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.