Edit Faster: Stop Wasting Time with Unnecessary Scrolling in Microsoft Word

Hope summer is off to a great start! If you’re like me, summer means writing, writing, writing!

As I like to do once in a while, I thought I’d share another productivity tip for professors.

Today’s tip has to do with Microsoft Word. This is a favorite feature of MS Word I use all the time for grading, research writing, or just about anything else.
If you’re like me, you often jump around in a document. For example, when I grade student papers in MS Word I like to leave summary comments at the top of the document. So, as I scroll down the paper reading, I don’t want to have to scroll all the way back up to the top, write a comment, then go back and find where I was in the paper.
The solution? Splitting an open document so I can work on two separate parts of the same document at once. By splitting a document, I can have a section at the top open where I am writing comments to the student, and another section that I am reading. This is also very helpful when working on research. Commonly, I’ll have my document split so that I can work on a section while reading other parts of the paper. For example, when writing a discussion section it is helpful to have the lit review accessible to ensure I’m addressing topics/issues discussed in the lit review.
There are 2 key ways of doing this:
“Split” (horizontal split of same document in 1 window)
Split splits your document horizontally so that the same window has a line that can be dragged up or down to create two sections in the window. In each section, is a different part of your document that you can scroll to. Thus, the document is split into two sections on top of one another.
To use this, in Word click “Window” in the menu, and select “split”.
(Note: You can remove the split by simply dragging it up or down to the edge of the window and letting go)
SPLIT-1
“New Window” (Same Document – Two Separate Windows)
While I love split, sometimes I want to work on the same document side by side, as opposed to stacked on top of each other. Using new window, you can have the same document in two different windows. You can work on the document in one window, and the changes occur instantaneously in the other window. New Window lets you do anything you can normally do with two separate windows – one on top of the other, side by side, one small one large, one minimized, etc., etc.
To use this feature, in Word click “Window” in the menu, and select “new window”.
SPLIT-2
In both cases, you are saving one file. So closing a split or closing 1 of the windows in new window doesn’t impact anything.
Hope you enjoy this great saving trick!
– Cheers!
Matt
 – split or
– Edit side by side in Windows

Summer Break Update

Summer is in full swing. And I’ve got a busy summer ahead. As always, during the summer months I will be toning back my frequency of posting on this blog. I do have a few things I’ll post here and there. Not to worry, I’ll be picking up full steam with my regular publication schedule of posting every 2 weeks during the academic year.

palmtreeoverlagoon_cookislands

This blog tends to get a lot of traffic in summer in relation assignments and syllabi  that I have shared over the years.

Assignments:

If you are looking for assignments and syllabi, you’ll see that I’ve written about many of my assignments and included the assignment documents themselves.

To access those select the green menu bar at the top titled “Blog topics” -> “Teaching Social Media” -> “Classes” and then select the class.

Syllabi:

Syllabi can be accessed either via the “Syllabi” menu at the top of this blog and selecting the course, or by selecting the “Teaching Materials” menu and navigating to an external document repository to access all my uploaded syllabi.

If you have questions about any of the assignments or syllabi, please do not hesitate to send me a Tweet. I’d be happy to chat.

A few Quick Updates

I am super excited to announce that I earned tenure and will be an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication this upcoming fall.  The adventure to earning tenure was a lot of work, but I had a ton of fun and made sure not to stress too much about it. I am excited now for the projects and opportunities before me.

What do I have planned for the summer?

Lots of things. As always, I’ll be tweaking classes and assignments here and there. In fact, I’ve already developed a new project for my Communication Research class in the hopes of enhancing the tie in of social media data and software into that class (I’ll blog about this in the spring when I teach the class again). A few highlights include:

  • Preparing my Persuasion and Message Design Course which I will be teaching for the first time next semester.
  • Traveling to Australia – I’ll be spending a few weeks “down under.”
  • Social Network Analysis class – I’m planning to work through this free online social network analysis MOOC by Leonid Zhukov and Dr. Ilya Makarov to enhance my knowledge of social network analysis.
  • Service projects – I’m working with a non-profit to assist them with a global digital communication project.
  • Research – Working on a small grant I got with research colleagues to prepare for our upcoming study of the upcoming presidential election. I’m also working on a few other projects.
  • Studying Spanish – I’ve always wanted to learn a second language and I plan to spend some free time learning a little.
  • Reading several books – mostly books of personal interest. But there are a few social media books have been recommended to me I’m hoping to get time to get around to.
  • Other creative projects? I’ve been bouncing around the idea of starting a podcast (I have a few ideas) or starting a separate blog for some area of personal growth (e.g., organization, productivity, or similar vein of self improvement), writing a book, or some other type of creative project. Feel free to Tweet your thoughts, feedback, or suggestions on these to me!

I hope you have a wonderful summer! I hope you get to both relax and work on the projects that fuel and inspire you!  Stay in touch! I’ll see you soon!

-Matt

What Happens When Students Write For BuzzFeed For A Class Project?

Earlier this semester, I wrote about a new opportunity and assignment for students in my Writing Across Platforms class: writing BuzzFeed community articles.

That post got a ton of shares and feedback. So I want to offer a follow up and reflection of how the project went. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to first get some background about the assignment via my post “What’s Changing? My Writing Across Platforms students will write for BuzzFeed and More in Spring 2016. Oh, And here’s the syllabus!

I was super impressed by the variety and creativity of the posts.  The topic was ‘spring break’ and the students came up with everything from “17 Outdoor Adventures You Need To Try This Spring Break” to “10 Things To Do When You’re A Broke College Student On Spring Break: As Told By Animals” to “Ten Locations You Dream Of Exploring Over Spring Break.”

The biggest success story, in terms of views and shares, came from Abby Buchanan’s “14 Things You Do When You’re Stuck In A Small Town For Spring Break.”  The post was featured on the Buzzfeed.com/Community page within 24 hours of being posted.

Click any image below to enlarge.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 5.02.35 PM

Due to its success, it then was put on BuzzFeed’s main site.

buzzfeed-frontpage

By the end of 1 week, the student earned 29,000 views!

BuzzFeed_community-dashboard1

buzzfeed-community-dashboard3

For a little while, the post was also the first result in Google search when searching “spring break small town.” Congrats to Abby!

Overall Review

In review, the biggest challenge students faced was reaching their goal of 1,000 views in 1 week. Many students were stressing big time about this project, because reaching 1,000 views was part of their grade (20% of their grade came from views earned).

I spent some time considering why the majority of students struggled to reach 1,000 views.  Here are some thoughts:

  1. The topic had some drawbacks: The students posted their spring break articles after our university’s spring break, but some universities (and high schools) around the country were observing spring break the week their posts was posted. With that said, the spring break thing may have been a bit old by the time our students’ posts were up. Further, BuzzFeed didn’t seem as interested in spring break articles as it is in Valentine’s Day articles, which has a wider appeal. We had 1 student who had their Spring Break post on the main page of BuzzFeed community and of BuzzFeed.com – the home page – but I didn’t see too many other articles on either page during that week related to spring break.In addition, from analyzing all of the assignments against performance, there are a variety of reasons why students didn’t reach the mark:
  2. Lack of a thorough promotion plan. Students who rushed this part ended up paying the price in the end.
  3. Poor targeting: On a related note, students who didn’t have a robust picture of who their hyper targeted audience was.
  4. Focus: If the article subject lacked a clear focus or specificity to it, then it struggled. For example, if a student was trying to create an article that would appeal to ‘everyone’ or didn’t really hone in on what made their post unique.
  5. Poor or lack of iteration throughout the week: Some students did a great job of iterating in terms of their headline as well as some of their content. Students that took a ‘one and done’ approach and failed to improve their post as the week wore on, didn’t have success if their initial post didn’t catch fire.
  6. The student’s social media network: Some students do not use certain social networks for personal reasons. Students who suffered the most were those who do not have a presence on Facebook – which served as the primary driver for many of their peers.

buzzfeed-community-dashboard-2

Students who had success:

  1. Had beautiful or funny visuals
  2. Linked to other articles in their post – like national or regional parks. Then, they shared the post with the social media accounts of that location. That goes back to the promotion plan. Successful students had robust promotion plans targeted at influential thought leaders that would benefit from their content. For example,  the student who wrote “17 Outdoor Adventures You Need To Try This Spring Break” talked about the great adventures at nearby national parks. Then, she reached out to those parks on social media.  Smart!
  3. Tended to share across a variety of platforms. They thought of sites like Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, etc.
  4. Shared with different types of potential audiences – i.e., they did a good job of thinking of more than 1 audience that may enjoy their content and got the post into their hands.
    Made adjustments and changes to their headline or content, or shifting their focus on who would serve as a good opinion leader to share their content and thus who they reached out to.

In reflection, there are some pitfalls in how I executed this assignment and things I plan to improve for next year.

Pitfalls:

The biggest pitfall was the way views were incentivized.  Once students reached the 1,000 mark, they tended to give up – even if it was in just a few short days. For example, one student reached 1,000 in 24 hours and gave up (see below). After that, she stopped promoting it and only gained another 100+ views. The assignment doesn’t reward students past 1,000 unless they get to 10,000 views – which many likely see as impossible and thus they aren’t motivated to do so. Furthermore, I only gave 1 bonus point her 10,000 views, further reducing the benefit to cost.

buzzfeed-reach100viewsandgiveup

So what adjustments will I make?

Adjustments:

  1. Require students to draft the social media posts they plan to use to share their BuzzFeed article:
    Some students weren’t creative in coming up with different types of social media posts to attract their audience. Next year, students wil draft 3 different Tweets and/or posts to other platforms they plan to use to promote their post via your own social media accounts below. Students will be given some commonly used formats for writing social posts and will be told to use a variety of types from this excel spreadsheet of headline formulas or this list of headline formulas. The idea is to help students to learn to try different strategies for crafting the message.
  2. Headline writing: Though I spent a good amount of time talking about how to write effective headlines, this is something students still struggle with. I added the below info about the power of writing emotional headlines to the assignment for next time. Students will be told to read this article. Then, students will be required to use this tool to test the emotionality of their headline in order to iterate and improve it.

In sum, even though students were as successful on the whole as I’d have liked in terms of views, the assignment was a great success. The students had to think outside of simply turning in an assignment to me. They had to measure themselves against their own ability to plan a piece of hypertargeted content with the audience and promotion in mind, like they will do outside of the university. They learned from their successes and failures. I had a lot of conversations with a lot of students worried about not succeeding. I informed them that the purpose was to learn by doing – to adjust, adapt, and improve. And to me, that’s a big win.  I think much more was learned in this assignment than in the assignment I replaced it with.

As noted, we did have a breakout success beyond my expectations with a student landing her post on the main Buzzfeed.com site!

I plan to continue with this assignment next year when It each this class with the above modifications.

If you run this assignment in your class, I’d love to hear how it goes!

What I’ve learned in 10 Years of Teaching College (And Why I Give My Students High Fives)

It is hard to believe. But, I’ve just completed teaching at the university level for 10 academic years.

At the age of 24, I  began teaching as a graduate student in 2006 at Washington State University where I independently taught 2 classes a semester for 4 years. I had no idea what I was doing. I was barely older than the seniors. With a textbook in hand and the summer to prepare, I jumped right in.

As of this past Friday, I have completed 6 years of teaching as an assistant professor. All of that has been working with undergraduates.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the 10 years since I began. I can boil it down into one concept:

The quality and effectiveness of the education you provide as an educator is a function of the culture you build.

teaching-college-10-years

So, if you want to succeed as an educator, you begin by building a pro-learning culture. And a pro-learning culture is a pro-student culture.

Yes, it is the student’s job to learn in a classroom. Just as it is your job to work at your job. But where would you rather work, in a positive, welcoming, enthusiastic environment, or a in drab office that has the inspiration and personality of a filing cabinet?

Believe in the students – My Ph.D. advisor taught me that, as educators, we all must decide whether we believe students are inherently good or bad. That sounds dramatic. Let me explain. You can believe that your students want to learn, are talented and capable person and are honest with good intentions. Or, you can assume that they are lazy, cynical, unmotivated, etc. Your attitude on this will affect how you perceive them and how you treat them. Believing in your students is the foundation that enables everything else I talk about below to work. Which brings me to…

Set the tone – Students are extremely bright and perceptive. If the culture of the classroom is disengaged or the professor seems disinterested or “going through the motions” then students quickly pick up on this. The tone of the classroom starts with the professor. I’ve had classes where I didn’t succeed in setting the right tone and while the tendency is to start thinking “it’s the students,” I always remind myself to look at the energy and performance that I’m bringing into the classroom. While some groups of students are more difficult than others to energize, we can all make efforts to set the tone and remember that we’re seen as the person who is in charge. Students mirror. If we’re mentally somewhere else, are students will be too. Which brings me to…

You’re The Role Model – All the talent in the world doesn’t necessarily produce results. Many talented, under-performing sports teams prove this rule.  Just as a great coach extracts great performance from talented players, a great educator extracts great performance from talented students.  Students are looking for a leader. They are looking for inspiration. They are looking for someone they can believe in and trust. I see it as my job to inspire my team – the students – to go out and win the game (that is, do great work).  That’s not something you do in 1 day. It is a semester-long push, just the way a coach must push a team not for 1 game but for a season. Being a role model is a marathon effort and it is communicated to students through your actions, words, and attitude in all facets of the class. Which brings me to…

Infect your students with enthusiasm – How? For me, I bring the enthusiasm for what I do each day. I love what I teach. I love teaching. Mood is infectious. Energy, excitement, passion, and inquisitiveness are infectious. I learned this the hard way. When I was first teaching as a graduate student, I pushed for and got the opportunity to teach a 400-level new media course. There were 40 students in the class. I designed the entire class myself and this was my first time doing so. I began teaching social media to these students at a time when I’d never heard of another class teaching social media. There was no textbook, there were no resources, nothing.  It took a ton of work to build the class. I was overwhelmed and I didn’t feel like the class was going well. Some students began to show up late or leave early. They’d just get up and walk out. My confidence was shattered and this was a vicious cycle. As I performed worse, the students seemed more disengaged, which caused me to perform worse. After that semester, I read through my evaluations. A few students commented that I “complained about the weather.” I didn’t realize that I’d even done that – I’d left Miami Florida for the long, bleak winters of Pullman, WA and hadn’t quite acclimated. 🙂  I reflected on this and realized it wasn’t necessarily the material that the students didn’t appreciate. It was my attitude. It was my style of delivery. I quickly realized these were things I was in complete control over.  I’d spent so much time worrying whether I was providing the best possible education, material-wise, that I hadn’t focused on how I delivered it. I was passionate about the topic – after all, I’d sought out this opportunity and built an entire class. What little that meant to the students. They had no idea how I felt inside. For me, that was an epiphany that changed my entire approach to education. Which leads me to…

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it -Delivery is important. Find creative ways to relay information. Beyond the passion of your delivery, is the manner of making content compelling. We’re all familiar with hands-on learning, flipped classrooms, and other ways to bring our classrooms to life with activities and not just lecture. But, moving beyond this, when we do lecture we can relay that information in memorable ways. I think each of us has our own talents and ways of telling the story of what we’re teaching. But, there are some great common tips we all can use from books like Made to Stick (I discussed how this book could be used in an earlier post). I’ve found that my favorite tactics are 1) to create mystery or suspense at the start of a lecture by withholding some piece of information or alluding to a funny anecdote or joke that I’ll reveal later in the class, 2) to make a big deal out of little things because, really, the little things are what matters. For example, I like to talk up activities we are going to in class, why they matter and how fun  they are going to be. I emphasize how valuable activities and lecture materials are going to be in helping students not only complete an assignment but succeed in other realms of their life or career. Which leads me to…

Make education an experience – I’ve never taken an acting class. But I look at education ‘as performance.’ Every time you’re in the classroom you’re putting on a performance. But the difference is that the audience can be actively engaged and participate in the story – they have roles. And that’s a pretty cool play. I try to do this in a lot of ways. Let me focus on one. I celebrate my students’ victories. I reward them for their success. I create awards and accolades. I show appreciation for them. I help them feel important. Here’s an example. For the last 6 academic years, I have given out “High-5 awards.” The idea is simple. As the syllabus in all of my classes reads, “High-fives will be given to students who miss no more than 2 classes at the end of the semester; two-handed high fives for students who miss no classes.” It is important to note that there is absolutely no grade associated with this high-5. You don’t get a better grade for having stellar attendance. On the last day of class, I play Rocky music and give out the high-5s. Double high-fives come with a little certificate that I sign.  I nervously tried this the first semester that I taught at Utah Valley University. I expected the students to laugh it off and not want to participate. How wrong I was. They loved it. It quickly caught on and the word spread. I’ve had students tell me they came back to take a class from me simply because they wanted to get another high-5.  I’ve had students tell me they came to class when they were sick, tired, or otherwise didn’t’ feel like, just so they wouldn’t miss out on getting the high-5 at the end of the semester.  How powerful is that?

This year, I gave out a very special high-5. I had a student who took 6 different classes from me and never missed a single day. Not once. To reward this student, I created a new award in his name. I made a special certificate that I framed and gave to him. I also created a sort of  plaque with his picture and name and hung it in my office. The idea is that if another student repeats this difficult task, he or she would be the recipient of this special award have their name added to the plaque that hangs in my office.

I’ve thought a lot about why the students like the high-5 awards so much.  Yes, it’s corny. Yes, they get a laugh out if it.  But I think the answer is simple. It shows I appreciate and recognize them. That I’m not just there to ‘download’ information to them. But, that I’m there to root for them.

Conclusion

All people respond to their environment. That environment can be motivating or demotivating. Educators have the power to be leaders. It seems that sometimes that is forgotten in our society.

But I know so many passionate and dedicated educators. I’ve seen the great things they’ve accomplished and the impact they have on lives. These people have inspired me in my 10 years of teaching. And it’s because of the educators I know and the wonderful students I’ve had the opportunity to teach that I’m excited about the future.

I love what I do. And this is what’s worked for me: putting my energy into creating a welcoming, rigorous, tolerant, and energetic culture in the classroom.

– Cheers,

Matt

photo CC NEC Corporation of America

 

Should Students Be Able to Fire Teammates in A Class Project? (Part 3 of 3)

In the previous two posts in this series, I talked about steps I take to set teams up for success in group class projects.

The first post looked at group contracts. The second post looked at peer evaluations of one’s team.

In this final post, let’s look at the more dramatic tool that I use to set teams up for success in group class projects: The ability to fire teammates from a group.

Photo CC by Sean MacEntee
Photo CC by Sean MacEntee

As I said in my first post in this series, you may be thinking that this letting students fire teammates is fraught with danger. Some of you may think it is too harsh. Others of you may be thinking this is only natural, as being fired is a real possibility for failure to do one’s work in any job.

I understand all of these sentiments. My approach is that students should have the right to expect great work from their peers. They should be empowered to hold their peers accountable and that one should be accountable to their peers. By learning these lessons as young adults, students are learning to advocate for their interests in a professional manner when the actions of others adversely affect them in a work environment.

I recently received an email from a faculty member wanting to know more about the firing process, as I had mentioned it in passing in a blog post a while back.  So, there may be more people out there that are curious about what it means to let our students fire each other.

The purpose of this post is to explain to you how and why I choose to use this tool. I’ll also explain a minor modification I’ve made since then.

How Firing Works and Some Safeguards:

Students cannot fire a teammate at any time or for any reason.

As I said, the reasons that a team could fire a member are derived from the group contract, discussed in post #1. Of course, there are other circumstances where one could warrant firing a teammate even thought teams might have failed to put it on the contract. But, I try to stick with the contract as much as possible.

In terms of timing, getting fired at the end of the semester before a major project is due would be a major blow to a student’s grade. So, a few safeguards are in place.

At the start of the semester, I briefly explain the process of how to fire a teammate which I will outline below. The documents discussed below are on the course website where students would download them and fill them out. The documents themselves provide the instructions students would need, if they forgot.

First, I set a deadline in the semester that students have to first issue someone an official warning by before they can fire the person. Another way to do this, is simply tell students that they have to give someone a warning, say, 2 weeks before they can fire them.

What is a warning? A warning is simply a written complaint that a team files with me that makes a complaint against an accused student. It serves to officially put that student on notice that if he/she does not change their behavior, then he/she will likely be fired.

The reason I believe in the warning first, is that it usually solves the problem without the drastic measure of firing the student, because it gives the accused a chance to right the ship. I find that, just like in most conflicts, people often just want the other person to know how they feel. The grievance has been aired and everyone in the group is aware that the warning exists. I keep a copy of the warning and give a copy to the accused.

In order for a team to be able to issue a warning, the majority of the remaining teammates must agree to issue the warning. So, if there are 4 students in a group, 2 of the remaining 3 students would have to vote in favor of issuing the warning.

Here is a copy of the Issue a Team Member a Warning document.

Requiring the majority of teammates agree to a warning helps reduce ‘he said, she said’ scenarios where two people are simply not getting along and one is using the group as an outlet for what is really an interpersonal conflict. However, it could result in a student feeling ganged up on.

Once a warning has been issued, if the team decides that the accused hasn’t changed, then they can file a Petition to Fire A Team Member. The process is similar to what is used in the warning. The majority has to vote for the firing. A specific reason has to be given as to why they are electing to fire this teammate. I make the final decision to ensure the cause is justifiable.

Here is the Petition to Fire A Team Member sheet

How Does This Affect The Person Who Got Fired?

In short, if the person gets fired, he/she keeps all grades that their team earned during the time they were a part of that group. The student’s choice going forward is to, either find a new group (time permitting and assuming another group will take them in) to work on any remaining assignments, work alone on the project, or fail the remaining assignments.

Some Thoughts

The process seems a bit litigious. But, it makes firing a teammate procedural and takes some of the emotion, potential for perceived favoritism, and conflict out of it. And, because it is a bit of work to fire someone, teammates are firing one another left and right. Said another way, the process protects teammates from each other.

It isn’t so much that students can fire one another that is empowering so much as it is the knowledge that they have the right to fire someone who is not doing their work.

In fact, what I’ve noticed is that students often don’t want to fire another student, at least in our department because it is small. So, they know that they will see this student in another course and that would be awkward.

As such, I have since added the ability to come to me as a group and request that a student does not receive credit, or receives only partial credit on a team assignment, but is not fired for the rest of the semester.  I’ve noticed our students tend to feel better about doing this. They aren’t casting a fellow student off the island, but they’re also aren’t allowing any freeloaders. I don’t have an official form for this. But, I make it known on the syllabus and group contract form on post #1.

Summary:

In summary, there are 4 tools students have to control outcomes in their group and ensure everyone is getting credit or not for their group involvement. They are:

1) The group contract – setting norms & expectations from the group (see post #1 in this series).
2) Team evaluations – which I range in value from 12-18% of their final grade, depending on how much group work there is (see post #2 in this series).
3) Ability to fire a team member (after a warning) – this is the most drastic step.
4) Ability to request that a team member’s grade be reduced or that the student doesn’t receive any credit on an assignment that the student didn’t do any or sufficient work on. This is the middle ground.

How Often Do People Get Fired?

It happens only in the most drastic of circumstances. I’ve seen #4 done twice last year and once this year since I introduced it. I’ve seen #3 done one time in my 3.5 years here at Shepherd and twice in the two years before that.

I hope this series of posts provides some insight in how I seek to set up my classroom for success in group projects. It is not a perfect model.  There are still some people who slack off and others who are frustrated by their teammates. And I will continue to tweak with an effort to reduce these issues and maximize group effectiveness.

How do you empower students to take control of their teams and build success?

 

A Guide To Setting Up Classroom Groups for Success: Team Evaluations (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second post in a 3-part series on how to set up teams to be successful.

I started this series with a question:

Should Students Be Able to Fire Teammates in a Class Project?

Again, in my classes, the answer to that question is “yes.”

setting-up-class-teams-for-success-peer-evaluation
Creative Commons Hernan Pinera

The first post looked at group contracts. If you haven’t read it, please go back and read it. If you have read it, let’s jump into the second, vital instrument I use to set groups up for success: Team evaluations (which I refer to in my classes as group report cards, but I will use the term team evaluations here).

A significant chunk of a student’s grade in my class is based on the evaluations made by her peers.

The more group work, the more I make these worth. A quick point about these before explaining how they work:

I do not release this grade to the students.  This is important because if a student thought her peers would know how she evaluated them, the student is less likely to be candid in her evaluation.

Team evaluations are based on research on team-based learning and the work of Larry Michaelson. I saw Michaelson present on this a few years ago during a pedagogy event held at Utah Valley University and have used this system ever since (note: the team-based learning approach I learned from Michaelson has had a big impact on how I approach teaching. For example, his work inspired my 2014 post on enhancing teamwork and in-class discussion). This is how I do it:

I provide students with a simple sheet of paper (an example to a similar scoring sheet can be found on p. 7 of this document) that includes instructions and scoring guidelines. They fill them out confidentially, and return them.

You can do team evaluations after each team assignment, or halfway through the semester and at the end, however you wish. The thing that makes these team evaluations unique and powerful is the unique math approach of the evaluation.

Usually, when you ask students to evaluate one another, there is a tendency to score everyone fairly well.  I’m not sure the reason why. Maybe it is that either they don’t want to be mean to someone else, that they simply don’t think too hard about it, or something else. Whatever the reason, a team evaluation where everyone receives about the same mark isn’t helpful to you, the professor.

In the way I do my evaluations, a student evaluates everyone but himself.  The student takes the total number of people in the group and subtracts himself. If there are 5 people total in the group, the number is 4. There is 10 points per student to distribute. So, in our example, multiply the number of students that one student would evaluate in a group of five, which is 4 (everyone but himself), by 10. There is a total of 40 points.

The student must distribute the 40 points among the 4 other students in his group (i.e., the students he is evaluating). And there’s only 1 rule: at least 1 student must get a 9 or lower, and at least 1 student must get an 11 or higher.

Why? This forces the students to really think about who did the most work, and who did the least. Giving points to one person is to take points away from someone else. This scarcity gets the students to take the evaluations seriously.

But your students probably won’t be happy about this. They’ll say, “Well that’s not fair.” So I explain them how and why, from my perspective, it is. A person who did more work deserves a better grade. And, I’ll explain that when I didn’t use a system like this, the students gave inflated scores to everyone in their team that did not reflect the reality they experienced. Importantly, I make a point to tell them that by giving someone a 9 you are not banishing that person to the Land of Bad Grades (this will make sense when you see the below).

Here’s how it works. In each example below, the team has 4 people in it. So each person is evaluating 3 other people:

If everyone did about the same work, students will score each other very closely.

Example:

John 11, Sally 10, Jim 9 (Jane is doing the evaluation)

But if someone was clearly doing a lot, or a little, it shows up:

John 7, Sally 10, Jim 13 (Jane is doing the evaluation)

Students get to explain their scores if they like.

Once collected, I add up the scores (from each evaluation of a student in a group) and divide by the highest score. Example: The highest score was John, he got a total of 28 points. Jim got a total of 22 points. So, John got a 100% (he did the most work, and went above and beyond others) and Jim gets 22/28=78%. That is, students are compared in relation to the person who does the most work. The person who does a lot of extra work, sets the bar high. Other students suffer if they also do not work hard. This is fairer to the student who does a lot of work.

If the work is distributed fairly evenly, then everyone is probably happy and they scored everyone like this:  John 11, Sally 10, Jim 9 (In fact, some very happy groups will conspire so that in the end everyone has the same score. I don’t stop this).

In this case, let’s say John has 33 (he got all 11s from the 3 people evaluating him). Jim ended up with 27 (3 9s, which is the lowest score possible if no one dipped below 9). He still got a B-, at 81.8%. And it is very unlikely that 1 person gets all the 11s and 1 person gets all the 9s in a group like this. And, if so, it’s because the team is saying Jim did less work.

In summary, this team evaluation approach is the fairest and easiest to conduct team evaluation I have ever done. The math takes care of itself and what emerges is a clear picture of who really did the extra work and who did not.

To me, using team evaluations throughout the semester on multiple projects is one of the most powerful tools i have. It is the ‘great equalizer’ that empowers those who did extra to level the playing field when it comes to grades. And, it is a shot in the arm to the students who did not pull their weight.

To see a sample evaluation form similar to what I use, see page 7 of this document from the team-based learning website.

Depending on how much of the grade you make team evaluations worth, it can sway students grades a one half of a letter grade, a full letter grade, or possibly more.

Now that students have the power to evaluate one another, they are also given the power to fire a teammate who is not doing his fair share of the work. In the next post, I’ll show you how firing a team member works. And, I’ll explain the modification I’ve made to offer students more options than just firing someone.

– Cheers!

m@

References: The above-mentioned pedagogy speaking event at Utah Valley University by Larry Michaelson used information drawn from his (2004) Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching. As stated above, the evaluation method described above is derived from that presentation and this book. I highly recommend checking out the website.

Here are 2 approaches to team evaluations from the team-based learning website.  Also, here are some criticisms of the zero-sum approach to team evaluations, such as that which I use.

 

A Guide To Setting Up Classroom Groups for Success: Group Contracts (Part 1 of 3)

Spoiler alert: The final blog post in this 3-part series about how to set up your class for success when working with groups will be titled:

Should Students Be Able to Fire Teammates in a Class Project?

In my classes, the answer is “yes.”

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If a student is not doing their share of the work in a group project, their teammates are empowered to fire that person.

I know what you’re thinking. “Are you serious!? What is this, The Apprentice? My students would be firing one another left and right.”

Put simply, my classes live and die by the success of groups. Every class I teach relies heavily on group work. That’s why I put a great deal of effort into team building and establishing avenues, assignments, and protocols to hold groups accountable.

The good news is that I have only had a group fire a team member a very few times in the 5.5ish years I’ve been using this (2 at UVU, 3.5ish here at Shepherd). And I do a lot of group projects.

To me, there are two reasons why I haven’t seen a lot of instances of a student being fired from a group. They are:

1) The way I set up groups in my classes

2) The fact that I teach in a small program where students will see each other in many classes and thus may not want to risk social ties in an intimate learning environment.

In the below post and in two follow up posts, I will explore both of these concepts. First, let’s look at how I set up groups for success:

Setting Up Groups For Success

At the beginning of the semester, when we form our groups, I start with an ice breaker. I use something fun. But the key is that everyone in the group has to arrive at one answer for the group. For example, I’ve had students write a group haiku on how they spent their summer. Or, I’ve had them come up with their collective answer for the greatest movie, TV show, and album of all time.  I’ve had them come up with the one meal they would all eat if they were stuck on a deserted island and the survival tools they’d agree to bring. With this in place, some of the walls have been broken down and the group environment is relaxed and welcoming.

Next, I have students write group contracts. It’s group building 101. These set group norms and empower the group to set expectations and a culture of inclusiveness.

What goes into group contracts:

  1. Names and contact info
  2. The dates they are available to meet outside of class – to eliminate excuses.
  3. Group rules

In terms of group rules, I tell the students that the rules they set in these are the basis of what they have to fire someone else. For example, if they say “don’t miss meetings without letting others know,” and someone repeatedly misses meetings, he/she could be fired for that offense. If someone is doing something in the group and it wasn’t in the contract, then did they really break a rule (save, not doing their work, of course)? In a lot of ways, this essential step mitigates the likelihood that we will have any group problems in the future.

Therefore, in making their group contracts, students are keenly aware that the contract is directly tied to their ‘survival’ in the group.

Students spend a good 10 minutes or so talking these things through. The really powerful thing is that students will express what frustrates them about group work BEFORE it becomes an issue. I hear things like, “I really hate it when people ignore your texts and a project is due the next day. Even if your reply is simply to let everyone know you are sick and can’t do the work or be at the meeting, just reply. Be honest. And tell everyone. That way, we can make a plan.”

The students are, in short, putting their cards on the table in an open, collaborative environment where they aren’t being judged because no one has broken a rule. This open communication lets everyone know the things they could do that would bother or harm a fellow teammate. Armed with this information, they have greater respect for group members and an opportunity to reflect on how their behavior could impact others. This simple 10 minute exercise can reduce the likelihood that such behaviors happen. That saves your students time, produces better work, and saves you time and headaches.

I collect all of the group contracts and make a photocopy so everyone has one. I keep the original, signed contract for each group.

The group contract  sheet is below! I’ll be discussing items #2 and #3 in upcoming blog posts. Item #1 is a department-wide policy. Note that the term “group report card” in the sheet below is synonymous with team evaluations.

The second instrument I use is team evaluations. A significant chunk of a student’s grade in my class is based on the evaluations made by their peers.  In the next post, I’ll talk about group evaluations and the unique way that I use them.

Then, in the third post, I’ll get into the drama – how I empower my students to fire one-another from their teams and what happens when they do.

In the meantime, remember: “Empowered students do powerful things.”

— Cheers

m@

 

A Social Media Education Blog by Matthew J. Kushin, Ph.D.