Prospect Accelerator

Ohio Wesleyan Students Research Nuclear Isotopes

Colin Hawes ’21– along with Dexter Allen ’21 of Delaware, Ohio, and Grace Klausen of the University of Missouri, Kansas City – spent the summer measuring the lifetimes of three rare nuclear isotopes under the mentorship of Ohio Wesleyan physics and astronomy professor Robert Haring-Kaye, Ph.D. In addition to conducting research on the OWU campus, the students traveled to Florida State University for a week to perform an experiment using FSU’s particle accelerator.


Google Appointment Slots for Easier Scheduling

For simple and efficient scheduling of office hours, professors and students have been using Google’s Appointment Slots feature.

Google Calendar’s feature, Appointment Slots, allows users to share their open office hours with others and accept appointments directly onto their calendars. Users can block out time slots available for appointments under a certain title. Then, others simply need a link to the Appointment Slots web page, which also shows them their own calendars, and they can schedule the necessary appointments.

Among University faculty who use Appointment Slots are Assistant Professor of Economics Dan Charna, Associate Professor of Politics and Government Ashley Biser, and Professor of Education Paula White. Some include a link to their Appointment Slots web page in their email signature to make it easy for students and others to find. Charna says he and his students have enjoyed the convenience and ease that Appointment Slots provide: “It is so much easier than using a paper sheet hung on your bulletin board.”

Professor Charna adds that instead of having students email him to ask for appointments and ending up with a disorganized pile of appointment requests, Appointment Slots streamlines the process into several quick steps. Students can reserve a slot whenever they’d like—any time of the day, night, or week. Once they do so, the slot is blocked out directly on their own calendar. If the professor needs to cancel, the student will automatically receive a notification. The clean interface also allows students to see which slots are unavailable, so professors don’t have to double check their schedules every time an appointment is requested.

Google Appointment Slots is a feature available through OWU BishopApps Calendar and is supported by Information Services, which is happy to help with its use. More information can be found on the Google Calendar Help site.

The Pedagogical Case for Course Websites

For a creative, engaging classroom, OWU professors have been teaching students to use WordPress for class projects

Ohio Wesleyan professors have been happily taking advantage of OWU’s self-hosted WordPress server and the flexible options it allows for creativity and class engagement. WordPress, an open source, online content management system, allows faculty and students to create a website and use it as an engaging platform for sharing information and/or promoting discussion.

Dr. Eva Paris-Huesca has been using WordPress for three of her classes, including “Spanish Conversation Through Cinema” and “Spanish Crime Fiction”, and shares positive feedback about her experience. “WordPress has allowed me to engage students into small group projects (research, reviews, and critical analysis of a play or film), in ways that are stimulating, positively challenging, and audio visually attractive,” Dr. Paris-Huesca says.

She continues to say that some of the best features of WordPress include “its capacity to develop a powerful project which is extremely attractive to an audience” and then easily share the work with others inside or outside the classroom, or add it to their digital portfolio.

WordPress poses a creative challenge to students which motivates them to reflect on the best way to design their project. Simultaneously, they are “learning to use technology in an effective and educational environment” which gives them skills they can later use in a professional setting.

Dr. Paris-Huesca’s students felt compelled to share ideas, and group collaboration increased around the use of WordPress. “Students were comfortable using WordPress and were very excited to share their final projects with a real audience,” she says, adding that she enjoyed being able to see students’ progress in real time and provide feedback.

There are many online platforms for building websites, some of which are free to use. One example is which Professor TC Brown has utilized in his “Digital Media” class, (one example here.) His students create websites for their semester-long projects and add different types of content, from graphics to audio and creative page designs. Professor Brown shares that Wix is easy to use and is a great tool for creative online classroom projects.

While other tools might offer some advantages, since WordPress is hosted on campus, it is fully supported by OWU Information Services, who can provide consultation and training to faculty and students using it. WordPress is also flexible and extensible, with thousands of themes and plugins available for it. As Dr. Paris-Huesca recommends, WordPress is a powerful technological tool for independent or group student projects.

The Benefits of Blackboard

Politics & Government Professor on the benefits of Blackboard

Ashley Biser finds herself in a unique position as the only OWU professor to have used all of these Blackboard features:

Dr. Ashley Biser

1.    Customized navigation buttons
2.    A course banner
3.    Uploaded content
4.    Announcements
5.    Discussion forums
6.    Groups
7.    Grade Center
8.    Online assessments
9.    Blogs
10. Journals
11. Wikis, and
12. SafeAssignments

“Many professors use some of them,” says David Soliday, Instructional Technologist, “but she is the only one to try everything, and it is having an impact on her teaching.”

“I use Blackboard to take care of a lot of the nitty-gritty work, such as managing data and getting information to students,” Biser says. “Since I teach my introductory course every semester, the Course Copy feature is extremely useful. At its best, Blackboard allows me to do logistical work outside of class, saving in-class time for more important matters.”

Students always are concerned about how they’re doing in a class, and Biser finds that Blackboard keeps them up to date, which relieves their anxiety. “The Grade Center feature saves me interminable ‘What is my grade?’ questions and allows students to keep track of their assignments and progress.

“Particularly in courses where students have to track how many reflection papers or journal entries they have turned in during the semester, Blackboard helps in making sure they have access to that information without having to ask for it. And making a great deal of information available to students electronically saves time—and paper.”

Biser has used the product to enhance student leadership and accountability. “In my PG 110 class, we do a simulation during which students negotiate to write a constitution,” she explains. “It’s a student-driven exercise, and once the simulation begins, students chair each of the meetings. This experience is invaluable in giving students a chance to take on real leadership roles. In the past, I would have to interrupt to make announcement or deliver feedback. These interruptions took time out of the negotiations and, more importantly, undercut the authority of the chair.

“Now,” Biser continues, “I can let the student chair run the meeting and communicate via Blackboard, so I don’t have to interrupt. We also use the discussion page as a kind of news service. I post news events, and the various factions respond to them with their own media releases. Being able to keep the simulation going over Blackboard is crucial for keeping up the energy and allowing me to share feedback with selected groups of students. Otherwise, I simply wouldn’t have the time for this kind of intensive simulation.”

To learn more about how Blackboard can enhance your teaching contact David Soliday or check the Professional Development page for formal training opportunities.

Skype In An Expert

Instead of just talking about scholars and their work, OWU students are talking to them directly with Skype.

Ohio Wesleyan professors in a variety of disciplines are using the free video-calling service to bring scholars, performers and other guests into the classroom to illuminate class discussions. This allows students to learn about the subjects they’re studying and other parts of working in that field.

History professor Ellen Arnold, for example, had students talk with a guest from Dominican University whose work they had read. They were “excited” about the opportunity to talk with him about both his scholarship and his public outreach work, she said.

“It was a productive and easy way to have someone else’s ideas and views enter the classroom,” she said.

Skype has also proven useful for dance professor Rashana Smith. She called choreographer Paige Phillips to talk with students about some of her work that was unlike much dance they had seen.

After talking with Phillips, the students better understood her work, Smith said. That first-hand knowledge made it easier for them to write about something that was new to them and broadened their views of dance.

Skype has helped students outside the classroom, too. It allowed New York-based choreographer Erik Abbott-Main, who directed a piece for this year’s Orchesis dance concert, to interact with students before and after his weeklong campus visit.

“The students not only had the opportunity to work with a New York choreographer, but they also enjoyed continuing the process with him all the way up to the concert,” Smith said. “Two-and-a-half months of exposure with someone working successfully in the field is better than just one week.”

Faculty considering using Skype in the classroom might want to test the program at different times of the day to avoid scheduling a call when the network is congested, Smith said. But overall, the program is easy to use.

The Pedagogical Case for 3D Printing

3D Printing in Botany/Microbiology

The OWU Department of Botany & Microbiology recently acquired a MakerBot Replicator 2 printer. For now, it’s being used to construct custom-made 3D pieces of equipment for research purposes.

Professor Chris Wolverton and Information Services arranged for the printer’s purchase, and Wolverton coordinates its use in his teaching lab. He calls it “a prototype builder” because it gives users a tactile appreciation of their research pieces and allows them to identify opportunities for improvement. Wolverton says the equipment his student is producing now with the 3D printer is not what Wolverton originally envisioned–it’s better.

Junior BOMI major Patrick Zmina quickly became the primary user of the printer and is happy to share what he’s picked up so far. He cautions, for example, that users can’t let the workstation go to sleep in the middle of a job, which can take several hours. If this happens, the printer still will be communicating with the computer, but it no longer will be functioning. Users could wind up with the start of a piece and a glob of plastic on top.

In addition, although many free designs are available with the software and online, Zmina has had to learn both Google SketchUp and MakerBot’s own MakerWare to build custom pieces for the labs. He knows these are marketable skills applicable to many careers, and he’s having fun.

As Wolverton described early on, he and Zmina started with a simple holder for an LED light. With that piece under their belts, they started a more significant project: “a tray that would hold a digital camera in exactly the right position to take photos of roots on a Petri dish.” And they have accomplished this, too, allowing them to precisely position not only the camera but the petri dish as well.

When building a piece, the printer first lays a thin plastic tray underneath the actual project. This is similar in purpose to the frames around model car pieces in boxed kits. The tray holds the project pieces in place and prevents them from sticking to the printing platform. A recent update to the MakerWare software has it building honeycomb patterns, more efficient than the previous squares, on the inside. This allows easier removal from the base.

Wolverton is promoting campus-wide adoption of the device, or more like it, and expects an iterative approach similar to the actual use of the printer itself.

“First, folks will have to hear about it to get them thinking about how they might use it,” he says. “Then they try it out and find what works and what doesn’t. Then they adapt that.”

Wolverton hasn’t fully explored the many educational uses for the 3D printer, but has several ideas. These include building 3D models of viral proteins to help students visualize them and to design models of their own.

Faculty interested in exploring how they might use the 3D printer are invited to contact David Soliday or Chris Wolverton for more information.

Videos Complement Classroom Experiences

Encouraging learning via technology

Watching cool videos online? It may sound like the way a college student kills time. But for Dr. Paul Dean, OWU assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, it’s an important part of the way students can learn.

Dean is one of the founders of the The Sociological Cinema, a website that compiles interesting videos for use in the sociology classroom. Rooted in the idea that pop culture and video can be useful tools for illustrating sociological concepts and theories, The Sociological Cinema is the combined effort of Dean and two of his graduate school classmates at the University of Maryland.

“We knew that video was an engaging way to communicate with students,” Dean says. “But it was time-consuming to locate relevant videos.” As a solution to that problem, The Sociological Cinema aggregates and tags videos based on their themes, making it easy for instructors to locate helpful content.

According to Dean, short videos like those featured on the The Sociological Cinema are the wave of the future when it comes to classroom media. “It used to be that feature-length films were common in the classroom, but shorter clips are more effective now,” he comments. Dean says shorter videos can serve as a supplement to lecture, rather than a replacement, and students respond well to them. “There’s aesthetic involved,” he adds. “Video taps into experiences that resonate more strongly than just hearing someone explain a concept.”

This emotional connection is especially important in the sociology classroom, Dean says. For example, in a Race and Ethnicity class, video testimonials introduce students to the experiences of different racial groups. Race is a difficult concept for many Americans to discuss, and while some students may not feel comfortable sharing their experiences in class, video is a way to tap into this part of social life. Dean also teaches a class centered on the HBO TV series The Wire, a drama focusing on the Baltimore drug scene.  “The Wire is one of the most sociological shows I’ve ever seen, and teaching through its lens is a very effective way to introduce relevant sociological ideas,” he says.

Dean’s passion for instruction through video is important, as he and two co-founders of The Sociological Cinema manage all of the content that is found on the site. “Fifty percent of the content you’ll see on the site originates with our team, and the other half is recommended to us through the site and through Facebook,” he explains.

The Sociological Cinema team doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. With several upcoming presentations (not to mention a Facebook page boasting over 36,000 likes), they are considering next steps for the site, including ways to link more faculty to videos, collaboration with other faculty, academic publications, and more. “It’s important to me to be able to leverage technology to assess and encourage learning,” Dean says. “And of course, it’s a lot of fun.”

More Authentic Assessment

Faculty Say Technology Provides More Authentic Assessment

Students today have been brought up on keyboarding, which, to some degree, has resulted in the demise of legible handwriting—and illegible writing can make grading more time-consuming and less objective.  “I want my exams to assess students’ interaction with the material, not their handwriting,” says David Eastman, Assistant Professor of Religion.

Using Extegrity Exam4, “has saved significant time and aggravation,” Eastman says. “Being unable to be read a student’s handwriting slows down the grading process and admittedly may impact how I assess their work. If I have to struggle to figure out what students are saying, I maybe less likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. Having them type their answers levels the playing field in this regard.”

Michael Flamm, Professor of History, concurs. “I like knowing that I have given the students a fair opportunity to do their best work. Exam4 also has enabled me to write better comments more quickly and turn exams into more of a learning experience for students. I appreciate having the ability to keep the exams so that later I can directly compare student performance on midterms and finals.”

Students love the software, too, Flamm says. “The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. After using the program, not a single student has indicated that he or she would prefer to return to blue books. Some have, but only because of personal computer issues.”

Eastman’s students agree. “In one class, I used it for the midterm and then gave students a choice of using it again or handwriting for the final,” he says. “Of the 20 students, 19 chose the software.

Both Flamm and Eastman recommend getting students prepared to use the program by having them participate in a lab. “I did my best to ensure that using the program did not add more stress to the test-taking experience,” Eastman said, “and discussing the format early helps significantly. Students can even take a practice test to get used to the program, and I would highly recommend it.”

To learn more about how Exam2 can enhance your testing contact David Soliday.