1-1-1, Faculty Technology Institute, iPad, Mobile

Faculty Guest Post: eTextbooks and iPads as teaching tools

Our guest blogger is Vijay Vulava, an associate professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences. Dr. Vulava was a participant in the Summer 2013 Faculty Technology Institute.

Like any of you at the College, I used to carry a few textbooks on me a lot of times. I had even resorted to keeping a second copy in my home, so I didn’t have to shuttle textbooks with me. One of the great advantages of having a connected device (laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.) at your disposal is the ability to access digital versions of your textbooks (eTextbooks) anywhere there is internet access. This, of course, depends on whether the textbook publishers make eTextbooks available. A few years ago a publisher’s representative introduced me to CourseSmart (http://www.coursesmart.com/), a consortium of textbook publishers that publish their textbooks online. An exact copy of a textbook I requested was made available in eTextbook format and was accessible on any internet browser within seconds – I just had to login to my account. On this site, all eTextbooks are available for free to any instructor (you have to request access for each textbook), so you get to review a bunch of textbooks before you adopt one for the class. The eTextbooks look identical to hard copies and contain basic note taking, highlighting, sharing, and printing tools. And because the eTextbooks are available on any computer, you could easily take screenshots of selected pages, sections, or pictures to include in your lectures and notes. I found this very convenient in helping my students navigate through textbooks or helping them find information they need. The big downside of this eTextbook platform is that the publishers have not exploited the full potential of eTextbooks. The content in the text is not hyperlinked within the document (e.g., you cannot click on a figure citation to go to the figure), with the publishers’ own teaching resources (often videos, photos, animations, etc. provided in a CD with the textbook), or to any sources online (e.g., videos, government websites, etc.). The publishers could certainly learn a lot about how to make good eTextbooks by looking Al Gore’ 2009 publication, Our Choice and the accompanying app (http://pushpoppress.com/ourchoice/).

iPads have now made accessing eTextbooks more convenient. CourseSmart apps are now available for Android, iOS, or Windows tablets. I now carry these eTextbooks to class, flip to the required section, and show to my students. These eTextbooks are also available offline when there is no internet access available. I often take screenshots of the eTextbook sections right on the iPad (press Power and Home buttons at the same time and find the screenshot in the Camera Roll) and make annotated notes for the class. TLT’s website has tutorials for projecting from an iPad to a digital projector (http://goo.gl/9EXVw).

There are other eTextbook platforms such as Amazon Kindle and Kno that offer alternatives to CourseSmart, but I did not find as large a textbook selection in either of these platforms. Amazon Kindle does offer a large selection of wider interest titles than any other textbook consortium. In addition to the Kindle eReader, the Kindle app is available for all major connected devices as well.

CourseSmart is a good option for students that are digitally adept and those that prefer content from devices rather that physical textbooks. They can rent textbooks for 180 days and the prices are a lot less than what they would pay for a hard copy at a bookstore.

Events, Faculty Technology Institute, TLT

TLT Conference Call for Session Proposals

FTI_BestLogoTLT invites you to submit a proposal to present at The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Conference, the next generation of the FTI. This event is designed to bring together expertise from across campus, spotlight teaching excellence, and provide a space for idea sharing and networking. This TLT Conference will showcase the amazing teaching and learning that is happening on our campus, and we need you, the College of Charleston faculty, to help make it a success!

This new version of the FTI will have a conference style format with keynote speaker and faculty presenters throughout the 3 day event during Spring Break (March 8, 9, and 10).

Details about the conference are included below. The proposals are due November 5.  Proposals may focus on anything you think other faculty would benefit from hearing about as we will have a wide variety of sessions on innovative and engaging approaches to teaching and learning.

If you would like to participate or propose an idea, but are unsure about filling an entire session, let us know and we will work with you to find a partner or a relevant panel discussion group.

If you are unable to present, we still hope that you will be able to attend!  More information about the sessions and registration will be sent out in November.


The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Conference is the next generation of the Faculty Technology Institute (FTI). Over the past fifteen years, the FTI has evolved into one of the most successful faculty development programs on campus. The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Conference will allow TLT to continue offering outstanding faculty development but to a broader audience. TLT is excited to provide this opportunity for greater campus discussion and collaboration about pedagogy and instructional technologies.
The new FTI will be delivered in a conference style format where participants will be able to choose sessions that are the most attractive and relevant to their own professional development. Session types will include panel presentations, spotlight sessions, working groups, and a keynote address. During and in-between sessions there will also be spaces where participants can continue the conversation with colleagues and reflect on their own teaching practices.

When and Where: 

The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Conference will be held March 8, 9, and 10 2016 at the College of Charleston.

Proposal Form:

More than one proposal from the same individual may be accepted based upon space availability.

As you prepare your proposal to present, please check all information for accuracy, completeness, spelling, and grammar. Information associated with accepted applications will be used for conference app and web content. If this falls outside of your past FTI 1-1-1 or PLC commitment you may be eligible for an honorarium.

Submission Deadline:

November 5, 2015

Submission notification:

On November 23, 2015 you will be notified about the status of your proposal.

Selection Process:
All applications to present will be selected by TLT based on the following criteria:
Interest to multidisciplinary conference attendees
Content of presentation
Quality of presentation
Completeness and accuracy of application

Events, Facilities, instructional technology, Pedagogy, TLT, Training Opportunities

Upcoming Fall Events in TLT

Faculty Open House

Faculty Open House
Faculty Open House 9/25 at 2 pm

Friday, September 25

2-4 pm – Stop by anytime!

TLT Suite on JC Long 3rd Floor

Come enjoy light refreshments and enter for your chance to win fabulous prizes while also learning more about what TLT has to offer!

Join us as TLT’s Instructional Technologists showcase our services and demonstrate the latest and greatest educational technology tools. You will have the chance to experience Kahoot! and learn how you can utilize our 3D printer.

We hope to see you there! It’s a great opportunity to interact with people from across campus.

Fall Training Camp

Fall Training Camp
Fall Training Camp 10/19-10/20

October 19 and 20 (Fall Break)

Sessions offered all day

As you make your plans for the rest of the semester, keep in mind that TLT will be hosting Fall Training Camp over Fall Break. We will have two days of training sessions that focus on both teaching strategies and educational technology.

We will be offering 16 unique sessions in a flexible, conference-style schedule so that you can attend the sessions that interest you while still enjoying fall break! Each morning there will be online sessions you can participate in from the comfort of your living room. If you can make it to campus, you can join us for three additional face-to-face sessions each day. During the time slots, two training sessions will run concurrently, meaning that you have even more flexibility and choice in finding a topic relevant to your teaching needs. Session topics vary from demonstrating how to use technologies, including Blendspace and Evernote, to how to enhance your current teaching practices with new strategies, like gamification and concept mapping.

Lastly, don’t forget! We will be having another exciting school competition this fall! You may recall that the School of Sciences and Mathematics won the trophy for Spring Training earlier this year. It was a very close battle with the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance. Your attendance will help your school earn points in the competition. The school with the most points will win a trophy and other great prizes!

Visit http://tlt.eventbrite.com for a full list of sessions and descriptions. Space is limited so make sure you register soon to secure your spot.


Best Practices, Teaching Advice, TLT

Tips to Prepare Your Course for Campus Closures

As instructors, we try to anticipate problems and challenges that may come up in our courses. One thing we sometimes forget to plan for is weather and natural disasters. Do your students know what is expected of them in a situation when class must be cancelled? Of course it is impossible to predict whether our semester will go as planned, or if it will be interrupted by a single ice day or a long term emergency with a disruption to our College of Charleston services like email or OAKS. Jessica Smith, Instructional Technologist for School of Business, blogged about her firsthand experience with a class cancellation last semester. Though we cannot plan for these unexpected events, we can prepare for them. Here are 5 tips to help you prepare for a worst case scenario:

1) Include a statement in your syllabus.

Do you have a statement about cancelled classes in your syllabus? What are students responsible for if class is cancelled due to weather? This statement should include expectations, an alternate communication plan, and information about student responsibilities and adjusted assignment deadlines.

2) Determine alternate communication procedures.

It is possible that there could be a disruption to campus services like faculty email. To prepare for this unlikely event, make sure you keep a hard copy list of student emails, or save a copy of the classlist to your home computer. Other options that some instructors utilize for class communication, even under normal circumstances, include Twitter, Facebook, Celly, and Remind. It may be beneficial to set up these communication systems early in the semester as an experiment to see if it is a good way to communicate with your students.

3) Plan online methods of content delivery.

If multiple class meetings are cancelled, you will want to be familiar with technologies that will make it possible to deliver course content to students. This may involve finding existing media online or creating your own online lecture. The library has resources to help you find suitable media, and TLT is here to help you navigate the technology options for online lecture delivery. Some options include Kaltura, VoiceThread, and Explain Everything.

4) Know OAKS.

Assuming that all systems are functional on campus, but class is still not in session, you will want to be able to utilize OAKS. Do you know how to post content, embed videos, or create a dropbox for student assignments? If you feel that your OAKS skills could use a refresher, contact your instructional technologist to find out about upcoming scheduled trainings or availability for individual consultations.

5) Back up your files.

This is a no brainer. Make sure you are not reliant on access to the internet, OAKS, or email to prepare for your classes. Keep copies of important lecture or course materials on your computer or a hard drive.

If you would like more information about preparing for the unexpected, make sure you attend TLT’s training sessions on these topics. We will cover these tips in more depth. You can register here:

Face-to-face – http://www.eventbrite.com/e/preparing-your-course-for-the-unexpected-registration-17848961725


Online – http://www.eventbrite.com/e/tips-tools-for-teachingcommunicating-online-during-campus-closures-online-session-registration-17897123779

Multiple choice poll in poll everywhere

Guest Post: Trigger students’ interest using Poll Everywhere

Our guest blogger this week is Dr. Adem Ali, an assistant professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences. Dr. Ali attended the Faculty Technology Institute in 2014. In this post, Dr. Ali describes his strategies and success using Poll Everywhere in his courses.


Poll Everywhere is an adaptable and now a popular tool that we have a campus license for at the College of Charleston, which makes it free for college instructors to use and makes it possible to use in large classroom settings. After my training at the Faculty Technology Institute during summer of 2014, I immediately implemented Poll Everywhere into my courses and lectures. Since, I have enjoyed using Poll Everywhere and it has increased the level of students’ interest and engagement, transforming the course into active learning. The courses I teach have class sizes ranging from 25 in my higher level elective courses to over 100 in the general education classes.

I use Poll Everywhere to create conceptual questions in multiple formats that can be answered by students instantly and LIVE. I embed the Poll Everywhere polls/questions into my PowerPoint presentations throughout my lectures, and the students can answer by going to a webpage using their laptops and clicking the answer, texting an answer to an SMS number using their smart phones, or by tweeting. This capability has allowed students to use web and cellular devices. It has made the learning experience more flexible, and it has brought it into their world making learning more fun and engaging.

One of the advantages of using this tool is that it allows you to embed the poll/questions into your existing presentations, like PowerPoints. I found this to be very important because it made my lectures more engaging without requiring me to spend a lot of time. I simply included the poll slides throughout the lecture slides. The tool allows the students to watch the answers as they are coming in live. As an option, the live answers can also be hidden until all students have participated, providing the flexibility to adapt to polls for discussion points or to use them as quizzes for assessment. Poll Everywhere also provides the number of responses, providing evidence for level of classroom engagement.

Another important aspect of Poll Everywhere is that it allows the instructor to immediately see the level of comprehension of content based on the response patterns on the polls/questions, providing instructors with the opportunity for giving instant feedback. In my lectures, these capabilities have allowed me to quickly identify content/concepts that were not grasped by the students and we could spend more time discussing misconceptions, and at times revisit topics to help students refine their understandings.

Here are some examples of my Polls:

A multiple choice poll with student responses
A multiple choice poll with student responses
A free response poll
A free response poll

I have also used this tool as an attendance record by posting simple questions as a segue to the lecture of the day.  I used the attendance data generated by Poll Everywhere for grading individual students on their class participation in the final grade rubric.

The challenges I experienced when using Poll Everywhere all related to student mobile device issues – students with smartphones were unable to participate in certain types of polling and students with restricted phone plans had texting limitations.

Overall, I think Poll Everywhere is a great tool for student engagement and assessment. I plan to continue to use this tool in my future classes to promote student engagement in lectures and also to refine or revisit topics of discussion to maximum students’. To learn more about the College of Charleston Campus license for Poll Everywhere, please visit http://blogs.cofc.edu/tlttutorials/2013/09/10/poll-everywhere/.

Poll Everywhere Icon

Guest Post: Improving Exam Scores with Practice Poll Everywhere Questions

Our guest blogger this week is Dr. Kristin Krantzman from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Dr. Krantzman attended the Faculty Technology Institute in 2014. In this post, Dr. Krantzman recounts her experiences using Poll Everywhere to provide students with opportunities to work on practice problems during class.


Poll Everywhere is a program that allows an instructor to give interactive polls over the internet without requiring students to spend additional money on special equipment. I decided to try using Poll Everywhere as a supplement to my traditional lecture in two sections of the general chemistry course, CHEM 112. CHEM 112 is the second in a two semester introductory course that is taken by students in the sciences, and my enrollment in Spring 2015 was about 45 students per section. This course has an introduction to chemical equilibria, reaction kinetics, entropy and free energy. Fundamental concepts are applied to acid-base reaction, precipitation reactions and oxidation-reduction reactions.

A primary challenge in my course is that many of the concepts in the class are abstract and mathematical. As a result, many students do not immediately understand the material when it is presented. Students are focused at the beginning of class, but their attention decreases when they cannot follow what I am talking about in class. Students need to work out problems in order to learn the material. But, there are many topics to cover over the semester, and there is not much time in class for students to practice problems. Another problem is that the final exam is all multiple choice questions, but the practice problems that students do as homework in the textbook are short answer. I decided to give students multiple choice questions with Poll Everywhere as a way to engage students and allow for practice. I chose to do this because I thought that students would learn more if they were required to think about questions and respond in class. Students showed a greater understanding of the material and improved their ability to answer multiple choice questions.

Prior to class, I wrote the multiple choice questions in Poll Everywhere. One strategy I used was to post a Poll Everywhere question for students to work on as they entered into the classroom. Previously, this time was unused because I could not start class early and we had to wait for all of the students to get settled. This question was on a topic that we had covered in the previous class. This review reinforced student learning. In addition, I often gave students another question to answer, either halfway through class or at the end of class. After the students had answered the question, I displayed the response results. If the majority of students did not respond with the correct answer, I asked the students to discuss the question with each other and then respond a second time. After reviewing the responses, I went over the correct answer and explained why the other answers were incorrect. I chose to put some of the Poll Everywhere questions on the in-class tests, which motivated students to study them.

The students showed a dramatic improvement on the final exam, with average scores increasing by 7% from the fall semester. The students responded on the course evaluations that they liked the Poll Everywhere questions because doing them in class helped them understand the material. They also enjoyed the class more when I broke up the class lecture by having them work on questions that they had to actively work through.

My advice to other faculty is to have the answers to the Poll Everywhere questions count towards their grade and write this into the syllabus. Students could be given credit for answering questions even if they are not correct, which would reward students for attending class and actively participating.

3D image of triceratops
1-1-1, Faculty Technology Institute, Innovative Instruction

Guest Post: Adapting lectures for a visually-impaired student and planning for new technologies

Our guest blogger is Robin Humphreys from the Department of Geology. Robin attended the Faculty Technology Institute in 2014. In this report, she details her experiences modifying lecture materials to meet the needs of a visually-impaired student.


Teaching introductory courses has many challenges, such as how to keep student attention in a large lecture hall, engage in meaningful dialogue with more than just the students in the front row, create assignments that are insightful and challenging but can be graded in a timely manner, etc.  During the FTI workshop of Summer 2014 we were introduced to many different ways to use technology, such as Poll Everywhere, Kahoot!, and PowToon, in our classrooms to help overcome many of these types of challenges and create stimulating, engaging learning environments.  After our week-long workshop, I left the course very inspired and excited to incorporate these new ideas into my introductory Geology lecture courses for Fall 2014.

What I did NOT anticipate was having a visually-impaired student – totally, 100% blind – in my class. So…how do I incorporate technology we learned from the FTI that requires being able to see, such as PollEverywhere, Kahoot, and Powtoon, into a format that is accessible to everyone, including someone who cannot see? Not only did I have to rethink how I presented the material (I primarily use PowerPoint and the Whiteboard for my lecture discussions), but now I had to design lectures and in-class activities for someone who cannot see me, the PowerPoint presentation, or the whiteboard.  I quickly had to rethink my approach of using cutting-edge technology in the classroom and went for more of an ‘old-school’, low-tech, hands-on approach.

So, how do you describe the Grand Canyon to someone who has no depth perception or concept of scale?  To help our student understand the basic concepts and principles of geology, I sought the expertise of Dr. Cassandra Runyon, who has been developing materials for visually-impaired people through her educational NASA workshops for over twenty years. Dr. Runyon created tactile models of the images from my lecture presentations, using an incredible variety of different types of materials (e.g. corrugated paper, beads, foam, felt, etc.).  Below is an example using various beads to indicate different fossils within sediment layers in stratigraphic columns. While extremely time-consuming to make, these low-cost and most definitely low-tech models were very instrumental in helping the visually-impaired understand and ‘see’ how Earth works.

Materials for visually-impaired students
Materials for visually-impaired students

Additionally, I recruited several senior geology majors to help me both during class and outside of the classroom.  During class, the geology seniors quietly explained the images or graphs on the PowerPoint slides as I was discussing the concepts.  To help the visually-impaired student ‘see’ the slides, the geology majors would make simple sketches of the images, using a special type of drawing pad that would transfer the sketches into a raised format that makes it possible to ‘see’ via touch.  Generating these simple tactile sketches in real-time was a very effective method of helping the blind student ‘visualize’ the concepts being taught.  Outside of class, I provided the geology seniors with copies of my lecture PowerPoint presentations. The geology majors provided verbal descriptions of each and every image, graph, or video in every one of the PowerPoint slides, using the ‘ALT TEXT’ option provided in PowerPoint –an incredibly time-consuming task (see example below). I quickly realized by week two of the fall semester that I did not have the 6-10 hours it was taking for each of the Powerpoint lectures! Fortunately, I have a very supportive department chair, Dr. Mitchell Colgan, who allowed me to hire students to provide the PowerPoint slide alternate text accessible by screen readers. I was very grateful, as the ‘ALT-TEXT’ option in PowerPoint was very instrumental in helping our visually-impaired student understand the images and concepts.

Adding alternative text to PowerPoint slide
Adding alternative text to PowerPoint slide

In all of my courses, I have the students take daily quizzes on the upcoming lecture material prior to each class period, in addition to in-class quizzes and/or activities on prior lecture material. These daily quizzes, both in and outside of class, have proven to be quite helpful in both student understanding and retention of the lecture material as I have noted increased exam scores and positive student feedback.  I use the College of Charleston’s online learning management system, OAKS, as a tool for providing the lecture materials, readings, and online quizzes (see OAKS quiz list below).  My visually-impaired student rarely had difficulty using OAKS and was successfully able to navigate the quizzes and course materials.

Screenshot of OAKS Quizzes, a tool that works with screen readers
Screenshot of OAKS Quizzes, a tool that works with screen readers

I had planned on integrating the new technology learned during the FTI, such as Poll Everywhere and Kahoot!, for the in-class quizzes, but quickly realized these programs would prove to be difficult for someone who cannot see. I resorted to the old-fashioned paper-and-pencil method for my in-class activities instead. I hope to try the new programs, such as PowToon and Kahoot!, along with Poll Everywhere, in the Fall.

One of the other ways of helping our blind student ‘visualize’ was to provide models of the fossils we were discussing.  However, many of our fossil samples and models are too fragile to be handled.  Kaitlin Woodlief and I tried to make a 3D print of one of our dinosaur models (Triceratops), using the new 3D printer.  This process had several issues, primarily with having to generate the 3D scan file, rather than using a file already made (see image below).  We are going to continue trying to find ways to make 3D copies of these fragile models for the upcoming year.

3D image of triceratops
A screenshot of the program used to create a 3D triceratops

In summary, while I was eagerly anticipating incorporating new learning technologies and strategies learned in the FTI workshop of 2014 into my Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 courses, I was not able to do so due to the presence of a visually-impaired student in my classes.  I relied heavily on low-tech models and pen/paper for helping teach the visually-impaired student.  I hope to incorporate the new technologies in my courses this fall (2015), even if I have a course with another visually-impaired student as some models and groundwork are already prepared.

Lastly, I want to point out how much I learned, and benefited, from the experience of teaching such a visual subject as Environmental Geology and Earth History to someone who cannot see.   It was an eye-opening (pun intended!) experience and a challenge I found enormously rewarding!

1-1-1, Faculty Technology Institute, TLT

Guest Post: Playing games to engage students in a non-majors biology course

Our guest blogger is Kathleen Janech from the Department of Biology. In 2014, Kathleen attended the Faculty Technology Institute. This blog post is a report and reflection on implementing strategies and technologies from that workshop. Kathleen describes her endeavors to make her lectures more interactive through gamification, and she discusses moving some lecture content online to create time for activities during class.


I decided that I wanted to update one particular section of my Biology 102 course. This is a course for non-majors, and I chose to update the section of the course where I teach about animal diversity and evolutionary connections. This is always a section that students report that they enjoy, but as much as I love all of the diversity seen with animals, I have found that teaching it has become boring. I also used to have a 5 question section at the beginning of the exam on animal diversity, where they would see a picture of an animal for 30 seconds and then have to pick the correct identification in a multiple choice question. Although I like to think that this made them use the knowledge they had acquired, it seemed to just stress them out more about the exam, and being a summative assessment, came too late for them to correct their perceptions.

Therefore, I decided to try a few new things with my class of 35 students in the Spring of 2015. There were so many great ideas that we were exposed to during the FTI, but I had to focus on one area that I could really change in one semester. Overall, I tried to “chunk” my lectures more, and alternate the presentation of material with short videos or a discussion of a handout that they could take home. I would also post more lecture material on OAKS, resulting in a partially flipped classroom.  A great advantage of this was that it freed up great amounts of time so that I could fit more activities into the class. The students could access my lecture material at any time, and go over it as much as they needed to, which is great for those who cannot write as fast as others.

In practice, I posted more of the background information on animals (characteristics that were in lists, which had made lecturing on them very boring) on OAKS, where students could access it on their own any time. With the available class time, I planned to try two ways of in-class formative assessment in the form of games.  The first game that I tried was “Who Am I?” as a hook at the beginning of class. The students had a lot of material in their notes from class and from slides that they were supposed to have looked at on OAKS.  I asked for 3 volunteers, one at a time.  When each came to the front of the room, I taped the name of a classification category to their back (such as Phylum Mollusca, or Class Polychaete). They showed it to the class, and then had to turn back around and ask questions of the class to try and guess what category was on their back.  Some advantages were that only volunteers were really “on the spot” at the front of the classroom, and the rest of the class could look at their notes to help them out.  And it gave them some in-class time to actually try to use the information from their notes and work with it to apply it to something, instead of just waiting to be tested on it.  Also, there was not a lot of prep required on my end, aside from writing up and taping the signs on their backs.  The disadvantage was that I realized that I had to be very specific about the way they could ask questions of the audience, since I was trying to get them to use the categories that I had presented in class.

The second game that I tried was Kahoot! I used this at the beginning of the class as a hook or “kindling” to get them engaged in the topic. This was by far the biggest success of this section.  One advantage of it was that the students really enjoy getting to use their devices in class (and it is a special treat since I do not usually allow devices to be in use during class time).  Another advantage was that students were engaged because it was a competition, which they enjoyed, but also something that they could do anonymously so if they made a mistake they could learn from it without having to be embarrassed.  Disadvantages include the fact that everyone needs a device on which to play, and not everyone will always have one (they were not penalized if they could not participate), and this took a lot more preparation time for me to get questions ready and make sure that they were good questions. Since Kahoot! was a formative assessment, it let the students know where they were with the material.

Students commented that they really liked my “chunking” strategy – they appreciated seeing short video clips of the different animals and examples of behavior, since it really brings the colors and movement alive, and it helped to break up the lecture.  They also noted that they liked having the links to watch later. The “Who Am I” game was not as popular, maybe because I did it earlier in the unit and none of them knew the material yet, and they felt like they were on the spot. The Kahoot! game was really popular.  They liked the anonymity, and it was suggested that we play it more often to keep up with all of the material.  They liked the competitive aspect and the fact that it was interactive for everyone. Many students commented that they thought they knew the material, but after playing they could see where they needed to do a lot more studying.

In the future, I am going to try to incorporate Kahoot! from the start in all my classes. And, if I prep it far enough in advance, I can include images as part of a question, which will be great and especially applicable for this animal section. I hope to use VoiceThread to free up more time in class for activities and games. I would like to try to work on a “lecture organizer” structure that could be a handout or drawn on the board on the first day of class, in order to help students categorize and prepare for unfamiliar material. In addition, I might try to using Poll Everywhere at the beginning of the class as “kindling” to see how much background information they already know about a particular group, or with a video when I want them to guess what animal I have shown. This would be great to see how much they already may or may not know about many of our local animals. I am going to continue to try and rethink sections of my courses, and incorporate more new ideas.  I know of one place in my Biology 111 course where a flipped classroom model would work really well, so that is what I will work on next in the fall.

Thank you, FTI and TLT, for lots of great new ideas!

Faculty Technology Institute, Pedagogy

Reworking multiple choice exams for clarity

Multiple choice question creation is challenging and time-consuming. While question banks from the publisher can certainly benefit students by providing opportunities for practice, I prefer to create my own questions for exams to make sure they align with my learning objectives and the material I emphasized in class. While one of the main benefits of using multiple choice questions is the ease and speed of grading, one of the drawbacks is the amount of time invested in the development of each question. Various sources report that professional test item writers spend 30 minutes to 1 hour on just the first draft of a multiple choice question (1, 2). In some ways these numbers are reassuring as I know I am not alone in my occasional struggle with creating plausible distractors (choices) and targeting higher level thinking and reasoning.

During last week’s Faculty Technology Institute, TLT offered a session on best practices to improve multiple choice questions and exams. A number of tips resonated with the participants and led to a vibrant discussion. With multiple choice questions being so common, I thought the rest of the college community might gain new ideas from some of these discussion points. The summer is the perfect time to look back on exams from the past year and evaluate their effectiveness at measuring student learning. You might consider carrying out an item analysis on some of your questions to evaluate the difficulty and discrimination (3). Here are a few practical things to consider if you plan on revising your multiple choice questions:


3 options are optimal (in most cases).

A meta-analysis of over 80 years of research concluded that 3 options, or choices, are optimal for multiple choice questions (4). The analysis examined item difficulty, discrimination, and reliability and concluded that 3 options is best in most settings. I found this paper fascinating, and I was pleased to find out that I can spend less time trying to come up with plausible distractors for each question, while at the same time reducing the reading burden for students. Wahoo!

MC Question
Parts of a multiple choice question.


Question order does not influence performance or completion time.

The majority of research on this topic indicates that question order has no effect on performance or completion time (5). This is great news as scrambling question order is one strategy adopted by many instructors to prevent cheating. Interestingly, students may perceive exams with randomly ordered questions as more difficult than chronologically ordered exam questions (5). This might be something to keep in mind if you often hear from students that your exams are really difficult.


Following all the item writing recommendations is really hard.

  • Avoid absolutes (always, never, all, none, all of the above, none of the above, etc).
  • Avoid negatives (all of the following except, which of the following is not true, etc.).
  • Avoid imprecise terms (usually, sometimes, rarely, etc.).
  • Keep the stem of the question succinct.
  • Keep distractor length consistent.

I know my past exams have included “none of the above” or “all of the above” as options. Faculty attending TLT’s sessions on writing multiple choice questions have commented that these recommendations can be hard, sometimes impossible, to follow. I am hoping to reduce my item flaws by cutting question options down to three.


Poorly constructed questions and exams negatively affect students, and they interfere with interpretations of the exam results. As an instructor, I want to make sure that my questions are reliable and valid. In addition to wanting my exams to align with my learning objectives, I want my exams to be a reflection of student learning in my course and not a measure of reading ability or test-taking savviness. The recommendations listed above have led me to rethink my exam format and reconsider some of my test questions. I hope they are useful to you too!


(1) Van Hoozer, H.L. (1987). The teaching process: theory and practice in nursing. Norwalk, Connecticut: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

(2) http://www.getyardstick.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-create-a-multiple-choice-question

(3) http://www.thinkgate.com/improving-multiple-choice-questions-through-item-analysis

(4) Rodriguez, M.C. (2005). Three options are optimal for multiple-choice items: a meta-analysis of 80 years of research. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 24, 3-13.

(5) Pettijohn, T.F. and Sacco, M.F. (2007). Multiple-choice exam question order influences on student performance, completion time, and perceptions. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 34, 142-149.


1-1-1, Faculty Technology Institute, TLT

Incorporating student interaction and peer instruction in math courses

Our guest blogger is Stephane Lafortune, a professor in the Department of Mathematics. Dr. Lafortune attended the 2014 Summer FTI. This post is a report and reflection on incorporating a new learning strategy in his math courses.

I participated in the 2014 Summer FTI. My goal was to become more familiar and comfortable with the technology that can be incorporated in my work as a teacher. Below, I will first talk about my general experience as a participant and then focus on one aspect of the workshop that I used in class.

The commitment of participating in an FTI involves being there eight hours a day for a week. This is quite a commitment from both you and the organizers who have to come up with activities and material to entertain all these professors (we were about 25 people). Well, let me tell you that the staff of TLT filled this week with so many workshops, activities, and games where we could win stuff (I did win a TLT umbrella) that really there were no dull moments. In addition to that, the people at TLT truly were enthusiastic about the FTI and really cared about the participants. As a direct consequence of that, there was really a good spirit of camaraderie among the participants. As a human experience, I have a fond memory of the week I spent with the TLT people.

My primary goal was to learn about technology. However, I had not noticed that there was going to be a section of the FTI devoted to the topic of “interactive teaching.” For that section, we were using the guide entitled “The Interactive Lecture” written by Silver and Perini. As part of our activities, we had a block of time (about 2 hours) when we had to come up with a specific way to implement the strategies outlined in the guide. To do so, we were guided in a very specific way as the steps we had to follow were written in a Google document. Our “job” was to write our plan by following each step carefully. Admittedly, I was not initially very enthusiastic about the idea but, given that I was sitting there with nothing else to do, I went to work and decided to apply this technique to my Math 103 course.

One of the topics that most of the students have difficulty to grasp in Math 103 concerns the analysis of arguments (this is part of the mathematical theory of logic). During that session, I created activities where the students would be forced to collaborate with a neighbor to come up with their own arguments and then share their ideas as to how the argument can be analyzed.  I did use those ideas in my summer Math103 course right after the FTI. To do so, I shortened the time spent on lecturing by going over less examples on the board. The idea was to have the students make their own examples and have them explain to each other how to apply the concepts to their cases.  It went magnificently as the students enthusiastically exchanged ideas once I had told them to start. As a direct consequence of that, the students had a better understanding of the topic and their exam scores on that particular topic were much higher than usual. In addition, being “forced” to work on interactive lectures gave me other ideas of activities, which I also incorporated in that summer Math 103 course.

To conclude, this FTI was a wonderful experience on a personal level as it was very pleasant and enabled me to get to know some of my colleagues. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised by the impact what I learned had on my teaching style.