussing the topic further? Register for the TLS workshop on “Clarifying Expectations in Graduate Supervision” on Feb 25th, 2pm-4pm.

Arthropod Ecology

I have been running a research laboratory for close to 15 years, and I’m ashamed to say that I have not written down, formally, my expectations* of graduate students and their expectations of me. I regret this, especially since there are amazing resources out there to help with this discussion. I would argue that differing levels of expectation is probably a key source of conflict in research laboratories, and having a solid agreement between graduate students and supervisors is key for success.

Here is some context for my laboratory: I run a mid-sized laboratory (currently with three MSc and three PhD students and two undergraduate Honour’s students), focused on studying arthropod ecology. As a Professor, my job involves teaching, research and administration. When running my research laboratory, the three tasks overlap – for example, I’m a lab ‘administrator’ in some ways, including ordering supplies, dealing with budgets, working on…

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How to flip your class with quizzes in 5 steps


A great read from Julie Schell from peerinstruction.net (a great resource for ideas on peer instruction) on how you can flip your class using quizzes.

Turn to Your Neighbor: The Official Peer Instruction Blog

quizgooglenoncommuse Measuring a student’s knowledge state is the typical purpose of quizzes in education. Can these short tests do more?

Quizzes have long been used as a “stick” in education. Did you ever scramble at the warning from your own teachers during class,  “y’all better do your work…or else.. I am going to give you a quiz!”

Of course, most educators use quizzes for a more evolved reason. Rather than quiz as punishment, we use the mini-tests to check in on our students before a more substantial, high stakes exam or assessment. Indeed, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a quiz is by definition a test of knowledge.

Recent research in cognitive science tells us that the power of quizzing students extends far beyond simply measuring a learner’s knowledge state at a given moment in time. Quizzing, it turns out, provides a robust learning effect in and of itself.

Memory researchers Roediger and Butler (2011) note:…

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Reddit Ask Me Anything for McGill’s MOOC on Natural Disasters


What causes natural disasters? Can you avoid them?

To kick off the third run of their Natural Disasters MOOC on edX, Professors John Stix and John Gyakum will be hosting their first Reddit AMA!

AMA mean “Ask Me Anything” so questions about the strange weather we are experiencing, the current ‘Super El Nino’, the chances of another ice storm, the professors’ research, and more, are all fair game.

As of 12:30PM today (Tuesday, Jan 19th) the link will be live on the TLS website on our Natural Disasters MOOC page.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Goodbye chalkboard! The opportunities and challenges of teaching in an active learning classroom


Professor Chris Buddle writes an very interesting article on some of his experiences with one of our Active Learning Classrooms at Macdonald Campus. These innovative classrooms were designed to support exactly the type of teaching and learning Professor Buddle is implementing: interactive and engaging inquiry. We look forward to more reflections as the term progresses…

Arthropod Ecology

This year I have the pleasure of teaching my Population and Community Ecology class in one of McGill’s Active Learning Classrooms – this one is touted as been quite exceptional, and I’m keen to put it to the test. Over the past 4-5 years, I have been teaching my quantitative ecology course almost entirely with chalk. In fact, I have actively argued about the value of teaching with chalk, and about a move away from technology can be beneficial to student learning, to my own teaching, and overall a very positive experience for all. Now I’ll be faced with this kind of environment when teaching my class:

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 11.14.36 AM A view of two of the group tables in the Macdonald Campus active learning classroom; each “pod” seats 12 students (in three wings), and each is colour coded, and linked and adjacent to a screen and whiteboard So why change?

One problem…

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The Eight-Minute Lecture Keeps Students Engaged


Faculty Focus has an interesting article on reframing lectures into eight minute sections. Many studies have demonstrated that students retain very little from lectures. However, lectures in small segments (interspersed with active learning strategies) can be a helpful strategy to help frame concepts and facilitate student focus.

The article provides some guidelines on how to implement an “eight-minute lecture” and gives some concrete examples of their use. Continue reading The Eight-Minute Lecture Keeps Students Engaged