Changing up the Lecture!

PictureSee a Think-Pair-Share Activity.
Lectures have long been the preferred method of information delivery in the college classroom.  The lecture format provides an opportunity to deliver a large portion of information to our students in the most succinct means.  

Unfortunately, research  indicates that adult learners can only effectively listen for 15 to 20 minutes before nodding off or becoming otherwise inattentive.  Unfortunately, the typical college class meets for 50 minutes to 3 hours. Therefore, teachers should plan to incorporate "mental breaks" or otherwise change up the lecture every 15 minutes at minimum. 

An instructor should provide time for students to process information particularly if the content is new to the students.  One of the strategies that I utilized was having the students share with the person next to them or behind them.  The key is to ensure that the student has time to apply the new information to existing knowledge, learning is accomplished by this type of activity. 

Professor David Perkins recommends that a teacher should provide time for students to think particularly if the content is new to the students. The Connect-Extend-Challenge thinking routine is one strategy that provides a process whereby a student can connect new ideas to prior knowledge, extend that knowledge to consider a new direction or application, and even challenge the students to resolve a more complicated problem. The Connect-Extend-Challenge model suggests 3 simple questions that can be used with any subject and any age of student.

  • Connect: How are the ideas and information presented connected to what you already knew prior to today’s lesson?
  • Extend: What new ideas and information did you learn that pushed your thinking in a new direction, which extended what you knew previously to better understand and extend your knowledge?
  • Challenge: What is still unclear/confusing you regarding this topic?  What aspect of what we have covered in today’s lesson is still challenging to you?

My challenge is to design several Connect-Extend-Challenge activities to be incorporated in my future lectures.  Each of these strategies will be helpful in ensuring that my students are encouraged to stop, think and apply the new information to prior knowledge. 

A version of Think-Pair-Share Activity:  Before beginning class, I distribute a 3x5 card to each student.  After covering the lecture for a period of time, I pause and ask the students to individually respond to a question or define a term or consider a problem.  I allow only a short 3 to 5 minutes to consider the request and write down their response.  Then I ask each student to pair up with another student to exchange their ideas.  After another 5 minutes, I have the students return to their seats. Another 15 minutes of the lecture is covered moving to a more advanced concept related to the task on the card.  Now the challenge is resumed with the students forming groups of 4 to reconsider the original problem and given the additional information, determine a response to share with the class.  The Think-Pair-Share activity is designed to help students move to higher order thinking and comprehending the concept. One of the reasons that I like using this activity is that it increases the involvement of quiet and shy students. Additionally, the types of questions or problems can vary according to the subject and knowledge/skill of the students.

The One Minute Essay:  Another activity that can be utilized during a lecture is the one minute essay.  Students are given just 60 seconds to write a response to a question.  For example, the instructor pauses after a 15 minute segment of the lecture and asks the students to produce a written response to a specific question from the most recent topic.  There are several permutations of this type of question: 
  • What was the most important thing you learned during this lesson?
  • What question do you have regarding this lesson?
  • What was the most difficult aspect of the lesson?  or
  • What was the muddiest point that remains unclear in your mind regarding topic X? 

Exam Question:  Many times I like to learn what students think might be worthy of an exam question so I utilize this activity.  It is just what is implies, the students are asked to draft a question for the next exam over the material related to the topic you just covered. Now it seems easy to write the exam question, but I always have the students turn the paper over and respond to their own question on the reverse.  Of course, another version of this activity is to have the students write the question then they are instructed to pass it to the next student who must answer the question.  This can be very revealing in highlighting what students think is important to retain but also it indicates how students are able to answer the question.

The Think-Pair-Share, One Minute Essay, and Exam Question activities are adaptations of the Connect-Extend-Challenge strategy that will be useful in helping students to think, discuss with their peers, and process new knowledge in “digestible chunks.” I hope these strategies will help me design a positive learning environment for my classroom. My next challenge will be to adapt these strategies to the online learning environment.

Please feel free to share your own insight and recommendations.  I welcome all feedback. 


I do not know How to Teach Online. I know some things. Sometimes, I think I know a lot of things. Deep down, I know in the grand universe of online education, I know very little. That is where you come into play. I will post my philosophies and musings of How to Teach Online. [...]

CTLE Teaching Symposium

The University of Utah Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence is hosting the Teaching Symposium at the Marriott Library on Monday, August 19th.  I will be presenting two sessions.  In an effort to save paper, all handouts will be provided right here for the symposium participants.

Spicing Up Your Lecture
Linda Ralston, Associate Professor, Parks Recreation and Tourism

Cut the blah blah and actually get your students excited about your lectures! Sometimes only a lecture will do to cover a large amount of content, but it does not have to be boring. We will explore the barriers to exciting lectures, examine how we can eliminate those barriers, and create an environment that supports engaged learners. We will review how to use the 4 P’s and 5 E’s to design a dynamic and fun teaching style that is suitable for small or large classes. 

Facebook, Google Hangouts, & Tweets, Oh My! Social Media in the Classroom
Linda Ralston, Associate Professor, Parks Recreation and Tourism

Students are more than acquainted with many social media networking tools, so why not incorporate these tools into your classroom to ignite interactions and foster engagements with the broader community. Learn how you too can utilize the cost effectiveness of using free social networks and the value of incorporating “real-world experiences into your classroom,” as well as the ability to encourage collaboration between students. You are welcome to bring your iPad, SmartPhone, or tablet as you will be invited to engage in several activities during the session.

TED Talks: Sir Ken Robinson asks "Do Schools kill Creativity?"

Have you checked out the wealth of recorded talks from TED Talks? (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as education, business, science, politics and the arts.  

I really enjoyed the thought provoking question and the ideas shared by Sir Ken Robinson in his talk on "Do schools kill creativity?" What you have not heard of him? He is a creativity expert who challenges educators to cultivate creativity and teach to the multiple types of intelligence. Check out his talk below:

As I reflect on this talk I am reminded of one of the most creative people, Pablo Picasso who once stated “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”  When I was in high school my art teacher was very supportive even if I lacked much creative talent with my sketches or paintings.  She always commended me on my efforts even if they were not as attractive as some of my classmates.  Later I took a class in college and was told that I would never earn a living as an artist.  Ouch!  I was not even trying for a career in art but rather looking for an opportunity to enjoy "playing with different artistic materials."

According to the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, schools are supposed to teach students in accordance with their aptitude. In my opinion, each student is unique and talented in different areas and they learn in different ways.  A teacher should learn who their students are, how they learn and what motivates them.  An inspiring teacher inspires their students from within! As I begin the new academic year, I pledge to foster creativity and motivate my students by first learning who they are and designing a learning environment that supports their learning.

Interested in listening to more?  Check out these TED Talks on Education.

Now I would like to hear from you.  What will you do to foster creativity among your students?

Twitter for Education

Monday, June 3rd I am presenting a session for the faculty at the University of Utah on "Fostering a Learning Community Online."  In preparation for the presentation I wanted to reflect on the benefits of using Twitter to foster communication among the students in my classes.  The beauty of Twitter is the accessibility since most students can access Twitter from their SmartPhones, a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer.   

Benefits of using Twitter in Education

  • Twitter allows only brief responses (140 characters) so it allows quick and brief feedback. One student cannot monopolize the conversation.
  • Students for whom English is a second language or who struggle with communication can participate using short phrases & typically worry less about their language skills. Even students who rarely raise their hand during class will often contribute using Twitter.
  • Students can connect with other students and the instructor outside of class to ask questions, answer questions, and share current news & research sources. 
  • Mobile Twitter Applications allow students to connect using iPad, tablets, and Smartphones enabling communications during class and outside of the classroom. 
  • Twitter can be used to quickly connect with any web based resource including multimedia (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, or Vine). 
  • Twitter provides new opportunities to connect with a global learning community at no or little cost.  This allows the involvement of different cultural perspectives, expertise is specific topic areas, and a variety of new educational perspectives.

Check out our Learning Activity which we will conduct using Twitter and the hashtag #UofUCTLE.

Gallery of Student Created Infographics

“We only think when confronted with a problem.” 
― John Dewey

The students in my International Tourism course were challenged to create an infographic to conclude their awareness campaign.  After the assignment concluded I requested the students to select the best infographic.  The following infographics were selected by the students as being among the best.  Keep in mind that this was the first infographic that the students had created.  I was impressed with their creative and informative outcomes. The entire series of responsible tourism blog posts, Pinterest posts, and the infographics was successful in helping students to apply the concepts covered in class over the entire semester.

The requirements for the infographics included:
  • Headline & sub-headings should create attention and help direct the readers focus from top left to bottom right.
  • Facts must be supported with references.
  • Include a minimum of 2 to 3 bold graphics/images.
  • Demonstrate how people can help while they travel or at home.

The infographic above entitled "Help save an African Elephants was created by Joey Burdette,   
The infographic to above was created by Justin Cowan,

Digitizing Traditional Learning versus Online Learning

"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow" ~ John Dewey, 1944.
This post is a continuation of a series on the challenge for today's teachers.  The purpose of the series is to explore techniques and best practices for moving beyond the classroom walls and outside the traditional class schedule to better prepare our students for the increasingly technology based communications and dynamic global marketplace.   
Digitizing Traditional Course Materials
When I first started teaching online in 1998, technology was rather limited in what we could utilize to provide "cutting-edge" materials online.  The WebCT Learning Management System we were using at the time did not have the capacity of recording lectures or video/audio lectures. Communication and dialogue outside the classroom was limited to written assignments, discussion boards, and text chats. 

Fortunately, we have come along way in the last 15 years.  We are no longer limited to converting printed materials to PDF for presentation online. Still many online courses today are no more than a digital collection of the materials an instructor might use while presenting their lectures in a traditional classroom. These pseudo-online courses are not unlike the traditional independent study courses where students visited a distance learning office on campus to pick up their reading materials. The student would then complete a series of readings followed by written assignments, after which they would then return these documents back to the campus office or via mail. The primary difference is that the online courses deliver the documents electronically, are structured into a time-based series of learning modules, and involve many more students at the same time. This model of learning fulfills the need of convenience and flexibility that so many students seek, but it is not equally effective for all students.   The independent study model or pseudo-online courses are only effective for students who possess self-discipline, effective time management skills, initiative, and enjoy reading.  

A student in my Academia and the MOOC course shared a video with me that really resonated with me regarding this point.  Take a few moments to "Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet" (14:58 minutes).

Culatta challenges educators today to shift from the status quo of digitizing traditional learning materials to personalized learning.  This is not such an earth shattering suggestion as one might consider.  When I was in elementary school, we had a reading program where students could work on their own to proceed through a series of readers.  Once you finished with one level you completed a worksheet and turned it into your teacher, she then gave you permission to proceed to the next level.  You were not limited to the pace of the entire class but rather could move according to your own ability and motivation. Today our students can utilize eReaders or their tablets to tailor an advanced personalized learning model in the classroom.
PCI Reading Program Level One
A modern version of the reading sequence so common in the 1950's and 1960's that provided students with an individualized approach to reading.
Learning Management Systems (LMS) or the online learning environments we commonly use to deliver online courses are ripe for leveraging technology to re-imagine how we can provide our students with a variety of options for a personalized learning model. I currently provide my students with 3 different choices regarding the lecture presentations.  Students may elect to listen to a 15 lecture recorded with Captivate, a HTML page of text-heavy content with several short (less than 3 minute) audio clips (or diagrams, charts, photos, or other visualizations of the concept being covered), or a black and white text heavy handout with 6 PowerPoint slides.  I am pilot testing a sequence of learning activities that begin with a Pre-Quiz over the content.  Based on the questions missed, the students review the related learning segments before completing the corresponding written assignment and/or Post-Quiz.  It is possible that students will not listen to a segment or skip the reading as assigned, but I know that they do this with or without an individualized approach. I am simply empowering students to further take control of their own learning.  Tomorrow I will continue this post by exploring further how we can individualize our online courses without eliminating the opportunities for collaboration.

Feel free to share your own experiences and insight regarding digitizing traditional learning materials and online course delivery models.

A Lesson in Freedom

“We only think when confronted with a problem.” 
― John Dewey

Today was graduation day for the College of Health.  It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our student's successes, but it is a bitter sweet.  We say goodbye to our students and wish them only the best as they begin this journey into their professional careers. Unfortunately, time has been limited today so I hope you will forgive me for sharing a story that touched my heart today. We often take the freedoms we enjoy for granted.  Not only does this story bring home a valuable lesson, but it illustrates how changing up the routine can challenge our students and create a memorable experience as they are challenged with a problem. 
Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock , did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks out of her classroom.

When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.

'Ms. Cothren, where're our desks?'

She replied, 'You can't have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.'

They thought, 'Well, maybe it's our grades.'

'No,' she said.

'Maybe it's our behavior.'

She told them, 'No, it's not even your behavior.'

And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom.

By early afternoon television news crews had started gathering in Ms. Cothren's classroom to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.

The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the deskless classroom, Martha Cothren said, 'Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.'

At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven (27) U.S. Veterans, all in uniform, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.

Martha said, 'You didn't earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. Now, it's up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don't ever forget it.'

By the way, this is a true story. And this teacher was awarded Teacher of the Year for the State of Arkansas in 2006.

Please don't forget that the freedoms we have in this great country were earned by U. S. Veterans. Always remember them and the rights they have won for us.

God Bless America !

I dedicate this blog post to my father who like so many of the men in our family that have served our nation.  My father was in the Navy during World War II and was injured ensuring that we had access to the many freedoms our citizenship guarantees. My father was very supportive of my advanced education and I only he had lived long enough to be present when I received my doctorate. I know that he is proud of my accomplishments and of each of his children and grandchildren that have served in the military.  Thank you to each member of the military who continues to ensure that our children are guaranteed an education regardless of gender, ethnicity, or economic status.  

Communicating with Today’s Students

When I first started teaching several decades ago, I received calls from students on my office phone, chatted with students before or after class, or met them in my office.  When I went home from the campus, I was "disconnected" from my work.  If I needed to contact the students I returned to the campus to call them. My mobile phone was actually a phone attached to the wall with a 15 foot  cord that allowed me to walk around my apartment while talking. If I missed a telephone call, I had to listen to an answering machine located on the kitchen counter.   Mail arrived once a day in a paper envelope. Communication has certainly experienced unprecedented changes and the evolution in mobile technology shows no signs of slowing.  

Millennials (those students 18 to 29 years of age) or Gen Y are more connected than any previous population attending college. If we are to be equally connected with our students, then we need to consider how we can tap into these communication preferences.

Mobile Devices:
  • Millennials are almost always connected via a mobile device. They are actively engaged in real-time communications and they expect everyone else to be equally connected. In fact, this connected market segment spends 14% more time using their mobile devices than other age groups (Experian).
  • 90% of Millennials have a cell phone and over half are Smart Phones.
  • 88% of Millennials use a cell phone to text.
  • 80% of Millennials have texted in the last 24 hours.
  • Sadly, 64% confess that they have texted while driving
  • 41% of Millennials do not have a land line, only a cell phone.

Lesson Learned - Connect with my students using my Smart Phone:
Today, my office phone forwards to my cell phone when I am out of the office.  If I happen to miss a call, I can pick up my voice mail or read the voice messages on my email. If the caller failed to leave a voice mail, I can check my recent calls list. I start every day by checking my class email on the course Learning Management System (LMS). The messages students send via the LMS can be set up to forward to my Smartphone. I am more connected with my students using my Smartphone than ever before in my teaching career.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  To really meet the needs of my students I need strive to make as many of my online course materials mobile friendly.    

Social Media:
  • Millennials have the highest social networking penetration of any generation. They are the most active age group on Facebook and Twitter. 
  • 75% of Millennials have a profile on at least one form of social media.
  • 62% of Millennials report having used wireless Internet away from home. 
  • 20% of Millennials have uploaded a video of themselves.
  • 14% of Millennials use Twitter.
  • Early adopter millennials are one third more likely to IM/Chat than the average millennial (eMarketer).
  • Millennials prefer short and sweet communications.  Concise and to the point.
  • Millennials are eager to share what is important to them.
  • Millennials are multi-taskers or multi-channel communicators. 

Interestingly, for my discipline (parks, recreation and tourism) utilizing social media, and specifically Facebook would be the most effective means of capturing the Millennial's attention. We need to effectively utilize Facebook and Twitter to communicate.  Our course materials should incorporate video and audio whenever possible.  We can increase our accessibility if we incorporate IM/chats within our office hours.

Recently CompassLabs released the results of  a research study examining the most frequent topics posted by Millennials. Favorite activities identified by the study provides insight into what types of posts will capture their attention.

  • Camping
  • Sleeping
  • Cooking
  • Hiking
  • Traveling
  • Playing video games

  • Working out
  • Singing
  • Hanging out with friends
  • Running
  • Dancing
  • Eating
  • Drinking
 Many of these topics relate to a major in parks, recreation and tourism and could be incorporated into our news, feature stories, and updates on a new departmental Facebook page. This will be a great boost to our marketing effort to attract new students to our program.