Space Matters: Lessons Learned from an Active-Learning Classroom

This piece was originally published in EdSurge on July 1,2017.

professor teaching from the center of the room

By Cindy Cogswell and Mike Goudzwaard

Too many discussions of edtech focus on tools (like tablets, clickers, learning-management systems, smart boards, etc). More thought should be spent on the design of the classroom itself.

Two years ago we renovated an old computer lab into an active learning classroom. The idea was to make the room, Carson 61, into an incubator—to spark similar classroom redesigns all over campus.

As at many colleges, the classroom started out with fixed rows of tables, and tower computers. There was a clear front of the room, with a large fixed podium and a single projector.

In our redesign, we carted all that off and brought in moveable furniture, flexible lighting zones, about half a dozen projectors, and whiteboards on every wall—and not a single installed computer.

The old arrangement strongly suggested—and really only supported—interactions between student and instructor or student and computer. Now, as an active-learning classroom, the default arrangement is for students to work in teams—six team stations for up to 36 students. Technology in the room supports a video display for each team and the capability to share a display to any one or all seven projectors in the room. Although there is a “main” screen, the absence of a fixed podium allows flexible focus and instant presentations from  anywhere in the room. Although you bring your own computer (or other device), the facility provides a video and audio system to video conference with guest speakers (on systems like Zoom and Skype).

We’re not alone in redesigning high-tech classrooms. Case Western Reserve documented its first– and second-year efforts to add two active-learning spaces and support faculty teaching in the space. Indiana University has a campus-wide Mosaic initiative to encourage and support active and collaborative learning in all classrooms. McGill University has developed Principles for Designing Teaching and Learning Spaces to instruct and encourage others who strive to teach well in redesigned spaces.

We have learned some lessons in the past two years through faculty focus groups and by surveying students about their experiences teaching and learning in Carson 61. This evaluation has enabled us to adapt and hone the process of selecting, preparing and assisting instructors to teach in the room.

Here are a few lessons learned:

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) can be a struggle.

Supporting whatever computers that students and professors bring sounds flexible. In practice, the short transition times from one class to another are sometimes made shorter when the wireless software needs to be updated or audio settings need to be changed to play a video. There is a certain efficiency to walking into the room, logging in to your account, plugging in a USB or URL and starting class.

You CAN have too many cameras.

While we thought that having a video hook-up for each of the six teams might encourage some interesting interactions with multiple guests, logistically it is difficult to get more than one or two guests to join a class. We might ask at what point would having many guests be a better learning experience than having one or two? So far the smaller cameras at each group station are rarely used.

Soft and quiet.

Lighting needs to be adjustable, in zones of possible for screen tasks and table tasks. The room needs to project intended sounds while dampening HVAC blowers, projector fans, and chatter.

Markers, markers, markers, eraser.

Sometime the lowest tech is the most important—and is often forgotten. If you run out of markers, or the only erasers are filthy, frustration grows. Instructors and students need fresh markers and clean, effective erasers to focus on creating and synthesizing knowledge, not smudging it with their fist.

“I thought it was a great room setup, especially because it facilitates group learning,” one student wrote in the survey “It was also nice being able to write group work on whiteboards close to you. I would put classes in there that are made up of groups.”

It’s still all about the people.

A classroom can be feature-rich and highly flexibly, however this needs to be supported by course design, technical support, and ongoing evaluation. We set up an application process and support plan that started as a method to select courses for a highly-sought-after classroom, become an important first engagement with faculty who were interested in teaching in an active learning classroom.

Conclusion: It’s helping.

Students and faculty tell us that this is all making a difference. Our hope is that this incubator classroom sparks course redesign, increases demand for active-learning spaces, and surges available funding for innovating classrooms.

One faculty member shared, “I had each team draft answers to discussion questions and then we would discuss each team’s answers with the entire class. By having their answers up on the screen, I could often scan and pick out some of the most interesting things that each group devised—which made for a better group discussion.”

One thing this innovator classroom has changed is that professors are speaking up about the rooms they need and letting us know when existing classrooms fall short. Looking ahead, the Carson 61 project has taught us that we must design, build, support the people, evaluate, and iterate … forever.

Innovation as Place and Practice

A few weeks ago, I attended the Online Learning Consortium’s (OLC) Innovate conference in New Orleans. This was the second annual conference since OLC combined the conferences on blended learning and emerging technologies (ET4Online). Similar to many conferences, Innovate showcases projects and products, however increasingly invites attendees to participate in design-thinking sessions to solve big problems. I co-led one such design thinking workshop on next-gen digital learning environments (or see LearningOS).

I was looking for what themes might emerge from keynotes, lighting talks, demos, and hallway conversations. This year I found innovation to be represented in two domains, as place and as practice.

Innovation as Place

2016 must have been the year of the innovation hub. Southern New Hampshire University’s Sandbox ColLABorative where faculty and staff play (experiment, fail, dare, ideate and iterate) to make “higher education more affordable and more accessible to more people.” The University of Michigan launched an institution-wide academic innovation initiative. This brings together several innovation labs, including the Digital Innovation Greenhouse, where they bring UMich edtech seedlings from around the university and scale them up for use all across the institution. Just down the road, a new hub has opened at Michigan State University. The Hub brings open meetings, public project boards, and cross-unit team space to improve the student experience using the agile development process. No, hubs aren’t new (Georgetown’s CNDLS is one of the early hubs and has been around for 15+ years), but they are on the rise, and by next year’s Innovate conference, several big universities will have “hubbed” their innovation, learning technology, pedagogical research, and faculty development groups.

Innovation as Practice

One of my favorite spots at the OLC Innovate conference is the Technology Test Kitchen, which brings a “makerspace approach for sharing innovative tools, new media, and approaches to integrating technology.” It has become a staple at OLC’s major conferences, and I think a critical part to an engaging event.

What makes the test kitchen work is the topically-driven booths where attendees can explore a technology or technique at their own pace. I played with Twine in the ‘gamification in education’ booth, recorded a video selfie in the reflection booth, and did some improv. Yes, improv!

In Justin Lee’s Innovation Dojo, he started by leading us in some improv to “bridge the gap from learning the fundamentals of innovation to becoming confident innovators.” If you have ever been to an improv show, you are familiar with the rule of “yes. . .and” which requires each person to build on the story, hopefully in a hilarious direction.

“The snail walked into the bar. . . yes . . . .and sat down at the piano to play a little ditty . . . yes . . . and spilled her drink. . . . “

Justin and his colleagues use improv with their faculty to warm up before digging into a design process. We did a little improv with the group:

Situation: narcoleptic toll booth operators

Resources: duct tape and good hugs

You have 60 seconds to come up with as many ways to solve this problem with these resources using the “yes/and” technique with your small group. GO! The test kitchen buzzes with ideas, from taping open eyelids to creating some sort of hug bot that keep that toll booth operator awake. Some teams even challenged the premise that the toll was needed and freed the operator to be a full-time hugging professional.

I have deployed this technique with several groups, and I have yet to find anyone that has flat our refused to deploy the duct tape and hugs toward some result.

Yes, And!

We don’t have an official innovation hub at my institution (yet!), but I’m looking for and creating the places and practices of innovation in my work. I suspect that innovation hubs are sometimes created by accident, and I hope to learn more about those this year and bring this framework to OLC Innovate 2018!

Hola, Open edX

Two weeks ago I traveled to Madrid, Spain to attend the Open edX Conference, hosted this year by Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (or uc3m). Uc3m is located in a suburb just south of central Madrid and was concurrently hosting EMOOCs, the 5th annual European MOOC stakeholder meeting. As you might imagine, Open edX and EMOOCs attracted many of the same participants, which was by design.

“Why are you at Open edX?” asked one edtech company founder. Working at a U.S.-based edX partner institution, offering MOOCs on, but no open edX instance of our own, this is a great question. What benefit might an edX consortium member get from attending Open edX?

Attending Open edX, an annual gathering of the Open edX community, there is obvious benefit for developers to get together in working sessions, hallways, and over tapas at night to talk about coding, development, and aspirations for the platform. On the first day, I walked down the hall and saw a group of developers who had just claimed a hallway table as they leaned in over each others’ screens to pitch and hack new code.

Hacking in the hallway

However, for those of us mostly building courses and programs and not writing code or running instances of Open edX, there is also benefit in coming to the the Open edX Conference. As Joel Barciauskas, Engineering Manager of Open edX, said in his opening remarks, “There are so many ways to contribute to the Open edX platform that are not writing code.” As Joel said, documentation and, I’ll argue, pushing the platform forward, are also valuable roles in our xConsortium and Open edX communities.

One Platform, One Ecosystem was founded five years ago and now has more than 11 million learners. Open edX was founded four years ago as a community of institutions and developers who are using the open-source code on their own instances. These instance might be a single institution or, in the case of France, Israel, and others, a national open edX platform. Surprisingly, Open edX instances have just as many learners as, 11 million and growing. The Open edX learner base is growing at a faster rate than, and the Open edX community will continue to influence edX code development and the broader MOOC community.

Open edX is Open

One thing that distinguishes Open edX from the edX Global Forum, which is for edX partner organizations only, is that vendors are invited and integrated into the event. The term “vendor” doesn’t quite capture their contribution. Since this is a small, start-up driven community, I prefer to think of these participants as edtech collaborators. Sure, they would love to drum up some new business, but most interactions felt to me like genuine conversations about learning and the edX platform, not a pro forma sales pitch. We need more honest exchanges between our teaching and learning professionals and the companies developing edtech. Open edX gets this right.

One of my criticisms of conferences in general is that all the concurrent sessions lead to decision fatigue, especially if your interests are broad and, like me you like to hear a lot of ideas from as many people as possible (C-FOMO, or conference fear of missing out). Open edX still has the concurrent sessions, but the organizers really walk the talk of “open” by streaming and archiving all the talks on YouTube. There is an excellent overview of the talks, presenters, and indexed YouTube links on this wiki page and the tweet-stream can be found at #OpenEdx2017.

During one session block where I was really torn about which session to attend, I attended one session and streamed another on my phone. I don’t recommend this as a great learning strategy, and a friend commented, “That is horrible for mindfulness!” I do recommend you single-task your conference, but if you are in an engaging conversation in the hallway, you should see it through and know that sessions will be there for you that night or in weeks to come.

Online Collaborators Need Face Time, and Tapas Too

As professionals working in online education, the Open edX community seems particularly adept at working together across time zones, languages, and regional differences. One thing that strikes me about the strength of their collaborations is that many of them are working together to develop the platform.

As adept as they are at long-distance relationships, the Open edX — and I dare say any — collaborators benefit from some focused time together. Time spent coding in the hallway, planning the next partner gathering on a rooftop, putting the pieces together to co-develop courses, and sharing large quantities of Jamon Iberico and Manchego. (I now severely regret not throwing out all my clothes and just stuffing my suitcase with ham and cheese for the trip home!!)

As we say in my office, “people who work together, work together.” As edX partners, we’re often working on our own courses and programs, but not necessarily with one another. That’s why I think partner collaborations on courses, programs, and community tools are so important for the consortium. I recently traveled with one of our course teams to Washington, D.C. to film several Smithsonian exhibits and scientists for an upcoming course, BiPedalism: The Science of Upright Walking. Working on a course with another institution will expose the many strengths and challenges of our consortium, and in-person events are often where these ideas are seeded and sprout.

In addition to these occasional face to face meetings, we need a similar vibrant space to exchange ideas, share wishes, and might-bes. One session at Open edX unveiled a new Kickstarter-like wiki space called Ed Xchange where edX and Open edX course designers can share practices, hacks, wishes, and, possibly, co-fund development. You can watch the recording, check out the deck, or jump into EdXchange.

Live Locally

One of the things I like about the two European hosted conferences I’ve attended is the deep connection to the host university and city. Partly out of necessity due to the lack of mega-hotels with reserved room blocks, attendees live a bit more like locals, or at least dispersed tourists. I had no problem meeting up with people for evening eats and activities, and we didn’t seem to need “the hotel bar” when we had WhatsApp. Did you know that the whole world uses WhatsApp (except for U.S. iPhone users)?

As you are planning your travel for the next year, I would recommend checking out Open edX (host university not yet announced), in addition to attending the edX Global Forum. You will certainly see some different sessions than the Global Forum, and you’ll probably get a sneak peak of an xblock being developed in the hallway.

Building Better Assessment

Photo credit: Danny Munnerley CC-BY-NC

By Erin DeSilva and Mike Goudzwaard

Does your university have an assessment center? We’re not just talking about a place to take standardized tests and final exams, but a space that supports both students and faculty in the pursuit of designing and completing better ways to measure student learning.

The recent AC&U report on assessment in higher education  finds consensus among its members that there is an increase in the use of learning outcomes in courses, a shift away from standardized tests, and new efforts to build assessments of learning that measure beyond the grade. This is an important development in advancing learning design, however this critical work needs an organizational and physical home on our campuses.

Many faculty identify a need for a place where students can take tests that provide privacy, a test reader, screen readers, and just a place to take rescheduled exams. The pinch is felt each time a test is given in class, but the classroom is only scheduled for the length of the class period, not allowing for 1.5x or 2x test time, which some students need and the institution has the responsibility to provide. Many universities have testing centers for this purpose and these student-focused centers are an important resource. However, how might we build or adapt an assessment center to support both students taking assessments and faculty designing them?

Anyone who has ever written a multiple choice question knows that this is difficult work. It has the advantage of being quite scalable (auto-graded), but is it the best measure of learning? What if instead of faculty spending hours on end writing exams in their offices or asking students to pay hundreds of dollars for a commercial test bank, faculty could come to the assessment center to –

1) learn multiple assessment techniques
2) design assessments that support their learning objectives
3) develop and improve rubrics
4) receive feedback and consultation on authentic assessment methods

Rather than the assessment center staff serving as just exam proctors, they would be collaborators, providing research-driven assessment techniques to faculty and collect feedback on the effectiveness of those assessments from students. This type of learning laboratory would allow faculty to design assessments that apply the principles of Universal Design for Learning such as multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement that have been shown to improve learning for all students. (CAST).

Many universities have an assessment officer (or office), with a focus on aligning program objectives with school objectives and gathering evidence of learning. The problem is that these experts often operate in an “accreditation bubble,” fully immersed in collecting data for institutional reporting, but not having access or bandwidth to build better assessment at the program or course level. What is needed is a space where assessment experts can use their expertise to collaborate with faculty and connect institutional efforts with courses. An assessment center could hire both pedagogical experts and student scholars to work side by side with faculty to design authentic assessments, rubrics, project-based evidence of learning, and experiential assessments. This might just shift the perception of assessment in the minds of faculty and students, moving from a mandated interruption into something deeply connected to the learning process.

It’s time for students and faculty to come out of their dorm rooms and offices and connect with assessment experts, have a cup of coffee and together build better assessments for and of learning.
Assess early, often, better, and among friends. 

A Look Back, A Look Forward

looking backWriting by Mike Goudzwaard | Image by Graham Holiday (Flickr) CC-BY-NC 2.0

This was originally published in Teaching Out Loud, a collaborative blog produced with Michael Evans, on June 17, 2016. 

It’s Wednesday at 11:10 AM and I’m walking down from my office to join the second to last class meeting of Film 7 for a student-led discussion. These student-led sessions usually happen weekly on Fridays, but in this last week of the term, Friday has been reserved for looking back at the course and looking back at Dartmouth history through the Rauner Library’s special collection.

I park myself at the Orange group station and listen in as the discussion leaders challenge teams to design their own digital protest as they are unpacking Zapatismo in Cyberspace: an interview with Ricardo Dominguez. I roll my chair over to the Green team and join their design jam. I won’t get into specifics of what we discussed since the content of class discussion should stay in class discussion.

I will tell you that in this conversation, as in other times I’ve joined discussion groups in this course, I play the historian, someone who has been alive since the ‘70s, but usually brings up events from the 2000s (when the students were 6 or so), or even a year ago. I mention the Yale students who built a better course catalog, complete with course evaluation information, much to the disapproval of the institution. The protest, if you will, was to reformat data created by students (course evaluations) for students data-driven decisions (course registration). This “protest” happened in 2014, beyond the horizon of historical knowledge for first-year college students. We take a moment to get up to speed on the facts of this example.

Two days later, the final day of the class and Film 7, we meet in a classroom in the Rauner Special Collections Library. Digital Collections & Oral History Archivist Caitlin Birch asks if anyone has ever been to Rauner before. One student says she has been there with her father who was looking for an article he wrote 40 years ago while a he was a student at Dartmouth. They found the article.

Rauner regularly host classes for sessions where librarians and archivists teach through the collection. One question that has been present in Film 7 is, “How do we preserve and archive our own writing and work in a digital age?” Software changes, hard drives fail, and laptops are upgraded. Chances are you won’t graduate with the same laptop you used your first year in college. Where does all your stuff live? This was exemplified earlier in the term when students were asked to bring in their best work from their previous writing courses, just a term or two earlier.

Beyond one’s own personal writing, how do we preserve the work of social movements, maybe those things that didn’t make it into the official media? The special collection is an archive of Dartmouth’s history, including social protests and activism from previous decades.

“Who has heard about the Divest Dartmouth movement?”

A few hands go up.

“This wasn’t the first divestment movement at Dartmouth, in the 60’s students wanted Dartmouth to divest from Kodak.”

Materials are distributed on the tables.

I join a group and we read the minutes from a meeting of students and faculty in 1967. The issue at hand in that meeting was whether Dartmouth should divest from Kodak due to its practice of not hiring African American workers. The group I’m sitting with passes the pages around, taking mental notes of who was present at the meeting, what the issues were, what students requested, and how the college representatives responded. If you would like to know more, I suggest you visit Rauner and request the Kodak papers from 1967.

In the feedback on the course, one student said this session at Rauner was the highlight of the course.

After the discussion, there is final work to turn in, including political broadside political posters and final paper revisions. If you’re on campus look for these broadside posters, particularly around Novak Cafe.

Stop Fox & CNN Refugees Are People Too!

Stop Fox & CNN Refugees Are People Too!

Photo by Mike Goudzwaard

In the final minutes of the class, Michael handed back the 3×5 cards that each student had filled out with their learning goals on the first day of class. Then, in Canvas, students were asked to:

1) Write 1 paragraph on how your writing has developed in FILM7. Did you improve what you wanted to improve? Why or why not? What would you like to improve about your writing in future classes?

2) Write 1 paragraph on how your learning has developed in FILM7. Do you know more about your own learning process than when we started? Why or why not? What would you like to improve about your own learning in future classes?

With that final look back, the class is over.

We ask students to reflect on their learning, to reach beyond what happened to how and why it happened. This metacognitive practice is important for us educators too. Looking back on a class, how goals were met or not, how plans evolved, and where would we start next time.

Learning from Experience, an Interview with Sarah Smith

Sarah and Amos

Text by Sarah Smith and Mike Goudzwaard. Photos by Mike Goudzwaard. This post is the 4th and final post in a series on experiential learning originally published on Teaching Out Loud. on June 17, 2016. Also see Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

In this post Sarah Smith, Book Arts Workshop Coordinator reflects on printing with Amos Kennedy and the Film 7: Mass Media and Democracy class in a conversation with Mike Goudzwaard, Instructional Designer. 

MIKE: Visiting artist Amos Kennedy came to Dartmouth a few weeks ago to work with students in Film 7: Mass Media and Democracy. You originally suggested Amos for this Experiential Learning Initiative project. What did you think students would learn from him in particular?

SARAH: There’s a number of reasons why bringing Amos was a good idea. One is that he puts on a great show and so he is very engaging. He’s also one of the few letter press printers really doing a lot of political messages in his work. Some people will have little bits and pieces, but a lot of his work is about politics or about the human condition. He would show students how to work with wood type and get a message out. That’s something Amos says frequently, “Get the message to the people and move on.”

Additionally, I think just to get them engaged in the process using language in this way, rather than just setting type or worrying too much about the result is empowering. Obviously we have rules on how to use type, but it’s great to be able to just jump in and print.

MIKE: How did you prepare for the learning experience with this class?

SARAH: Well, Michael [Evans] and I talked a lot about what we wanted students to get out of the class, and the experience with Amos in particular. We have a project later in the term in which students will print political broadsides. It made sense for students to spend time with someone who actually does that, and to see how much fun Amos has with his work. He also takes printing seriously, and prints every day that he can.

MIKE: I spent some time in Book Arts while Amos was here and noticed that he likes to offer his life’s wisdom while he is working with students.

SARAH: Well, and that was a big part of it, too. Aside from working with type and the specifics of the project, our students learned from someone who loves what they do, and perhaps it makes them think about what they want to do with their lives. That’s really great. That’s one of the things that I hope people get out of the workshop anyway, that there’s a creative outlet outside the busyness of regular life. Students find they might be interested in book arts as a hobby, or maybe it becomes more than that. It is so inspiring to be around someone who loves what they do.

life isn't hard

MIKE: What are some of the things that changed between your plan and when Amos was here?

SARAH: Partly what changed was based on learning from hosting a visiting artist for a week. Aside from the work with Film 7 students, we had plans for all these public dinner conversations, however people were either too busy or Amos wasn’t really interested in big dinners. Instead we ended up going to Bob Metzler’s studio. He also teaches in Book Arts, and that was really a great experience for Amos and for me.

In the workshop itself, I expected Amos to start with more instruction for students, but his style is to first let students play around with type. This was more free form than I was anticipating.

Amos loves printing backgrounds and students shared this interest in learning about layers and textures. Students came back and wanted to do more and get involved in printing in multiple layers, demonstrating that they were really interested in printing more posters. Next time I would order even more paper.

MIKE: How did Amos’s visit fit into the Film 7 course overall, and how does it relate to what students are working on now?

SARAH: Amos’s visit gave students a lot of ideas of what they might want to do when they come to Book Arts to work on their political broadside projects. They also had a lot more questions, more focused questions, for me than they probably would have otherwise. Printing with Amos allowed students to have some experience with the presses before planning their own projects. There was a lot that they already knew, so I didn’t have to repeat the basics. We could talk a little bit more about the pressure you use, because they could really feel the difference. With Amos, they were using a lot of pressure, because it was that big wood type. Today we were using little metal type, and they didn’t feel it at all, really, and so that was surprising to them.

We talked a lot about how the backgrounds were made for the posters and what was involved with that, and what else they could do with it. So I think it just gave them lots of ideas.


MIKE: Amos has come to Dartmouth before, and I’m wondering if you’ve had other printers come in as visiting artists, and if so, what’s able to happen for students with a visiting artist that can’t happen with Book Arts alone?

SARAH: I wasn’t here when he came before, but what Amos brings that probably would be different than most other visiting artists is that he is so open to having just these crazy open printing days, where anybody can come in and make stuff.

It generates interest and excitement in what can happen here. I think it’s healthy to have more voices than just me or just Bob telling people how to do things, and to see how somebody really uses this material or this method to do their work.

I also like having visiting artists, because we used to joke that we should have a visiting artist mask if we were trying to get a point across to students, because they’re not listening to us anymore. As soon as someone new comes in they say, “Oh, I get it now.” So it just brings in a different point of view. I guess. Two weeks after Amos visited, we had a stone carver come in and he brought a whole new perspective. Hopefully we can do more of that.

MIKE: What’s the most important thing you learned from this experience?

SARAH: How to plan. There were many, many moving parts to Amos’s visit. We were not only making this work for the Film 7 class, but also for other classes and the public during the week. I wanted to make sure Amos had a positive experience, which is not difficult, but required planning many print sessions, meals, and public talks.

During the week, many nights we were in the shop until nine at night preparing everything for the next day, and talking a lot about the planned activities and life. All the snippets of wisdom that the students were getting, I was getting tenfold.

this is your democracy blocks

I talked with Amos about how he manages his presses, and what he’s trying to do in Detroit. I feel like maybe I got the most out of Amos’s visit, but the good thing about that is that I can pass it along after he’s left.

MIKE: I think that happens when you are teaching, you often learn as much or more than your students.

SARAH: Right. There’s a trick on the press that I learned from a student early in my career. When this student demonstrated, I thought it was way better than the way you’re supposed to “officially” do it. And so I’ve been teaching that way ever since, and it’s awesome. So yeah, definitely you learn from the students.

MIKE: I see there is a stack of posters over here.

SARAH: Students got really excited working with Amos. I didn’t expect that level of excitement, or that it would continue after Amos left. All of a sudden I had all these people wanting to come in and make posters. The students were so into it that they went into production mode and printed a ton of these posters, so I’m still trying to figure out what to do with them

MIKE: Readers, if you want a poster, they’re still in the hallway of Book Arts in the basement of Baker Library. Come on down and pick one up.

To learn more about the Dartmouth Library Book Arts Workshop visit their webpage or sign up for the Book Arts listserv

show up on purpose

Authentic Knowledge: Students Bring 19th Century Russian Literature to Wikipedia

both men seated, black and white photo

Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy, photograph, 1901

By Mike Goudzwaard
This piece was originally published on Instructional Design at Dartmouth on June 3, 2016.

Wikipedia Meets Russian Literature

Last term, Professor Victoria Somoff (Russian) created a Wikipedia assignment for her students in Russian 31,  “Masterpieces of Russian Fiction.”  Victoria’s objectives for this assignment included:

  • Engage in the existing English language global knowledge base. Students would consider such questions as “What is already written about Russian literature?” “Where are there opportunities to improve or write new articles about particular works of Russian literature?”  
  • Research, critically examine, and synthesize ideas and approaches developed in the field of Slavic studies, contributing to this global knowledge base.
  • Enhance writing skills learning to write for a new audience outside the classroom.

Read more

Live Blogging Mass Media and Democracy


by Mike Goudzwaard, Instructional Designer

This was originally published in Teaching Out Loud, a collaborative blog produced with Michael Evans, on April 2, 2016. 

I’m live blogging the fourth meeting of Mass Media and Democracy (FILM 7) from the Berry Innovation Classroom. I walked in a couple of minutes late to find ten students sitting in a semicircle of tables and six joining me in the “second row” behind them at the team stations.

My position in “the back” with several other students might be a commentary on the democracy on playing out in this classroom. The moment I walked in, students were voting on which posters they want to print with Amos Kennedy in the Book Arts workshop next week. Yes, even people in “the back” including me were given a vote.

There is some administrative business such as “giving credit for work when you build or borrow” and preparing to lead Friday discussion sessions. The pep talk was something like this – “Go get em tiger. You will do fine. Even if you bomb, you’ll do fine. You’ll work through it together and you’ll do fine.” We should all get that pep talk from our teachers.

Most students have a laptop open, yet most are not taking notes. Should they be? Is it because a discussion happened already in Canvas and can be retrieved at any time? Is it because there are no slides on the screen? Actually, all screens are lit up with the wireless login screen. What do these communicate? Potential for video display at any moment or the slides are missing?

Students are not distracted by their screens, most browsers are resting on the Canvas page or a reading. I’m arguably the most distracting person in the room with my blog typing.

The class is discussing “History and Theory of Democracy” by Andrew Perrin. Terms enter the lecture and I can’t help but bring a learning design meta narrative to my unpacking.

Epistemic democracy, the idea that as long as we include the most people with the most diverse ideas, we’ll have the best outcome. Is that true for learning design? Should we have the most people with the most diverse ideas involved with designing learning spaces, curriculum, and courses?

Modernity, one thing is moving, all others are fixed and post-modernity, all things are moving. My mind flashes to our learning spaces on campus, lecture hall with bolted down seats and this room with wheels on everything.

Unified media to fragmented media. This is an easy one, one projector or seven projectors. More on that when we get to the Great Game.

Students are asked to read Do College Admissions by Lottery and asked “Would switching to a lottery system be a more democratic system for Dartmouth?” This is timely considering that the class of 2020 just received their offer letters from Dartmouth yesterday. Students dig in, challenge the claims that this would free high schoolers to pursue their dreams rather than admissions check boxes. One student points out that it already is a lottery, but the tickets are issued at birth.

The final activity for class is the Great Game and goes like this. Students divide into four groups of four and each group takes a group station equipped with a projector. Students receive a brief introduction to the tech in the room including the capability of sharing their screen with other screens or pulling other screens to their projector. Key information is how to retake control of your own station. Then the game begins.

Each team is given a sheet of paper with their challenge for the game. I’m sitting on the edge observing, but the Yellow team invites me over to join them. I wondered if my knowledge of the tech in the room would be an advantage for our team and would I share special knowledge if it meant we could win. As it turns out my knowledge made no difference.

Our challenge was to pull up a webpage and display it on two screens – at all times. Another team was challenged with pulling up a webpage and displaying it on four screens. Here was the conflict, we battled control of our screens for the entirety of the game. One of my teammates wondered if this was all a test and we were supposed to work collaboratively to all win, but the obsession to keep control of our screens pulled our entire attention.

After five minutes or so we debriefed the game. What sort of democracy was this? Agonistic democracy or conflict sabotage? Was deliberative democracy at work? How would you grade this exercise? Participation where everyone wins? Or outcome – percentage of goals achieved – 2 pts if you show up, 2 pts to achieve each goal, if you had a lot of points on a system, how would you explain your higher score.

What advantages did some teams have? Did a better knowledge of how the system worked make you better at the game?

Thanks to the Film 7 students who allowed me to stop in on their live action democracy Great Game and especially to team yellow who invited me to join in the battle to control the screens. This is experiential learning design.

Why Wikity?

Bit Rot Saudade

Writing by Mike Goudzwaard | Image by Bit Rot Saudade (Flickr) CC BY 2.0

This was originally published in Teaching Out Loud, a collaborative blog produced with Michael Evans on March 25, 2016. 

This spring I’m working with Michael Evans on his Film 7: Mass Media and Democracy course. The “sevens” (i.e. Film 7) are the last in a series of required writing courses at Dartmouth. Each “seven” lives within a specific department and explores writing from a particularly disciplinary lens. As part of the writing in Film 7 students will be producing F7, an online journal exploring mass media and democracy. Students will also enage with learning experiences from printing with moveable type in the Book Arts Workshop, printing posters with activist Amos Paul Kennedy Jr (funded through the Dartmouth Experiential Learning Initiative), and of course drafting, editing, and revising each others’ work on Wikity.

What is Wikity you ask? So you’ve probably heard of the most famous wiki, Wikipedia, the massive collection of user created articles. The problem with Wikipedia for a writing course is that there are masked strangers (editors) constantly changing your work. We don’t need to play Wikipedia politics while trying to develop an idea for a writing course. Wikity is a small private instance available only to students in the class and their collaborating educators (faculty, instructional designers, and library educators). Wikity is a composition space with revision history and the ability to pass off writing to other users while retaining the original version.

For you techies (others look away for a moment), here are a few specs. Wikity was developed by Michael Caulfield at Washington State University, Vancouver (see and is essentially a WordPress multi-site running a custom theme and a suite of plugins. Each author has their own site (subdomain or subfolder Okay, enough of the techie stuff.

Students will be doing a lot of writing of various forms. They will be drafting articles, passing those off (called forking in wiki-speak) to their peers for edits and revision, and then taking them back. They will also be doing all sorts of metacognitive exercises such as preflection – What and how do you think you will learn? – and reflection  – What and how did you learn? They will also bringing in examples from the web to contribute to the course wikity.

Not only is Film 7 a chance to explore using Wikity for class writing, it is also a chance to invite our students to consider the benefits and risks of any technology. Through this course students will be asked to consider:

How are you backing up your work? No, I didn’t ask how someone else backs up your work, how do you back up your work. Yes, it’s your job as a digital citizen.

Who has access to your work and when? Here we hit a snag. Wikity carries the CC-NC-BY license which is not appropriate for a course. This is private work and all rights belong to the author. This was easily fixed with a footer edit. Wikity also lives behind a password and students decided if posts are draft or published.

Should you work be preserved beyond this course? If so, how? Rauner Special Collections Library Digital Archivist, Caitlin Birch will be visiting Film 7 in week nine to explore this topic.

I’ll let you know how this all goes. Down with bit rot!

American Renaissance X and Lacuna Stories

By Mike Goudzwaard This piece was originally published on Instructional Design at Dartmouth on March 16, 2016.

The American Renaissance: Classic Literature of the 19th Century (AmRenX), the fourth MOOC (massive open online class) from DartmouthX will introduce the next author module, Herman Melville, next week. In this unit AmRenX focuses on one novel, Moby-Dick. Don Pease and James “Jed” Dobson will be joined by Special Collections Librarian, Jay Satterfield as they explore a special exhibit in Rauner Library. Watch this video, “The Plurality of the Whale” (7:21) in which Jed and Jay explore the history of Moby-Dick in print.

Jay Satterfield and James Dobson

AmRenX has debuted several learning technologies in the MOOC format, including YellowDig, a social platform that plugs into the edX platform for course discussions (Email if you are interested in piloting YellowDig for your spring course).

In a literature course, close reading is an essential practice and annotation supports close reading of the texts. AmRenX is also using Lacuna Stories, an annotation platform developed at Stanford.  Lacuna allows annotations in the form of highlights, tags, comments and links to be private, for a group, or for all users.

Lacuna Stories annotation box

In late February, Brian Johnsrud, a PhD candidate in Stanford’s Program in Modern Thought and Literature and Project Manager for Lacuna Stories visited to Dartmouth to lead a Lacuna Stories workshop for faculty and staff. Later that day at the Digital Humanities Seminar, Digital Annotation in Theory in Practice, Johnsrud was joined by AmRenX instructional designers, Mike Goudzwaard and Erin DeSilva to share this background of using Lacuna Stories in AmRenX. James Dobson, Lecturer in English, Writing, and the MALS program and AmRenX co-instructor, introduced his current research project on theorizing the link between metacommentary and annotation.

“MOOC learners come from very different educational and cultural backgrounds and have different goals for taking an online class,” said Erin. “Engaging learners over the several weeks of the course can be challenging, particularly in a humanities course where discussion is so embedded in the pedagogy.”   The AmRenX team is using YellowDig and Lacuna Stories to encourage engagement in Dartmouth’s first literature MOOC. YellowDig has been a different platform for some seasoned edX learners, but they have really taken to Lacuna. To date 542 learners have made 6,930 annotations in AmRenX. There is more activity in the annotation platform than any other part of the course.

This animated image shows the connections from the top annotators to particular texts in the course.

The animation above show the growing number of users and their annotations as displayed in the Lacuna dashboard.  AmRenX may have brought Lacuna Stories to Dartmouth, but several faculty members expressed interest in Lacuna after the workshop and seminar.  You can email if you are interested in knowing more about Lacuna Stories for your course.

AmRenX will introduce the final two authors, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain on April 1, 2016. You can sign up for the course and annotate in Lacuna Stories by clicking here.