First Impressions of Shooting for the Active Learning Teacher: Higher Education Activity Stations

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First impressions count. Students often arrive on the first day of a college class full of anticipation with some anxiety and a lot of questions, some of the questions being said but most often not said. Thus, professors navigate a desire to get to know their students and for students to value their course. This is often communicated in monologues received discreetly through program review, scoring and deadline policies. According to Merritt (2008), students form a lasting impression of teachers in five minutes, even without the benefit of a program overview. Finding compelling ways to load the impact of day one with intentional messages is therefore essential.

Angelina Murphy has written an article titled “Using Learning Stations to Kick Off the Year”. Although written for K-12 educators, many of his station ideas can expand to accommodate higher education. By incorporating technology, activity stations can become a dynamic first-day experience applicable face-to-face or online. The use of stations can facilitate several objectives for the first day of a course.

For higher education professors who subscribe to active learning, students are immediately faced with immersion in an active learning format. Moreover, with careful design, activity stations present interesting opportunities to clarify course expectations, organize technological tools, create community and explore the relevance of course content for future professions.

To prepare for the activity stations, provide students with the syllabus and a brief pre-reading on the basic conceptual principles of the course before the first course. Take this first opportunity to share an introductory video of yourself. Include that the success of their first day depends on their preparation.

Here are some ideas for activity stations that you can implement face-to-face or online. The purpose of each activity is provided to the reader. Station assignments are written as homework, just like for students.

Introductory station: Get to know your students

Purpose of the resort’s activity:

  • Learn student names quickly with visual format
  • Learn the correct pronunciation of student names
  • Learn what students think they need to learn
  • Acclimatize students to course technology

Whether face-to-face or online, this activity station’s media approach allows educators struggling to quickly learn student names to quickly associate names with faces. In addition, it allows educators to honor students by learning to pronounce their names accurately and show genuine curiosity for an important part of their identity.

As educators, we know the importance of meeting the academic and developmental needs of each student. Whether formally or informally, students have been lifelong learners. Why not ask them to indicate how we can best support their learning? Here we can accomplish in minutes what might otherwise take weeks to verify.

Tasks of the station:

  1. Download and configure (insert selected video application) on a device connected to the Internet
  2. Introduce yourself
    • Say your name. If you know, share what your name means or where it came from
    • Whether in the classroom or outside, you have been a lifelong learner. Therefore, you can know the conditions under which you learn best. Tell me:
      • What do you need to be successful in your studies?
      • How can I support you with this need?
  3. Your expectations
    • Your expectations for this course are high. Given the course description and the syllabus:
      • What do you hope to learn in this course?
      • What content are you most interested in learning and why?

Effective execution advice: Select a video platform that you will use throughout the course, such as Flipgrid. In addition to offering student-generated content, this platform also allows students to receive video or written comments. If possible, respond to each student’s input to lay the groundwork for an individual relationship.

Program station: Course expectations, community strengthening *

Purpose of the resort’s activity:

  • Facilitates discussion with learners
  • Provides an opportunity for questions and answers on course content and design
  • Supports the first interaction on the selected LMS discussion board

The syllabus, most often used as a reference tool, sets the context for how students perceive the course and the instructor (Lightner & Benander, 2018).

To facilitate the group task at this activity station, you can use the individual task orientation questions or generate organic talking points. Then provide your individually refined responses via the school’s LMS.

Tasks of the station:

  1. Group task
    • Introduce yourself
    • Have a general conversation about the things that stood out to you about the program. You can use the individual task orientation questions to structure your discussion.
  2. Individual task – Guiding questions
    • In the discussion forum, share something about the program that made you:

Effective execution advice: Alternatively, students can download and configure a selected team messaging app and send their responses to DM. If you’re worried that students have your phone number, use a team messaging service like Slack. The free version is quite adequate.

Technology station: Preparation of learning tools

Purpose of the resort’s activity:

  • Organize the technological tools of the course

Tasks of the station:

Have the students set up all the technologies needed for the course. Where possible, include videos or external links to “how-to” videos from the student perspective. When providing task directives, organize the tools into categories:

  • Collaboration
  • Online whiteboard
    • Miró (an infinite whiteboard)

Effective execution advice: Identify the integration capacity of your selected platforms. This unique ease of access eliminates the need to navigate inconsistently between platforms during future courses. For example, Google Drive and Miro both integrate with Slack.

Route guidance station: Community building *

Purpose of the resort’s activity:

There is a lot of research that extols the importance of building a community, whether it is face to face or online. This activity station offers students the opportunity to collaboratively create the values ​​of their learning environment.

Station task:

  1. In your group, discuss what can be done to create a learning community that is:
    • Safe (you and your ideas matter)
    • Empowerment (where you can achieve your goals)
    • Academic risk taking (where you are willing to try new things, ask questions, and share new ideas)

Another way to think about this is what behaviors will occur when our learning community is safe, empowering, and ready to take academic risks?

  • Then send ONE suggestion per concept to (indicate place).

Effective execution advice: Once you’ve collected student feedback, associate it with a theme and create an infographic using a graphic design platform like Canva. Share the final product before or during your second class reunion.

Professional dialogue post: Chat with professionals

Purpose of the resort’s activity:

The learning context is important. This station offers the exciting prospect for students to interact with current and dynamic professionals in the discipline. Students can learn how the course content connects to careers, helps with problem solving, and supports the advancement of the field for the good of society.

Station task:

You have the opportunity to chat with two dynamic professionals. They will share and discuss:

  • What fascinates them about our discipline (they may want to know what attracts you there)
  • Why this course is important – In other words, how the content of this course relates to what they do (they may have questions for you about why you think this course is important)
  • They will ask you how you think the content of this course might impact current issues in the profession and ultimately society.

Effective execution advice: Share course objectives and an overview of course content with visiting professionals in advance so that their contribution is contextual.

Whether you use three or more of these activity stations, students will leave your first class with a clear sense of your teaching style, enough information to engage in the learning, and an increased curiosity about the course and the course. chosen profession.

* These activity stations are adaptations of the stations suggested by Murphy.


Ru-Zelda Severin is Senior Lecturer in Music and Education at Bermuda College. She is also vice-chair of the Bermuda Board of Education and chair of the National Educators’ Institute Initiative at Bermuda College. Ru-Zelda enjoys using research-based approaches and highly creative and personalized assessments to guide her students to success.

The references

Lightner, Robin and Benander, Ruth. 2018. “First Impressions: Feedback from four students and faculty.”International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 30 (3): 443-453.

Merritt, Deborah. 2008. “Bias, the Brain, and Evaluations of Student Teaching. ” Saint John’s Law Meet again. 82: 235-87.

Murphy, Angelina. “Use the learning stations to start the year. »Edutopie, August 13, 2019. https://www.edutopia.org/article/using-learning-stations-kick-year.


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