Published: Jan. 20, 2016

Lisa DillingLisa Dilling is an Associate Professor in the Environmental Studies Program. She plans to use NB along with Padlet in order to improve engagement and active learning opportunities in a medium sized enrollment class. Dilling completed the Fall 2015 ASSETT Teaching with Technology Seminar.

The problem I wish to address is how to improve engagement and active learning opportunities within a medium-sized class (75 students). I would like to focus here in this intervention on opportunities for students to better identify the particular policy problem that energy policies are designed (or not) to solve, and engage the primary text of policy documents in order to practice building their critical thinking skills and their ability to see policy problems from multiple angles.

The course I am focusing on is an upper division environmental studies course (ENVS 3621; Energy Policy and Society) that counts as a cornerstone (all ENVS students must take one cornerstone, they have a choice) as well as a required class for the renewable energy certificate (meaning that students outside of ENVS are a significant proportion of the class). The class requires both basic mathematical skills as a support to analyzing policies, as well as an ability to think critically and analyze information. Enrollment is typically around 70 students.

Goal: In this technological intervention I am hoping to accomplish two goals at once: engage students in reading and becoming familiar with primary energy policy while simultaneously practicing identifying policy goals and mechanisms that will help them build skill before their final assignment. I also am piloting a second type of technology to use as simply a virtual class corkboard for posting links to energy articles and ideas about energy they want to share with the class.

The class will use the NB online interface to review policy documents online in small groups and identify policy goal statements, problem definitions and mechanisms. Because there is always some interpretation for these items, having an online platform available where students can discuss these statements and offer interpretations in comments and interact with each will help them learn how to see the possibilities.  Each group will be about 7 or fewer people and each person in the group will be required to offer one interpretation for problem definition, goals, and mechanism for the posted policy.  A variation of this exercise will be for students to locate and post their own policy documents (or perhaps do this in class) to gain practice in the method.  The Padlet technology is an additional technology that is solely designed to experiment with engagement allowing students to post energy media sources they find and sharing them among classmates, improving class engagement.

Learning Objectives and Goals: This technology will address the pedagogical problem of a larger class, many of whom are unfamiliar with primary policy document and how to infer a problem definition, goals and mechanisms. It will allow for practice and also address the problem of multiple problem definitions being correct, thus allowing for more than one voice (i.e. beyond the instructor) coming into the conversation.

The affordances of the technology allow for more students to gain familiarity with primary policy language and at the same time interpreting and engaging that policy language in their own analytical style. It addresses also the goal of improving critical thinking and being more precise about identifying policy problems and goal statements.

As I am only teaching the class now after the conclusion of the ASSETT seminar, I have not yet had a chance to observe or evaluate how this intervention will work in practice.  One concern I have is about my own familiarity with the technology—having not used NB I myself need practice in using the online platform and seeing how it will go with the students. I have implemented a Padlet online as an experiment to see if students will post, given some encouragement by showing the collected material in class.  I will likely pilot these as “extra credit” assignments in order to assess usefulness and address any glitches or use issues before requiring them as a “For credit” assignment.

For the NB-facilitated assignment I will assess its value through my own feedback forms as part of my mid-term and final feedback collected as part of every class. I will particularly compare answers to the following feedback questions on whether the class achieved the following learning objectives which I have used in previous years:

  1. a) Goal: Apply critical reasoning skills to evaluate and select policy options for solving problems related to energy.
  2. b) Goal.  Gain working familiarity with policy mechanisms and their pros and cons for achieving policy goals in energy.
  3. c) Goal: Conduct a policy analysis: Define the problem, assemble evidence, construct alternatives, select criteria, project outcomes, confront tradeoffs and make a recommendation.

I have learned through this ASSETT seminar that there are a wealth of tools and online opportunities to experiment with. For myself, I will need to carefully evaluate the anticipated benefit of possible technologies for the pedagogical purpose that I am trying to achieve. I would rate myself as a “newbie” for many of these technologies and so giving myself time and piloting opportunities or chances to observe use in another class will help me see where the technologies are best applied with the least amount of “fear factor” on my part.