Tuesday, I had the opportunity to lead a seminar at the Graduate Teaching Academy (GTA), which is a program hosted by CTE that “seeks to promote and maintain a standard of teaching excellence amongst graduate students at the University of Oklahoma.”

This seminar started with everyone brainstorming their favorite classroom activities as Paper Tweets. Together, we generated a great list of engaging and memorable learning (and teaching) experiences. From building interactive and media-rich timelines to great icebreaker activities involving toilet paper, there were many great instructional examples to contextualize the rest of our seminar.

'Accurate' portrayal of Toilet Paper Icebreaker Activity

From this point, we shifted focus to our three topics of discussion: mobile devices, choice in assignments, and crowdsourcing resources.

Seminar Discussion

Mobile Devices

As mobile devices become increasingly prevalent, it is crucial, as educators, to consider their instructional affordances and respond accordingly.

This topic of discussion was relatively straightforward. We connected the use of mobile devices’ cameras and touchscreens to various instructional use cases like creating instructional videos, for example. Next, we developed the ideas of allowing (or requiring) students to research information inside and outside of the classroom with these devices and what impact this would have on assignments. Brainstorming with these graduate students was excellent because their ideas reflected their personal and discipline-specific experiences with mobile devices. We were off to a great start with this seminar, so it was time to move into more interesting discussion topics—it was time to shake some foundations.

Choice in Assignments

To transition conversation, I verbally walked through a traditional interaction students experience with technology in a course: using Word to complete an essay. Yes, this workflow is satisfactory but it is also one-dimensional. Besides, I was interested in everyone’s thoughts about allowing students the option to select what software they were going to use to write papers, and if these instructors were open to giving students the choice of completing alternative writing assignments as websites or twine games.

Discussion took an interesting turn at this point.

There were many questions about the logistics of assessment and supporting students who submit different types of assignments.

Logistically, rubrics are how I would manage assessing different forms of assignments. In fact, during the seminar, I proposed collaborating with students on creating (or modifying) rubrics in order to open a dialogue on instructional expectations. For example, if a student wanted to make an animated video instead of giving a verbal presentation, I would want to collaborate with that student so they knew my expectations of quality and addressing course learning objectives. At the same time, I would use this opportunity to learn from the students about the valuable components of producing an animated video. That way, the student can play to their own strengths and passions to demonstrate their learning and at the same time, produce an awesome educational piece of content (more on this later).

Additionally, I proposed that supporting student choice in assignments requires scaffolding key assignment types. In other words, instructors do not need to give students tutorials on every possible type of assignment. Instead, there should be a handful of assignment types that are supported by the teacher, such as essays and websites. Then, if a student wants to produce a poster or instructional video in place of an essay, they are responsible for knowing or learning how to produce this piece of content. That way instructors are providing support for projects and essays (etc.) while maintaining the flexibility of accepting many different assignment types.

All that to say, if you cast a wide enough net to encompass the traditional essay, as well as instructional videos, websites, and even games, you give students the opportunity to play to their strengths and choose to develop skills that are relevant to their passions and career goals. For example, if a student is proficient at live streaming videos and wants to host their class presentation for their YouTube audience, we should give them the liberty to choose such an assignment.

This topic made for some phenomenal discussion at GTA. We also generated a list of assignment types that we could allow students to pursue, including videos, games, wikis, podcasts, and more (available at the end of this post).

Crowdsourcing Resources

Our final topic of discussion addressed the idea of making assignments into lasting pieces of scholarship. I used an example I love from John Stewart where one of his students contributed toward a wikipedia article and was viewed by the public 70,000+ times in just one month.

This example illustrates the power and potential of having students produce public-facing pieces of content. In fact, I implore instructors to capitalize on students’ creativity. So much student effort is left untapped. If there isn’t an instructional video or a website (etc.) explaining or developing a concept in your course, encourage your students to produce these materials!

Yes, this poses its own sets of challenges for both students and instructors, but the rewards are immense. Not to mention that student-generated materials are already being produced in many courses around the world.

Unfortunately, I had to cut the discussion of this topic a little short, but it was great to engage graduate students with this content.

Closing

The final assignment for the participants of this seminar was to think about how to adapt one of our topics of discussion—mobile devices, choices in assignments, and crowdsourcing resources —to their favorite learning experience they outlined in their Paper Tweet.

Presenting at GTA was a great experience. If you are interested in sharing your expertise with the next generation of researchers and university instructors, please contact the Center for Teaching Excellence at teach@ou.edu and schedule a session!

Also, for those interested, here are my slides and the annotated whiteboards from this event:

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