Successful ETTF Collaboration Leads to More Efficient Class

Jean Clipperton, Assistant Professor in the Departments of Political Science and Sociology, had an idea last fall about how to improve student learning in her course.  Introduction to Empirical Methods in Political Science, a 200-level course is, she admits, a class "many students enter with a low-level of interest." Looking for assitance realizing her idea, Dr. Clipperton applied to be a Educational Technology Teaching Fellow for the 2017-18 academic year with the goal of creating an interesting, informative, and helpful Canvas site for PS210. Of course, as anyone who has developed a class knows, that particular goal can be elusive. 

Dr. Jean Clipperton
Each fellow in the program is matched with a consultant from the Teaching & Learning Technologies group within Northwestern IT who helps to guide them through their project. Dr. Clipperton was matched with Heather Haseley, a learning engineer.  Learning engineers are a great resource for instructors who wish to incorporate more pedagogical research, guidelines, and best practices in their course design. 

Step one of the project was to review the learning objectives for Poli Sci 210 and make sure the assessments and content were aligned to the objectives. 

“I think what’s most important is building a strong relationship between the learning designer and the faculty member,” said Haseley. “If you build a partnership based on trust, respect, and honesty, only then can you start to have productive and sometimes challenging conversations about course design and strategies. Faculty want to know that you’re invested in their success and for you to walk alongside them as they try something new.”

When Dr. Clipperton and Haseley started collaborating on the course and the Canvas site, they focused on what was most essential for the course, allowing the class to run more efficiently.  Through regular monthly meetings and emails, the duo streamlined the course and shared resources.  Among the challenges of the course were that students arrived with a wide range of backgrounds and academic experience, some freshmen, some seniors.  Typically, the students were unenthusiastic about completing the required readings, which lead to challenging class discussions.

From Whats so Funny about Science? by Sidney Harris, 1977

One solution to these issues was to build in some amount of choice for the students. For their weekly assignment, Dr. Clipperton gave students the option of completing either a weekly quiz or leaving a thoughtful post in the discussion board.  Haseley introduced Dr. Clipperton to multiple quiz banks, so if the students did take the quiz more than once, they would see a “new” quiz each time, dropping the lowest score.  Dr. Clipperton loves this new element of the course design, “This enabled them to focus on learning the material rather than getting a ‘perfect’ score, she said. "Out of about 40 students, not a single one complained about the quizzes, and some said they found them helpful!”  Most students, she reported, even chose to do both the quiz and the post.

As a result of the enhanced curriculum design Dr. Clipperton developed for her course, she was awarded a prestigious departmental award for undergraduate teaching from Weinberg College. 

And what about Haseley, her ETTF consultant?  She is as enthusiastic as ever about Dr. Clipperton's future endeavors. 

“I can’t wait to see what she does next,”  she said about continuing the work they began together in the Educational Technology Teaching Fellows program. “That’s the thing about creating a partnership. It doesn’t just last for the year that the person is in ETTF. You have an ongoing professional relationship where you continue to learn and grow together.”

Interested in being a part of ETTF for 2018-2019?  Let Us Know