• Creating engaging distance learning experiences for students

    by Amy Byron

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    As educators, we know what student engagement looks like in the classroom. Students are focused on their work in front of them, they are collaborating with their peers, they are asking good questions, creativity is flowing… But now that things have moved online, what does engagement look like? Let’s start by asking ourselves what makes something engaging, and then explore some tools we can use in a digital classroom.

    What makes something engaging?

    A lot of research has been done around student engagement. Primarily, engagement revolves around student ownership of the material being presented. I know what you’re thinking. “I have a curriculum with standards I have to follow! There’s no room for student choice!” While you may be partially right, there are places in every course that allow for more student choice and input.

    In an informal survey of my students, the feedback regarding what makes a class engaging is varied; however, there are a lot of commonalities. Students want to be able to pursue their own interests, feel heard and included, and know that they are supported when taking risks. They want teachers who are not too strict but are fair in their handling of the classroom. Even when the material doesn’t resonate with a student’s interest, teacher enthusiasm can change a mundane course into a potential major.

    Daniel Pink, the author of the book Drive1, states that three conditions need to be met to trigger engagement.

    1. Autonomy: Give students choice to work on a project that relates to the curriculum but is also interesting on a personal level for the student.
    2. Mastery: The task itself can’t be too challenging or too easy. One creates frustration and the other boredom. The task should be somewhere in what is commonly referred to as the “Goldilocks Zone,” where the difficulty is just right for the learner.
    3. Purpose: The student has to be able to link what they are doing to the wider world. Why should they know what you are teaching? Make the material relevant and you will get more student buy-in.

    Instructional methods to increase engagement

    Now that we know what student engagement looks like, let’s look at a few instructional methods that can improve our curriculum and retention. While creating your course, don’t worry about including all these options. Just choose a few to start and then ask for student feedback regarding what they liked and what they want to see changed next time.

    Real-world examples

    In each lab report I assign, I ask that students relate the concept or technique to a real-world example. The identification of an unknown salt would be helpful in cases with contaminated water and is a critical skill to master. Here is an example of a student response from a lab where they determined the density of an element by graphical interpolation.

    Example
    “Although this particular lab did not yield extremely accurate results, there are still definite real-world applications for using interpolation, such as to find the density or other measurable qualities of elements. It would be especially useful for finding properties (such as density) of the man-made elements which have too short of a half-life to be effectively examined or measured for mass and volume.”

    Project-based learning

    Project-based learning (PBL) is where students complete a long-term assignment to solve a problem or answer a question. For more information about PBL, click here.

    In my lab class, I try to make this an authentic question that students will need to make a recommendation on. As shown in the example to the left, here is the introduction to a basic percent composition of a mixture lab.

    Example
    We are Minuteman Wallboard Co. and we have a severe problem. As you know, the inside layer of wallboard is made from magnesium sulfate heptahydrate. Our feeder company inadvertently gave us an unknown amount of calcium sulfate dihydrate in one of its shipments and this was mixed in with the magnesium sulfate heptahydrate before processing it.

    Our advisory board has said that there is no reaction between the two compounds, however if the wallboard has 15% by mass or greater of calcium sulfate dihydrate in the initial mix before processing, the strength and durability of the wallboard will be compromised.

    We have already made over $450,000 worth of wallboard stock from this suspected material. We do not want to give this to any of our retailers until we know if the mix had less than 15.0% by mass of calcium sulfate dihydrate. We are supplying you with a sample of the original mix before processing and would appreciate it if your company will help us solve our problem.

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  • Classroom engagement: A New Year's goal checked off!

    by Aaron Warnock

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    I attended college in an age of lectures. You know the student lecture mode. You go to class, listen to your professor lecture for an hour or more, frantically take notes, and then hope you can make some sense of those notes while trying to do your homework.

    When I became a professor, I didn’t know much else to offer. Group work was popular, so I did incorporate group work assignments, usually as a review activity before an exam. My daily routine though, continued to be mostly lecture. I would call on students to answer specific questions – I tried to move around the room so everyone had a turn. It felt “fair,” but I’m sure it didn’t help those students who had math anxiety. It didn’t seem like enough.

    Some of my colleagues across campus were using “clickers” so students could answer multiple choice questions during class. But because I was teaching a math class, I didn’t want multiple choice questions – I wanted the students solving and answering questions on their own, not guessing from a list of choices or working backwards. Think – Pair – Share was another technique I tried with relative success, but inevitably I still had up to 1/3 of the classroom sitting there quietly, not talking to anyone.

    Along came Learning Catalytics: my classroom would never be the same. Learning Catalytics is a classroom response system that students can log in to with their phones or other web-enabled devices. Instead of just multiple-choice questions, there are 18 different question types.

    This includes mathematical expressions, multiple graphing options, direction (think vectors), short answer, and many more. It was also quite simple to create my own questions directly from my notes for class, or I could choose from a vast library of existing questions already available.

    I used to walk around the room while students had a practice problem to work on, seeing a handful of their work and having a vague overall idea of how the class was doing. Now I was able to see the responses from every student in one summary at my computer.

    The real game changer though, came with the seating chart. It’s not assigned seating for the students per se; it is set up that they click on the seat they’re sitting in when joining the class session. While students are working and submitting answers, I’m able to see which areas of the classroom are struggling more (due to an increased number of incorrect responses). Now I can focus my “wandering” time with the students who are struggling with this topic, right now.

    The real beauty with the seating chart though, comes with the ability to assign the students into groups to re-work a problem after discussing it with each other.

    Let’s assume the “correct” responses are somewhere between 30% and 70%. With the click of a button, I can assign the students into groups of 3 for discussion and resubmission. There is even an option that students are group by “different” answers. This disperses the 30% or more of correct answers throughout the groups, so you can be almost certain that every group has at least one member who answered correctly.

    Students discuss with each other and demonstrate how they solved the problem, and then they resubmit their answers. I regularly see the correct response rate to a question go from something around 40% correct to 80 or 90% correct – and I haven’t said a word! The change is from students working together.

    My class is busy: students are moving around, getting their blood flowing, and everyone is engaged. Each person’s device tells them the name of the others in their discussion group and where they’re sitting with respect to them. I tell the students, “If you have their name, they have yours – don’t be rude! Get up and talk to each other.” Gone are the days of 1/3 of the class sitting quietly after you’ve asked them to “discuss with a neighbor!”

    If the response rate is below 30%, depending on the topic, I might step back and do some more class discussion, as obviously the topic is not clear enough to them. If the response rate is over 70 or 80% correct, it’s probably worth moving forward, rather than spending the time to redo the problem in groups.

    However, even in these cases, all the aggregated responses can be shared on the screen, including the incorrect ones. As a class, we’re able to discuss some of the errors made in the room, and how to avoid them, without any individual student being singled out.

    Last term in my Linear Algebra class, there was a simple definition presented – I thought it was as straightforward as could be. I threw a simple concept check in Learning Catalytics expecting overwhelming correct answers – and to my surprise, less than half the students got it right. It was clearly time to review it again. It felt so good to know quickly that we needed to spend some more time on that topic.

    Gone are the days of being unsure during class how well my students are grasping the topic of the day. I can find out on the spot and give them opportunities to actively work together to learn the material. Students are engaged, excited to come to class and interact with each other.

    Is it a time investment in class? Yes, it is – but it’s well worth it. And for those doing Co-Requisites, what better way to help pace your pre-requisite content being covered. Topics with high correct response rates mean you are free to move along! And those with less, you’re able to spend more time on. Thank you to Learning Catalytics for helping transform my classroom!

    Here’s a very brief video overview of what Learning Catalytics can bring to your classroom. And click here for Training and Support materials if you’d like to engage your students with Learning Catalytics.

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  • Digital learning tools foster student engagement and success

    by Pearson

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    Higher education is moving into a new phase when it comes to the power of technology in the classroom. More sophisticated learning tools are being developed, and they promise to fundamentally change how instructors teach and students learn. Such advances are being met with a mix of resistance and acceptance. Some educators worry that new technologies may diminish their role in the education process will eventually replace them, or that digital learning tools are too costly, or not necessary. Some are concerned about the amount of work involved with incorporating technology into their courses. Despite such uneasiness, a growing number of educators are adopting the tools and using them in innovative ways to enhance student learning.

    Among other products, Learning Catalytics is an interactive student response tool that educators are using in classrooms and lecture halls to pose questions and poll students’ understanding real-time with graphical visualization. We are continuing to develop even more advanced learning tools, including technologies that can assess critical thinking skills and broaden tutorial capabilities.

    62% of student believe digital learning technology increases engagement with course materials.

    According to higher education experts, many educators are turning to technology to enhance the learning experience, deliver improved outcomes, and to manage increasing class sizes and varying learning styles. They are selecting course materials that are available in digital format, and they’re using interactive tools to check students’ progress and mastery on assignments when completing course assignments. Many educators are redesigning coursework to blend online activities with classroom experiences. Some are sending texts and emails to nudge students to keep up with assignments, while others are recording and streaming lectures for students to view outside the classroom at their convenience, on a variety of mobile devices. A number of educators are even setting up labs where students can use sophisticated technology to conduct research.

    University of Illinois College of Education uses technology to improve classroom collaboration and efficiency.

    For example, the college of education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign two years ago unveiled its Illinois Digital Ecologies and Learning Laboratory (IDEALL) where students can set up technology–enhanced learning environments and then use technology to study the impact on learning. The lab features state-of-the-art equipment, including 360-degree audio- and video-recording systems, ceiling-mounted cameras, and 55-inch touch-screen tabletops. University researchers say the entire lab operates as a data-collection device to track learners’ interactions with technology. They use data analytics techniques to identify patterns and relationships among the learners’ movements, responses, discussions, and other actions to gain insight into their levels of engagement.

    H. Chad Lane, an associate professor of educational psychology, says the high-tech lab is making a “huge difference” for student researchers, and is an energizing, popular, and much-sought-after resource.

    57% of student believe engagement with online instructors is important.

    Although students might be gravitating toward digital tools, many education technology experts say their use will not replace instructors. Digital learning, the experts say, makes educators better able to meet the students where they are technologically, better able to adapt lessons for varied learning styles, and better able to reach more students. Those benefits, the experts say, translate to stronger academic success, improved retention rates, and higher graduation rates.

    “Students learn best when there is an available instructor because those personal interactions and relationships are a very essential part of the teaching and learning process,” says Barnes. “Technology is simply backing up the instructor because the instructor cannot be there at every moment for every student.”

    Indeed, students can access digital coursework on their own schedule, anytime, anywhere, on their personal device of choice. Digital products also offer a flexibility and malleability that print books cannot. Electronic materials can be easily updated by publishers, and they can be integrated with other technologies to become even more adaptable. Interactive learning solutions typically present topics in small chunks, along with a video, audio, or other teaching aid. Students can highlight and take notes, and they test their knowledge before moving on to the next topic. The interactive capability helps students grasp the concepts, accounts for their different learning styles, allows them to work at their own pace, and pushes them to be more engaged in their studies—all while helping to reduce the cost of learning materials by as much as 70 percent.

    The interactive capabilities also help the instructors by giving them a broader reach to connect with students, an opportunity to give feedback outside class, and the ability to adjust and optimize their instructional plans. Instructors can electronically observe what assignments have been completed, how long it takes students to do them, and how they score on the online quizzes. Educators can send notes to students, prompt them online, or modify a lecture, assignment, or coursework, if they see that students are not understanding a concept.

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  • 5 questions for author Susan Riedel on teaching electric circuits

    by Susan Riedel, Professor, Marquette University & Yvonne Vannatta, Product Marketing Manager, Pearson

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    Yvonne Vannatta, Product Marketing Manager at Pearson recently sat down with Susan Riedel, author and Marquette University professor to talk about the challenges instructors face when teaching Electric Circuits and the best practices Susan uses to tackle them.

    Yvonne – What is the biggest challenge instructors face when teaching Circuits?

    Susan – Mastering the many different circuit analysis techniques presented in Electric Circuits requires most students to solve a lot of problems.  It is often hard to convince students that they cannot simply read through a worked example problem, or watch an instructor solve a problem at the board – they need to actively solve problems themselves in order to learn the circuit analysis techniques.

    While I typically assign 10 – 12 problems each week for homework, the students would benefit from working at least twice that number of problems every week.  So I have to find ways to get students to solve lots more problems than I assign for homework.

    Yvonne – What strategies do you use to engage students in more problem solving?

    Susan – I use a combination of Learning Catalytics questions, pre-lab questions, and old exams to present and ask students to solve more problems.

    Learning Catalytics

    I use Learning Catalytics to pose questions to my students throughout my lectures.  They get a small amount of extra credit for attempting to answer the questions, even when they answer incorrectly.  I usually start the lecture with a Learning Catalytics question focused on the material we covered in the previous day’s lecture, as a way to review the material and remind them what we are working on.

    Then throughout the lecture I pose Learning Catalytics questions that may ask them to complete a problem I started to solve for them on the board, find a way to verify that the problem’s solution is correct, or discover some interesting property of the circuit we are analyzing.

    The students are solving additional problems, not just watching me solve them, and I am getting real-time feedback that tells me whether or not the topic I’m covering is being understood by the students.

    About once every two weeks, I pick a lecture day and turn it into a group problem-solving challenge, again using Learning Catalytics.  The students work together in small self-selected teams to solve several circuit problems.

    I wander around the classroom, look over their shoulders, answer questions they ask, and encourage them.  Even though I don’t present this as a competition, they like to compete and see how their team stacks up against the other teams in the class.

    They are actively solving problems that are not assigned as homework, and I can observe what material they may be struggling with, so I can adjust my next lecture accordingly.

    Pre-lab questions

    The Electric Circuits class I teach has an embedded lab.  There are 11 labs during the 16 week semester.  Each lab requires students to complete a pre-lab assignment that they turn in to me for grading two days before the lab.  I return their graded pre-labs within 24 hours so they can correct any errors they made before building the circuits in the lab.

    Every pre-lab has two parts – an analysis of one or more circuits, and MultiSim simulation of those same circuits to verify the analytical results.  So again, they are solving additional circuit problems that are not assigned for homework, then simulating those same circuits and eventually building the circuits and acquiring and analyzing data.

    Old exams

    Students take an in-class exam every 4 weeks.  I make all of my old exams available to them so they can solve the exam problems as a way to study for the upcoming exam.  I never provide my solutions, to encourage them to solve the problems themselves and not merely study problems and their solutions.

    They can check their solutions during my office hours and during an evening Study Group I hold the night before the exam.  Again, they are willingly solving lots of additional circuit problems that are not formally assigned in order to prepare to take the exam.

    Using the combination of Learning Catalytics, pre-lab assignments, and old exams, I usually get close to my goal of having students solve 20 – 25 circuit problems every week, even though I formally assign about half that number as homework.

    Yvonne – What is the biggest challenge students face when taking Circuits?

    Susan– Many students struggle with the initial step in solving a circuit – where do I start?  Consider that a simple circuit with a dc source and a few resistors must be described by six or eight independent equations derived from Ohm’s law and the Kirchhoff laws.

    This often overwhelms a student seeing circuit analysis for the first time.  Most of my students would be discouraged by the prospect of entering six or eight equations into their calculator correctly to solve for the circuit’s voltages and currents.

    So when students finally discover a tool like the node-voltage method, they realize that six or eight equations are not necessary to describe simple circuits.  But many students still need some guidance to use the general-purpose circuit analysis tools.

    Yvonne – How do you prepare students to find that starting point?

    Susan – To help students first learning to use the general-purpose circuit analysis tools like the node-voltage and mesh-current methods, I have always constructed a step-by-step procedure for them to follow.

    The step-by-step procedure tells them what kinds of equations to write (KCL or KVL, for example), how many of these equations to write, where to write those equations in the circuit, and how to check their solutions to those equations by balancing the power in the circuit.

    We have now formalized these step-by-step procedures in the 11th Edition of Electric Circuits, where they are called “Analysis Methods.”  The Analysis Methods give students the confidence they need to solve circuit problems because they know how to start the problem and what procedure to follow to reach a solution.

    Initially students rely heavily on the Analysis Methods but they eventually need to follow a step-by-step procedure less often, often preferring to take a more intuitive approach.

    For most students, following an Analysis Method initially allows them to grasp the circuit analysis concepts faster than students who are not given a step-by-step procedure to follow.  Students using Analysis Methods spend less time trying to decide how to solve a problem because they follow a set of steps.  They finish their assignments faster and endure much less frustration along the way.

    Yvonne – What advice would you give to instructors new to teaching Circuits?

    Susan – There are so many resources available to instructors teaching Circuits, and a lot of thought and hard work have gone into the design and implementation of these resources.  Instructors should take advantage of as many resources as time allows.

    Learning Catalytics is a terrific resource for active learning in the classroom, supplying real-time feedback to instructors that enables them to identify material their students are struggling with.

    Mastering Engineering has tutorials that guide students through important material using intelligent feedback to assist their learning, video solutions for many different problems, automated grading for assigned homework, and many other useful features.

    Software simulators allow students to study a circuit with changing component values, plot circuit variables of interest, and use many different types of analysis including dc, transient, and ac steady-state. Many students benefit from the virtual laboratory experience that a simulator provides, even if an actual laboratory experience is not available to them.

    The more resources an instructor can bring to bear on the Circuits material, the more likely it is that the instructor will align with the various learning styles of all students in the classroom, leading to the success of every student.

    Hear directly from Professor Riedel on how you can engage more students in team-based problem solving our webinar: Using Learning Catalytics Inside and Outside the Circuits Classroom.

     

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