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July 2020

Classroom Resources: Using the Workbook in the Online Class: A Plan

By Stacy Palen

Typically, in a F2F class, I use the workbook one day per week. In general, I do this on Friday. For each workbook activity, I’ll usually spend about five to ten minutes introducing the topic and pointing out places where students might get stuck or need a reminder. My astronomy course for fall is not synchronous, so I don’t expect that students will be logged in and working together, or that they will all be working on the activity at the same time.

I truly believe that these learning-by-doing experiences are critical to student learning. We’ve all had the experience of thinking we understood the material until we tried to actually apply it! The workbook exercises are designed with typical student difficulties in mind…so how do I do activities online, when students will likely be working alone, and I won’t be there to help them?

The first thing I need for each activity is a video mini-lecture that students can watch before they begin. I can address the same issues here that I would ordinarily address in the first few minutes of class. If I manage to keep it extra-short, like two minutes, they might even watch it more than once as they work their way through the activity and answer their own questions! I’ve begun creating these videos for the activities I’ll be using this fall, and I’ve shared the first one with you here so that you can take a look and see if it is useful to you.

I plan to set up weekly student hours in Canvas. These are times when students can arrange an “appointlet” with me. (That’s a new word, apparently, for the quick, five-minute interventions on Zoom or similar.) I am using the same time blocks for all of my classes. Still on my To-Do list is learning to use the scheduler in Canvas to see if that has all the functions I need.

Finally, each week, I will open a Discussion thread about the workbook activity due that Friday. This is a place where I can make note of things students found confusing and where students can ask questions.

Students will take pictures of their lab and submit it as a PDF in Canvas. There are a number of free apps that students can use to do this. I’ll grade the submissions in Canvas on my iPad. (Not to sell you on this particular set of products; others probably work similarly!) I’ve been doing this with upper-division assignments for a while now, so I don’t think that it will take me more time than usual to grade their work. In the first week, I expect to do a LOT of tech support.

At least I have a plan now. I don’t expect it to entirely survive the first few weeks of class. As Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.” I’m trying to keep that in mind as we approach the fall semester. I’m sure you are, too!


Classroom Resources: Teaching with Videos: Textbook Chapter Introductions

By Stacy Palen

As I think about what I usually do in lecture, in order to try to capture some of it for the online experience, a few book-related things come to mind. There are a few things I do for each chapter, as general practice:

  • I provide students with an overview of each chapter.
  • I guide students to focus on what I think are the most important points.
  • I spend time orienting them to complicated figures.

All three of these things can be done in a video mini-lecture that students can watch before they read the text. To be clear, watching the video is not a replacement for reading the text. It’s just a way to lead them into the material.

I’ve started preparing five-minute video introductions to each of the chapters in Understanding Our Universe, Third Edition. These introductions page through the chapter, highlighting the text and figures that students should pay special attention to, because I know they will come up again. For example, I know that the cosmological principle will be referenced multiple times throughout the book. So, in the Chapter 1 video, I make students aware that they should pay special attention to that concept.

The first two videos, for Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, are linked.

Let me know what you think, and if you find these resources useful! Like all of you, I’m working away in my office here, trying to anticipate the coming semester as much as possible. I suspect that “Future Stacy” will be very grateful to “Past Stacy” if I can get some things prepared now and free up some time during the semester itself.