Topic: Using SPARK in Large Lecture Courses
Last month, about 15 SPARK users –new and veteran– gathered to enjoy lunch and share strategies for using technology to manage large lecture classes. Presenting were Dan Gerber from the School of Public Health, and John Gerber from the Department of Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences.
Both instructors aim to create a paper-free, interactive course that will engage students without using tests. Dan Gerber encouraged faculty to help students take a more active role in their learning. As he remarked, “students are used to showing up to class and sitting there like lumps on a log. That’s the toughest cultural change we have to make for these students.” John Gerber wanted to change student behavior with regard to the environment rather than demand that they memorize material.
How can professors increase opportunities for student participation without being overwhelmed by the resulting workload?
I had the opportunity to attend the Center for Teaching Event “Working Well with TAs” last week. It was the first in a series of workshops on teaching large classes. Linguistics professor John McCarthy and his teaching assistants Wendell Kimper and Kathryn Pruitt discussed the strategies they use in Linguistics 101, a large lecture, general education course. They shared a great deal of advice they have compiled into a handbook for future teaching assistants that addresses a spectrum of topics ranging from how to stay organized and how to lead discussion sections to what to wear (!). The Center for Teaching has the PDF of the complete handbook posted online.
On the technology side, Professor McCarthy discussed his use of several SPARK features that he finds useful for keeping a 300-person class with regular assignments running smoothly. Students regularly submit writing assignments via SPARK. The teaching assistants then grade and provide feedback using the Grading Form tool in SPARK. The idea is that using grading forms will provide consistency of grading between teaching assistants. Said McCarthy: “grading forms gave uniformity of grading and saved time for TAs. They can even repeat comments when appropriate by copy/pasting.” Grades from these assignments, as well as in class exams are recorded in the SPARK Grade Book.
This was an interesting and useful event. Make sure to check out the Center for Teaching’s schedule for the other upcoming workshops this Spring.
The addition of photo rosters to SPIRE last semester has been a personal boon to me in terms of learning my students’ names as quickly as possible. The catch is that the photos of students aren’t always the best depiction of how they currently look (they’re usually taken during their freshman orientation). I’ve taken to using a pen on the photos; adding features like hats, glasses, piercings, longer hair, and a spectrum of facial hair styles in order to “update” them as a reminder to myself of what the students sort of look like today. Quick tip: Boston Red Sox hats are not useful as a unique identifying feature.
Don’t have access to photo rosters for your own courses yet? Take the FERPA quiz and earn your security certificate to activate this feature in SPIRE: