Category Archives: Teaching hacks

Getting dialogue online

Bank in the nineties, I facilitated a meeting with Frank Elter at a Telenor video meeting room in Oslo. There were about 8 participants, and an invited presenter: Tom Malone from MIT.

The way it was set up, we first saw a one hour long video Tom had created, where he gave a talk and showed some videos about new ways of organizing work (one of the more memorable sequences was (a shortened version of) the four-hour house video.) After seeing Tom’s video, we spent about one hour discussing some of the questions Tom had raised in the video. Then Tom came on from a video conferencing studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to discuss with the participants.

The interesting thing, to me, was that the participants experienced this meeting as “three hours with Tom Malone”. Tom experienced it as a one hour discussion with very interested and extremely well prepared participants.

A win-win, in other words.

I was trying for something similar yesterday, guest lecturing in Lene Pettersen‘s course at the University of Oslo, using Zoom with early entry, chat, polling and all video/audio enabled for all participants. This was the first videoconference lecture for the students and for three of my colleagues, who joined in. In preparation, the students had read some book chapters and articles and watched my video on technology evolution and disruptive innovations.

For the two hour session, I had set up this driving plan (starting at 2 pm, or 14:00 as we say over here in Europe…):

Image may contain: Espen Andersen, eyeglasses

Leading the discussion. Zoom allows you to show a virtual background, so I chose a picture of the office I would have liked to have…

14:00 – 14:15 Checking in, fiddling with the equipment and making sure everything worked. (First time for many of the users, so have the show up early so technical issues don’t eat into the teaching time.)
14:15 – 14:25 Lene introduces the class, talks about the rest of the course and turns over to Espen (we also encouraged the students to enter questions they wanted addressed in the chat during this piece)
14:25 – 14:35 Espen talking about disruption and technology-driven strategies.
14:35 – 14:55 Students into breakout rooms – discussing whether video what it would take for video and digital delivery to be a disruptive innovation for universities. (Breaking students up into 8 rooms of four participants, asking them to nominate a spokesperson to take notes and paste them into the chat when they return, and to discuss the specific question: What needs to happen for COVID-19 to cause a disruption of universities, and how would such a disruption play out?
14:55 – 15:15 Return to main room, Espen sums up a little bit, and calls on spokesperson from each group (3 out of 8 groups) based on the notes posted in the chat (which everyone can see). Espen talks about the Finn.no case and raises the next discussion question.
15:15 – 15:35 Breakout rooms, students discuss the next question: What needs to happen for DNB (Norway’s largest bank) to become a data-driven, experiment-oriented organization like Finn.no? What are the most important obstacles and how should they be dealt with?
15:35 – 15:55 Espen sums up the discussion, calling on some students based on the posts in the chat, sums up.
15:55 – 16:00 Espen hand back to Lene, who sums up. After 16:00, we stayed on with colleagues and some of the students to discuss the experience.

zoom dashboard

The dashboard as I saw it. Student names obscured.

Some reflections (some of these are rather technical, but they are notes to myself):

  • Not using Powerpoint or a shared screen is important. Running Zoom in Gallery view (I had set it up so you could see up to 49 at the same time) and having the students log in to Zoom and upload a picture gave a feeling of community. Screen and/or presentation sharing breaks the flow for everyone – When you do it in Zoom, the screen reconfigures (as it does when you come back from a breakout room) and you have to reestablish the participant panel and the chat floater. Instead, using polls and discussion questions and results communicated through the chat was easier for everyone (and way less complicated).
  • No photo description available.

    Satisfactory results, I would say.

    I used polls on three occasions: Before each discussion breakout, and in the end to ask the students what the experience was like. They were very happy about it and had good pointers on how to make it better

  • We had no performance issues and rock-steady connection the whole way through.
  • It should be noted that the program is one of the most selective in Norway and the students are highly motivated and very good. During the breakout sessions I jumped into each room to listen in on the discussion (learned that it was best to pause recording to avoid a voice saying “This session is being recorded” as I entered. The students were actively discussing in every group, with my colleagues (Bendik, Lene, and Katja) also participating. I had kept the groups to four participants, based on feedback from a session last week, where the students had been 6-7 and had issues with people speaking over each other.
  • Having a carefully written driving plan was important, but still, it was a very intense experience, I was quite exhausted afterwards. My advice on not teaching alone stands – in this case, I was the only one with experience, but that will change very fast. But I kept feeling rushed and would have liked more time, especially in the summary sections, would have liked to bring more students in to talk.
  • I did have a few breaks myself – during the breakout sessions – to go to the bathroom and replenish my coffee – but failed to allow for breaks for the students. I assume they managed to sneak out when necessary (hiding behind a still picture), but next time, I will explicitly have breaks, perhaps suggest a five minute break in the transition from main room to breakout rooms.

Conclusion: This can work very well, but I think it is important to set up each video session based on what you want to use it for: To present something, to run an exercise, to facilitate interaction. With a small student group like this, I think interaction worked very well, but it requires a lot of presentation. You have to be extremely conscious of time – I seriously think that any two-hour classroom session needs to be rescheduled to a three hour session just because the interaction is slower, and you need to have breaks.

As Winston Churchill almost said (he said a lot, didn’t he): We make our tools, and then our tools make us. We now have the tools, it will be interesting to see how the second part of this transition plays out.

Dealing with cheating

At BI Norwegian Business School, we are (naturally and way overdue, but a virus crisis helps) moving all exams to digital. This means a lot of changes for people who have not done that before. One particular anxiety is cheating – normally not a problem in the subjects I teach (case- and problem oriented, master/executive, small classes) but certainly is an issue in large classes at the bachelor level, where many answers are easily found online, the students are many, and the subjects introductory in nature.

Here are some strategies to deal with this:

  • Have an academic honesty policy and have the students sign it as part of the exam. This to make them aware of they risk if they cheat.
  • Keep the exam time short – three hours at the max – and deliberately ask more questions than usual. This makes for less time for cheating (by collaborating) because collaboration takes time. It also means introducing more differentiation between the students – if just a few students manage to answer all questions, those are the A candidates. Obviously, you need to adjust the grade scale somewhat (you can’t expect all to answer everything) and there is an issue of awarding students that are good at taking exams at the expense of deep learning, but that is the way of all exams.
  • Don’t ask the obvious questions, especially not those asked on previous exams. Sorry, no reuse. Or perhaps a little bit (it is a tiring time.)
  • Tell the students that all answers will be subjected to an automated plagiarism check. Whether this is true or not, does not matter – plagiarism checkers are somewhat unreliable, have many false positives, and require a lot of afterwork – but just the threat will eliminate much cheating. (Personally, I look for cleverly crafted answers and Google them, amazing what shows up…).
  • Tell the students that after the written exam, they can be called in for an oral exam where they will need to show how they got their answers (if it is a single-answer, mathematically oriented course) or answer more detailed questions (if it is a more analysis- or literature oriented course). Who gets called in (via videoconference) will be partially random and partially based on suspicion. Failing the orals results in failing the course.
  • When you write the questions: If applicable, Google them, look at the most common results, and deliberately reshape the questions so that the answer is not one of those.
  • Use an example for the students to discuss/calculate, preferably one that is fresh from a news source or from a deliberately obscure academic article they have not seen before.
  • Consider giving sub-groups of students different numbers to work from – either automatically (different questions allocated through the exam system) or by having questions like “If your student ID ends in an even number (0,2,4,6,8) answer question 2a, otherwise answer question 2b” (use the student ID, not “birthday in January, February, March…” as this will be the only marker you have.) The questions may have the same problem, but with small, unimportant differences such as names, coefficients or others. This makes it much harder to collaborate for the students. (If you do multiple questions in an electronic context, I assume a number of the tools will have functionality for changing the order of the questions – it would, frankly, astonish me if they did not – but I don’t use multiple choice myself, so I don’t know.
  • Consider telling the students they will all get different problems (as discussed above) but not doing it. It still will prevent a lot of cheating simply because the students believe they all have different problems and act accordingly.
  • If you have essay questions, ask the students to pick a portion of them and answer them. I do this on all my exams anyway – give the students 6 questions with short (150 words) answers and ask them to pick 4 and answer only those, and give them 2 or 3 longer questions (400 words or so) and ask them to answer only one. (Make it clear that answering them all will result in only the first answered will be considered.) Again, this makes cheating harder.

Lastly: You can’t eliminate cheating in regular, physical exams, so don’t think you can do it in online exams. But you certainly can increase the disincentives to do so, and that is the most you can hope for.

Department for future ideas
I have always wanted to use machine learning for grading exams. At BI, we have some exams with 6000 candidates writing textual answers. Grading this surely must constitute cruel and unusual punishment. With my eminent colleague Chandler Johnson I tried to start a project where we would have graders grade 1000 of these exams, then use text recognition and other tools, build an ML model and use that to grade the rest. Worth an experiment, surely. The project (like many other ideas) never took off, largely because of difficulties of getting the data, but perhaps this situation will make it possible.

And that would be a good thing…

A teaching video – with some reflections

Last Thursday, I was supposed to teach a class on technology strategy for a bachelor program at the University of Oslo. That class has been delayed for a week and (obviously) moved online. I thought about doing it video conference, but why not make a video, ask the students to see it before class? Then I can run the class interactively, discussing the readings and the video rather than spending my time talking into a screen. Recording a video is more work, but the result is reusable in other contexts, which is why I did it in English, not Norwegian. The result is here:

To my teaching colleagues: The stuff in the middle is probably not interesting – see the first two and the last five minutes for pointers to teaching and video editing.

For the rest, here is a short table of contents (with approximate time stamps):

  • 0:00 – 2:00 Intro, some details about recording the video etc.
  • 2:00 – 27:30 Why technology evolution is important, and an overview of technology innovation/evolution processes
    • 6:00 – 9:45 Standard engineering
    • 9:45 – 12:50 Invention
    • 12:50 – 15:50 Structural deepening
    • 15:50 – 17:00  Emerging (general) technology
      • 17:00 – 19:45 Substitution
      • 19:45 – 25:00 Expansion, including dominant design
      • 25:00 – 27:30 Structuration
  • 27:30 – 31:30 Architectural innovation (technology phases)
  • 31:30 –  31:45 BREAK! (Stop the video and get some coffee…)
  • 31:45 – 49:40 Disruption
    • 31:45 – 38:05 Introduction and theory
    • 38:05 – 44:00 Excavator example
    • 44:00 – 46:00 Hairdresser example
    • 47:00 – 47:35 Characteristics of disruptive innovations
    • 47:35 – 49:40 Defensive strategies
  • 49:40 – 53:00 Things take time – production and teaching…
  • 53:00 – 54:30 Fun stuff

This is not the first time I have recorded videos, by any means, but it is the first time I have created one for “serious” use, where I try to edit it to be reasonably professional. Some reflections on the process:

  • This is a talk I have given many times, so I did not need to prepare the content much – mainly select some slides. for a normal course, I would use two-three hours to go through the first 30 minutes of this video – I use much deeper examples and interact with the students, have them come up with other examples and so on. The disruption part typically takes 1-2 hours, plus at least one hour on a specific case (such as the steel production). Now the format forces me into straight presentation, as well as a lot of simplification – perhaps too much. I aim to focus on some specifics in the discussion with the students.
  • I find that I say lots of things wrong, skip some important points, forget to put emphasis on other points. That is irritating, but this is straight recording, not a documentary, where I would storyboard things, film everything in short snippets, use videos more, and think about every second. I wanted to do this quickly, and then I just have to learn not to be irritated at small details.
  • That being said, this is a major time sink. The video is about 55 minutes long. Recording took about two hours (including a lot of fiddling with equipment and a couple of breaks). Editing the first 30 minutes of the  video took two hours, another hour and a half for the disruption part (mainly because by then I was tired, said a number of unnecessary things that I had to remove.)
  • Using the iPad to be able to draw turned out not to be very helpful in this case, it complicated things quite a bit. Apple’s SideCar is still a bit unpredictable, and for changing the slides or the little drawing on the slides I did, a mouse would have been enough.
  • Having my daughter as audience helps, until I have trained myself to look constantly into the camera. Taping a picture of her or another family member to the camera would probably work almost as well, with practice. (She has heard all my stories before…)
  • When recording with a smartphone, put it in flight mode so you don’t get phone calls while recording (as I did.) Incidentally, there are apps out there that allow you to use the iPhone as a camera connected to the PC with a cable, but I have not tested them. It is easy to transfer the video with AirPlay, anyway.
  • The sound is recorded in two microphones (the iPhone and a Røde wireless mic.) I found that it got “fatter” if I used both the tracks, so I did that, but it does sometime screw up the preview function in Camtasia (though not the finished product). That would also have captured both my voice and my daughter’s (though she did not ask any questions during the recording, except on the outtakes.)
  • One great aspect of recording a video is that you can fix errors – just pause and repeat whatever you were going to say, and the cut it in editing. I also used video overlays to correct errors in some slides, and annotations to correct when I said anything wrong (such as repeatedly saying “functional deepening” instead of “structural deepening”.) It does take, time, however…

My excellent colleague Ragnvald Sannes pointed out that this is indicative of how teaching will work in the future, from a work (and remuneration) perspective. We will spend much more time making the content, and less time giving it. This, at the very least, means that teachers can no longer be paid based on the number of hours spent teaching – or that we need to redefine what teaching means…

Moving your course online: Five things to consider

Another video on moving to video-based teaching, this time about some things to consider to make the transition as easy for yourself as possible (as well as increasing the experience for the students):

From the Youtube posting:

Many teachers now have to move their courses online, and are worried about it. Teaching online is different from teaching in a classroom, but not so different: The main thing is still that you know your material and care about the the people at the other end. There are some things to consider, however, so here are five tips to think about when you move your course online:

  1. Talk to one student, not many.
  2. Structure, structure, structure (much more important in online teaching).
  3. Interaction is possible, but needs to be planned.
  4. Bring a friend: Teach with a colleague, for mutual help and a better experience.
  5. Use the recording as a tool for making your teaching better, by reviewing it and editing it yourself.

Five tips for better video teaching

In these viral times, a lot of universities will need to switch to video teaching, and for many teachers, this is a new experience. Here is a short (and fast) video I made with five – non-technical – tips for better video conferencing and teaching.

To sum it up:

1. Sound is more important than picture.
2. Look into the camera!
3. Don’t make the obvious mistakes: Background, lighting, and clothing.
4. Be lively! The medium consumes energy, you need to compensate.
5. Get to know the tools.

Good luck!

Teaching case teaching

IMG_5933For the past two days I have run a seminar on case teaching for faculty at the University of Stavanger Business School, by initiative and invitation from Ken Wathne. (The picture above was taken at 11pm, which tells you something about summer in Norway and the gardening at UiS.)

I love case teaching (obviously) and think it is not only a very useful tool to use and skill to have – but also a way for business schools to future-proof their business model. In a time of Youtube and learning-on-demand, case teaching offers a way to analyse and learn real leadership skills in complex decision situation – something that cannot easily be automated, like standard business courses.

Here are some links to things I have used in the seminar:

  • A useful article on what case teaching is (because many people get this wrong). [My comments on this one is in Norwegian, but by all means read the original]: Garvin, David (2003): “Making the case“, Harvard Magazine.
  • A useful article: Christensen, Clayton C. and Michael Raynor (2003) “Why hard-nosed executives should care about management theory”Harvard Business Review. Well-written article on how to create theory – and why it is important to understand what works in some contexts does not work in others. I use this article as a rationale for using case teaching to test theory (simulated) practice – case teaching is simulation of decision situations, and is great for finding out if theories are theories or mere beliefs and buzzwords.
  • Case sources: I primarily use the Harvard Business Press case collection. Anyone teaching at a degree-granting institutions has access (you will have to register with an email address belonging to an institution and be able to point to an affiliation, such as a personal web page at the institution.) There are other case sources too – here is a list.
  • Material for students on how to prepare. I like Bill Ellet’s Case Study Handbook, but it can be a bit much for smaller courses or if you use cases only sparingly. HBSP allows you to buy just some its chapters, so that is an alternative. With my colleague Hanno Roberts, I have made a video series for students, originally for BIs MBA program with Fudan University in Shanghai. The videos are a bit long and rambling, but you can always make your own. For complicated cases I have a note on how to analyze complex case using a structured time line.
  • A blog post on how to do effective student feedback.
  • Course design: You can find many examples on the Interwebs, so I steal with pride. Here are some of my own: GRA6834 Business Development and Innovation Management (M.Sc., one semester, weekly sessions), GRA68175 Technology Management and Disruptive Technology (two day module, EMBA), and my memo to students for my course Strategic Technology and Information Management in Shanghai (four day module, more structured and instrumental than a usual case course.)
  • Writing cases: A blog post on how to write a teaching case. You can, of course, use anything – articles, blog posts, videos – as a basis for discussion. Most important is that there is room for real discussion – that there is enough detail, that the material illustrates what you want to get across in a way that is not obvious and allows for interpretations and complexity.

How to write a teaching case

Since I sometimes give classes on how to do case teaching and have written a book on the subject with Bill Schiano, I am sometimes asked how to write a teaching case. The following blog post is a quick tips & tricks collection (essentially an update of this post.)

Why are you writing this case?
First and foremost: Cases are written for a teaching purpose – and to write a teaching case, you need to have a teaching objective in mind. It is not enough to have an interesting company. Even the best company story needs to have a pedagogical point, a theory or dilemma to illustrate. So don’t write a teaching case just because you happen to know someone in a really interesting company – it does need to be a good story, but it also need to have a purpose.

The standard outline
Cases – particularly the standard HBS case – follow an outline that can seem rather trite, but which is very effective. It is something like this:

  • 0.5 page: Intro: The protagonist is introduced, typically pondering a question of some importance. The idea is to tell the students from which perspective the case is written, to set the scene – and that is all there is to it.
  • 1 – 1.5 pages: Description of the company – not the whole history, but the relevant details, explaining what the company is doing, how they make their money. Most companies are to a very large degree formed by their history, so the relevant parts need to be told.
  • 1 page: Industry. Companies exist within a context, and you need to set it. Explain the industry, its evolution, and the company’s position within it. Do it succinctly, but leave more detail in than what is strictly necessary.
  • 1 – 5 pages: Specific issue. This is the meat of the case, the issue at hand, the story to ponder. Make sure you tell it logically and cooly, not leaving anything out, but also conveying the complexity of the situation.
  • 0.5 page: Conclusion, typically with the protagonist wondering what to do, often with some sort of event (board meeting, etc.) where he or she has to present a solution to the problem.

Most cases are just that – one case. You can have a B case and even a C case, but keep them short, since they have to be handed out and read in class. The B case should explain what the company did and perhaps introduce a new problem, the C case, if necessary, should bring some sort of closure, explaining what eventually happened. In my experience, it is very hard to get discussion after a C case – the students become exhausted. As a novice case writer, especially if you are writing about a company with a long history, it can be tempting to create a long string of small cases, but in practice this seldom works well – for one thing, it forces the discussion into a very predictable path.

The no-nos
No theory. A good case should be a description of an interesting situation, frequently a decision point – and nothing else. This means that there should be no theory and no discussion of the case in the case itself. Save that for the teaching note, or write a separate academic article about it. Not only does this make the case more realistic, it also means it can be used for more purposes than the one initially envisioned. This can be quite challenging for the traditional academic writer – but it is actually good practice to only present the facts (though, of course, which facts you choose to present constitute a discussion of sorts).

No hero, no villain. When teaching students how to analyze a case, I always start by saying that for most business situations, if is useful to begin the analysis with the assumption that people are not stupid and not evil. Consequently, when you write a case, make sure it has no heroes and no villains. If a case has a clear-cut hero or villain, it is a sign that you have not done enough research. Write things so that the students can see the issue from many perspectives.

No judgement. I frequently find, when reading prospective teaching cases, especially if written with the help of the communications department of a company, that judgements tend to be embedded in the text itself, though it is supposed to be as neutral and purely descriptive as possible. Do not write that a company is “leading” – instead, describe what they do, perhaps adding a bit of industry numbers for comparison, and let the decision about how leading the company is be up to the student. Do not write “Smith was a highly accomplished manager, leading a successful technology implementation.” Instead, write “Smith, at 29, was promoted to be the youngest vice president in company history after conceiving and overseeing the introduction of the first machine learning platform in the industry.”

No consultingese. Be very careful of weasel terms – is the company embarking on a strategic alliance or merely collaborating with another company for a specific purpose? (As a friend of mine said: “I buy all my socks at Marks and Spencer. That does not mean I have a strategic alliance with them.”) Avoid terms that are not well defined, and be precise in your language. Remember, a teaching case has the longest legs when it describes a human situation (since humans change slowly) and to not tie the narrative to specifically to a technology or a situation. (See the example of Fabritek below.) I quite often use old technology cases, and when the students complain, ask them to take out a pen and change the dates mentioned to current times, update the technology capabilities accordingly – and see if anything else changes.

Dramatic structure
A really well written case has dramatic structure – there is a beginning, a middle that builds up the story, and a really compelling issue at the end. The best cases are almost like a detective story, where you have to dig deep into the analysis to find surprising and sometimes counter-intuitive conclusions. One example of a “detective story” case is Fabritek 1992*, a very old (first published 1969, rewritten by Jan Hammond) case about a quality control issue in a small mechanical workshop. (Hat tip to Robert D. Austin, eminent case teacher, for making me aware of this case and showing me how to teach it.) The case is excellent because it starts with the company (strategic level), proceeds to describe a new situation and a new process (organizational or business logic level) and then introduces the problem (operational level.) Analyzing the operational details leads to one conclusion, which then can be discussed in terms of the organization and its business logic, which can then be placed into a strategic context. The case is excellent because it allows links between these levels – and also teaches the students that the devil indeed resides in the details, and that you as a manager better be very close to how the business you are leading works and makes money.

iPremier-front-pageA second case which shows quality and innovation is iPremier, written by Robert D. Austin and Jeremy C. Short, the first and only graphic novel (cartoon) case I am aware of. The story is about a small online gift company being attacked by hackers, exposing glaring gaps in their security procedures and forcing managers at various levels to make some really hard decisions. The graphic format is excellent in making the various characters real (though they, on average, tend to be way too good-looking for a normal business situation), illustrates technical issues in a way that is very understandable even by non-technology students, and has a cracking good storyline with a B and a C case. I like to introduce a few technical cases in my courses because, well, I don’t think there is enough technology in business schools, and this cases answers very well because it illustrates that certain technical decisions very much require top management attention – ignore (or mindlessly delegate) technology understanding and responsibility at your peril. The graphic format also provides a welcome break from the standard case verbiage, which can be a trifle dour on occasion.

Details, details, details!
Research cases – the kind that is published in refereed journals – tend to be written from a very specific viewpoint, and only facts pertaining to that perspective is included, often in a very abstract format. A teaching case is the direct opposite: It needs lots of details, frequently made available as exhibits (graphs, pictures, documents, tables, etc.) placed at the end, after the main text. A teaching case writer, when visiting a company to write about it, needs to notice the small details, much like a really good journalist does. I tell my students that they should prepare each case so well that they feel like they have worked in the case company – and to allow them to do that, you need to provide the operational details necessary. (Incidentally, having more details than strictly necessary has the added benefit of making the case realistic – in the real world, you have to decide what is important and what is not.)

Doing it – and reading about it.
grandongillI am not aware of many books about how to write a good teaching case, with one exception: Grandon Gill (pictured), professor at University of South Florida and an excellent case teacher, has written a book called Informing with the case method, which is available for free download in PDF, MOBI and EPUB format from his web site. It has lots of details, tips and tricks, not just about case writing, but also about case teaching and course planning. (For the latter, of course, I am duty bound to recommend Bill Schiano’s and my book Teaching with Cases: A Practical Guide.)

Last but definitely not least: Don’t underestimate how much work writing a proper business case is. Getting the details right, describing the dramatis personae, and making the storyline compelling is quite a challenge, in many dimensions different from the traditional academic article. On the other hand, should you get it right, you will have a very effective teaching tool for many years to come.

Good luck!

Recommended: appear.in

Premium_–_appear_in_–_one_click_video_conversationsTelenor has made a video conferencing service called appear.in (Twitter: @appear_in) – and it is fantastic! All you need to do is open a browser window and type

appear.in/something

where “something” is a word you choose. The other participants do the same, and you are in conference. Camera, screen sharing, everything work great, the whole thing is free (at least with up to four participants, have not tested with more). If you want your own room with your own design there is a premium version for $12 per month. No app installation, no weird settings, no drivers, no updates. Just works. Excellent!

Recommended!

(No, I am not sponsored. Just like the service.)

Effective student feedback

In our book Teaching with cases: A practical guide, Bill Schiano and I talk at a fairly high level about how to give effective student feedback by using a spreadsheet and personalized emails. Our argument is that by giving every student individual feedback in addition to the grade, you reduce the number of grade justification requests and complaints. This blog post is a detailed guide on how to do it – too detailed for the technically inclined, probably, but we all have to start somewhere.

You probably already have all the tools you need on your computer – a spreadsheet and an email client that works with your spreadsheet – such as Excel and Outlook, for example. (For myself, I use Excel and SerialMailer, a cheap serial mail client for Mac.) You can probably use online software as well, for instance a Google spreadsheet (which is nice because editing by more than one teacher is easy) and Gmail, though I have never tried it.

The idea is to use the spreadsheet to organize all your feedback, and to set it up so you use as little time as possible to give as much feedback as possible. I will demonstrate this, with an example for a fictitious course with three in-class sessions (with participation grading, 40% of grade), an individual written examination (30% of grade), and a group assignment (30%). I will show the various details of building the spreadsheet below – if you want to skip ahead and inspect the thing your self, I have made it available for downloading.

I start with a spreadsheet of students and email addresses, provided to me by the administration or downloaded from our LMS. Let’s say it looks something like this:

1eval

(If I have the time or can get the administration to create it from their databases, I ask to have first and last names in separate columns. For this demonstration, I won’t bother.)

Then I add columns for each of the assignments that I am going to grade:

2eval

(In this example, the individual examination has six questions, of which the students should answer four.)

For the group project, I create a separate sheet (in the same workbook, called “Groups”

3eval

The group sheet is exceptionally simple, just group number, points and comment. If you have several group assignments, this is where you will put them:

4eval

Note that I also create a group numbered 0. This is what I use for students who drop the course or don’t do the group assignment.

With that done, I assign students to groups in the Students sheet…

5eval.jpg

…and then I am ready to start teaching my course.

As the course rolls along, I enter points and comments for each student. As mentioned in the book, it is extremely important that you do the participation evaluation immediately after each class. I tend to give the students a score of 1-3, sometimes 1-6, with some definition. As I will show later, what scale you use does not really matter, as you can normalize them to whatever you want later in the process.

Anyway, assume the course is finished, and you have entered comments and points for everything – for the individual student, in the Student sheet….

7eval.jpg

…for the groups, in the Groups sheet:

6eval

To finish the evaluation part (we’ll get to communication later), you need to a) match the group points and comments to each individual student, b) calculate a final score for each student, and c) determine the letter grade for each student.

First: Group grades and comments. For a small class like this, this is probably a bit of overkill – you could just copy comments and points over to each individual student. But doing it the way I show here has the advantage (aside from being correct from a database administrator’s point of view) of error-correction (any error you make will be systematic and therefore easily spotted) and repeatable (the first time you do this, it is a chore, the second time, you just copy your previous spreadsheet and fiddle with it). Moreover, if you have a class with more than 40 students, a bit of “programming” saves time and effort. (I have done this for classes of 350 students, a situation where participation grading is not really possible – except as a small reward for exceptional students – but where the group feedback mechanism becomes extremely valuable.)

So, first – link individual students with their group’s scores and comments, using the LOOKUP function:

8eval

The formula is

           =LOOKUP($E2;Groups!$A$2:$A$8;Groups!B$2:B$8)

and what it does is take the student’s group number (E2), look it up the first column of the “Groups” sheet (Groups!$A$2:$A$8), using fixed references to be able to copy the formula to the rest of the sheet, and displaying the group score (which is in column Groups!$B2:$B8). This nicely picks up all the group scores and comments:

9eval

We now have all the information for each student, then we have to calculate the various scores. We have the exam score already (the average of the exam points) and the participation score (a sum of the score for each session.) We now need to calculate the total points, which isn’t too hard: The max for participation is 9, for the others it is 10, so the formula for the total will be:

01eval

         =(W2*0,3)+(O2*0,3)+(J2*0,4*10/9)

(I use comma as a decimal delimiter, parentheses for readability). We can now add a student ranking in the G column (students are always interested in this, so why not tell them?)

02eval

Now we are ready to set the grades. The simple way to do this is to sort the students by their scores (or rank, if you will):

03eval

How you set the letter grades is up to you, of course, but it helps to have the students sorted. I set grades by starting at the top, trying to get a reasonable distribution, and make sure that I don’t use absolutes so that some unlucky student narrowly misses a better grade. Let’s say we end up here:

04eval

Now we are ready to communicate the results to the students. We will do that by writing a letter to them, composed largely of common text (i.e., feedback that is the same to all students), and them use the mail/merge function of word to merge in the individual details from the spreadsheet.

1feed

Example letter using SerialMailer

As said above, I use a product called SerialMailer on my Mac. The concept is simple: You write the letter, link to the spreadsheet, and insert field names into the text. When the letter is sent out (or printed), the field names are substituted for the values for each individual student.

Here is how to do it in Word (if you want to send it out via email, you need to have Outlook as well.):

First, open Word and write the letter:

2feed

(As you can see, I recycle much of my texts…)

Let’s start by replacing “student” in the opening salutation with the student’s name. Then you open the Mailings tab in Word and hit Select recipients from an existing list…

3feed

…and select your spreadsheet:

000ff

I get this message, click OK:

5feed

And open the “Students” sheet (i.e. the individual sheet):

6feed

If you click “Insert Merge Field” now, you should get a list of the column headings in the spreadsheet:

7feed

Delete the word “student”, choose “Insert Merge Field” and choose “Name”, and the field code will be in the document:

8feed

If you hit “Preview Results”, the code will be replaced by the content for each student:

9feed

Now write field labels and insert the fields you want to share with the students. I like to add the listing at the end of the letter, but you can do whatever you want:

1ff

Hit Preview, and this is what each student will see:

2ff

And there you go. Now hit “Finish and Mail Merge”, and select whether you want to print the documents on paper (or PDF) or send them out via email (shown).

3ff

You must tell Outlook where the email addresses are in the spreadsheet:

5ff

Then specify a subject and choose HTML Message (if you want formatted text):

6ff

…and, well, this is where I will have to stop, since I do not use Outlook. But trust me, it works well, the students love having individualized feedback, and it really isn’t that much more work than just providing the grade. As an added bonus: If students want a grade justification, you can just tell them that they already have it…

(Corrections and feedback welcome, of course.)

Teaching hacks: Getting rid of those long links

I find myself having to ask students to look up web pages and online materials in various forms all the time. Often, the links are quite long and not very intuitive. The way to fix that is to use a URL (Uniform Resource Locator, fancy name for web address) to turn, for instance

into

  • goo.gl/1kfvfzqr1

which is undeniably shorter and easier to write down fast. I can also make it into a QR code which can be scanned by the students from a PowerPoint slide and brought up on their smartphones.

There are a number of such URL shorteners – goo.gl, bitly.com, TinyURL, and so on. I use goo.gl, but after a tip from Ragnvald Sannes I have installed it as an extension of my Chrome browser, which means that whenever I want to share a link to many people I go to the page in question, click on the URL shortener in the top line of the browser, and that’s that. (There probably are similar extensions available for your browser of choice, go search.)

Quite a little timesaver…

If you want to read more about URL shorteners, try the Wikipedia article (which also lists some of the technical issues that sometimes crop up, though not much in a teaching context.)

Teaching hacks: Write next year’s course this year

As a teacher, you tend to have the same courses year after year. I have 5-6 courses I repeat in various shapes and forms. To keep them fresh, they need to be updated every year – new materials, purge stuff that has gone stale or didn’t work, and so on.

My problem is that as soon as I have finished teaching a course, I completely forget about it until the next time (normally a year later), and then have to scramble to update things and find new literature. While you are teaching the course, you notice things that don’t fly, but then you forget the details.

gra6834-2017_-_google_driveThe hack, of course, is simple: Write next year’s course documentation as you are teaching this year’s course. For instance: I have a detailed syllabus (written as a Google Doc) for my course GRA834 Business Development and Innovation Management (which I last taught in the fall of 2016). The syllabus is largely the same from year to year, but when I start teaching the course, I make a new copy of document (as the figure shows, the whole course folder), and fiddle with it after each class. For stuff I will have to change later, I make a note to myself, inserting the text “zxzx” which I can search. When the course starts next year, I simply make the edited documents available to the students straight into It’s Learning (the course management system we use at BI.)

Not exactly rocket science, but the hack is doing this as you start teaching. Much less hassle the next year…

(PS: You can do similar things with presentations and other stuff: My eminent colleague Hanno Roberts has a hidden slide in the back of all his presentations, where he writes notes to himself about what he will need to change the next time he gives it.)

Teaching Hacks: Using Google Docs under It’s Learning

(This is a new category I just dreamed up – will post little snippets of useful stuff for teaching. My view is that technology should make your life easier and the experience of the student better – otherwise, don’t use the technology.)

At BI Norwegian School of Business we use a learning management system called It’s Learning. As these systems go, it is (I think) no better or worse than any other system, but the interface is a bit clunky. However, it has a very useful feature (which I learned from Ragnvald Sannes), namely the ability to display Google Docs within the page:

screendocs

This is very useful because

  • you can create all your course documents (syllabi etc.) in Google Docs, which is much better for editing and everything else. You can even edit the docs right in the It’s Learning window.
  • you can give the students read, comment or write capability as you please. Giving the students write access to a shared document is useful for many purposes – I use it as a shared arena for proposing term papers, for instance. Linda Rademaker uses a shared spreadsheet for student group formation – the students write themselves into groups, and she has a tab with “Lost sheep” who have not found groups to work in.
  • you can also share a Google Folder with the students and link that right from It’s Learning.

To set up a page like this, first create the document in Google Drive, copy the link to the document (“Share” in Google Doc, set the access rights to whatever you want), go to It’s Learning, click “Add” in the left column, choose “File or link”. Here you can choose various options, but what has worked for me is choosing “link” and pasting in the link. Make sure the “Embed page within itslearning” is checked, write the Title, and there you go.

Certainly has made my life easier, and hopefully made the students’ experience better.

(By the way, this does not work in China, of course (no Google Doc access), in case you teach there.)