Student-to-Student Learning: Between the Creative and the Practical

After considering the listed pitfalls, I felt #5 left me with the most to learn and the most room for improvement. In an environment increasingly driven by meeting institutionalized learning outcomes, sometimes I wrestle with how to let go of the reins, so to speak, and allow the knowledge exchange to flow differently. I am fortunate to teach in a discipline that centers multiple ‘centers’ of knowledge, rather than fetishizing a rigid set of ‘canons.’ And, the heart of our teaching emphasizes feminist pedagogies that explicitly counter epistemological hierarchies. However, sometimes I succumb to the exigencies of the job and the routines of teaching and find myself drifting away from these principles. Hopefully other folks can relate.

I find online teaching to be particularly perilous when it comes to redirecting the flow of knowledge and the directionality of teaching. To be honest, this pitfall gives me the most pause for 2 principal reasons: time constraints and Canvas (rather than a lack of creative energy). I actually enjoy and feel the best about my teaching when I’m designing new modes of interaction for the F2F and virtual classroom.

In thinking about how to avoid this pitfall, I’m reflecting on my current approaches and how to modify them for the hybrid environment. One thread I’d like to pull would be to modify my use of simulation-based learning. In recent years I have used a lot of simulations (specifically moving from individual work to group work in order to model real-world transnational networking around global maternal health activism) in my teaching to allow students to learn from one another. Sometimes students shudder at the mention of ‘group projects’ and ‘role playing,’ but I try to strike a different tone by empowering them to foreground their own interests and strengths (creative and intellectual). Because students are self-selecting their groups, their topics, their pathways, and their end products, they tend to stay engaged. In class we have a lot of check-ins and troubleshooting discussions, but I find this kind of interactive and multi-directional teaching and learning much harder to facilitate online. It can be difficult to ‘see’ the same working relationships forming and get a sense for which students are feeling disconnected and which groups are dysfunctional. This is where I am anxious to learn more about new ways to promote student-student teaching and learning. I’d also hope to avoid this pitfall by acquiring some new skills for managing (in a practical sense) things like wikis, shared document drives, co-created platforms, and other forums that exist outside of Canvas. Basically, I’d like to figure out how to take my observations and discussions that work in the classroom to an online setting. One of the challenges I’ve confronted in attempting to do this is feeling that the course itself gets unwieldy. For example, my Spring remote class currently has multiple forums where students can exchange information with one another. I often feel overwhelmed keeping up with the various discussion streams happening. If I were living my ‘best life’ right now, I’d make a schedule for checking these different repositories on a weekly basis and providing feedback. That’s just not realistic right now…perhaps it’s a good idea for the future?

Ultimately, I agree with the author that courses are most memorable when students feel safe to reflect and share freely with one another. That kind of classroom (F2F, hybrid, or online) yields the truest learning. After all, what can students really learn from me- or any single professor- and my narrow experiences and perspectives in 10 short weeks? When they laugh, cry, inspire, befriend, and empathize with their peers they are learning in the most robust sense of the word. I hope to develop some new approaches for promoting this kind of deep, engaged learning across the hybrid platform.

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Integrating Project-Based Learning in Hybrid Studio Design Courses

For those of us in the design disciplines, the recent trend toward experiential learning is old hat. Because of our heritage in craft-based, apprentice-style education, which was effectively scaled up by such early pedagogical pioneers as the Bauhaus, learning by doing has been our modus operandi for nearly a century. But nowhere does this break down faster than when many design educators attempt to move their courses to an online or hybrid format.

Often when crafting a course plan for a blended format, experiential and project-based lessons are covered in class, while book work, tests, and readings are incorporated into the online part of the course. While this is probably the easiest approach (indeed much of this content is housed in LMS regardless of course type), it doesn’t take advantage of what online learning has to offer.

In order to avoid simply replacing face to face instruction with a bunch of readings, it may be helpful to strategize ways to carry projects through, connecting classroom experience with online activities. Students can be assigned to critique each other and offer feedback in a written or video recorded format, which can be just as effective as traditional oral critique. Students may be divided into smaller groups, who interact throughout the length of a project both in person and online, offering support and learning from each other through multiple methods of communication.

Finding ways of connecting the content of the classroom to the LMS in an integrated and thoughtful manner can add additional meaning to a project, creating a richer experience than even an all in-person studio design course could achieve.

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Letting students with different backgrounds to learn from each other in a (hybrid) “integrated design” learning environment.

WSE 425/525 “Timber tectonics in the digital age” exposes students to integrated design practices, in which architects, engineers and fabricators are all engaged in the early design phases. In the actual practice, these different professional figures really learn from each other during the development of a project. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to avoid the Online Course Design Pitfall #5: Ignore the ways students learn from each other, and instead, support similar peer teaching & learning mechanisms in class.

In the past editions of this course, we used journals and blog which provided a concrete record of student’s growth and competency, and exposed students to the potential of the learned tools, also through the work of peers and professionals.

Key issue: we noticed that students were more inclined to follow a “sequential” collaborative approach, rather than a true “integration”. Because the projects were developed using a particular software platform, expertise with this software defined the leader of the design. In the preliminary steps, students with technical knowledge of timber, engineering or construction sometimes were less involved as their expertise was seen as coming later in the process.

My plan: Foster peer tutoring and collaboration by providing dedicated online and in class space for student-driven and student-led Q&A sessions, presentations, demonstrations and peer-review sessions.

Students familiar with the software will lead and moderate a “parametric modeling” Forum, helping less expert peers who are stuck on a model hurdle, pretty much as in a typical SW user forum.

In the past, student’s demonstrations, project presentations and peer-review happened late in the term; now I plan to engage students in these activities from the first weeks, thanks to the opportunity offered by the hybrid delivery to move most of the “instructor-provided” content online.

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Using Industry Mentors in a Hybrid Course

Online Course Design Pitfall #4: Expect your students to consume knowledge rather than create it; Online Course Design Pitfall #5: Ignore the ways students learn from each other:

One of the primary outcomes I want for students in my industrial marketing course is to develop an understanding of how marketing is practiced in the industry, and how that compares to the theory that is presented in class. With this hybridization process I am trying a new approach where each student will be matched with an industry “mentor” in order to learn how marketing is conducted with that specific company. Each student will conduct three interviews with their mentor over the course of the term – gathering information that is roughly parallel to what is being covered in class. Students will use this information in multiple online discussions as well as a final online presentation and a final paper. My hope is that this active engagement with someone in the real world and the sharing of the information among peer students will both facilitate learning from each other and creating their own understanding of how marketing works in the real world.

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Avoiding the Bucket Approach; Embracing the Haiku

Designing a course that fosters engaged learning rather than passive consumption (pitfall #4) seems to be one of our most important challenges in hybrid course design. With this in mind, one of my favourite ways to help students actively engage with course material is through poetry: the poems they read as well as those they create. The haiku with its simple non-rhyming 3 line (5/7/5 syllables) format is a fun and accessible way for students to create meaning, as in the following, which rejects the notion that teaching is about filling a bucket with knowledge or that students are containers to be piled up with information:

Active knowledge, yes!

Go create engaged learning

Let’s toss the bucket

An activity I’ve used before, and will use in our hybrid WGSS 111 “Feminist Perspectives on Current Issues” course, is what I call the “Seven-Minute Haiku.” Students work in pairs and first give each other a short list of concepts or themes that relate to the material they’re studying in that particular module. They each then take their list and select several of the concepts to integrate into a haiku. Often the results are very good: creative, poignant, and/or self-reflexive. They can share and discuss these with each other and choose whether or not to share with the large group. Online this might be achieved through breakout groups or by posting lists that students leave for each other to choose from and work on independently, bringing the finished haiku back into online discussion or in the face-to-face classroom.

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“Sage on stage” vs. “guide on the side”

Online Course Design Pitfall #3: Insist on being the “sage on the stage.”

Key issue: Even in a traditional face-to-face setting, as long as students have access to their laptops or phones, they can Google answers to questions asked in class or even verify what their instructor said. In an online course or the online session of a hybrid course, we can then always assume that students are Googling the topics and obtaining an enormous volume of related materials, opinions, and even looking at similar courses offered by other universities. Being the “sage on the stage” is no longer the role of an instructor – let’s face it.

How to avoid this pitfall? Please don’t expect to get an answer from me as I am not an “expert.” You can Google it. That’s what I did and found “guide on the side” as a potential solution to replace “sage on stage.” For the hybrid course I am designing, I will actually encourage students to Google related issues and bring them to class for discussions. The focus will be on problem solving and critical thinking. Through minicases and group projects, students will have opportunities to learn from each other and work together to solve real-world issues.  Being the “guide on the side” is the role of an instructor – let’s try it.

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Learning from each other

Online Course Design Pitfall #5: Ignore the ways students learn from each other.

Students know best

A few weeks ago I decided to make my Spring course asynchronous due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  I would use the class periods for Q&A.  However, these hours were painfully awkward; many students would log on yet only a few would ask questions.  After the first week, a student emailed me and suggested I give out problems so they could try them in the Zoom breakout rooms.  They said that they really miss being in the classroom and getting to think through problems with each other.  I thought it was a great idea, and that’s what I’ve been doing, in concert with the taped video lectures they can go back and reference at their convenience.

My next course

My hybrid course in the Fall will promote peer-to-peer learning by giving students several different opportunities to work as a team.  During class activities, they will be given team-oriented problems where they have to brainstorm solutions (e.g. design a sustainable urban transportation system).  I would bet that for every solution I would have lectured about, there would be at least one student in the class that new something about it.  By giving students in-class team assignments which require them to use each other and the internet, they are exposed to each other’s curiosities and personal background.  This is more meaningful than having me lecture about it, and sometimes, the students come up with solutions I had never thought/heard of and I learn too!

For a longer opportunity to learn from each other, the students will do team projects.  They will have to explore a topic of choice and then present a poster.  Both the project and the poster session will allow for substantial peer-to-peer learning.  I am unfamiliar about the integration of online spaces (e.g. boards) to promote peer-to-peer learning.

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I’ve Been FRAMED by a Canvas Developer…

I feel unwittingly framed by Canvas developers! Here’s my insight into avoiding Pitfall #2: Letting a course management system drive thinking.

The problem: Developers of platforms like Canvas create an environment for specific users. They build features based on potential use cases (i.e., the possible situations in which a platform like Canvas will be used). Ultimately, these developers also create choice architectureswhich nudge users, provide them options, and help them avoid bad situations. Unfortunately, these choice architectures can also frame users’ thinking about other options.

The menus, buttons, and options in Canvas are like sidewalks built through a wild area. Most users, without thinking, will stick to these pre-determined sidewalks rather than wander off path. In other words, the Canvas menus, buttons, and options frame users’ thinking. Hence, Pitfall #2, where the course management system (environment) drives thinking.

The solution? Aside from contacting Canvas developers with suggestions for building more pathways to accommodate creative wandering (um, guilty!), awareness seems like a good first step.

For me, I’m wary of populating all menu categories. I’m also learning to use Canvas as a temporary wrapper to course content by using the HTML editor. Finally, I’m trying not to let Canvas’s menus and buttons drive my thinking.

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Ascending Bloom’s taxonomy with hybrid learning

Circuit design is art and science. It requires one to KNOW some physics, formulas, and rules. But it also requires PRACTICE. A practiced circuit designer who retains some ignorance is more valuable than one who has gathered all the bits of learning, but has not spent time rummaging around the upper level’s of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  My course has little value if students leave with only knowledge. 

How do you use online tools to hoist a student up the rungs of the learning taxonomy? Online tools mostly deliver content. Multiple choice quizzes trigger a response, which is good, but they route one’s thinking into a small number of bins. How can one use online tools to not only facilitate in consuming knowledge but in creating? 

To move from knowledge and understanding to application and creation, one needs more complex and nuanced feedback.  Application and creation means being able to make measured decisions that take in a number of factors whose weights vary. 

Perhaps a decision-tree form of self-evaluation would do the trick. Consider: Assign a design task that can be done innumerable ways. However, some ways are better than others and it depends on the resources available and the particular goals. After the design is complete, they would then be asked a series of questions that might elevate some considerations. 

For example one could start by addressing functionality, can their design satisfy the desired function? 

Then one can ask them what is the most valuable consideration: speed, power, size, robustness…

Based on their response they could be asked to consider various techniques that exchange power for speed or size for robustness. In other words, the online tool could not only ask the student to submit a design, but then evaluate their design, to consider options, to weigh benefits, to modify. 

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Blending hybrid design with biochemistry laboratory training: thinking about how students learn from each other

Scientific research is a collaborative endeavor. I plan to focus this hybrid re-design of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Laboratory on promoting collaboration across teams and lab sections.

Pitfall #5: Ignore the ways students learn from each other stood out to me as something to avoid.

To facilitate students learning from peers as well as the instructional team, I plan to:

  • Integrate collaborative work groups and spaces in the on-line environment. I plan to use a digital scientific notebook platform called Benchling, so students can share project ideas, plan experiments, and analyze data.
  • Design course assessments to emphasize student collaboration.
    Examples might include teams of 4-5 students work on a research project over the term with multiple check points/lab meetings occurring in group discussions. Each team could create a scientific poster based on their experimental results. I could set up a  peer review of other teams’ posters. Finally  students would present at a virtual research fair. Individual students  could also prepare flash talks on their projects and get critiques from their peers.

One area I am thinking about is how to introduce my graduate teaching assistants to this digital space.  I would like them to contribute to the collaborative work space design and “customize” it.

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