Teammate Evaluations, Revisited

Students in my courses do a lot of team-based projects. In an attempt to prevent free riders, I have teammates evaluate each other. This semester I have again modified the evaluation system a bit, with an unexpected result.fusball-table

For the past three semesters I’ve been using Google Forms to distribute and tabulate anonymous surveys in which students rank themselves and their teammates. The instructions on this survey:

Evaluate the performance of everyone on your team, including yourself, by ranking all members of your team with a different number. Each number can be used only once, otherwise your responses will be discarded. Assign the number 1 to the person who made the most valuable contribution to the project, the number 2 to the person who made the second most valuable contribution, etc. Only enter information for your team. Leave questions for other teams blank.

My explanation to students of how rankings translated into points — in this case, up to 40: Continue reading

When Less is More, More or Less

shopping-listIn 2015, I wrote about asking too many questions in instructions for assignments. What I as the information-craving professor sees as helpful detail, the student sees as a tangled and confusing mess.

I still notice occasions where I fall into this bad habit, most recently in an assignment in two of my online graduate courses, in which students analyze peer-reviewed journal articles. The old instructions said that analyses should answer the following questions: Continue reading

What we tell our dissertation students


We don’t usually write about dissertations on this site, partly because it’s not obviously an area ripe for discussions of active learning, and partly because we’re doing so many other things.

However, a capstone dissertation is often the single most important piece of work that a student undertakes: an opportunity to explore the subject as they see best, producing something (hopefully) akin to a research output.

Put like that, it’s obviously an instance of active learning, because they drive the entire process, with us taking a ‘supervisory’ role.

Now that I’m back in the ranks after my stint as Associate Dean, I’m getting to do more of this supervision, and it’s been a good refresher of what the most useful advice I can give might be.

Continue reading

Avoiding Feature Creep, Part 2

Finally revisiting the subject of feature creep:

creature-featureI revise my syllabi every semester. Typically I change twenty to thirty percent of a course’s content and assignments each time I teach it. After nearly two decades (eek!) of teaching undergraduates, I now find myself stripping things out. My philosophical approach to syllabus-building has changed from “what do I think students should know about X?” to “what might make students want to learn more about X?”

The long and jargon-laden peer-reviewed journal article by a famous theorist in the field? Gone. Students will regard the time and effort spent trying to decipher the terrible writing as wasted because the article is irrelevant to why they enrolled in the course.

Similarly, I no longer think about assignments only as tools for finding out whether people have learned something. Instead I try to craft them as opportunities for students to become interested in solving unfamiliar problems in creative ways. Some students seize these opportunities and run with them. Others don’t. But they decide this; I can’t make the decision for them. I suppose my next post will need to explain this a bit more.

Audio Assignments, Oral Communication, and Accessibility

I’m taking a break from specs grading this week–not because I don’t have anything to write about, but actually because I’m too busy writing specs and grading homework modules to write up everything that’s going on.  Plus we are in the midst of a search, and I’m buried in applications.  I’ll be back on topic next week with my thoughts about grading, and some micro adjustments I had to make to the course as a result of my reflections.

When I’m not talking about specs grading, I try to share some quick and easy ideas for teaching that can make a big difference. These often fall into the vein of James Lang’s Small Changes in Teaching, both his book and his series over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed (definitely worth checking out!).

Today’s idea is about using audio and oral assignments in the classroom.

Continue reading

Unconventional Movies As Conventional Pedagogical Tools: The Dark Knight

Gigi GokcekToday we have a guest post from Gigi Gokcek, associate professor of political science at the Dominican University of California. She can be contacted at gigi.gokcek[at]dominican[dot]edu.

Professors have long relied on movies like Dr. Strangelove (1964), Red Dawn (1984), and Thirteen Days (2000) to teach about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the Cold War. While the active-learning literature validates the effectiveness of using movies like these, today’s college students may relate better to more contemporary movies. Do unconventional movies, from such franchises as Fast and Furious, Star Trek, DC Comics, and Marvel’s X-Men and Avengers, work just as well? My experience suggests that they do. When combined with activities derived from the cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, I find that they are valuable tools for teaching important political science theories and concepts.

Although many students may have seen these movies by the time they enroll in my courses, I often leave this activity until the end of the term so that they have acquired sufficient knowledge of course material. The key to the assignment is that students are not told where the course content is portrayed in the movie. Students have to think more critically while viewing the film, and thereby apply what they have learned to a new setting. They use this worksheet to help make these connections. Continue reading