Friday, May 10, 2013

Thanks! -- and an answer to a question

Thanks everybody for a great semester. There was one question that I refused to answer today, so I'm going to answer it on the blog instead.

You asked me about my own teaching philosophy and I replied that rather than coming to one singular, permanent philosophy of teaching, we should each constantly strive to articulate and then interrogate our own teaching philosophies, making sure that as institutional contexts, political-economic conditions, and our own understandings of the human condition all change and adapt, so should our approach to teaching and learning. In such a way we can demonstrate to ourselves, to our students, to our stakeholders, and to each other that we are serious and careful about adding value to people's lives and to the life of the community through our educational efforts.

So, since you all saw through that dodge, here is a consolation prize: two examples of my own attempts to articulate a teaching philosophy. The first is from 1999, when I was leaving graduate school and attempting to land my first assistant professor job — which turned out to be here at UW-Madison. The second is from 2006, when I was going up for tenure as an assistant professor in order to convince UW-Madison to keep me. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to compare and contrast. (The only conclusion I came to is that seven years in academia made me much, much more verbose.)

My 1999 statement of teaching, for the assistant professor job search:
After being a student myself in various settings, from undergraduate to graduate, corporate training to continuing studies, I have developed a philosophy of pedagogy which puts emphasis on learning how to learn. My training has been an interdisciplinary mix of historical and geographical methods, built on a foundation of engineering practice. Instead of "disciplines" or "fields," I prefer to think of history, geography and engineering as "toolkits" for understanding. Thus I try to begin my classes by showing students how a set of basic concepts and frameworks can help them to analyze any situation, any problem, or any text more systematically and thoroughly. Before one can reach a useful conclusion, one must form many hypotheses; and before one can form a useful hypothesis, one must ask many questions. I see my graduate studies as training in how to ask better questions, and that is what I'd like to impart to my students. 
Before pursuing my doctorate, I worked as a computer analyst and was the lead developer on two educational "learning by doing" multimedia environments, created at the Institute for Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. During my graduate studies, I created several academic and non-profit web sites and successfully integrated "Geographical Information Systems" map-making software into an undergraduate Introduction to Geography course. 
My teaching philosophy is rooted in a history of experiences in both designing courseware and instructing students. As part of my previous corporate career, I trained business professionals on computer hardware and software, both formally and informally. As part of my graduate studies, I have instructed university students in various subjects of history and geography, in both lecture and discussion settings, for the past five years. I am very comfortable with teaching interdisciplinary subjects, and with using a variety of education tools, from films and slides to web sites and software. But I feel that nothing substitutes for the process of careful reading, independent written analysis, and supportive group discussion of a text.
My 2006 statement of teaching, for promotion to associate professor with tenure (get ready):
In my experience, the practice of teaching at the university level — whether for undergraduates or graduate students, in liberal arts courses or professional skills courses — involves five intertwined ideals: (1) wrestling with both primary and secondary sources; (2) thinking geographically as well as historically; (3) innovating with appropriate technology; (4) engaging students as teachers; and (5) instilling a critical and normative stance. 
Wrestling with both primary and secondary sources. Especially when introducing a new subject to students, professors face a strong temptation to assign ready-made secondary sources in the classroom — textbooks, or trade summaries of difficult material. I have found, however, that introducing students to a customized menu of both primary and secondary sources offers a chance for students not only to analyze and evaluate the arguments of experts in a given field, but also to engage to some extent in the same analytic practice of those experts, whether that means poring over statistical data, reading through historical documents, or identifying patterns on a map. 
Consider J201, the 400-student undergraduate "Introduction to mass communication" survey course that I teach for the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. Rather than using one of the many textbooks readily available on the market for such a class, I instituted a new practice of assembling a customized reader of both primary and secondary journal articles, news reports, and practitioner essays. I complement these pieces with lecture notes that point student to real-world web-based providers of data on the mass media industry — professional organizations, marketing firms, and activist groups. And in an ongoing class weblog, I direct students to up-to-the-minute national and international press articles which relate to the themes of our course. 
Thinking geographically as well as historically. Trained as I was in the discipline of history, it is not surprising that each of my classes incorporates a solid historical grounding — for example, my "new media" class on "Cyberspace, hypermedia, and society" starts with the notion that, in its day, even the telegraph was considered revolutionary. This historical grounding involves teaching students that they must historicize terms, periodize eras of change and continuity, and recognize how different historical actors are privileged under different theories of social action. 
However, since I was also trained as a geographer, I bring to my students not only a sense of time, but a sense of space as well. For example, in my class on "Digital divides and differences," besides exploring how various digital appliances, infrastructures, and applications have evolved over time along with the waxing and waning of interest in the "information gap," I show my students how any definition of a "divide" inevitably involves some sort of spatial claim. Early 1990s federal data conceptualized the "computer gap" at the household scale, but late 1990s federal data on the "online gap" was collected and interpreted at the individual level. Schemes to create "wired cities" work at the scale of the interurban "space of flows" in a new global economy; but schemes to wire schools, libraries, and community centers are focused at a much smaller scale of neighborhood and social group. My class on "Mapping information agencies and communities" takes these ideas one step further, teaching students how to engage with computer-based Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in pursuit of answers to these questions. 
Innovating with appropriate technology. My ability to mobilize complicated GIS software for my students — not only training them to work with it, but teaching them when not to rely on it — is a good example of my general attitude toward technology in the classroom. I believe that innovating with new tools and techniques is an essential duty of university educators, but that our ultimate responsibility is to decide which tools and techniques represent "appropriate technologies" that serve our teaching goals while avoiding the uncritical fetishization of commodities in our own classrooms. 
The most productive examples of classroom technology that I have used in recent years have been web-based syllabi (which I design myself without the aid of prepackaged courseware) and web-based discussions (which I manage through the use of a publicly-available weblog system). My web-based syllabi (four examples enclosed) incorporate not only a week-by-week course schedule, but course requirements, explanation of assignments, lists of readings, and supplemental resources all on a single, easily navigable (and printable) web page. For classes where I lecture using presentation software, all of my lecture notes are made available online (after the lecture has occurred). For classes where I include supplemental readings, as many as possible are linked in "portable document" (PDF) format directly from the web site. 
But while each web site remains relatively static throughout the semester, each weblog is a constantly-changing narrative of what's happening in class that week. On all of my weblogs, I take a proactive role in bringing outside press articles and research reports to the students "just-in-time". But more than that, students are expected to contribute to the weblogs as well, posting reading summaries and questions which then precipitate online discussions with their peers. I do stress to the students, however, that online communication can only complement, never substitute for, classroom communication. To this end I even force students to hold a "virtual discussion session" once per semester, and then analyze all of the failings and frustrations that come with online-only education.
Engaging students as teachers. The demands that I make of my students as weblog participants illustrate my belief that university education should involve as much peer-to-peer teaching as possible. In my seminar classes and small lecture-discussion classes, student presentations are a regular component of instruction. In my large mass communication lecture course — which happens to be a "Comm B" writing-intensive course as well — I instruct my teaching assistants to hold group peer-review sessions with their undergraduates, since productively critiquing someone else's writing is one of the best ways to learn how to improve one's own writing. And in some cases I even coordinate assignments between two classes that I teach simultaneously, such as when I have student authors trade personal weblogs in order to think through how we represent ourselves — bodies and identities, hobbies and politics — through textual descriptions on the World Wide Web.  
Instilling a critical and normative stance. Finally, a core part of my teaching philosophy involves pushing students to be critical information consumers, not only with respect to the primary and secondary sources I have them work through, but in terms of the overall instruction which I offer. In the current climate for public universities in the US, with numerous state legislatures considering an "Academic Bill of Rights" mandating the "balancing" of political and philosophical worldviews both in the classroom and among the faculty, it is paradoxically quite difficult to convince students that the research they consume (and produce) is inevitably bound up with normative claims about society. Too often our students have been trained to see information either as "biased," and therefore unworthy of consideration, or "objective," and therefore divorced from any critical political, economic, or social claims. Instead, I try to help students understand the twin ideas that "biased" arguments in favor of one cause or another aren't necessarily worthless (especially if the partisan nature of those arguments is acknowledged up front) and that "objective" data inevitably emerges from social contexts in which conflicting actors pursue partisan projects. 
One example of this in practice was a course I co-taught together with Jamie Peck of the UW-Madison Geography department and two colleagues from the University of Minnesota: an innovative, cross-university graduate seminar on "Contested urban futures." Here I brought my training in geography to bear on the media- and information-centric problems of informational, economic, social, and policy networks as the new scale of action for urban social justice movements. This class was instrumental in the dissertation work of my Ph.D. student, Larry Wright, and his thesis on the "Free-Net" movement. 
The recent global debate and unrest over twelve cartoons dealing with Mohammed, Islam, and terrorism which were published by the Danish Jyllands-Posten provides another example. Rather than shy away from this contentious issue, I prepared a special lecture for my 400 undergraduate J201 students that happened to coincide with the local Badger Herald editorial decision to republish one of the cartoons "in support of free speech." My lecture, however, argued that any viewing of the cartoons was meaningless without a deep understanding of the context in which these cartoons were originally produced, circulated, and consumed — from the increasingly anti-Muslim and anti-Arab polices and political parties of Western Europe to the various global sites of both democracy and repression in the Muslim and Arab world. This lecture brought forth a sincere but civil debate on our course weblog, and elicited half-a-dozen appreciative emails from students (materials attached). 
As a researcher who studies the "information labor" present at various levels of power in the knowledge-production process, I feel that I owe it to my students to reveal how power is implicated in the production of the very knowledge that they are trying to grapple with in their classes. But at the same time, I encourage my students to recognize their own positions of power — whether as university undergraduates, professional practitioners, or global citizens — and to be clear in their own minds what kinds of knowledge-claims they are using their own education and training to make.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

social media and society: a comparison of three syllabi

by Nan Li

The three syllabi I compare are all from college-level courses focusing on various aspects of social media. The Contemporary Technologies instructed by Don Stanley at UW-Madison explores "a variety of communication technologies and their social effects," with a focus on practical uses of Twitter for marketing purposes. The Media 2.0 course taught by Dawn Gilpin at Arizona State University introduces students to "the contexts and forms of social media." As the syllabus illustrates, the class teaches students "what are social media, who uses them, who gains from them, and how are they transforming the media landscape and the way we inhabit the world." The third class, entitled Culture and Social Media Technologies by Laura Portwood-Stacer at New York University examines social media from a cultural perspective. More specifically, this course focuses on how "media technologies figure in practices of everyday life and in the construction of social relationships and identities."

Despite the common focus on social media technologies, the three classes have distinct purposes and explores the uses and implication of social media tools from different perspectives. A thorough look into the syllabi also reveals the differences in reading materialas, assignments, and the teaching style adopted by each instructor. 

Reading materials

Relevant and recent reading materials are one of the most important components of a well-organized class. All three classes provide a list of required readings along a weekly schedule. The Media 2.0 class includes both required and recommended readings for each week's topic. The reading are all posted on the class blog with hyperlinks that allow students to download and read with ease. The Contemporary Technologies class lists one book as must-read texts along with recommended readings posted irregularly on class blog. The Culture and Social class has heavier loads of readings compared to the other two classes and the reading PDFs are only available on class Blackboard site. 

Comparing the content of readings and the way how they are organized, I think it's critical to provide students with sufficient opportunities to choose materials with diverse arguments on the same problem that the class is trying to address. It is always good to make explicit about what are the required readings and what are recommended. More importantly, informing students about the well-written blogs and other information sources that are openly available is also a good way to teach students how to locate information outside classroom. 


Class assignments are always necessary to let students organize their thinkings, improve their understanding of class materials and receive feedbacks from instructors and peers. I think all three classes do a very good job in arranging assignments with emphases on different objectives. For example, the Media 2.0 class requires the students to write blog post and also comment to others' posts on a weekly basis. Students are also required to explore the functions of various social media tools, such as Twitter, Wiki and Foursquare. Similarly, the Contemporary class teaches students hands-on experiences with using a number of social media tools, including Twitter, Facebook and Google plus for marketing practices of actual organizations. The assignments of Culture and Social class is more "traditional" compared to the other two classes, which concentrate on writing and readings. 

For assignments, I think a common purpose of social media classes is enabling students to use actual social media tools for meaningful changes. However, despite the diversity and popularity, social media tools are always changing, thus create challenges for teachers to show students what are the best strategies of leveraging these tools. A meaningful and helpful assignment should not only teach students how to create a Facebook page or how to set up a Twitter account, but also let students explore the "philosophy" underlying social media tools. Why are these tools social? How to connect people using these tools? How to improve the visibility of your products and services via Twitter and Facebook? I think answering these questions with well-designed assignments will be beneficial for students' future studies and career. 

Teaching style

In addition to lecturing, the three classes have adopted alternative forms of teaching and learning within and outside classrooms. The adoption of new technologies, such as building a class blog or creating a class Wiki can help extend the classroom discussion to online space after class period. Again, I think instructors should implicitly show students how to make a class "social" via using various tools they are supposed to learn about in class. For example, The Contemporary Technology class encourages students to follow the guest speakers on Twitter and directly submit their questions with class hashtag so that the conversations are available to all classmates. I think such practices can engage students and help them gain understanding of the social component of online technologies. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Comparison of Five Science Writing Course Syllabi

By Zhengzheng Zhang

As a professional M.A. student with an emphasis on science communication, science writing is definitely one of my most favorite and necessary course. Thus, here I’d like to compare five science writing courses syllabi, including (1) the one taught in Fall, 2010 by Prof. Carolyn Johnsen at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which I have chosen as my selective course in 2009 as a physics Ph.D. student; (2) the one taught in Spring, 2013 by Prof. Sharon Dunwoody at UW-Madison, which is also what I take in this semester (3) “Science writing for media” course syllabus taught in Fall, 2010 by Prof. Bruce Lewenstein at Cornell University; (4) the one taught by Prof. Tom Yulsman in University of Colorado; (5) the one taught by Prof. James Collier in Fall, 2012 at Virginia Tech. You may find the links to these syllabus at the end of the blog.

All of the five syllabi share several common things. Except for the general elements that are normally shown in a syllabus, such as the information of instructors, office hours, textbook recommendation, school and class policy etc, I also find the similarities in other aspects: the first one is the general design of the course content. Since it is a science writing course, reading, intensive writing and in-class discussion and critique are the key components in these syllabi. Almost all of the five syllabi spend large portions talking about the specific requirements and assignments for these key components, which show that instructors have similar criteria and values when it comes to what kind of skills a science writing class should give to students. The second aspect is the writing load. In all of the five syllabi, writing load will take approximately 70-80%. Although instructors may design what specifically students need to write differently, the overall load are quite similar. The third is, the grading criteria have the similar evaluation factors. For example, all of them take whether a story is able to reach the publication level as one of the key judgement especially as “A” papers. The last but not least is all these universities put a high value on class discussion and group critiques. They pay attentions to students’ oral communication and collaborative work, and all put text reading after class, which is a little similar to filpped classroom teaching.

Their differences are very specific. For example, the goal and structure of the course. Although their goals are in a similar direction in a general sense, which is to teach the skills a student needs as a science journalist, each has their particular focuses. For instance, the syllabus of UNL focus on general writing skills, but the professor does not limit science topics. For the stories, the assumed readers are mostly general audiences but students from science background are also trained in writing for expert. While the goal of UW-Madison science writing mainly focus on the journalistic skills of writing, the professor emphasizes on teaching students how to explain things, storytelling skills using words and images, how to make reasonable judgments about evidence and how to ponder and present issues of evidence, which is a very professional “writing” class. And the assumed story readers are general audiences.

Different from the above two syllabi, the syllabi in Cornell University, University of Colorado and Virginia Tech do not that concentrate on “writing”-though their emphasis is still writing-but all of the three more or less include the social context into science writing, professors in the three universities design discussions, debates or invited speakers speech in their classes talking about the how science journalism interact with the society. Also science writing in UC tend to focus on environmental reporting (specific topic in science writing) and pay attention to practical skills, such as field trips and talking to scientists. This outside classroom part is different from all the other four universities, which take more traditional seminar class style.

Among all the five universities, Virginia Tech’s syllabus is quite distinct from others. The writing style tend to be more in a humanized tone, the professor seems to try to explain every “why” behind each of his requirements and the goal of this course. Also, the writing topics are not only natural science, but also include social sciences. The required writing assignments are not like normal science brief or science features in the other four syllabi, but instead, students are trained to learn how to write abstracts, research proposals and journal articles, which make me feel it seems more like technical writing. But the syllabus notes students are trained for general audiences. The course is also designed to train students reflect the science popularization and the role of science in public communication and debate, which for me, sound more like combining science communication conceptual course and a writing skill course. Not superisingly, the structure of this syllabus is quite different from the other four, which can be found in grading criteria, the professor counts the knowledge of science communication and science populization into the grading portions.

The differences in the goal and structure in each syllabus actually have shown the different purpose of teaching in instructors’ mind. Questions like “what kind of things students need to learn from this class?”, “who are my students?”“what do we want them to obtain in this class?”, or “what should a science writing course bring to my students, to their future career?” all influence how instructors would design his/her course. Comparison of these syllabi help me realize the factors behind them.

Syllabus links:
Virginia Tech:

Social Statistics  II: A comparison and contrast of five syllabus
     The course I am interested in the Sociology 360: Statistics for Sociologists I, taught in the Department of Sociology. It is an introductory course to basic statistics for students in the social sciences. The five syllabuses I am going to compare and contrast are: Geoff Bakken(instructor) taught in summer 2011, Nicole Kraus(instructor) taught in spring 2012, Hongyun Han(instructor) taught in spring 2009, John A. Logan (instructor) taught in spring2012 and Chaeyoon Lim(instructor) taught in fall 2010.
     All the five syllabuses shared the same structure of the contents, including the overview of the course, required textbooks, grades information, detailed course schedule and so forth. For example, they all included the information of the instructor and the teaching assistant, including both office hours, contact information, which made themselves approachable to students. Second, they set clear rules on grades at the beginning of the course. For example, all of them included a table, showing what percentage of each components would count in the final grades. The policy of  made-up exams, grading of home works, penalty of late homework assignments, academic dishonesty were explicitly illustrated. These instructions provide guidelines and boundary for students, from my point of view, which is necessary and helpful for students. This course is basically designed for beginners of social science research. Most of students taking this course are sophomores, meaning they already have a sort sense of scientific study after the first year study in university but no doubly, they are still in the early stage of research. The syllabus not only provide the guidelines, expectations and boundaries for these young starters, but also is a mean of avoiding misunderstanding between students and instructor or TAs and further disagreement caused by ambiguity.

     Since this course is a relatively stable course which has been provided for years, there is no significant difference among these five syllabuses. However, they do differ some details, which showing the emphasis of different instructors and evolution of this Sociology 360. One difference is the adding of data analysis projects in the final grades. In the spring 2009, there was no data analysis project assignment; in summer 2011, there was one data analysis assignment; and in spring2012, there were two data analysis assignments. Accordingly, the weight of  exams decreased from 80% to 65% to 55%. The weight of data analysis project increased from 0 to 15% and to 25% of the final grade. Incorporating one or two data analysis projects into the design of the course, has placed higher requirements on students for fully understanding the concepts and integrating the concepts to solve research question. However, this is also a higher requirement for instructors and TAs. As discussed above, most students are sophomores, who may lack sufficient skills to do research at this stage. How to instruct them do a data project which fit their stage and meet the end of teaching this course is a challenge for both course designers, instructor and TAs.  A step-by-step instruction should be provided in the mid-way of the course, and an exemplar can be provided to show the expectation for students.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Russian History: A Comparison of Three

For this assignment, I chose to identify three syllabi that roughly corresponded to the Russian Imperial period, which is something I loved to study in college. The first syllabus is from a school is Turkey, though the syllabus is in English, and it is from Fall 2012. The syllabus can be found here. The second syllabus is from MIT of Fall 2010 and can be found here. Lastly, I also chose a syllabus from Harvard from Fall 2012, and that can be found here.

It was really interesting to see the different ways Russian history is taught. It is easy for one to assume that the way they learned it is the only way someone can learn it. In my own class, we were told that the textbook we used was the definitive guide to Russian history, as if every introductory Russian course would use it. However, I did not see A History of Russia by Nicholas Riasanovsky and Mark Steinberg on any other syllabus. Furthermore, on a deeper level, since Berkeley lacked Russian history courses I began taking a lot of courses that outlined different philosophies in history that finally led me to the study of historiography, or which is basically the history of history. I was the most engrossed when we were discussing not just the stories of people, but the way people chose to tell those stories. Studying the syllabi of three different courses on the same topic is extremely similar: it is a look into how people tell the story.

The first two syllabi I studied followed a linear narrative pattern. They generally follow the path of monarchs and rebellions until it gets to the Russian Revolution. The Turkish syllabus follows sweeping changes that followed because of bottom-up actions (rebellions, revolutions) and top-down changes from the monarchy and bureaucracy. This narrative is further upheld by the course goals, which include identifying and explaining important Russian people and events. Beyond that, the professor wants to teach critical thinking skills and methods to interpret primary documents when writing a long research paper.

The syllabus from MIT sees Russian Imperial history with a little more complexity. The professor asks weekly questions to keep students on track that show me how inter-connected and complicated a society can be; she does not seem to see history as top-down or bottom-up decisions, but an interplay of literature, autocratic decisions, specific peoples' political pamphlets, and ideas. She still follows generally a linear line through history but doesn't just include a rebellion here or a reform there, rather she focuses on literature to emphasize different perspectives of these events, as Russian history has a deep connection to stories. I also appreciated that she highlighted the Russian psyche of its comparisons to the West.

The syllabus from Harvard may be the closest to an expert historian's point of view. It doesn't attempt to view Russian history through events or people as much as it interprets the actions of people through the lens of processes and institutions. The Harvard syllabus stresses strands within a society, such as industrialization, transportation, religion, government, ideas, and so on. More importantly, it also connects Russia to world history and does not consider it as a bubble. The syllabus connects monarchy and rebellion much more to the specific era those people were in rather than how the people or events shaped the era.

The syllabus from the Turkey is the kind of history most people learn: this happened, and then this happened, and so on. The MIT syllabus improved that kind of study to include more perspectives and interpretations. This seems to be the study of history that more university classes want to be like, as much more critical thinking is involved. However, the last one from Harvard tells the story of Russian history like the other two do, but doesn't tell it inside a bubble. It offers explanations of why one movement might take over another. I think it's the way universities should teach history.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Comparing introductory journalism skills courses

I’m a teaching assistant for J202 Mass Communication Practices, the journalism school’s introduction to news writing and strategic communication skills. J202 is an intense experience for students--I know because I took it myself in 2006. Since I completed my undergraduate degree here, I don’t have a very good understanding of how other universities teach introductory journalism skills. So I decided to look at the syllabi of two courses comparable to J202: J315 News Media Writing & Editing at the University of Texas at Austin and Comm 221 Writing and Editing for Media at Ohio State. (To access the UT syllabus, click the link to get to the UT syllabi database, then type "J315" into the search bar. I used David Garlock's syllabus from fall 2011.)

All three courses are designed as intensive introductions to media practices. All three involve various hands on projects and activities related to writing leads, various story structures, interviewing and media ethics.

The differences among these courses stem from their differing credit values. Though the syllabi don’t specify the exact credit numbers, it can be inferred based on the amount of time spent in lectures and lab, as well as homework load, that UW is the largest at six hours, Ohio State is around four hours and UT is either three or four credit hours.

In terms of big picture topics, only the UW course interweaves strategic communication concepts with journalistic ones. The other two courses are streamlined to focus on news writing and journalistic practices. (Continued ...)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Business School’s Innovative Way of Blended-Learning Approach

The idea of this innovative teaching in business school is generally based on the blended-learning approach or “flipping course,” which means “Traditional inclass lecture material is delivered out of the classroom through the use of online technology, while the traditional ‘homework’ is done in class with even greater potential for student learning through the use of Active Learning/Experiential Learning activities using a group/team approach. Technology can also be used in the classroom and assessment can be done both online and in class.”[2] What’s more, the course reform in business school also has its own innovative features.

According to Business School Dean Assistant Suzanne Dove, the motivation that drives this educational innovation is to solve the obstacles that the professor Morris Davis have encountered during the teaching process. “Macroeconomics for Managers” is a course that require students to have advanced macroeconomics knowledge and understand how macroeconomics may influence the larger economy, how macroeconomics drive business to make certain decisions, better strategy or effective strategy. However, many MBA students are non-experts in macroeconomics. Meanwhile, professor Morris Davis hopes to teach both complex theory and analyze current events in economy in class, so that the students would know how economic indicator should affect different business decisions, but he only have 10 weeks to teach this course. Thus, Several limitations drive him to think of using videos to help him better perform teaching goals.

Business school’s innovative solution has some similarity to the blended-learning approach, which takes advantage of videos that help convey knowledge content that require students watch before classes. Faculty members are content experts and also performers in video. After watching videos, in a class session, faculty members use quiz questions to make sure students understand the material they watch. If students have confusion, faculty members will immediately clarify and answer specific question about video materials. After that, students will do discussion and activity based on the information they have learnt. 

     The advantages of blended-learning approach include helping improve students’ effective time-on-task by making learning environment and assignment active and increase students’ flexibility in using their time. Besides, it would also reduce lecturing and grading time, which is very suitable for the course, such as “Macroeconomics for Managers,” which has limited teaching time but advanced knowledge and non-expert students.

The innovative features in Business’ school lie in two aspects: first, the short and engaging multimedia videos; second, the design of classroom discussion.

According to Dove, Business School produces short videos for this course, and each piece is about 8-10 minutes. Because short video is more engaging and would help students better focus on the lecture content. Typically, a 75-minute traditional lecture will be divided into 4-5 pieces of short videos. And the innovative part is,  they do not adopt the normal lecturing method in videos, like an instructor stands in front of a white board or directly talk to a camera. “That is boring,” said Dove, and they want to make the video more engaging and helpful. So, instead of teaching knowledge in front of a camera, the instructor behaves more like “performing knowledge” in face of audiences. Videos contain animations, music, pictures, designed scenes, with which the instructor creates stories to help students understand the essence of theories. 

For example, one of the main concept in this course is “trade,” the advantages of trade between nations. In the lecture video, with the aids of multimedia tools, rather than talking about trade between nations, he starts talking about the trade between two individuals, and he explains why you and I would trade something with each other. Then he introduce the third individual, who is a kind of metaphor for the market, why there is a benefit to have the third person helping trade each other. “Once why you understand two people would trade, you can understand why countries would trade.” said Dove. The innovative teaching is actually a different way of learning, which obviously increase challenges for instructors. Thus, Dave need to be very clear about “what do my students really need to know and be able to do by the end of this course., and how would I assess that, how would I know that they have gotten the content, if they do not get it, how would I do to help them," said Dove. 

Another shinning point in the educational innovation is the instructor’s design of classroom discussion. Dave expects his students are able to actively learn and critically discuss the current business event in world. Instead of just free discussion, he assigns students into two teams: "pro" team and "con" team, to debate against each other about a particular issue in economy, and what they think business should do.

“It is more engaged and active learning. Because, the students would first work at their table and decide the different points, if he assigned them the pro team, then they have to decide different points in support of that position or that question, they probably will also need to think of what the other team might say against that position, and then be prepared for argue, back and forth. And so, it is a different way of learning, because it is not simply sort of memorizing information, or simply being able to describe a position, it is actually being able to adopt that analyze why a company would do a certain thing, sort of a higher level of thinking.” said Dove.

From the educational innovation in Business school, we could see how they use multimedia tools and story-form lectures to engage students and arise their interest in learning, as well as save teaching time. We could also see how the active interactions (in-class learning activities) rather than one-way lecturing between instructors and students, students and students play important roles in inquiry teaching and critical learning, and sometimes lively forms such as role-play discussion will help improve students’interest in learning and encourage their analytical thinking.

According to Dove, right now the innovation plan in the course “Macroeconomics for manager” is just a pilot, if proved to be effective and successful, Business school expects its usage in more business courses


[2] Moses, G. A., Spanngler, H. D.“Flipping Courses: Transitioning From Tranditinal Courses to a Blended-Learning Approach.”

International Teaching Assistant Training Program

I can still remember the first semester I had here last spring. . In my prior education experience, there was no such thing called syllabus, not mention the complete English-speaking learning environment and the culture shock. I noticed that in some classes, there was one student claimed to be the teaching assistant, which was new to me (meaning, I did not know what exact purpose the guy was for). I kept feeling dizzy until the end of first three weeks, when the professor in my statistical class assigned the first homework. I felt so upset about the first assignment, then I was “saved” by my teaching assistant, a guy from middle east, who covered all the knowledge I needed to do the home assignment during the lab session. Although he spoke English with strong accent, he perfectly demonstrated his expertise on statistics.
The international teaching assistants in U.S. universities have been increasing in the past decade. Undoubtedly, qualified international TAs have showed great value for their assistance in on-going teaching, research, and service. However, As Kathleen Bailey discussed in her article “The ‘Foreign TA Problem’”, international TAs may lack clear understandings about the role of TA in American education system and thus may face both linguistic and cultural difficulties in facing their students, which probably lead to problems sometimes.  Thus, helping international TAs to adjust them to American classroom is important for TAs, native students and the university.

I enrolled in a program called “international teaching assistant training “program, which is designed to help non-native English speaking TAs (or potential TAs) to improve their oral communication, get them familiar with American classroom culture and effective classroom teaching skills. The program is consisted of three parts: lecture and discussion of specific topics each class session, observation of other international TAs, and four tasks operated individually by students.
Each class size in the program is intentionally controlled within a small group of students. A mild amount of reading is assigned each week, which is written and edited by experienced international TAs and professors. For example, one article is about “compensatory strategies classroom English” which indicates what others measures TAs can do to minimize the possible misunderstanding because of accents. Students discuss their specific practical problems since they are all international students and part of them are TAs. A set of concrete, detailed and actionable instructions for international TAs can be concluded from readings, lectures instructions and discussions. Sometimes, we were asked to role play to practice what TAs should do in one  specific situation. For example, I pretended as a student who was always late, the other trainee was the TA. What kind of conversation should she talk with “me”? What measures could she take to avoid such situations?
There are exemplars we can observe, both successful exemplars and unsuccessful ones. After comparison and contrast, we made conclusions what may cause problems and which measures could do communications that are more effective. We had four presentations to perform. Each presentation was related to classroom teaching, such as how to explicit a concept, how to compare and describe a process and so forth. All the presentations were recorded and fully discussed one week after the presentation.
I benefited much from this program for I clearly understand the role of TA in the university, get to know part of important class culture and some crucial communication skills with native students.

---by Yan Liu

The Flipped Classroom by Dana Gerber

Flipped Classroom
Infographic created by Knewton and Column Five Media

(Another infographic about this model can be found at This one addresses some of the concerns about this model, but I think the accompanied article addresses the concerns well.)

I am a graduate student enrolled in one of first “flipped” course at UW Madison's School of Library and Information Studies. Professor Kristin Eschenfelder decided to try out this educational innovation for the Spring 2013 class of LIS 751: Database Design. From experience, I can report that this course design has been enormously successful in a variety of ways: workload for both professor and student feels enormously decreased, the pre-recorded lectures are an asset for understanding materials, and classroom engagement is highly active and helpful.

According to Educause LearningInitiative, “There is no single model for the flipped classroom – the term is widely used to describe almost any class structure that provides prerecorded lectures followed by in-class exercises.” The main idea is a simple one that can be augmented for most classroom needs.

Our Databases class follows the basic foundation with a few changes. Professor Eschenfelder loads up slides with audio attached that we watch at home. She also creates a discussion forum for every unit using Learn@UW. During the week, students post their questions about difficult material or technical issues. We're encouraged to document our issues using Jing, which makes it much easier for others to identify the problem.

Our workbook is just a set of questions that pertain to each unit. We are given a few of the questions in the workbook to try out ourselves before we get to class. We aren't required to get anything correct yet – if we turn in our attempt by 9am the day of class, we're given 1 point. Then, we meet up for class, where we spend the majority of the time working through the questions together. We usually do so in small teams and then come together as a class to go over possible answers. If we finish the workbook early, Eschenfelder introduces a new concept so we're familiar before the next unit.

While both student and professor still have work to do, it often feels more playful. The professor glances over our assignment before class to see where we're struggling, but after class she is receiving corrected homework since we all did it together. She has more time to individually respond to questions we may have. As a student, I get to learn at my own pace, often rewinding the lectures, but master the concepts through hands-on group work. I always have the lectures on hand if I can't remember a concept or want to study before a quiz. Lastly, and most importantly, the entire class is alert and engaged. Students are encouraged to talk to each other and to help each other. The professor moves around class, answering questions as needed. We get to commiserate together on difficult subject material. We also get to have lots of eyes on our work in case we're missing a comma in our query, instead of spending frustrating hours alone late into the night.

As part of this flipped class experiment, I can say that the new model isn't complicated, but intuitive. It makes sense. More importantly, the material makes sense too. I am not in school for computer science at all; I am taking a class outside my comfort zone, yet I feel like I have a good handle on all of the material. I feel ready to go out into the workplace. This model respects our lack of time while still respecting the need for us to learn something. Overall, I'm glad that Professor Eschenfelder wanted to try this format out, because I don't think I would have learned as much without it. My time is valued, the tuition I am spending is worth it, and I'll be leaving class with a great foundation. 

Social media in classroom

"twitterclassroom," an image remix by brunsell on Flickr.

A recent article posted on the UW News highlights the increasing use of social media tools in classrooms around campus. As one of the most popular social networking tool, Twitter has been added to the syllabus of ten courses this semester. Twitter makes the interaction between students and instructors more direct and flexible. Instructors can expand the classroom teaching to online space and organize meaningful discussions using hash tags. Twitter also presents an effective platform for students to actively engage in discussing class materials, sharing opinions, and even collaborating on class notes.

Fortunately, I used to work as a teaching assistant for LSC 440: Contemporary communicationtechnologies and their social effects for two semesters. Don Stanley, a recent award-winning instructor in LSC is one of the pioneer teachers on campus who incorporate Twitter and other social media tools into teaching and learning activities. He invited guest speakers who were on the front lines of using social media to class. Students heard how Carey Fuller from Seattle, Washington, as a homeless mother made invisible people visible through blogging. Students also learned how a Hollywood actress, Colleen Wainwright shaved herself bald and raised $50,000 in 50 days for nonprofits by spreading a self-made video via Twitter. Andy Smith, co-author of the class textbook The Dragonfly Effect, had a face-to-face conversation via Skype with students about how to develop a strategic plan for social marketing.

Most importantly, students did not only learn about others’ successful experiences in leveraging social media tools for gaining valuable resources, they also got hands-on experiences using these tools to build communities and to create meaningful change. Part of my task as a TA was to monitor and guide students’ efforts on developing strategic social marketing plans for campus organizations. I was also responsible to initiate and lead discussions on Twitter. Compared to traditional face-to-face discussions in small groups, Twitter discussions are vital because the tool enables both one-to-one and one-to-many communications. Students can even build direct contact with guest speakers and maintain long lasting interactions via Twitter.  

However, from a teaching perspective, I think adopting social media tools in classroom can be a double-edged sword. Despite the potential merits of using Twitter described above, students can be distracted and have difficulty in concentrating on the lecture content. Some students said they felt comfortable to use live tweets to enhance understanding of class material, while a few students expressed reluctance to tweet during class. Also, the 140 character limit constrains the accuracy and depth of the ideas that can be communicated via the platform. Twitter is good for spreading catchphrases that convey sparkle ideas. Yet instructors may still need to organize frequent group meetings in order to help students develop critical thinking and collaborative skills. As Twitter and other social networking tools have been increasingly used in classroom, it’s time for us as future educators to think about what would be the best way to use these tools to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

- Nan Li

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spatial skills: Classroom architectural innovation in the era of “virtual learning”

The average journalism instructor typically doesn’t spend much time thinking about engineers—especially at UW-Madison, where the two disciplines are housed in buildings separated by about a mile. Yet the engineers appear to be on to something when it comes to innovative learning spaces, and their efforts are gradually spreading toward the southeastern end of campus.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Excerpts from John C. Bean's Engaging Ideas

Last Friday, Brad Hughes pointed us to a high-quality sourcebook for writing/thinking research and practical tools for course instructors: John C. Bean's Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, 2nd ed. (2011).  I've taken the liberty of uploading a selection of six chapters from this book to our reading repository, in case any of you wish to explore it.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Self-Introduction: Zhengzheng Zhang

     Hello, everyone! My name is Zhengzheng Zhang, and I am from China. I am a Ph.D. in Physics, and now a first-year professional M.A. student in J-School, UW-Madison. My specialization area is science communication, since I have strong interests in both physics and communication areas. In my eyes, science is interesting and beautiful, but due to the complexity of its “language”, many people may think science is obscure and inaccessible and thus are not able to fully appreciate its beauty. Thus, I hope to play a role of a “bridge” between scientists and general audiences that helps people better understand science

     Also, for me, teaching is an enjoyable thing, and I have been teaching in physics department when I was a doctoral student, and I really enjoy communicating science with students, since the process of teaching is always a mutual way that could benefit both teachers and students. Now, I am very interested in learning teaching  in mass communication, not only because I wish to become an TA in a journalism/mass communication class, but also due to a favor of learning the art of teaching for different kinds of learners.

     That is all about me, and hope we could become friends, nice meeting everyone!


Introducing Dana Gerber, LIS TA

Hi there! My name is Dana Gerber and I'm happy to take J901 class this semester. Though I'm likely not going to be a traditional professor, I value the role of teaching and education in not only our society as a whole but in my career as well.

I'm originally from California; I grew up on the central coast and went to undergrad at UC Berkeley. I studied Russian & Eastern European History there. I taught within a program that allowed Berkeley peers teach to other peers, and that was my first taste of leading discussion and thinking of activities! They were meant to be fun classes though with few credits, so the section went more like: an hour of drawing with an hour of discussion. I co-facilitated Introduction to Children's Literature, Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and His Dark Materials trilogy. While an undergrad, I worked in the Public Services department of the Bancroft Library.

After undergrad, I worked as a research assistant, a library assistant in Berkeley's Career Counseling Library, and as a workshop facilitator for CollegeTrack, an after-school college prep program in downtown Oakland for low-income and under-resourced students. After a year, I decided to come to Madison to study library science.

I started off wading through different types of libraries, set myself on archives, and then continued to deviate from the path of a processing archivist. My experience as a TA for LIS 201 with Greg was an extremely enriching one, and it got me thinking more and more about teaching. My path is heading towards a career ideally mixed with archives and outreach. I currently work at the Wisconsin Historical Society as both a reference assistant and marketing intern, volunteer at Circus World, TA for LIS 202, and work on my podcast, Sound of the Archives. I also have an "about me" page here.

I hope this suffices, Greg!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Change of room for first class meeting - 5013 Vilas

(Email sent to all class participants.)

Hi there.  You're registered for Journalism 901, which is a one-credit colloquium course.  In the spring, this course focuses on issues of teaching and learning -- one of the few courses a graduate student can take on the topic.  All of the information on the course is now available at our course web site, at

In a moment I'll invite you to become a full author on this blog along with me; look for an invitation from "Blogger" in your email (and check your SPAM folder if you don't see it).  The main activity of this class is attending our Friday noon talks all semester long, but I hope we can have some discussion spill over in to the virtual space.  The blog also lists the week-by-week syllabus, provides access to a growing body of downloadable (and optional) readings, and details your four course assignments -- two of them due on the blog at different points during the semester, and two of them due at the very end of class, on the last day of finals week.  

I do have one change to our schedule already, for tomorrow's class, on Friday January 25: We'll be meeting in a different room.  Class will convene in 5013 Vilas, one time only, because of a scheduling conflict.  After that we'll be back in 5055 Vilas, the Nafziger room.  (We'll post signs.)

So for now, (1) get registered with the blog (and feel free to post and introduce yourself) and (2) I'll see you in class tomorrow, 5013 Vilas.  Cheers,


Gregory J. Downey
School of Journalism & Mass Communication (Professor & Director)
School of Library & Information Studies (Professor)
Center for the History of Print & Digital Culture (Director)
Internships in the Liberal Arts & Sciences (Director)
University of Wisconsin-Madison
5112 Vilas Hall, 821 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706 USA
(608) 695-4310

Getting ready for Spring 2013

Hi folks.  I'm revamping our course web resources to all center around this blog in the future.  See you at our first class meeting of the semester on Friday, January 25 -- when all shall be revealed.