Tag Archives: participation

Breaking the ice – 5 tips for getting your discussions started in myCourses


Welcome to our first post of the 2015 academic year! Keep an eye out for lots more in the coming weeks. And now onto some great tips on using discussions in myCourses.

Classes start in just over two weeks, so it’s the perfect time to start getting your myCourses pages ready for the semester. The Discussions tool can be a great way to add an online component to your course. This blog post contains recommendations for creating exciting online discussions, with a focus on how you can leverage online icebreaker activities as an opportunity to introduce students to the Discussions tool. Continue reading Breaking the ice – 5 tips for getting your discussions started in myCourses

From the Campus to MOOC: Reflections of a Student Assistant


McGillX offered its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the edX platform in January 2014 and has now offered two MOOCs, started a third and has one more more in the pipe.  Serving as a student assistant for CHEM181x: Food for Thought, I was myself a learner in a new environment. To be honest, I had never heard of a MOOC until I was offered the position in November 2013. In joining the McGillX team, my role would be to both assist in the course development and serve as one of two discussion moderators. Continue reading From the Campus to MOOC: Reflections of a Student Assistant

Bringing Social Media into myCourses: Embedded Twitter Feeds


At Teaching and Learning Services, I work as a Learning Technology Consultant and help instructors with incorporating learning technology, such as myCourses and clickers, into their courses.

Last week, I attended Chris Buddle’s workshop “Using Social Media Tools in Teaching and Learning.” This had me thinking: if instructors are using social media tools as vital components of a course, and if we think of myCourses as an extension of the classroom, then how can we bring these together?

Continue reading Bringing Social Media into myCourses: Embedded Twitter Feeds

Instructors: stop putting your Powerpoint slides on-line


I tire of the belly-aching about how students don’t show up to lectures anymore (the latest example of this is mentioned here). In my opinion, this is a signal that something is wrong with how the material is delivered rather than being indicative of some deeper issue. It means the traditional lecture format needs a serious overhaul. In other words, perhaps this is the fault of the instructor rather than the student.

One of the key issues is that instructors are getting into the habit of spoon-feeding students by placing lectures on-line. I was a 20 year-old undergraduate once, and if I was able to get all the lecture material by logging on and clicking ‘download’, it would certainly make it easy to skip class! If lectures are posted on-line, I’m not surprised that students aren’t going to lecture.

The solution is simple: STOP posting Powerpoint slides on-line!

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OK, I admit I’ll get some flak from that statement. Here are some of the arguments for posting Powerpoint slides on-line, and my rebuttals:

Students argue that having lectures on-line facilitates their learning: instead of concentrating on the lectures and the content, students have to scramble to write things done.

This merely indicates that the instructor is going too quickly over the material, or that too much material is being covered. Less is often more. If students are scrambling to write stuff down, this means “slow down”, it doesn’t mean “post your lectures on-line”. There’s a serious disease in higher education and it’s called “Information Overload Disorder”. For some reason, instructors have in their mind that covering loads of material is a requirement for a University course. No: covering important information in an active and integrative manner is a requirement for a University course.

Students are SO used to having the notes, and I’m afraid my teaching evaluations will suffer if I don’t put the notes on-line.

Sorry, this doesn’t fly either: my teaching scores have actually increased once I stopped putting notes on-line, and I’ve received countless positive comments from students about not posting slides on-line. This is because the class was always full, and it forced me to change the manner in which lectures are delivered (see above: I had to cover less material!). Having students in the classroom instead of their dorm rooms produced a positive feedback loop: it created a full classroom, and an active classroom. Since there were more students in class, there were more questions and since there were more questions, the classroom became more interactive and as the classroom become more interactive, student engagement increased.

Powerpoint is so awesome! Textbook companies provide the slides and all the material is ready to go! Clickity-click-click let’s LECTURE!

Powerpoint is not awesome. Powerpoint slides are an ineffective and rather annoying tool for the University classroom. Text-heavy Powerpoint slides do not promote an active learning environment. Active learning is an important and valuable concept in higher education. Active learning means the classroom becomes a space for debate, discussion, interaction, and the instructor is the facilitator of all of this rather than a ‘voice from a podium’. Powerpoint slides can be used to illustrate concepts, for showing relevant graphs or images, but they should not be used for a long list of bulleted points. Frankly, Powerpoint often becomes a memory tool for the instructor rather than a tool for effective instruction. Try a chalkboard instead…

Students shouldn’t be forced to come to lecture – heck, they are paying for University and we are at their service. It’s their right to have access to course notes on-line.

Yes, students are paying to come to University, and instructors are paid to teach. In most cases, this means teaching in a seminar room or lecture hall. In most cases, this means teaching in a context where direct interaction with students is possible, important and a key part of the University experience! To me, it’s the student’s right to be able to go to lecture and experience an active and engaging environment: an environment that creates opportunity for learning from an expert on a topic, but also learning from peers. These are difficult things to replicate outside of a classroom. So, instead of thinking of it as forcing students to come to lecture, it’s time to create a lecture environment that is welcoming, exciting and engaging. Let’s create environments which make it so students want to come to lecture.

The University Classroom: let's make it a place where students WANT to be! (photo by M. Pourde)
The University Classroom: let’s make it a place where students WANT to be! (photo by M. Pourde)

Not all students can come to lecture!

Correct: and it’s certainly convenient to be able to have access to Powerpoint slides especially if a student is sick or has a family emergency. However, this is based on an assumption that someone will be able to actually understand a lecture based on a series of Powerpoint slides. Hopefully this isn’t the case! Instead, a Powerpoint presentation should facilitate and guide rather than be a definitive record of a lecture. A good lecture should never depend on Powerpoint: a good lecture should change direction depending on a question from a student, or a current event that occurs on the morning of the lecture. It should be dynamic, and never ‘locked-in’ to a series of slides. If students miss lectures, there are alternatives: Many students record lectures, students often have friends in a class, and there are office hours available for students. I often find office hours to be rather quiet times, yet this is the perfect opportunity for a student to approach an instructor if they miss a lecture.

What are the alternatives?

I’m not saying don’t put anything on-line, rather I’m arguing against dumping an entire Powerpoint presentation on-line. There are many alternatives… but you’ll have wait for a future post that will discuss some ideas – so stay tuned! (or you are welcome to comment, below).

In sum, I hope this post can cause a stir, and cause instructors to question the value of posting lectures on-line. As in all things, there is no silver bullet solution to low student attendance in a lecture hall, but I firmly believe we are doing a serious disservice to students by posting material on-line. Let’s instead work on innovative approaches to teaching that will make the lecture hall an inviting and exciting space for teaching and learning.

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Information Communication Technologies (ICTs): Friend or Foe?


I recently finished a book called Alone Together by Sherry Turkle (2011), a professor at MIT. The book discusses how social media and technology has infiltrated our lives and its visible effects on human connections. Turkle explains that ICTs – e-mail, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – are fundamentally changing human interactions; they change who we are.

As I read the book, I felt like I was reading my personal diary. I was the individual who, in her book, was constantly connected yet felt the need for more interaction. Turkle explains that through this technology, people present the best of themselves, an ideal; they can type, delete, and edit every interaction. She says, “Human relationships are supposed to be messy, but now they are edited and perfected.” When I thought about this, I thought about how this affects our learning environments for all students. How have these ICTs influenced our classrooms? Continue reading Information Communication Technologies (ICTs): Friend or Foe?

Turning class participation into short written assignments


By Marcy Slapcoff, Teaching and Learning Services

In the entry from the Teaching Professor Blog pasted below, , suggests that instructors give students a participation grade for writing ABOUT participation, not for talking up in class. What a novel idea!  Weimer writes that the common approach to grading participation rewards students who like to talk and know that verbal participation will win them points.  Instead, she suggests that writing short papers  is a more fruitful strategy for helping students appreciate how important interaction is to the  learning process. As she explains, “With this approach, students would write a series of short papers (I’m thinking 1-2 pages) which aim to make them more aware of classroom interaction generally and their contribution to it specifically. ” She provides a list of guiding questions that faculty can use to get students started. I like this idea because it opens up the participation grade to more students and gets everyone writing (and thinking!) which is always a good thing. Faculty may worry that more writing means more grading and Weimer addresses this by suggesting that faculty grade these short assignments for completion rather than using a complex set of criteria. I am curious about this strategy so please let me know if you use it already or want to try it out!

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Originally posted on October 23, 2013

Grading Participation: An Alternative to Talking for Points

By Maryellen Weimer, PhD

Is there a way to motivate and improve student participation without grading it? I raise the question because I think grading contributions gets students talking for points, not talking to make points. Verbal students make sure they say something, but often without listening to or connecting with the comments of others.

Is grading participation an effective way for students to discover how and why classroom interaction promotes learning? I’ve been considering alternatives, including this one: “Participation, as in what you contribute verbally, is not graded in this course, but your writing about participation is.”

With this approach, students would write a series of short papers (I’m thinking 1-2 pages) which aim to make them more aware of classroom interaction generally and their contribution to it specifically. They would write the papers in response to the following prompts.

My Participation Skills – Do you participate? Why? Why not? What do you do when you participate? Ask questions? Answer questions? Only answer when you know the right answer? Make comments? What participation skills would you like to develop? How might you go about working on these skills? At the end of the course, how will you know if your skills in this area have improved?

Observing Participation – For the next two weeks observe participation as it occurs in this class. What do students do when they participate? How does the teacher respond? How well are students listening to each other? What’s the most interesting student comment or question you heard during this observation period? How could participation be improved in this class? What could you do to improve the interaction in this classroom?

Or, for two weeks observe participation in your other courses. How does participation there compare with what’s happening in this course? Be specific—write about behaviors. What are students doing? What is the teacher doing? If there are differences between courses, what are they and to what would you attribute these differences?

The Role of Participation in Learning – Write about any or all of these participation policy questions and, using your answer(s), conclude with a paragraph that discusses the role of participation in learning.

  • Should students have the right to remain silent in a course if they can learn the content without talking about it?
  • Should teachers call on students if they haven’t volunteered? Explain why.
  • If participation is graded, does that motivate students to answer questions and make comments? Does it motivate verbal contributions for the right reasons?
  • If participation is graded, how much should it count?
  • Do students learn things from the comments and questions of other students? Could they learn more than they do? How?
  • What kind of feedback from the teacher and classmates would help improve your contributions in class?
  • The ability to answer questions when called on and to speak up in a group are important skills, how do these skills factor into your future career plans?

My Participation Skills Revisited – Reread your three participation papers and then answer these prompts. Compare your participation skills now with your description of them written at the beginning of the course. Has your thinking about the role of participation in learning changed? What needs to happen now for you to take your participation skills to the next level?

Faculty, I know you are probably thinking, “That’s a lot of papers to grade.” But I think the learning benefit here comes from writing these papers, not from teacher feedback. The objective is to hone observational skills, encourage reflection, and get students engaged in some serious self-reflection. I’d assess these papers with a rubric that mostly looks at whether the student took the task seriously. I’d limit written feedback to one pithy question raised by what the student has written. Some of the feedback will likely apply to many students and that can be delivered in class or online. In either venue, you could use it to encourage discussion about interaction in the class (or online discussion board). And certainly you can modify the assignment structure to better fit your needs—shorter papers, fewer papers, etc.

Do you think the learning potential of student interaction is lost or compromised when we fuel students’ contributions by giving them points? An assignment option like this doesn’t totally change that dynamic—there’s still a grade involved—but it does offer students a different perspective.