Tools for adding animation to your course.
Tools and Technology

Simple Animation for Your Courses

Animation is an engaging format for delivering online content. We see it used in TED-Ed presentations, educational documentaries, and elsewhere. It is also much easier to make than many people think. Simple and free, or inexpensive, online systems allow anyone to make animated videos in a variety of formats. The creator chooses from a menu of characters, actions, and backgrounds; adds a narration audio track; and then chooses how the elements will move around a scene. These systems only take a few minutes to learn, and while they will not win you an Oscar, they are perfectly fine for online teaching.

One use of animation is to publicize a course on the faculty member’s webpage. I made one announcing a faculty development course that used two characters talking in a bar about challenges they face in teaching, with one announcing my course as a solution. Yes, it sounds hokey, but it’s an attention grabber that sets the tone of my training as interesting and innovative. We do little to inform students about courses or try to interest them before they sign up. Normally, they just get a brief description in a course catalog or perhaps a syllabus. An animated video will capture students’ attention and get them motivated to take the course. Animated videos can also be used in an online course to introduce a week’s content, what students should do, and what students will get out of each activity. They can also be used to deliver content itself if the instructor prefers not to use other video formats. Take a look at this example of an animation used to deliver a lesson on animal ethics: https://youtu.be/3HAMk_ZYO7g.

Another option is to have students make animations as assessments. I have had students make animations that teach a topic. This is far more engaging to the student than a traditional paper, and students will respond with surprising amounts of creativity. Plus, the videos can be added to the course content itself to educate future students.

Here are some easy to use animation systems for making your own videos.

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group work project
Worksheets and Checklists

Group Work: Peer and Self-Assessment Form

Overall, how effectively did your group work together in learning the course subject matter? (circle the appropriate response)

not at all            poorly              adequately                  well                  extremely well

1                             2                        3                                  4                                  5

 

How many of the group members participated actively most of the time?
(circle the appropriate number)

not at all            poorly              adequately                  well                  extremely well

1                             2                        3                                  4                                  5

 

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Active learning

The Success of Four Activities Designed to Engage Students

How can we engage students who are enrolled in large courses so they become active learners? I used four activities designed to get students involved, support their efforts to learn, and personalize the material in an introductory psychology course. How well did they work? For analysis, I divided the 52 students in my course into four groups, or quadrants, using their final overall course scores to place them in high- to low-performance groups. Final course scores were computed as points on a scale of 1 to 100, which were then reported as letter grades. Then I looked at how involved students in each group were in the engagement activities. I’ll start with a description of each of the engagement activities and then provide a summary of how well each of these approaches engaged students in learning the course content..

Optional retake exams. There were three in-class exams (each worth 20 percent) and a final exam. Each exam included short-answer and essay questions. Students could opt to retake any or all of the three in-class exams. The retakes, administered electronically, were personalized. For questions that students missed on the exam, new versions of the questions appeared on their individually constructed retake exam. Retakes were therefore a mastery system that encouraged students to focus on those concepts they did not understand. Based on the retake scores, points were added, not subtracted.

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ngage Students Outside of the Online Classroom
Online Learning

Five Ways to Engage Students Outside of the Online Classroom

Ubiquitous learning—the idea that everywhere you go, you’re learning all the time—lets us take advantage of the concept that in every interaction, there may be opportunities for students to engage with our subject matter, if we can just get them into that holistic thinking mode.

I am an avid knitter and like to knit all the time. When I need to learn something new about knitting, I’ll often go to YouTube or to some other online videos that I’ve seen. I might read a book or take an online course to learn some new ideas. I might talk with others who I see knitting or people who approach me. I like to knit out in public so that people might come up to me and talk about what I’m knitting.

Searching the web, talking with others, trial and error—these are good ways to learn things through experimentation and trying things out. But how does one get into this holistic thinking mindset in the classroom?

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students studying for finals
Reflections

What Do Students Do When They Study?

An article in a recent issue of the International Journal of STEM Education has got me thinking about study habits and how little we know about how students study.

The article is open-access, and I encourage you to read it whether you teach in the STEM fields or not. But first, a synopsis: The research team used “a practice-based approach to focus on the actual study behaviors of 61 undergraduates at three research universities in the United States and Canada who were enrolled in biology, physics, earth science and mechanical engineering courses.” (p. 2) In small focus groups students responded to this prompt: “Please imagine for a moment how you typically study for this course—can you describe in as much detail as possible your study situation?” (p. 4) What these students reported is a good reason to read this article.

Another reason this research merits attention is the concern the researchers have with how we think about and research study behaviors. We tend to focus on parts of the study process—when students study, how long they study, what strategies they use when they study, and what strategies they should use. Hora and Oleson believe that studying is a collection of behaviors and thinking about them in isolation reduces the complex ways they interact. Their results support that belief. “Results indicate that studying is a multi-faceted process that is initiated by instructor or self-generated cues, followed by marshaling resources and managing distractions, and then implementing study behaviors that include selecting a social setting and specific strategies.” (p. 1)

As for the cohort consisting of students reporting on how they studied in STEM courses, the researchers note, “We are not suggesting that this account of studying is generalizable to all students but is a heuristic device for thinking about studying in a more multi-dimensional manner than is common at the present time.” (p. 15) So, what your students would say about how they study may well be different, but that’s another reason this is such a good article. As you make your way through it, you are constantly considering what you do and don’t know about how your students study.

Hora, M. T. and Oleson, A. K. (2017). Examining study habits in undergraduate STEM courses from a situative perspective. International Journal of STEM Education, 4 (1), 19 pages.

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active learning in large classes
Active learning

Quick In-Class Learning Activities to Build Student Engagement

The following are a few quick, easy, simple ways to engage students mentally, emotionally, or physically that do not require much planning and that you can do in almost any large class lecture. List them here and put this up in your office where you can see it to remind you to rotate these into your lectures.

  1. Think, pair, share (“Think about this, get with your neighbor, and share your thoughts…”)
  2. Concept expert (“One of you is responsible for reading [this], one for [that], and then get together and share/compare what you’ve learned”)
  3. Compare notes with your neighbor for clarity

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student discussion activity
Classroom Climate

Scenarios to Facilitate Discussion on Student Entitlement

The scenarios here can be used to explore the salient issues, starting with a deeper understanding of what entitlement involves. Most of the definitions are clear, but pretty generic. The conversation gets interesting when it focuses on what entitlement looks like when students have it or do it. The scenarios highlight some situations typically associated with entitlement. The discussion could start with student responses and actions that illustrate entitled attitudes and beliefs. But not every student request or objection is an entitled one. Sometimes students have legitimate concerns. Could that be the case in any of the scenarios outlined below?

Another rich discussion area involves whether certain faculty policies or practices promote student entitlement. Greenberger et. al. (2008) asks about the circumstances within higher education that foster it. The discussion could encompass higher education, generally, but the focus on faculty is important. Are we part of the problem? Are any of the policies and practices described or hinted at in the scenarios encouraging the sense of entitlement? Grading systems that rely on points? Policies that allow for absences? Giving partial credit?

The most needed discussion is the one that explores faculty responses to entitled attitudes and actions. Is the best approach to take the offensive—start the course by clarifying expectations? Outright discussions of entitlement—what it is and why it’s wrong?

The scenarios have been purposely written with a certain degree of ambiguity. Some responses to them will reflect entitled attitudes and beliefs, however, in some cases, the student may have a legitimate issue. Students could start by first discussing whether the scenario reveals entitlement or a legitimate concern. You might find there’s some disagreement among your students in terms of what is entitled behavior and what isn’t.

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College student writing assignments
Worksheets and Checklists

Writing Assignments: A Self-Assessment for Faculty

Do your writing assignment focus on the product or the process? How about your students? Where do you think their focus is?

At the end of the day, our students aren’t going to take from our courses the products they developed and use them in the future. But they certainly will use and refine the skills they needed to develop that product—as they move on to other courses and well into their respective fields.

When working with online instructors, I found that many will de-emphasize the writing process. They tend to assign a major project or a final paper and all eyes are on the end goal of where students need to ultimately get. But they don’t oftentimes spend a whole lot of time breaking that process down in the same way that they might in a face-to-face class.

Below you’ll find a self-assessment to help you step back and reflect on how you approach writing assignments. It can serve as a helpful reminder of the various steps along the writing journey and how you can help guide students along that path.

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Writing assignments. Student on laptop
Worksheets and Checklists

Writing Assignments: A Self-Evaluation for Students

I teach online at an open enrollment institution, which means I get students at all levels of writing ability. Many of them are solid writers with a good understanding of the different steps of the writing process. But I also have students who are just learning to write at the college level. Either they’ve have been out of school for a while or they’re newly minted high school graduates with little experience writing anything other than some kind of standardized writing test.

Rather than make assumptions about what my students might know, I try to demystify the writing process and break it down into individual steps. By forcing them to slow down the process and focus on each step, we can improve the process and, ultimately, the end product.

Below is a self-evaluation that I use with my students. You are welcome to adapt the questions to fit the needs of your courses and students.

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Frustrated student in library
Reflections

Reflections on Learning: Giving Students Assignments They Hate

Questions for teaching-learning discussion groups or individual reflection

In this week’s Teaching Professor Blog, I offered strategies to help move our conversations about teaching beyond the “tips and tricks” to the kind of thought-provoking discussions that help promote, motivate, and sustain our growth as teachers.

Here I have outlined potential questions that can be used in a discussion group or for individual reflection. The exercise centers on those unpopular assignments that we sometimes give our students and is based on an article in this Journal on Excellence in College Teaching:

DeWall, N., (2016). Millennials by heart: Memorization as an active learning strategy for the SparkNotes Generation. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 27 (4), 77-91.

A synopsis: Nichole DeWall gives students an assignment they hate. Students must scan, paraphrase, and memorize a self-selected passage or poem from one of the assigned texts. Then they recite the memorized material in private to her, and teach the passage to classmates in a short, interactive presentation. Finally, they write a low-stakes reflective essay about the experience.

The article explores the rationale behind the assignment, why it’s appropriate, especially for Millennial students, and what they learn by doing it.

Even though it’s an article about an assignment few faculty will ever use, it’s well-worth reading and even more worth discussing because it raises issues much larger than the details of her assignment.

POTENTIAL DISCUSSION TOPICS AND QUESTIONS

Should we give students an assignment they hate?

“The assignment’s ability to make students uncomfortable increases its value.” (p. 80)

“Piercing Millennial students’ egos allows them to be open to truly transformational learning. Therefore it is neither necessary nor desirable for the classroom to feel like a seamless extension of our Millennial student’s native worlds.” (p. 80)

“Students sharpen their metacognitive skills when they memorize, teach, and reflect upon their poems; they also leave my classes with constant companions that may just help them make sense out of their lives. For these reasons, I continue to ask my students to commit verse to memory every semester, despite their objections (and, often, my colleagues, bewilderment).” (p. 87)

How do students see classrooms? Do they act the same way in the classroom as they do everywhere else because we have failed to make classroom spaces look and feel different from everywhere else?

Does an assignment that causes discomfort produce a different kind of learning? If so, how is it different and is it a better kind of learning?

How much discomfort is enough, too much, and how does a teacher make that determination?

Most faculty work to make classroom environments feel safe and comfortable. Does giving an assignment that makes students uncomfortable compromise that objective?

How many of our assignments cause discomfort? Enough? Not enough?

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