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Teaching Tips for IS Scholars

I recently attended a workshop on teaching by the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning[1]at the University of Cincinnati. The goal was to help faculty convert courses from a quarter-based format to a semester-based format (we are transitioning in Fall 2012). This article briefly discusses two interesting, inter-related ideas from this seminar – ideas that have caused me to rethink some of what I do in my courses. Interestingly, both ideas represent principles that we in the IS world have been discussing for years, albeit not necessarily in the context of teaching – alignment and modularity.
 

Alignment

Alignment, in the teaching context, refers to consistency across three elements of a course – student learning outcomes (SLOs), in-class experiences, and assessment. Do you have clear, specific, and explicit SLOs? Did you involve the students in defining these SLOs ("user involvement?”)? Can students easily see the relationship between the daily class activities and assignments and the SLOs? Do your assessments (projects, quizzes) directly measure the defined SLOs? Sounds simple enough and, at many levels, it is. Personally, however, I had never examined my lectures and assignments at this level of detail. The more interesting question, however, is the level of granularity at which such alignment is achieved - this leads us to the principle of modularity.
 

Modularity

For anyone who teaches Systems Analysis, as I do, modularity is, of course, a key principle that we try to convey to students. But do we apply it to our own courses/teaching?
 
Consider a course on UML. At one level, one could define Use Case Modeling as a module within the course, with the SLO as "students should be able to construct a Use Case Model.” Or, one could create a set of smaller modules, such as: "students should be able to explain the difference between Includes and Extends,” "students should recognize the right level at which to define a Use Case,” "students should understand the correct use of hierarchy in use case modeling,” ”students should know how to express the repetition construct in a use case Description,” etc. Each module should be self-contained ("cohesion?”), and aligned across the lecture/discussion, exercises, and assessments (to use IS jargon, more "unit testing” rather than just "program or module testing”). I must admit was I doing the former, but have switched to the latter (partially – it is a work in progress!). In my experience, defining more detailed SLOs, with self-contained modules, has helped me structure the course better. I am more confident that students have understood basic principles before I ask them to build more complex models. This is the principle of "Scaffolding” – based on construction, it is the notion of creating support for students that is pulled away as they progress upward.
 
A couple of additional, unrelated concepts that may be worth exploring:
 
Have you used "Audio Feedback?” Instead of writing detailed comments, consider embedding oral comments when grading assignments and quizzes. It allows for more detailed feedback with less effort, and is more personal.
 
Consider using "Immediate Feedback-Assessment Technique (IF-AT),” especially in team learning situations. More detail on this technique is at:http://www.uc.edu/content/dam/uc/cetl/docs/IF-ATinstructions.pdf.

For more information, please contact Vivek Choudhury at choudhv@ucmail.uc.edu.


[1]For more information, seehttp://www.uc.edu/cetl/teaching.html.The Teaching Resource Center at UVA, although a little dated, also has some great tips at the following site:http://trc.virginia.edu/Publications/Teaching_Concerns/TC_Topic.htm
 

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