Posted on

Using Technology in Small Group Teaching


Throughout my six years of small group teaching experience I have regularly used power point and you-tube as visual aids and the basis of learning activities. However, last semester, following the lead of colleagues working on active learning in the Dept. of Politics at the University of Sheffield, I adopted Turning Point and Padlet in my Second Year Undergraduate Contemporary US Foreign Policy seminars. Turning Point is a form of audience response software that enables you to poll students through an interactive power point presentation. Students respond using the free smart phone app, and the results are displayed on screen. Padlet is a virtual bulletin board – easily embedded in your online learning environment – to which your students can post content. Think of it like them jotting down their responses on post it notes, and you collecting these in to display for the class. Both Turning Point and Padlet are free for students to access, and they don’t have to create an account of their own, although you as the instructor will need one. My institution has a Turning Point licence, and I made use of the free version of Padlet which allows for 12 padlets.

Firstly, when employing technology or any learning activity it is important to ensure that it serves your learning objectives. Do not get distracted by the bells and whistles or possibilities of the technology, remember instead that it is a means to an end. In the context of my seminars they were a means to facilitate focused peer reflection and discussion. Secondly, you need to carefully think through the structure of your lesson plan and whereabouts you will use the technology and for how long. I tended to use Turning Point to ask 2-3 multiple choice questions at the start of each seminar as a warm up activity, before putting students into pairs to discuss their responses and the results of the room. Including discussion this took 10-15 mins of a 50-minute session. Padlet was used for students to record and present their responses to the group task, and so unlike Turning Point, was bolted onto an existing activity.

I had initially considered Turning Point only worthwhile in a large group lecture setting or for running a revision quiz. However, it has proved both popular and effective for engaging in students in small group settings of 12-20 students. Firstly, it enables students – particularly those lacking confidence – to genuinely express themselves. Polling is anonymous at the click of a button, so they aren’t put on the spot in front of their peers, and until the results are displayed nobody knows which way the room will vote which mitigates against group think. As such, Turning Point can provide a “safe” way to gauge all knowledge and opinions and can help the more reticent contribute. Secondly, it provides a structured moment of reflection in response to a direct question – they must respond and pick a position or response. The outcome be that their own individual response and the results of the room, then serves as guide to future discussion. I tended to follow up with discussion of the results in pairs, but it could also be used to identify what students want or need to discuss more about a seminar topic.

The benefits of Padlet are in my view the same irrespective of whether it is a seminar of 20 students of a workshop with 90. It focuses student group discussions because they must first agree and then type up a concise response to the exercise – they can’t just “talk”, they have to “do”. Each group’s output can then be drawn on with ease in a plenary discussion, because everyone can see them onscreen and learn from what each other have “done”. Indeed, the padlet page of responses is a ready-made revision resource for students to look back on – you can export the produced padlet as a pdf or image, thus saving the students work before you reset (wipe) the padlet for the next session.

Be sure to practice before rolling out in the classroom, I had my fair share of technical missteps. Experiment! Turning Point can run true/false or multiple-choice questions and be used to generate word-clouds; you can repoll students and then compare results to see if their views have changed; for padlet you can ask them to input text or images. When using any new technology with students, remember that it’s important to give clear instructions as to how to use it and take a moment to explain why you are using it. Time management is an important factor here, don’t rush students through questions and ensure there is enough time in the session to discuss the results of polling and padlet work and so realise its full potential. Finally, consider equity – do enough students have a smartphone for you to use this technology as standard and if not if your dept can provide tablets for the session?





Source link

Posted on

Working with and Supporting Teaching Assistants


Throughout the course of my Masters’ and PhD, I was Teaching Assistant across five undergraduate modules. Now in my capacity as a Module Leader I recognise and try to act on my responsibility to support and develop the Teaching Assistants (TA) on my modules in the following ways. Often, initial contact occurs the week immediately before teaching begins and can be focused on the practical details of module structure and administration. But as important as these are, I suggest it’s also worthwhile to find out what teaching experience your TA(s) have (both in general and of your particular module or topic) and to understand why they are teaching.

My point here is that the support needs of someone teaching for the first time will be different from someone with extensive experience, but conversely, a more experienced TA is more likely to be in the final stages of their PhD with all the pressures that this entails. In terms of why they are teaching, gaining experience and/or supplementing their income may impact on how much support they are interested in, or additional work they are willing to undertake – such as an Higher Education Academy Fellowship. Having gained some context, your TA probably needs, wants or would appreciate the following:

Remember that whilst you may be the face of your module, you TA will probably be your students’ main point of contact through their seminars, office hours and assessment feedback. As such, make sure they know what key messages you want them to get across in Week 1 regarding module format, content and assessment. Beyond the specifics of the first seminar, depending on their experience they may also appreciate practical classroom tips for overcoming silences or exercise ideas such as icebreakers. The British International Studies Association Post Grad Network teaching blog is a good resource here as is Teaching Politics & International Relations by Gorman et al (2012). Other top TA tips include: suggesting they apply for an inspection copy of the core textbook; ensuring they have access to any online learning environments and other dept. resources; advising them on handling student emails and how to use their office hours.

See if you can get a copy of the TA role descriptor and check whether your dept. pays TAs prep time.  If not, then you as the module leader are expected to provide lesson plans regardless of whether you are taking seminars yourself. Even if they are paid, chances are (as we all know from experience) teaching prep will take up more time than TAs are paid for. So, if you can, support them by providing in advance and explaining your lesson plan and any reading notes or class room activities. But don’t just hit send. Ensure they know how much latitude they have to develop or depart from your plans, or whether you expect them delivered as written. What you consider to be a comprehensive plan may be incomprehensible to them, so check their understanding where possible.

Let TAs know what expectations they should have of students in an ideal world, but also what are they are likely to encounter on the day in the room. In addition, what expectations do you have of your TA and what sort of support and contact can they expect from you as the module leader going forwards? Make sure that your intention of giving them autonomy, does not come across as benign neglect! How hands on or light touch do you plan to manage them, what sorts of student queries, emails or admin are they responsible and which will you handle? Generally, my position is that TAs are the main point of contact for our students in terms of seminar admin, content, the readings and assessment feedback, but questions regarding the lectures, module administration and structure should come to me.

Ensure TAs understand how assessment will be run i.e.: what advice and support they could/should be giving to students; what advice you as the module leader will be giving students; how marking, and moderation/second marking will be conducted; what the turnaround time is; and what your expectations are of their feedback in terms of length and format (summative and/or formative). Generally, I try to meet face to face with my TAs at least twice. First, immediately before teaching starts and the second time is during marking, especially if there is a team of TAs teaching and marking.

Last but by no means least, remind them their role as TA is to facilitate student learning through reflection and discussion – they are not expected to know everything about the topic. Providing reassurance can also mean (subject to your other commitments) offering to do peer observations and talking TAs through any mid semester informal feedback.






Source link