The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence


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Please… Step Away from the Podium

McFalls 2012Marsha McFalls, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Director of Educational Technology, School of Pharmacy, Duquesne University

I recently read “Waking Up to Tired Teaching” by Maryellen Weimer (Faculty Focus, March 1, 2017). It was timely as I had recently celebrated 15 years of teaching at Duquesne University. As I reflect on those years, I am amazed at how my teaching has changed.

As a practicing pharmacist, I, like many other practitioners moving into higher education, was not trained to teach.  I had 3 weeks to prepare my first course, so I mirrored what my professors had done while I was a student. I prepared PowerPoint slides, note cards, and handouts. Each slide and handout was full of information. I stood behind the podium and tried not to “read” the slides to students. Students seemed to like my course. Teaching evaluations were always high. But as the years passed, I found myself faced with “tired teaching.” I wanted to engage students. I wanted them to getcartoon podium excited about their learning, interact with each other, and apply the material to something meaningful. I knew there had to be a better way.

In the Duquesne Master of Instructional Technology Program I learned about new teaching methods and innovative ways to interact with students. One thing I knew for sure—I had to get out from behind the podium. It no longer felt right to stand at the front of the room giving students facts and information while they fervently wrote every word that came out of my mouth. Real learning does not come until students do something with that information.

So I decided to incorporate two new methods of classroom experiences: flipped classroom and team-based learning.

Now, I record videos of slides with voice-over. Students don’t need to see me as they listen and view new content. Instead, they need me there for the more complex tasks of applying and creating with content. Following the flipped model, students are expected to view these videos prior to class. Then in the subsequent class, they engage in team-based learning to solve real-world problems. Of note, these classes have 140-160 students in large lecture halls with immovable stadium-style seating. Certainly not the ideal place for team learning, but it works!

2016_06_Flipped-classroom

Students take a quiz at the beginning of class using Nearpod, an interactive presentation and assessment tool. Through Nearpod I can create presentations using slides, video, audio, or websites, which the students view on their own devices. Viewing it on their own screen instead of the large projection screen makes it a more intimate experience. When I am among the students, it changes the entire dynamic of the classroom. I spend time with each group during the team-based learning sessions and participate in their discussions. I clarify concepts they might be struggling with and ask questions to stimulate further discussion.

During the times I am lecturing (or what I prefer to call presenting), I use Reflector software to “mirror” my iPad. I show slides and videos, annotate websites, and demonstrate various apps we use in the course.  All of this can be done without being tethered to the podium. I am excited again about teaching because I get to interact with students on a different level.

Every year I try something different.  It is important to continue to discover what you don’t know. I find inspiration by observing what K-12 teachers are doing. Yes, it is challenging to translate K-12 educational methods to higher education, but it can be done with slight modifications. If we continue with the “I speak, you write” way of thinking, I think we, as educators, will miss an exciting opportunity to engage with our students in a new way.


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Using Academic Posters in the Classroom

by Steven A. Perry, PhD student in Systematic Theology at Duquesne University. His work focuses on theological anthropology and the intersection betwheadshot-2een theology and contemporary life.

Ask the typical college student today about their media intake and you will get a bevy of responses: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix…and the list goes on.

Technology has become ubiquitous in our society. A quick glance at the modern college classroom shows that instructors have a DVD player, a computer and/or a projector at their disposal.  However, these teaching tools only become useful if we use them wisely.  The question for the contemporary educator is this: how can we capitalize on our students’ media savvy to engage the content and skills of our course? While the pervasiveness of technology presents new challenges to the pedagogical task (ah hem…cell phones anyone?), I believe one way teachers can tap into their students’ digital aptitude is by assigning academic poster projects in the classroom.perry-poster

Images are powerful—and educators can capitalize on students’ creative impulses by inviting them to put their digital skills to work in the service of their grades.

Academic posters offer students the opportunity to apply their aesthetic sensibility and mental acuity to a specific research problem. By choosing thought-provoking course material and encouraging students to ask questions, educators can position the academic poster assignment to be a significant form of active learning. The advantage is that it forces students to present their ideas visually. Translating ideas from simple text into an interactive format requires a strong grasp of the research question and fosters critical thinking skills.

Interaction can take multiple forms: the presenter and people viewing the poster can engage the ideas together.  The poster can also open up interactive media capabilities, for example, through QR codes enabling viewers to view a related video on their own device.

Done well, the act of creating an academic poster necessitates that students ask deeper questions. As a bonus, students can submit their course work to research symposia or conferences.  Academic posters have become common in humanities conferences in recent years, influenced in part by the sciences.  These visual displays of learning can tap into students’ natural media instincts.

Assigning as part of a final research paper or project the requirement for students to visually present their findings in front of the class helps students develop real world skills for the workplace. Presenting and organizing information by communicating through images and text gives students the opportunity to take research and make it their own—putting their own unique stamp on issues presented in the class. Utilizing PowerPoint as a simple presentation format or even poster boards with text boxes and pictures cut out and pasted can help students avoid the pricey printing fees of producing one large poster.

Using academic posters in the classroom helps students learn to communicate visually in an image-dominant culture. If “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then it is vital for us teach our students when and how to use the right ones.

Student experience

by Emtinan Alqurashi, doctoral candidate, Instructional Technology and Leadership at Duquesne University.  Her research interests include onlineemtinan-alqurashi-headshot teaching and learning, students’ learning experience, and instructional technology.

As a student, I created an academic poster presentation in the Qualitative Research course (Education, Duquesne University). In order to prepare for the poster research presentation, students were asked to write and submit four draft sections for review and feedback.

  1. Title and brief description
  2. Introduction and literature review
  3. Entire draft
  4. Final proposal and poster presentation

My project, “An analysis of motivational beliefs, expectancies, and goals and their impact on learners’ satisfaction in online learning environments in higher education,” focused on students’ online learning experience with an emphasis on self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, goal setting and their relation to student satisfaction. I went on to present this poster at the 2015 International Education Conference in Orlando.  The course assignment had prepared me for this opportunity.  alqurashi-poster-title-abstract

The benefit of the poster session as a final assignment is that students are forced to think critically and get feedback to improve their ideas, research questions, methodology, analysis, and more. Preparing a visual presentation that summarizes written research is not a skill that students come with; I had to learn how to visually present my learning.  The peer interaction helps you see how far can you take your idea, that your idea may need a twist, maybe the problem is not clear, or there’s related research you didn’t know about. Also, by listening tocam05569 other presentations, you learn to improve your own research skills and knowledge.

The poster presentation helped me not only to develop a strong research proposal, but also gave me the chance to interact with peers, talk about my research, and receive constructive feedback.

Examples and tips on making academic posters:

  1. Duquesne University Undergraduate Research Symposium  http://www.duq.edu/research/student-research/undergraduate-research/urss
  2. NYU Library: How to Create a Research Poster: Poster Basics  http://guides.nyu.edu/posters
  1. YouTube Video: How to create a Poster in PowerPoint  https://youtu.be/1c9Kd_mUFDM