Tech Tip: Using Etherpad for Student Collaboration

Emmanuel College’s ECLearn (Canvas learning management system) allows for easy integration with external tools.

One application offered under the “Collaborations” tool menu is Etherpad. As described on, this is “a highly customizable open source online editor providing collaborative editing in really real-time.”

Etherpad is a tool similar to a Google Docs document. It opens as a blank wiki page where multiple users can participate at the same time. Once online, each pad contributor can communicate with others via a chat. Each member can be anonymous or identified by their name associated with the colored text they input. The color is automatically assigned, but users can pick their choice if they wish. Just like a wiki page, students can look at previously saved versions of the document.

etherpad snapshotEthepad can be imported and exported as HTML page, plain text, MS Word doc, PDF, ODF, or DokuWIki. An interesting feature is the timer that is a recording of a real-time version of the page editing process. A saved version can be replayed unlimited times to see who did what and when. The pad can be also embedded and shared as a link. This allows for creating collaborative spaces that are web-based, which allows for different users to edit the same version of a document without having to save separate copies of it; possibly, it also avoids the necessity to attribute ownership of the final result, because it is all self-evident.

This Fall semester, ATIG noticed two faculty who implemented Etherpad in their ECLearn courses. In a Business course, the instructor (Kelly Grant) had students brainstorm ideas using the tool on a course level. (For more on this particular professor’s pedagogy and course design, check out Faculty Spotlight section where the faculty member will be featured in December 2014.)

Another teacher – Prof. Ana Otero – used Etherpad differently. In her Biology course, she grouped the students in pairs and gave them the option to select a topic of interest to develop their case study. Students used the tool to collaborate within their group. Each member was tasked to research and contribute to the story, so the end result would be a mixed input illustrating the work of the two participants whose intertwined thoughts are laid out in writing in pre-determined format. Not everyone used the tool as intended. Some worked individually and their work displayed no evidence of mutual effort. Others collaborated in person and delivered a final result posted by one of the two members. And yet others, used the tool properly to edit each others postings in order to improve the final outcome.

There are more examples of online collaborative work using this particular tool. What are yours? To find out more about other collaborative tools, check out the How-To @ Emmanuel EClearn course where all academic technologies offered to faculty are listed. Have questions? Email us at

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The Role of The Teacher in Blended Learning

The term student-centered learning has gained a lot of popularity nowadays along with other ideas such as flipping the classroom, interactive learning, multimedia learning… Not so long ago a traditional course was considered a face to face more or less one-way interaction between a teacher and students. The teacher lectures. Students watch, listen, and may take notes. They may even participate in conversation if prompted by the instructor. However, in recent years with academic technology advancement, learning management systems and many web tools have been widely used in most higher education institutions. This allowed for moving certain learning practices in online environment which brought a paradigm shift in our understanding of what quality learning means. Interactivity is understood twofold – as increased interaction between students with faculty and students with students, and also as increased interaction between students and content, especially content provided electronically. Hybrid and online courses allow for more interactivity than in the traditional course format simply because there are more options for communication and interaction available.

Blended courses are format where 50 to 70% learning activities are done out of class, either online using academic technologies or in the physical world in the form of field trips, reports, interviews, projects, etc. Hybrid courses allow for time flexibility, diversifying of the activity channels, and increased students participation and interaction. Learners become more responsible and organized in their efforts. Their learning is more independent, proactive, and varied. Their learning revolves around them and how much they invest in it. Blended learning holds a greater risk and challenge to both teachers and students, but ultimately, it brings greater results.

For students the challenge is in better time organization. Some find it difficult to keep up with the readings and homework when they are not due in class. They are not used to perform on time and/or as efficiently when there is not an immediate response and feedback from a teacher. They take time to place equal importance to any out of class activities. Students also report difficulties organizing their own learning and keep track of tasks, because of the dual nature of instruction – via LMS and via live instructor. It is challenging to increase efforts that come with variety of information and communication channels. At the end, however, hybrid format of learning reflects better meta-learning results, because students improve their ways of acquiring knowledge and become more efficient in organizing their time and efforts.

The role of the teacher in hybrid course is even bigger than that in a face to face course, because teacher’s responsibility is no longer just to teach on topic, but to design in advance a learning process where students will learn how to be more independent as they move along the curriculum. Bigger time investment and preparation in course development is a challenge to teachers who are also challenged with learning how to use academic technology effectively. Having said that, the role of the teacher is increased and becomes multi-layered in blended courses as the teacher is the designer of student-centered learning. The instructor needs to by a guide who set clear expectations about course work and quality of learning, communication and presentation; a facilitator to students individual and group activities; a leader in all their learning endeavors regardless of environment; a consultant who is present in physical and virtual space to all in need of redirection and help; a mentor who finds and makes learning relevant to each individual in order to keep students engaged and ultimately improve their learning outcomes.

The role of the teacher is to make students become independent learners and thus prepare them for the world where they will continue on their life-long journey of learning. People may think learning ends with the end of their official academic life. Actually it never ends. It is just not made a priority anymore as work and other life events take most of their days. Eventually however, well-developed meta-learning skills like time and study organization, responsibility and courage to face new learning challenges, will become appreciated facilitators of job well done and of life progress in general. And all this thanks to the initial careful guidance of the Teacher.

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Learning Merit: About Digital Badges

ATIG’s new badging initiative might leave you wondering: what are badges? What is the place of these digital badges in the learning environment?


While a GPA is one measure of student success, what does that number let us know about the student’s pathway to graduation? Badges tell a story of an individual’s unique skills and achievements during their academic career, painting a clearer picture of who that learner is and what learning objectives she has completed.

Digital badging is catching on not only in higher education. Stack Overflow, a web community where computer programmers of all levels ask and answer questions and receive help, awards badges based on user expertise and helpfulness. These badges award community members for being good citizens of this digital community.

Beyond telling a student’s story and encouraging good digital citizenship, badging makes learning fun. Badges give tangible form to the sense of achievement we feel when mastering a skill and progressing to a new challenge. Overcoming challenges is rewarded, and learners can “level up” to more advanced challenges – just like in a video game.

Want to learn more? Check out some further reading:

Carey, Kevin (November 2, 2012). Show Me Your Badge. The New York Times, retrieved from

Carey, Kevin (April 8, 2012). A Future Full of Badges. The Chronicle of Higher Education, retrieved from

EduCause Learning Initiative (June 2012). 7 Things You Should Know About Badges.

Raths, David (June 20, 2013). How Badges Really Work in Higher Education. Campus Technology, retrieved from

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Faculty Spotlight: Richard White – Online Video Conferencing

Instructor: Richard J. White

Course: HRM/MSM 9019 OL Negotiation and Conflict Management

About the Project: This course uses simulated negotiation exercises focused on problems in a management/human relations environment to provide negotiations experiences. These experiences are then analyzed using course materials and group discussions. The analysis is formalized in a weekly reflection paper.

I had taught this course in a face-to-face format at Emmanuel before being asked to convert it into an online course. I had some misgivings concerning the effectiveness of teaching negotiation without interpersonal contact, but I discovered in teaching the course that many of the negotiation skills translated well into exchanges of proposals, counterproposals, questions, and rationale using typewritten posts. I have discovered that there are materials available which assist the students with particular skills designed to enhance their ability to negotiate in an online format. However, in the process of providing feedback, a number of students expressed a desire to develop their skills in face to face negotiations.

When the college transitioned to EC Learn, the enhanced video capabilities of the platform made it possible to have negotiations conducted by asynchronous video post and real-time video conference. In becoming experienced with these capabilities, I decided to try to expand the negotiation experiences in the course into the face-to-face arena.

Goals: My goal was to provide both text based and face-to-face negotiation experiences in the context of my online course using the EC Learn platform without detracting from the workload scheduling flexibility which is important to many online students.

Technology Requirements: In addition to the computer equipment necessary for an online course, each student needed access to a video camera with audio capabilities. Otherwise, no special technology was required beyond that provided through the EC Learn platform.

ConferenceTool_snapshotOutcomes: The first contact which each of my students has with the course is to introduce themselves to their classmates. In order to appraise the technological ability of my students, as well as the quality of the video equipment available to them, I requested that each student make their introduction by video post. I also posted mine by video post both to share the experience with them, and to test my own abilities and technology. This initial activity was a success for all parties involved.

Similarly, the first negotiation exercise is a simple negotiation between two friends concerning one friend selling a fax machine which they cannot use to another. I decided to continue to test the video format by configuring this negotiation exercise to be contacted by asynchronous video post. I required that all communication between the students be conducted by video post. No emails or text postings were to be used. This activity was also a success in that all negotiations were completed without technical difficulties or extensive delays. This was extremely important to the course because each student must have a negotiation experience which they can use as a vehicle to analyze the particular skills being emphasized in a module. As a result of the success, I carried the video format followed throughout the remainder of the course.

I ran into some difficulties with an exercise where there was a requirement that students work out their bargaining positions as negotiating teams before communicating them to their opposing team. The difficulty largely resulted from the fact that negotiation by video is slower than negotiation by text because it is difficult for many students to make video posts or engage in conferencing when they have a small amount of available time at work, work odd hours, and/or lack good video equipment at home. I addressed this issue in each negotiation by allowing students who could not use video in a timely fashion to use text to communicate when necessary. This modification made the process work within the weekly class format without undue delay. It was interesting to note that no students abandoned the video format.

The final negotiating exercise in the course is the mediation of the termination of an employee for allegedly engaging in sexually harassing conduct. In this exercise, I serve as the mediator and the students serve as the representatives of the company and the employee. Because of my previous difficulties in the team format, I decided to modify this exercise to be a one-on-one negotiation with one representative of the company negotiating with one employee representative. (I use an employee representative rather than the employee to avoid putting any student in the position of having to defend themselves as a sexual harasser.) I used the conference function of EC Learn to conduct the mediations. The conference function of EC Learn was flexible enough to allow me to set up joint conferences where all parties were present, and private conferences for each party to meet with the mediator in each mediation. Conferences were scheduled by appointment just as they would have been in an actual mediation. Despite the fact that I had some technical issues due to my inexperience with the platform, I found the mediation to be as effective and realistic as I had been able to reproduce in the face-to-face course. All parties settled, and the settlements were quite realistic.

At the conclusion of the course, I sought feedback from my students as to the effectiveness of the experience in their view, and any negative impact which the video format had on their experience as online students. I solicited this feedback after the course had closed and grades were awarded as I did not wish to influence any responses. I received responses from five out of eight students who unanimously endorsed of using video to provide realistic negotiation experiences. It was interesting to note that some of those who responded were those who had some difficulties with the format from time to time as the course progressed. On the negative side, each commented that the interchanges were slowed by the video, but went on to state that the positive aspects of using the video capabilities of EC Learn to teach negotiations far outweighed the negatives.

From an instructional perspective, I was able to assist students in improving the communication skills used in negotiating in both competitive and cooperative situations. Because this course teaches practice as well as theory, I believe that the addition of the video experiences enhanced the learning experience for the students.

I intend to continue to refine the use of video in my future courses.

I would like to thank Teddy Hristov and Cynthia Brennan for providing me with extensive help with the technological aspects of this project. They were both knowledgeable and patient in getting me through my first experiences with the video aspects of EC learn.

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Faculty Café

Snack time. Yes, there will also be fruit.

I’m a big believer in the afternoon snack – that “little something” to keep you going.  And, just as our bodies can need a pick-me-up, our brains can use a bite-size bit of learning or new information to refresh and re-inspire.  So, down here at ATIG, we thought: “Why not combine the two? It could be the next best thing since Reese’s put peanut butter and chocolate together.”  (Mmm, Reese’s…)

We were also motivated by faculty comments.  Many faculty members have said to us that they wish there were more opportunities to share information with colleagues in an informal way.  And so, Faculty Café* is born.  Faculty Café is a weekly chance to drop in, have a home-made snack, a little coffee or tea, and share information with colleagues about teaching strategies.  Or get suggestions from your fellow teachers on how to solve a problem you’ve encountered.  Or ask us a quick question. We’ll have a few conversation triggers available to inspire you – but you own this time.  Nothing formal, no commitments — if you just want a cookie, that’s okay too.

The first Faculty Café is scheduled for Wednesday, September 10 at 3 pm in WSC 113. 

*We were going to call it “Snack and Share” but thought maybe it sounded a little pre-school.
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Writing Measurable Learning Objectives

To define how to write measurable learning objectives, we should answer first what a learning objective means. There is an inconsistency in literature about terms like learning goalslearning objectives, and learning outcomes, because they overlap in meaning. Another reason is because they have slightly different meaning based on whether we see them as program goals, objectives, and outcomes or whether we mean lesson specific learning goals, objectives, and outcomes. Exploring the meaning of each of these three terms we will lead us to the notion of why writing measurable learning objectives is important to design a pedagogically sound lesson.

A learning goal is the stated desired result, the intent to be achieved upon the end of a learning process. In both a program and a course, a description refers to the purpose and reasons of existence of the designed instruction. Learning goals are usually included in the description as general statements that relate to the selection of instructional strategies and assessment methods; the goals are the intended learning outcomes.

Learning outcomes are connected to assessment of learning; they are the achieved results – the gained skills, knowledge, or values initially described with the general learning goals and the specific learning objectives. In a bigger scale, learning outcomes overlap in meaning with learning goals. The alignment of program goals puts in perspective the learning process. Learning outcomes set faculty and student expectations and define the role of the student during the time one is in school and after graduation.

Learning objectives pertain to the specificity of the design of a course or program as foundational blueprint components. They may or may not exist if only learning goals/outcomes are outlined. Learning objectives in a bigger scale are the learning goals broken down to outline specific outcomes.

In comparison, in a smaller scale – within a lesson – the terms learning objectives and learning outcomes can be used interchangeably, because both refer to the specific results of the performed learning activities. The former refers to intended results, the latter to achieved results. Learning goals pertain to the lesson topic and general purpose of the lesson, while both learning objectives and learning outcomes are very specific.

So, whether created for a program, a course, or a lesson, learning objectives are specific statements that describe acquired abilities. Learning objectives show the connection between actions that lead to the end results and the desired end results themselves.

Many times, however, when writing objectives, instructors describe the instructional activities rather the intended results thus converting the learning objectives to teaching objectives. It is important to note  that the objectives are to guide students in how well they are supposed to perform. Level of performance defines level of learning. So, setting learning objectives is about students’ learning. It is not about the lesson plan (course blueprint), it is not about the structure of the learning process (instructional strategy), or the subject matter (curriculum), but it is about the correlation of aligning the goals with the outcomes by aligning the learning activities with their assessment. Learning Objectives set expectations of tangible results of learning. Objectives should be measurable to gauge the amount and difficulty of instructional materials, activities and assessment. They should include the conditions and the criteria to measure performance.

Learning Objectives are the end statements, not the means. Each learning objective in the lesson should describe what students will be able to do at the end of a learning activity. I prefer to use the term objective to outcome, because it implies more initial control rather than just dealing with the results. Also, an outcome could refer to the lesson as a whole, but an objective should refer to each instructional strategy utilized in the lesson. Objectives correspond to demonstrated abilities, not to the learning processes. How can an ability be demonstrated? An ability can be demonstrated when it can be assessed during performance. Therefore the easiest path to write measurable learning objectives that describe the desired observable demonstration is to include a verb in each statement. Even if the outcome is covert, the objective should be a verb that indicates a behavior that can be measured directly; the accomplishment of the learning objective is assessed indirectly this way.

In most cases a learning goal as a general statement is accompanied with several specific learning objectives. These objectives are further broken down to even more specific learning activities that construct the lesson’s instructional strategy. The verbs in the objectives often illustrate the nature of the activity and its assessment. What distinguishes a learning objective from a learning activity is that the first is an intended demonstrated ability (end result) and the second is a scaffolding building block of a learning process. One learning objective can be achieved with more than one learning activity based on the level of difficulty, conditions and performance/assessment criteria. The art of teaching includes the ability to determine the level of difficulty and to apply creative design techniques in order to sustain flexibility throughout the length of the learning process (class, semester, program).

Writing measurable learning objectives depends on the successful alignment of all pedagogical components within a lesson and a program. Contact ATIG for examples and support, or sign up for a training session in September 2014.

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Backward Instructional Design Model

Instructional Design is a term that refers to systematically designed instruction with or without the use of educational technology. Instructional Design 101 is a four-part series description of “the process of assessing learning needs and applying the appropriate learning strategy to meet those needs.” The ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation) model is explained in detail. There are many other pedagogical models. For example, the Backward Model, summarized below is popular in blended and online course design.

When teachers plan out their course structure and curriculum (with or without the support of instructional designers,) teachers design their instruction blueprint. They may use concept mapping, storyboarding, or other techniques to scaffold and sequence lessons; they may utilize a learning management system (like Canvas/ECLearn) to plan out the delivery of learning experiences; they may use other academic technologies to provide nurturing environment for (personal and academic) educational growth and achievement.

Backward Instructional Design Model

To develop your course blueprint, start with the learning outcomes (knowledge, skills) or what students will gain upon successful completion of the course. Then determine acceptable evidence or how these outcomes will be assessed. 

Other key course components that define course learning experience are the course goals and objectives. Goals refer to the course description and outcomes. Objectives refer to the specific visible and measurable actions students perform to achieve learning goals. Defining instructional strategies or learning activities that students will do to successfully meet the course learning objectives are the answers to how you design instruction wrapped around the subject matter and how you assess learning.

Pedagogy should always lead technology, so it is important to determine what a course is about first and then find the appropriate media channels for development and implementation. Only after creating the context of the course, should you proceed with identifying educational technologies that support each instructional strategy. This means you need to not only align content, objectives, and learning activities, but also, when applicable, select which technology and which learning activity correspond with each other. Reasons for selection of instructional media should be transparent to students. By providing rationale for course setup and by providing course expectations, you will help students organize their learning (and time) better and see its relevance to their personal educational goals. The course should also include a schedule (timeline) with learning activities. This all goes in the syllabus, because syllabus is the course blueprint summary.

The following crossword puzzle is created to introduce a couple of new instructional design terms gaining more popularity nowadays as new pedagogical approaches and emerging technologies. Check for yourself to see where you stand in regard to what’s new in the higher ed field.

Check out the crossword puzzle at

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Faculty Spotlight: Regina Rutter – Video Resumes

Instructor: Dr. Regina Rutter, Lecturer in the Department of Management and Economics

Course: MGMT3496 – Management Internship and ACCT3296 – Accounting Internship

About the Project: Students were assigned to develop a two-three minute video resume that is typically used to supplement a traditional resume. According to recent studies, approximately 89% of managers said they would view a video resume, if provided. Additionally, another study stated that 40% of major companies are requesting video resumes.

The students were instructed to create a short video that addressed one of the more popular questions they may have in an interview, “Tell me about yourself.” They were to describe their skills and qualifications after watching a sample video resume from YouTube: The students were also asked to dress professionally, be mindful to use good lighting and sound quality (avoid background noise,) be in a professional type of setting, and to make sure to use business acumens, where appropriate.

The students were recommended to prepare a storyboard/outline of their video presentation that might address some or all of the following points:

  • Introduction
  • Objectives
  • History
  • Knowledge
  • Special Skills
  • Education
  • Summary (can add references at end, if interested)

Goals: The goal in creating this assignment is multi-faceted. Over the years, a good number of our students have been viewed by their internship supervisors as being competent, but reticent, and have advised the students to have more confidence in their abilities. Therefore, the main two goals of this assignment are to increase students’ confidence and improve their communication skills. By practicing responses to typical interview or networking questions, the students grow more comfortable talking about themselves. Video resumes are increasing in use, as some of our students have already had to submit video resumes for internships or jobs. A video resume, as a supplement to a regular resume, may give our students the upper-hand in a job search given that many managers said they would definitely view them, if provided. They could distinguish themselves from other job seekers.

Technology Requirements: Students could record the videos on their PC or follow the following guide sheet to borrow a video camera from the library for this project:

Guidelines for Creating a Video Resume

1. Before your begin, create a Storyboard using

2. Reserve Equipment:

  • Go to library website
  • Reserve (search from list) – Please note the policy states 24 hour notice for reserving equipment (or by 3:00pm if reserving on a Friday)
    • Fill out ALL the starred (‘required’ fields) in order for the form to allow you to hit ‘finish’ and go through to their Media queue on the Portal. Note: if you keep hitting finish and it will NOT finish, you need to check the form to see if you are missed anything.
  • Media Equipment (HD camcorder and tripod)
  • Pick up at front desk during scheduled time
  • Note on the Media page that requests are only reviewed M-F and that will only be between the hours of 7:30 AM and 5PM.  You may send any student to the Library Home page under Library Services & Policies for the form and policies:
  • Media must be returned the same day or you will receive overdue fines on your account and will receive a notification from the Library Circulation staff (these fines will keep you from getting grades or transcripts, so you need to take this seriously).  It is also not fair to your classmates who also need the equipment to finish their project.

How to use Equipment and Produce video in iMovie:

Video Resources:

Adding Music via Creative Commons:
• Know what is okay to use and what isn’t:
•  Search Creative Commons for music, images, and video clips to use in your project:
• Information about Creative Commons licensed music:

Outcome: Typically, a student might spend 30-60 minutes preparing the video having to do several takes. This was a good thing, because repetition and speaking out loud improved their communication skills. Many of the students found it helpful to have another person in the room to talk more naturally.

Initially, the students overall were not thrilled with having to do this assignment as evident by the eyes rolling and heads shaking in the classroom. The assignment  was semester-long, so students realized that they have plenty of time to work on this project. The outcome was wonderful. I [Dr. Rutter] saw students who were typically very quiet in the classroom blossom in their videos. One such student stated, “The video resume, at first, seemed pointless and unnecessary. But, after completing it I actually felt as though it made me more comfortable talking about myself.” This comment was resonated in the evaluations.  The students have gained more confidence and felt better prepared as a result of this assignment.


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Faculty Spotlight: Flipping The Classroom with Dr. Clare Mehta and Prof. R. Bryan Sears

This month faculty spotlight is on Prof. R. Bryan Sears and Dr. Clare Mehta. Here, their experience is shared as a logical continuation of a hot topic at Emmanuel College, addressed in a recent post: “What Is a Flipped Classroom?.” ATIG staff interviewed the two professors who presented their teaching innovations at the last Faculty Showcase in April 2014. Here is what they shared:

Flipping the Chemistry Classroom with Prof. R. Bryan Sears: 

In his Principles of General Chemistry course, Professor Bryan Sears has converted several chapters to recorded video lecture format.  These lecture videos recorded by Dr. Sears himself are provided to students online ahead of scheduled classroom meeting times and are available to students via the ECLearn course website. Before class, students are asked to watch these lectures and take notes on the subject to be covered before they enter the classroom.  The traditional lecture period is now consumed with groups working together on “homework” in a cooperative learning environment.  This course format allows for the instructor to circulate amoung the students while they work and to answer individual questions that arise from the material.  Dr. Sears made the choice to flip some of his lectures after hearing from students who wanted more time to practice their chemistry skills in class with the professor present.  This method of lecture delivery also helped to provide a way for students to review the course material after the class period by having the lectures preserved digitally.  For Prof. Sears this also meant he could expand the one-on-one time with each student in his classes by working homework exercises with his students and allowing them the freedom to learn from fellow classmates during the lecture period.

Interestingly, the feedback from the flipped lecture delivery methods has been mixed. Dr. Sears has noted that “in some cases, students really enjoyed the flipped classroom format and found it beneficial.”   By having lecture recorded there were numerous opportunities for students to watch and re-watch the recorded lecture on their own time and pace.  However, other students felt this independence for covering the lecture portion of the course “put too much responsibility on the student to stay up to date with the material on their own” and preferred the structure provided by the traditional lecturing format.

In the end Prof. Sears concluded that flipping his classroom had more positive than negative outcomes and will repeat this pedagogical technique in the future.  He muses, so many of his students “had a better grasp of the language and chemistry concepts for describing the subjects we cover in these sections.” Professor Sears explains, “they have a better ability to share with each other and explain the chemistry to their fellow classmates and it also appears that this translates into other sections that were not flipped.” Prof. Sear concluded: “It’s a very exciting way to teach and I liked doing it. I think would do it again, and I hope to eventually convert an entire course to the flipped format.”

Flipping the Classroom with Dr. Clare Mehta: 

A Professor of Psychology, Dr. Clare Mehta, wanted to experiment with the flipped  classroom so that she could use class time to work with students on more complex topics that went beyond information covered in the text book and the lectures (which she recorded and posted online). By recording her lectures as PowerPoint narrated slides, Dr.  Mehta was able to increase the time spent on discussion in class. She first experimented with this technique by teaching a blended (half online, half in person) summer class. This gave the students more flexibility, which they appreciated during the warm weather! While the students were happy with the format, Dr. Mehta was concerned about the effectiveness of using online lectures. As such she tweaked the course, increased the rigor and re-launched it as a graduate level class.

The flipped classroom was very successful at the graduate level. Dr. Mehta recorded all the lectures and made them available online. This was appreciated by the working adult learners enrolled in the course as they could chose to watch the lectures at a time convenient to them. Class time was then used for discussion. As working professionals, the graduate students  appreciated the increased time invested in discussing topics with their peers that were relevant to their professional interests. Dr. Mehta describes this class as her best teaching experience at Emmanuel college, and enjoyed discussing class topics with her students.

During the same semester Dr. Mehta tried another experiment in her undergraduate classroom. Although the course was a traditional face-to-face lecture and discussion course, Dr. Mehta also made her video lectures available to her students.  She found that her undergraduate students also appreciated the recorded lectures, but for a different reason – they could watch and review the material once more before exams.

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Formative Classroom Feedback – A Self-Evaluation Technique for Teachers

Teaching is a hard job, a noble professional and personal commitment. Just like any other profession, its performance is evaluated on constant basis. In the academic world, one of the most common ways is through course evaluations done by students at the end of each semester. How effective teaching is can be determined via formative and summative assessment. Formative assessment of learning (directly) and of teaching (indirectly) happens all the time throughout the length of the course work. This is what course design is about: structuring the delivery of instruction and aligning every instructional chunk with an appropriate assessment technique in order to measure the level of knowledge and skills that are to be acquired. Summative evaluation is tied to the course learning outcomes and reflects overall student academic achievement per course (on a local scale) and per degree (on a global scale).

On one hand, test scores and grades are an indicator of student success, on the other, formal feedback (course evaluations) provide learner perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of applied instructional strategies within a course or a program. These two indicators cross-check and reflect results from already completed actions. This is summative evaluation of learning and teaching.

What about formative evaluation? Teachers assess students’ learning progress as part of their pedagogy. What is not widely adopted is direct evaluation of their own teaching efforts during the run of a course. This could be done by cross-checking results from self-assessment and from surveying students. Doesn’t it make sense to evaluate how good a teaching practice is just like we evaluate how well learners master a skill as they complete an assignment? The focus has always been on the direct result of student performance, which is the main indicator of teaching mastery. As a consequence, a mandatory implementation of formative self-assessment of teaching in class has never gained much ground until recently.

Many subject matter experts find out what teaching techniques work and what don’t throughout their professional experience and in communication with students and colleagues. Over time effectiveness of certain instructional strategies outweighs and defines SMEs teaching methods and preferences. Sometimes, however, the strategies successfully implemented once, no longer work the way they did in the beginning. Faculty may not notice the negative impact until after the end of a course. Or, as it happens more and more often nowadays, proactive teachers who implement innovative pedagogical techniques and educational technologies need feedback prior to the overall course evaluation in order to see on the go what does not work as excepted and how it can be modified before it is too late.

One way of implementing formative classroom assessment is to use a midway survey. It is a preferred technique among educators who like the informality and the immediacy of feedback they get from students. This method works in two ways: first, it addresses the quality of learning and teaching by determining whether and how well the course design is aligned with the actual learning process. Second, it addresses students expectations and concerns. A midway survey provides a channel for communication that may reflect any otherwise undetected learning gaps; it provides with an opportunity for the teacher to identify patterns of logistical or other problems in class that can prompt her to modulate her role of a leader and mentor. The attached template is an adapted example of a midway survey, created by Dr. Wayne LaMorte who teaches both at Boston University Medical School and in the BU online Health Communication program.

Another way of assessing the effectiveness of teaching techniques is by utilizing a survey with open-ended questions like the “critical incident questionnaire” developed by Dr. Stephen Brookfield. It is an anonymous survey that students must complete at the end of each class. At the next class, voiced out concerns regarding learning or events that happened in the last session are responded to by the professor.

A third option is Robert Marzano’s Exit Tickets. These are instructional strategies successfully applied as formative classroom assessment. He developed four exit ticket prompts for constructive feedback:
1) Students level of understanding in class: “How would you rate your level of understanding of today’s learning?”
2) Students level of effort: “How would you rate your effort in class today? What could you done differently to help yourself learn better?”
3) Focus on instructional strategy effectiveness: “What activity did you like the most and what the least at today’s class? Why?”
4) Open communication to the teacher: “What should I [the teacher] be doing differently to improve your understanding of the content?”

Exit tickets are an immediate, more informal feedback than course evaluations; they can be done several times a semester or at the end of every class. Completion of the four questions (tickets) is required and even counted as attendance in class. The exit tickets can be given in any format , e.g. post-it notes on a wall, one-piece paper questionnaire submission, or as an online survey using the free online survey tool

Exit Tickets provide faculty with valuable insight on students’ meta-cognitive processes. By aligning teacher and student viewpoints, faculty can improve their lesson plans and gain experience sooner and more effectively than they otherwise would if they were analyzing course evaluations post factum. An interesting example was given recently at the Teaching Professor Conference in Boston by presenters Deborah Theiss and Angela Danley, two teachers from University of Central Missouri. They emphasized the importance of transparency of applied pedagogical methods and the connection between learning goals, learning objectives, and learning activities. Teachers, they said, should not only focus on the learning processes and steps, but provide more clarity on the overall learning goals and show students the big picture, share with them not only the immediate learning goals, but inspire them to expand their own learning aspirations and efforts. They gave an example with the exit ticket that asks about student self-evaluation on effort. By “effort” these two teachers meant knowledge application as an end result. For students however, effort simply meant the time spent on a task. Such survey outcomes can definitely be an eye-opening method for faculty to improve their own teaching approaches on a granular level, which may ultimately affect their overall teaching expertise in a positive way.

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