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September 2011

I   New Grant Program to Encourage Innovation in Gateway Science Courses
Funding available for grants to be awarded in late December, 2011

II   Blackboard Updates
As we head into our 2nd academic year with Blackboard, some important reminders and updates.

III   Get Acquainted w/ ArcGIS Desktop
Thursday workshop series on Level-A in the MSE Library

IV   Mathematica: Free Software for Faculty
Popular software is now easier than ever to obtain — without cost!

V   Faculty Spotlight: Emily Fisher, Lecturer, Biology, School of Arts & Sciences
A continuing series on teaching excellence at Homewood

VI   Fall 2011 Bits and Bytes Workshops
Check out CER's fall semester "news you can use" weekly presentations

VII   Research Workshops for Faculty & Students
Help your students get a head start on research know how

VIII   New Innovative Instructor Articles Out This Month
Check out the latest articles by JHU faculty  


I   New Grant Program to Encourage Innovation in Gateway Science Courses

The Provost has announced a new Gateway Sciences Initiative to enhance and enrich learning in gateway sciences for both undergraduates and graduates at Johns Hopkins University. Through a grant program, a Symposium on Teaching Excellence (set for January 20, 2012), and a new Faculty Conversations on Teaching series, the University seeks to improve understanding of how students learn and to promote pedagogical innovation in courses that provide a gateway to more advanced work in sciences, engineering, and quantitative studies. As a part of this initiative a grant program will support a variety of competitively selected instructional enhancement projects. Proposed projects should be based on sound pedagogical practice and should include rigorous assessment plans. The goal is to generate and disseminate evidence of educational excellence to the deans, chairs, directors, and faculty who make decisions on curriculum development and allocation of instructional resources at Johns Hopkins. For more information and details on the grant program, go to http://web.jhu.edu/administration/provost/GSI/index.html.

II   Blackboard Updates

Blackboard Logo As we head into our second academic year with Blackboard, here are some important reminders and updates.
  • Course shells: Fall 2011 Blackboard course shells are available now. As a reminder, there is no need to request Blackboard course shells - all full time AS/EN courses have a course site by default in Blackboard. For courses to be "seen" by students, instructors must release them. Here’s how: http://help.sset.jhu.edu/download/attachments/10485887/Making_a_Blackboard_Course_Available.pdf . Many spring 2012 courses have also been made available in Blackboard. If you’d like to get a head start, you are welcome to begin working on those as well.
  • Training: Blackboard training sessions are available at the CER for new and experienced users. Please check the training schedule for dates and times, and register for sessions - http://www.cer.jhu.edu/bb.html#training. If you prefer an individual consultation, our staff is happy to accommodate that need as well.
  • Course Copy: please remember that course material is not automatically copied over from semester to semester. If you want to reuse material from a Blackboard course taught in a previous semester, you’ll need to use the Course Copy feature. Course Copy allows you to select which parts of a course you would like to copy; Blackboard then copies those parts over to the new course shell. For the Course Copy feature to work properly, 1) you must be an instructor in both courses, and 2) the course to be copied into must be an existing course. Please see the Course Copy tutorial for more details: http://help.sset.jhu.edu/download/attachments/10485887/Course_Copy.pdf
  • Browsers: If you experience problems using Blackboard, it may be because you are using an unsupported browser. You may be aware that Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, two of the most popular browsers, are on a 'rapid release' schedule, releasing updated versions of their browsers as often as every six weeks. This makes it difficult for programs such as Blackboard to keep up with all of the latest updates. (Google Chrome is currently unsupported by Blackboard, but the company plans to support this browser in future releases.) For a complete list of currently supported browsers in Blackboard, please see the 'Supported Browsers and Operating Systems' page - http://help.sset.jhu.edu/display/Bb/Supported+Browsers+and+Operating+Systems

III   Get Acquainted w/ ArcGIS Desktop

ArcGIS Desktop Sample Do you have students taking the new Introduction to Geographic Information Systems and Geospatial Analysis course? Are you assigning GIS-related homework problems to your students? Do you want to use GIS software for your own research and writing? The Eisenhower Library is offering a workshop on how to make maps for papers and projects, perform geo-spatial analysis, acquire relevant data, and much more. Before attending a workshop, these steps should be followed:
  1. Pick-up a free copy of ArcGIS Desktop 10 (see link below for options on how to do this)
  2. Install it on your own laptop (or use one of our machines) before attending
  3. Follow along to get hands on experience
For more information please visit the website at http://guides.library.jhu.edu/gis or contact Bonni Wittstadt at bonni@jhu.edu or 410.516.5258

IV   Mathematica: Free Software for Faculty

Not just for computation, but for modeling, simulation, visualization, development, and documentation, Mathematica is increasingly popular with JHU faculty. To learn more about its capabilities, visit the Mathematica website. `Mathematica Icon Enterprise IT has forged a new agreement with Wolfram, the maker of Mathematica. To get your free copy, please email software@jhu.edu along with your first/last name, your email address, your affiliation (faculty/staff or student), and the platform of your machine (Win, Mac, or Linux). Enterprise IT will assign a license to you and you'll receive activation and download instructions directly from Wolfram.

V   Faculty Spotlight: Emily Fisher, Lecturer, Department of Biology, School of Arts & Sciences

Professor Emily FisherCER: What are you currently teaching at Hopkins and what are the levels of the courses?
EF: This year I’m teaching Biochemistry in the fall, which enrolls mostly sophomores, but some juniors and seniors. It’s a huge class of about 400 students and part of the core biology curriculum. I also teach Cell Biology in the spring, which enrolls many students from the fall Biochemistry course. In addition, I’m teaching the new Phage Hunters course that was funded through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes.
CER: What do you enjoy about teaching?
EF: I really enjoy talking about science and scientific principles, and as a lecturer, it’s 98% of my job. I also enjoy meeting students and listening to how they apply what they learn in my class to other courses or aspects of their life. For example, I have had students come to me during the metabolism unit to ask about nutrition, how to feed their muscles, and how personal training relates to metabolism. Many students learned when they were young that you are sore after a workout from lactic acid build-up in the muscles. We now know this isn’t true. Talking about this topic with students I see them get excited about how theories of lactic acid have changed. I also remember a student from a farming community in New Hampshire who got very engaged about transgenetic plants and the science behind them. It was fun talking to him about it and sharing my experiences working in a plant lab during graduate school.
CER: Do you regularly try to embed real world examples in your lectures?
EF: I try to embed examples in lectures, but often the students come up with examples themselves. I run optional small recitation sections. They come up with their own real-world examples of science in action while discussing questions in these study sessions.
CER: What other strategies or approaches do you use to engage students in your large enrollment courses?
EF: One thing that has been very effective is the use of a Tablet PC that the Center for Educational Resources loaned me several years ago. It’s a nice hybrid between writing with chalk and presenting with PowerPoint. Making simple drawings on the blackboard is useful for communicating important ideas in a clear way. But you can’t present everything with chalk. The Tablet PC allows me to present complex drawings and mark those with annotations in different colors. Another advantage over using the blackboard is that I’m constantly facing the students, which I really like… and I don’t get chalk all over my hands.
CER: Was there any adjustment to using the Tablet?
EF: I still have to plan what I’m going to write so I keep a completed print out of the slides next to me to guide my main presentation. In the end, I found it takes less planning time than using the blackboard because I don’t have to draw or synthesize everything. I usually start with a core drawing in PowerPoint that I annotate.
CER: What other strategies do you use?
EF: I like to do silly things to get students’ attention. YouTube has plenty of dry, boring content, but also some fun material that is relevant to the course content. It can be useful for helping students remember content. For example, there was a biology student at Stanford who created rap videos about biology (link to http://www.youtube.com/user/tomcfad#p/a/u/2/9k_oKK4Teco). They are clear and accurate. It also shows students creative ways individuals can interact with the content to help them study. I share creative diagrams and study guides created by students in my class to show other examples of how to study for exams. I am also a reformed clicker user in class (link to http://www.cer.jhu.edu/resources.html#clickers). At first we used it simply to check attendance. I’m now trying to use it to give students practice with solving problems and to encourage them to think like scientists. There’s an active online discussion board in the larger classes. I drive students to it by posting links to additional resources and correcting mistakes I make in lecture. Students regularly use it to ask questions about course content. Often other students will answer the questions. Occasionally, I have to clarify answers, but regularly it is the students who are managing the conversations. The nice thing is that it doesn’t take much of my time. I log in twice a day and spend a total of 30 minutes across both sessions reviewing it. I set boundaries as well. I tell them I won’t check the discussion board after 10 PM the night before a test. I also monitor the discussion boards to identify what topics students are struggling with. I can then address these topics in lecture. When I see the activity drop off, I warn them to be careful about getting too overconfident or I encourage them to stay engaged.
CER: What challenges do you face in your teaching?
EF: The major challenge comes from the sheer size of Biochemistry and Cell Biology. My position is responsible for both teaching and handling course administration. There are a lot of special circumstances to deal with (e.g., sicknesses, holidays, scheduling). In addition, I prefer to know all my students’ names, but in a 400-person course, it’s impossible to even make eye contact with everyone. Having the small recitation sections helps me get to know some students. I do a lot of grading and that helps me learn students’ names and track how they are doing. I also encourage them to come see me in office hours. Another issue stemming from the size is grading. We are committed to quickly returning graded tests to students so they get feedback while they are thinking about it. We have some short answers. We have 20 people grading together. Every person has a page to grade to ensure consistency in how we interpret answers. Students tend to write a lot, so we limit how many words they can use. I also use true/false questions in which they have to explain why an answer is false (if it is not true).
CER: How do you know when you’re successful? How do you assess student learning?
EF: In addition to analyzing exams, I used the Student Assessment of Learning Gains instrument (link to http://www.salgsite.org/) last year. I asked them to rate their self-perception of knowledge on key topics along with true/false questions to measure their actual knowledge. I ran it before and after lectures to measure the increase in learning and self-perception of learning. Generally, the gains increased for most topics, but I was able to identify when gains weren’t as significant for one topic. I plan to go back and improve my teaching on this topic in the coming year. At the least, I plan to expand that lecture from one class to two.
CER: What is your philosophy of teaching?
EF: I try to talk about course material in the context of experiments. I don’t want my classes to feel like a list of "facts" that students should memorize, but more like a foundation of important findings that help us understand biology. So I try to talk about the foundational experiments that made early discoveries possible as well as the techniques that modern scientists use to find the next discoveries. I hope that even if the details of a given process are ultimately forgotten, the students leave with a sense of how science works, how experiments are set up, and how to apply scientific reasoning to new questions.
Student Quotes Dr. Fisher challenges her students to think like scientists. She teaches in a way that compels students to ask, "How can I prove that experimentally?" Her students don't simply memorize basic biological concepts. They learn how to use basic science to their advantage to solve common biological problems. – Russell A. Reeves, senior She's a great teacher because she knows how to empathize with her students. She takes the time to go over the material individually with anyone who needs help. – Jeremy Vidal, senior Her outgoing and understanding personality allows students to approach her for help with the material without feeling intimidated or ashamed to ask. Her passion for the subject engages students in the material. She does her best to truly teach the students rather than merely lecture them. – Leah Kim, senior

VI   Fall 2011 Bits and Bytes Workshops

Bits & Bytes Workshop Logo The Center for Educational Resources in the Eisenhower Library presents a weekly workshop series, Bits & Bytes, on useful pedagogical and instructional technology information for faculty and instructors. Each session offers an introduction to a practical topic. Examples include, Getting the Most from Blackboard, Use Blogs & Wikis in Courses, Tools for Digital Humanities Research, Latest Google Applications, Data Management Planning for Grants, and several others. In Bits & Bytes sessions, participants review a variety of tools that can enhance teaching and research, followed by a Q/A period to clarify remaining issues about the topic. These informal sessions are held every Thursday from 1:00 – 2:00 PM in the MSE Library’s Garrett Room. For more information on workshop details or to request that a topic be included in a future Bits & Bytes series, please contact Cheryl Wagner at cwagner@jhu.edu or visit the CER's Events page.

VII   Research Workshops for Faculty & Students

Research Clipart Just in time for fall semester, the MSE Library is offering several free research workshops for faculty and students to bring everyone up to date on our latest research resources. Partial list of topics coming up:
  • Citation and Organization Tools
  • E-Books for Academics
  • Making the Best of Google
  • RefWorks 2.0
  • Copyright And Fair Use
For a full schedule and session descriptions, please visit http://bit.ly/MSEworkshops We look forward to seeing you there!

VII   New Innovative Instructor Articles Out This Month

CER Innovative Instructor Sample The Innovative Instructor is a series of short articles about effective pedagogical strategies, effective instructional technologies, and best practices for university teaching. The articles are written by JHU faculty, TAs, or instructional technology staff. The Center for Educational Resources (CER) will have 3 new articles this month, one in each of the three categories that comprise the series: Pedagogy, Technology, and Best Practice. Printed articles are available to the JHU community in stands next to Café Q, near the Circulation Desk on M-level of MSE Library, and at the CER, located on Q-level. PDFs of the complete series are also posted on the Innovative Instructor page of the CER website. The CER encourages faculty to submit ideas for articles at cerweb@jhu.edu. CER staff will provide to authors appropriate templates to facilitate the content composition, editing, and graphics support during the article creation process