Friday, December 6, 2013

Student Videos & Working out Bugs in Asynchronous Learning: Week 11 & 12 Reflections

It's been awhile since I've posted a weekly reflection. Even though part of the reason has been my hectic schedule, upon further thought, the real reason is that I haven't been inspired to write. Things are going well but I've become less prominent in the course. Students seem to have found a groove and are self managing. They know the routines and structure of learning cycles. They also appear to support each other and take better notes from videos - which have caused fewer questions for me. Students talk to their neighbors and problem solve before asking me to intervene. It's great; the result has left me with very little to write about weekly. Weeks later I now have updates to share about my flipped adventures. 

I'm experimenting with students making their own videos. My students of previous years have always struggled with protein synthesis. The topic is abstract and the process has several steps which occur on a microscopic level. Over the years, I've been satisfied with students being able to determine DNA, RNA and amino acid sequences, which have helped them understand why mutations are important. But they haven't really internalized the process. I purchased some protein synthesis model building kits to help. I had an epiphany: why not have students create videos explaining the process using these kits? I have to admit that I did very little prep work, gave almost no instructions and did not provide information about grading. I broke all those rules because I wanted to see what the kids could do on their own. I didn't plan to grade the videos - I just asked students to redo the videos whenever I detected errors. So far, the products have been excellent. Some videos are just one-take live recordings, while others are narrated animations or slide shows. The fantastic thing is now I have a library of protein synthesis explanations in the language and voice of students. These videos can be used to prepare for tests and exams for years to come. 

I have advocated asynchronous learning since last year and won't get into the benefits again. However, I am seeing some of the troubles now. One trouble I've seen is loosing a sense of a class community; this has been addressed with peer instruction and other synchronous activities that I've added during the last few weeks. Of course scheduling labs is harder, especially if I want to combine data. That has been addressed, perhaps ineffectively, by sharing last year's data. The remaining problem is related to group projects. I have two major projects and an exam coming up. One is a genetic disorder project that requires three people and I would like groups to present their work to the entire class. That will be difficult if students are at different places. I'm considering creating an altered project that can be completed in pairs or individually but that will take some time. The other project is even more difficult to pull off because it is in conjunction with the history class. I need the students to be in a similar place in order to get the benefits of the interdisciplinary project, which also coincides with a field trip to a DNA laboratory. Gladly, this mini unit will start at the beginning of January, so I've mandated that all students be up to the unit once they return from break. This shouldn't be a problem because they need to catch before the break in order to take the genetics exam. Of course, if some do not catch up for the exam, then the problem will be compounded. I will try not to worry and make accommodations to help students catch up. I've already informed the slower students which steps of the current learning cycle should be prioritized before the exam. Hopefully, this guidance will prove useful.