October 30, 2018
Volume 3, Number 6
Once Upon a Time: A Novel Teaching Idea
Early in the semester, Stan Eisen presents students in his upper-level biology courses with an unusual choice: Would they prefer to take a final exam or write a children’s book?
“I see it as a tool to get students engaged so they see the topic as interesting, fascinating, and worthwhile,” Eisen, a professor of biology at Christian Brothers University, said of the book project. 

It’s also a means of achieving something that we described in last week’s newsletter: helping students construct knowledge. Or, as Eisen said: “You really don’t understand something until you can teach it to someone else.” 

He started offering them the option seven years ago, when his oldest granddaughter, who was his inspiration for the idea, was 4. The first book was called Don't Get Sick, Stan!, and students in his senior-level parasitology course wrote about the parasitic diseases that can fester in a school cafeteria and give a child abdominal distress or diarrhea.
It was self-published and made for an excellent – if unconventional – holiday gift, he says. There was even a book signing at a local shop.

Eisen said he had often come across scholarly articles about the importance of student engagement, which can be achieved through high-impact practices like experiential learning. In the natural sciences, he says, such practices tend to take the form of experiments or undergraduate research projects.

In contrast, he says, producing a narrative from the course material and explaining it to a child turns the project into a teaching tool. “As far as an experiential opportunity,” he said, “I was onto something.”

It also helps fulfill one of his larger teaching goals: for his students to leave his course different from how they were when they started it.

Since then, he’s offered the option to students in his course on invertebrate zoology, who produced an alphabetical coloring book, All Creatures Small and Smaller: The World of Invertebrates

When he presents the option to his students, he sticks to a few rules, borne of trial and error. The students must be unanimous in their decision. He tried allowing them to work in small groups on topics of their choosing, but he found that the results weren’t as good. Now Eisen assigns the topic, and the entire class of about 32 students works as a group. 
He also asks Samantha Alperin, chair of the education department, to give a presentation to his students on how to write for children. “If you can make a 7-year-old understand it,” he said, “you’ve accomplished something.”

The choice that Eisen gives his students is interesting, in part, because the options don’t necessarily achieve pedagogically similar goals. When I referred to the book project as an alternative assessment, he stopped me. An assessment like a multiple-choice test would help him gauge how well students can answer questions about, say, the life cycles of parasites.

The book project, though, is a teaching-and-learning tool. And it’s an experience in many senses of the word – one that alumni have told him they recall fondly. “Who remembers taking a final exam, a year or two or three years later?” he asked.

– Dan Berrett, Teaching Newsletter: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us at  dan.berrett@chronicle.combeth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com, or  beckie.supiano@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to sign up to receive your own copy, you can do so  here.
Blackboard Buzz
How to Create a Random Block of Test Questions
When creating a test, you can use random blocks to make the test more challenging and prevent students from plagiarism.

In the classroom, it is a very troublesome thing to give students different papers. But it is very easy to achieve that in Blackboard system. Random blocks pull a set of questions from one or more question pools into your test. Each student's test will pull a selection of questions from the pool at random as the test is presented.

This YouTube video demonstrates how this feature works. Email msuonline@moreheadstate.edu for additional information and on-campus support.
Mini Grants Available for
Alternative Spring Break Trips and Activities
Applications open October 1st

 KyCC has received Volunteer Generation Funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) for alternative service activities that:
  • are in Kentucky
  • include reflection for participants
  • include an intergenerational component

For more information, see their website:  https://kycompact.org/americorps/alternative-spring-break-funding/.
The Teaching Professor Conference - (June 7-9) - New Orleans
The Teaching Professor Conference, is accepting proposals for concurrent sessions and poster presentations. New this year is a proposal to present a 20-Minute Mentor session, which will be published as a Magna Webinar (yes, that's the ones we feature in our Workshop Wednesday newsletters). The deadline for submitting a proposal is  October 31. The conference is June 7-9, 2018, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Conference Information and session proposals can be found here.
Stem+ Monthly Webinar
First Friday of Every Month: 3-4pm EST
The Next Webinar: November 2, 2018

 KyCC has created a monthly webinar for STEM+ faculty to connect with each other and learn about effective practices. The webinar is on the first Friday of the month from 3-4pm EST.  For more information, please see their website: https://kycompact.org/what-we-do/stem-network/.
2019 Gateway Course Experience Conference
Atlanta, GA / March 17-19, 2019
Proposal Due Date: November 26, 2018

 Higher education faculty, professionals, students and educators are invited to  submit proposals  on a topic addressing:
  • Share innovative ideas and practices you are using to solve problems and enable transformative course redesign at your institution.
  • Connect and collaborate with colleagues from other institutions who are working to integrate active learning and other strategies into how they teach gateway courses.
  • Share evidence about how your course redesign efforts are improving student success and learning and/or advancing more equitable outcomes. 
  • We value your students' perspectives in all aspects of teaching and learning and encourage you to consider having a student(s) as co-presenter(s).

Early submissions are welcomed and appreciated.
Teach Abroad
Deadline: March 1, 2019
Faculty are invited to apply to teach a course in a KIIS Summer 2020 program. KIIS operates approximately 22 Summer programs each year. Faculty application materials include:
  • Biographical information
  • CV (PDF)
  • Your proposed course title & a brief course description (For more information please click here.)
  • Details of your teaching & experience
  • Email address for your supervisor (he or she will receive an email to complete this section within 10 days of the faculty deadline)
 The Faculty Summer application deadline is March 1, 2019. Click any “Apply Now” button at  kiis.org to begin your application. For information about your application, visit the “Faculty” dropdown at kiis.org. For information about the Winter programs, see the “Programs” dropdown.
Ambassadors for Excellence in Teaching
Morehead State University