Online and Face-to-Face Tools to Promote Student Retention & Success
Gary E. Kaiser, Ph.D.
Professor, Microbiology, Department of Biology
The Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville
Phone: (443) 840-4289
Course Website: The Grapes of Staph
In this workshop I will describe and demonstrate how a combination of learning objects, reusable learning objects, learning objectives, self-tests, crossword puzzles, original Flash animations and illustrations, concept maps, audience response system questions, think-pair-share questions, and creative projects are used in both my traditional and blended microbiology classes to promote student retention and success.
1. Learning Objects
A learning object is an educational resource, typically digital and web-based, that can be used and re-used to support learning. A learning object is a small, self-contained, re-usable unit of learning as opposed to the more traditional hour-long lecture or textbook chapter, and can range in size from a single animation, illustration, or chart to an entire course1.
In constructing each of my learning objects I've tried to include:
- A list of learning objectives for that object telling the learner what they should be able to accomplish after completing that learning object and on what they will be tested.
- Illustrations, photographs, and/or animations to help the visual learner.
- A self-assessment component.
While learning objects are not entire courses, they can be nested together to create courses. I have converted my microbiology course into a series of nesting learning objects. Many of these learning objects are reusable and are found repeated a number of times throughout the course for the purpose of reviewing, previewing, or reinforcing relative information.
Learning objects can be created fairly easily in programs such as Dreamweaver, Blackboard, SoftChalk, Prezi, etc. Examples of my learning objects and reusable learning objects can be viewed on my course website at http://faculty.ccbcmd.edu/~gkaiser/index.html.
2. Original Flash Animations
I’ve made over 150 Flash animations to help students visualize microbiological concepts and processes. Once I became somewhat competent at drawing with Adobe Illustrator and learned the basics of Adobe Flash Animation I found these fun to make. The basics of using Flash animation can be found at http://faculty.ccbcmd.edu/~gkaiser/ASM/handout_PDF.pdf. This is from a presentation I gave at ASMcue in 2007 so an older version of Flash is shown. The basics, however, are the same. Links to most of my animations can be found on my website at http://faculty.ccbcmd.edu/~gkaiser/Start.html.
3. Concept Maps
Concept maps are graphical tools for presenting knowledge concepts and the relationship between these concepts in a graphical, hierarchical fashion. Cross-links are further used to illustrate the relationships between the various segments of the concept map2. To construct these maps, I use a free, downloadable software program called CmapTools available online (http://cmap.ihmc.us/download/) from The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. The tools are very intuitive, come with an excellent help section, and can be mastered in just a few hours.
The way I use the concept maps in my lectures is to first construct a complete concept map for students to use in both learning the specific topic, and later, in reviewing for tests. CmapTools also enables me to provide html links from the concept boxes within the map to animations, illustrations, and photographs on my website. A web page version of the completed concept map is published on my website and a link to that map is placed in the menu of my website for easy student access. To see a handout I prepared explaining the basics of CmapTools go to http://faculty.ccbcmd.edu/~gkaiser/CmapTools/index.pdf.
For in-class use and student self-quizzing I prepare “Unfinished Concept Maps” by simply deleting text from various selected concept boxes. These deleted words and phrases are then used to make a separate “Key Words and Phrases” PDF document that contains the missing text elements. A hard copy of the “Unfinished Concept Map”, along with the missing “Keywords and Phrases”, is passed out to students during lecture immediately after we complete that topic. Students then work in small groups to fill in the missing parts of the map. In this way the concept map serves as a kind of puzzle for which students use their notes and text, as well as the information already provided on the hard copy of the map to complete the puzzle. Both completed and unfinished concept maps are provided for all major learning objects in my course. To view online examples of my concept maps, go to http://student.ccbcmd.edu/~gkaiser/puzzles/CPindex.html.
4. Crossword Puzzles
I have constructed optional crossword puzzles for each lecture unit exam and each lab quiz to help students learn vocabulary. I make theses using free downloadable software called Eclipse Crossword. Their download site is http://www.eclipsecrossword.com/download.html and it a very simple program to use. While I don’t grade each puzzle, students do receive one point extra credit for each puzzle they submit. To view online examples of my crossword puzzles, go to http://student.ccbcmd.edu/~gkaiser/puzzles/CPindex.html.
5. Think-Pair-Share Questions
To increase active learning, all lectures contain critical thinking Think-Pair-Share Questions. Students read the questions and are given 30 seconds to look over their notes and think about answers to the questions. Students then pair up and are given 2-3 minutes to discuss possible answers with their partner. Finally, students share their answers with the rest of the class. While answers are not graded, students are expected to participate in all active learning lecture activities. Class participation is worth a total of 50 points. Students really do participate in class and I have been extremely pleased with the results.
6. Audience Response (Clicker) Questions
Since 15- 20 minutes is now considered to be pretty much the average attention span for a student listening to a straight lecture format, I always break up my lectures with some multiple choice “Clicker” questions testing the material just covered. I find students like doing these and it seems to help students to more effectively pay attention in class and participate with others in the class. While individual student responses are not graded, if enough students choose the wrong answer, I reload that questions and give students two minutes to discuss their reasoning behind their answer with classmates. They then “vote” on the correct answer again and typically the percent of students choosing the correct answer improves. TurningPoint and Socrative are examples of audience response sytems.
Beginning this fall my lab manual will contain several case studies that culminate in students identifying an unknown bacterium. I am using free software called Rubistar, which can be downloaded at http://rubistar.4teachers.org/, to develop the rubrics I will use to grade the lab reports generated from these case studies.
8. Creative Projects
There is also a required Creative Project worth 20 points. The purpose of this is for students to have some fun with microbiology while doing something creative. It can be a drawing, painting, poster, mobile, sculpture, song, poem, game, something edible -- virtually anything creative that also shows an understanding of some aspect of microbiology. Many of these decorate my microbiology lab.
1. Beck, Robert J., "What Are Learning Objects?", Learning Objects, Center for International Education, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/CIE/AOP/LO_what.html, retrieved 2008-04-29
2. Novak JD, Canas AJ. The theory underlying concept maps and how to construct and use them. [Internet] Institute for Human and Machine Cognition; 2008 [cited 2010 March 5]. Available from http://cmap.ihmc.us/Publications/ResearchPapers/TheoryCmaps/TheoryUnderlyingConceptMaps.htm