TEACHx 2017 Reflections
by Christine Scherer
Last month, many members of the Distance Learning team attended and presented at Northwestern’s annual TEACHx conference. The conference highlights innovative uses of technology in education, and with most presentations lasting from 15-30 minutes, there’s a lot to see and learn! Here’s a sample of some of the most memorable, insightful, and valuable things we experienced at TEACHx.
Marcia Chatelain, the afternoon keynote speaker, was inspiring and refreshing, to say the least. In addition to the many sessions where faculty and staff shared innovative teaching and learning experiences, there is a conversation that should always be going on, and Chatelain reminded the audience of that. Modeling and practicing civil discourse with students, colleagues, family, and friends is tantamount to creating continuity in the conversation of how to participate in and be responsible members of a community. Whether that community is your classroom or your dinner table, we have to learn how to narrate our process of coming to conclusions, articulating the complexities of our thoughts, and how to best facilitate them to others. We need to practice building trust and vulnerability, acknowledging differences, and focusing on connecting with different people and communities. This is a call to action, and as members of the educational system, we have a lot of power to create change and build community. You can read more about Chatelain on the Georgetown University website and her official website. She also hosts the podcasts Office Hours and Undisclosed Podcast. I know I’ll be listening.
TEACHx 2017 was my first time attending and presenting at this conference. Krissy Wilson and I had the opportunity to present Planning to Design an Accessible Course to a group of educators from across the university and beyond. While the presentation itself and the questions immediately following were both great experiences, what I really valued were the attendees who sought me out later for more in-depth, one-on-one discussions. Accessibility, especially web accessibility, is a subject that more and more educators are becoming aware of–but so many people feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to start. It was encouraging to listen to the different experiences of my university colleagues as they talked about their own struggles with approaching accessibility and their desire to do more to make their educational content available to all students. I’m looking forward to partnering with other departments across Northwestern as we all work towards greater accessibility for all.
Susan van der Lee, Professor and Director of Computing in the department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, discussed the development and use of a hybrid tool she developed called “Quizorials,” or quiz-tutorials. In order to help students in a scientific computing class learn the Python coding language, Dr. van de Lee used the Canvas quiz feature to merge lecture content and resources with instant knowledge checks. I thought this was an engaging way to guide students through a difficult topic, and suitable not only in the flipped classroom context, but also for fully-online use. Her preliminary survey results showed that students enjoyed the quizorials and found them critical to their success in the class.
I only wish that this session were a little longer! At 15 minutes long, there was ample time to discuss the tool, but little time for questions. Logistically, I would have like to learn a little more about the quiz settings. Are students expected to complete a quizorial in a certain amount of time? Can students begin a quizorial and return later? Are students allowed unlimited attempts at a quizorial? If you are interested in incorporating a quizorial into your class, I would be pleased to develop one with you!
During the Using Technology to Create and Share: Engaging Students as Innovators presentation by staff from the law school, I was struck by how thoughtfully the instructors were integrating technology into course activities. For examples, students in the legal clinic had to use technology to solve the problem of how to provide clients with more support when the students were unavailable. By using tools like google forms and google docs, they created an online resource site so that clients could access free support whenever they needed it. The presenters stressed the ideas that the goal of using technology in student activities was not to learn how to use new tools or learn new skills like coding. Rather, the instructors illustrated how Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy informed their thinking about how to structure course activities that incorporated the use of technology.
#TeachX17 left me with several excellent take-aways in terms of ideas and techniques worth pursuing in course design. One particular example is the idea of students as producers of content. This project or assignment type gives students an active role in their learning, and a unique opportunity for creativity and a chance to synthesize knowledge from the real world. In addition to a new perspective, students also come away with practical skills for building and creating lessons, or demonstrations, using multimedia tools.
A prime example comes from an course long project in the Chicago Field Studies course offered by Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences, called Working Stories. Students equipped with a handheld field recorder interview professionals about their work, and students consider what work might mean to other people and to themselves. This is only one step in a 5-step project timeline. The project culminates in editing the up to one hour recording down to a 5-10 minute narrative of themes that align with course readings and other materials. Projects are then shared, optionally, on the project website Working Stories.
A second example for this type of real world application comes from within SPS Distance Learning in the form of a peer review assignment wherein students use short multimedia projects to enhance dynamic demonstrations and peer interaction. Students working asynchronously record demonstrations of everyday uses of upper extremity body parts to perform mundane tasks and describe the motion of the activity, and how it affects nerve stimulation to muscle fibers in those parts. Peers then review each other’s demonstrations and comment on the completeness and accuracy of their description of the upper extremity motor task.
TEACHx 2017 was my second time attending and first time presenting at a TEACHx event. I was a co-presenter along with SPS Faculty Charlene Blockinger, Learning Designer Brian Runo, and guest presenter Duncan Moore. The presentation, Diversity and Its Discontents: A Readers Theater for the Classroom, demonstrated how a synchronous, on-campus class activity was adapted for an asynchronous, online course. As the Instructional Technologist working on the project, I helped consider the resources and skills of the student participants. With additional assistance from Northwestern IT as part of an ETTF project, we determined a simple set of activities to test during the first iteration of the course, as well as potential enhancements through advanced data visualization and analysis in the future. The TEACHx audience inquired about adapting this type of activity for other subject matter. The tools needed to adapt this activity to one’s own needs are widely available and simple to use, but the underlying stories needed for engaging Readers Theater performances require expert knowledge of both the subject matter and scriptwriting and storytelling techniques; something that can be learned but requires lots of practice. That should not deter anyone from trying it out, or asking for further guidance.
As an attendee, I enjoyed seeing the Instructure video tool, Arc, demonstrated in Jillana Enteen’s Reimagining Imagining the Internet: Fiction, Film, and Theory presentation and follow-up consultation session that I moderated. As the amount of available tools to produce time-based media increase, I’m excited to have a role finding new uses for them at Northwestern.
TeachX has proven once again that it is an amazing source of knowledge for instructional designers, technologists, faculty, and nearly everyone else within higher education. I co-presented in the Diversity and Its Discontents: A Readers Theater for the Classroom where we discussed the challenges of converting an on-ground activity into an online-only activity. One of the biggest challenges during this project was the asynchronous nature of online learning and the synchronous nature of the assignment and how to best maintain the efficacy the project. As an attendee, I found one of the gamification workshops where the focus was on integrating a geography exercise in the beginning and was able to learn more about how it has improved student’s abilities to understand geography and geopolitical issues. I’m very happy to have taken part in TeachX and learn from other professionals to better hone my skills.