Thanking Our Students

19 Nov

Too busy to spit?

This was my grandmother’s question to me from high school through the PhD school years I shared with her.  My initial, and now lifelong, response?

And too tired to care if I’m drooling.

Gram & Ida, 1967

Yes, it’s that season. My grandmother’s query still serves as a reminder to slow down at this point in the term – to slow down enough to enjoy the company of loved people over a long US holiday weekend, and to ease back into my teaching life by thinking with gratitude about what my students are teaching me and to talk with passion about what they are teaching one another.

Once at my grandparents’ home during those years I began teaching, I noticed it wasn’t worrying about preparations that was shaping my stories – rather, awe shaped the tone and wonder selected the examples as I talked about student learning.  At Gram’s suggestion, I’d return to my classrooms and the remaining weeks of a Fall term with words of appreciation for – and spoken to – my students.  With the CTL blog, we launched a tradition last year of launching into Thanksgiving week with words of appreciation for what our students were teaching us all about learning and teaching in higher education. You can see those posts here and here.

This year I’m going to hitch this Thank a Student post to the 21 students in my own “Teaching [and Learning] in Higher Education” course for the ways they have been learning, developing and teaching practices for making use of technology to support learning, teaching, and researching in higher education. Together with my students, I have been conducting a course-long investigation into the ways in which we can leverage benefits of an “active learning classroom” in an “ordinary” classroom.

We share the context of that investigation below.  More important, the students in this class have agreed to share the blog posts they’ve created, co-created, or sparked from comments.  Embedded in these posts, a host of resources pertaining to using technology to support learning and teaching, and a rich collection of reflection on why and how one might make decisions on the way from considering options to implementing choices.

The Context for Experimenting with Technology and Classrooms in order to Learn about Using Technology to Support Learning and Teaching

ALC classroom on UMinn campus

An active learning classroom (ALC) in the new Science Teaching and Student Services(STSS)  building on the UMinn campus features several round tables, each seating nine students per table, and each table having access to plug-in connections for electronic devices, as well as its own projection screen and white board. Like the ALC classrooms, ordinary classrooms have access to wifi hubs in campus buildings and seating for students.  And, while the undergraduate students who come into STSS building can access computers for use in the classroom if they don’t have mobile devices of their own, the graduate students entering our ordinary classroom that could be anywhere on campus do tend to come equipped with personal computers.

That’s generally where the similarities end, though my particular classroom does have rectangular tables that easily seat six students as well as chairs on wheels that allow for easy mobility in forming groups. A decided benefit as these laptop screens come to stand in for the projection screens in ALC classrooms.  And the laptops – or very large post-it sheets – often substitute for the individual white boards assigned to ALC tables.

The “ordinary” classroom with tables.

Having completed eight class sessions in our “plain cloth coat” ordinary classroom, this “Teaching [and Learning] in Higher Education” group of students ventured into the STSS building for the class session focused specifically on making decisions about learning and teaching with technology in face-to-face, hybrid and online classrooms.  I’ll share below the blog-based record of their adventures in this classroom, which was also a ultimate session in our term-long infused study of this topic.

But I first want to note the general response of the students in shifting from the “ordinary” classroom where they’d been practicing teaching while also inhabiting student roles to the to “high-tech” classroom where they primarily assumed active student roles:  They weren’t exactly impressed by the room – ceilings too high, no main focal point in a room of attention possibilities, affordances that they could replicate in ordinary classrooms.  Having taught in the STSS rooms, I will say that I do like the ALC rooms and the teaching / learning made possible in these space, and I like even better that this group of future faculty has discovered ways of using technology to support learning and teaching in whatever classrooms they may be assigned to – given classrooms with access to wifi hubs and increasing numbers of undergraduate students who come to campus with personal electronic devices.

Creating a physical space in which to comfortably work with technology as part of learning and teaching has been a small and significant part of our learning together this term.  Still more significant – as it is in any course where technology becomes an element of the learning and teaching mix – has been

  • learning together which technologies will support the out-of-class learning activities designed into our courses;
  • determining within practice teaching teams which platforms best support in-class presentations and enrich the work of hands-on activities;
  • assessing whether the  technologies and platforms we test out will support the specific student learning and teaching outcomes embedded in the undergraduate courses these graduate students and postdocs are planning for the future faculty roles they take on; and
  • considering ways in which uses of technology can support our work also as researchers.

Sharing the Assigned Practice, Technology Exploration, and Reflection on Possibilities

A think-pair-teach session.

With students’ permission, I’ve shared below four blog posts they either generated or co-authored or provided comments to as part of the process of preparing for using the STSS classroom space and reflecting on wrapping up nine weeks of infused thinking about and work with teaching- and learning-related uses of technology.

For each post, you’ll find a general title, a link to the post, and a synopsis of what you who teach in higher education will find there. Overall, these blog posts aim to model how to make use of the WordPress platform to spark and sustain a threaded discussion on a given course topic.

1.  Preparing for Class 9 Online Assignment: Using Technology to Support Teaching and Learning – Post #1.  This post was created by the student primarily in charge of developing the class session teaching plan, who also co-taught the session. As someone practiced in using technology as part of conducting research, this was a first foray into making use of technology to plan a class session, of a blog to set out the class session assignment, and of sampling a host of new technologies in order to launch and sustain class discussion.  The post models a flipped classroom approach to technolog-based preparation for class with guided reflection and small group work built into the assignment.  In this segment, students experimented with platforms that would allow small groups of students to meet synchronously out of class.

2.  Class 9 Continues: The Asynchronous Adventure – Post #2.  I created this post with guidance from the student co-planning the session based on concerns students in the class harbored about how, why and when to use technology across their future faculty roles, especially as researchers.  The post offers five sample “screen-casts” – modes of recording interactive lectures and voice+image presentations that students can study outside of class.  Each of the samples addresses ways to think and make decisions about using technology in faculty roles: for research/as researchers, in mindfully constructing a digital footprint, about creating accessible and learning-focused presentations, and about making personal decisions regarding uses of social media as an academic.

3.  Following up Your “Asynchronous Adventure” Comments – Post #3.  With comments on Post #2, students generated some new questions and sought out new sorts of resources.  This post models how a blogger might respond when interest generates new questions – but more importantly for you all, the post names two resources to consult in starting to develop a social media presence in an academic context.

4.  Miss the “Asynchronous Adventure” Class Session, Write a Blog Post – Post #4.  Preparing Future Faculty students who miss a class session are required to either attend a parallel session in another section or to develop a “make up” assignment with the course teacher.  Because there wasn’t a parallel session one student could attend in missing our day in the STSS ALC space, he opted to respond to what classmates posted in the threaded blog discussion.  Respond he did – and in addition to responses within early posts, he created this full post.  Here you’ll hear one student from a science discipline reflect on telecommuting to attend one class session, on discovering ways to use technology as a teacher, on what has surprised him in moving from being fully-reluctant about using social media to considering its possibilities as a researcher.

Bottom right corner: two students telecommute.

So, this long weekend I won’t be wondering what my students have taught me this term – but I will be exploring more what’s in these posts they’ve created, co-created, or prompted.  I will be exploring what I have learned from, with – and yes, because  of – my students.  May you also find time to think with gratitude, talk with passion, and wonder with attention to learning from and alongside and because of your students.

Upcoming Posts

  • 26 November – on learning and final exams
  • 3 December – on addressing bullying
  • 10 December – on flipped classrooms, part 2
  • 17 December – on persisting as a writer
  • and then a bit of a break, with posts returning on 14 January.

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