#onenewthing Padlet
Collaboration, discussion, instructional technology, iPad, Mobile, Portfolio, Presentation, Research

#OneNewThing – Padlet

padlet screenshot“Padlet is a virtual wall that allows people to express their thoughts on a common topic easily. It works like an online sheet of paper where people can put any content (e.g. images, videos, documents, text) anywhere on the page, together with anyone, from any device.” (Mrs. Treichler)

Platforms:  Web, iOS, Android, also has plugins for Chrome and WordPress


How It Works


Uses for Faculty & Students


  • Create a blank board and share it (either with specific people via their Padlet account, or via a general link.
  • Double-click on the board to add a new “sticky” note.
  • You can add:
    • Text
    • Audio
    • Video
    • Images
    • Files
  • Drag the notes around to organize and sort them.

Works on a computer or almost any mobile device.

  • Discussion and collaboration
  • Constructing a classroom code of conduct or an assessment rubric with your students
  • Backchannel where students can write questions during or before class
  • Exit ticket
  • Brainstorming
  • Planning
  • Student-to-Student image sharing
  • Writing prompts and collaborative writing
  • Student introductions
  • KWL Charts
  • Curation
  • Flow maps
  • Opinion forums
  • Inspiration wall
  • Portfolios
  • Website bookmarking tool
  • More…
  • Even more…

Get your padlet account today


Collaboration, Google, Google Apps, instructional technology, Share

6 Reasons You Should Be Using Google Sheets Instead Of Excel

I have always said that if I could only have two applications on my computer it would be Photoshop and Microsoft Excel. With those two applications I can do almost everything I need to do in a day. Lately, however, my eye has drawn to Google Sheets, and I have to say, I love it.

Now some of you may be saying, “Why do I care? I don’t teach accounting.” Well you don’t have to teach accounting to use spreadsheets in your teaching. They are great for collecting text-based information, running statistics and doing calculations, and graphing and analyzing text or data. So now that you are ready to use spreadsheets in your classroom, here are 6 reasons why you should use Google Sheets instead of Excel.

Reason 1: Collaboration

Unlike Excel, Google Sheets is collaborative. All CofC students already have Google accounts so it’s very easy to share a spreadsheet with them or for them to share with one another. When collaboratively editing a sheet each student can see the exact cell that is currently selected all other users, to prevent overwriting. There is also a built-in chat function so students can communicate online while collaborating on a Sheet.

Reason 2: Revision history

Revision History ScreenshotHow many times have you heard, “Student X didn’t contribute anything to the project.” Now you can see exactly who contributed what and when using the Revision History. The built-in revision history gives you a timeline of all changes and additions to the spreadsheet, who made each one and when they made it. Just go to File > Revision History to see this record. The best part? This is all automatically recorded. While you can track revisions in Excel, it’s a more manual process and in the end, still leads to multiple versions and things being overwritten.





Reason 3: Sharing

Google Sheets are easy to share. Because they are already online, Sheets can be shared to OAKS or a website, using a link. These links can be set to allow the users to only view the sheet or to edit it. This is particularly handy if you want to post a spreadsheet in OAKS. Just go to Content and select New > Create a Link and paste in the shared link to your Sheet, making the file easy for the students to locate and easy to work on collaboratively as a class. This is something that can’t be done with Excel (Note: I believe this feature is available in Office 365).

Reason 4: The power of Google

From Alice Keeler, “Because of its tight integration with Google, Sheets can import all kinds of data from other Google services and the web at large. You can translate the contents of a cell using the function GOOGLETRANSLATE(), or you can fetch current or historical securities info from Google Finance with the function GOOGLEFINANCE(). And with Sheets IMPORTFEED and IMPORTDATA functions, you can pull information from the internet directly into your spreadsheet.” (Teacher Tech)

Reason 5: Google Forms

When paired with Google Forms it’s an easy way to collect data. Google Forms, also part of Google Drive (a.k.a. G-suite), allows for quick and easy form creation that professors and students can use to collect data. These forms can be completed by anyone, on campus or off, with or without a Google Account, and the data is dumped right into a Google Sheet. This can be used to replace an audience response system in your class, to check for understanding, to conduct peer evaluation, to collect lab data, etc. Once the data is in the spreadsheet, students can work with the data online or export the Sheet to Excel in order to take advantage of Excel’s more powerful functions and data analysis tools.

Reason 6: Explore with Graphs

explore screenshotSheets has a super cool EXPLORE icon in the lower right corner of every spreadsheet. This offers a quick overview of the data in chart format. You can view the entire sheet or just specific rows or columns. It’s a fast way to get a first look at the trends in your data before moving on to your own analysis. Just click on the icon and Google does the rest. Don’t worry, if this doesn’t provide enough analysis you can always create your own graphs, pivot tables, and calculations.  Excel doesn’t have this feature that I can find.



These are just my top 6 reasons to use Google Sheets. I have a ton more. So, can I do everything I did in Excel in Google Sheets? No, I can’t. Excel’s statistical analysis features and functions are still more powerful and probably always will be, but that’s not really what I use spreadsheets for much anymore. Most of the features I used in Excel, like shifting cells, can be done via a Google Add-on, which is a little extension that you can load to increase Sheet’s functionality. Given that, there’s very little need for me to go back to Excel.

Still not sold?

Check out Alicekeeler.com. Alice Keeler is a Google Sheets guru and she always has some amazing cool tricks that you can do with spreadsheets in the classroom. She has written some Add-ons for Sheets that allows you do have more control and automate some processes. Teacher Education folks, you will love her as all of her examples are from her classroom experience.  Check out this one:

Have everyone contribute to their own tab – Give students their own and collaborate. This add-on takes your class roster and automatically creates a spreadsheet tab customized for each student in your class. It can even copy a template to each tab. What a great timesaver!

Small Teaching Tip Number 5 focuses on using Google Docs and Slides to make in-class group work more productive and efficient.
Collaboration, Google, Google Apps, Productivity, Small Teaching Tip, Teaching Advice

Small Teaching Tip #5: Make Group Work More Efficient with Google Apps

Collaboration and project management are important skills for college students to learn.  Unfortunately, many students grumble about group work and faculty spend too much time managing logistics.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there were tools that could make in-class group work more efficient and productive?

I have a possible solution for you!  Google Apps!

All CofC students and faculty have free access to Google Apps for Education using their College email address and password.

Here are two ways you can use Google Docs and Slides to make group work more efficient:

Share Templates

In-class group work is most effective if students are given clear instructions, including the goals of the activity and expectations for a deliverable.  Without purpose or guidelines, students will be less productive and more easily distracted.

One way to provide structure is to create an outline, template, or worksheet to guide students’ work.  If you create this handout in Google Docs, you can easily share it with students who can then type on the document as they work with their teams.

But, Jessica, wouldn’t that mean all students would be typing on the same document?

Yes, unless you make this tiny but powerful change to the document URL: delete the word “edit” from the end of the URL and replace it with the word “copy.”

Sharing clean copies of Google Docs with students

When students click on the URL you’ve shared with them, they will be asked to make a clean copy.  Now, each student or each group can work on their own document.

Ask your students to share their document with you so you can see what they’ve accomplished during class.  And if groups run out of time and need to finish outside of class, every group member can contribute from their own dorm room or apartment (because Google Drive is cloud-based).

Share a Slide Master

After students complete an in-class activity or assignment, do you ask groups to present their work to the rest of the class?  This form of debriefing or “reporting out” encourages students to work harder because they’ll have to stand in front of the room to present to their peers.  It also gives students much-needed opportunities to practice their public speaking skills, which are typically quite weak.

But if you ask students to create slides in Powerpoint, every student would have to email their file or save it to a thumb drive and then open it on the teacher station computer.  This requires too much precious class time.

Instead of using Powerpoint, create an empty slide show in Google Slides.  If you want students to design their own slides, simply create a presentation with blank slides (one slide per student or one slide per group, for example).  If you want students to include certain pieces of information on their slides, create a template.  You can then duplicate that template slide for as many students or groups that you have.

Next, give your students editing rights and share the URL with them (watch the animated GIF below).  Every student can now access that slide deck during class and work on their individual slides.   When it’s time to present to the class, you only have to open the one Google Slides presentation and the entire class’ work is right there!

Changing share settings for a Google Doc

We hope you found this week’s Small Teaching Tip helpful.  This post is part of a series which presents low risk, high reward teaching ideas, inspired by James Lang’s book Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning.

6 reasons you should be using Google Slides
Best Practices, Collaboration, Google, Google Apps, Presentation, Productivity, TLT

6 Reasons You Should Be Using Google Slides Instead Of PowerPoint

We all use PowerPoint to create and deliver lectures and for student presentations.  But PPT lacks one major feature…collaboration.   Google Slides, part of our Google Apps for Education, is a PowerPoint-like presentation application that has that collaboration piece, making it more useful in an academic environment.

Here are six reasons you should be using Google Slides instead of PowerPoint.

  1. Consistency — Your presentations look and act the same way on all computers.  Have you ever created a presentation or lecture on your office computer only to have it look or behave differently on the teacher station in the classroom?  With Google Slides, all fonts, images, videos, animations etc. are stored online (in the cloud) so your lectures/presentations will look the same on every computer.
  2. Easy Access — Since both the application and the presentations are saved in Google Drive, it’s easy to access and work on them from any computer or mobile device.   Just log into drive.google.com and you have access to all your presentations, documents and spreadsheets.
  3. Backchannel for Questions — Google Slides has a new Audience Q&A feature which allows your students/audience to ask questions during the presentation.  When activated a web address is automatically added to to the top of each slide allowing the students to ask their questions or make comments.
  4. Tracking Work in Group Presentations — faculty love group presentations but hate not knowing who did what.  Google Slides has a Revision History section (File > See Revision History) that shows all changes made to the presentation along with who made them.  This is a great way to hold students accountable for a collaborative project.  Because it’s web-based, all students in the group can actively create and edit content within the same presentation at the same time.
  5. Easy Sharing — With one easy trick you can share your lecture presentations so that the students can copy it into their Google Drive and then take notes directly in the presentation Notes area.
    • Open your presentation and click the blue SHARE button
    • Click GET SHAREABLE LINK and click COPY LINK
    • Now paste that link either in OAKS or an email to our students BUT before sending it make one minor change.  At the end of the link change the word edit to copy ex. edit?usp=sharing  /copy?usp=sharing
  6. Efficient In-class Group Work — Create one blank Google Slides presentation and share it with your class.  During the group work each group with create their own slide(s) with their contributions.  At the end of class you have only one file you have to look at and all the groups have access to each other’s contributions.  This also makes it easy to bring the presentation up in class to discuss the group findings.
Evolution of a Group Research Project
1-1-1, Assessment, Best Practices, Research, TLT

Faculty Guest Post: Evolution of a Group Research Project

Today’s Faculty Guest Post is from Chris Mothorpe, Assistant Professor of Economics.  Chris attended TLT’s 2015 Faculty Technology Institute.  In this post, he reflects on the process of revising and improving a group research project in two of his courses: Urban Economics and Economics of Geography and Transportation.  This is an excerpt from Chris’ own blog.  To read the entire post, please visit: https://sites.google.com/site/chrismothorpe/home/group-research-projects

I am writing this blog post based on my experience conducting research projects in my upper level economic classes over the past three semesters. This post will not discuss the research project in its entirety; instead, it will provide a general overview of the project and then focus on specific challenges I have faced each semester and different strategies I have employed (or I am planning on employing to overcome them).  There are two main challenges I will discuss: 1) group formation; and 2) peer evaluations.

Project Overview

I decided to require a group research project after reading several magazine and newspaper articles discussing what companies are looking for in college graduates.  Atop many of the surveys were not the hard-technical skills taught in the classrooms, but many soft-skills developed in the non-academic, extracurricular setting.  These soft-skills include: 1) leadership; 2) ability to work in a team; 3) written communication skills; 4) problem solving skills; 5) work ethic; 6) verbal communication skills; 7) initiative; 8) interpersonal skills; 9) creativity; and 10) organizational ability.  Conducting a group-based research project provides students the opportunity to practice many of these skills — practice they would otherwise not receive if the class is taught in a more traditional manner.   A second motivating factor is to allow the students the opportunity to apply economic models to real world problems.

I decided to require a group research project after reading several magazine and newspaper articles discussing what companies are looking for in college graduates.  Atop many of the surveys were not the hard-technical skills taught in the classrooms, but many soft-skills developed in the non-academic, extracurricular setting.  These soft-skills include: 1) leadership; 2) ability to work in a team; 3) written communication skills; 4) problem solving skills; 5) work ethic; 6) verbal communication skills; 7) initiative; 8) interpersonal skills; 9) creativity; and 10) organizational ability.  Conducting a group-based research project provides students the opportunity to practice many of these skills — practice they would otherwise not receive if the class is taught in a more traditional manner.   A second motivating factor is to allow the students the opportunity to apply economic models to real world problems.

The stated objectives for the research project are:
  1. Analyze a contemporary economic issue or social issue using economic theory and models
  2. Demonstrate versatile and competent written, oral and digital communication skills
  3. Evaluate communication situations and audiences to make choices about the most effective ways to deliver messages
  4. Appraise written communication skills through self and peer evaluations
  5. Manage diverse teams successfully

The project is set up as a paper submission to the (fictional) Charleston Journal of Economics, which I reside over as Editor.  At the beginning of the semester, I pass out the Fall/Spring 20XX Charleston Journal of Economics (CJE) Request for Papers (RFP), which contains the objectives of the journal, the strategic areas, scoring criteria, formatting requirements, and examples of correctly formatted submissions. Throughout the semester, groups are required to submit portions of their project to the Editor and receive feedback (in the form of a letter from the editor). I have required the research project in the Spring of 2015, the Fall of 2015 and the Spring of 2016.  These three iterations have proven valuable as I continually update the project to improve on its effectiveness and efficiency in delivery.

Group Formation

In the first iteration (Spring 2015) of the research project, I allowed each student to write his/her own paper and choose any topic as long as it was related somehow Urban Economics.  While allowing each student the opportunity to write their own research paper provides the best learning opportunity for the student (since he/she receives individualized feedback), it is much harder (time consuming) on me. I realized that there were three main consequences to allowing students to complete their own project:
  1. Grading fatigue
  2. Increase time until work is returned to students
  3. Grading research projects detracts from other activities such as research

In the second iteration (Fall 2015), I switched from individual research projects to group based projects.  I allowed the groups to form endogenously — students selected their own groups.  Each research group was required to have 3-4 individuals.  The main problem that arose from students selecting their own groups is that the groups were not interdisciplinary in nature.  For example, Group A consisted of three Transportation and Logistics Majors.  One of the comments Group A received on one of their drafts was that their paper lacks a sufficient economic model.  The feedback I received from Group A was that there is not a economic major (or minor) in the group, and as a result no one is familiar with economic models.

In the second iteration, I also began restricting the topic selection by requiring each group’s research question to at least fall within one of the strategic areas of the Charleston Journal of Economics.  The strategic areas are:
  1. Transportation Infrastructure
  2. The Port of Charleston Expansion
  3. Coastal Community Resilience and the Impacts of Sea Level Rise/Climate Change
  4. The Long Savannah Development

In the third iteration (Spring 2016), I attempted to correct for the lack of interdisciplinary majors within a research group by assigning research groups.  To aid in the assignment of research groups, each student completed an Oaks quiz that asked the following questions:

  1. List the strategic areas in order of greater interest to least interest
  2. For your top ranked strategic area, list keywords of interest
  3. For your second ranked strategic area, list keywords of interest
  4. List your major(s)
  5. List your minor(s)
  6. List individuals you would like to work with

Students submitted their responses via an Oaks quiz and then I used their responses to assign groups.  Matches were made based on strategic areas and keywords; however, not all students receive their top ranked strategic area (most did) as I also sought to ensure that each group contained at least one each major or minor.  This mechanism worked well in solving the interdisciplinary problem previously encountered; however, the new problem that arose was that group members wanted a greater say about who was in their group as the “Free-Riding” problem arose in several groups.  The Free-Riding problem occurs when not all members contribute equally to the project, yet all group members receive the same grade.  Of the 8 research groups in the Spring of 2016, at least 4 registered complaints about one of their group members not contributing.

The Free-Rider Problem

I am planning on implementing two strategies to attempt to mitigate the Free-Riding Problem.  First, I plan on introducing a mechanism that will allow students to reveal information about themselves (e.g. work ethic) to other members in the class.  This mechanism is a series of group-based homework problem sets in the first few weeks of class and before the assignment of groups.  Groups will be randomly assigned.  The random assignment of groups will ensure that students are meeting and learning about other members of the class.  After the problem sets, students will again be asked to complete an Oaks quiz, but on their quiz there will be additional questions aimed at revealing their preferences for who they do and do not want to work with.


The second strategy is to have students submit peer evaluations of their group members when assignments are due.  A portion of the peer evaluation is a Grade Multiplier.  Each member of the group assigns every other member of the group a multiplier, which gives each group member control over every other group member’s grade.  The purpose of the multiplier is to provide incentive to group members to work hard towards the completion of the project.  In the Spring of 2016, I required the students to submit Peer Evaluations at the end of the semester; however, this did not provide strong incentives to students since at the time of submissions final class grades were almost known.  It was recommended to me, by a student, to conduct the peer evaluations more frequently.


Peer Evaluations are a useful tool that provide students with information on their performance over the course of the research project.  Since the goal of the project is to aid students in developing soft skills, the peer evaluations are particularly effective, since they address each student individually.  Herein lies the main problem since each time I require a peer evaluation I cannot write 20-40 individual letters commenting on their performance.  The remainder of this blog post discusses the tools I have developed to create individualized letters based on peer reviews in an (semi) automatic fashion.  Creating letters in this manner allows me to provide individualized feedback to students while at the same time not spending hours drafting letters.


The letter-creation process requires the following programs/files:
  1. The Form Letter – Microsoft Word Template
  2. Oaks Quiz and Excel File of Modified Data
  3. Microsoft Word Template File
  4. Microsoft Excel Template File
  5. Microsoft Excel Addin ExcelToWord

The procedure behind the automated process is to have students complete their peer evaluations through an Oaks quiz, text-mine their responses, and populate a form letter with student responses.  Note that this process relies on student responses on the peer evaluation but does leave open the possibility of directly editing the individualized letters.

[TLT Note: On his own blog, Chris provides instructions for using OAKS, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel to facilitate the peer evaluations described above.  He also provides templates and examples. To access this information, please visit  https://sites.google.com/site/chrismothorpe/home/group-research-projects]

In this blog, I have discussed the research project that I conduct in my upper level economics classes, two of the challenges that have arisen, and various strategies I have or will employ to overcome the challenges.  To overcome group formation problems, I am employing an Oaks quiz and group based homework assigned in order to allow students the opportunity to reveal information about themselves to other students in the class as well as myself.  To overcome the “Free-Riding” problem, I am planning on employing a series of peer evaluations, which gives all members in the group some control over the grades of the other group members.

One key to conducting peer evaluations is returning individualized feedback to the student based on their performance.  I have also discussed a set of tools which will enable me to create individualized letters in a timely manner.  Providing timely and individualized feedback also enhances the learning outcomes of the research project since the project is geared towards student practice of their “soft” skills.  Receiving individualized feedback allows students to learn from their experience and develop a stronger set of skills that they can employ in the future.

Real Time Board
Collaboration, Productivity, Research, TLT, Web 2.0

Online Collaboration with RealTimeBoard

Does this scenario seem familiar?   You’re in the midst of a team project.  One day you realize that you’ve been playing phone tag with one colleague for a week; another colleague keeps emailing Word documents; while the rest of the team is trying to work in Google Docs.  No one is communicating well and collaboration is slow.  What can you do?

Real Time Board to the rescue!

RealTimeBoard is an online collaborative workspace that features an infinite digital whiteboard.  In addition to typing and writing on the whiteboard, teams can add post-it notes, images, videos, documents, spreadsheets, Google Drive files and more. RealTimeBoard also provides a variety of templates, including timelines, Gantt charts, storyboards, calendars, and SWOT analysis grids.  Because it’s an online tool, all collaborators can access your shared board on any device at any time.  Boards can also be exported as image files or PDF.

Real Time Board for collaborative planning, notetaking, and brainstorming

The folks at RealTimeBoard have kindly granted educators free access to their premium features plus unlimited collaborators!  So it’s a perfect tool for research projects and to use with your students.  Request your account by providing your college email address.

Use digital sticky notes with Real Time Board

Uses: Any form of collaboration, such as brainstorming, concept mapping, storyboarding, planning, etc.

Price: Free for educators

Platform: Online

More information: realtimeboard.com


PLC banner

Why You Should Join a Professional Learning Club

A Professional Learning Club (PLC) is a group of six to eight faculty members who meet to collaboratively reflect on and improve their teaching practices.  Participation involves one academic year of exploring, implementing, and evaluating empirically-grounded instructional strategies with the goal of improving student learning and engagement.

CLUBS explained
adapted from “Compare & Contrast: Teaching Comparative Thinking to Strengthen Student Learning” by Harvey F. Silver




 Why should you join a PLC?

  1. To build an interdisciplinary support system to share struggles, lessons learned, and achievements.
  2. To schedule much-needed time to reflect on your teaching and your students’ learning.
  3. To share ideas for improving student engagement, making your classes more enjoyable for both you and your students.
  4. To collaboratively design strategies that increase deep learning, as opposed to surface learning.
  5. To contribute to the scholarship of teaching & learning via, for example, conference presentations or publications.

These are just a handful of reasons to sign up for a PLC.  But don’t simply take our word for it.  Here’s what current PLC participants have to say:

“Your students will thank you for participating in TLT’s PLC.  This is a terrific (and cost effective) way to improve your teaching.  I love the fact that faculty can share best practices and have the opportunity to implement them over an entire year.” – Lancie Affonso, Computer Science, Management and Marketing

“Join a PLC because it offers great opportunities to reflect on your teaching, which so many of us struggle to find enough time for! I also really enjoyed the sense of community it provided us as we worked together to discuss individual issues we were struggling with in our classes.”  – Kelley White, Teacher Education

Interested?  We’re currently accepting applications for Fall 2016 – Spring 2017.  Applying is simple and TLT will help you find other like-minded colleagues to work with.

Want to know more before you apply?  Visit: tlt.cofc.edu/faculty-services/plc

syncpad on three devices
Collaboration, Distance Ed, instructional technology, iPad, Mobile, Presentation, Share

App of the Week: SyncPad

UPDATE: 3/1/16 – My apologies.  I wrote this post in advance and had it auto post.  It turns out between when I wrote it and when it posted, SyncPad is no longer available.  I attempted to contact them via their website but the contact form no longer works. — Mendi


SyncPad is the ultimate whiteboard for remote and local collaboration. Would you like to share your ideas with a coworker but you are out of town? Don’t worry, just create a room with your SyncPad and share the name of the room with your co-worker, who can enter in his SyncPad or simply use any browser, visiting http://mysyncpad.com/roomname.


  • Remote Tutoring
  • Collaboration
  • Shared Whiteboard

Price: Free, $4.99/mo Pro.
Platform:  iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch
More info: https://syncpadapp.com

Voicethread Commenting Features
Collaboration, instructional technology, TLT, Web 2.0

New VoiceThread Commenting Features

If you haven’t explored VoiceThread since last semester, you will be pleased to learn about the tool’s three new commenting features.  Direct replies and threaded conversations make interaction more interactive and dynamic, while private replies allow participants to engage one another more discreetly.

Direct Replies

Owners and editors of VoiceThreads are able to insert comments directly after someone else’s comment on a slide.  For example, students can reply directly to the feedback left by their classmates or questions asked by their instructor.  To do this, click on the direct reply icon inside a person’s comment window (it looks like an arrow).  Your reply will display directly beneath the original comment, but bumped in slightly.
Voicethread Direct Reply

Threaded Discussions

The threaded discussions feature makes VoiceThread more similar to an online discussion board, with comments branching off an original comment.  This helps to keep robust back-and-forth conversations more organized.

Voicethread Threaded Comment










To use this feature, you must enable it in Playback Settings.

Voicethread Playback Settings

Voicethread Enable Threaded Commenting

Threaded comments are represented by a round identity image (as opposed to the usual square shape).  To start a new threaded conversation, click on the threaded comment button inside a person’s comment window.

Voicethread Create a New Thread

Threaded discussions would be particularly useful if you’d like to encourage multiple students to engage one another about a VoiceThread’s content.  In contrast, a direct reply is a dialog between two people (though the interaction can be seen by anyone who has access to the VoiceThread).  This would be best for asking a single question or offering praise.

Private Replies

The private reply feature allows you to start a private, two-way conversation with someone who has commented on a VoiceThread.  Private comments are represented by a round identity image with a padlock icon.  To start a new private conversation or add to an existing one, click on the private reply button inside a person’s comment window.

Voicethread Private Reply

The private reply option could be especially useful if an instructor would like to include an assessment in a VoiceThread.  For example, an instructor could leave a comment asking the students to reply to a question.  To prevent the students from seeing one another’s responses, the instructor could request students use the private reply option.  That would permit only the instructor to see the students’ comments and would allow him/her to respond directly to each student.

Let us know what you think about these new commenting features.  We’d love to hear your ideas!

Strategies for Effective Team Projects
Best Practices, Collaboration, Teaching Advice

Strategies for Drama-Free Team Projects

Effective collaboration is a foundational skill that is taught as early as kindergarten.  By the time students reach college, one would think they would be expert team players.  Unfortunately, any professor can tell you that’s not usually true.  Students struggle to communicate competently, schedule meeting times, and manage conflict.  This often leads to tearful office hour appointments or angry emails about slackers and alliances. So the following is advice based upon my experiences and research I’ve conducted regarding effective group work strategies for the college classroom.

Strategies for Effective Team Projects
Image credit: endlessorigami.com

Determine what type of group work will allow students to achieve the learning outcomes.  Group work is not one size fits all.  There are many forms of collaborative learning and each serves its own purpose.  So first think about what you want students to accomplish from working together, then decide upon a method (such as team-based learning, peer instruction, or project-based learning)

Instructors, not students, should form groups.  When students are allowed to choose their own teammates, they almost always (1) choose their friends and acquaintances or (2) choose people who sit near them.  I don’t blame them; that’s the easy and comfortable option.  But this often results in homogenous groups.  Thus, especially for higher-stakes projects, instructors should strategically form teams that are composed of members who are diverse and who share common blocks of time to meet outside of class.  This can be accomplished by administering surveys that address variables such as personality type, learning style, conflict management style, course-related knowledge and experience, habits, and schedules.

Discuss principles of effective teamwork.  While students have been collaborating with peers for most of their educational careers, many don’t have a scholarly understanding of group dynamics.  I’ve found spending a class period sharing the research on assigning group roles, establishing expectations, and managing conflict has improved my students’ success.  If you don’t have class time to devote to such a discussion, provide your students with resources, such as handouts or links to websites that they can refer to as they work.

Require a team contract.  For higher-stakes assignments, such as semester-long projects, have students write a contract that details expectations and consequences of violating those norms.  During the team’s first meeting, I suggest students brainstorm all the things they hate about group projects then turn those complaints into a list of do’s and don’ts.  I ask students to provide me with a copy of their contract that each team member has signed.  This document can then be used by the group to mediate conflicts.

Establish a policy to deal with social loafing.  I work hard to maintain a “no drama” environment in my classes.  So I have a policy that outlines procedures and consequences for students who violate their team contracts.  This policy has shown students that I will not (and they should not) tolerate slacking off.  Whatever type of policy you create, make sure you require students to provide documentation of the contract violations and to meet with you separately.  This helps to prevent unwarranted complaints or students “ganging up” on a teammate.

Strategies for Effective Team Projects

Require teams to provide you with regular progress reports.  To identify problems early and to ensure students are not procrastinating, I require teams to update me biweekly.  I ask students to identify a member of the team who is responsible for providing me with those updates either face-to-face or via email.  This has helped immensely to address concerns and to steer students in the right direction when they’re faltering.

Ask teams to complete regular assessments of one another.  An interesting meta-analysis published in Teaching of Psychology concluded that peer assessments within groups do not improve learning outcomes.  I hypothesize that the typical way peer evaluations are completed is to blame.  Often, instructors will require students to complete a cumulative assessment of their teammates at the end of the project.  Perhaps they’re asked to distribute points or assign each team member a grade.  But by the time a project is completed, students may have “checked out” and are less motivated to provide a thoughtful assessment (“the project is done; I don’t really care anymore.”).  Also, this type of evaluation doesn’t allow the team to examine their dynamic while they’re collaborating and, therefore, eliminates the opportunity to make improvements.  A potentially better approach is to first instruct students on the principles and importance of constructive feedback then ask them to complete periodic assessments as they work together. Perhaps at the termination of the project, students could write a letter to you reflecting on the evolution of the group.

Encourage students to use technology. One of the biggest complaints students have about group projects is finding time outside of class to meet.  Many students have jobs, internships, and other extracurriculars that make matching schedules frustrating if not impossible.  There are a multitude of technology tools that allow students to collaborate when not in the same physical space.  Google Drive allows students to work together on documents, slides, and spreadsheets on any device that connects to the Internet.  Google Hangouts, Blab, and Skype allow students to videoconference.  And there are many collaborative whiteboard apps, such as Realtime Board.  The availability of free software and apps really limits how often students can claim “we can’t get together.”

I hope these suggestions help you to help your students get the most out of collaborative learning.  If you have other tips for effective group work, please share!


References and Resources:

Faculty Focus Special Report: Effective group work strategies for the college classroom: http://www.cincinnatistate.edu/online/faculty-resources/Effective%20Group%20Work%20Strategies%20for%20College%20Classroom.pdf

Major, C. H. (2015, Sept. 21). Choosing the best approach for small group work. Faculty Focushttp://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/choosing-the-best-approach-for-small-group-work/

Oakley, B., Felder, R. M., Brent, R., & Elhajj, I. (2004). Turning student groups into effective teams. Journal of Student Centered Learning, 2 (1), 9-34.

Tomcho, T. J., & Foeis, R. (2012). Meta-analysis of group learning activities: Empirically based teaching recommendations. Teaching of Psychology, 39 (3), 159-169.

Weimer, M. (2012, Feb. 22). My students don’t like group work. Faculty Focus. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/my-students-dont-like-group-work/