Exit Slip

I was inspired by my wife (as I am with many things) with this idea. She is an absolutely amazing math teacher; she has taught from 4th grade to calculus. What she does at the end of many lessons is ask a main concept question of something she just covered. She calls it an “Exit Slip.” After the students turn in their responses, she then discreetly pulls the students who clearly do not understand the concept to the back of the room to further explain. The students who were correct get to try a challenge problem while she is with her other students. She feels this is an immediate way to keep everyone up to speed, while also providing a more rigorous option to her highest achieving students.

My wacky brain immediately went to “how can I do this online?” Isn’t that the first thing you would think of as well? :)

Blackboard Collaborate (live system we use) allows for quizzes where only the professor can see the response. My thought was to ask a core concept question, and any students who were wrong will be sent into a “breakout room” (also a feature in BB Collaborate). I would stay in the main classroom and set a timer for 10 minutes and discuss an advanced topic (not applicable to grading in the course), and I would also send one advanced student (who I would ask in advance if he/she wanted to do this) into the breakout room to help solidify the concept. Then when the timer bings, for better or worse everyone comes back and we move forward to the next concept and repeat the process.

This will bring those with a lower level of the concepts up to speed, while also challenging the advanced learners with advanced topics and also to think about the ways to communicate the concepts with those who do not quite understand them. This is certainly a useful tool!

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Flipping the Classroom Part 2

In my last post I discussed some basics surrounding flipping the classroom, but now I want to dive a little deeper into something more advanced that some do very well, others partially do, and some not at all. Associate Dean William Byrnes and I developed this together for the way we use it in our program.

The problem: Simply recording lectures online lectures online and posting is a great way to lose students’ focus and bore them out of their minds. As discussed in a previous post, learners (not just online learners) need an alteration every several minutes from learning delivery mechanisms. What we do is create “study guides.” I do them for my courses with some help, and I am also amazed at what other professors make in our program. There is one study guide per week, each one starts with a concept map of the entire courses with the parts covered in the current week highlighted. It then breaks topics into section and subsections. Essentially, read 5 pages-watch a 5 minute video, answer a couple of questions. Read 5 pages, watch a 5 minute video, answer a couple questions. It also includes many links in relevant places with extra and supplemental material.

This style has had great success for us, and I believe really enhances student learning.

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Flipping the Classroom Part 1

This certainly has all the buzz doesn’t it? I started flipping the online classroom in 2009, and saw its many advantages. For those who aren’t fully aware, the basic concept is “lectures” are recorded for students to view before entering the live session where the live session is problem-based (many options actually, but I usually do problem-based). The advantage is that the students can come and apply their learning in the classroom with the professor guiding the understanding process. Disadvantage, is if students have not viewed the materials they will be clueless in the live session. Usually I literally just tell students to leave and watch the recorded lectures and then view the recording of the live session later.

If done properly, this can be a VERY effective way to teach tax (and many other topics for that matter). The heart of taxation is client scenarios and examplesa and problem solving, and this really enables the course to get right into the meat of the issues that truly make a difference. This frees us up to do the socratic method for cases, or set up a series of hypotheticals, or give a client-scenario in advance and then go over it in the live session. All very interactive, all keeping students awake and engaged and active-learning (hopefully!).

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Dynamic Learning Environment

As the Program Director of Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s Online Graduate Programs I am constantly looking for ways to improve information delivery to students. The LMS to choose or the live session system to use are cosmetic, the organization of information delivery is the heart of how students learn.

The debate will eternally continue on what delivery method of learning is better, in person or online. Naturally, the answer will always be “it depends.” However, I believe I have found one instance where online learning is without question superior. Of course, my twisted brain thinks in this manner, realistically it may be the craziest/most ridiculous idea ever! That is part of the fun isn’t it? I don’t know, as I have not tested it yet (test run starting fall). For now, you can decide!

Our Program is a Master’s level program where students enter with a fluctuation of a base level of knowledge. For example: some students enter our tax concentration with 20 years of tax experience and are looking to add an expertise in a different type of taxation. Other students come in with no tax experience at all. Yet, we need to filter them through the same courses. We have five different concentrations, and all face the similar problem. A way I am going to combat this is with the first-term course for everyone to take. The challenge is that those with tax experience will be frustrated taking an entire course on basic taxation principle, but there are certain pieces of information they will absolutely need about various types of tax systems before entering more advanced courses.

The first-term course will be what I call a “dynamic learning environment.” It will essentially be five courses in one (one course per concentration), before you put me in a straight jacket and carry me off let me explain. The student will enter the course and see five tabs in the LMS that will indicate the different concentrations and will have a syllabus posted up front to start at. The syllabus will have a flow chart in it. Our courses are broken up into two-week “learning units,” so each student will be able to choose based on the flow chart which learning units to complete based on the individual’s needs. A student in our US Tax concentration with no tax experience will take all 10 weeks of US Tax introduction. A student with 20 years of tax experience can jump in and out of the US tax learning units (to maybe say the International Taxation concentration material) if material is deemed too basic. The course will be set up asynchronously utilizing recorded lectures, but will have access to one professor for each concentration, and the students will be told when a professor from each concentration is holding online office hours if there is any questions on the material.

I hope that this idea is a seed in which our Program can grow to something unique and meaningful. But maybe the seed will die, time will tell!

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The Modern Student

There is a generational divide in learning that has been the root of frustration for professor after professor. Have you ever heard a professor say “students these days have such short attention spans.” Or, “it constantly seems like my students are just staring at their laptop and not listening to me.” Yet, I have personally witnessed college-age students sit down and focus on playing one video game without moving for 15 hours in a row.

Students learn today with many of the root tenants of education still in place, with one big difference. The expectation of delivery of information has morphed. The cause of this is rooted with speculation, but the effect has a dramatic impact on education. To be an effective educator at any level you must have an altering of one of the following once every 5-10 minutes or so:

1) Type of information (switch topics)
2) Person delivering information (panel, student participation, or something else creative-see below)
3) Location of delivery of information (this can be as simple as educator moving around classroom-but also has great impact on online education)

This is what many experienced professors and instructors are not grasping very quickly, it is no longer effective to stand in front of a room (or online even) and talk for an hour. That is, unless you want to lose the attention of the learner after 5 minutes.

For example, I was teaching residentially in person and thought I would experiment a bit. I usually feel that the very sight of me coming to talk about tax is enough to put an insomniac to sleep in an instant, so I knew I had to mix it up a bit. I set up a debate…with myself. I pre-recorded youtube videos for select questions on the topic and had a student come up and be the moderator. I then sat in the debate chair with a screen next to me. The moderator would read the question and I would answer, and the devil’s advocate (I was dressed as a devil in the video) would reply to my answer right after I finished. The help of an IT-oriented person in the back helped immensely! As far as I could tell, no one fell asleep that day and it also accomplished all three of my goals stated above.

Teaching online is ripe with opportunities for optimal pedagogy, much of the time with greater opportunities for students to learn than in residential learning. The three points can be beautifully choreographed to make a special learning environment.

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To New Beginnings….

Everyday I am honored to be educating at a time where the online environment is fresh, and where a marketplace of ideas can coalesce to try and fall on some sort of optimal pedagogy.  With every turn of the calendar there are new ideas to build upon new ideas.  We are creating a world from scratch, using old principles where possible and throwing out antiquated notions where necessary. 

This is the exciting world we live in, one ripe with potential.  I hope to play some small role, sharing my new ideas that maybe others can improve on, and building on other ideas with a fresh perspective. 

I am blessed to be the Program Director of an Online Graduate Program, so I am able to experiment and build off of an entire system of ideas, not limited to my own as I have many colleagues that I am blessed to be able to bounce ideas off of to come to what we consider a great idea.  But one thing is for certain, we are in an experimental and developmental stage in online education development and I encourage everyone to always challenge existing ideas and always look for ways to improve.

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