TEACHx 2018 Reflections: Part 1

by Christine Scherer

This year, majority of the DL team attended and/or presented at TEACHx. Hosted by NUIT, TEACHx is an opportunity for faculty and staff to share innovative and creative uses of technology in the classroom, whether that classroom is physical or digital. This week, several staff members share their thoughts on sessions they attended and what they learned.

Dan Murphy

At the TEACHx Tech Fair, I attended a presentation by Vinesh Kannan from the Computer Science Department at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Faced with the challenge of engaging students with varying degrees of coding experience in an introductory programming class, Vinesh was part of a team that developed Java Battleship, “a naval strategy game where students program virtual ships to compete in missions and battle.”

The missions and battles took place on a virtual seascape where the students’ ships maneuver, fire their guns, or get sunk by enemy (or friendly) fire. Rather than writing all of the underlying Java code that determines the actions and attributes of their ships, teams of three students were provided with ready-made, self-contained pieces of code (objects) that they modified. By making edits to the code and observing the results in their ships’ performance, the students’ understanding of coding principles and syntax increased. Through a series of “missions,” students were introduced to a variety of coding concepts. Experienced coders (and novices who progressed quickly) wrote increasingly more complex instructions for their ships. To add to the challenge, students were given only a limited number of points to “spend” on attributes of their ships, so, for example; an increase in weapon firing range may require a trade-off on speed or hull strength.

Although Java Battleship was created for an introductory programming course, the game and its use in the class represent a number of best practices for learning design:

  • Collaborative, problem-based approach that fostered critical thinking and discussion.
  • A competitive game context that is intellectually and emotionally engaging. The emotional investment in team’s successes or failures made the lessons learned more vivid.
  • Scaffolding for the novice learners by providing an artifact they could revise and test, rather than asking them to create one new.
  • Opportunities for more advanced students to further develop their understanding of the material and teach novices learners.
  • A variety of challenges (missions) that required students to refine their work and question their assumptions. (In some cases, the novice coders provided new insights to their more experienced peers.)
  • Whole-class opportunities for reflection on lessons learned.
  • Limited instructor support to encourage students to rely on peers and external resources used by professionals.

For more details, see Learning to Ship Code.

Christine Scherer

I attended a number of great sessions at TEACHx, but one of my favorites was Incorporating Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom. This panel presentation featured faculty reflecting on their experiences in the first Northwestern Universal Design for Learning (NUDL) pilot program last summer. Faculty in the program met to workshop changes they could make to a course to include universal design for learning principles.

The goals of UDL are to reduce barriers for all students by allowing all students to learn with their strengths. For example, Judy Franks aimed to reduce stress and anxiety for all her students by creating a flipped classroom, in which students completed quizzes and watched lectures outside of class and used classroom time for working together to complete assignments and projects. Allowing students to take quizzes on their own time removed the need to request accommodations for extended time and reduced stress for all students. And Denise Mueser gave her students the freedom to choose not only the topic for their final project, but the format as well–paper, video, podcast, webpage, etc. This way, students can share what they know in the way they’re most confident and comfortable.

Aaron Bannasch

My attendance of TEACHx 2018 included the setup of the event and moderating a few of the sessions. I also had a chance to sit in on an interest group lunch session that “provide[ed] an opportunity to chat with fellow attendees in an informal setting about topics of interest.” The lunch group talked about Inclusive Teaching, but also related topics including different learning abilities, inclusivity, and accessible work environments. The group agreed on many perceived benefits of universal design. Having assisted with the setup of the event, I enjoyed seeing participants appreciate the interactions and amenities. Energetic conversations carried on through the end of the event, invigorated by new ideas, new connections, and some tasty cookies and coffee during the final networking session in the atrium of Rubloff Hall–a space that joins classic and modern architecture, much like TEACHx builds on traditional teaching with innovative techniques.

Jeanne Kerl

I went to the lunchtime session called  “Assessing Learning without Papers and Tests.”  People shared some very helpful ideas in this session.

  • One attendee described an assessment that involved an ethical dilemma case study. Students were assigned a “side” for a debate—they could not choose which side they wanted to argue. After the “pro” and “con” students had spoken, a third and fourth student stepped up to explain why they would agree with either the pro or con stance.
  • Another instructor talked about a project assignment in which she included not-so-traditional items: the project required students to keep a research log of every step taken, which the student then read through at the end. The student was asked to write a simple reflection about what they learned about their own research process.  She also added points to a project for the student’s reflection on what the “next steps” on a project would be.
  • One attendee shared that she required that students pick one point in the quarter when they would teach a concept to their peers (a 15-minute talk). Students were not allowed to lecture during their 15-minute talk/activity. They had to come up with alternative ways to convey the information they had agreed to teach.
  • One instructor asked students to create a game as a way for students to review content in the course. The student who “stumped” the class most successfully was given a prize. Students liked the competitive nature of this assignment.