Recognizing the importance of digital learning as a tool for future college professors, Risa Sodi, associate director of the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning and director of Academic Advising for Yale College, came up with a plan to encourage graduate students to think creatively about online education.
Sodi organized a competition that challenged contestants “to develop innovative teaching projects that are enhanced by the use of technology.” Nineteen projects were submitted, and ten were selected in November 2014 and awarded $500 each, thanks to support from the Rosenkranz Fund.
In March, the finalists presented their projects to the Yale community during the inaugural Online Education Innovation Showcase, held in the TEAL (technology-enhanced active learning) classroom at 17 Hillhouse Avenue. Several dozen faculty, students, and professional staff attended the event, talked with the innovators, and voted for the Grand Prize winner. The OEI Showcase was sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Online Education Committee.
Ian Althouse (Spanish and Portuguese) was named the Grand Prize winner of the 2014-2015 Online Education Innovation Grant Competition on April 6. His prize is $1000, to be spent furthering his project, “Creating an Interactive and Multimodal Reading Module for Second-Language Learners Using Web-Based Collaboration Software.’
Althouse describes his innovation as “an online round-table discussion in which Spanish language students collaborate virtually and on their own time by recording video comments on the VoiceThread media platform. Their reading assignments thus become collaborative projects, not solitary activities, as they read, listen, and speak in Spanish together outside of class. The Spanish curriculum at Yale is very strong,” he says, “especially with regard to developing students’ reading and writing abilities.” Althouse wanted his students to improve their spoken Spanish by having them communicate ideas to one another.
“Since we read a collection of challenging short stories, it is common for students to ask clarifying questions when they do not comprehend a passage.” By incorporating VoiceThread into the homework assignments, he encouraged students to interact and answer one another’s questions. “Students came to class with a clearer understanding of the text and were able to discuss their own opinions and analyses of the text in the limited time we spend together,” he explains.
“This type of language production is what we can call ‘authentic.’ Students are speaking because they want to be understood and not merely repeating facts they could find written in the text. Studies suggest that this type of natural language production leads to higher retention of vocabulary and grammatical patterns than rote drill. Students were also told to focus on content rather than grammar, so that they could converse with fluidity and confidence. Given that students can listen to their own recordings and re-record if they wish, this activity also allowed students to be self-reflective about their own speaking abilities.”
Two Distinguished Achievement Prizes of $500 were also awarded at the showcase: one to Jon Powell (Engineering and Applied Science) and the other to the Yale Science Diplomats – a campus outreach group devoted to educating the public about scientific issues and encouraging scientists to become engaged in the political process.
Powell’s project, “Transforming Laboratory Learning at Yale through the Electronic Laboratory Procedure Assimilation Portal (eLPAP)” builds on experiential and visual learning to alter the way laboratory techniques are taught. It bundles all the elements needed for successful laboratory procedures into one package, including visuals of every step and key lab techniques permanently stored in the cloud. With eLPAP, students learn lab procedures quickly and independently, and instructors achieve procedural continuity as they teach essential lab methods.
Yale Science Diplomats won for “Science on Demand: Connecting Students and Yale Researchers through Online Videos and Activities,” a series designed for use in high school classrooms. These engaging videos feature graduate student scientists presenting their research. The videos are freely accessible online along with ready-to-use, standards-based educational materials developed specifically for each video.
“Each of the ten projects had its own raison d’être and uniquely advanced our understanding of online education,” says Sodi. “Whether drawing on the fields of gaming, mapping, teaching with technology, or video production, the final products delighted my fellow judges and me with their innovation, creativity, and know-how. I think I can speak for everyone in attendance at the showcase when I say we were inspired by what we saw.”