Reflections on a Yearlong Collaboration

These are some final reflections based on my notes from my last meeting with Prof. Gruber.  To read my earlier posts about integrating communication and technology into university science teaching, click here, here, and here.

This second semester of collaboration went really well. Prof. Gruber incorporated the Digital Lab Reports into the syllabus and they were worth 10% of the grade.  We also tried a new lab – Photosynthesis – and jettisoned one from last semester that felt like too much work for the “payoff” (the level of science learning and critical thinking fostered).  It made a big and positive difference to have students know that the Digital Lab Reports were part of their core curriculum.

The second time around Prof. Gruber also included both a “draft” and a “final” presentation day into the course schedule.  This was important for two reasons: 1) it incorporated revisions (of Digital Lab Reports and oral presentations) into the schedule as a course expectation, and 2) as Prof. Gruber pointed out, it gave students a hard deadline two weeks before the final submission – you can’t really turn in a group presentation late!  As with last semester, the draft presentations were highly productive.  Students gave each other feedback (I asked for at least 3 comments or questions from the class for each DLR).  Then I gave feedback on the communication, presentation, technology, creativity, etc. aspects of the DLR and presentation and Prof. Gruber gave feedback on the accuracy and depth of the science content (as well as the other components).  As I’ve written about earlier, this provided a unique opportunity to see how students were processing and understanding the information he was teaching them and to “re-align” their thinking.

As it feels like we have the basics of a working model here, I’ve been thinking about how we might address some existing challenges, including:

  • Modifying DLRs so that instructors who are not technology-savvy feel comfortable collaborating on such projects
  • Teaching skills and framing the DLRs so that the group work is more collaborative and students who do not have experience with audio and video programs have more opportunity to experiment and take leadership roles
  • Thinking of ways to make the final presentations more “eventful,” as they do not require the same level of feedback as the draft day and are no longer “new” to the class
  • Raising the quality of the final DLRs (which were already very good)
  • Better training students to give and receive constructive critiques

Some things to try next year

  • Make a rubric for students to grade/assess the Final DLRs.  This will get them actively involved the final day.  Also, it would require the class to reflect on Prof. Gruber’s feedback and think about whether the group presenting “got the science right.”  This would provide an additional means to assess the class’ understanding of scientific concepts.
  • Find a way (in a constrained schedule) to incorporate 2 DLR revisions into the syllabus (so there would be 2 drafts and 1 final).  Prof. Gruber and I agreed that 3 appears to be the magic number.  Students’ first revisions might still have mistakes/misconceptions.  Furthermore, a second chance to revise would give students additional practice with giving and receiving feedback.
  • Videotape the DLR draft presentations so students can see themselves presenting and get more feedback.
  • Prof. Gruber suggested that Fellows at the Institute could create a video lesson teaching some of the most important technical DLR skills.  A link to this video can be given to students, or instructors can show the video in class if there is a short lab one day.
  • Throughout the semester, there could be weekly “mini-lessons.” These might be free-writing exercises, videos or in person lessons on technical skills (like uploading a video onto YouTube), or time for groups to touch base and plan their DLRs.  This is a way to integrate the DLRs throughout the semester and get the class invested.   Also, this is a way that skills can be scaffolded.  For example, near the beginning of the semester there could be a mini-lesson on how to frame a video (thinking about what you want to capture) and upload it onto YouTube.  Then all students might be asked to take a one-minute video during that lab, upload their videos onto YouTube, and post the link on the class blog.  This way, by the second half of the semester when groups are creating DLRs, all students would have practiced basic skills.  It probably would not be possible for one Fellow to come to class this often, but video lessons or handouts for the instructor would help make this sustainable/reproducible.
  • On or before the first draft day, the Writing/Communication Fellow can speak a bit about giving and receiving feedback (with tips like taking notes and actively listening) and lay out specific expectations for the class (such as at least 3 comments per DLR or every student should contribute 1 comment).  At the end of the draft day(s), groups can have 10 minutes to meet and discuss where to go from there.  A brief handout can structure this discussion.  At the end of the final presentation day groups can have 10-15 minutes to meet and reflect on their experience (and perhaps give feedback to the Institute).  Again, a handout can structure this discussion.

These were the main things we spoke about in our last meeting.  I think that some of these scaffolding activities could be THE primary communication and technology intensive assignments in courses where instructors just want to get their feet wet or incorporate just a few things.  In other words, there could be various levels of collaboration between science instructors and the Institute depending on needs, time, experience, comfort, etc.

I look forward to seeing how this venture expands and evolves over the coming years.

Have a beautiful, safe, and inspiring summer!

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