All posts by Tom Gleeson

I am a hydrogeologist at University of Victoria, Canada who is interested in groundwater sustainability, mega-scale groundwater systems, groundwater recharge and discharge and fluid flow around geologic structures. My goal is fundamental and applied research and teaching to enable sustainable groundwater use.

Two great science communication tools for conferences and teaching: smart screens and cell phones


Earlier in the summer at the European Geosciences Union in Vienna I learned about two dead-easy and great science communication tools for conferences.  These are great for any conference hall or meeting, but could be just as easily be used in the classroom to make a more exciting in class research presentations. For better or worse, most of us are carrying them (or looking at them!) right now: a smart screen or cell phone. Continue reading Two great science communication tools for conferences and teaching: smart screens and cell phones

What busy profs would like to read in a blog post about active learning


During a great workshop today on active learning in engineering at McGill I asked two questions (using Socrative) , of the audience. Here is a summary of 24 answers I received:

1) I would like to read blog posts about:

  • activities for large classes (18% of people)
  • activities for small classes (30% of people)
  • technology in active learning (22% of people)
  • wacky or creative ideas for active learning(30% of people)

2) I might read a blog post about teaching and supervision if…

  • It takes into account the sheer lack of time and resources for preparation; ie quick and easy ideas to engage a bored class!
  • it was linked through twitter
  • It was regularly updated and interesting!
  • It does not take too long
  • it helps me achieve better my teaching objectives compared to my current teaching practice
  • It related to economics / social science a bit
  • Its short and introduce tips and examples
  • It gives concrete practical examples of activities for teaching and making students more active
  • I was interested
  • I knew where to find it
  • It dealt with distance education
  • they talked about encouraging creativity and critical thinking
  • it was about new and creative strategies that I can use in my class
  • it included the occasional evidence-based pieces that demonstrate real impact
  • Give ideas about how to get the students more active
  • It’s concrete, thoughtful and provides ideas
  • it was relevant and to the topic. I also would like to see it promoted within the departments to encourage conversation about teaching and learning
  • It is useful

My summary is that people want to hear about all types of different aspects of active learning and they would be motivated to read posts if it interesting and provided something useful.

Originally posted on waterunderground.

Active learning in large classes: a gallery ‘walk’ with a 100 students


Active learning in large classrooms is difficult but not impossible – here is one example of an active learning technique developed for small classrooms, the gallery walk, which I have successfully re-purposed for a class of 100 (but I see no real upper limit on class size with the modified version of this activity).

“In Gallery Walk student teams rotate to provide bulleted answers to questions posted on charts arranged around the classroom. After three to five minutes at a chart or ‘station’ the team rotates to the next question. Gallery Walk works best with open ended questions, that is, when a problem, concept, issue, or debate can be analyzed from several different perspectives.” SERC Pedagogy in action

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Teaching a large class. Photo by Maria Orjuela-Laverde, courtesy of Faculty of Engineering, McGill University

In most large classes in auditoriums, there is not the time or space for students to actually walk around the ‘gallery’. So instead I bring the ‘gallery’ of four provocative questions to groups of students on clipboards that are rotated around the classroom :

  • the class is split into four quadrants which are further divided into four groups (so ~5 people per group for a class of 100). Each group starts with a clipboard with one of the four questions and the four groups in the each quadrant should have the four different questions (good to check before starting).
  • Students are given 5-10 minutes to respond to the question on their clipboards and then clipboards are rotated until each group has answered each question. Students can constructively respond to previous groups answers to the same question.
  • After four rotations each group should have the question they started with and I ask a few groups to report out a summary to class which I synthesize on the board. In my case we end the activity with a vote of the ‘world’s biggest water problem’.

I find this an excellent way to start and/or end a term. In my case I teach a rather technical undergraduate engineering class about hydrology and water resources – this is an excellent tool to encourage students to think very broadly and creatively about the topic before and/or after we learn technical details.

This activity was inspired by conversations at the ‘Cutting Edge’ Early Career Geoscientist workshop in June 2012 College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA. The workshop is sponsored by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) with funding provided by the National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education. I thank the workshop leaders, NAGT and NSF for this opportunity and encourage other early career geoscientists to check out future workshops.

Co-teaching a blended class across universities: why? and why not?


This term I am co-teaching a graduate class in advanced groundwater hydrology with Grant Ferguson (University of Saskatchewan) and Steve Loheide (University of Wisconsin – Madison). In co-developing and co-delivering this course we have learned a lot – I’ll start here with our initial motivations and write later about our pedagogic decisions, software tools and reflections after the course. It is mostly win-win for students and professors, but I’ll describe some of the disadvantages below. Continue reading Co-teaching a blended class across universities: why? and why not?