Author Archives: lsowa

Philosophy of Teaching and Learning – Lori

To articulate my personal philosophy of teaching involves an exploration of what I do in the classroom and why, but also what I strive to do, even if I am not always successful.  In an ideal world, my teaching and learning philosophy would be identical to my teaching practice.  However, it is through experimentation in the classroom that practice consistent with philosophy develops.

One of my main goals in teaching students is to prepare them for “the real world”, something I felt was lacking, or perhaps I just didn’t connect with, in my own educational experiences. I’ve worked to accomplish this in the classroom through a number of active-learning exercises: asking my students to consider the power and importance of assumptions and to tackle open-ended, ill-structured problems (similar to what Eric Mazur describes); taking them on field trips to visit facilities and talk to practicing engineers; working across disciplines and incorporating the social, economic, and environmental aspects of design.  While some of these types of activities were easy to incorporate, others took a leap of faith for me to actually implement.  For example, assigning open-ended design projects that were somewhat outside of my specific area of expertise took some courage.  What if I don’t know all of the answers to their questions right away?  With a few years of experience, and honing my own skills on learning how to learn, I’ve become more comfortable posing challenging but engaging problems, and supporting my students in their attempts to find answers.

Using Fink’s (2013) taxonomy, I can link these activities to what he considers to be significant learning experiences: foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, caring, and learning how to learn.  Engineering education is quite content heavy, traditionally focused on foundational knowledge and application, as it will continue to be for both competency and accreditation/licensing purposes. But this content-driven focus can appear to leave little room for activities that foster the latter dimensions of significant learning. Finding ways to incorporate these types of activities takes re-evaluation of our teaching methods, what Fink describes as a shift from a content-centered to a learning-centered paradigm (p. 61).  This has been relatively easy for me to achieve in introductory-level courses, but may be more challenging in other course settings.  This is where philosophy and practice may take some work to align.

As I reflect on my experiences in this course, I realize that I now have an expanded and refined philosophy on teaching and learning that includes the concepts of backwards design and fostering a community of inquiry.  First, backwards design is a principle that resonates with me in terms of course design, the idea that learning objectives (inclusive of but expanded beyond content) are built first, and then course activities are built to encourage these results.  Second is the goal of developing a community of inquiry, described by Swan et al. (2009) as composed of cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. While the framework is discussed specifically for the online environment, the concepts can certainly be applied to a face to face environment.  Looking at social presence in particular, providing opportunity for the establishment of a social network within a course has value in many ways.  Increased learning through interaction with peers is one aspect, but the development of social capital in the educational environment has been shown to have positive benefits for students in terms of persistence and degree completion (e.g. Brown, et al. 2009).   Partner and group work can be a venue for these interactions, but requires teaching presence to make the most of these experiences.  Not only assigning these types of activities, but also providing guidance and structure to help students function in these types of situations (i.e. what does it mean to be a good team member?) should be specifically included in our direct instruction.  Looking forward to the possibility of preparing courses in an online environment, Swan’s framework will provide useful guidance in developing effective social as well as cognitive and teaching presence.

A final aspect of my teaching philosophy is the appreciation for various types of intelligence, and an understanding of the role of life experiences for students.  One thing that I’ve learned from teaching at an open-enrollment University is that each student is an individual, and there are numerous aspects that affect that individual’s ability to be a successful student.  And going further, there are many ways to measure success, many of which are not easily assessed by traditional exams.  I have learned that getting to know my students and their experience informs my teaching practice by expanding my view of how students approach and experience learning activities. As described by Stuart (2008), the role of course management (i.e. clear expectations, prompt feedback, fostering a sense of community, and a variety of lessons and assessments) will become even more important in the online environment when serving non-traditional students.  Finding ways to get to know my students in an online environment, through meaningful interactions and perhaps innovative techniques such as verbal feedback delivered by audio clips, will take additional effort and time, but comprise a necessary component of the course.  It is this type of time and effort investment – in both my students’ learning and my own preparation for future teaching experiences – that I hope my teaching philosophy will translate into effective practice.

Brown, S., Flick, L. and Fiez, T. (2009). An Investigation of the Presence and Development of Social Capital in an Electrical Engineering Laboratory. Journal of Engineering Education, 98
(1): 93–102.

Fink, D. L. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Stewart, D. P. (2008).  Classroom management in the online environment.  Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4(3): 371-374.

Swan, K., Garrison, D.R., & J.C. Richardson. (2009). A constructivist approach to online learning: the Community of Inquiry framework.  In Payne, C.R. (Ed.) Information Technology and Constructivism in Higher Education: Progressive Learning Frameworks.  Hersey, PA: IGI Global, 43-57.

Rationale for Engineering for Educators Unit

Some of the learning activities for this unit have already been field-tested in an online environment, some have been attempted in a face-to-face classroom with a different audience, and some are completely new.  But all of the activities have been developed or refined with very specific audience, delivery medium, and learning objectives in mind.  I’ll touch on each of the activities by learning objective below.

Learning Objective 1. Identify and understand the components of the engineering design cycle (EDC)

This learning objective is likely the most straight-forward and content-based of the three objectives, and also the one that could be the most dry.  The focus is on lower-level cognitive activities (as categorized by Bloom’s taxonomy).  My intention is to have students experience the engineering design cycle through an active-learning exercise, taking the activity to the level of creation, the highest level in Bloom’s taxonomy.  The challenge will be to do this through a hands-on activity in an online setting.

I’ve chosen to facilitate this design activity in a synchronous setting so that content delivery is real-time, and the experience most closely resembles what they would likely do in their classroom.  After presenting some basic content through 15 minutes or so of lecture with PowerPoint visuals, I’ll present the tower-building challenge and the scoring equation.  Then, students will have 30 minutes of time to build their towers using the kit I mailed to them previously (including 25 plastic drinking straws, 1 roll of scotch tape, and 20 marbles).  The session is quiet during this time as students work independently at their individual locations, but I am there in case there are questions.  The timing of the activity is important: real engineering projects have deadlines.  It would be nice to have all year to complete the project, but that is not how things work.  The tower designs would be very different depending on whether they had 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 days to complete the project. The actual time constraint is not as important as the fact that there is a time constraint.

After the 30 minutes, we’ll discuss the process of loading the towers to failure, and then allow some time for them to load and document the failures.  Next, we calculate scores and discuss the scoring equation which might look something like this:

SCORE = (S)*(H-7)^L

where S = # unused straws, H = height of tower (inches), and L = load supported (# marbles)

The equation has “hidden” criteria built in (if you use all of the straws, your score will be zero!) Discussion of the mathematical content, the components of the EDC, and how this might be adjusted for different ages and used with groups of 2-4 students in a classroom will follow.

The assignment for this section, a reflective blog post documenting their tower, allows them to not only to reflect on the experience, but also to practice technical writing and presentation skills using the engineering vocabulary and concepts presented in class.

Learning Objective 2: Apply the engineering design cycle to create active learning opportunities in their classrooms that are age-appropriate, engaging, linked to content knowledge, and that address state and national standards

For this learning objective, teachers will apply their new knowledge and experience using  readily available, field-tested engineering curriculum.  By exploring the websites provided, teachers can search a wide variety of projects to find material appropriate to the age group and content area of their classroom.  The initial blog post assignment allows teachers time to explore the options and plan for implementation, collaborating with their cohort.

Actual implementation of an engineering lesson in the classroom will require some flexibility on the part of the instructor.  Logistically, it may be difficult for teachers to complete this during a scheduled one-week time period, since set lesson plans or testing may pose challenges to that timing.  Therefore, the assignment should be described early on, and then given with 2-3 weeks allowed for actual implementation.  Afterschool activities could provide an alternate venue for teachers to implement the activities.  But it is important for the teachers to actually teach the lesson(s) to gain that first hand experience.  Collaboration with the cohort through a synchronous session will allow teachers to share their experiences – what worked, what didn’t, and theories about why and what to do differently next time.  Peers and the instructor will likely provide distinctly different types of feedback, ideally resulting in a robust, educative assessment of the activity. A reflective essay posted to the blog after the group discussion will provide an opportunity for individual metacognition.

Learning Objective 3: Understand the engineer’s role in society, and inspire a desire in students to use engineering to solve problems that matter to people.

This last objective is perhaps the most idealistic and difficult to assess.  However, successful mastery of this objective has the potential to provide the most benefit.  This assignment will come near the end of the semester, after teachers have gained familiarity with the process and implementation of engineering design.  Additional content is provided via websites and selected videos and readings that present very compelling, specific problems that face society such as providing clean water throughout the world, making solar energy more efficient, and dealing with the growing garbage accumulation in India. Some of the selected content will describe engineering solutions to these problems.  Reflecting on these readings, the teachers will find and research a problem that is meaningful to them.  Teachers will create a Thinglink to describe the problem, discuss the engineer and society’s roles in the solution, and pose a specific engineering challenge.  The Thinglinks will be shared on the blog with collaboration from peers encouraged (as part of their grade), and a final synchronous session will provide a forum for discussion of the problems and how those might be incorporated into a classroom. While this activity may fall short of actually requiring teachers to “inspire” students in a way that is readily assessable, it is designed to inspire the teachers themselves, who will then hopefully carry this into their classrooms.  A survey of the teachers, performed 1-2 years after the completion of this course, could provide a longitudinal assessment of this objective.

Through all of the activities outlined above, students will have the opportunity to experience what I want them to learn through a variety of both passive and active learning activities. Collaboration with their cohort as well as the instructor will provide multi-faceted feedback.  At the conclusion of the course, I hope that teachers will have the resources and motivation to discuss and implement engineering activities in their classrooms.

Engineering for Educators – Final Curriculum Plan

Unit 4: The Engineering Design Cycle

The goal of this unit will be to provide an overview of the engineering design cycle that will allow teachers to use authentic engineering problems in their classrooms, and to be able to adapt the methods to their particular age group and setting.

Context: This unit will follow introductory units focused on perceptions and misconceptions of engineers, academic motivation for inclusion of engineering in the K12 classroom, real world problem solving skills, and model-eliciting activities. The audience will be in-service K-12 teachers pursuing a Master’s Degree in STEM Education, but may also include pre-service teachers.  The course will be delivered online through BlackBoard Collaborate, and supported by a course blog.  Students will have some level of math and science proficiency, but it will be highly varied.

Learning Objective 1. Identify and understand the components of the engineering design cycle (EDC)

Learning Activities and Assessments:

    1. Students will learn about the EDC components by watching a narrated PowerPoint lecture on the EDC (content similar to https://www.teachengineering.org/engrdesignprocess.php
    2. Students will post reflections to the blog about the components of the EDC, comparing them to other processes (such as composing an essay, solving ethical problems, developing a hypothesis). Feedback will be provided by peers and instructors.
    3. Synchronous Collaborate session (2 hours): Tower of Straws. Background content on basic tower design will be provided by the instructor, followed by a hands-on tower building challenge. Students will use their tower building kits (previously mailed to each student) to construct a tower with an equation given (with “hidden”, mathematical criteria) to calculate their scores. Students will have 30 minutes to build their towers, and will document the towers by photographs. At the end of the time, students will post pictures on their towers during the Collaborate session. Then, students will be instructed to load the towers with marbles, and document this by video. Towers should be loaded until failure, with students documenting the type of failure. Group discussion about implications of the scoring equation (which variables were most important in getting the highest score? How would their process change if they were trying to achieve the lowest score?). This demonstrates one technique for embedding arithmetic and algebra content (order of operations, fractions, exponents, formulas) into the activity.
    4. Students will post photos and videos of their towers to the blog, and will document their score, failure mode of the tower, and what they would do differently next time. Feedback provided by peers and instructor.

Learning Objective 2: Apply the engineering design cycle to create active learning opportunities in their classrooms that are age-appropriate, engaging, linked to content knowledge, and that address state and national standards

  1. Students will review available resources for K12 engineering curriculum (www.egfi-k12.org, www.teachengineering.org, etc.) , along with recent literature on a framework for evaluating engineering projects in the classroom (Guzey, S., Tank, K., Hui-Hui, W., Roehrig, G., & Moore, T. (2014). A High-Quality Professional Development for Teachers of Grades 3-6 for Implementing Engineering into Classrooms. School Science & Mathematics, 114(3), 139-149.)
  2. Students will identify two EDC activities that would be age and content-appropriate for their classrooms, describe each on the course blog, and reflect on: (a) how they would adapt the activities for their classrooms, (b) what challenges they would anticipate (are materials easy to come by? would the activities work in the timeframe they have available?), (c) what benefits they anticipate, and (d) what standards the activity would address. Students will receive feedback from peers and instructor.
  3. Students will choose one of the activities to implement in their classroom. Students will document the successes and challenges of their experience in a 10 minute presentation to be shared during a synchronous session.
  4. On the course blog, the teachers will reflect on their collective experience – outlining best practices for implementing future engineering projects in their classrooms.

Learning Objective 3: Understand the engineer’s role in society, and inspire a desire in students to use engineering to solve problems that matter to people.

    1. Students will review the Grand Challenges for Engineering website (www.engineeringchallenges.org) and selected link and videos related to engineering and society such as http://vimeo.com/32400188 and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/esource-copper-wire-separator-e-waste_n_1671326.html
    2. Students will create a Thinglink using an image that depicts a problem or challenge facing society. Ideally, the problem will have a local connection and will be appealing to students in K12. The Thinglink image should have embedded video, text, website, and/or audio content that describes the problem, defines both the engineer’s and society’s role in developing and implementing a solution to the problem, and very clearly poses a specific engineering challenge.
    3. A synchronous Collaborate session (1 hour) will be held to facilitate discussion of this unit.

 

Updated: Thinglink, Quizlet, and Adobe Presenter

Tool Reviews – Lori Sowa

Thinglink:

Thinglink describes itself as the “leading platform for creating interactive images and videos for web, social, advertising, and educational channels.”  Basically, you can take an image (either your own or from the web) and add icons that link to text, websites, other images, audio, and/or video when you click on them.  Despite the awkwardness of its name, I really like this tool.  With due dates and obligations stacked a mile high, this was the project I most wanted to tackle.

The first step (as always) is to create a login.  The site is free to use unless you want to remove the thinglink logo and replace it with your own.  Once you’ve established a profile, you can follow, track views, comment, etc.  There’s a large library of thinglinks to browse. I found an interesting thinglink that describes bacteria and included links to short videos, websites, etc. You could have easily spent an hour exploring all of the content associated with the figure.  As a tool to deliver content – I wonder how likely the student would be to take notes.

One concern about thinglink is the lack of order… students can put things together without a logical progression in mind, and perhaps that could lead to less cohesive project.  Teachers could specify what needs to be included to scaffold this if need be, and the icons can be numbered to indicate order. Crafting a thoughtful, well organized report is an important skill.  This forum, while allowing for visual appeal and inclusion of additional media types, may not address that particular learning objective.  But the tool is easy-to-use, fun and engaging, allows for creativity, and has many educational possibilities, so I would consider it a tool in my pedagogical toolbox.

Here’s my quick prototype:

First Ice 2014

Quizlet:

Perhaps the most interesting part of this webtool is the story of its origin.  The tool was created by a then 16-year old student faced with the daunting task of memorizing 111 names of animals (in French).  A little over a year later, he refined his code and published the site.  While I’m not a big fan of memorization and don’t have much use for flashcards in my courses (although algebra vocabulary might be useful for some students), I can’t help but be proud of the kid who created this simple yet robust, easy-to-use tool.  And there are certainly times in life when we just have to memorize something – be it organic synthesis reactions, times tables, or French animal names.

Quizlet is a memorization tool.  It is basically a way to create online flashcards (called “sets”) with some nifty “games” that you can play with the content, such as fill in the blank, matching, a drag-and-drop game where you match the term to the definition.  There is an option to add images, but you have to pay $25 for that (we already figured out the kid who developed it wasn’t stupid).  You can use automatically-generated definitions or create your own.  To create a set, data can be entered by hand, imported from a file, or copied and pasted from another application.

If you are creative, you could expand from the term/definition standard of flashcards and use this site in additional ways.  I added some algebra equations with the associated solutions.  Had images been an option, I could have had an equation as the term, and the graph of that equation as the solution – creating a set of equations to correctly match with the graphs. Scientific names of animals associated with their images would be another potential application.  But in the end – there’s always one right answer with this tool, since each “term” is associated with only one “definition”.

Teachers can create a class, add sets, and then track student progress as well as collect data (who studied, when, and how often).  This option was not available with a free account.  If you plan to use this as an instructor, it will require the $25 fee to be a usable tool. For my current teaching purposes, I am not likely to use this tool (although I may use it as an example in a computer programming class).  But it would useful in the right setting.

I created a class, and attempted to add my algebra set to it, but was unable to do so.  I’m going to blame this one my extremely slow, temporary computer that I’ve been using since my regular laptop has been on the fritz for the past few weeks.  (Update: I was able to add the set!) My class is located here:

http://quizlet.com/join/CAF5td3Jb

Camtasia: ( I had to abort efforts to review Camtasia due to my inability to download the software.  Instead, I chose to review Adobe Presenter

Adobe Presenter:

Adobe Presenter comes as an add-in to PowerPoint. I was able to add audio narration and interactive quiz questions to a slideshow I had already created.  There is also a feature to create video from your computer’s webcam. I had planned on sharing the presentation here, but another application (Adobe Connect) is required to share the presentation outside of your own computer.

Here are a couple of screenshots of the presentation playing from my computer. I was able to narrate slides in a user-friendly format, clicking through animations and advancing slides while talking, pausing and restarting at will.  The audio files are editable, and are segmented by slide which makes it easy to go back and change something if you stumble on your words (as I did).

presenter screen shot 1

presenter screen shot 2

The second screenshot shows a quiz I was able to make and include in my presentation.  This is a really nice feature of Presenter, allowing (and if you click the right buttons, requiring) students to test their knowledge along the way and breaking up the monotony of a pre-recorded lecture.  You can create multiple choice, matching, short answer, true-false questions, and even have the ability to add surveys with Likert-scale questions.  There is a way for teachers to see students’ time in the lecture and quiz responses – so you could actually hold students accountable for watching/engaging in the material – and see where the misunderstandings are.  You can build in hints and even link to websites with more information about a topic depending on the student answers provided (although I was not able to make this feature work). It would take a bit of time to explore all of the possibilities and craft your quizzes, but would be well worth it for the end-product you can achieve.

The product of this software is a very professional presentation that is searchable and does not require specific applications (not even PowerPoint) for the end-user.  Although, it is a Flash file, so I’m not sure it would work on an iPad.  It is a good tool for e-Learning, but is limited to PowerPoint as the platform.  Despite the groans about “death by PowerPoint”, I still find PowerPoint to be a flexible, robust tool, and as with anything – it’s all in how you use it.  Based upon this trial, I’d like to investigate Adobe Connect for sharing capabilities (and Adobe Captivate, which I think is similar) to create online lecture content.  Revisiting Camtasia – for applications where you want to record your screen for things other than PowerPoint (for say, recording MATLAB programming examples in real time) – Camtasia sounds like the way to go.

Tools of the Trade, An Initial Look

Weekly Writing 10 – Lori Sowa

For an online pedagogy course, I thought we’d jump into tools fairly early on.  However, it is refreshing to wait until this stage, after exploring course design, objectives, and assignments, to look at tools with this perspective in mind.  I prefer to encounter a need, and then find the right tool for the job rather than finding a cool tool and trying to figure out how to use it.  Although, it is certainly possible that a new tool can provide inspiration for a unique way to achieve a learning objective.

In an online course, the method of delivery and interaction becomes more scripted.  I truly enjoy walking into a classroom with a general idea in mind, and having the course of the class period take a sharp turn based upon student needs and interests.  I’ve been teaching long enough now that I can pull this off (in certain situations), and chalk and a chalkboard are the only tools I need.  I have not mastered this in the online classroom.  Perhaps with time, experience, and the right tools I could achieve that level of flexibility in an online classroom as well.  I suppose a better, interactive white board than what I’ve found in Blackboard would go a long way to achieve this goal, at least for synchronous sessions.  Perhaps the answer is as simple as an external writing pad such as this.

Many of the tools that I initially think of as student project tools – such as Thinglink – can actually be used by instructors to present content.  Video lectures, especially those with interactive features, are useful, but expanding our horizons as instructors to think about creating content through various means that students will engage with in an active way may produce better learning outcomes.

In the near future I’ll be reviewing Thinglink, Camtasia, and Quizlet.  Thinglink is a tool for adding content to an image – text, website links, or video.  Camtasia is a screen capture tool.  Quizlet is a simple quiz-making application.  Perhaps it says something about these particular applications and the type of learning they support (active, passive, and lower-level Bloom’s taxonomy, respectively) that I’m most looking forward to exploring Thinglink.

Posting Online: Are you “lurking”?

Weekly Writing 9 – Lori Sowa

While posting online may cause some apprehension and uneasiness, at least initially, there are numerous benefits to this practice.  The potential for an increase in the quality of student work is well documented, and something I’ve experienced first hand as both a student and an instructor.   However, this first-hand experience comes at the undergraduate and graduate level.  As with many aspects of online learning – I wonder about the implications for elementary, middle and high school students, where social pressures are more intense.

Browsing through articles and literature on this subject, I came across the somewhat unfortunate term “pedagogical lurking”.  Dennen (2008) describes lurking as non-posting discussion behavior, basically reading posts in an online discussion forum related to a course without commenting.  She argues that students may do this with positive intent, similar to listening in a face-to-face course.  And her study, although limited and based upon self-reporting by students, correlated frequent non-posting behavior with a perception that the discussion board was worthwhile.  This poses an interesting challenge for assessment.  We can easily assess actual postings, but perhaps that doesn’t provide a full picture of the ways in which students use the discussion boards to meet their pedagogical needs. I find myself reading more posts than I actually respond to, and certainly find benefit in doing so.  I’ve watched many of the video links provided in weekly writings, and have passed them on to colleagues and used them in classes.  But then, is there a detriment in not responding – to the author or the class as a whole?

The most important negative aspect of student posting online, perhaps related to the desire by students for privacy of their work, is concern about intellectual property.  Putting your work out there for all to see also makes it more readily available for others to use in an unethical way.   Safeguards, such as providing a closed forum for discussion boards, can help limit access to material to course participants.  But the actual threat this poses is likely small.  Some students will be more sensitive to this issue than others, and instructors will need to be ready to defend their course requirements while taking into account the concerns of their students.

One logistical aspect of posting online is archiving and saving your own work.  While I maintain notebooks from many of the courses I’ve taken in the past, I have not continued this practice with the online courses I’ve taken.  For this course in particular – will we continue to have access to course website after the course is over?  While I keep electronic files of the writing that I do, it’s just not the same as having a compilation of all of the information in one binder.  I may have to gather up the various articles that I’ve printed for this course (as much as I’d prefer to save the paper and read the articles online, I still prefer print for comprehension) and start the archival process.  However, the lack of paper-based materials for archiving is likely considered a benefit by many.

The benefits of posting online outweigh the negative aspects which can, in most cases, be easily managed.  Requiring students to post their work online using various tools and in innovative ways can be a forum to teach 21st century skills.  In addition to posting to a discussion board, students can organize and present material by creating a website, a Prezi presentation, a Thinglink, or any of the myriad of modern options available.  This does not mean, however, that every assignment in an online or blended course should automatically be required to be posted online.  There may still be a place for private submissions.  As always, the method of presentation of an assignment should be linked to the learning objective and desired assessment.

Dennen, V. P. (2008). Pedagogical lurking: Student engagement in non-posting discussion behavior. Computers In Human Behavior, 24(4), 1624-1633.

Engineering for Educators – Draft Curriculum Plan

Unit 4: The Engineering Design Cycle

The goal of this unit will be to provide an overview of the engineering design cycle that will allow teachers to facilitate authentic engineering design activities in their classrooms, and to relate these activities to the role of engineers in society.

Context: This unit will follow introductory units focused on perceptions and misconceptions of engineers, motivation for inclusion of engineering in the K12 classroom, real world problem solving skills, and model-eliciting activities. The audience will be in-service K-12 teachers pursuing a Master’s Degree in STEM Education, but may also include pre-service teachers.  The course will be delivered online through BlackBoard Collaborate, and supported by a course blog.  Students will have some level of math and science proficiency, but it will be highly varied.

Learning Objective 1. Identify and understand the components of the engineering design cycle (EDC)

Learning Activities and Assessments:

    1. Students will learn about the EDC components by watching a narrated PowerPoint lecture on the EDC (content similar to https://www.teachengineering.org/engrdesignprocess.php )
    2. Students will post reflections to the blog about the components of the EDC, comparing them to other processes (such as composing an essay, solving ethical problems, developing a hypothesis). Feedback will be provided by peers and instructors.
    3. Synchronous Collaborate session (2 hours): Tower of Straws. Background content on basic tower design will be provided by the instructor, followed by a hands-on tower building challenge. Students will use their tower building kits (previously mailed to each student) to construct a tower with an equation given to calculate their scores. Students will have 30 minutes to build their towers, and will document the towers by photographs. At the end of the time, students will post pictures on their towers during the Collaborate session. Then, students will be instructed to load the towers with marbles, and document this by video. Towers should be loaded until failure, with students documenting the type of failure. Group discussion about implications of the scoring equation.
    4. Students will post photos and videos of their towers to the blog, and will document their score, failure mode of the tower, and what they would do differently next time. Feedback provided by peers and instructor.

Learning Objective 2: Apply the engineering design cycle to create active learning opportunities in their classrooms that are age-appropriate, engaging, linked to content knowledge, and that address state and national standards

Learning Activities and Assessments:

  1. Students will review available resources for K12 engineering curriculum (www.egfi-k12.org, www.teachengineering.org, etc.) , along with recent literature on a framework for evaluating engineering projects in the classroom (Guzey, S., Tank, K., Hui-Hui, W., Roehrig, G., & Moore, T. (2014). A High-Quality Professional Development for Teachers of Grades 3-6 for Implementing Engineering into Classrooms. School Science & Mathematics, 114(3), 139-149.)
  2.  Students will identify two EDC activities that would be age and content-appropriate for their classrooms, describe each on the course blog, and reflect on:
    • how they would adapt the activities for their classrooms
    • what challenges they would anticipate (are materials easy to come by? would the activities work in the timeframe they have available?)
    • what benefits they anticipate, and
    • what standards the activity would address.
  3. Students will choose one of the activities to implement in their classroom. Students will document the successes and challenges on the course blog, and describe how they might prepare for or implement the activity differently in the future.

Learning Objective 3: Understand the engineer’s role in society, and inspire a desire in students to use engineering to solve problems that matter to people.

Learning Activities and Assessments

    1. Students will review the Grand Challenges for Engineering website (www.engineeringchallenges.org) and selected link and videos related to engineering and society such as http://vimeo.com/32400188 and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/esource-copper-wire-separator-e-waste_n_1671326.html
    2. Students will take (or find on the web) three pictures that depict problems or challenges for society (at least one must be a local issue), post them to the blog, and describe both the engineer’s and society’s role in developing and implementing a solution to each problem.  
    3. A synchronous Collaborate session (1-2 hours) will be held to facilitate discussion of this unit. Students will each discuss how (and if) they envision using engineering in their classrooms in the future.

Metacognitive Summary – Preparing an Engineering for Educators Course

Weekly Writing 8 (5.1) – Lori Sowa

Preparing a course that I’m not sure I’ll ever teach is a little bittersweet.  If the opportunity does arise – I’ll be light years ahead in terms of preparation and quality of learning experience than if I were to be told at the last minute that I will be teaching this next semester (which is fairly typical).  However, due to my current employment situation, there’s a good chance that I’ll never teach it.  The work will not be for nothing, however, since I can see the application of this process in many scenarios both inside and outside of academia.

One significant aspect of preparing an online course that I hadn’t thoroughly considered before is the freedom to decide what material is better suited to synchronous delivery/discussion and what is most effective through asynchronous means, and then to craft the course content with this as the guideline.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  This is in stark contrast to traditional face to face courses, where there are very specific guidelines about “contact hours” (i.e. a three credit course requires 3 contact hours per week).  With this in mind, I will likely design a course that does not require weekly synchronous meetings, but perhaps a 1-2 hour synchronous meeting every 2-3 weeks.  The freedom this provides makes so much sense from a pedagogical perspective, and provides for much greater flexibility and creativity in designing learning activities and ways to deliver content.  I would, however, advertise the course with a set day/time for the synchronous sessions up front since they would be required.

Having co-taught a couple of courses designed to prepare teachers for K-12 engineering, and spending some substantial time reading literature on the subject, I feel better prepared to design a course like this which does not come with a standard textbook.  Most of the other courses I’ve taught in the past have very set content, so this course has been really fun, and challenging, to develop.  Whether it would be effective or not remains to be seen.  But, if I were able to teach this course, I’d like to incorporate data-collection measures into the course, and follow up with teachers after the course, to get an idea of whether or not it was successful.  Defining success would be much more straightforward with well thought out learning objectives to fall back on.  But gathering the teacher’s perspective on the relative success of the course perhaps a year after its conclusion would be interesting to measure.

Fink (2013) describes three general strategies to teaching: team-based learning, problem-based learning, and accelerated learning.  I’m not sure that my approach to this course will follow the accelerated learning technique described, although I will likely include aspects of it, but I do think that much of the course will include problem-based learning that is conducted through small teams during the synchronous sessions.  The major units that will likely preceed the unit I’m developing here are real-world problem solving skills (such as units, conversions, estimates, and assumptions) and model-eliciting activities (open-ended, interdisciplinary problem-solving activities – here’s a link for anyone who might be interested in these). While some content will be provided beforehand through relevant links and some synchronous lecture, the synchronous class sessions will mostly involve students working in teams to solve problems that require some level of self-directed research and reasoning.

The asynchronous blog would be a substantial component of the course.  I’ve built a blog for a course through Blogger before, and it worked reasonably well.  I’d like to revisit that tool now that I have a better idea of what I’d like to do with it, but I’d also like to explore WordPress, which seems to have a steeper learning curve and a cost issue to contend with.

Overall I’m happy with how the course design is coming together, but there’s still substantial work to be done to go from grand ideas to concrete, well-defined content. And seeing how it works in practice is a whole different ballgame.

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Reflections on Learning: Integrated Course Design and the Online Environment

Weekly Writing 7 – Lori Sowa

I have learned a tremendous amount about integrated course design and taxonomies through this course.  What I am seeking in my current education is the educational content knowledge that I lack, and so I very much appreciate that this course is every bit as much about “pedagogy” as it is about “online”.  The most valuable lesson for me is stepping away from the basic content of a course and thinking about, planning for, and valuing other types of learning.  I believe this becomes all the more important when designing on online course, because so much of the course must be scripted beforehand.  Effective spontaneity is more difficult to achieve online.

I experienced perhaps the most poignant difficulty so far with teaching in the online environment earlier this week.   In a synchronous Blackboard session, I provided some engineering content before students performed hands-on activities (tower-building) individually.  I talked about towers failing due to either individual members breaking (strain) or from the tendency to rotate (called “moment”).  After the activity, I was trying to point out to a student that when his tower was leaning, this was an example of the tendency to rotate, and he typed “not rotating, leaning” in the chat box.  If I had been in a classroom I could surely have clarified this point with him with hand gestures, chalk on the chalk board, or demonstrating with a tower.  But instead, I just let it go because I couldn’t think of a way to readily explain it with the tools available to me.  If it had been a major point of the lesson, then surely I could have pulled up a blank slide and fumbled my way through use of the drawing tools to at least attempt an explanation, but it was a small point and so I just let it go.  It still  bugs me, though, and so perhaps I’ll try to find a relevant link to share to make up for my inability to provide a better explanation at the time.  I’m still not sure this is an inherent disadvantage of the technology, or just my inexperience with dealing with these types of situations online.

I am grateful for the availability of online courses – otherwise it would not be possible for me to pursue this degree (without some major life changes).  While some may question the medium, it is hard to question the demand for it.  In my opinion the online environment for this course has been highly effective, albeit time-consuming to complete all of the activities.  However, I don’t think the time commitment it is out of line with face-to-face courses.  As always, there is variety in every medium and type of classroom.

What I have learned about myself as a learner is that I find asynchronous discourse to be an effective means of both collaboration and learning through reflection.  This is due to the practices employed here.  I appreciate the quick and meaningful feedback from the instructor and the others in the course.  The specific guideline about number of responses expected is valuable and gives me a goal to strive for (even if I don’t achieve it each week).  I’m not sure what the teaching future holds for me, but I am sure that I will be better prepared to develop and refine both online and face-to-face classes in the future.