Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Options for randomly selecting students or groups

Reporting out and sharing with the class often act as a transition from students working in small groups to bringing the whole class back together.  Making sure that all students are contributing to the larger group/class effort is important; for a class to be a learning community, ideas and information must be shared by all members (Barkley, 2010, p.122).

What are some ways to include everyone?  Having a go-to strategy for determining who reports out can be handy, and fairness is key.  Students do not want to feel like they are being singled out; instead, it needs to be clear that everyone has an equal chance of being called on.  Some instructors write students' names on index cards, shuffling through to select the next contributor and making note of how many times each student has contributed to the class discussion.  Similarly, student names can be placed on strips of paper and randomly pulled from a bag, box, or whatever is convenient for the classroom.  Here are a few tech-based options that may be worth considering too:
If your class has 50 or fewer students, this web-based tool might be worth checking out.  I love its colorful, attention-grabbing design, and the fact that it is easy to use doesn't hurt either!  No login needed; it is easy to copy-and-paste student names from a text or Excel file and then save to access in the future with a unique URL.  
The Random Name Selector is also web-based and easy to use.  Copy students' names from an existing document or spreadsheet and paste into the Change Names area, click Go! and let the tool do the work.  The Save and Share button provides a unique URL so that the list of names can be accessed each time you use it in the classroom.  One advantage over the Random Name Picker is its ability to accommodate more than 50 names.  (I used it successfully with 90 names which accommodates most class sizes on our campus.)
I heard about The Hat from J. Ricky Cox during his session on engaging large classes at the Teaching Professor Technology Conference.  It is a free download designed for Windows machines, and one of the potential advantages this tool offers is its ability to select more than one name at a time - useful for randomly assigning partners or groups.  See the short demo video from Harmony Hollow for more.
Entering group numbers instead of individual student names is also an option for each of these tools.  In the middle of a class period, I have a tendency to want to call on the groups who either finish first or are most likely to complete high quality work, but it is important to share the wealth and hear from each group (over time).  Having a way to randomly call on groups keeps them on their toes and helps guard against groups thinking that they can "get out" of sharing simply by not completing the task in the allotted time or doing poor quality work.

Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Active learning advice - from students to students

The end of the term is a natural time for reflection.  During our last face-to-face meeting of the semester, I asked the students to discuss their active learning experiences with their small groups and then post advice to be shared with fellow students on a Padlet wall.  Advice is always more powerful when it comes from peers.  So, here it is, straight from students who have made it through the active learning trenches:
Student-to-student advice for classes based on active learning.
I am grateful to each and every one of them for being adventurous and their willingness to try new things.  Thank you, students - the class wouldn't have been the same without your input, suggestions, questions, or participation!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Options for students reporting out in class

There wasn't a class period that went by without the students working together in their small groups.  Having at least a couple of options for having the students/groups report out to the class has been indispensable.  Here is a rundown of what we used for reporting out in the classroom this semester:

Whiteboards located at each pod.  
The whiteboards are extremely helpful for brainstorming, making lists, etc. that we will refer to later in the class period.  I tend to ask the groups to write on the whiteboards when our goal is to compile the most complete list possible and/or when it is helpful for us to compare and contrast what the different groups have offered - these are great excuses for the students to roam around the room too.  As the instructor, I love being able to glance around the room and have a visual confirmation that we are ready to move on.
Google Forms 
A glimpse of a group assignment in a Google Form.
Quick and easy to set up.  I ended up using Google Forms later in the semester to collect some group work assignments completed during the class period.  Most of the time, these are a few questions that build on an individual assignment; the groups answer the questions together, and then we debrief as a whole class - the debriefing session is easy to do because the groups' Google Forms submissions are collected in a spreadsheet (Google Sheets) that I can look over quickly at the teacher station. 
A blank canvas with a lot of potential!  We used Padlet a handful of times this semester to collect responses to a variety of prompts (one such example is discussed in this post).  I love how easy it is to set up a blank wall; with the default privacy settings, I can simply provide students with the URL/link, and students can contribute by simply double-clicking on the wall to add a post.  Students love seeing the contributions from their peers popping up in real time.  Plus, it is so easy to share links, documents, embed videos, add images, etc.   
Sets include either 40 or 63 unique Plicker cards.

We tried this out for this first time this week, and there is something magical about Plickers.  For anyone looking for a simple, free way to collect student responses to multiple choice and true/false questions, Plickers is worth a try.  The instructor is the only one who needs a smartphone or tablet with the Plickers app, making it a nice alternative to PollEverywhere and Socrative for classrooms that don't require each student to have a mobile device.  I decided to start out simple and printed out eight Plicker cards - one for each group; I was amazed at how easily the app scanned each QR code but quickly learned that the students wanted confirmation that I wasn't taking pictures as I used my iPad to scan the Plicker cards around the room.  Next time, I will be sure to explain what is happening on the iPad (or iPhone or Android device) before I start scanning the room.  Once we cleared that hurdle, the students were really into it.  I look forward to trying this in a larger class setting.     
Good ol' fashioned paper!  
I keep a stack of sticky notes in my folder to use for quick, short responses to impromptu questions.  Even in a classroom filled with technology, sometimes a small piece of paper can be a helpful tool.  At least once a week I find myself asking the students/groups questions that I didn't anticipate in advance, so scribbling a quick response on a sticky note helps us to move the class period forward in the most helpful way.
There are definitely other tools out there!  See the recent blog post from Richard Byrne on FreeTech4Teachers.com for his use of and perspective on Google Forms, Padlet, and Plickers as well as PollEverywhere and Socrative.