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cybersalon, Intermediate Algebra

The Media Assignment Experiment – Spring 2011


BACKGROUND

This semester, in my Intermediate Algebra – Hybrid class, I decided to add in a different kind of assignment…one that required the use of media of some kind. Each week, students would pick a problem from the list of those assigned for homework and work that problem using one of the following media types: PDF, Digital Photo, Movie.

Additional assignment requirements included:

  • Unique problem selection (i.e. pick a problem that no other student had already picked)
  • Different media type each week (no two weeks the same)
  • Provide as much explanation in the problem as possible…really bring the A game to the presentation
  • Keep the audience in mind…not just students in Intermediate Algebra potentially
  • Selection of challenging problems encouraged
  • Posting of the problem links to a public website (by me, the instructor) – 12x Student Media Site

Students were allowed to choose a screen name or use their own as they wished. They all completed forms for talent release.

MOTIVATION FOR THE ASSIGNMENT

I had a couple of motivations for the assignment. First, I understand that “what you can teach you really learn”. So, the primary motivation for this assignment was to put students in “teaching”mode. By asking them to step up their presentations and really work on their explanations, I was hoping to help them dive deeply into at least one concept per week and come away with a better understanding.

Second, I wanted to create open resources for the class that were created by the students. My thinking was that students struggling with certain problems could utilize the publicly posted resources to help their understanding.

And third, I wanted to expose the students to using perhaps familiar technologies in an educational way. How cool is it to learn to do video in your math class? I thought if the assignments were fun and interesting at least from a technology perspective that students might come away with more learning and overall interest in the assignment.

IMPLEMENTATION

On the first day of class, when I introduced the assignment, I could tell that students were a little hesitant. After some poking and prodding and nudging during the first week, most of them completed the media assignment for Lesson 1a – Functions (about 31 students).

During the second week, participation dropped off quite a bit (down to about 20 students), stayed at that level for the next two weeks, then plummeted to roughly 12 and then 7 students by the end of the 6th assignment.

Results of a survey given to students prior to the midterm confirmed the feedback I was getting in class. Most students felt that the assignment was too far over and above their regular work and did not directly contribute in any way to their learning of the material. Students that had done at least 3 of the assignments indicated they did the work only because it counted as points but, for the most part, did not put any extra special attention to it. Students that had done fewer than 3 of the assignments most often expressed a lack of interest in or value to the assignment or a lack of time to complete it.

I have never removed an assignment from a class in the middle of the semester before, but I did so with this one. The last thing I want to do is to add extra work when the value and contribution to learning is questionable. Students cheered when they heard the news that the assignment had been canceled for the remainder of the term.

LESSONS LEARNED AND SOME PROMISING RESULTS

1. Sell the assignment on the first day. I did introduce the assignment on the first day. However, I don’t feel as though I really did a good job selling the connection to the other work that was planned and how the assignment would contribute to students’ overall learning in the class.

2. Assign problems directly. Often I found that students would work any problem…perhaps even the easiest and/or the one with the fewest steps. If I had worked with them individually and assigned the problems based upon their direct challenges, then they may have seen more value to the work.

3. Require fewer media assignments. I had one due each week which got to be a chore and good work was not always evident. Perhaps one media problem for the first half of the course and one for the second half. That way, more points could be assigned and a higher level of work expected.

4. Develop or find a better process for sharing the resources. Initially I had thought to have students upload their work directly to a class website. An LMS like Blackboard was out of the question since I wanted the links public. So, I went with a Google Site and table format. The site is public and the resources are easy to find, however, getting them all there took me hours and hours of extra time each week. There has to be a better way to streamline the upload and distribution and linking process so that the instructor is not in the middle of all that.

There were some very promising results and some shining moments during the process.

1. Student initiative to explore other media types than those initially mentioned (PDF, Photo, Movie). Students did Livescribes, Animoto presentations, and even PowerPoints as well!

2. Exposure to some very creative individuals. You never know what is hiding beneath the surface of your students and through this assignment I got to see some extremely creative work that I might not have seen otherwise.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

Will I do this kind of thing again? Perhaps…but in a simpler and less intrusive way. The lessons learned were valuable and I would like to thank my students this semester for their willingness to take part in what turned out to be a pilot project.

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