After a semester of integrating specifically adapted or developed learning objects into their classrooms, some of the newest disciplinary additions to the MELO project shared their experiences in the classroom with this project to date. Members of the Organic Chemistry, History, and Spanish teams talked about their classroom needs and how they addressed student learning by using technology and Learning Objects in new and exciting ways. This was a very invigorating meeting, where faculty expressed their excitement over using all kinds of new tools to help students.
Each example showcases the innovation, excitement and capacity for change this project has had in the gateway course classrooms at the University of Michigan. By incorporating openly licensed or open access materials and distributed and participatory technological tools and platforms, participating MELO faculty members are able to focus on pedagogy, student engagement, and successful learning outcomes. As a result, they are serving their students more effectively and successfully.
This first post, in a series of three, features the outcomes to date from the History participants.
Dr. Michael Witgen and his MELO team (Frank and Michelle) wanted to focus on developing skill sets through the lens of history. His introductory course includes many non-history majors, who have had trouble connecting to history in the past. By focusing on skillsets, Dr. Witgen helps students gain skills that are marketable and practical, such as interpretation, synthesis, and analysis. These skills are especially useful in today’s information economy. Further, this class focuses on a topic that is Dr. Witgen’s subfield and so he was less familiar with the content, availability of materials or process for teaching it as he would be in other courses.
In order to do this, Dr. Witgen felt he must engage the students more proactively in class, not focusing on the content so much as the conversation. He developed the concept of an “interactive syllabus,” composed of content that could be digested, added to, and used throughout the term on a wiki platform. He and his team searched for and found rich collections of digitized primary documents, many from the Library of Congress, that were either in the public domain or government works. These were able to be hosted locally or linked to on the syllabus and students could engage with primary source documentation in the forms of transcripts, scans, and photographs. Much of this content was already organized into helpful units that could be easily added to the syllabus, furthering the ability for the teaching team to respond to student needs and interests.
Because this syllabus was already set up, adaptable (it could easily be updated throughout the semester), and composed of primary source documentation that had been prepared for use in classrooms, Dr. Witgen was able to focus on preparing for engaging the students in the classroom. He was able to “flip” the classroom. Making participation required for getting a good grade in the classroom, Dr. Witgen and his team focused on keeping students talking in what amounted to a large group discussion. Dr. Witgen experimented with a discussion-lecture format, but students disengaged. He then switched his focus to embedding his “lecture” points within the discussion. This took thought, effort, and a lot of focus on reading the energy and attention level of the class, to figure out when and why they might shift to “football and Facebook.”
Overall, Dr. Witgen and his teaching team saw increased enthusiasm, activity, and more positive feedback from class evaluations. Making the class an active learning experience was the key factor in these outcomes. By using digitized primary source documents and other openly licensed content on the web, he was able to focus on his in-classroom experience and to experiment with different lecture-discussion formats that allowed him to be responsive to his students just-in-time learning needs.