I focused on CLAS/PHIL 2610 Paganism to Christianity. This is a 100-student lecture class.
What did I do?
• Target of improvement/evidence: My overall area of concern was engagement and real time feedback in the classroom. I came up with a few strategies that I implemented in Spring 2010.
• Strategies: I designed three ongoing assessment tools. In class, I regularly used clicker questions to prompt discussion. Out of class, I assigned one synthesis post per student as well as eight fortnightly general posts. There wasn’t always a clear division between using one of these methodologies as a teaching strategy as opposed to classroom assessment. Often, the same activity served both ends.
1. In Class:
What did I do: I have used clickers in previous classes and have found it difficult to come up with three variations on the correct answer. When my attractive distracters are too attractive it doesn’t seem fair to the students. This semester, I regularly created a series of clicker questions that I conceived of as a group. The first question or two was factual. The aim was to serve as a carrot so that students would keep up with the assigned readings. Instead of showing them the correct answer, I showed them their responses and had them explain why or argue for the answer they chose. Then, I would refer to the reading in order to get them to explain which answer was correct or best.
The questions then went on to more open-ended questions, sometimes the synthesis or application of a concept. These were effectively short discussion questions for which no alternative options were given. Again, I would have students discuss their responses in small groups before reconvening to report on what they discussed.
What difference did it make: This worked well. Overall, students were prepared for class discussions, often citing authors when posing questions. Additionally, I was able to use the clicker questions as a springboard for related topics. I found it a useful way to elicit student questions about related topics. Rather surprisingly, on days when there wasn’t a clicker quiz, students expressed disappointment. Clickers are not typically used in humanities courses, so I was pleasantly surprised by this response.
How did the classroom assessment help me make adjustments mid-course: At the beginning of class I announced that there would be 12 clicker quizzes and that two would be discounted. I was able to make regular adjustments throughout the semester. What I described above is what I found to have been the most effective way of using clickers as a means of engaging students during class time.
What did I do: I designed two tasks to be completed outside the classroom each with a different goal in mind. My goals were: (1) to gather feedback concerning the topics or readings that students didn’t grasp, and (2) to synthesize how lecture topics fit into the wider themes of the course. Both types of feedback were visible to all students throughout the term.
A. General Posts: Fortnightly, I had students post a question, response or comment about another student’s question. They were asked to submit their general post once every other week and it was due the night before the next class. Students were divided by surname, half the class posting in even weeks and the other half posting in odd weeks, each student responsible for eight posts.
B. Synthesis Posts: For the first few weeks of class, I ended each lecture by analyzing how today’s topic fit into the broader themes of the class. After modeling what I was looking for, four to 10 students prepared and submitted a synthesis post for a given class. Each student was assigned only one synthesis post during the semester, and they were due the night before the following class. For a couple of weeks, all the students identified which posts were the most useful with an eye towards raising the overall quality.
What difference did both the General Posts and Synthesis Posts make: I noticed the tremendous variation in background knowledge among the students. It made me aware of the fact that the lectures had to address a wide range of students, with a range of majors and years of study.
How did the classroom assessment help me make adjustments mid-course: Before term began, I decided that I would not moderate student discussions or comment on synthesis posts. I wanted the discussion board to serve as a forum in which students could ask questions of one another and try out their ideas.
The variation in quality of synthesis posts highlighted the importance of continually modeling the identification of evidence in focused analysis.
What did you learn?
• What worked? What did you learn: I learned a great deal this semester. The next time I teach this class, I plan on assigning rotating roles to students on the discussion board so that they are responsible not only for critiquing and improving the quality of work overall, but also for addressing and bringing in some of the important points raised in the online discussions into the classroom.
• Sharing with colleagues? The Classics Department has a mandatory proseminar for graduate students with rotating faculty. This proseminar may be an ideal forum in which to discuss ideas and results with graduate students and colleagues.