Design and Innovation Using AutoCAD, 3D Printing, and Arduino: Curricular Enhancement for 21st Century Engineers and Inventors (Mellon Project Report)

Our digital pedagogy project integrated AutoCAD, 3D printing, and Arduino technologies in courses for both physics pre-engineering majors and non-science majors. The central pedagogical approach was project-based learning using creative technology. Students were actively engaged in the design, construction, and testing of innovative products and solutions: Smartphone Sound Amplifier (RooBoost), a comfortable handle for cold 12-ounce aluminum cans (Can-dle), and an Infrared Touch Surface. This initial use of 3D Printing and Arduinos in our curriculum may serve as a precursor for a broader maker space at Austin College.

Digital Design for Engineering Students

PHY 281, Statics and Engineering Design, was offered for the first time in Fall 2016. In this course, pre-engineering students designed a small bridge using AutoCAD software, built the bridge with popsicle sticks, and tested the prototype under physical stress and strain. This introductory design process prepared them for the main event: designing their own product to solve a real-world problem. Using an iterative design process, students modeled their product in AutoCAD and produced prototypes using the Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer. 

Students showcased their designs to the campus community in a Demo Day at the end of the semester.   Their products— RooBoost, Can-dle, KangaBroo, and The Sauce Boss—were highlighted in the Austin College Digital Pedagogy blog post “Roo Products: 3D Design and Printing in Pre-Engineering Physics.” They also shared their products recently at the Austin College Scholarship Conference.

This course helps fill a void in our pre-engineering program: a need for authentic, meaningful engineering design applications. Roughly one third of our physics majors pursue a career in engineering. Although many of our physics courses have an applied focus, Statics and Engineering Design is the first course at Austin College to be designed specifically for engineers.

Inventions with Arduino for Non-Science Majors

In the Jan Term course Arduino Microcontrollers, non-science major students used the C++ computer language to program Arduino microcontrollers. An Arduino consists of a programmable circuit board (called a microcontroller) and software that runs on an external computer that is used to control the microcontroller. The circuit board can interact with other electronic circuits and make LEDs light up, motors turn, piezo motors buzz, LCDs display text, and so on.

No prior experience was necessary. The January term students built eight projects involving Arduinos and demonstrated them to visitors outside the Austin College cafeteria in late January. The projects were highlighted in our recent blog post, “Physics and Fun in JanTerm.”

By teaching Arduino Microcontrollers this Jan Term, we were able to see where a similar regular-semester course may fit into our future offerings. The students had a variety of backgrounds: computer science majors who had programming experience, physics majors who were familiar with electrical circuits, and students with a general interest in Arduinos. Working in teams, they were able to take advantage of their complementary skills. We plan to incorporate Arduino activities in our PHY 230 Electronics course (an elective for majors and minors). Some computer science students showed an interest in taking Electronics in the future. A separate course for non-science majors will still need to be made available, perhaps in Jan Term.  

Long Term Plans—Maker Space

Implementation of these technologies in the classroom—along with an inquiry-based pedagogical approach in which students can pursue their own interests—has reinforced for us the need for a maker space at Austin College. Maker spaces at other universities often include CAD software, 3D printers, and Arduino labs. Our pilot study here could serve as the springboard for a future maker space on campus.

For example, two of the three students that invented the RooBoost have continued their product design in an Austin College course called Product Lab. In this entrepreneurial course, students are learning how to pitch their idea, raise money through crowdfunding, and launch their product rapidly. Our engineering students would not have taken advantage of the Product Lab opportunity without the Statics and Engineering Design experience. The availability of AutoCAD and 3D Printing opened new doors for them.  

A campus-wide maker space would provide exciting opportunities for even more of our students. We envision a space in which students, regardless of major, could design and innovate. Perhaps they have already taken a course in a specific area such as engineering, art, or computer science. Or perhaps students have developed an idea on their own, completely outside of the normal curriculum. Recently, computer science students have expressed an interest in developing a robotics club. The maker space would allow them to tap into their inventive spirit.

Creative Writing and Peer Analysis in Advanced Spanish (Mellon Project Report)

The digital project in my Spanish 236 course bridges two main components of the class: literary analysis and advanced Spanish grammar. Classroom Salon (CS) provides a digital space where these two elements are combined in a cohesive and engaging way. It also allows students the opportunity to engage in course material beyond the usual mechanical grammar practice and the traditional literary analysis assignments.

For the project, students spent the first part of the semester working on their own creative works (a story or a poem), employing similar styles, techniques, and literary tropes of the authors we studied in class. Then students uploaded their works to our Span 236 account in Classroom Salon. Students were assigned the task of analyzing their classmates’ works by 1) giving examples and explaining the uses of specific grammar points in each work—por/para, preterite/imperfect, subjunctive, and ser/estar; and 2) writing a fifty word analysis of their peers’ works, including discussion of literary tropes, language, tone, imagery, etc., as we had done in analyzing the works of Hispanic authors in class.

With this digital project I learned that students are more receptive to course assignments and more focused on the work at hand in the CS platform than in analog formats. The use of a collaborative digital space, where students review each other’s work, seems to creates an environment of accountability and an eagerness to do a better job with the assignment. The greater audience in the digital space is a good motivator, and students seem to put more effort into the digital project than in the more traditional assignments collected in class. The space for commentary and annotation also allows students the freedom to express and share their ideas in an interactive environment. This approach has proven to be especially effective for the quieter students in the class who may feel embarrassed to speak during oral discussions (especially since the class is conducted entirely in Spanish).

In addition, I’ve also found that students were very comfortable with the digital environment and that interacting in CS was natural and enjoyable for them. They are a product of the digital era and their ease in navigating through some of the more cumbersome aspects of CS was impressive. CS is also a good tool for managing assignments and tracking student activity. Assignments are easy to upload, store, and find. The user analytics component of CS provides charts and graphs of class activity, student commentaries, and my responses. I’m able to keep track of when and how long students are active, the length of their responses, and if any questions were asked or answered in each task.

Using CS as a digital platform makes course content, assignments, documents, and videos more engaging and exciting. It provides a space for real-time, interactive assignments that result in more deliberate student involvement, an enriched class environment, and successful student learning outcomes.

There is a new version of Classroom Salon that was launched recently. While the old version is still in use, there will no longer be technical support for it. I hope to explore this updated platform in the future.

Digital Storytelling: Envisioning the Experiences of Asian Immigrant Communities in Latin America (Mellon Project Report)

The objectives of the digital project in this course are to engage in listening, comprehending, transcribing, and translating language in a very familiar online platform: Youtube video. The first stage of the project involved recording interviews with Chinese and Japanese immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, in México and Perú. I completed this task during a faculty sabbatical in the spring of 2016. Then in the Spring of 2017, the digital recordings of these interviews were divided into four segments and distributed to four corresponding student groups in the Spanish 481 Senior Seminar course on Asian Immigration in Latin America.

Each group then worked with their interview to select a five minute segment from which to create a digital story. Each story required the integration of images and graphics to help convey meaning, as well as the transcription of the audio in Spanish and its translation into English. Students used iMovie or other video production applications to match the audio timeline with a sequence of visual images and photos. The video was then uploaded it to YouTube, and students used the captioning tool in YouTube to create the transcription in Spanish and the translated English subtitles. The videos shown here are a first draft and will be edited to correct some errors in visual material and Spanish and English texts.

This project gives students the opportunity to engage with exclusive authentic material in the target language. In addition, it encourages them to see the real world relevance of these contemporary voices and to present their own interpretation and visualization of excerpts of these immigrant stories on an easily accessible media outlet. Thus, it adds hands-on experience to the readings and video materials in the course, bringing to life stories from these communities. Moreover, the work of transcription and translation helps students to further hone their skills in listening, comprehension, writing, and interpretation in the target language.  

Throughout the process of integrating this digital project into my course, I have learned that the students are quite adept at working with these materials and require little guidance outside the initial explanation and demonstration provided in one class period. They engaged readily with the target language material and accomplished the arduous work of transcription and translation, adding their own visual interpretation of the audio text. The knowledge that they were the only ones with access to these stories, and that they were tasked with making them understandable and compelling for a wider audience, seems to have motivated the student groups to be creative in their visualization while remaining faithful to the audio story.

In practical terms, I have learned that an additional class period for them to work on the words they are not sure they are hearing correctly would diminish the amount of time required for editing later. Also, a review of the images may help to lessen the amount of editing of visual material.  

The creativity involved in the process of conveying an audio recording in a visual and textual format has proven especially motivating for the students. Each group expressed a different visual style and included distinct elements in their storytelling. Yet, the direct human presence in these voices brings them to life and conveys a responsibility to represent them faithfully, encouraging the student groups to work together and pay attention to detail. Both of these elements (creativity and responsibility) guided the collaboration and yielded a better intellectual product.

In sum, the immediate relevance of the end product, presented in a digital format with which the students are quite familiar (YouTube video), heightened the motivation for collaboration, creativity, and faithful representation in a way that I believe would be hard to replicate in a more traditional written format. Indeed, I found the students to be more enthusiastic and willing to work in groups in this digital project than with other written and discussion assignments. This in itself is a result that illustrates the value of digital projects in the Austin College classroom.


Simulation-Based Pedagogy for Business Students (Mellon Project Report)

My project has been to redesign the BA 495 Strategic Management capstone course into a simulation-based management training program that integrates and reinforces knowledge and skills learned in courses of the core business curriculum. I have successfully implement the first iteration of the project in Fall 2016, providing students with an enhanced business strategy simulation experience enriched with a series of value-added activities and assessment. I am now implementing an improved version of the simulation in Spring 2017 based on feedback from students who participated in the first version.

The simulation software used in my course is called Marketplace Live Simulation (MLS). This is a web-based, large-scale, full-enterprise simulation interface offered by Innovative Learning Solutions, Inc. MLS has been used for corporate executive training programs in a variety of businesses around the world, such as Coca Cola, FedEx, Delta Airlines, Walmart, and IBM. The Mellon Foundation digital pedagogy award allowed me to work on the customization and adoption of MLS for business majors at Austin College. Our students are now learning with a management training tool that is widely used in real-life corporate management training.

The simulation employs a competitive market environment in which students build a business from the ground up to enter the microcomputer industry. The teams are tasked with introducing a new line of microcomputers into several international markets. MLS offers different difficulty levels for the simulated market environment. In Fall 2016, I used a market environment involving six decision rounds, three customer segments, and four geographic regions. This was my first semester at Austin College and I had little idea about the caliber of business students at the college. I started with a standard difficulty level in and planned to lower it, if necessary, in future iterations. However, observing how well students handled the decision making process in the simulation, I upgraded the difficulty to a very high level in Spring 2017. Students now interact in a market environment that involves eight decision rounds, five customer segments, and twenty geographic markets. A fifteen-minute overview of the simulation’s decision content is accessible at the MLS website.

Map of the simulated market environment involving twenty geographic markets in which student teams competes for strategic dominance in the microcomputer business. Source: Innovative Learning Solutions, Inc

The simulation requires students to form executive teams consisting of four or five members. Within each team, students work as the Vice Presidents of specific functional areas. Throughout the decision rounds, they conduct market analyses, evaluate the strategic position of the firm, and make tactical decisions with regards to product design, R&D, manufacturing capacity, production processes, inventory management, human resource management, sales channel planning, advertising, and financial accounting. They are required to adjust strategies and tactics in response to uncertainties arising from the market environment, the consequences of their own decisions, and the actions of competing teams. The goal is to achieve strategic dominance in the marketplace that is measured by a balanced scorecard within the simulation.

Image of a typical brand design interface in the simulation software. A student in charge of the Vice President of Marketing position uses this interface to design brands based on the evaluation of market data and the offerings.of competitors.

I conducted executive briefings on a weekly basis. Each team meets with me for about fifteen minutes to discuss and justify the decisions that they are planning to make for the decision round. These sessions trains students in professional meeting preparation and management and allow me to monitor the critical thinking process of each student. I challenge the students’ thinking by looking for inconsistencies in their analyses and decisions. I do not indicate the correct decision to make, but try ensure that students have considered the relevant issues related to their strategic and tactical decisions. In Fall 2016, executive briefing sessions were conducted orally, and I used a rubric to evaluate whether students can think on their feet and respond to questions and challenges in a thoughtful, confident manner.

To emphasize the development of business writing skills, I have implemented a executive memo requirement for Spring 2017. Students are now required to justify their decisions both orally and with a two-page executive memo. I have now also developed a rubric for the written memos, assessing the student’s ability to thoughtfully present his/her tactical decisions based on a concise analysis of the market environment as well as a consideration of how these decisions will impact the firm’s overall strategy. Both the oral and written rubrics measure student performance along the dimensions of Depth of Understanding, Breadth of Understanding, and Management by the Numbers.

At the middle of the simulation exercise, students are required to prepare a business plan and present it to independent judge(s) who serve as venture capitalist(s). I am currently working with one independent judge for the business plan presentation. However, I have plans to involve two judges in future. With his extensive business experience, Mr. Charles Curtis, Executive Director of Information Technology at Austin College, has been a great resource person to play the role of the venture capitalist. I am thankful to Mr. Curtis for his willingness to take part in this exercise. Business plan presentation is a comprehensive and complex assignment. Students develop a formal strategy involving detailed tactical plans and pro-forma financial projections for the next four decision rounds. In Fall 2016, the PowerPoint presentation, tactical plan, and pro-forma financial statements served as the business plan. To emphasize writing, I have added a five-page written business plan component in Spring 2017. To maintain tactical confidentiality, each team presents their business plan in a closed-door meeting with the venture capitalist. Teams answer questions and try to persuade the investor that they are worthy of a full investment. After listening to all presentation, the investor then decide how much to invest in each company.

For Spring 2017, I have added a follow-up negotiation meeting with the investor. In these meetings, the investor (i.e., Mr. Curtis) met with each team separately to discuss the plan in more detail and negotiate an investment amount. The business plan preparation serves as an important tool for the development of the students’ ability to think broadly and deeply about their business. The purpose of the follow negotiation meetings is to give students a hands-on experience with business negotiation process. Students faces the challenge of learning how to ask for money, justify its use with a credible plan, and convince a critical investor. I have developed rubric for assessing students’ performance in presenting their business plan. The rubric cover thirteen performance dimensions. Students receive a copy of the rubric and we discuss it in class to make sure that expectations are fully understood.

At the end of the simulation, the venture capitalist is invited back to class. Teams present a final report to the investor about their business performance. They must look in the eye of the person from whom they took money and be accountable for their actions and performance. It is often uncomfortable in real life to report performance outcomes that fall short of promises. Student go through similar experience as part of the simulation. I have also developed grading rubrics to evaluate final presentation performance. The final report rubrics covers thirteen performance dimensions and also focusses on the assessment of lessons learned from the simulation.

Mr. Charles Curtis, who plays the role of a venture capitalist in the simulation exercise, with students after the business plan presentation session in Fall-2016.


I used a sports-like draft process to form teams in Fall 2016. The simulation business environment is highly competitive and students are required to keep corporate information confidential. Since the size of the student population is relatively small at Austin College and most students personally know each other, maintaining business confidentiality proved to be challenging. I even had students who were roommates, but placed on competing teams. They reported that it took conscious effort  to refrain from discussing the simulation due to a fear of unintentional disclosure of corporate secrets. As a result, there was some effect on the openness of the conversations that they had previously enjoyed. Based on feedback, I changed the team formation process to a peer interview-based model in Spring 2017 to allow students more flexibility in choosing teams.

The peer interviewing process was an engaging experience for students. Most students reported that it was their first experience of sitting on the employer’s side of the table in a job interview, and it gave them an opportunity to reflect and evaluate their own job interview skills as candidates. However, some students used this opportunity to recruit friends or relationship partners in simulation teams. Teams that formed based on personal relationship are currently struggling to perform well. Since friends within a team tend not to challenge each other’s thoughts, peer scrutiny is relatively weaker in these teams, and as a result the quality of the decision making is poorer. I now realize that it is necessary to teach students the importance of keeping personal life and work life separate.

To integrate knowledge gained in other courses is one of the top learning objectives of this course. Evaluation of oral executive briefings and written executive memos show that students struggle to demonstrate cross-functional knowledge in early stages of the simulation. The average score on the breadth of understanding for the first four decision rounds in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 combined was 1.94 on. a 4-points scale, where 2 is the benchmark for satisfactory rating. Students generally lack the understanding of how decisions made in a specific functional area are tied into the overall strategy of the firm. In the later part of the simulation, the breadth of understanding score increases to an average 3.2, where 3 is the benchmark of effective rating. This indicates that the simulation promotes better decision making by helping students see how their decisions can affect the performance of others and the organization as a whole.

A strong group dynamic is at the core of the simulation exercise. Students are provided with an opportunity to work within a group context where group performance is a major determinant of final grades. I allow teams, under my careful supervision, to fire non-performing team members. If a student is fired from a team, he/she receives significant grade penalty and is required to complete the whole simulation on his/her own. In Fall 2016, one student was fired from their team and eventually had to drop the course due to increased workload. This challenging conditions tends to remove the barriers between the individual students and motivate them to become colleagues by creating a shared space that emphasizes care, trust, and commitment.

Instructors interested in developing simulation-based course should keep in mind that the changing market environment makes each iteration of the simulation unique. As a result, course preparation takes a significant amount of time as instructors will need to evaluate market condition faced by each team to be able to contribute during the executive briefings.

Simulation-based pedagogy offers an experiential learning process that emphasizes repeated action, reflection, accommodation, and testing. This process allow students to refine their knowledge and developed business skills. As such, simulation based-pedagogy can be implemented in any business courses. In the future, I am planning to extend simulation-based pedagogy at Austin College with a Jan Term course targeted to non-business majors. This will create hands-on experiential learning opportunity for non-business majors to develop an understanding of business with a fun, intro-level business simulation.

Improving Reflective Practice with Digital Video Annotation (Mellon Project Report)

My project has involved two distinct components. First, I am integrating iPads and a newly purchased Epson Smart Board into my teaching as a way to model current and effective technology uses teaching and learning in K-12 classrooms.

I used Smart Notebook software in the summer of 2016 with the EDUC 533 class. Each Austin College student was responsible for delivering a lesson to the elementary school students they were teaching using the Epson Smart Board and a lesson they found on Smart Notebook. This was a huge success. The elementary students came to the Temple Center for the lessons. They loved coming up to the board for a variety of hands-on activities. This also provided them an opportunity to see a campus classroom and get some idea about Austin College. The AC students found lessons that worked very well with the elementary students and thoroughly enjoyed using this technology.

Additionally, I was able to use the iPad throughout the camp to take daily pictures that I could later use for debriefing the student teachers. I took action photos and then used AirDrop to show these on the screen using Apple TV. This was a fantastic way to see what happened each morning at the camp and then discuss particulars. Images were then posted on Dropbox for students to use in digital stories.

A second focus of my Mellon grant has been the use of Classroom Salon for inline digital annotation of videos, specifically, videos of student teaching. I have primarily used Salon in EDUC 475A, “The Learner, the Teacher, the Curriculum.” This course accompanies the student-teaching placement for our education students. The objectives and framework for the course are as follows:

Essential Questions:

  • What does it mean to be an effective teacher?
  • How do students best learn?

Enduring Understandings:

  • Classroom management is tied to instructional design
  • Effective instruction is student centered
  • The quality of in-class teaching is directly connected to quality lesson preparation (off stage and on stage)
  • Effective teaching results in measurable student growth
  • Effective teachers use appropriate resources to meet the needs of the learners (technology)
  • Effective teachers reflect on and for practice

Transfer Goal: Students will make decisions for teaching based on what they know about learners, learning, and state curriculum guidelines.

Classroom Salon has provided a platform to address these questions, enhanced these understandings, and achieve this goal. Students video record sessions of themselves teaching four times during the semester. Each recording is approximately twenty minutes in length. These videos are uploaded to the student’s “salon,” where they and I can digitally comment upon the video in annotations that are anchored to specific timestamps. The annotation appear in a side panel alongside the main screen with the video.

I provide the students with specific prompts to respond to, dealing with: (1) watching your students; (2) watching yourself; (3) opportunities to respond; and, (4) watching yourself and your students. This sequence of reflection points represents a developmental hierarchy as students progress in the ability to analyze their teaching. I am able to see their videos with responses on specific moments in their teaching. I also can make comments that the students see. The Classroom Salon is private to each student and me in order to build a safe environment for open, honest critique. Finally, students are asked to reflect on each lesson about such issues as:

  • What worked well?
  • What could you change?
  • How close was your lesson to the ideal on a scale of 1-7 and why?
  • What is a goal you have for yourself?
  • What have you seen as your greatest area of growth?
  • What are your strengths as a teacher?

Classroom Salon is a powerful vehicle to achieve our class objectives. I have refined the use of this application, which has recently been updated to provide an enhanced user experience. I plan to have students include these videos and annotations in their electronic portfolios. In sum, I fully believe that Classroom Salon has taken these students to much higher levels of reflective practice than would be possible without the use of the videos and digital annotations.  

Using Tablets for Interactive Presentation and Assessment in Biochemistry (Mellon Project Report)

This project enabled the phased roll-out and testing of tablet-based lecturing and grading. These tools enhanced and extended student engagement and allowed for faster grading and turnaround of laboratory reports.


Explain Everything: Wireless lecturing and lecture recording

Wireless tablet lecturing is being used to present dynamic PowerPoint style lectures using the software Explain Everything. This software enables any projector to become a smart board, allowing dynamic alteration and addition to preplanned lecture content. Explain Everything also enables audio recording of lectures synced with the projected screen, creating videos for uploading to the Moodle learning management system. Video file sizes are dramatically compressed with the use of the free Handbrake open source video transcoder software.

Squid: Easy PDF grading

The tablet also enabled handwritten grading of digital submissions. This was extremely helpful for lab reports in Biochemistry.  Notating graphs or tables with only text is often extremely limiting. Using a digital pen allowed us to point out or redraw graphs and data to give students very direct, personal feedback.  The software allowed copies to the annotated assignments to be uploaded onto a cloud drive, which could then be used to digitally return the items to the students through Moodle. This also allowed a key advantage over paper submissions: a copy of the assignment and all feedback was retained for future reference.


The tablet chosen at the beginning of the project was the Note 12.2 pro, which has since been discontinued. A Note 10.1 or a Windows Surface tablet would both work just as well with the wireless display adaptor and the chosen lecturing/recording software. (A Windows tablet would need to use an alternative PDF editor like OneNote or Drawboard). Each of these devices have an active stylus. This kind of stylus is categorically better than a passive stylus and enabled us to actually draw and write legibly during lecture and when grading assignments. New Mac iPads and some other Windows-based tablets also have an active stylus option.

A WiDi or Miracast wireless display adaptor will enable any Android or Windows tablet to connect wirelessly to a projector through an HDMI port. We have used the Samsung AllShare adaptor but have also successfully used the Belkin Miracast adaptor and the Amazon FireStick. Although it is possible (and easy) to wirelessly display an Android device using a Chromecast device there is no way to prevent a student from displacing your lecture with any image or video of their choice, even from across campus, and as such we recommend against using it. Note: the iPad does not talk to WiDi or Miracast adaptors and an Apple TV is required. These are harder to integrate with the college’s system and may not be possible/easy to adapt at Austin College at this time.


  • Identified hardware and software to enable wireless lecturing and digital grading.
  • Employed tablet lecturing, recording, and grading in Biochemistry and Biochemical Metabolism (CHEM 351 and 352).  
  • Employed lecturing style in General Chemistry I and II (CHEM 111/112).
  • Prepared a fact sheet that would allow any faculty member to begin lecturing or with an old Android, iPad, or Windows tablet.
  • Used the compression software Handbrake to dramatically compress lecture recordings from ~800MB per lecture to ~80MB per lecture.
  • Used the tablet to record several chapters’ worth of example problems in General Chemistry.

Student Feedback

Student feedback on lecturing format, recordings, and digital grading has been net positive. The digital lecturing style was least well received in General Chemistry. Some early technical glitches that caused communication issues between the tablet and the projector resulted in many negative comments. Currently this problem has been greatly reduced and students have stopped mentioning that issue at the end of last semester.

Listen to the Music—and Write about it (Mellon Project Report)

It never seemed like a very big deal to me: the music history courses needed a handier way to work with and report student listening journals. This had traditionally be a pen and paper thing where a student listed the musical composition (composer, work, etc.) and wrote their comments, observations, and questions and keep track of the amount of time they listened—and did so manually.  Students then periodically turned in their journals and grading was a matter of reading through their pages, deciphering the handwriting, and sometimes trying to figure out what composition they had actually listened to. The major frustration, beyond trying to read the writing, was in trying to answer questions—or to even foster questions in the first place, when I didn’t have access to the same recording (or maybe the piece at all).  There wasn’t a way for me to hear what they were hearing at any specific point and be able to help them understand that specific issue.

The grant allowed me to begin looking for a platform that could 1) allow the instructor to hear the exact same performance of a work, 2) allow both student and instructor to annotate the performance in “real” time, and 3) make keeping track of student work easier, or at least more organized. Classroom Salon was chosen because it seemed to do most of what was required.  

In three years of using Classroom Salon for students’ listening journals, I can only say that it does some things well and other things not so well. Each semester (three courses use listening journals, and at least one is taught each semester) students have the learning curve of getting to know the program.  Since Classroom Salon was created for a more general use, the specific needs of the task require a rather lengthy list of rules for use. For example, each time a student makes an annotation in their listening, a heading is required for organization. If that is forgotten, posts are given a generic label and to find a specific comment it is then necessary to read through all of them. Also, since students upload their video from Youtube to their Classroom Salon journal, they can upload any video of any length. There is no way to determine, from the video length, how much was listened to (trust is also necessary for the paper journals, but with them students must list the length of time for each individual piece). Fulfilling a specific amount of time listening is an important aspect of the listening journal. Classroom Salon does not support that.  

The small deficiencies in the application are not, in the end, what is keeping me from fully embracing Classroom Salon. The biggest hurdle for me is the amount of additional time it takes to evaluate the listening journals. It is important that students are listening to music from the composers and periods that we are studying. But with paper journals I can skim through in a very short time, looking for length, a certain amount of engagement (by length of comments), and looking for questions (it isn’t hard to look for question marks!). Doing these tasks in Classroom Salon is very time-consuming. I have to look at every annotation a student makes to determine the sort of engagement (length) and whether there is a question. Using Classroom Salon has changed the listening journal from a few minutes per student task into about 20 minutes per student. Classroom Salon is elevating the task into a more prominent place, even primary, in the course. This was not the goal.  

At the end of this semester I will be reevaluating the use of Classroom Salon. There is a new version that works somewhat differently that I might try. And there might be new applications that have come along in the past two years that may be better fits. Whatever I find, I am looking for a reduced workload and more flexibility!


Digital Annotation in ANTH 385: History of Anthropological Thought (Mellon Project Report)

My project has been to implement digital annotation (using into my upper level course in anthropological theory, last taught in the spring of 2016. I was in the middle of this course during my last update, and now I have had almost a year to reflect and plan for the next offering of this course in spring of 2018. The outcomes were so successful that I would not want to teach the class again without using digital annotation. My update will build upon this previous post at the Digital Pedagogy@Austin College site.  

Adding digital annotation into the course led students to dig deeply into difficult texts, which led to two distinct results: higher grades on tasks involving close reading and theoretical thinking; and, more nebulously but also importantly, greater class camaraderie and discussion. 

This upper level class is typically small and therefore highly influenced by the particular composition of students, so the numbers below should not be considered predictive of future classes. I have taught the course three times without this strategy and once with it. The “annotation” class did, on average, between 5% and 10% better on course assignments that rely on either close reading or critical thinking about theory (or both).

  • On analytical papers, which ask students to compare ideas between scholars: 10% improvement
  • On midterm in class exams, featuring short answer questions about specific scholars: 5% improvement
  • On a take home final exam featuring cumulative questions and asking students to deploy theoretical ideas to new situations: 5% improvement

For an upper level course with mostly majors and minors (students who really care about anthropology already), this is significant improvement. This improvement, moreover, is in relation to the primary goal of the course: getting students to engage with theoretical ideas in ways that cultivate critical thinking, reading, and writing about those ideas.

While impossible to quantify, enhanced class discussions may have been the catalyst for the results above, because students had actually already begun having conversations about the texts prior to the discussions in the classroom. In an eighty minute class, I would have to specify a certain amount of time for these discussions, because students simply had a lot to say about the texts, and the quality of their comments were light years ahead of previous course discussions. (Should any former students be reading this, don’t worry; no one person is responsible for class discussion!). If before, I was lucky to get a response to the my question, “What is this article about?,” now students were making inter-textual connections, and, best of all, asking questions more than being satisfied by answers. I have also included the word camaraderie here because this wasn’t an individual achievement. People seemed to enjoy connecting with each other as they worked on these assignments, and I read the sometimes frivolous posts as actually productive in this regard. This is most evident in the nostalgia some of the students have expressed for the class and the group.

I do have some caveats regarding the way I employed digital annotation as well as some possible future adaptations.

  • Time: I ultimately added an extra step in my course preparation every single class session, and given when students actually do the reading for class—sometimes in the hours just prior to class itself—this makes actually using each day’s annotations to guide discussion very difficult. I will likely have a deadline of three hours prior to class for each day’s annotations to ameliorate this, though I cannot think of a way in which to save myself the time required by the extra steps, which happen on top of my own preparation of forty minute lectures and re-reading each text in full.
  • ‘Skip Days’ and Toiling alone: I gave each student a set of “skip days” as a way of managing burn-out in a repetitive task.  Some students used them early, and others saved themselves time at the end by skipping the last few. This gave the impression (and possibly the reality) that students were not reading the last few articles, and those who had to post in them did so effectively by themselves. I may moderate this by giving students a skip day for every calendar month.
  • Thinking about class time: However good the effects of this close-reading task for the course’s objectives, the course also has a responsibility to give students familiarity and confidence with a wide range of anthropological thinkers. I have to balance what we do in class and actively resist the totalizing pulls of either spending the entire eighty minutes discussing a single article, or relying on reading outside of class reading to take care of that aspect of the course. Either would be only partially reaching the overall goals of the class.
  • The next steps: As a professor in a relatively small department, I am responsible for a wide range of courses, and it is important to me that they all be different in content, goals, and assignments. Thus, I am thinking about ways of improving the use of digital annotation in this course, just as I am thinking about its potential in different contexts. One central task of a cultural anthropology classroom is the reading of ethnography, and a few scholars are experimenting with publishing these in interactive digital formats. Because they are often written at the introductory level, one possibility for an introductory course may be to find such a suitable text and to have students read it together through annotation. Another possibility resides in my Language and Culture course, an upper level introduction to linguistic anthropology. It may be possible to annotate digital audio files, like Soundcloud allows, in ways that would help students master that course’s methodological challenge: learning a form of discourse analysis.

Whatever I do, I take away from this a unique opportunity to have students work together in ways that help each separately take on what would be otherwise very daunting tasks. When students realize that nobody in the room has this all figured out, that each student has something to contribute to complex tasks, and that they can master these tasks if they work at them regularly, they learn realities about themselves that reach far beyond a single classroom.


Flipped Learning in Organic Chemistry (Mellon Grant Report)

My project was to flip first semester organic chemistry, CHEM 221. I hoped to see a lower withdraw rate, higher grades on standardized ACS exams, and overall higher grades for the class. Based on the initial outcomes, I decided to take the same approach in CHEM 222, Organic Chemistry II.

In the flipped class students watch 30-50 min. of prerecorded video prior to coming to class. Students are then allowed to either ask questions about the videos or work on problems/worksheets that I  prepare for the class time. Additionally, students are required to take a post video quiz either using Moodle (class management system) or Socrative (free app) to hold them accountable for video watching before class.

The videos were recorded by me in my office, and edited and produced using iMovie. The videos were then compressed using Handbrake (freeware) and posted in Moodle where students have access 24/7 to the videos. Students in other sections of CHEM 221 and CHEM 222 have access to the videos through a guest account to my course. The in-class video quizzes were conducted using Socrative, a classroom response application. Unfortunately, several students did not have reliable access to a smart phone/ or had connection issues to the network, so they received paper copies. The quizzes were to check to see if student watched the videos on time.

The initial offering of the flipped course was novel to a large majority of the students (only one out of twenty-three had ever experienced such a course). By the third offering, though, the novelty is not as great, as nearly half of my course had previous experience with a Flipped course. This is mostly due to the fact that Dr. John Richardson has begun to flip CHEM 111, General Chemistry I.

For the initial offering of the flipped CHEM 221, students were diligent in watching videos prior to class and the quiz grades typically ranged between 75-85%. For the second offering of the course, a significant number of students did not do well on the quizzes, average scores where 50-75%. Looking at the number of views (in Moodle) on a daily basis, it is clear that several students binge-watched the videos on the weekends or before an exam. This defeats the purpose of the flipped class. When students participate in this type of behavior, they can not participate in class since they have not seen the videos. For the third offering (fall 2016), quiz results were mixed; while some students did poorly, the class average was between 70 and 80%, indicating better viewing habits.

Overall, I plan on continuing to offer my content heavy courses (CHEM 111, 112, 221, and 222) as flipped courses. I find the class much more dynamic in this format, with students asking question about material instead of being presented material for the first time in lecture. I will say that this does require the instructor to have complete mastery of the material, since students are asking more than surface questions. Typically, in a class session, only 2-4 students drive the question-answer sessions. It has been a major comment on my student evaluations that many students do not find these question-answer class sessions to be particularly useful. But of course it is always the case that some students are better prepared for class than others. In future offerings, I believe that I can increase routine student video viewing by increasing the weight of the video quizzes. Currently it is considered homework and is rolled into the homework grade, which is only 10% of the overall grade.

As for overall drop rates, my classes have seen significantly lower drop/withdrawal (D/W) rates in the last three years compared to the preceding five years. The preceding five year period had a D/W rate of close to 20%.  This is in response to the pressures of needed high GPAs for medical school. Students on the B/C borderline would D/W instead of taking the chance of earning a C. Since flipping my D/W rate is approximately 10%. I don’t know if it is due to the flipped class or the requirement of Biochemistry for medical school. Students are more likely to stick out the course to stay on track for the pre-med courses.

My students have not seen a dramatic increase in American Chemical Society (ACS) standardized exams scores. Average scores on the ACS exam for organic chemistry are typically higher than the national average by 5-10 questions. This was true before the flip as well as after the flip. I can say that at least the flipped class has not hurt student performance on this metric.

I will be offering flipped classes for the foreseeable future, but I will clearly identify them as such, so that students registering for the course will have an option to register for a traditional lecture if they have strong opinions against the flipped method.

I would like to end this report with student responses to some questions that I have asked for each offering of the flipped course. Students were offered extra credit at the end of the term to complete the anonymous survey. Students were given extra credit if 80% of the class responded to the survey.  For three years of offering I was able to collect 77 responses. The answered are given in % response. Most students (~60-65%) believe that the flipped model is better than traditional lectures, while 10-15% do not think the flipped model worked for them and they would avoid a flipped model in the future

QuestionResponses (%) (n=77)
1. Have you ever participated in a flipped class before?
  • Yes
  • 78
  • No
  • 17
  • Partial
  • 5
    2. Which best describes how you prepare for each class session?
  • I watched the videos once
  • 15
  • I watched the videos once and took notes
  • 45
  • I watched the videos more than once
  • 5
  • I watched the videos more than once and took notes
  • 30
  • I did not watch the videos before class
  • 5
    3. Did the viewing quizzes hold you accountable?
  • Yes, the viewing quizzes kept me on track
  • 70
  • Yes, but they were not valued enough
  • 10
  • No, they were just annoying
  • 20
    4. Compared to listening to classroom lecture, watching the videos before class
  • was much more helpful for my learning
  • 43
  • was somewhat more helpful for my learning
  • 20
  • helped me learn about the same
  • 20
  • was somewhat less helpful for my learning
  • 9
  • was much less helpful for my learning
  • 8
    5. During the in-class activities, I felt active and engaged in my learning
  • all of the time
  • 18
  • most of the time
  • 38
  • some of the time
  • 20
  • occasionally
  • 18
  • never
  • 6
    6. Overall, I believe the flipped class approach helped me learn more effectively than the traditional class
  • strongly agree
  • 25
  • agree
  • 32
  • no opinion
  • 21
  • disagree
  • 13
  • strongly disagree
  • 9
    7. For a second semester course, if you had a choice between a flipped class model and a traditional lecture class, which would best describe your choice?
  • I would definitely sign up for the flipped class
  • 35
  • I would prefer a flipped class but it doesn't matter
  • 25
  • I would have no preference
  • 14
  • I would prefer to have a traditional lecture
  • 14
  • I would definitely avoid a flipped class
  • 12

    Introduction to Computer Science for Mobile Apps (Mellon Grant Report)

    I am building a class, “Introduction to Computer Science for Mobile Apps,” focusing on the Swift programming language. The defining characteristic of this class (as it relates to the Mellon Grant) is that the entire class will be self-paced and online with lectures and labs posted on the internet. While the primary audience will be Austin College students, the course material will be open to anyone. As a result, this will have some advertising and recruitment benefits since people who are not enrolled at Austin College will have a better sense of what Austin College classes have to offer. Since I was approved for this class during last summer, I have not yet had time to prepare all of the materials. That being said, I have had time to figure out how to record and edit profesional-caliber lectures.

    While the idea of a zero-credit online class will not work for every department, I think there are a few takeaways that can have broader impact. First, lecture-based classes that are ancillary to a department are prime to presented in such a manner. After the class is hosted online, we’ll have a better idea of how current and potential students respond to such a class. Second, I hope this class will provide another framework for faculty to produce and edit additional supplemental online content for their classes.