Our guest blogger is Kathleen Janech from the Department of Biology. In 2014, Kathleen attended the Faculty Technology Institute. This blog post is a report and reflection on implementing strategies and technologies from that workshop. Kathleen describes her endeavors to make her lectures more interactive through gamification, and she discusses moving some lecture content online to create time for activities during class.
I decided that I wanted to update one particular section of my Biology 102 course. This is a course for non-majors, and I chose to update the section of the course where I teach about animal diversity and evolutionary connections. This is always a section that students report that they enjoy, but as much as I love all of the diversity seen with animals, I have found that teaching it has become boring. I also used to have a 5 question section at the beginning of the exam on animal diversity, where they would see a picture of an animal for 30 seconds and then have to pick the correct identification in a multiple choice question. Although I like to think that this made them use the knowledge they had acquired, it seemed to just stress them out more about the exam, and being a summative assessment, came too late for them to correct their perceptions.
Therefore, I decided to try a few new things with my class of 35 students in the Spring of 2015. There were so many great ideas that we were exposed to during the FTI, but I had to focus on one area that I could really change in one semester. Overall, I tried to “chunk” my lectures more, and alternate the presentation of material with short videos or a discussion of a handout that they could take home. I would also post more lecture material on OAKS, resulting in a partially flipped classroom. A great advantage of this was that it freed up great amounts of time so that I could fit more activities into the class. The students could access my lecture material at any time, and go over it as much as they needed to, which is great for those who cannot write as fast as others.
In practice, I posted more of the background information on animals (characteristics that were in lists, which had made lecturing on them very boring) on OAKS, where students could access it on their own any time. With the available class time, I planned to try two ways of in-class formative assessment in the form of games. The first game that I tried was “Who Am I?” as a hook at the beginning of class. The students had a lot of material in their notes from class and from slides that they were supposed to have looked at on OAKS. I asked for 3 volunteers, one at a time. When each came to the front of the room, I taped the name of a classification category to their back (such as Phylum Mollusca, or Class Polychaete). They showed it to the class, and then had to turn back around and ask questions of the class to try and guess what category was on their back. Some advantages were that only volunteers were really “on the spot” at the front of the classroom, and the rest of the class could look at their notes to help them out. And it gave them some in-class time to actually try to use the information from their notes and work with it to apply it to something, instead of just waiting to be tested on it. Also, there was not a lot of prep required on my end, aside from writing up and taping the signs on their backs. The disadvantage was that I realized that I had to be very specific about the way they could ask questions of the audience, since I was trying to get them to use the categories that I had presented in class.
The second game that I tried was Kahoot! I used this at the beginning of the class as a hook or “kindling” to get them engaged in the topic. This was by far the biggest success of this section. One advantage of it was that the students really enjoy getting to use their devices in class (and it is a special treat since I do not usually allow devices to be in use during class time). Another advantage was that students were engaged because it was a competition, which they enjoyed, but also something that they could do anonymously so if they made a mistake they could learn from it without having to be embarrassed. Disadvantages include the fact that everyone needs a device on which to play, and not everyone will always have one (they were not penalized if they could not participate), and this took a lot more preparation time for me to get questions ready and make sure that they were good questions. Since Kahoot! was a formative assessment, it let the students know where they were with the material.
Students commented that they really liked my “chunking” strategy – they appreciated seeing short video clips of the different animals and examples of behavior, since it really brings the colors and movement alive, and it helped to break up the lecture. They also noted that they liked having the links to watch later. The “Who Am I” game was not as popular, maybe because I did it earlier in the unit and none of them knew the material yet, and they felt like they were on the spot. The Kahoot! game was really popular. They liked the anonymity, and it was suggested that we play it more often to keep up with all of the material. They liked the competitive aspect and the fact that it was interactive for everyone. Many students commented that they thought they knew the material, but after playing they could see where they needed to do a lot more studying.
In the future, I am going to try to incorporate Kahoot! from the start in all my classes. And, if I prep it far enough in advance, I can include images as part of a question, which will be great and especially applicable for this animal section. I hope to use VoiceThread to free up more time in class for activities and games. I would like to try to work on a “lecture organizer” structure that could be a handout or drawn on the board on the first day of class, in order to help students categorize and prepare for unfamiliar material. In addition, I might try to using Poll Everywhere at the beginning of the class as “kindling” to see how much background information they already know about a particular group, or with a video when I want them to guess what animal I have shown. This would be great to see how much they already may or may not know about many of our local animals. I am going to continue to try and rethink sections of my courses, and incorporate more new ideas. I know of one place in my Biology 111 course where a flipped classroom model would work really well, so that is what I will work on next in the fall.
Thank you, FTI and TLT, for lots of great new ideas!