Interactive learning


Wow,  7 months have past since my last post.  I need to get better at this blogging thing.  I keep telling myself . . .  just a short paragraph a day will keep this blog alive.  The unfortunate (or fortunate, based on how you look at it) thing is that once I start writing, I can’t stop, so to me, there is no such thing as a short paragraph.  🙂

I’ve been busy though.  The most recent time-consuming activity has been the third RYSAG summer camp.  Once again, it was a success, although there was doubt at the beginning.  Would the students be interested in “saving the environment”?  Was the topic “sexy” enough for them?  In the end, the students came to campus already aware of and concerned with issues of global warming and the need to change the way we all treat the environment.  While there was no real element of discovery or suspicion, as there was in the last two camps, and students didn’t seem super motivated in class, the final presentations impressed us all, as they have always done.

The typical subject collaborations existed as they have in the past – science/chemistry, math, research, public speaking/communication and technology.  In addition, we invited a few “green experts” from campus to each teach one day on their specialized topic.  An Anthropology professor took students back 1000’s of years to introduce the idea of those people’s “waste,” to make the point of how much that waste has grown into modern times.  She had students calculate their individual carbon footprint. Two Geology professors discussed water runoff and global warming/climate change, respectively. A History professor introduced students to the campus’ community garden and talked about sustainable agriculture, including the creation of  compost piles.  Finally, a Chemistry professor engaged our students in the harnessing of solar power based on blueberries as a source of energy.

Small student groups within each of our four camp teams were assigned to particular interviewees that would lend their perspective on sustainability issues and efforts.  Interviewees ranged from the middle-aged curmudgeon professor who’s only motivation to recycle was to recoup 5 cents from each plastic bottle returned to the sports enthusiast Geneseo alum who didn’t care how the new stadium was designed as long as he could attend his favorite sports events to administrative officials of our campus food service who introduced students to the idea of biodegradable cups and other “plastic ware” and the push to purchase food from local farmers.  Additionally, students designed 8-question surveys that they administered to anyone on campus that would take the survey.  All of these ideas and data were incorporated into each team’s final presentation – a formal plea to college administration to “green-up” our future athletic stadium by implementing the suggestions made by our students.  As mentioned above, the delivery, data and teamwork employed in each presentation was incredibly impressive.  Our youngest team consisted of 15 11-year olds (incoming sixth graders) and they did a fantastic job!

The ppt presentations will be loaded to the GREEN-UP camp website soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the public service announcements that our students created while on campus (found on the right hand page of the GREEN-UP webpage).

It is very fortunate that my good friend Lisa just responded to an old blog post from last semester. It has been a full semester since I last contributed to this blog. Yikes! Coincidentally, as I am working from home this morning, I did have visions of jumping back into my blog to fill in all the gaps from last semester to this semester. Lisa’s comment was just a reminder that I better get writing.

So, where to begin?

ANTH 216: African Diaspora – This was a class where I worked very closely with the new Department Chair in Anthropology. We began our planning toward the end of the summer, examining her previous syllabus and adding mini research assignments and library sessions where appropriate. RM likes to structure her courses with lots of student discussion. A typical assignment is the student-led discussion. Students are arranged in groups at the beginning of the semester and then as the weeks pass, they are responsible on a certain date for creating an interactive conversation with their classmates on a designated topic.

Topics last semester included the comparison/contrast of Mardi Gras to Carnaval; the history of Haiti; problems facing contemporary Haiti; migration and adaptation from the African Diaspora to US and Canadian cities like Miami, NY, Boston, and Montreal; reaction to the film Lumumba; African/Carribean religions as they are practiced in the US; and nationalism promoted in music.

While it was required that every group meet with me a week prior to their student-led discussion, not only for help with research but also in preparation of making the discussion interactive and lively, I didn’t see every group. I had great conversations with many of the students about how to plan the presentation, but in the end, my ideas for interaction may have intimidated them. Time and time again, no matter what we had discussed as a group, the students ended up talking from a powerpoint presentation with a few discussion questions thrown in. The unfortunate part of this is that the technology in the room we were assigned was not very strong or reliable. Students consistently struggled with the seamless flow of ppt to video and sound. Frustrating for everyone involved.

The ONLY group that took me up on my advice was a set of 4 ladies who were assigned a discussion on the film, Lumumba. They had no idea how to design their presentation. I was thinking “critic’s corner” as they came to see me with two variations. 1) half of the class would discuss all the positive attributes of the film while the other half would pan it and 2) the class would be split into 4 groups, each discussing the film from a certain perspective – Patrice Lumumba (the main character/freedom fighter), the film’s director, the Conglese (for whom Lumumba was fighting), and the Belgians (against whom Lumumba was fighting). Each group would have to examine whether or not they thought the film portrayed them satisfactorily. This second option is the one that the group chose. It worked beautifully! The designated date occurred right after Fall Break, so the students had the great idea to first show a video clip that would recapture the essence of the film and reacquaint classmates with what they had seen a week prior. They then divided students into groups, with each of the 4 ladies leading a group. They had definitely done their homework, looking into the background of the film, the history and critiques of the movie. They were able to share this new information with the newly formed “critic” groups. Many times, the added facts and opinions influenced the students’ understanding of the film. The plan was simple, the pressure of “performing” was taken off of the 4 ladies in question, and the class, as a whole, had the most animated conversation that I had been witness to. Further comments on the class’ LMS page proved how effective the strategy and lesson plan was. Everyone remarked on the simplicity of the plan and the overall positive outcome.

YET . . . all groups to follow this presentation reverted back to ppt. *sigh* One group literally questioned my suggestions for incorporating hands-on activities/discussion, claiming that they “weren’t in 3rd grade.” To that, I said that while the method of interaction seemed juvenile, the topic of discussion was not. Unfortunately, that group’s discussion happened the day before Thanksgiving break so I never was able to see what they ended up doing.

Other than the student-led discussion, I involved students in mini-research assignments, mainly to equip everyone for the content of discussion in class throughout the semester. It became obvious to me that to help the leaders of the student discussions/presentations get their classmates talking, everyone in class needed to come prepared with some information on the topic. For instance, one assigned presentation focused on the migration and adaptation of Haitians to US and Canadian cities. The homework that I assigned to students after a brief presentation on researching news stories in LexisNexis, was to find a related article. I divided the students up by US/Canadian city, making sure that there would be a variety of perspectives and experiences represented during the student-led discussion. Students turned their annotated citations into me via LMS (Angel on our campus), with a deadline set just before that student-led discussion took place.

Other research assignments (all in the form of annotated citations) included making comparisons/contrasts between a scholarly and a popular film review; finding a scholarly/educational video or sound clip on African-based religion; finding a CD or a single song that highlighted nationalism; and the study of a particular cultural group through eHRAF.

While the collaboration between RM and myself seemed successful, we have yet to make plans for this semester. It very well could be that we’re both slightly burned out from the fall session or that our preparations this semester will be more impromptu in the coming months. I’m sure that it’s a combination of both. We have discussed putting a limit on the use of powerpoint during student-led discussions (some use is okay but students cannot rely solely on ppt) and brainstorming with the students interactive assignments in which they have been engaged in other classes. Once we come up with a good list of options, students will be able to choose from these in an effort to liven their presentations. But, I’m still waiting to hear from RM . . .

It appears that I had much more to write than I originally thought, so other updates from the Fall semester will have to wait until my next post. Things I will write about include:

I wrote a post last week about a class that didn’t go as well as I would have hoped. Well, thank God for “high-end” faculty-librarian collaborations! I had access to the students via ANGEL so I was able to send an e-mail to the entire class and reiterate the goals and instructions of their web searching/evaluating assignment. I was able to assure them that the assignment would be for practice purposes only and that I would follow up on their “best efforts” with positive feedback and constructive criticism. I stressed that the main goal of the assignment was to find additional content on their designated cultural group so that they would be prepared for group discussion during the next class session.

Some students e-mailed me with questions and a few came to see me at the Reference Desk for further help.  Overall, the websites they turned in were pretty good.  The annotations written included thorough summaries of the information provided within the chosen websites and, for the most part, very good reasons explaining why the webpages could be deemed “scholarly.”  In one particular case, the reasoning was so complete and on target that the student convinced me that the author was knowledgable and credible enough, thus affecting my first-glimpse evaluation of the site as more “newsy” and popular.

Not being available to sit in on the class discussion, I asked the professor how it went.  Here is her response:

It was awesome! We had what I think was a great discussion, made several comparisons, defined terms and processes, and identified patterns. I enjoyed it.

It would be great if you could drop by and explain the citation process. I too need a refresher on how to cite on-line sources!  15 min toward the end of class would be great.

Thanks, I am enjoying the class already!

Although we had not originally planned for a mini library session this past Tuesday, RM had me come to class to go over American Anthropologist citation style (of anything within the completed assignment, this was the students’ weakest part).  I also took the extra opportunity to cover some web search strategies that I was unable to teach the previous week.  Students were extremely attentive, contributed to the discussion of scholarly vs popular and even took notes.

In the end, as disappointed as I was last week, the relationship that is forming between me and RM and me and the ANTH 216 class has helped fill in whatever gaps were left in the classroom due to time constraints.  Additionally, despite an unexpected fire drill during the mini session and my concern that I would take up too much time from RM’s anticipated class discussion, she gave me all the time I needed to give students a complete run down of web searching and citations.

I am looking forward to meeting with seperate groups of ANTH 216 students to discuss the topic of their student-led discussion (each group is assigned one during the semester) and even brainstorm activities that will help engage the rest of the class in the conversation.

I just returned from my first visit with the ANTH 216 class. It did not go as well as I had hoped. First, the laptop that I brought to the classroom (not a library classroom as I’m used to) would not log on. Luckily RM had brought her laptop and I was able to connect, with screen and projection, in this “smart” classroom. This was not without its problems, however. I am not used to toggling between screen and laptop (the system is much easier in the library) and am not familiar with the F keys. I definitely need a tutorial in this. The plug, although tightly installed into the back of the laptop (or so I thought), came out as I attempted to hook up an audio cable. Nothing was working right as I tried to play a youtube video that I had hoped would set the stage for a discussion on culture and would lead us into some searching for different cultures. In the end, once we finally got everything back on track, we replayed the video, chewing up valuable time that I had counted on to set students up for their homework assignment. I didn’t get to fully explain and/or demonstrate what I had hoped and most likely left students with more questions than answers as they prepare their assignment for Thursday. Not a good way to start out a semester of teaching . . .

Once again, I am woefully behind on my blog posts.  There is a very good reason for that.  Classes started today!  😮  As many tasks as I planned to get accomplished last week, not one of them got done due to a number of unexpected, but highly productive, meetings with faculty.

Since last Wednesday, I have been booked in one meeting after another; not all with faculty mind you, but the time has definitely not been my own.  Meetings began last Monday with RM, the new Anthropology Deptartment Chair.  We met up in Rochester, over a bagel and coffee, which was a nice change of pace.  It also allowed the two of us to avoid the early morning commute down to Geneseo.  We are planning for two courses this semester – ANTH 216: The African Diaspora and ANTH 313: Seminar in Global Health Issues.  Most of our focus has been on the lower level course, with the expectation that the majority of students will be sophomores.  RM has been extremely gracious, especially considering that this is our first intensive (or high end, as I will refer to in a later post, based on a very helpful article) course collaboration, in allowing me to provide input and ideas into the course schedule, lessons, and assignments.  In addition to Monday’s meeting, we met Thursday, Friday (of last week) and then today, to finish up.

Wording (scholarly research instead of library instruction), assignment requirements, and practice with the scholarly research skills were added to the syllabus.  For both courses, we will require all student groups (who will be responsible for leading one class discussion throughout the semester) to schedule a research consultation with me (one week in advance) so that we can target the research skills to the content of the anticipated discussion.  Additionally, student groups are required to create interactive exercises to get the rest of the class involved in the conversation and I hope students will call on me to help with the brainstorming.  RM has told me that her interest in this course has been renewed through our collaborative planning.  We’ll cross our fingers that all of the new additions go smoothly.  Always a work in progress.

Beyond the blossoming relationship with RM, I have met with Cristina (Spanish), Ellen, Jim and Kristi (Anthropology), Dave (Chemistry), and the RYSAG faculty team – all within the past 2-3 days.  Now it’s time to focus on the potential product after all this planning.  I am scheduled to be in 4 classes in this first week of school!

Wow! I just looked at the date of my last post (besides the one I just posted about Julie Grob’s collaborative work) and more than a month has gone by with no news from me.  Not a surprise at all.

If you haven’t already heard, I ruptured my right calf muscle on July 1playing in a soccer game.  Nothing dramatic at all, as far as how it happened.  I just started to run and SNAP, my calf sprung like a worn-out, old rubber band.  I spent three hours that night in the ER with the only recommendation being to ice, elevate, and take some pain medication (vicodin was not my friend).  There’s nothing the doctor could do for me.  😦  And he felt my pain, considering he had had the same injury once or twice.

So, a week and a half in bed with the summer camp coming down the pike.  I spent some time at home literally crawling on my knees since I hate, hate, hate walking with crutches.  They are exhausting and uncomfortable.  I have to say that I became quite adept using them though, by the time the ordeal was over.  And they provided the perfect guise as we instructed our middle school students to be careful while at the dig site.  I told them that I had twisted my ankle at the site because I fell into one of the holes.  Not one student left camp injured from the dig site.  🙂  In the end, I finally came clean with a few of the students since the story would have seemed absurd to me, considering I was constantly on crutches for the full two weeks (because of a simple sprained ankle?).  A bruised and swollen ankle, due to fluid draining from the calf muscle, lent credibility to the story of my injury.

Physical therapy is working wonders, and a month after the injury (to the day), I am walking without crutches and can place my heel on the ground.  This was a BIG step.  I will see the Sports Medicine Specialist on Tuesday so he can gauge my progress.

I don’t know how I made it through, but the summer camp was a huge success.  Two news crews came to report on the camp and share the story of our students’ amazing discoveries (arrowheads, flakes, and fire-cracked rock from 5,000 years ago!).  The students were able to name the newly found archaeological site – Roc City – a name that will forever be attached to their work.  Any further excavations done within a certain number of miles from Geneseo, NY will be required by law to cite Roc City.  The dig location will be added permanently to a map of New York State.

Following are the news stories (and video) of our students’ camp experience.  I will write more on the many collaborations that took place during the camp in the next few days.

Students at SUNY Geneseo Camp Really Digging Archaeology

Digging History . . . and Making It! (Look for the yellow icon to view the video)

Many more pictures and video to come . . .

From Julie Grob, Digital Projects and Instruction Librarian, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.

Like most instruction librarians, I typically teach one-shot classes at faculty request, although my classes focus on the rare books that are held in Special Collections. In the fall of 2006, faculty member Dr. David Mazella, an eighteenth century scholar in the English Department, contacted me with a different kind of instruction request. He was interested in doing more to enhance undergraduate research skills, mirroring the goals of a new Quality Enhancement Plan for the campus called “Discovery-Based Learning: Transforming the Undergraduate Experience through Research.” Dr. Mazella was designing a pilot course that would coalesce around the ideas of inquiry-based learning, undergraduate research, primary source materials, and information literacy. The course would parallel research he was doing for a book project called 1771: A Geography of Feeling. Students would read books from the year 1771 that were related to four key cities – London, Edinburgh, Philadelphia, and Kingston, Jamaica – and then do independent research using rare books and journals to develop their own lines of inquiry related to those texts. Dr. Mazella believed that such a course would require the ongoing contributions of a librarian.

I was eager to take on the challenge of working with Dr. Mazella on the 1771 course, which he would be teaching for the first time in Spring 2008. What was particularly exciting was that I was not being asked just to suggest places where library instruction sessions might be slotted into an existing course, but to help build the information literacy component of the course from the ground up. We decided to schedule four visits to the library during the semester, one in which students would learn database searching skills and three in which they would work on assignments utilizing eighteenth century materials in Special Collections. During the planning period, I combed our existing collection to find relevant materials, and applied to my library for a Micro-Grant that allowed us to purchase $2000.00 worth of rare books and journals geared specifically to the course. I also worked with Dr. Mazella on developing Special Collections assignments, in some cases proposing the actual construction of the assignment. One suggestion I made was that we should create worksheets with questions to be answered that forced students to immediately become involved with the materials, thus reducing their anxiety over handling old and rare items.

Once the course got rolling, the advantages of the faculty/librarian semester-long collaboration model became apparent. For one thing, it offered me the opportunity to do assessment after the first Special Collections instruction session. I posted a link to a SurveyMonkey questionnaire on the courseblog, and received valuable input that I used in planning the next Special Collections visit. Dr. Mazella and I were also able to build on earlier library instruction sessions and plan a more complex assignment for the final visit. Previous Special Collections assignments had required that students examine one item in depth, and conduct research on that item using databases such as MLA, JSTOR, and Project Muse as their homework. But during the final visit, we asked students to identify a keyword in the rare book they were perusing that they could use as a stepping off point for their database searching. One student who was examining the slave autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, chose the keyword “agriculture” from the text, which led her to an exploration of how Jamaican slaves worked with sugar crops and livestock. By selecting keywords directly from eighteenth century texts, students were able to draw a direct connection between primary source materials, database research, and the development of new lines of inquiry. Both Dr. Mazella and I were pleased with the outcomes of the course, and “1771” will be offered again next spring.

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