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EdTech’s first Learning IgnitED Session

This past term, Ed Tech hosted our first-ever Learning IgnitED session, a quarterly event for faculty and campus partners to showcase and get feedback on innovations in teaching and learning at Dartmouth. Our winter ’15 session featured presentations by:

  • Michael Evans (FILM & SOCY) on letting students lead through a weekly student-run discussion section
  • Emily Walton (SOCY) on adding value to assignments by connecting to students’ personal/lived experiences
  • Paul Christesen (CLST) on fostering student engagement in a large enrollment class

A theme that cut across all of the presentations was the goal shared by faculty of increasing students’ engagement in their own learning. Here were just some of the ideas shared in this session and generated in the discussion on how to do that:

  1. Empower students not only to participate in discussion, but to actually design and lead it.

In his Science and Religion in American Media course, Michael Evans sets aside one course session per week where students sign up to lead and facilitate discussion. According to Evans, “Every week students take over the Friday period. They sign up in Canvas, and an assignment in Canvas provides the requirements. I send an email each week to the team to remind them of the objectives for these sessions. And if they want, I’ll meet with them ahead of time. On the day of student discussions, I give course announcements at the beginning and make sure their A/V setup works, but then I sit in the back of the room.” And the result? Evans says, “It turns out that, if given the chance, students create active learning for themselves. Owning your learning builds self-belief as a learner, and builds habits of self-direction and self-evaluation. Students own the time and it’s their responsibility to make it useful.”

  1. Design learning activities and assignments that are relevant to students’ lived experiences.

In Emily Walton’s Sociology of the Family course, students are trained by campus partners in Rauner and the Jones Media Center on oral history and digital recording in order to capture their own family histories by interviewing their parents. The course covers heavy issues that challenge some students’ experiences and future goals in the context of culture and society broadly. As Walton explained in her presentation, “These are some of the personal concerns students confront as they begin to see the family through a sociological lens. They are at a point in their lives when they are about to emerge from college armed with a diploma and a desire to embark on a successful career and future family life. But they find themselves facing grave social problems, identifying conflicting cultural ideologies, and balancing the conflicting cultural pressures to be good workers and good parents. The first time I taught this course, I found that the students left very disheartened. They had a lot of knowledge about necessary social changes, but didn’t know how their own future choices fit into the scenario we painted.” In response to that, Walton designed the family oral history project: “I decided to create a project where we could learn from the past. Who might be the wisest people we know? Or, at least people very willing to pass on their own knowledge?” And the answer was: Our parents. The end result has been more personal engagement of students in the course, and particularly in this project. Here’s what Walton’s students have said about the family oral history project since she added it to the course last term:

“The oral history presentations were a perfect way to culminate the class. They all reinforced the fact that families are so diverse.

“The things I have learned about my family through this project are things that I am going to hold dear for the rest of my life.”

“The oral history project was a lot of work but very rewarding. It made the course meaningful.”

“The oral history project encouraged me to grow as a person and I think that more classes at Dartmouth should do that.”

  1. Create opportunities for students to make connections with each other, not just with the professor.

Paul Christesen teaches an introductory Classics course that regularly enrolls over 150 students in an auditorium style lecture space. In order to make sure that students can see and hear each other during discussion, he uses an iPad application called “Reflector” to project a live video feed of students onto the main screen so everyone can see and hear each student when they respond to discussion questions. Christesen has also implemented optional discussion sections led by undergraduate Teaching Assistants as a way for students to intentionally engage with each other on a regular basis throughout the term in ways they might not have the chance to do in a large lecture hall. As Christesen described, “This team of highly motivated undergraduates – who had previously taken and excelled in the course – were instrumental in working with me to develop a tight-knit learning community within our entire class.”


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