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petraIntroduction and First Impressions

It’s been six weeks since I started my 6-month Faculty Fellowship with the Instructional Design (ID) group in Educational Technologies here at Dartmouth. Last February I resigned from my tenured faculty position in mathematics at Wesleyan University and joined the Thayer School of Engineering as an Instructional Professor and Designer. The above-mentioned Faculty Fellowship is an innovative joint effort between Thayer School and Dartmouth Academic Computing to foster new collaborations across various disciplines and boundaries.

In this blog I will share my impressions, ideas and newly gained perspectives.


...continue reading "My ID: Six Months As an Instructional Designer"

By: Ashley Kehoe, Associate Director for Experiential Learning, DCAL

"Do you know how to read? Faces. Words. Pictures. Bodies. Games. Books. People. What are you really doing when you READ THE WORLD?"

These are questions posed in Read the World, a Comparative Literature course taught in the fall '15 term by Professor and Dean of the College, Rebecca Biron. According to the syllabus:

"This course teaches comparative methods designed to confront the (mis)understandings and (mis)translations that constitute reading across the world's languages, locations, cultures, historical periods, and expressive forms. Class work consists of hands-on exercises that engage ancient and modern myths and materials drawn from various media: text, movies, video games, anime, and digital arts."

The course was selected as one of twelve "Gateway" courses supported by the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) Digital Learning Initiative and the Educational Technologies group.

I had the opportunity to partner with Prof. Biron to take on the challenge of enhancing the overall student learning experience in the course. One learning design strategy we implemented in the course was adding a team of undergraduate learning assistants - or students who had completed the course with Prof. Biron in a previous term, expressed an authentic interest in the course content and delivery, and demonstrated an ability to facilitate engaging discussion and active learning. The fall '15 learning assistants are:

  • Abena Frempong, '17
  • John French, '17
  • Whitney Martin, '17
  • Arjun Sachdeva, '17

The learning assistant team meets weekly with Prof. Biron to review what happened in the past week and identify strategies for better engaging students. At our meeting this week, I had the chance to interview the learning assistant team, and here's what they had to say about their experience so far:

Q: Why did you decide to join the Read the World teaching team as a learning assistant?

Abena: "I think that being a learning assistant specifically for COLT a really great way to see how you're thinking, and be really introspective. Being able to lead discussions and learning how to encourage rather than shut people down has been really helpful."

Whitney: "I really wanted to encourage other people to get the same experience out of [Read the World] that I had, and if I was a learning assistant, I could try to facilitate the same sort of questioning everything, and try to help [students] to pull the same amount of worth out of it that I had."

Arjun: "I get the opportunity to take the class again, and that's really special to me, having different perspective of students in the class, what we learn in class,  what skills are being practiced, it only comes from repeatedly practicing...You really do understand it better the second time, which helps us better help the students in the class."

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of the experience as a learning assistant?

Whitney: "Being able to follow the progression of the course, know what's coming up, and being really excited about each progressive step of the course. Knowing full well that there's a path that you follow and knowing it ahead of time makes it more interesting to relate back and see the whole picture."

John: "Having listened to [students'] conversations on day one, two, three...and then hearing a much more engaged, productive conversation weeks later, I wish I could hear that more. I like tracking that kind of increasing engagement."

Arjun: "Listening in on one group on any day, hearing them struggle through at the beginning, and if they have questions then prod them on. Not that there's always a right answer, but there's always something that clicks in a group, and that's so rewarding, when they're on the right track and engaging deeply with the material, and you recognize and help facilitate that in some way."

Q: What has it been like to be involved in the design and delivery of a course as a student?

Abena: "It's not as intimidating as I thought it would be...I think just being able to sit with you and Prof. Biron and talk through ideas and all ideas are valid. More often than not, we have a good idea and we're able to implement it right away."

Arjun: "We've all taken the class and been on the other side of it. The first time she was teaching it, Prof. Biron didn't have any learning assistants, so she was speaking to 75 students, and didn't really get as much feedback. But us being able to take the class, reflect on it, and realizing that if we had done this instead of that, we would have gotten more out of the material...has been a really cool process."

John: "I feel like we have a useful perspective, having been students. Managing this at the same time as two other classes and our clubs and activities, we have an idea of both what we would want that would engage us and feel good as students, and also what we would hope to get out it."

Q: Has this experience made you look at any of your other courses differently?

Arjun: "This course is built on the foundation of discussion and that's where you get the most out of it. It makes you engage with active learning constantly, which is not something that's really at the core  of many other courses...It's changed the way I approach other classes, I want to get into small groups with students in my other classes and talk about the material, not just read a chapter and answer questions on our own."

Abena: "I'm on a Hanover FSP right now working full time as a project manager, and sometimes bridging the gap between communication has been a problem. Being a learning assistant and learning discussion questions, what's a leading question vs. what's going to shut the conversation down, has been really helpful in going back to the workplace."

Whitney: "I'm in all really small literature, Socratic classes, and  being a learning assistant has really made me appreciate that more. There's a difference between chatting and facilitating a valid discussion about a controversial topic, and being in this class again has made me appreciate that a little more."









Morgan MatthewsThe author, Morgan C. Matthews, is a 2015 graduate of Dartmouth, where she studied sociology and sustainability.  This year, she is working as a Presidential Fellow in Dartmouth’s Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL).


This August, I had the opportunity to beta-test Dartmouth’s newest MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), Introduction to Italian Opera, which is launching this October.  As a first-timer to both opera and online courses, I came into this experience with many preconceived notions.  Having taken one week of the course and benefitted from conversations with a member of the production team, I wanted to share my learning: from my expectations for the class, to the unexpected and delightful experience I had as a student in the Opera MOOC.


  • MOOCs work just like regular classes, but have an online platform.
  • I should learn the same things in a MOOC as I would in a residential classroom.
  • Online learning is completely independent, and I won’t interact with other people while I take this course.

Before I started the Opera MOOC, this is what I imagined it would look like:

After dinner, I would flip open my laptop and log in to edX.  With my nightly cup of tea in hand, I would watch a video in which a professor lectured about an opera.  Then, I would read an article about Mozart while studiously taking notes in a Moleskine journal.  Having finished this assignment, I would take a short quiz on the new things I learned before proceeding to my favorite online distraction: Facebook. 

Notably, my expectations for being a student in a MOOC emulated experiences in many classes I took at Dartmouth: in terms of how course material is presented, what class activities look like, and what I would learn.  The only difference I anticipated was that, because the course is online, I thought I would not have any interactions with the professor and other students taking the course.


  • MOOCs can be designed differently with the audience and educational platform in mind.
  • You learn differently in a MOOC because it is free and online!
  • The professor and everyone involved in the course are interested in fostering online communities, and this is reflected in the activities you do in this class.

To my surprise, the first thing I did in the MOOC was not watch a lecture or do a reading, but instead participate in a discussion.  The first course activity was posting about prior experiences with opera and engaging with other students’ responses in the discussion thread.  To emphasize the importance of discussion in the course, the tab immediately to the right of “Syllabus” in the course navigation is “Discussion.”  As I went through the four sections in the first week of the course, I was presented with activities I had not anticipated: online searches for examples to share in a discussion, contributing to a word cloud, sharing tips for listening strategies, and writing a short analytical essay on the opera.  Lectures, which I anticipated being the focal point of the class, were short – about five minutes each – and guided my own explorative learning in the course.  While the discussions were not live when I beta-tested the course, I was intrigued to see what other students posted in discussions and to see how they reacted to the ideas I shared.

Although this online course may not have converted me into a committed opera fan, it did cause me to ask some questions about my previous classroom learning experiences, and think about how I can help myself learn better.

  • How often did my large lecture courses in college encourage me to discuss a course concept with a fellow student? 
  • How many times did I explore course concepts further through personal-interest online searches? 
  • Did I ever take time during a term to reflect on what I had learned, besides studying for exams?

For me, the answers to these three questions are “not often enough.”  Even if I forget how to practice “close listening” when appreciating opera (which was a learning objective in this MOOC), I am not likely to forget what I learned about myself as a student.  My advice after my first MOOC experience, therefore, is this: Take a MOOC, and make discoveries about a new subject and about yourself!

Student Bridges from the ENGSx course
Student Bridges from the ENGSx course

Professor Vicki May’s “The Engineering of Structures Around Us” DartmouthX MOOC ran from May 5th - June 19th in edX. It’s now in archive mode, but still accessible for anyone to register and go through the material self-paced. We’ve had over 700 new students in self-paced mode since the course ended!

What did it take to produce and deliver a six-week edX MOOC course? Eight months, one instructor, one instructional designer, seven undergraduate teaching assistants, two video producers/editors, one technical expert, one librarian, a handful of helpful Dartmouth colleagues, and over 10,000 students all made “The Engineering of Structures Around Us” not only possible, but very successful. This bears repeating, the MOOC students are what made the course not only successful, but also a rewarding experience for the course team.

How are we measuring success? For us, it’s really about the participation of the online students and witnessing how they are engaging with the content, the activities, and with each other. Some students may have had the goal of watching 15 minutes of video lecture while others wanted to do every activity. Both are successes if the students met their own personal goals and interacted in some way with the course material. We saw participation and engagement through many different activities and at many different levels. The course contained four hours (43 video clips) of video lectures, demonstrations, and guest speakers, eight hands-on building activities, twelve discussion forums, six interactive simulations, pre-concept surveys, multiple knowledge-check and end-of-week quizzes, and an illustrated narrative of Owl’s library treehouse. Professor May worked closely with illustrator Katherine Roy during the course development. This awesome relationship was facilitated by the Center for Cartoon Studies  in White River Junction, VT.

Illustration by Katherine Roy
Illustration by Katherine Roy

Minimally, students watched the short video lectures and demonstrations or popped into the Share Your World discussions to see interesting structures from around the globe. Many were actively participating in those forums by finding, annotating, and posting pictures of buildings and structures from their communities or online sources. Others were getting a virtual world tour of amazing structures.

The primary engagement strategy in the course was to get students exploring structures with hands-on tangible activities that used easy to find materials. They were asked to share images of their work in discussion. Speaking of images and discussion, check out the Visual Discussion Tool that Jared Benedict (Thayer School of Engineering) made for the course to allow better navigation to image posts and a clearer view of all the hands-on activities.

The custom tool by Jared Benedict (Thayer) pulled images from discussion posts into one page. At a glance, one could scroll through the images and click to go directly to the discussion post to comment.
The custom tool by Jared Benedict (Thayer) pulled images from discussion posts into one page. At a glance, one could scroll through the images and click to go directly to the discussion post to comment.

For five hundred US residents chosen at random, we were able to send out Activity Kits that contained all the necessary materials for the hands-on activities. We’ll be examining the course data in the coming months to see if having a kit had any effect on students participation or engagement with the course.

TAs and Thayer staff help put together the Activity Kits, brainchild of Jared Benedict.
TAs and Thayer staff help put together the Activity Kits, brainchild of Jared Benedict.

A highlight of the experience for the course team was when the first students started posting their building projects. I recall someone saying, “They are really doing it!!” For us, that was a sign of success - that a learner is actively engaging and investigating the course concepts by trying the hands-on activities. Then, more and more were posting, it was amazing! We were unsure if students would even try the activities and were very pleased with the results. Enroll in the course to look at more samples of student building projects and try some yourself!

Week 4 of the course dealt with tension and compression working together in a structure. Tensegrity models and truss bridges took over our discussions.
Week 4 of the course dealt with tension and compression working together in a structure. Tensegrity models and truss bridges took over our discussions.

Stay tuned as now the big data from the course is taking over our time and we’ll be doing another blog post in the future on results!

DartmouthX has recently offered Live Office Hours with students in an Introduction to Environmental Science (ENVX) with Google Hangouts on Air. Instructors Prof. Andy Friedland and Mike Goudzwaard along with the course team hosted four sessions over two offerings of the course. In each session we tried something slightly different based on feedback from that last session. This “recipe” is based on what we learned from the experience. Like any recipe, feel free to use, improvise, simplify, or spice it up.

...continue reading "Live Office Hours with Google Hangouts On Air: A Recipe"

By: Ashley Kehoe and Scott Millspaugh, Instructional Designers for the #BlackLivesMatter Course and Members of the Ferguson Teaching Collective / Featuring Photos By: Susan Simon, Media Learning Technologist and Member of the Ferguson Teaching Collective

In the spring '15 term, the first Dartmouth #BlackLivesMatter course was launched, collectively designed and taught by 28 faculty and staff members representing 10+ departments.

On June 2, the Dartmouth Ferguson Teaching Collective and students in the #BlackLivesMatter course gathered to publicly share media presentations and live performances showcasing their learning throughout the term. Check out descriptions from the event program and some actual examples of the compelling student media projects and original performances produced as part of the spring '15 #BlackLivesMatter course.

...continue reading "#BlackLivesMatter: Collective Reflections"

Ashley Kehoe sits down with Instructional Designer, Adam Nemeroff, and Anthropology Lecturer, Vivek Venkataraman to talk about ANTH 62: Perspectives on Evolutionary Health and Disease and the upcoming student iBooks showcase in Berry main corridor in Baker/Berry library.

ANTH62-poster-final ...continue reading "Learning Focus: Students in ANTH 62 Investigate the Intersection of Evolution, Health, and Disease"