My online teaching strategy can be summarized as follows.
Each week, students in my courses will:
- take a first pass at the material each week themselves by engaging in homework assignments using resources that I have curated, including:
- selected web pages and PDFs
- selected videos on the topic
- my recorded lecture presentations
- participate in activities related to the material, both alone and in groups, with my assistance when difficulties arise
- take a low-stakes quiz
- full credit is given for completing them
- answers can be revised before proceeding to the next step
- give critical feedback on your peers’ quiz answers
- engage in one-on-one communication with me about your revised answers to clear up any questions or misunderstandings
- have the opportunity to participate in a class review session of the previous week’s material
At the end of each major topic, students will have a video exam in which they will:
- be asked to prepare a video of themselves answering key questions about the topic
- get feedback on these videos from me
- have the opportunity to revise their video if they’d like to improve their grade
By the end of the course, students will have worked on a research project that will:
- allow for students to choose which topics they want to focus on
- involve doing internet/library research
- result in findings that will be communicated through writing and oral presentation
You can click on the items below to reveal the descriptions for each.
First pass at material
First pass at material – Click here to hide description
My classes are structured so that students first attempt to learn new material by themselves, since this is closer to what they will have to do in their careers. My role at this stage is to curate the learning resources, and I endeavor to choose reading materials and videos that are visually rich, compelling, comprehensible, and free to access.
The reading materials consist of web pages, articles, and textbooks. Some of the videos are of high production value, such as those from Crash Course, The Science Asylum, TED-Ed, and Physics Girl, and lower production value recorded lectures such as Khan Academy and PhysicistMichael. I also post my own recorded lectures, which are of the lower production value type, but which give students a good idea of what I think are the most important general points to extract from the material.
Reading, watching, and listening to sources of information are forms of passive learning. Although they are a key part of education, they are not very effective on their own. Active use of the material makes it much more likely that one will retain information, gain understanding, and be able to apply learning to a variety of situations.
It is for that reason that I pair the resources mentioned above with homework assignments, that ask students to do something active with what they have read/watched/heard, such as writing summaries of the main points, answering questions in multiple choice or short answer format, or carrying out calculations.
Activities – Click here to hide description
The kind of activities that I have developed for my courses are described elsewhere on this site, and are other examples of my efforts to have students engage in active learning. Some of these activities are easily transferable to a fully online environment. For example, my use of clicker systems will be easily converted into an online environment using the polling functions in video conference platforms. Activities that involved equipment (like this one) will require modifications that I will be making before the start of the semester.
Low-stakes quizzes – Click here to hide description
Research has shown that tests of one’s knowledge are a good way of ensuring that information absorbed passively (i.e. by reading, listening to, or watching something) enters one’s long term memory. To employ this technique, I have students take low-stakes quizzes on each week’s material, and give full credit for completion—the grading is simply pass/fail. I ask students to write answers to these questions without any assistance, and then give them the opportunity to improve their answers in follow-up activities. This forces students to use only their current memory and understanding, which is a great way for anyone to see what they have retained, and what remains unclear.
Peer Review Sessions
Peer Review Sessions – Click here to hide description
After taking the low-stakes quiz, students then use a forum function on the course website to improve their answers, starting with a peer review session. In this session students give each other feedback on each other’s answers. In doing so, the student plays the role of teacher or collaborator. I have students do this because giving critical feedback is an important skill in any career, and is also an effective active learning method.
Instructor Review Sessions
Instructor Review Sessions – Click here to hide description
Once students have improved their answers in the peer review forums, they paste them into an instructor review forum, where I critique each answer, giving feedback to help students further improve their understanding of each point. This sort of drafting process is an active way to learn that can be applied to any topic or skill.
Class Review Sessions
Class Review Sessions – Click here to hide description
My weekly class review sessions involve the use of polling activities as described in the last paragraph here. These sessions also allow students to ask lingering questions about the past week’s material.
Video Exams – Click here to hide description
After reviewing different methods for administering exams in a fully online format, I decided to use video assessment. The idea is that students create videos of themselves answering key overlying questions about course material.
Students make separate videos for each major topic throughout the semester. Each video must:
- be a maximum length of five minutes
- fully address the question based on course material
- consist of extemporaneous explanations, meaning that there should be no written script
The videos can be as simple as a student recording a videos of themself using a phone, tablet, or laptop camera.
If students want to incorporate visuals, they can do so using Kaltura Media or similar software that allows for simultaneous viewing of visuals and one’s face. Students can use any of the visuals from my lecture slides, and any they find elsewhere, as long as surrounding text is removed, such as the bullet points in my lecture slides.
Students can also create their own visuals if you choose, using software or paper with a writing implement. The software can be anything students feel comfortable using to create visuals. If a student likes to draw visuals by hand while explaining something, this is possible using a two-camera setup. Basically, the technique is to pair a laptop camera with a phone/tablet camera, which can be used as a document camera.
Feedback and Revision
After submission, I will respond to each question with feedback and questions that I thought were unanswered by each video, along with a grade. Students can then submit a 2nd video that addresses the issues raised if they would like to improve their grade.
Research Project Assignment
Research Project Assignment – Click here to hide description
For their research project, students in my courses choose a topic covered in the course—or a related topic of their choosing—and do in-depth research into it. Students then communicate their findings in both written and oral formats. The paper and presentation should be comprehensible, compelling, and a good learning for a layman, such that the paper could be converted into an effective Wikipedia entry and the presentation could be performed publicly at a TED style event.
Since this is a large assignment, it is broken up into manageable parts with intermediate deadlines, as described in what follows.
The first step in the research project is for students to submit a proposal of what they intend to do for the assignment. The proposal is an opportunity to communicate a general plan that each student will use to carry out their research.
An annotated bibliography of at least five sources is submitted as the 2nd step, in which students find reference materials and summarize them.
The final paper describes the physics or mathematics of one or more of the topics in the course, or describes in-depth a topic that is of particular interest to a student, that relates to the course material.
Based on the same research as for the paper, students give a 12–15 minute presentation of their work to the class (including three minutes for Q&A).