Faculty Spotlight: Jaime Vidaurrazaga – Collectively Prepared Study Guides Using ECLearn Discussions and Pages

Instructor: 
Jaime Vidaurrazaga, PhD.
Assistant Professor of Theology & Religious Studies

Courses:
THRS1103 Exploring Catholic Theology, THRS 1111 Exploring the Bible, THRS2203 Jesus & Christian Ethics, THRS2213 Latin American Liberation Theology, FYS1101.57 Christian Morality in the Roman World

About the Project/Idea/Tool:
Two seemingly unrelated concerns about more efficacious teaching/learning in Dr. Vidaurrazaga’s class, led him to develop the project he is sharing with Emmanuel College community here:

“1) Different kinds of learners find different learning activities engaging and they excel in different kinds of assessments. For this reason, I like to offer a variety of learning activities in my courses so that different kinds of learners all have a chance to excel and to demonstrate their learning and their effort throughout the semester. Applying this principle to the “participation”/”active engagement” component of my grading, I realized that I needed to offer opportunities for engagement/participation that would be appealing to students who do not necessarily feel comfortable speaking out in front of the whole class. I tried proposing topics for discussion online, but I got very low levels of participation. I then tried to establish mandatory levels of participation in those online discussions, but some of the students (those who more easily speak during class and already participate in that way) found it redundant and a form of “busy work.”

2) Students often assume a more active role in synthesizing the knowledge they have acquired in the class when they are preparing for a quiz or an exam, but that process does not normally take place during class, when they have easy/immediate access to the instructor to clarify anything that is not clear in their notes or anything that they may have missed during class or in their individual reading of the textbook or assigned reading materials. While holding “study sessions” before quizzes and exams would be an effective way to address this issue, this strategy requires all the students to be able to meet at the same time, and the faculty member to be present during that meeting, both of which can lead to a scheduling nightmare.

My idea then was to use the “discussions” feature of ECLearn to hold the equivalent of an ongoing (diachronic) study session involving all the students in the class and me, between the time I post the study guide for the quiz/exam and the night before the quiz/exam takes place. Students are encouraged to post any questions they may have as they prepare for the quiz/exam and to post answers to other students’ questions. All postings count as instances of class participation/active engagement, whether their answers are right on target, incomplete or even wrong (no judgment). My commitment to the students is that I will review periodically their postings and that I will answer any unanswered questions, and edit/correct/complete any of the posted answers that need correcting/completing so they all can fully trust the content of the collectively prepared study guide as they review it the day before their quiz/exam.

Another way to do this in ECLearn is to post the study guide in the “pages” format and allow all students in the class “editing” privileges. The class as a whole then uses the page as a wiki, in which they all post answers to the questions in the study guide, definitions/descriptions of the terminology used, and other such study materials. Once again, all postings right or wrong are credited with participation points, and in this case I do not post answers to any of the questions in the study guide unless someone in the class has at least tried to post an answer (right or wrong) first.

In my personal experience, it is better to use the “discussions” feature in the beginning of the semester and to introduce the “pages” one only later in the semester (I typically use it for the last quiz and for the final exam).  While the “pages” version offers great possibilities for students to formulate and synthesize their knowledge in their postings, it has the possible downside of giving less dutiful and hardworking students the idea that they don’t need to take notes in class because they will have excellent study materials available to them through the hard work of others in the class when time comes to prepare for the test anyways.

Goals:

  • To increase the level of participation in learning activities and engagement with the content of the course.
  • To offer avenues for participation/engagement for students who are not comfortable speaking up in front of the whole class or answering questions on the spot.
  • To encourage cooperation and mutual support within the course.
  • To support the students’ learning in general and preparation for quizzes and exam in particular.
  • To provide the kind of revision and clarification that one could offer in a study session in a way that is accessible to students diachronically and wherever they happen to study more efficiently.

Technology Requirements:
The only technology required is already built into ECLearn in the tools called “discussions” and “pages.”

Outcome:
I have been using these and similar tools is most of the courses I teach for several years now. The previous content management system we used offered a “discussions” tool, and I used to use websites offering free “wikis” for educational purposes to do what I do now with the “pages” feature of ECLearn. For this reason, it is a little hard for me to notice the increase in online participation in my courses and the improvement in students’ performance in quizzes and exams anymore. For this reason, I am very appreciative of Teodora Hristov’s and the rest of the ATIG team’s recognition of the relatively high level of student engagement in online discussions and collaborative work on “pages” in my courses, because their feedback encourages me to continue using these tools in my courses and to search for other means to further engage my students in online collaboration in the work they do preparing for quizzes and exams.

I can also say that many of my students choose to enroll in a second class with me after having had me as a teacher and when they do they often ask on the first day of the semester if I am going to use “discussions” and “pages” for quiz and exam preparation in this course as well. In interpret their interest in asking about this as a sign that the students in general find these initiatives helpful.”

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