Skip to content

Thinking about the future.

While I still have two-and-a-half months left, as faculty fellow my time with the instructional design group is eventually going to come to an end. While I look forward to bringing back to the Thayer School community everything I have learned during my six months fellowship, I will miss the opportunity to quickly stick my head into another instructional designer’s office for an exchange of ideas or to run an idea by them. I will miss the ability to chat about something seemingly irrelevant next to the coffee maker only to see the conversation turn into a brilliant new approach I didn't know existed to solving a problem in my teaching. I will miss brainstorming with a group of enthusiastic educators who are passionate about guiding instructors to find the best approach to improving learning outcomes for their students.

Of course I will still be able to talk with the instructional design team: I can simply ask for a meeting or send an email, maybe even pick up the phone (though my kids tell me this is so old-fashioned). But it won’t be the same. And who in the world needs another meeting?

This got me thinking that I can’t possibly be the only person who’d love the opportunity for informal idea exchanges with colleagues across campus without yet another meeting. Thinking more broadly, creating opportunities for informal exchanges between various constituencies across campus might be a great way to counteract the sometimes siloed structures we can observe on campus. By spending these last few months outside of my ‘normal’ faculty world I have had the opportunity to meet a large number of people and learn about their work. I have discovered parts of campus I didn’t previously know and I have learned about offices whose functions I wasn’t aware of before. These kinds of connections that I have been able to build are invaluable, they may form the basis for future fruitful collaborations and help us all understand each other better.

So how else can such cross-pollination be fostered? While I don’t have all the answers, I have a few ideas. Maybe we can start a conversation on campus and jointly brainstorm? Here are some ideas:

  • Take a Coworker to Lunch: No, not someone you already know, but someone on campus whom you don’t know (yet). Such a program could be organized via interested participants signing up, maybe with a one-sentence description of their work and another one-sentence fun fact about themselves. Maybe we could even find a sponsor for such lunches? These could als be group lunches where participants are purposefully seated next to those whom they don’t yet know.
  • Create opportunities for exchanges or fellowships such as mine: what better way to learn about and get to know another department or part of the college, to make connections and foster collaborations than to step into each other’s shoes for a while? This of course would need careful planning as well as  willingness, interest and patience on all parts.
  • Learn together: Take a MOOC together or read a book of interest or journal articles together.
  • Walking Meetings: This is not a new idea but a way to build some exercise into a meeting. Informal idea exchanges happen much more easily while walking and creativity can get a boost when not seated at a table.
  • Stand up Meetings: Again, not a new idea and not all that useful for meeting people across campus, but possibly quite effective for quick idea exchanges. Instead of meeting once a week for an hour with a team, why not have a 10-minute stand up meeting several times a week? Everyone gets to move around a bit, and in addition, more informal exchanges might happen after such a quick meeting than after a long seated meeting where everybody can’t wait to leave.

Do you have other ideas? I’d love to hear about them!

Next up: In my next post I’ll tell you about the course I teach and what I might change about this course after my experience working with the ID team.

Professional Development!Petra Taylor photo

Part of my Faculty Fellowship with the Instructional Design group includes professional development and making contacts with the greater world of instructional design by attending courses, workshops and conferences. So far I have completed the OLC Mastery Series on “Blended Learning”, I am in the middle of an EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) course on “Assessment Beyond Letter Grades”, and as I write, I am currently riding the Dartmouth Coach, returning from a NERCOMP workshop “Instructional Design for Everyone”. If you have never heard of OLC, EDUCAUSE or NERCOMP, do not fear! I hadn’t either, up to about 3 months ago. But if you are interested in digging deeper into the realms of learning and teaching, then it may be worthwhile to check out what these organizations have to offer.

My experience with conferences and workshops up to this point had been limited to those in my area of research, along with some meetings on women in mathematics and a few others on open online mathematics education. Most conferences I have attended followed the well-known format of hour-long plenary lectures interspersed with shorter contributed talks, often in parallel sessions. Some conferences have poster sessions, but that’s not the norm in mathematics.

Today’s workshop had a completely different format. Rather than being lectured at all day long and leaving tired, oversaturated and unable to repeat most of what was said, I came away invigorated, with many things to think about and having made a number of new contacts.

What was this new and exciting format?

This NERCOMP session was run by one organizer and four panelists (one of these panelists being Adrienne Gauthier, one of my colleagues here in the ID group). Each panelist started out by describing a typical problem with which they are frequently presented in their work. Throughout the day, as we were discussing various aspects of instructional design, these problems would resurface and approaches to solutions would be woven into the activities.

No panelist ever spoke for more than five minutes at a time, so that I never hit that urgent need for coffee. The participants were seated at round tables of 8, and whenever the panelists had presented a new aspect of their problems, rich discussion at the tables ensued.  These conversations explored the panelists’ solutions, and discussed their applicability to some other challenges. ‘Twitter-style’ reporting after such discussions was a very valuable way to hear from the other tables.

It was great to see instructional design being practiced in the organization of the conference. The presenters' goals were clear, and as participants we were able to engage in the day's learning together.  But I shouldn’t be surprised: this was a great example of instructional designers practicing good instructional design!

By Paul Christesen, Professor, of Ancient Greek History & Chair, Department of Classics

Note: Professor Paul Christesen has been one of the faculty teaching in the Berry Innovation Classroom (Carson 61), an active learning incubator space at Dartmouth.  

Carson 61 has turned out to be a literally transformative teaching space. I have to confess that I began the semester with the expectation that the room and its capabilities would be quite helpful but I didn’t harbor larger hopes. However, as I was watching the students work today I fully realized for the first time just how great an impact the room has had on both the students and on me, and not just in the way we work, but also in the way we think.  

First, the students sat and worked together in small groups the entire semester, in a space that facilitated face-to-face interaction among the group (while also enabling them to easily focus on another person or place outside their group as and when that was necessary).

Carson 61 made it possible for me to make small-group, active-learning exercises a fundamental part of the course. Furthermore, the students in each group got to know one another on an intellectual and personal level, and by the end of the semester had formed groups that worked very effectively and also had meaningful personal connections with each other.

Second, the easy access to equipment, in the form of both projectors and whiteboards, facilitated presentation and visualization of information, on both a small-group and whole-group basis. This equipment made working collaboratively more efficient and effective than I ever seen it happen before, and made sharing the results of collaborative work across the entire group much more feasible than in other previous classroom configurations.

Moreover, in the fifth or sixth week of the term, without planning it or really thinking about it, I started creating on-the-spot visual representations (in the form of flow charts) of the chains of historical cause-and-effect with which we were wrestling (specifically with respect to the reasons why the Persian War of 480-479 BCE and the Peloponnesian War of 431-404 BCE ended as they did).  I had not previously done this, in nearly 20 years of teaching this material, but it proved to be tremendously helpful in helping the students think clearly and carefully about the complex issues they were confronting through their readings of Herodotus and Thucydides. The students picked this up immediately and without any encouragement from me, and, leveraging the projectors and whiteboards, began using it to very good effect in the active-learning, problem-solving exercises that they were carrying out on a small-group basis.  

For our last class session, I asked each group to generate one complete cause-and-effect chain that ended with Spartan victory/Athenian defeat in 404. Every group, without any prompting from me, used their whiteboard and, over the course of 30 minutes of very active and productive discussion amongst the members of the group, created elaborate flow charts that beautifully visualized the hundreds of pages of text they had read and their analysis of that text. As I watched that unfold, it struck me that both the students and I had found a new, different, and better way of approaching texts that I’ve read literally dozens of times, and that they would certainly carry that approach to textual analysis with them going forward. It was a remarkable instance of a facilities-specific capability making itself felt in important ways even in the absence of any conscious planning.

Everything that is possible in a “normal” classroom is possible in an active learning classroom space such as this, and many things that are not possible otherwise suddenly become feasible.  

Have you ever read a student's term paper or research paper and thought, "This is so good that the rest of the world should see it"? But how?  Where? Read on for an assignment idea that you may like to try in your courses.

WHY ask students to contribute?

Professor Katherine Mirica (CHEM) knew that her CHEM 157 students had much to contribute to the world's knowledge base in the rapidly evolving field of nanomaterials.  Learning objectives for students in this course include:

  • Analysis and evaluation of the structure and properties of nanomaterials, including their capabilities and limitations
  • Engagement in conversation, both local and global, about these materials
  • Enhancement of scientific writing and presentation skills

A project asking students to develop and share their ideas by contributing to the world's biggest online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, helped Katherine's students to best meet these objectives.  The students enthusiastically undertook this challenge, contributing to the world's knowledge base in a truly authentic manner.

Motivated by their own experiences with the content, and with Wikipedia, research began.  One student commented about feeling glad to have a chance to contribute to Wikipedia in a meaningful way; he had used the site frequently himself.  Frequently faculty warn students about using Wikipedia as a reference source; this is a very different approach.

HOW can students contribute?

Wikipedia was a perfect choice for this course because the information on these materials changes so quickly.  Throughout the course of the term, students in CHEM157 went through the following steps:

  1. Selected a topic.  Students were asked to pick a topic based not only on their interest, but by reviewing the existing information available on Wikipedia.  Students were most interested in updating current entries that were vague, with minimal (or even incorrect) information.
  2. Created outlines.  Students mapped their plans to present the information they discovered in their literature reviews and research on Wikipedia.  They were asked to think about a global audience, using as many illustrations (either open access or created by the students) as possible.
  3. Draft of a Wikipedia page for peer review.
  4. Revise based on peer review and submit to Professor.
  5. Edit and post on Wikipedia!
  6. Share.  Students also completed in-class presentations on their topic.
WHAT did students contribute?

Michael Ko worked on Wikipedia's page on Carbon Nanotubes.  This was a great example of an older page (it's been around since 2001). Michael chose to work on this page because it was incomplete and out of date.  He added a section on the modification of Carbon Nanotubes, citing a number of new papers that had been published since the page was last updated.

Selbi Nuryyeva had a different experience.  Prior to her work, there was a Wikipedia entry for Phospherene, but since the material was just discovered in 2014, and the field is rapidly evolving, the page had much room for improvement.  Selbi read about phosphorene in Scientific American at the beginning of term, and was motivated to learn more.  She created images based on the research she read.  When her classmate asked Selbi what was the most difficult aspect of the project, she replied, "Every time I stopped researching (in order to write the page), there was a bunch of new information!"

Click below to see the pages created by each of the Chem 157 Fall term students.  PLEASE NOTE: These pages may have been edited since the students last posted - click the View History tab to learn how they've changed over time.


Professor and students
Professor Katherine Mirica (left) and the students of Fall 2015 Chem 157
Advice for trying this in your class

Professor Mirica and her students have some suggestions for those who might be attempting an assignment like this in the future.  The first revolves around the challenge of editing information that has already been written.  When attempting a massive change, the students were forced to consider the best ways to organize and present the story.  When one student attempted to make major revisions but deleting what had been there, the student was flagged as a possible vandal by Wikipedia.  Therefore:

Tip 1: Make incremental changes.  Do not remove entire sections at once, but rather add as needed.  Additionally, keep your text and references in another tool while working - large wiki pages can sometimes crash in the middle of your editing process.

Tip 2: Search images that are already on Wikipedia before creating your own - there is a wealth of illustrations that can be used to describe multiple phenomena.

Tip 3: Allow enough time to iterate drafts, find or create images, and give/receive feedback before posting a final version to Wikipedia.

Finally, watch what happens when your classroom meets the world!

Having Fun!Petra Taylor photo

Now that it’s no longer the beginning of the term and things have calmed down a bit I’d like to take some time to reflect on the many fascinating projects in which I have been fortunate to be involved in my role as Faculty Fellow in the Instructional Design group. If you missed my first post, you can read more about my path to this interesting position here.

Having taught mathematics and scientific computing for many (many!) years, what I find most striking about my new role is the variety of subjects and faculty (and with that, of teaching strategies) with whom I get to interact. By thinking about learning and teaching challenges in subjects different from my own, I am able to leave my own quantitative box and allow myself to imagine scenarios which I would have previously thought not applicable or impossible in my own teaching. I very much hope that my interactions with faculty members have been fruitful for them, but they most certainly have been enlightening for me.

Here are just a few examples of topics I encountered.

Recently, I visited a class in the Russian department, which happened serendipitously: while working with the faculty member on the course site design, my German accent came through. Since the class focuses on cultural understanding, rather than solely studying Russian culture, a variety of other cultures are also explored, amongst them the German culture. The faculty member invited me to class where a really interesting discussion ensued that opened my eyes to some of my own cultural heritage of which I wasn’t previously aware. Sure, there were the somewhat expected topics such as punctuality, precision, etc. (and I presented a perfect German example, showing up 10 minutes early and fretting over the two clocks in the room which showed different times, neither of which agreeing with the actual time). But a more subtle discussion ensued around ways in which managers communicate criticism to employees. While it is common practice in this country to precede any criticism with a compliment to the employee on something they have done well (“I am very impressed with …. However …”), the ambiguity of the compliment joined with the critique would make many German employees quite anxious. I wonder how many times in my teaching career I have made students uneasy by drawing on my own cultural heritage, without taking theirs into consideration.

I've also had the chance to help Mike Goudzwaard (one of my ID colleagues) with setting up some assignments for a Religion class in which students discuss the use of religious rhetoric in political speech. This is a fascinating ongoing assignment in which students count, compare and rate (based upon a lexicon rating system which they derived in class) presidential candidates’ use of religious rhetoric. Here is an example graph, created from the students’ ratings:

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 8.58.20 AM

Students have reported how this type of crowd-sourced engagement has enhanced their participation in the course and their understanding of these issues.

I have also had some really interesting discussions with several faculty members about team-based learning and group work in the classroom, and I’ll leave these for a future post!

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"

Attention: Helpful and rich conversations happening inside!
Attention: Helpful and rich conversations happening inside!

On Thursday September 10th it was our pleasure to co-sponsor a New Faculty Orientation with the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL).  The event focused around teaching and learning here at Dartmouth.  Together with President Hanlon, an amazing group of librarians, and a fantastic panel of "not so new" Dartmouth faculty, we began conversations ranging from course design, student engagement and grading policies to time management techniques.

As everyone has gotten busy settling in, we encourage you to remember how important it is to keep these conversations active, connecting with colleagues and resources that can help and inspire.

We want to keep this great dialog going.  To that end, please consider this term's New Faculty Luncheons. Focused on helping new faculty jump start their teaching program, these lunchtime sessions will provide opportunities to share concerns and successes and ask questions regarding teaching, student learning and instructional technology.

Wednesday October 21st: Syllabus Design

12:30pm-2:00pm in DCAL (102 Baker Library)

For October's session, we’ll learn about Syllabus design, starting with the development of learning outcomes. Preparing to teach a course next term? Learn how identifying and incorporating learning outcomes into your teaching can help make course design decisions easier and effective to enhance student learning.

Wednesday November 18th: Student-centered assignments

12:30pm-2:00pm in DCAL (102 Baker Library)

November's lunch will explore student-centered assignments, discussing the research behind the approach, and best practice ideas for implementing them in your course.


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."









Our own Ashley Kehoe began a new adventure this week as she has transitioned to her new role as the associate director of Experiential Learning in the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL).  

EdTech Team
Looking forward to future teamwork with Ashley!

Although Ashley isn't far away, we in the Educational Technologies team wanted to take this opportunity to say how thankful we are for our time with her on our team.  Ashley has consistently advocated for the student perspective in all that we do, a viewpoint that benefits everyone in the community.  We are thrilled that Ashley will be leading this new initiative, and look forward to working with her to continue to support innovative education at Dartmouth moving forward.