Saturday, November 19, 2016

Box: efficiency and more!

I have a confession. Box was the first app I ever used, on day one of my faculty professional development in tablet-based instructional approaches. That was in 2014, and the task was to record a video using the Box app. Many of my colleagues use it regularly in their classes, which is why I'm almost embarrassed to admit that it took me this long to discover a use for it: in my graduate course in molecular biology.

In its most simple form, Box (available as an app and via web interface) is a great place to collect and share files. It has a robust system for setting access permissions when inviting others to access files you place in a Box folder you create. This I already knew.

But, then I had an issue to address in class: my travel conflicted with one of our class meetings. Once again, I started exploring how the use of technology could enhance my ability to conduct course meetings remotely. The format of my molecular biology course is that students read a published research manuscript in advance of class, and then we meet to discuss, interpret, and critique the study.  How would I provide students with a rendition of this format if we have one week where we don't meet in person?

There are several possible approaches, including using Zoom (or other videoconferencing platforms), but I settled on the idea of having each student provide a digital presentation of one figure or table from the assigned manuscript. Instead of discussing in person, instead each student would produce a video in which s/he presents and interprets a figure. The grading in my class is based entirely on participation, so it would be relatively easy for me to assess participation in a digital discussion.

Thus, I assigned each student one figure to present. They are allowed either to record a movie or (as a backup approach, in case of technical hurdles) to produce a written description and interpretation of that figure. I discovered, while re-exploring Box, that the Box app combines the ability to record and upload to the class Box folder a movie directly from the tablet - and the workflow is easy. More importantly, for me, Box also incorporates a commenting feature, and a way to post text.

Beyond posting one figure presentation (movie or text) to our Box folder, each student must view (and leave a critical comment or a question) one peer's presentation of each figure in the manuscript. This ensures that each student has engaged in the analysis of the data presented in the manuscript, as we do weekly in person in class. Finally, I also required that each student respond to at least one comment/question left by a peer on their own presentation.

Because students will use the Box Comment tool to leave (and respond to) both text and movie posts, this also makes it easy for me to assess student participation.

This plan kicks off in three days, and I'll post an update after I learn whether my best-laid plans work the way I hope!

My only concern is that, because the use of Box was a rather last-minute decision on my part, I didn't have time built into my course for students to practice using Box beforehand. This underscores an important best practice for any incorporation of a new technology into a class: build (and protect) time in your class to practice workflows before you employ them in any for-stakes assessment activities.

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