I spent a nice chunk of time last week playing with different combinations of hardware and software to look at Data Acquisition (DAQ) options for my Advanced Laboratory course (the name given to standalone upper-division physics laboratory courses). I will first talk about the two main hardware devices I was trying out (National Instruments USB-6009 Multifunction DAQ and an Arduino Uno microcontroller) and then look at some combinations of software and hardware that I played with, or at least wanted to play with.
In the end using one of the National Instruments USB DAQ devices with LabVIEW is probably the easiest thing to do thanks to the variety of ways that LabVIEW allows you to quickly create DAQ software on the computer side. But thanks to the huge number of software options that you have to talk to the Arduino and how cheap it is, it is very reasonable to use an Arduino as your general purpose DAQ device.
An example DAQ task
In case you are reading along at home, but not too sure what I’m talking about, I will give you an example DAQ task that uses some of the functionality that is discussed in this post. Let’s say you want to do an (admittedly boring experiment) of trying to figure out which colour of coffee cup keeps your coffee warm the longest. This is a tedious experiment because it takes a long time for the coffee to cool, you want to do multiple runs for each coffee cup and you don’t want to have to just sit there and heat the coffee up over and over again. So you build a circuit with a little heater that can be turned on and off by sending a digital signal to it. You have a thermocouple with which you will measure temperature. And you will have the computer record your data every 10 seconds and write your data sets to file.
So you hook your thermocouple up to a thermocouple amp and that output goes to one of your analog input channels. One of your digital out channels is used to turn the little heater on an off. And you will have some software that does a few different things:
- Requests the temperature of the coffee every 10 seconds from the thermocouple (amp);
- Once the coffee gets down to 50 degrees, it turns on the heater until the coffee is back at 90 degrees;
- It writes all the collected data to a file.
So to run this experiment you just stick the thermocouple and heater in the coffee cup, press go and wander off for a while. You come back every once in a while to make sure everything is running smoothly and to change to a different coffee cup once you feel you have enough runs. With fairly simple software running on the computer, all the hardware/software DAQ combos I mention below will work just fine.
National Instruments USB-6009 Multifunction DAQ
This (and its cheaper cousin the USB-6008) seem like they have been the standard low-cost USB DAQ devices for a little while, and are used most often with LabVIEW. The analog inputs are 14-bit and 48k samples/second. It has 5V out and a bunch of digital Input/Output channels.
Arduino Uno Microcontroller
Arduinos are teeny computers with a bunch of analog and digital Input/Output channels. You write programs for them and send them via USB to the device. With the appropriate program (firmware) you can have your Arduino duplicate the functionality of the USB-600x, but with much less impressive resolution and sample rate. The Arduino analog inputs are only 10-bit and my best estimate of the sample rate is roughly 100 samples per second (edit: you should be able to do better than this if you temporarily store data in Arduino’s memory and then send it to the computer in chunks). Keep in mind that the Arduinos only cost $30 compared to >$200 for the USB-600x (and in my example DAQ task I only needed 1 sample every 10 seconds). That resolution and sample rate are also more than adequate for monitoring and controlling a lot of experiments. You can also use the Arduino as a remote data logger and controller with the help of wireless/bluetooth chips, SD card readers and all sorts of other fun things.
The hardware/software DAQ combos
National Instruments USB-6009 and LabVIEW
This combination seems to be a very common DAQ solution in recent times. I think the standard is about to become LabVIEW + NI MyDAQ, where the MyDAQ is also a Multifunction USB DAQ device. It has fewer channels than a USB-6009 but has 16-bit analog channels, 200k samples/second and an output voltage of 15V as opposed to the 5V of the USB-6009. It also has some neat ready-to-go functionality as a Digital Multimeter and only costs about $200. I think that my pros and cons below for the USB-6009 + LabVIEW combination also applies equally well to the MyDAQ + LabVIEW combination.
- LabVIEW has a lot of built-in and quick-to-get-up-and-running functionality. Graphing, writing to file, signal processing and Input/Output tasks are all quite easy to do once you learn how to do them. As I mention in the cons, you still have to get used to the visual programming environment which is a huge shift in paradigm for many.
- LabVIEW has a DAQ assistant that helps you build DAQ software quickly. They (National Instruments) also have a program called LabVIEW SignalExpress that is meant to make DAQ (and control, like turning on the heater) tasks without having to do any actual LabVIEW programming. I have not actually tried it, but it comes bundled with a $60 suite version of the student edition of LabVIEW.
- LabVIEW is crazy expensive, but the student edition of LabVIEW is only $20 (or $60 for the suite) so if you can get the students to buy their own copies to put on their laptops the cost becomes pretty negligible.
- The USB devices (USB-6008/9 or MyDAQ) are quite reasonably priced ($200-$300), but not as cheap as a $30 arduino.
- LabVIEW has a steepish learning curve. It takes a few weeks to become fluent using it and I still can’t remember how to do half the things I want to do (I am probably at the “few weeks” mark). Visual programming (in this case LabVIEW) is quite a different paradigm than text-based programming.
Arduino and free software
Let’s assume for this discussion that you want to duplicate the hardware functionality of the National Instruments multifunction DAQ devices with the Arduino instead of programming the DAQ task directly onto the Arduino. To do this you write your own Arduino sketch (the name for a program/firmware that you write to the Arduino’s memory) that can read the Arduino’s analog line-ins and send out a digital output signal when told to. There are some existing firmwares (is that the plural of firmware?) such as Firmata (which comes bundled with the Arduino software) and a firmware that comes with the Python Arduino Prototyping API. You can then use Python (for either firmware) or Processing (for Firmata) to collect data and send control signals to the Arduino.
I did not have great luck getting a DAQ task up and running using Python and Firmata, but was delightfully successful doing so using the Python Arduino Prototyping API. With a little vPython in tow I’m sure you could figure out some pretty fun stuff to do with the data coming in through the Arduino.
I don’t know too much about Processing, but it is a computer language and it seems to be quite easy to use it to make graphs based on the examples I played with that come included with the Arduino software. There are some libraries that (I understand) make it very easy to talk to an Arduino with the Firmata firmware using Processing.
- This is the cheapest solution. Python and processing are both free and the Arduino is $30.
- For my example DAQ task, the sample rate and resolution of the Arduino is more than adequate, but the National Instruments USB DAQ devices are really much higher performance which might be needed for experiments more exciting than watching coffee cool.
- I didn’t do more than try to read something in and send out a signal with the Python Arduino Prototyping API so live-graphing the data (easy in LabVIEW) may be simple to get done using matplotlib or it may be quite tedious. I’m really not to sure.
- Similarly for Processing I only graphed some data coming in and sent out some signals (to turn on LEDs), but since it is a programming language it should be very straightforward to do things like write data to file or tell the Arduino to turn on the heater once the temperature being read drops below some certain value.
Note: there are a bunch of other software interfacing options for Arduino but I just mention the ones that seemed easiest for me. Mathematica (which is not free) is discussed below.
Arduino and LabVIEW
Early in May this year the LabVIEW Interface for Arduino was released. I found it easy to install everything needed and the examples that I tried worked on my first try. It comes with a custom firmware that you put on the Arduino and then you can get input and output signals just like you would with the National Instruments multifunction DAQ devices.
- Easy to install everything needed.
- Cheap if you are using the student edition of LabVIEW.
- There’s a nice tutorial and lots of examples.
- You can’t build tasks for interfacing with Arduino using things like LabVIEW SignalExpress or DAQ assistant, but you can build your own VIs and the included examples can serve as a good template.
Arduino and Mathematica
For those that are already familiar with Mathematica (and perhaps not familiar with some of the software solutions above), you just need the M$ .NET framework installed and then you can chat with the Arduino via serial I/O commands from within Mathematica. I’m not sure if you can get Mathematica to play nice with a pre-existing firmware like Firmata. I haven’t used Mathematica much since early in grad school so I am very much at a novice level and can pretty much only do things that require modification of existing code. I did have some trouble getting this whole thing up and running even though Andy Rundquist basically gave me all the code I needed. This was probably mostly due to my novice skill-level using Mathematica.
- Mathematica is very good at displaying data (and then doing fun stuff with it after).
- For those already familiar with Mathematica, there is very little learning curve.
- For this purpose there are much better (and cheaper) software options out there.
Other interesting stuff
- Vernier Sensor DAQ: This thing costs about the same as a USB-6009 with similar performance, but less analog and digital I/O channels. What it does have instead is 3 analog and 1 digital connections for Vernier sensors and probes. I am interested in getting one of these to play around with.
- LabPro toolkit for LabVIEW: Vernier probes usually connect to the computer via a LabPro which has a bunch of connections for the probes and then interfaces with the computer via USB. The computer runs Vernier LoggerPro to read the probes and record the data. The LabPro toolkit allows you to use your probes, attached to your LabPro, directly in LabVIEW. I couldn’t get all of this to work, but I didn’t really try that hard either.
- Pasco ScienceWorkshop Probeware and LabVIEW: This seems to work with only the older ScienceWorkshop probes and not the newer Passport probes. There is an adapter, but I don’t know if that will then let the Passport probes work with LabVIEW.
- NXT Sensor Adaptor: This lets you use Vernier analog probes with Lego Mindstorms. The first thing that comes to mind is to use a force plate as a gas pedal for a Mindstorm RC car. That would be very fun
This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the past couple of weeks or so.
Reflections on Standards-Based Grading
Lots of end-of-year reflections from SBG implementers
- SBG with voice revisions – Andy Rundquist only accepts (re)assessments where he can hear the student’s voice. When they hand in a problem solution, it basically has to be a screencast or pencast (livescribe pen) submission. The post is his reflections on what worked, what didn’t and what to do next time.
- Standards-Based Feedback and SBG Reflections – Bret Benesh has two SBG-posts one after the other. I was especially fond of the one on Standards-Based Feedback where he proposes that students would not receive standards-based grades throughout the term but would instead produce a portfolio of their work which best showed their mastery for each standard. This one got my mind racing and my fingers typing.
- A Small Tweak and a Feedback Inequality – Dan Anderson posts about providing feedback-only on the first assessment in nerd form: Feedback > Feedback + Grade > Grade. This is his take on the same issue which lead Bret Benesh to thinking about Standards-Based Feedback, when there is a grade and feedback provided, the students focus all their attention on the grade. He also has a neat system of calculating the final score for an assessments.
- Reflections on SBG – Roger Wistar (computer science teacher) discusses his SBG journey and the good and bad of his experience so far.
- Modeling Workshop: Week 1 (Fear and Respect The Hestenes) – Shawn Cornally tells us about his first week at a summer modeling workshop and he seems to be loving it.
Flipped classrooms and screencasting
- Lecturing, Screencasting, Flipped Classrooms – Mylene posts some thoughts about lecturing after attending a recent webinar on flipped classrooms. Great conversation ensues in the comments.
- How I make screencasts: The whiteboard screencast – Robert Talbert continues on with his how-to screencast series.
- Why should I use peer instruction in my class? – Peter uses a study on student (non)learning from video by the Kansas State Physics Education Research Group to help answer this question. The short answer is “Because they give the students and you to ability to assess the current level of understanding of the concepts. Current, right now, before it’s too late and the house of cards you’re so carefully building come crashing down.”
The tale of sciencegeekgirl’s career
- How a Scientist Became a Freelance Science Writer – Stephanie Chasteen (sciencegeekgirl) talks about how she earned her physics PhD while also developing as a science writer.
Getting them to do stuff they are interested in
- The Future of Education Without Coercion (Video) – Shawn Cornally (Think Thank Thunk blog) talks about how to rethink what exactly productive student work is. And it all starts with getting them to do stuff that they’re interested in.
- Angry Birds in the Physics Classroom – Speaking of things most people are interested in, Frank Noschese posts about some physics-based investigations students can do using Angry Birds.
John Burk gets busy
- John Burk (Quantum Progress blog) has been a very busy blogger over the past couple of weeks. Highlights include a couple of Rhett Allain-esque Google doodle analyses (here and here), some Arduino fun (stay tuned for my post on DAQ systems which includes arduino), “The time has come to stop playing defense and change education” (let’s not just sit there and criticize Khan Academy, let’s go out and show what can be done that is better), and a first vPython assignment for high school students.
I seem to have some sort of a knack for writing comments that are longer than my original post ever was. Simon Bates commented on my last post about possibly flipping a couple of courses at his own institution and I started to write a long comment on some extra things to consider, which I may have discussed had I written a post about flipping my courses in general as opposed to a post specifically about flipping a third-year Quantum Mechanics course. Here is what I was writing as a reply to Simon, massaged instead into a post.
SmartPhysics as an alternative to making my own screencasts for intro Physics
For those teaching intro physics that are more interested in screencasting/pre-class multimedia video presentations instead of pre-class reading assignments, you might wish to take a look at SmartPhysics. It’s a package developed by the PER group at UIUC that consists of online homework, online pre-class multimedia presentations and a shorter than usual textbook (read: cheaper than usual) because there are no end-of-chapter questions in the book, and the book’s presentation is geared more toward being a student reference since the multi-media presentations take care of the the “first time encountering a topic” level of exposition. My understanding is that they paid great attention to Mayer’s research on minimizing cognitive load during multimedia presentations. I will be using SmartPhysics for my first time this coming fall and will certainly write a post about my experience once I’m up and running.
Level of student participation in pre-lecture learning
I have found that student participation on the pre-class reading assignments with introductory physics students (no matter how many marks I dangle in front of them) is at best the same as student homework completion percentages. In my case this is around 80% and I have heard similar numbers from others. The thing that I have found the most challenging in using pre-class reading assignments is resisting quickly “catching-up” the 20% that didn’t complete the pre-class assignment. In the end, this just reinforces their behaviour and makes the whole process of flipping my class somewhat redundant. Since my class-time is mostly driven by clicker questions, it seems that the reluctant 20% end up building a bit of an understanding of the topic at hand through peer discussion. Of course, the students in that 20% tend to clump themselves together physically in the classroom making things even more challenging for themselves.
Getting started on screencasting
In terms of the resources to help get you up and running doing actual screencasts, some folks in PLN that have posted about their experiences include: Mylene at Shifting Phases (in these post you will find a great conversation that we had about screencasting vs. reading assignments there), Andy Rundquist at SuperFly Physics, and Robert Talbert at Casting Out Nines.
In a recent post I discussed my plans for my fall 3rd-year Quantum Mechanics 1 class and one of the things on the list was that I was planning on doing a full flip for this course. Bret Benesh asked in the comments to hear a bit more about my flipping plans so here we are.
For anybody needing to catch up, a flipped (or inverted) class is one where there is some content delivered to the students before class (by video/screencast, reading, worksheets, whatever) and then in class you have that freed up time to do more productive things than stand at the front and lecture. My two favorite recent run-downs of flipping the class are here and here.
First of all, I plan to call the complete package of what they do before coming to class “pre-lecture assignments”. In the end these will actually be quite similar to what I have been doing in my introductory Physics courses with textbook readings, but the upper-year textbooks are (in my experience) a much tougher read for the students. So I will be using screencasting of some form to present the easier-to-grasp ideas from the text and then use class time to build on those.
Why am I flipping this class?
There are two main things that I am trying to accomplish by flipping this class:
- Buying myself more time for the fun stuff. In class I use a lot of clicker questions and whiteboarding. I would sum the approach up as I give them some basic tools (the pre-lecture assignments) and then use class time to get them to explore the intellectual phase space of these tools and what can be built upon these tools.
- Reducing student cognitive load by having them learn, before they come to class, the basic tools and associated new vocabulary so that their precious working memory isn’t mostly occupied trying to deal with that low-level stuff when we’re trying to work on the more advanced stuff.
In the time it has taken me to get this post together Brian Frank has posted twice (with rapidly growing comment threads) on topics related to the point of vocabulary first. There are tons of great conversations to be had related to this, but for now my mindset is that I have a good chunk of the in-class activities for my course fleshed out, so what I am going to work on is trying to have the students show up as prepared as possible to do those activities, with as little headache as possible for them. Most of what is found in a Quantum text does not qualify as basic tools or easier-to-grasp ideas so my screencasting plan is to extract those parts from the text and present them so that they are not overwhelmed trying to read the text.
My plan looks something as follows, but I have to do some trial runs on the first couple of pre-lecture assignments to find the first-order issues. Assume that these get assigned on a weekly basis.
- Sit down with the sections of the text that will be “covered” that week. Determine what I would realistically expect an average student to get from reading those sections before they came to class: vocabulary, simple and fundamental concepts, the easier examples and derivations. Let’s call these “base ideas”.
- Make some short screencasts that present the base ideas and try to put a framework or narrative around them to make them look like a cohesive set of fundamental ideas that can be built on. I am not great at helping the students build a larger framework and showing how all the ideas fit together, so this will be a very productive activity for me.
- Give them 3-5 questions that ask them to wrestle with with these base ideas. In my intro courses I typically use my easiest conceptual clicker questions for this purpose and expect that I will do the same here. These easiest questions typically force the students to deal with the new vocabulary and get a chance to apply the fundamental concepts to reasonably simple situations. They are much like the “check your understanding” questions typically found at the end of a section from any recent intro physics textbook. Other options for these questions are ones that ask the students to go one step beyond what was presented in an example or to fill in a critical step in the reasoning process in a derivation. These assigned questions always require both an answer and an explanation of the answer and are submitted the evening before class. In order to get credit the students do not need to be correct, but their answers need to demonstrate that they put in an honest effort to figure out the answer to the question. There will also always be a “what question do you still have after completing the rest of this pre-lecture assignment?” question.
- Before class, I will respond by email to each of their submitted answers. I do this in my intro courses and feel that it helps communicate to them that I am reading their submissions and that I am there to support them at every stage in their learning. There are often quite a few copy and paste explanations as part of my responses to their wrong answers since the reasoning behind their submitted answers mostly falls into only 2 or 3 different camps. But I still make sure to personalize each response even if the bulk of the response is a copy/paste job.
- Pull student answers and questions into the lecture material. I don’t usually re-organize my class-time plans much based on their submitted answers, but I will use their words in place of my own as much as possible or present their questions to motivate something we were already going to discuss or an activity we were already going to do. Since the questions I use are mostly my easier clicker questions, I will usually show the question again in class at the appropriate time. More often than not I will skip over voting on the question and instead just try to have a discussion with the students that looks similar to the one we would have after they had just done a group vote on a Peer Instruction question. If most of the people nailed the question in the pre-lecture assignment, I usually skip the question in class and move on to a more challenging question on the same concept or one that builds on the question from the pre-lecture assignment. This gives the students that didn’t get the correct answer a chance to catch up because we are still addressing the concept in class.
Many folks will note that much of the above is a Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT) implementation. The JiTT bits are the pre-class content with questions to be submitted before class and the adjusting of what is done in class in response to the answers to those questions.
Some last thoughts
One thing that I will use to help me sort out which are the “easy-to-grasp” ideas is the collection of student questions from the last time I taught this course. Last time I had them send me (for some bonus marks) questions from their reading of the textbook before coming to class. The completion rate was usually 4-7 of the 10 students and the questions were mostly about things they had trouble understanding from their reading (but there were real-world application and other interesting questions as well).
There is a great conversation about flipping the class going on over at Jerrid Kruse’s blog with lots of great ideas being brought up (same goes for the pair of posts by Brian Frank that I link to above). Like I have previously mentioned, I already have a lot of resources (mostly clicker questions and some whiteboard activities) and a general course trajectory laid out, so the plans I have laid out here are ones that are meant to help make my current plan work better. Given tons of time and more experience running Quantum courses I would probably be inclined to move further toward an exploration before explanation model. What I will do is keep good notes of my reflections along the way for possible ways to bring in more exploration-first activities. I will also take advantage of OSU’s Paradigms Wiki and try out some of their appropriate exploration before explanation activities.
This is a collection of things that tickled my science education fancy in the past couple of weeks or so
Flipping/Inverting the classroom
I am just about done writing a post in response to Bret Benesh’s request to hear a bit more about my plans for flipping my upcoming 3rd-year Quantum Mechanics I course. Until then, here are some posts of interest.
- What should we flip? Jerrid Kruse posts about putting exploration before explanation in the context of the flipped classroom. In the comments Brian Frank reminds about Dan Schwartz’s Preparation for Future Learning (nicely summarized by Stephanie Chasteen in this post), which is exploration before explanation with the larger goal of transfer due to student understanding of underlying structure.
- Vocabulary and Jargon: Related to all of this, Brian Frank asks if it is better to frontload the introduction of vocabulary vs. trying to establish conceptual hooks for the students to attach their vocabulary to. Based on thinking about it a bit recently, I have to agree with what Andy Rundquist says in the comments: backloading vocabulary (teaching it after the concepts are in place) makes more sense when students are dealing with concepts that deal with everyday things or for which their intuition provides a basis upon which to build. Frontloading the vocabulary (which is part of my current strategy for my Quantum Mechanics course) makes more sense in advanced courses where the concepts have no basis in everyday experience and where student intuition regarding the concepts and phenomena is not something that you want to build on.
- How I make screencasts: Lecture capture, part 2 – Robert Talbert continues on with his series on how he makes screencast. In this post he talks specifically about doing lecture capture for non-Keynote/Powerpoint software using Camtasia. Does anybody use Windows anymore? I do, it’s total counter-culture :)
- A Gauge for Measuring Effective Practice – Lots of examples for the type of practice required to develop expertise in any and all things via John Burk (@occam98)
- Dark Matters – Jorge Cham (PhD comics) sits down with some physicists and animates their explanation of the dark matter and dark energy mysteries.
- Academic Damage – Tracie Schroeder reminds us that there will always be point-grubbing students that figure out how to earn higher grades than they should have with her quick story of a student in her chemistry class.
I have been interested in trying out a Standards-Based Grading implementation in my own classroom. I have been keeping my eye on Andy Rundquist’s implementation in his classical/mathematical physics course all term (and chatting him up about it quite a bit). My own third-year Quantum Mechanics 1 course this coming fall seemed like my own best candidate to SBG-ify. A lot of the things that Andy did would translate easily. After giving it a bit more thought, I have decided to back off a fall implementation and instead try to get as much as possible in place during this fall’s Quantum Mechanics 1 course, beyond the actual shift from traditional grading to Standards-Based Grading. So this will be some sort of a giant baby-step toward a full SBG implementation.
What I’m going to do this coming term
This is what my course will look like in general
- Flipping it: screencasts with pre-lecture assignments (for marks!). The pre-lecture assignments will probably be worth 10% of their final grade, which is about where I have set it in introductory level courses and had roughly 80% completion. Last time I ran this course, I had optional reading assignments, but I’m coming into this one with a fully flipped mentality where there is some initial level of learning that they need to take responsibility for before showing up in class. This will be my first experience with screencasting.
- Mondays and Wednesdays will be mostly clicker questions and whiteboarding, which is how I run most of my courses. Straight-forward examples and derivations will be part of the screencasts and pre-lecture assignments. Examples and derivations that are less straight-forward will be worked through in class: being clicker-facilitated, done by the groups on whiteboards, or a mish-mash of the two.
- Friday will be mostly an assessment day. Homework is due first thing, class will start with a quiz, and a couple of students each week will have an oral assessment of some sort. These oral assessments will be somewhat modeled after Andy’s oral assessments, but in addition to on-the-spot questions (with a bit of time to prepare a whiteboard), I will sometimes ask them, a week ahead of time, to they present a homework-style problem that wasn’t on their weekly homework. I will use an SBG-style rubric (a 5 or 10-point scale that focuses on level of mastery) and will probably get the whole class involved with determining level of mastery.
- Questions on the homework and quizzes that deal only with or mainly with a single learning goal will have the relevant learning goal explicitly stated with the question (so it is similar to how in SBG you usually tell them which standard is being assessed). I currently have a set of approximately 75 learning goals for this course, but want to trim this number done. Always making the learning goals front and center on the homework and quizzes will help me figure out how to make them more coarsely grained and assessment-driven to get down to 40-50 standards at most. 40-50 standards would work out to 3-4 standards per week over the term which seems like the upper limit.
- Questions on the homework and quizzes that deal with many learning goals will not have the relevant learning goals explicitly. To my mind, students need to be able to take their toolbox that they are building in a course and figure out which tools are best for the job, so there also needs to be some amount of not making the learning goals explicit.
- I will do my usual thing where I have a term test near the end of the course so that the studying for that also serves as formative assessment for preparing for the final. For these I will probably not make the learning goals explicit on the test that they are writing.
Why not jump all the way in?
I am still lacking in experience in teaching this course. This will only be my second time teaching the Quantum Mechanics 1 course and it is still the only upper-year course that I have taught that is not a lab. The rest of my teaching has been a second-year electronics lab, a third-year standalone lab course (a.k.a. Advanced Lab) and a handful of intro courses. And last time I taught this course I received my worst set of student evaluations thus far. I learned a lot last time, but I still feel that I have a lot to learn about teaching this course.
It’s also a lot of work. As I mentioned above, this will be my first time that I use screencasting as part of the pre-lecture assignments. I am expecting the screencasting process to chew up quite a bit more preparation time than my standard reading assignments have. Adding trying to work through all the hiccups of a first SBG implementation could be a potentially overwhelming amount of work and not leave me with enough time to do as good a job as I can with the course.
I’m playing it safe. SBG would be new to both me and the students. And I’m still working on generating student buy-in with the upper-year students; many of whom have never previously taken a course with me. So far I have found that I am able to generate much more buy-in from the students for reform-minded instructional strategies that I have some experience with. It has been a little harder to sell them on these strategies when it was my first time trying to implement them. So screencasting and the oral assessments will be the major new things in this course and the rest of the changes will be mostly tweaks.
Summary of the baby-steps toward SBG
Here’s the list of the things that I will be doing that will hopefully make my transition to a Standards-Based Grading system the next time (after this fall) that I teach the course much easier.
- Making my learning goals front and center on most assessments.
- Paying careful attention throughout this upcoming version of the course to how I can get from my 75ish learning goals to 40-50 assessment-driven standards.
- Trying out some new types of assessments (short oral exams and homework problem presentations) with a Standards-Based Grading “marking” scheme.
- Trying to generate quiz questions which would be suitable as SBG assessments. I typically use a lot of conceptual questions, but many of them are too short to be able to reasonably judge level of mastery.
Well that’s about it. I think that this should give me some experience with many of the things which underlie SBG and allow me to reflect on what other changes will need to be made so that my eventual first SBG implementation will be a less overwhelming.