Online and On Target for Deeper Learning

By Will Heikoop, Online Learning Coordinator

Professor Bill Ju has taught HMB300 Neurobiology of Behaviour numerous times since joining the University of Toronto in 2009. It’s an intermediate course in neuroscience that focuses on higher brain functions and mechanisms underlying human and animal behaviours. The course was taught in a familiar fashion: two hours of lecture, one hour of tutorials and one hour dedicated to office hours – all face-to-face (F2F). For his latest offering he tried something radically new. He incorporated a number of innovative approaches that transformed his teaching and enhanced student learning. The course was thoughtfully redesigned to include:

  • Online activities that reduced the need for F2F time in the classroom (a hybrid model).
  • An online student cohort that attended the live lectures Bill delivered to his F2F students at a distance using the Blackboard Collaborate Webinar tool.
  • Collaborative peer work and assessment using peerScholar, an online pedagogical tool that helps develop students’ critical- and creative-thinking skills to manage the workflow.

Bill Ju, Human Biology Program, Senior Lecturer

Sound intriguing? Let’s break down what it all means and what innovative approaches he brought to his teaching.

The hybrid portion of the course involved moving tutorials and office hours online. Normally held in person on campus, the move online reduced the need for direct F2F time. To ensure a sense of community and a virtual presence, the Blackboard Collaborate Webinar tool was used to support interactive work and conversation.

Turning to the lectures, Professor Ju had an in-class section of 70 students as well as an online section of 40 registered students attend together. Lectures were delivered synchronously using Blackboard Collaborate to online students while simultaneously providing the same lecture material to the students in-class using a streaming model.  Active learning was emphasized in both sections and Bill was careful to incorporate opportunities for both the F2F section and the online students to interact using Collaborate to answer specific questions during class. Additionally, his course re-design involved the development of a strategy for effective engagement of students through peer-based activities – specifically problem sets to be discussed in lectures that required students in-class to interact with their online cohorts.

Finally, his capstone writing assignment utilized peerScholar to encourage active learning between both the F2F and online student groups.  Students designed and peer reviewed infographics/online posters related to specific aspects of neurobiology, which were then made available in an online environment.

What did Professor Ju think of having a F2F cohort, an online cohort and general class activities moved online?

He admits,  “Running a 3 in one classroom was definitely a lot of fun – in person, streaming live and off-line self-paced study.”

For more on Professor Ju’s approach to teaching and learning take a look at this recent CTSI interview.

Happy New Year from Your CTSI Programming Team

2015 is off to a running start here, as we’ve kicked off our winter programming series and are looking forward to our summer offerings and beyond. The spring (if we may be so bold to dream of spring in January!) brings with it the chance to get a head start on thinking about your summer research projects or course design goals. Today we’re profiling two initiatives dedicated to teaching, learning and building a community around innovating in these fields: the Course Design Institute and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Institute, open to faculty members.

Course Design Institute (CDI)
2015 marks the 5th anniversary of the CTSI Course Design Institute, running this year from May 20-21. This annual institute introduces the principles of course design to faculty members who are either developing a new course, or who would like to refresh courses they’ve already taught and refine their course design skills. Over two days of sessions, you will learn how to re-work or create your course in order to enrich students’ learning experiences. Through the knowledgeable guidance of CTSI and external facilitators and collaborators, you will explore the steps of the design process and leave with a useable framework for your own course, including an outline, an assessment scheme and a lesson plan. To get a taste of what the CDI can offer you, take a look at these comments from 2014 participants:

“I learned a lot and had a wonderful time learning in such a short time. Most importantly, I am able to apply (or at least consider applying) everything we have talked about in CDI. Very practical!”

“The material and information was great. I honestly loved talking to faculty from other departments. It is great to have an opportunity to share experiences and ideas with people who are not in your field, who have questions that you would never think about or who have tried some engagement activity and can let you know how it worked or did not work for them.”

2013 Course Design Institute

2013 Course Design Institute

Watch this space and the CTSI newsletter for more detailed information on this year’s iteration of the CDI, as registration will be open shortly. You can view more testimonials from past CDIs at the following links: 2013, 2012, and 2011.

Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) Institute
The CTSI SoTL Institute is a June two-day intensive event (June 3-4) for faculty interested in innovating or studying effective teaching and assessment at the University of Toronto. This year’s institute marks the 3rd offering of this event, in which participants are introduced to the principles of designing, implementing and disseminating research studies focused on teaching in higher education. Guided by facilitators from CTSI, the Institute combines various presentations by University of Toronto SoTL researchers and Liaison Librarians with activities to support diverse SoTL interests.  As with many CTSI workshops and events, participants appreciate the multidisciplinary discussions and cross-pollination of pedagogical ideas, an inspiring way to kick off summer reading and perhaps to pursue research collaborations with colleagues:

“I really liked the group interaction. The most valuable thing overall was talking to other people working on SoTL projects. The content of the curriculum just gave a context to those conversations”

“This was a highlight of my professional development here at U of T. It was great to have two days to focus on pedagogical research, especially with colleagues from across the disciplines and across the university, many of whom are knowledgeable.”

CTSI scholarship of teaching and learning

Working together at the SoTL Institute

Participant feedback has been an integral component in our yearly Institute planning, and we have acted upon the myriad suggestions to increase opportunities for SoTL discussions at U of T. A key development has been the creation of the SoTL Network, a regular series of events that connect members of our teaching and learning community (http://www.teaching.utoronto.ca/teaching/sotl.htm). To receive email notices of these SoTL events at CTSI and within the broader U of T SoTL community, please subscribe to the SoTL list-serv by emailing Kathleen: k.olmstead@utoronto.ca. For more information on SoTL activities at U of T please contact Cora McCloy, PhD, Faculty Liaison and Research Officer, CTSI (cora.mccloy@utoronto.ca).

Registration for the Course Design and SoTL Institutes is announced via various CTSI communication channels, including our newsletter, list-serv and website. Registration for both institutes will open in the coming months. Consider joining us for these annual institutes, get a head start for your fall courses and think about your teaching process from an innovative perspective! Feel free to contact Erin Macnab, Programs Coordinator (erin.macnab@utoronto.ca) with any questions you might have.

How to make instructional videos

By Maryam Shafiei, ACT Support Assistant

You have probably heard the mantras, “Show, don’t tell” or “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember”. Visually illustrating a new skill is now a significant element of multi-modal instruction and a frequently used tool in instructional design. You can find training videos everywhere – from how to bake a cake to how to use a computer application or how to use an online service. Users can watch videos/tutorials over again, if needed, and work at their own pace. This post will focus on some strategies for using a computer screen recording application to create instructional videos. If you would like to make videos an important component of your teaching, here are a few tips on how to make them engaging for your students.

The first step in creating videos is to answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of your video? Try to have a clear, SMART goal for your video.
  • Who is your audience? Ask yourself these questions: Who are they? What do they need to learn? How can this be delivered? What are their skill levels?
  • What is the action you want the learners to take? Think about your message and your goals.

Before recording:
1. Organize your content.

  • Lay out your content in sequential order.  This will help the learners organize incoming information and remember the information you provide.
  • Provide an outline of your content. Introduce the subject and tell your audience what they are going to learn. If your video has different sections, provide a title for each section so your audience will be prepared for what they are about to learn.
  • Break up the content of your video into smaller pieces. It will help the learners to quickly find the part they are looking for.
  • Shorter is better. One of the ways to keep learners engaged is to be mindful of video length. Due to limited attention spans, you will need to keep your video short, 2 to 6 minutes if possible. If you need more time to deliver the content, try to break your video into segments or separate videos.
  • Include interactive components in your videos, such as questions, quizzes and customized examples and exercises. It will keep your audience engaged with the video and will reinforce learned concepts.

2. Use a script. Writing out a script in advance, even if it’s just a bullet point list of steps, will help keep your video concise and focused.

  • Keep the steps simple and short so you read the script while also looking at the monitor.
  • Try to keep your narration informal and spontaneous. Use a conversational tone when writing your script.
  • Read it out loud a few times before recording. Ask someone to read it to you so you can can hear how the script flows.

3. Clean up your computer desktop.  Make sure to hide or minimize any distracting items on your desktop, close unused programs and ensure your email notifications are turned off.

Record your video:

  • Record the full screen. Some instructors like to look right at their learners when they are talking. If you would like to create such a connected bond while teaching or if you need to show your audience something other than your computer screen you can always use a webcam or  a camcorder to record videos and integrate them with your screen video later, but for those who are new to recording video an easy route to take is just to record the full screen using a screen recorder application. This ensures you capture everything on screen, which you can edit later if you want. You can scale and crop your video to smaller dimensions, but making it larger later on will cause it to blur.
  • Use a decent microphone. Good audio is a key element for any type of video sharing. If you are using a laptop, please do not use the built-in microphone which picks up a lot of extra noise. You can simply use an inexpensive USB microphone instead.
  • Slow down. Try not to put too many concepts into one video. If your audience is unfamiliar with your video content, take it slow.
  • Control your mouse. When recording, try not to move the mouse around while you talk. Never wiggle your mouse to emphasize a point.

After you record:

  • Choose an editing application. Review the range of free or inexpensive online editing platforms and have a look at their simple guides to start editing.
  • Use callouts. Add callouts where necessary, like when you want to draw attention to some object on the screen. Depending on the program you are using to edit your video there might be different options for callouts to choose from, including arrows to point directly to something specific in your video, spotlight which darkens everything on the screen except for the area you want to focus on, or a blurcallout to hide certain areas of your recording that you do not want everyone to see like login information. (Please see examples below.) Try to keep the callouts, annotations or animations as simple as possible and avoid adding too many callouts because they will increase your video file size.
    Callout - arrow

    Callout - arrow

    Callout - spotlight

    Callout - spotlight

    Callout - blur

    Callout - blur

  • Add a title to your video. Add a title slide to describe the purpose of the video. Fade it out as you fade in the recording.
  • Control the audio. Check the audio levels through both speakers and headphones and adjust the levels if needed. If you are using music, make sure it is just loud enough to be heard but not so loud that it interferes with the narration.
  • Determine the next step. At the end of the video include a specific call to action. Ask yourself what you want your viewers to do when they have finished the video: watch another video? Take a quiz? Go to your website or email you their questions?
  • Share your video. Finally, share your video and make it easily accessible for your viewers so they will be encouraged to use it. Making content available on an online video hosting site or an LMS is an efficient way of increasing accessibility. Provide your learners with the information on how to access your video.

Question: What do Mark Zukerberg, Oprah Winfrey and the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) have in common?

By Professor Carol Rolheiser, Director, CTSI

Answer: All have established book clubs; mind you, not your average book clubs!

All of us are pretty familiar with Oprah Winfrey’s launching of her book club that was active between 1996 and 2011. Through this club she not only propelled many authors works to bestseller lists, she also succeeded in encouraging large numbers of people to read more literature. Her online version, Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, was launched in 2012 and uses social media to once again engage people in discussing books. In a January 6, 2015 Globe and Mail article by their Book Editor Mark Medley, entitled “Mark Zukerberg on books: Oprah II?”, he noted that Mr. Zukerberg took to his Facebook page early in January 2015 to announce that he will read a new book every other week!  As a result, Facebook has already created a hub, “A Year of Books”, which already has over 253, 000 Likes.

While CTSI cannot boast the reach of Oprah’s or Zukerberg’s book clubs, we are proud of having just completed our second offering of CTSI Page Turners, a four-session book club series.

Book clubs are becoming increasingly popular not only for recreational reading, but also in K-12 and higher education sectors to support educational development (Kooy, 2009), and as a means for teachers “tuning into practice”. Online, hybrid and face-to-face clubs are being initiated in colleges and universities for instructors as a means of enhancing community, reflecting on practice, and inspiring cross-disciplinary discussions and networks.

The model our CTSI team developed is based on the concept of student literature circles (Daniels, 2002; Lin, 2002). While participants in our book club are in charge of their own learning, they are supported by a facilitator who helps establish group norms, and sets the stage to maximize individual accountability and the development of positive interdependence within the group.

Saira Mall, Carol Rolheiser, Cora McCloy

CTSI Book Club Team - Saira Mall, Carol Rolheiser, Cora McCloy

Some of the goals of the CTSI Page Turners include: supporting pedagogical professional development through the examination of educational ideas; reflection on practice; exploration of innovation in teaching; and, discussion of aspirations for student learning.  The structure used for the CTSI book club includes evidence-based design features, such as: 1) the optimal number of participants (e.g., Brabham & Villaume, 2000, suggest that 4-8 participants is an ideal number for a literature circle); 2) determining group norms (e.g., participation and interaction to maximize learning together); 3) building inclusion (e.g., through community-building activities that provide context for each participant’s goals and motivation); and 4) establishing the roles and responsibilities of both participants and facilitator.

The first two offerings of CTSI Page Turners series focused on the book, Student Engagement Techniques by Elizabeth Barkley (2010). The four 2-hour sessions provided an opportunity to explore a conceptual framework for understanding student engagement, while also examining tips and strategies for influencing motivation, promoting active learning, building community, ensuring students are appropriately challenged and promoting holistic learning. As well, instructors analyzed practical student engagement techniques focused on learning outcomes that included knowledge and skills, learner attitudes, values, and self-awareness. While the culminating activity involved each instructor participant sharing a concrete plan for “putting print into practice” in their next course, most of the participants began implementing ideas right away in the courses they were currently teaching!

Book Club Participant Poster

Book Club Participant Poster

Each of the four book club sessions was facilitated through the use of text protocols and other reading/discussion formats (Bennett & Rolheiser, 2001; Lipton & Wellman, 2003). The value of the protocols was expressed often by participants, in terms of how such protocols supported their exploration of the book being studied, but also their use and adaptation of these protocols with their own students. For example, one of the protocols was entitled “The 4 A’s” (adapted from Judith Gray, 2005, National School Reform Faculty, http://www.nsrfharmony.org.)  As participants pre-read the selected chapter they chose an excerpt related to each of the following four A’s, and the subsequent book club session focused on discussing these with their colleagues:

  1. What Assumptions does the author of the text hold?
  2. What do you Agree with in the text?
  3. What parts do you want to Argue with in the text?
  4. What parts of the text do you want to Aspire to?

In the final assessment of the book club one of the participants commented specifically on the value of experiencing the protocols, stating, “I really enjoyed the use of protocols to guide the sessions. It was great to see how these would work in practice.”

Another one of our book club members wrote, “I keep coming back [to CTSI] because I am finding that teaching is a process that requires constant reflection and consideration of the back and forth between talking about how to teach and implementing teaching ideas”.  CTSI Page Turners has been an exciting way to encourage the exploration of teaching research and practical ideas, to reflect on one’s practice, and to work with colleagues in other departments to try out new practices. We are looking forward to our next book club series and the examination of another book –stay tuned to our CTSI newsletter for the announcement of our next Page Turners series.

If you would like to set up your own instructor book club in your department or unit, please feel free to contact us and request a consultation to support you in getting this launched.

Happy reading!

Emanuel Istrate, Institute for Optical Science

Emanuel Istrate, Institute for Optical Science

Heather Buchansky, Student Engagement Librarian, U of T Libraries

 

References:

Barkley, E.F. (2010). Student engagement techniques. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bennett, B. & Rolheiser, C. (2001).  Beyond Monet: The artful science of instructional integration.  Toronto, ON: Bookation.

Brabham, E.G., & Villaume, S.K. (2000). Questions and answers: Continuing conversations about literature circles. The Reading Teacher, 54(3), 278-280.

Daniels, H. (2002). Literature circles: Voice and choice in book clubs and reading groups (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Lin, C-H. (2002). Literature circles. Eric Digest.
file://localhost/Retrieved from http/::www.ericdigests.org:2003-3:circles.htm

Lipton, L. & Wellman, B. (2003). Mentoring matters: A practical guide to learning-focused relationships (2nd Ed). Sherman, CT: Mira Via.

Kooy, M. (2009). Collaborations and conversations in communities of learning: Professional development that matters. In C.C. Craig (Ed.),  The Association of Teacher Educators’ Teacher Education Yearbook XVII: Teacher Learning in Small Group Settings (pp. 5-22). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Publication/Rowan & Littlefield.