I recently listened to this episode of the Hidden Brain podcast, on using audible clickers to train humans how to throw a frisbee and perform surgery. Clickers seem to be very effective in part because they substitute for other, possibly emotion-laden reactions from the trainer.
I wondered how I might use clickers as a teaching tool, and had an email conversation with a psychology colleague who specializes in behavioral training. Here is the gist of the conversation:
Clickers provide immediate positive feedback for a specific, discrete action within a complex chain of behaviors, without the need to interrupt the chain as it unfolds.
Any process that is composed of multiple, discrete behaviors is amenable to clicker training, as long as the process can be observed by the teacher and the clicks can be delivered within a second or two of observing the targeted response. An activity like writing is probably not suitable for clickers, because the writing process can’t easily be separated into a series of precisely-defined behaviors, and it would require that the teacher continuously observe the student perform the writing task from start to finish.
However, the technique could be applied to something like class presentations — with clicks delivered when students complete important components of the presentation, such as using terminology correctly, answering an important question, speaking at an adequate volume, or making eye contact with the audience.
Clicks should initially be delivered each time the targeted behavior is displayed, but then systematically delivered less often as the behavior becomes more frequent. Likewise, they should only be used to indicate support for a desirable behavior rather than to signal disapproval of an undesirable behavior.
Last, teachers should obtain consent or buy-in from students about the process and its goals.
Absent an in-person class of my own to run these days, I’ve been interested in my children’s educations once more. Last week, this included a discussion about how to chose who had to do their English presentation in class.
Talking about it with the kids, it’s clear they had as many ideas as I did about the way(s) we go about this, shaped by their understanding of the exercise. And since it’s something that most of us have to do at some point, I thought it’d be handy to run through some ideas once again, ahead of your autumn/fall commitments.
Note, I’m going to put to one side presenting of work done in class, even if it involves presenting. I assume here that we’re really only looking at presentations that students have had to prepare beforehand.
First things first: what are you trying to achieve with a class presentation?
For my kids, there’s a requirement that they all do a short talk to class, to develop speaking and research skills. That’s really clear and defining; it’s also very unlikely to be your situation, if only because you don’t teach an English (or any other language) class, but a PoliSci one. Plus you probably set most of the curriculum.
So you probably had some other objectives in mind. What those might be is up to you, but you need to be clear to yourself about them, since it will shape whether and how a student presentation is used. So do you need everyone to do a presentation, or do you need all the presentation topics to be covered? What happens with the stuff that’s presented: do we never really hear of it again (please say no to this one BTW) or is it pulled back into other content (and if so, how)? Does it need to be individual presentations or can groups do it?
Once you have this clear, you can work on formats.
Today we have another guest post from Susan Allen,
associate professor of political science at the University of Mississippi. She
can be contacted at shallen [at] olemiss [dot] edu.
Enrollment at the University of Mississippi has grown
substantially over the last few years, with my upper division undergraduate courses
now often exceeding sixty students each. To shepherd such a large number of students
through the research process so that they could eventually write compelling
papers, I initially tried using group presentations My hope was that
presentations would challenge students to be creative (an explicit grading criteria),
improve their ability to speak in front of a group, strengthen their ability to
summarize important aspects of their work, and allow students with diverse
strengths and weaknesses to step up.
What I got, however, were painful classes of undergraduates
awkwardly reading their Power Point slides, mismanaging their time, and
complaining noisily about the entire experience – both as participants and as
witnesses of their classmates’ efforts.
Enter the research conference, an alternative suggested by a
friend in psychology. In addition to writing research papers, groups create
posters that are presented at a conference session.
Two class periods are designated for our research
conference, and half the class sets up on each day. When possible, I also ask
two or three graduate students to join me to interview the students about their
work. Students who are not presenting are expected to rank and comment on the
day’s posters. The ranking criteria, each on a 1-10 scale, are clarity,
creativity, research quality, and group participation. The highest-ranking
poster for each session generates extra credit for its designers. Only students
who submit rankings for the other students are eligible to earn these points.
I had no idea what to expect for the first iteration of the
research conference. The quality and style of the posters varied greatly, but
not the enthusiasm with which the students spoke about their research. I was
amazed by how excited they were about what they’d learned.
Since then, both poster and paper quality have improved.
Designing the posters forces students to boil their work down to its essence,
which translates into better organization and flow in their papers. On my end,
I’ve learned how to provide clearer directions for and better examples of
poster design. While poster printing imposes a cost on students, our library provides
this service for a nominal fee. Students also have used local copy shops.
For me, the biggest benefit is being able to hear students talk
about their work and learn from them about the development of their topics, how
they collaborated, and what sparked the interests of individual students. When
I face that stack of research papers at the end of the semester, I don’t dread
it nearly as much as I used to because I’ve seen and heard their authors’ sales
pitches at the research conference.
I’m just back from the International Studies Association’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco, and it was a pedagogy bonanza! Great attendance at the pedagogy panels (even those held at off-times) and excellent discussion all around. One thing I love about us pedagogy types is a commitment to leaving plenty of time for Q&A and discussion, since everyone in the room has some expertise to share.
Victor Asal and I ran a new Career Course on Teaching the Intro Class. We focused on both intro to IR and comparative politics, covering such topics as what to do on Day 1, reading/text options, writing good exams and written assignments, classroom management, and of course, games and other activities to teach the material. Our participants had a ton of great ideas and insights.
On the panel on Theory and Practice in IR Teaching: Effectiveness, Political Engagement, and Active Learning, Marcelo Valenca of Escola de Guerra Naval discussed the changing nature and approaches toward pedagogical training in Brazil. He pointed particularly to the impact of the pedagogy workshops held by the College of Wooster’s Jeffrey Lantis, Kent Kille, and Mathew Krain as being instrumental in bringing change to that country. The Wooster Three were mentors of mine when I was in graduate school, so I wasn’t surprised but still pleased to learn about the far-reaching impact of their efforts.
I presented a paper on using a game-version of the television show Survivor to incentive my students to complete the readings, pay attention to current events, and learn geography. The results on the geography front were…not what I expected. Students who took a single, traditional Map Quiz performed much better than this students in the game that had regular, weekly practice in geography! But as we’ve said many times before, failure can be a usefullearningtool and this has prompted me to really investigate the key variables about the game that may have hindered learning, so more on that in the future.
An audience member on that panel (Ian Manners, University of Copenhagen) pointed out the utility of using student-created learning modules as a way of engaging students in learning content at a high level. I love this idea, and i’m going to use it in my seminar on sex, marriage, and violence in the fall.
Finally, some conference news: ISA is holding its first Innovative Pedagogy Conference on November 15th in St. Louis, the day before ISA’s Midwest meeting. There will be a plenary, keynote speech by ISA President Patrick James, a graduate student teacher training certification session, and 8 workshops on subjects such as faculty led study abroad programs, designing curriculum, research literacy, civic engagement, assessment of active learning, publishing in the scholarship of teaching and learning, designing simulations, and using simulations and games to teach political violence. At least two members of Team ALPS (myself and Victor Asal) will be there, so please join us!
ISA now has a Professional Resource Center which includes a syllabi archive and a great site for finding some good simulations to use in your classes. You do have to be a member to access the PRC but consider sending in your materials for inclusion!
Finally, a note on submitting to ISA: the two sections that tend to sponsor ALPS-style papers and roundtables are Active Learning in International Affairs (ALIAS) and International Education. I’m section program chair for the latter, and talking with the program chair for ALIAS, we not that we don’t get a ton of first-round submissions. If you’ve thought about presenting a paper or organizing a panel or roundtable relevant to either section, please do so–we are eager for more submissions for next year’s conference in Toronto. There are also opportunities for Innovative Panels, Career Courses, and Flash Talks–check out ISA’s website for more details. Some topics that I know are of interest to my section include best practices in study abroad, transformations in higher education (particularly from a comparative perspective), the challenges of being a faculty administrator of international programs, and curricular design features for IR programs.
That’s it for now! As usual, conferences spur me into thinking in new directions for my pedagogy, and I’m excited to start putting some of these ideas into practice.
The spring semester is ending here, and as usual everyone is dragging themselves across the finish line. There is not much left for students to do in my globalization course, but — given the structure of the U.S. higher education system — we still have to meet in the classroom. So, in search of something to fill time, I created an activity based on the last paragraph in my response to Leanne’s scavenger hunt exercise.
I collected some random products from home, all branded: running shoes (Saucony), cell phone charger cord (Samsung), bag of lentils (Jack Rabbit), hand towel (Cannon), and a tote bag to transport everything (London Review of Books). In class I laid all these items on a table and lied about getting them from a friend. I then told students to examine everything and write an answer to “What story is the owner of these things trying to tell others about the kind of person he or she is?” Students had already completed ethnographies of consumption, so they had some understanding of the connection between identity construction and consumption choices.
After five minutes, I grouped students into teams to create presentations, which they delivered during the second half of class. I got to listen to them unknowingly analyze my self-image as practical, value-oriented, and health conscious. (I would have been just as happy with other adjectives.) Once the last team had presented, I revealed that the items were my own by plugging my cell phone into the wall socket with the charger cord.
As a last minute invention, this activity worked fairly well. Students got to practice collaborating, communicating to an audience, and applying concepts. And all I had to do was bring a tote bag to class.
It’s conference season, and I’m guessing you’ve had the usual moment of sitting down for a panel, only to get one of those presentations that just doesn’t work.
I’m thinking of the “I know you said 15 minutes, but I’m going to talk for 30+”, or the “I’m going to just read the words on my slides”, or even the fabled (but rarely-spotted) “I’m just going to read out my paper, verbatim.”
I’ve been lucky this year and not had anything so egregious, but I’ve talked to plenty of others who did get these. Not even the silver lining that someone had actually written their paper before the conference could make up for it. Continue reading “Hey! Be my buddy?”
Today’s lucky winner is… and The other side of presenting–two posts that look at how to approach student presentations, from requiring all students to show up ready to present on the day’s topic to teaching students how to be the audience for a presentation.
And finally, because every class benefits from a bit of lego, take a page from Susherwood’s playbook and think about using legoinyourclasses.
This post is about one of two recent experiences that are easily-overlooked signs of the coming apocalypse for traditional higher education. I’ll write about the other experience in a separate post.
Last week a colleague and I participated in a regional conference of a large academic association. On the conference’s first day, my colleague attended a panel for which four of the six presenters named in the program did not show up. In the room were the other two presenters, the panel’s chair/discussant, and an audience of three people.
The next day, at the panel session in which my colleague and I were jointly presenting, again four of the six panelists were no shows. The room was populated by, in addition to the two of us, the other presenter, the panel’s chair/discussant, and an audience of five.
I’ve seen the same pattern at two regional conferences for my colleague’s main disciplinary organization — sessions that consist of a few people listening to themselves talk to a mostly empty room, with little to no actual dissemination of knowledge. The process is a charade — people list conference papers on their curriculum vitae, regardless of whether the papers or the people who promised to write them ever materialize. The money used to pay conference registration fees in effect goes straight from colleges and universities to the academic associations that sponsor the conferences.
I suspect that at some point in the near future cash-strapped non-elite colleges and universities are simply going to stop subsidizing these kinds of events via faculty reimbursement. Email and digital repositories are frequently much more cost effective methods of sharing information.
The Guardian’s Andrew Smith recently published a piece in their Technology Blog lamenting the overuse of PowerPoint (PPT) -based lectures in the college classroom, citing as faults both the boredom it causes as well as the critical thinking it supposedly inhibits. I agree that PPT can lead to lectures with such attributes, but as with so many teaching methods, the tool itself should not be blamed for the faults of a lesson.
To be as anecdotal as the author, I too have heard terrible, boring lectures grounded in pretty fonts, three or four bullet points, and droning voices that belong in a sleep-aid app. But I’ve also attended PPT lectures that were brilliant and thought provoking, and been put to sleep by a fair share of lectures with no visual aids.
A good lecture has more to do with the skill of the presenter than the tool itself. A dynamic presenter can create an interesting, informative, and provoking lecture using PPT, Prezi, or any other form of presentation software, while the same tool in the hands of a less skilled teacher can of course lead to confusion, boredom, and passivity. The chalk/white board (itself a piece of technology) can be just as misused–Many instructors have limited abilities at what I’ve always called ‘boardcraft’, the art of using the board effectively to clearly communicate with students. A set of prepared notes using the board or no technology at all, can lead to an amazing, provocative lecture–or not. It is the skill and training of the instructor, and how they use their instructional tools, rather than the tools themselves that lead to desirable results in a classroom setting. For example, the ALPS team strongly supports simulations and games as methods of teaching students. The most important part of using a game for learning, though, is the debriefing process that occurs after the activity has ended, which requires the instructor to be able to pull the experiences of the students from them and help them think through how the content lessons are exemplified or challenged by the gameplay.
This can be done with prepared PPT slides with provocative questions, or the whiteboard, or online discussion boards, or via old school classroom discussion. The tool is far less important than the instructor’s ability to tie personal experience in the game to the overall lesson.
Another assertion in the article that I find troubling is the implied trade off between using PPT and the board. Yes, PPT is linear in its approach. But there is nothing stopping an instructor from going off-script to follow up on a point made by a student. Depending on the technology set up in your classroom, it can be pretty easy to switch between the two. One of the classrooms I teach in has the projector on a separate wall from the board, so I often use both. In another, the projector blocks the board–but it is the work of a moment to ‘Pic-Mute’ the projector and pull the screen up so I can use the board.
There are other methods of ensuring that PPT does not make your lessons boring and uncritical. Consider avoiding bullet points entirely and instead using images, clips, and questions as the touch points for your lesson, allowing the content for that slide to be more dynamically presented and discussed. Alternatively, you can always include slides at the end that are not necessarily part of the main lesson, but which you can jump to very easily if in the course of the lecture, a relevant point comes up. For example, I will frequently drop polling data in the end of my slides on related topics that students sometimes bring up (say, opinions on various social issues for a lecture on Civil Liberties). This gives me options–I can jump to those slides if they come up, but I’m not required to do so if they do not. Jumping in and out of PPT itself is also very easy, and I will do it readily if I suddenly recall a news clip, video, or primary source that I did not include in the main lecture. No one has to be tied to the pre-prepared slides unless they let themselves be constrained by it.
Clearly, I am a fan of PPT, but like any tool, it has its limitations in the classroom. My philosophy is that we have a toolbox full of methods, of which PPT is one, and we should use the tool that helps us craft the best lesson for a given piece of content. It is our job as instructors to create lessons that are not boring and which provoke critical thinking; the blame for a class that fails to meet that mark falls squarely on us, not on PowerPoint.
Nina’srecent postabout students’ tendency to default to infopedia-style presentations reminded me of my own horrible experiences with students incoherently regurgitating information. It occurred to me that many of us — because of the nature of our academic experiences — incorrectly regard writing and presentation design as unrelated processes. They both are forms of communication, so why not apply the principles of one to the other?
I’vewritten previouslyabout how a good writing assignment clearly specifies the role of the author, the audience for whom the author is writing, and the format that the author is supposed to follow. We can construct guidelines for student presentations the same way:
What role are you performing when giving this presentation? What’s the presentation’s purpose?
To whom will you be delivering this presentation?
What is the format with which you will deliver the presentation?
If your instructions for presentations allow a class to answer the above questions with “student, other students, data dump,” then that’s what you’re going to get.
I find it easiest to grade format, so I assess that first. Student teams upload files of their presentations before they deliver them, and I grade the files using this rubric:
After my feedback via the rubric, teams have time to improve format if they wish before delivering the presentations in class.
The audience for the presentations is the rest of the class, not me, so I use peer evaluation. Teams compete and whichever team students select as the best earns points. For a sense of how these competitions have evolved over time, check out my postshere, here, here, andhere, and there’s alsoAmanda’sandSimon’sbig-picture posts on the subject. Or just click on the Presentations category in the right-hand sidebar column on your screen.
As for role, I’ll be the first to admit that it can be very difficult getting students to step outside of themselves and take on the identities of government officials, corporate executives, or journalists. But providing clear expectations about audience and format goes a long way toward helping students achieve this third goal.