Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bowen & Bloom: Skepticism & Surfing

I attended my second José Bowen teaching workshop at Fresno State on Friday. During consultation days - just after the end of instruction and just before finals - might have been a nontraditional time to hold such an event, but as I'm already thinking about New Year's Resolutions related to my spring courses, I figured I'd attend to get more inspiration. Here are my top three take-home messages from the workshop:

Teach students how to:

  • Deal with failure (view it as an opportunity to grow, not as a setback)
  • Change one's mind
  • Be skeptical
Although I've used ed tech to address all of these, today I'll focus on skepticism, which others (e.g. Bloom) might refer to as critically analyzing, evaluating, or critiquing. Part of Bowen's workshop involved the participants viewing class from the student point of view (which is increasingly more important to actively attempt, the older I get…).

Step one: create a learning objective. Mine was for genetics:
"Explain the difference(s) between sister chromatids and chromosomes" (a perennial source of trepidation among the undergrad biologist set).

Step two: Bowen then suggested that each of us employ our devices (laptops, phones, tablets) as a student would: to search for key terms. The goal: find one example of good content and bad content. I chose to do a YouTube search of "chromatid vs chromosome." Having just been informed that students won't watch more than five minutes of video (if that), I was pleased to note that the top hit was only 5:03 long, so I watched the video. I'll use it as an example of the not-so-good content (predominantly because of some misleading definitions provided in the video):

As Bowen has told us (repeatedly), one of our (faculty) most important jobs in the digital era is to help students assess the quality of free content available on the internet. To be successful, we must be able to learn new things and to adapt quickly in the marketplace. Thus, our protégés must be comfortable not only navigating the sheer volume of data available but also be able to discern the quality of the information (hence Bowen's new term to replace "professor": "cognitive coach").

Step three: Realize that, regardless of the discipline, your students will search for and encounter material that is just as poor on their own while studying for your class.

So, now that I'm armed with a video that:

  • is the top YouTube hit on a likely search phrase for this objective
  • is relatively brief
  • attempts (but fails) to explain a critical and basic concept in my field

how will I incorporate this realization & content into a web-enabled class? I've done this before (but not with this specific video):

Step four: Ask students (either in class or before class, if you don't have internet access in the classroom for all students) to search for pertinent content (either web page or video) and share the URL (perhaps via collaborative Google Doc, or via class poll via Socrative or, for example). Read/watch a few content entries with the class, asking them to try to catch errors (this works even better if you're looking at content that you, the instructor, created!) Foster class discussion on such discipline-indepenedent topics as:

  • What was missing?
  • What was blatantly incorrect?
  • Where could an alternative explanation/point of view been added?

End with a brief summary of the purpose of the exercise. Hopefully you can conclude that, among other things:

Not everything you read/watch on the internet is true

Being skeptical is incredibly important! (thus, of course, I should also admit: don't just take my word for it!)

Finally, I should continue to give credit to Bowen (and to Bloom) for inspiring this post. As Bowen alluded, there's a great benefit in this approach for the faculty as well: if you get students to go onto the internet to find relevant digital content, and then if the class evaluates the content, they're helping you find some potentially really outstanding material that you can leverage the next time you teach the course!