Elisabeth Root


What did I do?  How did it work?


I pretty much did everything I said I would - a pre/post survey, minute papers, a portfolio and some test prep.  Some of it I implemented more successfully, other things not so much.  What it comes down to for me is how to balance everything I'm supposed to do - teaching, research and service - and still try new things in the classroom.  Maybe when I'm tenured I'll have an answer?


Minute papers


The minute papers were very useful to me.  It got me thinking about what I wasn't covering, what my students wanted to learn more about and how I might be able to add (and subtract) lecture materials in order to address my student’s needs. I would collect them on a Thursday and then prepare a short presentation on the following Tuesday summarizing their comments.  In addition, it allowed me to discuss with them why I wasn't covering certain topics, and where they might go for more information on that topic.  One question I asked several times throughout the semester was "What did you expect to learn about that we haven't covered yet?"  This allowed me to manage expectations.


I'd also planned on giving the minute papers back, so students could see how their thinking changed over the semester.  However, early on I realized that many students might not be entirely candid with me if I asked them to put their names on the papers (so I could return them later).  I made the decision to not have them put their names on the papers.  What this did was hamper my ability to use these to have students reflect on their learning process throughout the class...I couldn’t work them into the portfolio, so I had to ask them to rely on their assignments and case studies for this, which isn't ideal.


I also got a bit lazy about the minute papers.  I'd planned on doing them every week, but I felt like I didn't have time.  So, this slipped to every 2 weeks and by the end of the semester, every 3 weeks.  I need figure out how to fit these in, and allow time for them throughout the semester.




I really liked the portfolios.  Students really seemed to get why I was doing them and I do think the portfolios helped them reflect on what they'd learned throughout the semester and pull it all together.  Plus, I found many of them really gratifying to read.  I kept thinking: "They learned something!" or "They got it!".  I always wonder how much of what a student writes (when they are asked to reflect) is what they think I want to hear and how much is authentic.  But, that's my cynical side.  All in all, I was very happy with how the portfolios played out.  Some, of course, were much better than others.  The goals of the portfolio were to discuss: 1) How all the assignments fit together; 2) What the case studies add to the assignments; 3) Their learning process throughout the class, what they learned through the process of completing the assignments, how their understanding of health changed, how their expectations of the course held up to what was taught, challenges to learning, and adjustments they made in order to learn better throughout the course.  All the students could relate to question #1 and #2 just fine.  And MOST of them did a pretty good job answering #3...again, the minute papers would have helped here!


Pre/post Survey


I can't say much about this yet, I haven't analyzed the data...The pre-survey did help me understand a bit about students expectations and general public health knowledge on entering the class (both pretty low) and I could see some differences by major, which is interesting.  But I can't comment on how these things changed over the course of the semester yet.


Test Prep


I tried to do a better job of preparing my students for exams by presenting sample questions the week of the exam and having them craft an answer to these question in groups in class.  Then we discussed what a "good" answer was.  I also used Stef's suggestion of presenting "A", "B" and "C" answers to exam questions after the exam in order to show them how to answer the questions better.  I found this really challenging to prepare for - I had a really hard time coming up with "C" answers.  Perhaps this is my inability to conceptualize and answer from the viewpoint of not having stepped over the "threshold concept" yet... The students really appreciated this exercise and I did see some improvement in the way students answered exam questions from the first to the second exam.


What did I learn?


This semester, with my research portfolio heating up, I learned just how many directions I'm pulled in during a given semester.  I want to be an awesome teacher but I have all these competing draws on my time - research, family, etc.  So, I didn't have as much time to prepare new things or summarize and present new material throughout the semester.  I need to figure out how to do that.


What will I do next time?


1.       After an exam, in class show one of the learning goals/questions and show how case studies, assignments, and exam questions all address this learning goal.

2.       Try to prepare a set of minute paper questions before the semester begins - kind of like a repository of concepts, ideas and questions I have for the students.  Then, I actually need to create time for them in the lectures, rather than just throwing them together the morning of class and hoping I have time and the end of lecture to get to them.

3.       Figure out a way to include formal reflections or minute papers into the portfolios. I may need to replace some of my current assignments with a reflection paper occasionally.  I think I can do this, but I need to think more on how.

4.       Eventually, I'll be teaching the introductory statistics course in my department.  I'd like to try this portfolio idea with them in that class too and see if it translates to a skills-based class rather than a concept-based class.



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