Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From learning to implementing

What comments did you hear being made about your colleagues’ student essays?
Comments primarily dealt with text clarity, how one idea transitions to the next and add up to make bigger ideas. Some emphasis was also made on sentence construction, as this clarifies texts.

What are the differences and similarities between the types of comments you heard?

Irrespectively of field or area of study, the way ideas are weaved into larger concepts seems to be an area where students struggle. And again, sentence construction was an important but secondary point of discussion. Some differences in the type of comments have more to do with content that with the way the content was presented and they seem to be more specific of each topic.

How does the help you re-think your strategy for commenting on essays? Explain.
I would like to implement a review workshop in the class, were students learn to identify these problems before submitting final reports for evaluation. This would hopefully eliminate some of the most common mistakes in the student essays because it will force students to review and edit them before submission.

As for commenting on essays, I would mark sections that are problematic and explain to the student why that section has problems. However, I will not tell the student how to fix it.

What did you learn about applying writing as a process in your classrooms?
I learned that focusing on the process of writing rather than final writing product, I can be a more effective at teaching students critical thinking.

What techniques/strategies did you pick up for integrating writing as a process?
To convert writing assignments into a process I will convert large assignments into smaller ones that built on one another and that add up to make the equivalent of a term paper. I will incorporate more goal oriented activities with clear and detailed instructions. I will demonstrate some of the techniques used to develop the assignments in class such as the use of electronic resources, etc, and maybe even bring experts to talk about these and other University resources. I will think of even incorporating some of these ideas in other courses that I teach.

What problems do you foresee in your attempt to treat writing more like a process and not a product?
One foreseeable problem is that students are product driven. They may have difficulties adapting to a new teaching strategy. Another problem may be that during the transition period from one teaching method to another, my work load may increase. However, this should pass once glitches are ironed out.
Read through the strategies for designing critical thinking tasks. Select one and speak to how it may be implemented in to the course to replace a moment of more passive learning.

One task that I have used in other classes but not in the one I am reworking is to ask students to summarize graphical data. These data I take from figures from primary literature that has revolutionized they way we think of certain biological concepts (e. g.; DNA is the material of heredity, DNA replication is semi-conservative, etc.). The reason to use this task for this class is that at the end of the semester students need to write a short scientific report that includes their experimental findings. While students work hard in writing their assignment, they often omit figure legends. Considering that the figures are the most important part of their assignment graphically summarizing their findings, the figure legend summarizing the graphical information should be as important. The analysis of a primary literature figure not only will result in the acquisition of new information but will also let them learn the process of summarizing graphical information in the form of a text.

What we put in we get out

What comments did you hear being made about your colleagues’ assignments?
The most recurring comments about the assignments were that they are over ambitious and that they are not clear enough. In general we want assignments to be versatile, and therefore, we tend to have assignments cover multiple learning objectives. This is a mistake. If there’s something we have learned is that is better to have multiple short assignments with each having a clearly defined goal, rather than few large assignments with broad goals. We have also learned that is fundamental to have clear and concise instructions for our assignments. The comments stressed out the importance of clarity.

What comments did you hear being made about your assignment?

Two main comments were given to my new assignment. The first comment was a positive one; the assignment has a narrow learning objective, a fundamental first step that future assignments can use to built upon and expand. The second comment was a constructive criticism on the clarity of the assignment. The goal set for the assignment and the goal stated in the assignment do not quite match; the assignment goal is clear and narrow but the goal description for the assignment is broad. Other parts of the assignment, such as the instructions, were not as clear as they should have been. I need to revise the assignment for clarity.

What did the workshop make you think about when it comes to writing clear and detailed assignments?
The workshop made me realize the importance of clarity in assignments. Clarity may seem as something secondary to the content of the assignment, but the workshop demonstrated that both are equally important. Writing clear and detailed assignments is so fundamental because it will directly reflect on the work that the students hand in: the quality and effort of the assignment instructions will reflect on the assignments the students give back.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rewrite: Assignment 1

BIL162 – Assignment 1
Isaac Skromne

Goal: Identify relevant biological question: generate questions, what is given and what is unknown, and formulate hypotheses based on those questions.

Activity: Students will submit a research proposal identifying the problem, its relevance to biology, the hypothesis and proposed experiments.

Instructions: Conduct the background research pertinent to a term paper addressing your question of interest. Do not write the term paper, but provide a justification for the relevance of the chosen topic: why should this research be carried out? During this first activity students have to submit:
1.Topic clearly defined
2.Argument justifying why this topic is interesting and should be researched
3.Annotated bibliography of useful sources that support the research justification.

1. Topic
WHAT are you going to be researching? Define your research topic clearly and concisely, trying to describe the topic broadly. Avoid being too narrow or specific. Do not describe your experimental method (1-2 sentences).

2. Justification
WHY is this topic an important area of research? Explain (1) what is known about the topic of research, (2) what is not known about the topic of research, (3) in what way understanding what is not know results a tangible benefit, (4) what do you propose doing that would allow us to further our knowledge (5-10 sentences total).

3. Annotated bibliography
HOW are you supporting the claim that this research topic is important? One normally writes an annotated bibliography as an indication of the sources one intends to use for an assignment, paper or thesis. In this case, the purpose is to write a short but informative or descriptive annotation that can be used later on for a term research paper. The annotation should include:
•Complete bibliographic information.
•Scope and main purpose of the work (3-5 sentences).
•Evaluation or why you feel this work is suitable for your topic (2-3 sentences).

Resouces and their use

What did you hear in the library this morning?
We learned about the typical library resources, both physical and electronic, but more importantly we also learned about how students carry out research for the papers. The bottom line is that students do not know how to use resources to do research, or how to manage their time.

Regarding their resources, I am already familiar with what the library has to offer. Other than learning that we can request a librarian to come to our class and show students how to do research using electronic resources, I did not find the session that useful. Teaching students how to use the electronic resources is something that I could do too, and I have done it in the past. Seeing that students are not familiar with this resources makes me think that I should reinstate teaching it again.

There is a recurring theme emerging from all these sessions is that students are not trained to do the types of activities that faculty requires them to do in order to meet course objectives. This is surprising, students are supposed to know how to do this. But they don’t. As important as it is to teach content, we also need to teach the method.

How can you apply what you heard to the work of the course you are re-imagining?

Realizing that students may not know how to use electronic resources for their research, I will rededicate some time of the class to teach how to use different electronic resources to pull out material relevant to their research project. I could even invite a librarian to do this and have as a specific exercise to look for material relevant to their project of investigation.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Low stakes writing

Develop two ways to incorporate low stakes writing in your classroom. Be specific with how you would integrate writing with the concepts you want your students to master. Use the examples from your reading as a basis.

Low stakes writing is the type of writing that carries little or no weight on the student’s grade. Its goal is to put some ideas on paper regardless of what those ideas may be; the exercise is the end product. Low stakes writing is supposed to hone thinking skills, and as such, it can be a powerful learning tool. It would move students away from memorizing information without them knowing it. And because they are low stakes, the stress associated with paper writing disappears while maintain the learning objectives.

The concept that I like emphasizing in class is critical thinking and analysis. Keeping a journal on the material covered in class would be a good way to have students think about the material. Students could be asked to write why certain piece of evidence changed the way we understand a particular topic, or why should we care about a certain biological process. Another useful low stakes writing activity could be for students to write a think piece on the material that will be covered in class; what did they learned from the book or what else would they want to know about that day’s topic.

Reviewing and revising a syllabus

First, perform a close reading of your syllabus. Does the syllabus for the course you have selected to revise clearly outline the learning outcomes for the course? How and where? Is it clear how these outcomes will be measured? What learning outcomes and means of accessing those outcomes does the syllabus omit? Be specific.

The syllabus under revision contains clear learning outcomes for the course and the different activities that will take place during the course. As learning outcomes students will learn (1) how to formulate questions, (2) how to use different techniques of investigation, (3) how to use different quantitative and statistical analysis tools, (4) how to graphically display data, and (5) how to communicate their results in an oral and written manner. As requirements students will (1) review current literature, (2) present findings through class presentations, (3) present findings in a poster session and (4) write a short scientific paper. This information is not presented at the top of the syllabus but is buried after the calendar of activities.

The main problem with the learning outcomes and the activities that will measure them is that they are completely disconnected; not relationship exists between each individual learning outcomes and each one of the activities. Furthermore, there is no explanation as to how the activities will be measured. While many of the activities address numerous learning outcomes, the syllabus does not state how the activity measures each one of the outcomes that is supposed to be grading. For example, a short scientific paper will touch upon all the learning outcomes but the syllabus does not states how this paper will measure each individual outcome.