Flipping Earth Science practicals and the use of digital specimens

Dr Hazel McGoff, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science

h.j.mcgoff@reading.ac.uk

Year of activity: 2016/17

Overview

This project established a library of digital images of our key mineral and rock specimens. Annotated explanatory labels were added to the images to create a resource that can be used to help students familiarise themselves with the specimens before laboratory practical sessions and for reinforcement and revision afterwards.

Objectives

The aim of this project was to establish a digital resource that could be used alongside practical specimen-based teaching and learning.

Context

While students can handle and see (as well as sometimes smell and taste!) specimens in practical classes, gaining skills in mineral and rock identification takes practice and time. The use of annotated digital images allows participants to gain familiarity with the specimens and their key characteristics before each practical class, thus allowing them to use their time in the laboratory more effectively.  Relevant modules include GV1DE Our Dynamic Earth, GV2GRE Geological Resources as well as some Archaeology teaching.

Implementation

Three students and a photographer were key to the success of this project.  George Biddulph, a Part 2 Geography student selected specimens to be photographed and we were able to have a large number of high quality digital images taken by a semi-professional photographer. Two final year students Emma Warner (Geography) and Chloe Knight (Environmental Science) used Powerpoint to add annotations and explanatory labels to the specimen images.

Impact

This activity was successful in terms of producing the images and using Powerpoint to add labels and annotations. These will be used in 2017-18 taught modules. The project has also been useful in ‘kick starting’ the use of the collections in modules such as GV2MPL Summer Microplacement and also setting up volunteer sessions one afternoon a week during term. These give students the opportunity to identify and catalogue more of the collections.

Reflections

This project will be used in teaching in 2017-18 so additional reflection will be needed later in the session. Due to time constraints the photography of the specimens was contracted to someone outside the University. Ideally this would also have been allocated to a student.

Links

The information will be made available on Blackboard later in term. Selected specimens are being featured on the Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Reading Facebook page.

 

Example image of rock sample

Example image of rock sample

Adopting a flipped classroom approach to meet the challenges of large group lectures

Amanda Millmore, School of Law,  a.millmore@reading.ac.uk

Overview

Faced with double-teaching a cohort of 480 students (plus an additional 30 in University of Reading Malaysia), I was concerned to ensure that students in each lecture group had a similar teaching experience. My solution was to “flip” some of the learning, by recording short video lectures covering content that I would otherwise have lectured live and to use the time freed up to slow the pace and instigate active learning within the lectures.

Objectives

  • Record short video lectures to supplement live lectures.
  • Use the time freed up by the removal of content no longer delivered live to introduce active learning techniques within the lectures.
  • Support the students in their problem-solving skills (tested in the end of year examination).

Context

The module “General Introduction to Law” is a “lecture only” first year undergraduate module, which is mandatory for many non-law students, covering unfamiliar legal concepts. Whilst I have previously tried to introduce some active learning into these lectures, I have struggled with time constraints due to the sheer volume of compulsory material to be covered.

Student feedback requested more support in tackling legal problem questions, I wanted to assist students and needed to free up some space within the lectures to do this and “flipping” some of the content by creating videos seemed to offer a solution.

As many academics (Berrett, 2012; Schaffzin, 2016) have noted, there is more to flipping than merely moving lectures online, it is about a change of pedagogical approach.

Implementation

I sought initial support from the TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) team, who were very happy to give advice about technology options. I selected the free Screencastomatic software, which was simple to use with minimal equipment (a headset with microphone plugged into my computer).

I recorded 8 short videos, which were screencasts of some of my lecture slides with my narration; 6 were traditional lecture content and 2 were problem solving advice and modelling an exemplar problem question and answer (which I’d previously offered as straightforward read-only documents on Blackboard).

The software that I used restricted me to 15 minute videos, which worked well for maintaining student attention. My screencast videos were embedded within the Blackboard module and could also be viewed directly on the internet https://screencast-o-matic.com/u/iIMC/AmandaMillmoreGeneralIntroductiontoLaw.

I reminded students to watch the videos via email and during the lectures, and I was able to track the number of views of each video, which enabled me to prompt students if levels of viewing were lower than I expected.

By moving some of the content delivery online I was also able to incorporate more problem- solving tasks into the live lectures. I was able to slow the pace and to invite dialogue, often by using technology enhanced learning. For example, I devoted an hour to tackling an exam-style problem, with students actively working to solve the problem using the knowledge gained via the flipped learning videos and previous live lectures. I used the applications Mentimeter, Socrative and Kahoot to interact with the students, asking them multiple-choice questions, encouraging them to vote on questions and to create word clouds of their initial thoughts on tackling problem questions as we progressed.

Impact

Student feedback, about the videos and problem solving, was overwhelmingly positive in both formal and informal module evaluations.

Videos can be of assistance if a student is absent, has a disability or wishes to revisit the material. Sankoff (2014) and Billings-Gagliardi and Mazor (2007) dismiss concerns about reduced student attendance due to online material, and this was borne out by my experience, with no noticeable drop-off in numbers attending lectures; I interpret this as a positive sign of student satisfaction. The videos worked to supplement the live lectures rather than replace them.

There is a clear, positive impact on my own workload and that of my colleagues. Whilst I am no longer teaching on this module in the current academic year, my successor has been able to use my videos again in her teaching, thereby reducing her own workload. I have also been able to re-use some of the videos in other modules.

Reflections

Whilst flipped learning is intensive to plan, create and execute, the ability to re-use the videos in multiple modules is a huge advantage; short videos are simple to re-record if, and when, updating is required.

My initial concern that students would not watch the videos was utterly misplaced. Each video has had in excess of 1000 views (and one video has exceeded 2000), which accounts for less than 2 academic years’ worth of student usage.

I was conscious that there may be some students who would just ignore the videos, thereby missing out on chunks of the syllabus, I tried to mitigate this by running quizzes during lectures on the recorded material, and offering banks of multiple choice questions (MCQs) on Blackboard for students to test their knowledge (aligned to the formative examination which included a multiple choice section). In addition, I clearly signposted the importance of the video recorded material by email, on the Blackboard page and orally and emphasised that it would form part of the final examination and could not be ignored.

My experience echoes that of Schaffzin’s study (2016) monitoring impact, which showed no statistical significance in law results having instituted flipped learning, although she felt that it was a more positive teaching method. Examination results for the module in the end of year formative assessment (100% examination) were broadly consistent with the results in previous academic years, but student satisfaction was higher, with positive feedback about the use of videos and active learning activities.

Links

University of Reading TEL advice about personal capture – https://sites.reading.ac.uk/tel-support/category/learning-capture/personal-capture

Berrett, D. (2012). How “Flipping” the Classroom Can Improve the Traditional Lecture. https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-flipping-the-classroom/130857. Chronicle of Higher Education..

Billings-Gagliardi, S and Mazor, K. (2007) Student decisions about lecture attendance: do electronic course materials matter?. Academic Medicine: Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 82(10), S73-S76.

Sankoff, P. (2014) Taking the Instruction of Law outside the Lecture Hall: How the Flipped Classroom Can Make Learning More Productive and Enjoyable (for Professors and Students), 51, Alberta Law Review, pp.891-906.

Schaffzin, K. (2016) Learning Outcomes in a Flipped Classroom: A comparison of Civil Procedure II Test Scores between Students in a Traditional Class and a Flipped Class, University of Memphis Law Review, 46, pp. 661.

Flipped learning in a team-based situation with a dash of TEL by Dr Cindy Becker

This is my new recipe for extending the academic year and helping to welcome our new students. As with any new recipe, some bits of it went really well and some aspects of it were less impressive – and there was one moment when I was in danger of failing to cook up any learning at all.

Along with my colleague Mary Morrissey, I have been working this year to introduce our new module EN1PW: Persuasive Writing. We have been ridiculously excited about the chance to share with our students all that we firmly believe they need to know about how to write practically and persuasively. We have devised a plethora of assessment tasks via blackboard (with help from Anne Crook and our other colleagues in CQSD) but I wanted to go one step further and use technology to enhance the learning experience even before our students reached the lecture hall or seminar room. Aware of the university’s desire to produce a more structured and active Welcome Week for our newcomers inspired me to create a quiz using screencasts, in the hope that students would feel part of our department’s community of learning from the off.

That was my first mistake. Because optional Part 1 modules are allocated to students on Friday of Welcome Week, I was not able to send out the quiz to the relevant students in enough time for them to use it prior to our first meeting. Lesson learned – this recipe would work better for a compulsory module.

Undeterred (I had by that time spent ages on my computer) I gave them the details of the quiz by sending out a document to them on Monday of Week 1, asking them to work through it prior to our first seminar in Week 2. (Richard Steward and I had worked hard to try to make this a bb quiz, but we could not guarantee that the screencasts would play reliably on every device a student might use, so a word document it had to be.)

The quiz consisted of 8 questions, all asking about aspects of writing with which new students struggle each year. The quiz was designed to go further than immediate learning: my idea was to use each question as a springboard to discuss other aspects of writing style. I was also keen to have them work in teams. In the seminar I asked them to get themselves into groups of four – they will remain in these groups for the rest of the term, for a variety of group-based tasks.

I went through the quiz, asking them to recall their individual answers (most had written these down on the sheet) and then decide on a group answer. That was my huge mistake: I just had not thought through in advance how to do this. Should I run through the whole quiz first, asking them to make their group choices, or run through the screencast for each question and then ask for their answers one at a time? I mistakenly chose the former option and ended up realising, too late, that it would have been more effective to have taken the latter approach. This was made more difficult because I had not thought to put the subject of each question on the question sheet, so it would have been easy to get lost had the student beside me not written the topics on her question sheet.

So, things went wrong from time to time, but generally I was pleased with the experience. I found that some of them had shown the quiz to their new flatmates, who I gather were impressed that they had been given a ‘fun’ task before the first seminar. Some of them had called home to discuss the questions. In the seminar it worked really well as a team-building task: they were so busy arguing over possible answers that they forgot to be strangers. I also realised that there were some things I would have assumed they would know which they did not. I am not sure, for example, that I would have found out that some of them were confused by prepositions if we had not been having such a free ranging discussing as a result of the quiz. I think that using animated screencasts really helped in this respect. Seeing a set of cartoons in a seminar set a tone of relaxed, discussion-based learning, which was just what I wanted to achieve.

It was all that I hoped it would be in terms of learning, and with the glitches now fixed on the question sheet I feel more confident about the teaching. I learned more about screencasts using ‘Powtoons’ software too – like the fact that each screencast will publish with a screenshot of exactly what is on the screen at the moment you press the ‘publish’ button. It took some time for me to go back and finesse all of the screencasts in the light of this, and even now I realise that I could have done it better by including an initial title screen. Still, that is the pleasure of teaching, learning and technology: there is always the next thing to learn, the next challenge to face. It is nice to think that I am learning just as hard as they are.

You can find the revised document here: EN1PW introductory quiz(2)

Study support for MOOCs – do the Study Advisers have the answer? by the Study Advice team

The recent announcement that Reading has been selected as a partner in the Futurelearn project to provide free online courses is an exciting move towards new ways of engaging with a potentially massive cohort of students. However, concerns have been expressed about the lack of support for students studying the courses, especially those run by profit-seeking companies. The Times Higher Education Supplement (14 Feb 2013) reports Prof Josie Taylor of the Open University commenting that it is unethical to recruit large numbers of ‘inexperienced learners’ without providing them with support for their learning practices. Certainly if one of the aims of MOOCs is to act as a recruitment tool for future students by providing a taste of the teaching available at institutions, building in the probability of failure seems both wrong and commercially unwise.

Futurelearn’s webpage on MOOCs explained notes that ‘Due to the large number of students studying MOOCs, learning support comes from the online learning community rather than academic staff… MOOCs attempt to encourage students to be independent and self-motivating.’ Students will be encouraged to form online support networks using social media to build peer relationships. While peer learning and support is certainly a valuable and increasingly well-used strategy in universities, such initiatives involve peers already embedded in study at HE level, who are usually supported or mentored by trained staff. Independence and self-motivation are qualities we would all like to encourage in our students – but it’s equally important to recognise when expert guidance is more appropriate and have access to that guidance.

A project supported by the Annual Fund and carried out by the Study Advisers may have a potential answer to this problem. We have been developing a series of ‘bite-size’ screencasts on key aspects of learning practices, focusing on the issues most frequently discussed with students in Study Advice sessions. These avoid the traditional ‘talking head’ format, combining an explanatory spoken voicetrack with visual illustration of the ideas discussed, including animations and text extracts. Students can pause and re-watch parts of the presentations to build their understanding in ways that would be impossible during a lecture presentation.

We hope to launch the screencasts for access to Reading students via Blackboard later in the summer, as well as using them for a ‘flipped learning’ model for Study Advice workshops. If you would like to preview the resources developed so far and give us some feedback, please contact Michelle Reid (michelle.reid@reading.ac.uk) or Sonia Hood (s.hood@reading.ac.uk).