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Research & Teaching Tools, February 2012
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I   
Gateway Sciences Initiative (GSI) Highlights
Grants have been awarded/Symposium on Teaching Excellence in the Sciences a success

II   2012-2013 Technology Fellowship Applications Now Open
Faculty/student grant money available – Apply Now!

III   Teaching Tip: Using Rubrics for Grading Assignments
What are rubrics and why should instructors use them?

IV   Blackboard Updates
Rubrics, Auto Tests, Community Feedback

V   Faculty Spotlight: Jason Eisner, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, Whiting School of Engineering
A continuing series on teaching excellence at Homewood

VI   News from Homewood Technology
What classrooms have been updated? What's new at the Technology Store?

VII   The Sheridan Library's Spring Workshops
Innovative spring library workshops

VIII   New Student Portal
Information to share with new students

 

 

I   Gateway Sciences Initiative (GSI) Highlights

GSI Logo

Congratulations to the faculty and staff who were awarded the initial GSI grants. Funding was provided by the Office of the Provost to implement a set of pilot projects that will both improve current gateway courses and point the way to potentially larger changes in pedagogy, course and program design, and instructional methodologies of gateway courses.

A complete list of recipients and projects is now available.

The Symposium on Teaching Excellence in the Sciences was held on Friday, January 20, in Hodson Hall. It was a high energy day filled with discussion and learning. Over 400 JHU faculty, staff and students from throughout the university registered for the symposium. Thank you to all who attended and discussed the ways we teach our students in gateway science courses. If you were unable to attend, the keynote lectures from the Symposium are now available online. To listen to the lectures by Drs. Freeman Hrabowski, Jo Handelsman, David Botstein and Eric Mazur, please visit:

http://web.jhu.edu/administration/provo1st/GSI/symposium.html

Upcoming: Faculty Conversations on Teaching Excellence, an informal series of discussions on pedagogy and instructional strategies, is in planning. The first of these occurred during the faculty breakout sessions of the January 20 Symposium on Teaching Excellence; a continuing series will alternate between the Homewood and East Baltimore campuses. For more information as it becomes available, please continue to check the Provost's website at:

http://web.jhu.edu/administration/provost/GSI/conversations.html

 

II   2012-2013 Technology Fellowship Applications Now Open

Tech Fellows Grant Banner

The Technology Fellows Program is a mini-grant initiative that enables faculty to partner with technology savvy students to develop resources to enhance pedagogy, increase or facilitate access to course content, encourage active learning, promote critical thinking, or support student collaboration.

Full-time faculty and students are eligible to apply. Each faculty member receives $1,000 for project leadership and oversight; student fellows receive $4,000 for resource development and implementation. While faculty need not have specific technology expertise, they must understand how digital technologies could be employed to support their teaching objectives. Student applicants are encouraged to have programming or multimedia skills, or they must have a concrete (and feasible) plan for acquiring the skills required for their projects. Approximately 285 hours of work should be devoted to each project.

The CER can help interested applicants to formulate project ideas and can help match faculty with student partners. Once fellowships are awarded, CER staff serve as liaisons to project teams, conducting update sessions, providing some technical consultation, and helping teams prepare for a year-end showcase where project results are shared with the community.

A committee of faculty and technical professionals from the Johns Hopkins community reviews all applications using the criteria listed in the application form found on our website at http://www.cer.jhu.edu/techfellows.html.

Applications will be accepted from February 20 - March 30 @ 5:00 PM with awards announced in early April. Funding will be available from May 2012 through April 2013; projects must be completed by April 15, 2013.

For questions or to obtain more information, please contact Cheryl Wagner at cwagner@jhu.edu or 410-516-7181.

 

III   Teaching Tip: Using Rubrics for Grading Assignments

Rubric comes from the Latin word rubrica, meaning red chalk. In early medieval manuscripts, the first letter of an important paragraph was often enlarged, painted in red, and called a rubric. This practice led to associating authority with what was written "under the rubric."

When preparing a graded assignment or exam, most faculty have expectations about how it should be completed, what will constitute an acceptable answer, or what will make the difference between an "A" and a "C" on a paper. Formalizing those thoughts into a written rubric – a template or checklist where those expectations are specified – has real advantages. First, it can save time when it comes to grading the assignment or test. Second, if you have Teaching Assistants who participate in grading, they will have a clearer understanding of how to assign grades, and they will grade more consistently across the sections. Third, it will make it easy to explain to students why they didn't get that "A" they thought they deserved.

Rubric Clipart

For a graded paper or project, it can be very helpful to share the rubric with the students when you give them the assignment. Understanding the rubric will help them to focus on what you feel is important. They will have a better comprehension of the assignment, and you will see better results and have an easier time with the grading.

There is information below on using the new Rubrics Tool in Blackboard.

For more about creating rubrics see the CER''s Innovative Instructor article on Calibrating Multiple Graders.

This Chronicle of Higher Education article provides further reading.

 

IV   Blackboard Updates

Blackboard Logo Last December, two service packs (sp6 and sp7) were installed on the Blackboard server, which produced several changes and improvements to Blackboard functionality. Here are some of the highlights:
  • Rubrics Tool - A new and improved rubrics tool is now available. A rubric is a set of evaluation criteria used to explicitly describe the requirements of a particular assignment. Once created, rubrics can be linked to any item in the Blackboard grade center, including assignments, test questions, and discussion board posts. Instructors and teaching assistants can use rubrics to grade assignments more efficiently; students appreciate the clear expectations that rubrics provide as they complete their assignments. For more about rubrics, please see the additional Rubrics article above.

  • Auto Test Submission - It is now possible to enforce time limits in online tests. Previously, if the time ran out during a timed test, students could continue taking the test and Blackboard would mark it 'Late' upon submission. Instructors now have the ability to create a timed test that automatically submits when the time runs out, eliminating late submissions. Blackboard will record only the questions that have been answered up to that point.

  • Community-based Feedback - You might have noticed the new 'Feedback' button on the Blackboard interface. This is a community-based feedback system that enterprise IT has enabled inside of Blackboard. This feature allows you to interact with IT staff as well as other JHU colleagues and students who use Blackboard. You can ask and respond to questions, post comments, and share new ideas with the JHU Blackboard community.

Blackboard Feedback Button

 

V   Faculty Spotlight: Jason Eisner, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, Whiting School of Engineering

CER: What are you teaching here at Hopkins and what are the levels of the courses?

JE: My flagship course is Natural Language Processing. The students come to appreciate the surprising structure and subtlety of human language. They learn how to turn linguistic formalisms into statistical models, and turn those into algorithms that can predict the linguistic structure and meaning of a sentence.

A more unusual course is Declarative Methods, about programming languages that are so high-level that you just specify your problem in the language and the computer has to figure out how to solve it!

Both are mixed grad-undergrad courses. I also lead a year-round reading seminar, and sometimes do a unit in our freshman seminar.

CER: What are your strategies or approaches for engaging or connecting with the students in your course?

JE: My Ph.D. advisor told me that there are two things you need to be a great teacher: be extremely clear and have a big personality. There's also a third, in my opinion: the students have to know you care about them as individuals.

  • Clear communication: The biggest challenge is to find a sequential route through the material. Any topic seems easy once you fully understand it. The trick is to build up that understanding; each step should seem easy and natural. We teachers already understand our technical specialties too well. We've got all the formalizations, techniques, and examples in our heads at once, and they're bonded to one another in a dense ball in which everything follows from something else. If we pull on any one idea it just snaps back into place. But to teach, we have to cut some of those bonds and unfold the structure into some linear, semester-long presentation that will then fold up correctly again, like a protein, in a student's head.

  • Big personality: I riff a lot in class. The students never know what homespun analogy is going to pop into my head next. An algorithm for analyzing sentences makes me think of all sorts of things. Phrases mate and have babies, or they're jigsaw puzzle pieces to assemble, or socks that you have to match as they come out of the dryer. I've asked the class about their own range of sock-matching strategies and derived algorithms from their different answers.

    What's fun is that if I keep an analogy running long enough, it starts to break down in entertaining ways. We have to start cloning our socks or making recursive sock balls. Some of our phrase-mating algorithms are like the junior high school from hell, where if you stand next to anyone you like, you instantly have a baby. Other versions prevent a population explosion by practicing a nasty form of eugenics, on the theory that since civilization is declining, bad phrases had better be sterilized before they have even worse kids.

  • Paying attention to students as individuals: I try to run an interactive class. I learn students' names as quickly as I can, banter with them, and make them talk and even come write on the board. Students know that they can interrupt me and that I'm willing to go off on tangents to answer a good question. I hold office hours immediately after class so they can stay behind and talk. I also spend time replying publicly and privately to questions online, and I'll modify the course materials if it seems that something was unclear.

Faculty Portrait Eisner

CER: Do you set boundaries about access?

JE: I haven't had to. Students know they can find me or the TAs quickly on the class discussion forum, so outside of our office hours, that's where they go. This year I replaced our traditional class mailing list with Piazza (http://piazza.com/), a well-designed site where anyone can set up a class discussion forum for free. It knows the difference between students and instructors, and it supports TeX notation, anonymous and private posting, collaborative editing, and email notification. I encourage students to post questions, comments, interesting links, whatever. The students can answer one another's questions, as can the TAs, but I seem to end up contributing answers to most questions myself.

CER: Can you tell us some of the challenges you have encountered in teaching these courses?

JE: The semester isn't long enough. I never feel like I'm including as much as I should. Worse, the material gets a little longer each year – some of each year's impromptu clarifications or additions turn into new slides. I have to warn students at the start of the term that we may fall behind and skip a couple of topics, and that the lecture may sometimes bulge a little past 3:50 and continue into office hours.

Hopefully I'll get approval to turn at least one of my classes into a 4-credit course, which would give me an extra lecture hour. It would also fairly recognize the effort that students put in. Some undergrads might be avoiding my classes because they're really more than 3 credits of work. One of my course evaluations quipped: "This was an amazing course, although I think I am now failing all my other courses due to the workload." There's no required textbook, but my homework assignments are pretty serious – there's no substitute in computer science for actually building stuff that runs and playing with it. One of my homework handouts can run to 20 pages. Students do appreciate how much they learn from the homework and how confident it makes them. They're a little less happy with the tough exams, which make them less confident. I somehow can't bring myself to write boring exam problems – I want the exam to be a learning experience, and I like to hand out past exam problems for practice.

CER: Are there any technologies or collaborative methods you use to enhance student learning?

JE: Yes, I've developed a couple myself and even written them up.

I regularly teach Hidden Markov Models using a large interactive spreadsheet. The spreadsheet lays out all the computations for a simple whimsical example and graphs the results, so that we can see numeric patterns and experiment in class with how changing the input affects the results. Several faculty at other schools have used my spreadsheet and example; so does the leading textbook in the field.

2002 paper on approach: http://www.cs.jhu.edu/~jason/papers/eisner.tnlp02.pdf

I also run a "competitive grammar writing" exercise at our annual summer school in Human Language Technology. Each team of 3 students has the impossible task of writing an English grammar in an afternoon. We give them nothing but a restricted vocabulary drawn from Monty Python, a 20-minute lecture on the grammar notation, and some software tools to test how their probabilistic grammar generates and analyzes sentences. Naturally, they can't cover very much of English in 3 hours! The fuel is provided by our twisted scoring procedure, which sets the students off on an arms race to generate valid English sentences that other teams' grammars will be unable to analyze. This whirlwind exercise gets them thinking about the structure of English, the use and limitations of these particular grammar formalisms and probabilistic models, the classic tools and formats we provide, and how to evaluate whether a grammar or a sentence is any good. The setup is almost the opposite of a homework assignment: there's no "right answer," and the strict deadline leaves no way to do more than a cartoonish job. So the students decide for themselves how to invest their time to be competitive and have fun – and at the end of 3 hours they've learned as much as we could hope for.

2008 paper on approach: http://www.cs.jhu.edu/~jason/papers/eisner+smith.tnlp08.pdf

CER: What do you enjoy about teaching?

JE: Sometimes it's just the best way to learn. When I'm absorbing a new topic, usually it's by explaining it to research students that I hit on the "right" ways to think about it.

But for topics that I already know well, the fun of teaching is just getting up and turning the next generation on to the things that I love. Computer science is full of beautiful ideas and connections, and computer scientists are intellectually playful. It's heartwarming to see students laugh with pleasure when their minds wrap around something new.

Student Quotes

Armed with a hilarious sense of humor, a great skill for captivating lectures, and an enormous amount of knowledge . . . Dr. Eisner knows how to keep students interested, motivated, and even entertained at the same time.

His assignments are not toy assignments; they are real world problems. In times when engineering is becoming so specialized and detached in some sense from the real world, his problems remind you the real reason a problem is studied.

I feel a sense of satisfaction every day when I have his class that I have pushed myself to learn something new or to think about something in a way that I had never before.

 

VI   News from Homewood Technology

Academic Technology Facilities Logo

Technology Classroom Update

Great news! All "how-to" signs in the general pool classrooms have been updated to provide more specific information on the available support hours, contact methods, and additional instructions for connecting laptops to the AV systems. These changes represent the first step in a broader effort to improve the quality and responsiveness of our "on demand" classroom support for faculty and instructors.

The most significant aspect of these changes planned for the Fall 2012 semester will be a transition to a phone-based support process coupled with the retiring of the "Help" button across all Homewood general pool classrooms. This will provide immediate voice contact with technology support staff during normal support hours and confirmation that a technician is being dispatched to the classroom if on-site support is needed. Additional information will be posted in the classrooms and sent to faculty and department administrators prior to the start of the fall semester. Feedback or other suggestions would be appreciated and can be directed to Graham Bouton at graham@jhu.edu.

JHU Tech Store Logo

Technology Store Update

Based on faculty and staff requests, several items related to classroom instruction have been recently added to the store's inventory:

Suggestions on technology-related items that would be helpful for the store to carry are always appreciated and can be directed to Robert Byrd rbyrd9@jhu.edu.

 

VII   The Sheridan Library's Spring Workshops

Springs Stock Photo

Not the kind of ‘spring’ you were thinking of?

The Library's spring workshops probably aren't what you'd expect, either. This semester we focus on Google searches, RefWorks, other organizing and citing tools, as well as copyright and Fair Use. All workshops will be held in the Electronic Resource Center, M Level of MSEL. Just click on the links to register!

Making the Best of Google: Make Google, Google Scholar and Google Books work for your research. Thur., Feb. 16, 2012, 4:30-5:30

Citation & Organization: With so many organizational tools, what works best? We'll compare RefWorks, Mendeley, Zotero, and Papers. Wed., Feb. 29, 2012, 4:30-5:30

RefWorks: Learn the secrets of organized citations and easy, quick bibliographies. Wed., Feb. 22, 2012, 4:30-5:30, Tues., Mar. 27, 2012, 4:30-5:30, Thur., Apr. 19, 2012, 4:30-5:30

Copyright & Fair Use: With the increasing use of AV resources, what constitutes fair use? Participants will receive a helpful toolkit. Wed., May 2, 2012, 4:30-5:30

 

VII   New Student Portal

In 2008, in an effort to improve communications with incoming students, Homewood Student Affairs transitioned much of its offline communications into an online format. Known as the New Student Portal and housed within myJH, this site provides a tremendous amount of information to our incoming student body – from how to register for classes, to housing and dining options. And it provides opportunities for students to connect prior to arrival on campus. For the incoming class of 2016, the New Student Portal team will provide assignments via Blackboard to achieve two purposes: 1) to provide feedback in terms of completed "assignments," and 2) to acclimate students to the platform before their first day of class.

JHU Student Portal Screenshot