Panelists Highlight Better Blended Learning in Arts

On Friday March 4th, APRIL and CTL co-hosted the second of APRIL’s 2015-2016 Pedagogy Panels. Like our January experiential learning event, this second event, which focused on blended learning, brought innovative instructors together to talk teaching and learning in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

In his capacity as CTL director, Roger Graves kicked the panel off with a helpful overview of funding initiatives and supports offered by the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Dr. Graves then presented on WRS 102: Writing in the Disciplines, a Faculty of Arts blended learning course of 200 students that combines face-to-face classroom learning with writing on a gamified platform. GwRIT, the “Game of Writing” creates spaces for students to write, read others’ writing, and provide and receive feedback from peers. Tutors and TAs work with students in this virtual space to give feedback before assignments are due for grading. Roger highlighted that a significant advantage provided by the blended format is that it exposes students to a much broader array of writing styles, problems and exemplars than they would encounter in a face-to-face classroom, where they could only feasibly interact with a handful of classmates.

The audience next heard from Economics professor Andrew Wong, who has worked with the benefit of a CTL Blended Learning award to “flip” elements of his large introductory Economics 102: Introduction to Macroeconomics class. With 400 or more students in some sections, introductory economics courses have all the teaching challenges posed by large classes: reliance on lecture, student anonymity, and difficulty conducting meaningful formative assessments. To increase student engagement and accountability for home study, Dr. Wong, with the assistance of CTL’s Dr. Duston Moore, developed lecture captures and tutorials for students to view from home. Students in Dr. Wong’s lecture now spend a full 50-minute class each week working on active classroom based learning. Instead of listening to a lecture, students work in small groups on models and practice problems. This format allows Andrew to interact more with students. It also allows him to introduce some degree of enrichment content in an 100 level course, where it is especially important to show students what is interesting and exciting about a disciplinary field.

Odile Cisnero followed Andrew, demonstrating her use of Screen-Cast-o-Matic. Dr. Cisnero teaches a second year course, Introduction to Latin America Studies. Her key challenge is covering 500 years of history in three countries in one, three-credit course. With CTL support, Odile created 15 slide tutorials for students to view at home. By covering content in these slide presentations, Odile frees up more face-to-face time in her class for activities and class discussion. Dr. Cisnero noted that Screen-Cast-o-Matic was easy to use with a quick learning curve. She did stress that recording the tutorials could be time consuming, but on balance, she has found that it has been a worthwhile investment. Most of Dr. Cisnero’s students have responded positively to the tutorials, and especially appreciate them because they can be viewed multiple times for study purposes.

Professor Allen Ball closed the panel with a presentation on how web access and archiving has enhanced the ability of students to conduct independent research. Allen emphasized that online archives have opened up a wealth of opportunity for students in many arts disciplines because students have access to artefacts to which they otherwise would unlikely have been exposed. In the context of the Art and Design department, blended learning is embedded in program design. Online exchanges facilitate dialogue and critique among students and faculty. Students learn to give and respond to feedback in thoughtful ways that further their development as artists and scholars.

As emphasized in the last APRIL PRAXIS blog, blended learning is first and foremost about “the right teaching tools in the right place at the right time.” Better Blended Learning panelists exemplified the many ways in which a blended learning design can be used to enhance the quality of student engagement in face-to-face classes, while providing structure and clear expectations for students’ individual study activities.

Thanks to our panel participants, and to audience members for all of the engaging questions and discussions that followed the panel. APRIL and CTL look forward to hosting a final Arts Pedagogy Panel in April. On April 15th, we’ll explore teaching strategies that support international students, and encourage intercultural communication in our increasingly diverse classrooms. You can register for this event via CTL.


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