Saturday, September 16, 2017

Learning with Technology

Guest Blogger: Uzoma James Chikwem

There is no question that there has been unbelievable technological revolution in recent years that has changed our businesses, governments, travel and pretty much everything but our educational system, which for the most part, is still stuck in the past. There has been a silent but quick mobile apocalypse that have made most smart phone users, especially millennials, become almost like mobile zombies, or social media fiends, that live with an uncontrollable urge to be plugged into their smart phones at all times. In education, we always observe that it gets tougher each year to grab the attention or interest of students due to what’s trending on social media or some new technological announcement like the new iPhone coming out. Even after creating the best PowerPoint presentations or coming up with simple but profound handouts that explains everything about a topic, a majority of students will still be on their phones or passed out during class.  The fact that students have the internet in their palms on a mobile device that has more power and memory than some personal computers, makes them feel like genuine geniuses. Students can find out any answer or solution by asking Siri or Google or get the latest information on certain fields by following pages on social media. I believe this misleading intellectual feeling of being able to know it all by using their second brain, their smart device, is hindering or distracting students from paying attention or wanting to learn anything in the classroom.
With all the technological advances that has happened just in the last year alone, for example the use of Virtual Reality plus Augmented Reality on phones, students often feel like they are in an ancient dungeon when they come to the classroom and all they see are desks, blackboards or whiteboards; even books and smart boards seem old fashioned to them.  When Apple coined the phrase, “There’s an app for that” it literally revolutionized the way everything is done in our day to day lives; instead of reading books we can now just listen to them using audible; if one doesn’t know how to solve a math problem, they can simply take a picture using PhotoMath and it will quickly show the results and steps to solving the problem.  These two simple ideas for apps are making lots of money and made life easier for users but can ruin the fun of learning and the challenge of understanding how to get solutions to a problem. Through critical thinking, analysis, memorization and repeatedly practicing problems anyone can learn any subject or topic by putting time trying to understand it. Even though it seems like a lost cause trying to teach nowadays, I often get praised for how fun my classes are or get to view the excitement of students when they figure out a lab or project. All because I use technology to get students to learn, and if I can do it, we all can.
Since the educational problem we face isn’t just happening at Lincoln University but internationally, computer scientists, web designers and others are teaming up together to try and tackle this huge issue of lost interest in learning and education. There are tons of resources out there to assist in getting the interest of students in different topics. I would like to help by listing some programs and websites I use in my courses but would like to hear from faculty or students if there are other sites, apps or anything else they use to grab students’ interest in participating and enjoying the learning process.  First off, I’d like to mention that I am in Computer Science and my focus is Educational Game Technology so I am already at an advantage because most of my labs, projects and tutorials involve use of fun technologies and hands-on learning. Although, I have had a lot of computer science faculty just lecture the whole class and totally lost me because I wasn’t practicing or being hands on with the topic, I have had some great professors, like Professor Barimani, whose style of teaching I try to utilize every time and add my own flavor to it. He made sure that in every class he left room for students to practice what he just taught, then gave feedback plus projects before ending the class.  When using technology for teaching, just don’t throw it at students and expect them to pick it up easily; one should always give a tutorial or workshop on how it works, what you expect them to accomplish; guide them by giving requirements, labs and more and make sure they know it’ll be part of their final grade to complete plus participate.
Here’s a list of apps and website that can help students to Learn through Technology:
Link 1
Link 2
Moodle rooms
Khan Academy
Google Classrooms
Google Hangout
Please research the names on the list, click on the links, download the apps and in Part 2, I will describe in more detail how to use them in classes.  Also, please leave a comment on how you utilize technology in your courses and any other tips you might have of grabbing student’s attention.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Teaching and Learning Lessons from Turnitin

Guest Blogger: Bill Donohue

Here we are in Spring, and as we all await those final student products that demonstrate student learning from another successful semester, I know what you are thinking: “I wonder how Donohue’s use of Turnitin that he blogged about in January went this semester.” Fear not; I am here to give you an update!
Throughout the semester, students were required to submit select writing assignments using the Turnitin feature on Moodle. These assignments were ones that I have seen plagiarism in the past from essay mills or Sparknotes.
Overall, I saw five instances of plagiarism, two of which came from the same student. These are interesting cases to discuss as they shed light on both teaching and learning at Lincoln.
In ENG 101, students had to write an essay about Langston Hughes based on a close reading of his poetry and essays. Two students submitting essays to Turnitin had high similarity scores that proved to be opportunities for formative teaching and learning.
Both essays had sentences copied and pasted from internet sources. One student had minimal use of plagiarized sentences, and I addressed the issue through feedback about proper citation on the assignment through Turnitin’s feedback studio. The other had a very high rate copied sentences. I addition to feedback on the essay, I followed up with the student during a writing workshop. An underlying issue for the student was not understanding the writing assignment and the critical thinking concepts we had been discussing and practicing building toward the essay assignment. In a desperate attempt to submit something, the student wrote a biography of Langston Hughes, mainly by copying from internet sources. Not only was this teachable moment about plagiarism, but also a formative learning opportunity regarding the more difficult concept of close reading and critical thinking. The student revised the essay and was able to engage in the independent thinking and writing exercise intended by the assignment (without plagiarism).
In ENG 099, there were three instances of plagiarism for assignments related to the reading of the novel A Lesson Before Dying. Two of the plagiarized submissions were by the same student. My concerns are broader than difficulty with course content as seen in ENG 101.
All three plagiarized papers were emailed to me as opposed to submitted to Turnitin, as required. Part of the reason for need to email the assignments was that the assignments were completed after the due date. Turnitin will not accept submission past the due date. (The regular Moodle assignment submission function allows for a due date and a grace period. Good to know if using one or both tools during a course). I uploaded these emailed assignments to Turnitin for analysis and feedback. However, the emailing of the plagiarized assignments may be an attempt at subterfuge by avoiding the plagiarism checker altogether.
One student had a similarity score in the green at 23%, but the plagiarism detected was enough to fail the student. Although the assignment required analysis, a more difficult task than writing a summary, this is a student who usually does not have problems thinking independently and is quite vocal in class. One reason for the plagiarism might be the desperation to submit a late assignment. However, the student came to class high last week (smelled like marijuana; glassy, bloodshot eyes; delayed responses; evasive). My fear is that the student is heading down a road that will adversely affect academic performance.
The other student emailed both a chapter summary assignment and a character analysis assignment after the due date. Both were heavily plagiarized. The student has been consistently inconsistent all semester. When she is on, she does quite well. But other times, she misses class or does shoddy work, if she has completed the work at all. Other than online feedback, I have not had a chance to talk to the student directly, mostly because she has missed class. In an email exchange on a different topic, she did indicate how “swamped” she is with work, especially in trying to complete overdue work with work that is due next week. Is this another case of plagiarism due to desperation? Does she not know how to properly complete the assignments? Is she struggling with course content? Is she failing at organizing and prioritizing her work? How is she spending her time outside of class? Is she going to make it? What can I do for this student?
Such are the questions that keep me up at night.
One change that I made for a final writing portfolio assignment in ENG 099 was to engage higher level thinking skills. The straightforward character analysis that was plagiarized by two students has been altered to an assignment where students are placed in a position of running for sheriff in the fictional Louisiana town where A Lesson Before Dying is set.  The students need to have an understanding of the character responsible for much of the systemic racism in the town in order to create an argument as to why they should be sheriff instead. The critical thinking started right away in our class discussion of the assignment when one student asked about the time frame. Should they write in the 1940s setting of Bayonne, Louisiana, or current day? We settled on 1940s Louisiana, but without voting restrictions based on race or gender. 
I look forward to reading those assignments and all the final portfolios due next week from another semester of teaching and learning. 
What was your experience with student writing and/or the use of Turnitin in your classes this semester?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Learning Matters

“Is it still possible for me to get a passing grade?” or “What do I have to do to get and A in your class?”; you, like me, have probably heard these questions more than once in the last few weeks. I post all my grades on Moodle so there is really no need to ask me grade questions, but there are always a handful of students eager to enter the hypothetical “what if I hand in all late assignments, get a 95% on the final, and complete all extra credit”. I must admit that I indulge these students. I invite them to sit down with me in my office and we go over every detail of their grade, enter reasonable and unreasonable estimates for the next few assignments and tests, and talk about what has to happen for them to earn that wished-for grade, whether it is a C or an A. Sometimes I try to talk about the bigger picture, especially if the student is one of my advisees. We talk about career aspirations, the realistic (im)possibility of being accepted to medical school with C’s in all biology and chemistry classes, repeating classes, taking and extra semester or year to finish college, and occasionally the conversation touches on learning. I may ask something like “do you feel like you have gained mastery of the material in the class?”, or “do you think you could use the knowledge in a different class or to solve a real-world problem?”, but those times are rare. What can we do to take the focus off grades and move it onto knowledge generation and learning? In her blog post Five Ways to Get Students Thinking about Learning, Not Grades, Maryellen Weimer lists a handful of thoughts on the topic. I particularly like the last point where she gives an example of an eye-opening question she once asked a student:

“5. Change the conversation – Talk “learning” with students. I once had this exchange with a student. ‘So, you’re taking political science? Tell me what you’re learning in the course.’ To which the student replied, ‘Nothing.’ ‘Really?’ I asked incredulously. ‘And what’s going to happen when you’re interviewing for the job of your dreams and the interviewer says, ‘Gee, I see you took a poly sci course. That’s such an interesting field. Tell me what you learned in that course?’’ I loved how the student’s eyes widened.”

She also admits that we do need grades as performance measures - she simply wishes to nudge the conversation to focus more on learning. What is your take on grades versus learning? More importantly, what do you do to help students think about their own learning processes?