Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water: How to use lecture effectively and make more space for active learning (face-to-face and online)

All the focus (and accumulating data) on the value of “active learning” and “student-centered” practices for retention and higher order thinking skills, could leave the majority of educators with a more traditional experience feeling frustrated and confused and at a loss about how to change things up. This frustration might be compounded by the fact that for the near future, this will, to some degree, need to happen in a new environment – online.

While times are gradually changing, lecture is still the dominant mode of information delivery in higher education.  For most faculty members, teaching assistants and peer educators, an entire educational experience has been spent sitting in lectures.  Sometimes we listened with rapt attention to an excellent lecturer, and sometimes we nodded off early in the morning or fought with our closing eyelids when we didn’t sleep enough the night before, or were listening while a not-so-excellent lecturer droned on like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Success in our traditional education systems has been essentially synonymous with success in the lecture environment.  Faculty and teaching assistants might reasonably ask:  If it worked for me, why change it? However, US Census Bureau numbers in 2018 state that only 13% of Americans have a degree beyond the bachelors level.  The point is that ‘we’ in higher education represent a fairly narrow slice of the population.  More and more studies show that learning is a complex psycho-social-neurological process and there are broad norms of reaction for what motivates and engages learners and what results in retention and integration of information into knowledge and skills.  Improving learning outcomes for all students takes a toolbox with a variety of tools to choose from.  Lecture is one of these tools. Universal Design for Learning (UDL https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources/designing-your-course/universal-design-learning) is the overarching directive for creating inclusive and successful learning environments. In simple terms it means considering the broad array of learners’ needs, mixing it up, and strengthening our strategies to get ALL students feeling welcome and involved. This creates equity and improves overall learning outcomes.

Rather than a focus on replacing lecture, this post will discuss situations in which lecture may be exactly right teaching tool, share some of its limitations, and suggest ways it can be introduced or followed by active learning practices that allow students to take ‘transmitted information’ (from lecture or reading or video) and interact with it and with each other.  Finally, we will provide some practitioner ideas and tools, and share some resources for making this happen in the face-to-face and online environments.

The best use of lecture

Lecture is one important option for disseminating information to large audiences, and covering the most information in the least amount of time. It does not allow processing of information for higher order thinking, nor the reflection, application, and linking of concepts. Here are some great uses for lecture:

  • Introducing new concepts for the first time.
  • Just-in-time lecture chunks can be used as an intervention to clarify complex topics or explain difficult ideas when it is clear learners are not getting the right ‘take-home’ message.
  • Summarizing a topic or showing a ‘synthesis’ of various bits of information from multiple sources.
  • Providing a rationale and/or learning objectives for the material and topics being studied, linking it to current or relatable topics of personal interest for the learner audience.
  • Helping prioritize topics or ideas in terms of importance.
  • Engaging, passionate lecture chunks can build interest. Enthusiasm goes a long way to generate interest in many learners: it is contagious.
(Some ideas adapted from https://ctl.iupui.edu/Resources/Teaching-Strategies/Tips-for-Making-Lectures-More-Active)

Why are lectures alone, not terribly effective for retention and development of higher order thinking skills?

Even teaching assistants and peer educators find the allure of sharing their knowledge as lecture irresistible. Among other reasons for this are that they 1) have been personally successful in this familiar format, and 2) that they really learn the material by explaining it to others (lecture).  The first of these rationales underscores the need for sharing peer-reviewed research outcomes with larger sample sizes and greater diversity of learners to help underscore that personal experiences, while important, are anecdotal and should not be the basis for our pedagogical choices as educators. The second is the strongest argument possible for incorporating active learning into classrooms.  Active, student-centered learning creates situations where learners explain what they know to other learners or to the professor and, in doing so, they learn better. For many learners, studies have shown that the information retained from lecture compared to interacting with course materials in other ways is significantly lower.

This quote from Schmidt et al, 2015, pg 14, is one basic explanation for why lecture may not be as effective as we would like it to be as a teaching tool:

“Implicit to conventional lecturing is the idea that information can be directly transmitted from one person to another. The other person then stores the information as communicated by the sender, and what is transmitted is remembered, provided the receiver pays attention. This is a misconception because the human mind does not work as a receiver. Students have to do something with the information to enable them to remember and use it in the future.
 They have to be able to elaborate upon the information using their prior knowledge, to rephrase the information in their own words, to discuss the information with other students or with the teacher, to explain what is learned to others, to apply the information to a problem. All these activities help students storing the information in memory for long-term use. This is because our memory is constructive.” https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hpe.2015.11.010

Lecture is a tool in the toolbox, though more and more studies show its limitations for inclusive learning.  Let’s consider how lecture can be reduced, ‘chunked’, and integrated with an array of active learning tools.

Engaging students while introducing or summarizing topics or concepts

  • Before a lecture chunk – Ask students to access their notes from last lecture and review concepts, complete a calculation if that is the nature of the material, and be prepared to share brief summaries, answers, and ideas (follow up with lecture clarifying the concepts, solving the problem, before moving on).
  • Before a lecture chunk – Create a prompt for students to discuss to generate ideas or determine their pre-existing knowledge about a new topic (follow up with asking pairs or groups to share out their ideas and then summarizing with a short lecture on the new topic)
  • Between two lecture chunks – Use an electronic or other sort of anonymous poll (low stakes) to get students thinking about a topic, or reviewing old material. These can be used at several points in a class but best not to overdo any one thing
  • After a lecture chunk or set of short lectures – Have students create mini-concept maps using topics and terms to help them articulate the connections among ideas discussed.
    • Best done with pairs or small groups (sitting next to each other, or in breakout rooms online) to share what they remember. This creates a learning opportunity.
    • Time for this will vary depending on how deeply one wants the learners to go, or how large the topic.
    • In the online environment, breakout rooms on zoom or other venues take a bit more time to get into and out of, so one must account for that. (Follow up with prepared lecture and take-home points.)

Creating buy-in from students and incorporate their interest and feedback into the learning environment

  • Before starting a class – Invite students to share their interest or lack of it in the topics you will cover. Challenge them to share their reasoning. Be sure they differentiate between things they enjoy, and things they believe will have value to them.
  • Before you begin a course or the set of topics –  Share the course learning objectives explicitly with learners and have them read, discuss and share their own additional goals that might be ones you could also facilitate (this can be done online between synchronous classes early in the semester or on an objective by objective basis .

Getting students working with each other and the content, on the content

  • After a lecture ‘chunk’ – Have Students Apply or Restate Content (can be done individually, and are very strong in small groups or pairs)
    • Ask students to write down at least one possible, real-world application for what they have just learned.
    • Ask students to create an explanation of a concept in their own words
    • One Sentence Summaries. At the end of the discussion/lecture chunk, have students summarize the overall concepts in a one-sentence format: Who did what to/for whom, when, where, how, and why?
  • Before or after lecture chunks –  there are so many ways to do this, with and without providing prompts or materials.  There is overlap here with the first part of this blog section ‘engaging students while introducing or summarizing…’.

For more specific suggestions, access this great link with some additional, detailed tools for getting student working together in various ways. No sense reinventing the whole wheel here. https://ctl.iupui.edu/Resources/Teaching-Strategies/Tips-for-Making-Lectures-More-Active)

Collecting feedback from your learners

All the following are versions of the ‘minute paper’ that asks students to reflect and share what they learned, what they did not quite learn, and how they felt about what they learned. At the close of the class time, ask students to share (either on paper, or on a discussion board of the LMS or other communication media) before they leave the class:

  • Something they learned
  • Something they need clarification on
  • What was most interesting for them and why
  • What is a question you have about the material
  • How well did we meet the stated learning objectives for this class? (Likert-scale with required rationale)

(Some ideas adapted from https://ctl.iupui.edu/Resources/Teaching-Strategies/Tips-for-Making-Lectures-More-Active)

Transferring these practices to online 

The COVID epidemic and new education models (both online and hybrid courses) make it imperative that we also discuss these course design planning opportunities for online teaching and learning. Remembering this emergency situation means faculty are working to adapt the materials in place for face-to-face courses so that they can be delivered remotely and in some cases in a hybrid version of the same. This is not the same as taking months to fully develop all the structure that supports an online course.

The best things about face-to-face learning are what make the best remote teaching and are even more critical in the online environment.  More than face-to-face teaching, facilitators should prioritize:

Clearly stated and consistent expectations

    • What do you expect of students with respect to showing up, engaging in discussion boards, working in groups or participating in online chats, breakouts, polls or other tools. (the caveat here is that for those still working from family homes or other living spaces, flexibility and compassion are paramount – this is not an easy balance, but really matters).
    • What are the learning objectives for the semester, and for each topic or class meeting
      • Studies have shown that sharing learning objectives with students help them know where they are expected to go, and what they are expected to learn.
    • What can be expected of you as the learning facilitator
      • When will synchronous lectures or discussions be held.
      • What options are there for make-up times.
      • What are the options for learners in different time zones.
      • When will assignments will be posted and due.
      • How different activities and participation will be incorporated into the grade.

Varied options to communicate, listen and reach out – the human component is harder to get across in online learning and is what students who choose face-to-face learning miss the most!

    • Let student know when you will be available
      • Be sure students know when and how they can reach teaching staff and be sure that teaching staff adhere to being there.
      • Have both synchronous and asynchronous options regularly for learners to check in, and for you to reach out and ask how it is going
      • Prioritize this more than you might do in a face-to-face scenario, when students can stop after class, come early or find you more easily to ask questions.

Opportunities online for providing feedback, challenges, and ideas

  • Feedback can be about
    • Content – how well learners are understanding different topics
    • How they are doing with the online environment.
    • What learners are having trouble with and what might help them (accessible google docs work well for this, as long as they are monitored weekly)

A variety of ways to be active and engaged during synchronous zoom or other real-time teaching platform

  • Here is where we circle back to the middle of this post “Planning for active learning in your course” and put them to work as you chunk up the lecture portion and add these options in using zoom tools (chat, breakouts, annotating, white boards) or other add-ons like poll everywhere (easy download and links to power point).

This blog (link below) has excellent and practical tips and elements for structure of your online learning environment. https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2020/4/student-centered-remote-teaching-lessons-learned-from-online-education

If active learning is new to you, remember, there are many ways to include simple practices.  Start slow, try one, see how it goes.  Once you find out what works for you, add another.  Don’t give up.  Study after study has shown the value of including opportunities for engaging students through active learning. This engagement is even more critical for online learning. Be warned that quite a bit of research has shown some students are resistant to it, while at the same time showing that it promotes higher scores and deeper learning!  The change to active learning is as challenging for students at first as it is for facilitators. Ultimately, we know that lecture is tried and true and has value.  Adding in these other pieces will improve student learning and can happen gradually.  So, take baby steps and there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater!

The College of Engineering at Cornell has webinars and helpful tools as well (https://www.engineering.cornell.edu/MTEI/information-teaching-remotely) as does the Center for Teaching Innovation ( https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources/engaging-students). Don’t forget the Zoom website as well.

 

 

Four Undergraduate Researchers Share their Work and Illustrate the Indisputable Value of the Experience

 “My research experience taught me how to organize and complete my own experiment. I was able to follow my curiosity and learn all aspects of experimental design.”  – Daniel Pyrek, Environmental Engineering
“The research experience with a great mentor, … was one of the most valuable learning opportunities at Cornell.”- Hyoann Choi, Biological Engineering

 

For undergraduates, doing research with the guidance and support of a qualified mentor is one of the most engaging and impactful learning opportunities available. Participating in well-mentored authentic research, exposes students to all levels of cognitive difficulty: remembering facts, explaining concepts and theories, linking them together and, ultimately, applying those more complicated constructs to a novel problem. In some cases, this results in the creation of new conceptions and products. Very often, it results in the development of practical skills, and new research questions and /or hypotheses – all excellent outcomes for both mentor and student!

Reading the literature, proposal writing, presenting one’s own idea development to a supportive research team, preparing iterative written drafts of papers and posters, are aspects of the research process that integrate evidence-based education practice: reflection, metacognition, and feedback. Ultimately these clarify thought processes and improve communication skills.

Jaqueline Wong does UG research“In addition to learning about environmental chemistry, computational toxicology and laboratory skills, I found myself becoming a much better written and oral communicator.” – Jacqueline Wong, Environmental Engineering 
“I have grown in my ability to gather information, develop experiments, and analyze and convey my results concisely.” – Rebecca Green, Materials Science and Engineering

Mentored undergraduate research is a powerful coalescence of practices, the gains from which create critical thinkers and life-long learners and can jump start motivation and spur college students into their specific career directions.

“I learned “to learn”. Every learning requires patience and consistency. I believe that the learning ability as well as the knowledge and technical skills I developed through the experience will be a firm foundation for my subsequent career path to graduate school.”Hyoann Cho
“Undergraduate research has strengthened my belief that affordable access to safe drinking water is a fundamental right, and has furthered my interest in pursuing a career in environmental engineering” – Jacqueline Wong

Through our Undergraduate Research Grants program, Engineering Learning Initiatives is committed to facilitating the tremendous learning opportunities of an undergraduate research experience for as many Cornell engineering students as possible. Each semester and summer, engineering undergraduates and their mentors submit joint proposals that are reviewed by an academic committee. The College supports as many projects as possible through a variety of funding sources, including gifts from college alumni and from corporate partners. This year the program supported 98 undergraduates, from across all engineering majors, in faculty-mentored research.

Typically the students have a chance to share their research with the college community at a spring poster session in Duffield Hall. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, we were unable to hold the poster session this past spring. Thus, students missed this valuable opportunity to celebrate the outcomes of their research effort and dedication and showcase their projects.

Here we highlight four spring 2020 graduates who opted to share their research outcomes and  experiences for this post. These undergraduates, working to clean up the environment at home and abroad while studying materials science and environmental engineering, and to advance medical research through biological engineering, are some of the great examples of young innovators heading into the world and workforce from Cornell Engineering. They have tested the waters of research and discovery, and persisted through challenges and setbacks, with the guidance and support of their mentors. They are ultimately prepared to continue on from their time here at Cornell, to bring their convictions and skills to bear on the vexing problems of our society and our world.

What follows is an introduction to each researcher, a brief reflection of the research experience, and a link to follow to the abstract and additional research material. We invite you to follow the provided link to read and leave comments for these newly-graduated Cornell Engineers and their mentors on each page!!

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Jacqueline Wong, Environmental Engineering

Jaqueline Wong does UG research

 

Title: Exploring the use of biochar to remove target pesticides from drinking water in Honduras

Mentor: Professor Damian E. Helbling, Civil and Environmental Engineering

“Through the ELI program, I investigated how biochar can be used as a low-cost adsorbent for pesticide removal in drinking water treatment plants in Honduras… It has been an absolute pleasure conducting research through the ELI program, learning from role models in the research group, and becoming a mentor to future undergraduate researchers.”

See Jacqueline’s abstract and more about her research by clicking here

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Rebecca Green,  Materials Science and Engineering

Title: Synthesis of Monodisperse Spinel Oxide Core-Shell Nanoparticles

Mentor: Professor Richard D. Robinson, Materials Science and Engineering

Funding from corporate partner, Phillips 66.

“This project was an excellent introduction to laboratory work, especially colloidal nanoparticle synthesis, and data analysis. I have grown in my ability to gather information, develop experiments, and analyze and convey my results concisely.”

See Rebecca’s abstract and more about her research by clicking here

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Hyoann Choi. Biological Engineering

Title: Optimization of small-intestine-on-chip

Mentor: Professor Esak Lee, Biomedical Engineering

“Especially, biological research needs tremendous patience and consistency in the face of multiple failures and ambiguity.  Although this may sound exhausting, the process is actually very fun and satisfying once you have a supportive mentor and colleagues. That was my case. I am pretty excited for it!”

See Hyoann’s abstract and more about her research by clicking here

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Daniel Pyrek. Environmental Engineering

Title: Cayuga Lakes Harmful Algal Bloom problem: Rapid field monitoring toolkit

Mentor: Professor Ruth Richardson, Civil and Environmental Engineering

“This project will have significant implications on how communities test lake water for the harmful Microcystis cyanobacteria. This experience was incredibly rewarding. I will never look at lake water the same way!”

 

 

See Daniel’s abstract and more about his research by clicking here

A Peer Educator Reflects on Personal Decisions, Challenges and the Importance of Inclusivity in the Transition to Online Learning when COVID 19 Changed our Worlds

Graduating Engineering senior, Camelia Wu, considered her options when it was time to decide where to live after the Cornell Campus was closed due to COVID 19.  She chose to return home to New Jersey.  Though she lived off campus, and could decide to stay in Ithaca, she was without a vehicle, friends were all in isolation, and so she decided that the best option was working on her final college disciplinary work and on facilitating AEW workshops from her parents’ home. As we all did, college students had a lot to process very quickly.  When Camelia was asked via discussion thread to create an analogy about what it felt like, as an AEW Facilitator, to transition your workshop sessions to an online mode.  Here is what she wrote:

“(it was like)…when I first moved to the United States. After moving, I needed to get used to a new lifestyle with a different language, food selection, friend group with different backgrounds, and so on. I had to find a new flow in my social and general everyday life. It was kind of like how I used to have a good flow for how to conduct the AEW sessions in person, but had to find new online teaching tools to achieve a new flow in the virtual AEW sessions. Both involved a lot of flexibility, empathy for others, and curiosity to explore new things.”

Living at home, reconsidering everyone’s roles, thinking about internships that are likely to be substantially reduced or altered, if not completely cancelled, and considering job options as a graduating senior are a few other personal/professional concerns. These say nothing about the lost social aspects of college and being a senior: the celebrations, the kudos, the final presentations and the all-important ‘goodbyes’. Camelia shared some of her own sadness and how she attempted to cope with the abrupt nature of the transition:

“This fast transition made it kind of sad for me because I am a graduating senior, so it was disappointing to leave campus without being able to do everything that I had planned. I had been pushing off a lot of things, but I now regret that decision. It also cut short my time with my friends, some of whom I was not able to meet before leaving. Before I left, I decided to at least write a message, make a card, or leave something for my closest friends at Cornell to show them my appreciation and hopefully reminisce on some of the good memories…”

AEW facilitators have a rare opportunity to share thoughts about this emergency online transition to teaching and learning.  Facilitators are undergraduate students and experiencing their own course transitions, in addition they are peer educators struggling to stay positive, flexible and apply best practices for online learning in their AEW sessions. Camelia appreciated that students and instructors were respectful and used icebreakers that allowed students to share fun facts about themselves and their backgrounds. The game encouraged students to also be inclusive and find common ground.

As a student: she expressed thanks for her professors who were role models for the transition to online teaching practices.

“… It gave me a lot more respect for the professors who were trying to deal with this transition. In fact, some of my amazing professors were an example to me when I had to provide this transition for the AEWs…”
“ I felt that some of the professors were even sadder than we were for the missed class time and senior celebrations… they had to suddenly readjust the course to completely virtual classes. Overall, I appreciated their genuine effort and still learned a lot.”

As an AEW Facilitator: Learning the names of people in her AEW workshops, (and pronouncing them correctly) was a practice she used in her own peer education to make all feel included regardless of their different backgrounds. Camelia also shared other practices she and her co-facilitator, Matt Ziron, used to address engagement and create inclusivity in the new teaching venue:

“Being respectful and flexible to students who are under different time zones. For example, this may include using different contact methods, recording course material, or posting material in multiple places to make sure everyone has access.
“We sent out a few surveys and polls to find out best times, how to share the course material, deliver the lecture portion, and use Slack. The responses gave us a lot of direction for what to do.”
“… There was overall a very open and accepting environment and going online did not change that. One specific situation that Matt and I had to deal with was one overseas student with limited access and a different time zone. We tried to be flexible and discussed with her alternative ways to participate, recorded the lecture portions, and posted the AEW material in multiple places to make sure that she had the proper access. As a result, based on what she said in the email communication, she was able to stay updated”.

Finally, Camelia considered the occasional poor practices she experienced and why these actions make students feel uncomfortable and promote exclusion rather than inclusion. For instance, when students or the TAs are more familiar with one another and start going about some everyday conversation.

“inside jokes or personal conversations … may make other students feel left out or unhappy that it seems off topic. They are still important to address to build relationships with the students and help them on a more personal level, but it should not take class time from everyone else or suggest favoritism.”

As if there wasn’t enough work to do, Camelia and her peers on the eboard for a student organization called the Language Expansion Program decided to keep meeting to maintain that community for students who wanted to continue to share language learning.

“… I found these conversation hours very relaxing and enjoyed sharing jokes in different languages and fun facts about those languages. I think my zoom training as an AEW facilitator helped me learn how to better organize and set up these language meetings.”

Finishing her reflection on a happy note, this extra commitment turned out to be one of those personal social activities, albeit remote, that provided Camelia with some of what was lost when the physical community was no longer available on campus and she chose to head home to New Jersey. It eased the stress and feeling of disconnect from her home at Cornell.  This was, and is, a challenging time, and also one of immense growth, especially for graduating seniors who are both students and peer educators.  This resilient young professional learned how to negotiate new circumstances, to experience and facilitate inclusive learning in a new environment, and very successfully complete her college career. Congratulations Camelia, and thank you for your insights!

 

 

CELEBRATING OUR SENIORS: Academic Excellence Workshop (AEW) Facilitators are graduating and moving on! Best wishes and gratitude!

Each semester we have to say so long to some of our most experienced and cherished AEW facilitators.  This year, at a time when we cannot give the in-person recognition that they deserve, we celebrate eight Cornell Engineering seniors for the dedication, time and expertise that they have shared with peers in core engineering courses. We do this by sharing how much they have meant to the program, their students’ success, and by letting you hear a bit of their thoughtful voices. This group led the charge on transitioning to an online scenario using rapidly trained best practices for creating online engagement.  They continued to improve their practice throughout the semester, and students appreciated the effort! They have also inspired a new cohort of applicants to become Facilitators.  Each new applicant interviewed this spring mentioned that their experience as a student in an AEW, was invaluable and was what led them to want to apply and to give back to fellow students in the same way they were supported in their early semesters at Cornell. This was an incredibly challenging last semester to be an AEW Facilitator and these graduates and their peers succeeded with professionalism and poise.

Juan Berrio

One of our most experienced Facilitators, Juan has been with ELI for over 4 semesters, most recently facilitating a workshop for CS1112, Introduction to Computing Using Matlab. Additionally, he just completed his final semester as AEW Co-Lead, a position he has held for the past several semesters.  Co-leads collaborate on development and running in-semester training workshops, regular communication with Facilitators, organizing the process of Facilitator observations and much, much, more! Juan graduates with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and we will miss his passion for teaching and his great, dry sense of humor!

Student Gratitude for Juan:

“Thank you for helping me through the semester! Your humor and enthusiasm always made the class enjoyable and the content bearable. I wish you the best in the future!”

“Thank you for putting up with me and my questions…I’ve only known you for what, a semester? In that time, though, that’s the sense of self you gave off. Like you can do anything. … Good luck, and stay safe”

What Co-facilitator Emily Care learned from working with Juan: Reflection, May 2020- “Meeting in person to make lesson plans and worksheets. I was able to brainstorm ideas with Juan in real time and was also able to learn a lot about how he teaches and develops learning materials. I would not have been able to know him as well or work with him as well without meeting in person to talk”

Abby Swanson

Another one of our most experienced Facilitators, Abby has been with ELI for 5 semesters and graduates with a degree in Computer Science.  This past semester Abby facilitated not one but two sections of CS1110, Introduction to Computing Using Python, with different co-facilitators while completing her final academic semester! In the past, she also acted in a leadership role as co-lead.  Abby is cherished as a facilitator for her positive energy, patience and kindness, and going above and beyond to support her students’ learning! We will miss her incredible initiative and work ethic.

Student Gratitude for Abby:

“Abby is such a great facilitator!!! …. she’s so patient and teaches us the material. She puts in so much effort for us to succeed like giving us supplementary worksheet during our spring break. I wish her all the success after college and hope she knows what a great help she was to us” 

“Thanks so much for taking the time to host our CS 1110 workshop. You have really helped me a lot with python and have made the course much more enjoyable than stressful. Before the workshop started, I felt anxious about the course, but after meeting weekly with the group, it helped calm a lot of my nerves and taught me a lot. Thanks for always being so kind and upbeat. Good luck with everything you plan to do!”

“Thank you for being so patient and helpful. You always bring such positive energy to the class and it will always make my day a little better. Best luck with everything!”

Abby Kotwick

This Chemical Engineering graduate has facilitated AEWs for 3 semesters. This recent semester it was in ENGRD 2700, Engineering Probability and Statistics, with another one of our graduating seniors, Camilo Cedeno-Tobon.  Her students shared gratitude for her ability to help them develop strong understanding of the material. We will miss her hard work and great skills immensely!student peer educator

Student Gratitude for Abby

“It was a pleasure to have you as my facilitator not once, but twice. You’re so smart and helpful and there’s so much I wouldn’t know without your help. I remember you being in my AEW freshman year for diff eq and its crazy to think that 4 years flew …”

“Thank you for taking the time to help me out. It has massively impacted my understanding of the material and I’m grateful. Best of luck in your next adventure”!

Adam Wojciechowski

Adam, also a highly experienced facilitator, graduates with Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science degrees. This past semester Adam Facilitated a deeper understanding for students in Math 2940, Linear Algebra. We will miss the incredible ability that Adam has demonstrated for helping students understand course concepts!

Student Gratitude for Adam:

“You’re the reason that I’m learning in this class. … you are the reason why I truly understand the core concepts of Linear Algebra. I can’t thank you enough for the immense value you’ve brought to my college education.”

“Adam thank you so much for being an amazing 2940 AEW facilitator this semester. Your teachings are so clear. When you explain things, they make more sense than they did before. I hope you have a good career and good luck with your future endeavors.”

 Andrew Xu

Andrew has been another long-term facilitator, most recently working to support students in Math 1920, Multivariable Calculus for Engineers. Graduating with a degree in Computer Science, this committed, patient, and dedicated facilitator will be missed for his excellent understanding, and ready support for engineering peers. Thank you for the difference you made to your students and to the AEW Program!

Student Gratitude for Andrew:

“You answered every question with great wisdom!”

“Thanks for your time and patience Andrew! You were super helpful this semester!”

“Good luck in the future Andrew!! Wishing you the best”.

Camelia Wu

We are lucky to have had Camelia as a facilitator for 2 semesters before she graduates this spring with a degree in Chemical Engineering. This past semester she worked with students to deepen their understanding of Math 2930, Differential Equations for Engineers.  Her students’ responses speak to her value in the program. We are glad to have had you with us for these 2 semesters!

Student Gratitude for Camelia:

“Thank you for being an awesome facilitator. You always took the time to explain concepts step by step, and knew how to try a different method when something wasn’t working. Wishing you luck! “

 “Thanks so much for all the help this semester! Your help and explanations really made a difference in how much I got out of the class, and the AEW was a bright spot during the week!”

Here is one main take-away Camelia shared from being an AEW facilitator:  “… communication, interpersonal skills, and public speaking. Running a good class is not just about knowing the material, but making it fun, engaging, and clear for the students. It is about taking in their perspectives and interests and doing what is more helpful for them even though it might not be most convenient for me…”

Sheetal Athrey

Graduating in Computer science after 5 semesters of facilitation, most recently CS 2110, Object-Oriented Programming and Data Structures, Sheetal’s students note her approach-ability and clear way of helping students understand the course material. We will miss the positive, friendly attitude and welcoming classroom environment Sheetal maintained while working with her students and becoming an amazing facilitator.

Student Gratitude for Sheetal:

“Thank you so much for all your hard work in teaching CS 2110 AEW this semester!! You helped me so much in learning the material and I don’t think I would have done as well if I hadn’t taken the AEW. Best of luck in your future endeavors. Congrats on graduating “

“Thank you for being an awesome facilitator! You had very clear explanations and were always super friendly!”

 Sheetal shared some of what the AEW Program has meant to her:  “I’ve grown to understand not just how to teach, but how to understand the different ways people learn and conceptualize material…(its also about) creating an environment in the classroom where everybody thrives…These 5 semesters have helped me grow as a mentor and is an experience that shaped my Cornell life. It has taught me things that will stick with me as I start my career. ”

 Camilo Cedeno-Tobon

Camilo has facilitated AEW sessions for 3 semesters. This spring he co-facilitated ENGRD 2700 Engineering Probability and Statistics with another graduating senior, Abby Kotwick. We will miss Camilo’s easy smile, obvious professionalism, and dedication to the students he has helped to succeed!

Student Gratitude for Camilo:

“Thanks for always being so helpful and patient. I feel so lucky to have you as my TA first semester in college and this year for AEW. Best luck with everything.”

“Camilooooo! I really don’t know where I would be without your intelligence and selflessness. Thank you for taking extra time to help me with material even if it was 10 pm on a Thursday night lol. Your efforts never went unnoticed! You and Abby are such a great AEW duo (the best I’ve had for sure) and I enjoyed all my time with you guys. Can’t wait to see what you accomplish after December and congrats on all your success!”

“I really appreciate the effort you put in to make sure we all engaged with the material. It has been extremely helpful to me. Congrats and best of luck post-graduation!”

Camilo shared some aspects that he valued in the face-to-face and online teaching and learning environment :(Face-to-face) “Being able to have the students sit in groups at a table and work on problems together. That is not possible online. I feel like the environment makes a huge difference in how students engage with each other.”

(Online victory)” Being able to screen share my iPad and write on the lecture slides was very useful. Writing on an iPad can be very clean, so I think it is a good way to lecture!”

 

THANK YOU AGAIN GRADUATING SENIORS!

For sticking it out with us and supporting your peers’ learning at a difficult time. Spring semester 2020 was time when your skills were most needed and also a time when you were working with your own transition to online learning as Seniors finishing your degrees! We are so proud of what you were able to accomplish and we wish you the very best in your next endeavors. The world is in need of some great new leaders. All the best, and please keep in touch!

Intrepid TA Development Consultants are Certain to be Needed in Uncertain Times

in·trep·id      /inˈtrepəd/     adjective

  1. fearless; adventurous. (Origin:  late 17th century: from French intrépide or Latin intrepidus, from in- ‘not’ + trepidus ‘alarmed’. Source: Online Oxford dictionary)

ELI TA Development Consultants are Cornell Engineering’s academic leaders of the future. Always intrepid, they are passionate about the craft of teaching and excited to become leaders and peer educators to improve teaching and learning. Eight engineering PhD students become part of the ELI team each year to do the challenging work of providing intensive TA training workshops for Graduate and Undergraduate TAs in the College of Engineering in the early weeks of each semester. At the beginning of this past spring semester (2020) TA training workshops began with approximately 100 TAs in an auditorium, after some delicious self-served bagels and continental breakfast foods.  Trainers introduced and over-viewed the day’s agenda in the lecture hall, and TAs heard from multiple University representatives and discussed policy issues in the large group session. This was followed by concurrent sessions, led by ELI TA Training Consultants, in several smaller rooms, then back to a group session in the auditorium again with self-serve lunch, back to concurrent sessions… etc.  You see the picture:  a large number of people, face-to-face, sharing food, shaking hands, heads bent together in group work or ‘think, pair share’ activities.

In the coming Fall semester of 2020, as University leadership makes the best decisions possible for education practices during the COVID 19 pandemic, this model will likely be different. But the quality and collaborative nature of teaching and learning must be maintained, whatever the temporary new model.  The work of TA Training consultants will never be more challenging or more critical!

The young professionals who applied and interviewed to be leaders in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, during the chaos brought on by the COVID -19 pandemic, deserve this descriptor in bold, uppercase: INTREPID.  In a typical cycle, the summer includes nearly 30 hours of team building, learning from the literature and from each other, developing best practices, presentation and active workshops – all in-person, on campus.  This prepares trainers for organizing, implementing, and assessing the face-to-face training of all the TAs in the College come the start of the academic year. But for Fall 2020, at least, all bets are off. These dedicated engineering graduate students came to their online interviews with the knowledge that TA training may be a ‘whole different animal’ this round. They will train online, as long as is necessary, and become experts in creating inclusive engaging pedagogy in every possible delivery venue. They put their best forward at a time when the only thing that was certain was how much they would be needed in this uncertain time.

Introducing this year’s INTREPID TA Training Consultants: top left – Sanjuna Stalin (CBE), top right – Katie Adler (TA Fellow, CEE), middle row left-to-right: Vivienne Liu (Systems), Kyle Wellmerling (MAE), Doga Yucalan (MAE), bottom row left-to-right: Arnaldo Rodriguez-Gonzalez (MAE), Prayag Biswal (CBE), Doga Yucalan (MAE), Andrew Kang (MAE).

At the first online training of this season, just before the end of one of most difficult teaching semesters in the history of the College due to a mid-semester online shift, the smiling faces, thoughtful comments and engaged intelligent suggestions, made it clear that these Engineers were “not alarmed,” but ready and willing to be nimble and prepared for whatever was to come.  In addition to engaging students in the classroom face-to-face, these educators will to be ready to train their peers about online engagement, diversity and inclusion, discussion forum best practices – not to mention being sure that their own presentations were ADA-compliant and incorporating those best practices in the information for course TAs.

This group knew from the beginning that they would have to be prepared for all/any possible scenarios for Fall 2020 TA trainings.  As we add ‘online’, ‘hybrid’ and ‘ADA compliant’ to our list of adjectives for TA training that already includes ‘accessible’, ‘student-centered’, ‘engaging’, these Engineering Grad Students have signaled to ELI and to the College that they are ready for the growth and the challenge.  INTREPID indeed.

 

 

 

Putting the ‘Jigsaw’ Online: AEW facilitators implement the jigsaw on Zoom, create collaboration, and share ideas for adaptations

Practitioners of student-centered learning will be familiar with the ‘jigsaw’. Jigsaws combine powerful collaborative strategies to increase retention and encourage construction of processes and concepts through critical thinking: 1) focused group discussion, and 2) teaching others. In the face-to-face environment, groups of 3 to 5 work together to solve a problem, explain a concept, or explore some idea or theory – together.

After the group (Expert group) has come to conclusions regarding the problem at hand, the groups are re-organized into mixed groups (Sharing group) – one member of each of the original groups, now work together.  These new mixed groups are tasked with explaining their definition or solution to the rest of the group – effectively teaching the members of the mixed group. The jigsaw works well with groups between 9 and 25 but can be adapted in many ways to accommodate larger classes.

As Cornell University transitioned to emergency remote teaching, AEW facilitators immediately began training to continue supporting engineering student-learning in weekly student-centered online sessions. Emily Care and Juan Berrio, a pair of co-facilitators for CS 1112, decided they wanted to attempt this valuable teaching strategy to create engagement in their synchronous Zoom session. Here’s how they did it.

Creating a Jigsaw in Breakout Rooms:

This scenario was developed for 2 weekly synchronous zoom meetings, rather than one, in order to accommodate different schedules of students now working online.

  1. We briefly explained that students in the synchronous zoom would be placed in breakout room groups to create a solution and then split up into new groups to explain their solution.
  2. We then randomized the breakout rooms into groups of 2-3 students and told each group their assigned question.
  3. We gave them 30 minutes to prepare their solution, check it with us, and work on other questions.
  4. After the 30 minutes, we reshuffled the breakout rooms and let the students present to each other.

***The facilitators were clear to note that leaders must be very active in visiting the breakout rooms on zoom while groups are working to be sure they are on the right track, without giving answers away.

               “The online jigsaw seemed to work well! All the students were able to have the solutions presented to them from different perspectives, to hear different voices, and to work with around 3 more students than they typically would have the opportunity to. They were also more thorough with the solutions they came up with since they knew they were responsible for the learning of their peers”.  Emily Care, AEW Facilitator

Jigsaw Adaptations: The following recommendations come from an asynchronous discussion thread among AEW Facilitators in which they discussed different adaptations to improve jigsaw success for other course materials, other course online structure, and different numbers of students in class:

  • Within each group, we would randomly assign a conversation leader to share a white board screen to encourage all to participate. While checking over the solutions of each group we would also ask some students to explain their reasoning to ensure all members understand the material.
  • … But we would probably have to send the questions out during one of the Slack sessions before the zoom so that the students have a chance to work on them a little beforehand, since our zoom sessions are only one hour a week.
  • …After the jigsaw groups had been redistributed, we could ask the members of each group leading questions concerning the concepts involved in the problem, to ensure every person in each group gets the information to solve future questions.
  • … A good way to use jigsaw would be to use it for conceptual problems and not calculation-heavy ones, since students generally struggle more with concept application and not flushed-out calculations in our class.
  • … Only having one zoom meeting per week, we would have to make sure that the problem was both in-depth enough to have students increase their understanding, but also short enough to be able to do in a manner where students feel confident in their own abilities to present the material.
  • Encourage the students to use canvas examples or the textbook to help them solve the questions. Then check in with each group, shuffle the groups, and have the students teach others about their solution.

Taking the next step: Following the synchronous Jigsaw with a concept map or an asynchronous discussion thread.

  • Jigsaws can be followed by ‘concept mapping’ activities to bring all the different concepts and ideas back together into a framework, or if the work is problem-solving, then concept maps can bring problems and related series together.

  • They can also be used to develop a challenge activity or problem that can be posted on an asynchronous discussion thread. This would allow students to continue to engage while they’re not online together, and to answer each other’s questions.
  • In discussion threads it is critical that the facilitator is present, ‘listening’, and providing feedback and encouragement (not answers or solutions). After the discussion has run its course, clarifying the answer, approach and structure is important so that everybody knows they’re on the right track.
The ELI Edublog is brought to you by Engineering Learning Initiatives (ELI). Please contact us with any questions about our Blog or education articles or methodologies (cae223@cornell.edu)

COLLABORATIVE LEARNING: A SOCIAL ENDEAVOR

Learning isn’t as simple as being ‘provided’ information and then immediately understanding it in all its depth and complexity, at least not for most people. There are tools and practices that can be used to facilitate various levels of understanding.  Using these tools effectively requires an awareness that learning most often occurs in a social context.  In the College of Engineering, the Engineering Learning Initiatives (ELI) team works with several groups of graduate and undergraduate students who are striving to improve learning experiences in many courses each semester.

Academic Excellence Workshop (AEW) facilitators are one such group.  AEW facilitators receive training and work in teams of two to run weekly sessions for their undergraduate peers.  Students enrolled in participating undergraduate courses have the option to enroll in one of the related AEW workshop sections. Facilitators use student-centered teaching and learning strategies to help students engage with course materials and their classmates in a variety of interactive ways to solidify and deepen their understanding.

About halfway through the first AEW training of the spring semester, pairs of undergraduate workshop facilitators are seated next to their new co-facilitators. Before they run their first session they need to learn something about the way in which each of them communicates, and figure out how to negotiate their collaboration. They need to start to develop the social context in which their work together and their work with enrolled students will happen.

After having done a group ‘ice breaker’ and having been introduced to the goals and objectives of the workshop, the teams sit side-by-side with four pieces of yarn attached to a marker and try to cooperatively write the letters ‘A’ ‘E’ and ‘W’ without actually touching the marker. In order to do this, they have to work in concert. They must verbally and non-verbally communicate to create the forces on the markers via the 4 pieces of yarn; thus learning a little bit about how they might work together. Following this good-natured competition over which team could produce the most legible letters, one of the experienced AEW facilitators debriefs the activity with leading questions about what each of the groups did to successfully complete the task. They also discuss how they would apply this to their future teamwork.

Good workshop facilitation means adding social skills to disciplinary expertise.  Moving forward into the semester, these dedicated students will continue to train and hone their skills of communication and group facilitation.

This Edu-blog is brought to you by the ELI TEAM in Rhodes Hall. If you are interested in working with us contact eng-learning@cornell.edu

Peer Educators Respond to COVID 19: AEWs are Online!

Behind the BIG screens, the LITTLE screen:  Undergrads supporting undergrads in online Engineering courses

We have been thrown into an unprecedented experiment in education. We have embarked on what Hodges et al. (2020) call Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT).  There are differences between intentional online teaching/learning and ERT; they have to do with the time available to develop the ‘ecosystem’ that scaffolds learning in the online environment. But what we know is, despite the time crunch of this emergency transition, we will work together using all the best choices of tools and practices for quality instruction.

On the BIG screen in the College of Engineering, herculean efforts have been and are still being made to share the excellent Cornell Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) materials, and to develop additional engineering-targeted webinars and materials, to prepare faculty to deliver content and engage students online in regular courses.  ELI is collaborating to provide technical, pedagogical and emotional support alongside the office of the Dean, Associate Deans, and other Student Services Program Administrators.  Gratitude, understanding, optimism and patience are the themes for this new and unanticipated shift in how we support engineering education in the College of Engineering.

Behind the scenes, on the SMALL screen, 42 Engineering undergraduate students, scattered to the global winds, began their training and creative initiatives to transition Academic Excellence Workshops (AEWs) into an online mode. AEWs are typically 1 credit, 2 hour per week face-to-face courses facilitated by exemplary undergraduates interested in teaching and learning and in the success of their peers.

This year’s AEW co-lead facilitators, Apoorva Agarwal and Juan Berrio, led the charge, brainstorming with ELI staff about the best and most familiar technologies for students to communicate; ways to surmount the time zone challenges for their international peers; and initiating the development of a ‘Survival Manual’ with new configurations for AEW sessions designed to effectively reach and respond to their students remotely.

Using a combination of synchronous Zoom sessions filled with active chats, polling, breakout rooms, and asynchronous Slack discussion boards, these aspiring engineers are continuing, online, to excel at providing what their peers often say is one of the most effective support services in their Cornell COE education. Examples of creative education practices linking synchronous and asynchronous environments through posted challenge questions after live sessions, humor for stress relief, compassion for students in different time-zones, and encouraging feedback and flexibility abound in the ether that is, for now, the new normal. Kudos AEW facilitators!!

Greetings Cornell Community and World of Teaching and Learning!

Welcome to Cornell Engineering Learning Initiatives ‘Edublog’.  Interested in active, engaged-learning? Best Practices for facilitating retention and critical thinking? Maybe you want to know about some of  the resources for supporting engineering students in their course work?  Is it possible that you have interest in working as a peer educator in the College of Engineering with ELI?

Well you have come to the right place!  Follow our posts about teaching and learning activities in general, and featuring the great work done by our TA Development Consultants and our Undergraduate Academic Excellence Workshop Facilitators.  Feel free to reach out to ELI with any questions or just to learn more if you don’t find it here:

https://www.engineering.cornell.edu/students/undergraduate-students/academic-opportunities-and-support