Innovative Practices Spotlight

CAE Innovative Practices Spotlight


The Center for Academic Excellence is recognizing a faculty member every month in the CAE Innovative Practices Spotlight to highlight his or her innovative classroom practices and outstanding contribution to Millersville University. 

Dr. Lauren Kaiser is being recognized in May for her exceptional use of micro-lessons and chunking in her online (PSYC 100) Psychology courses!

Please continue reading to learn more about her exciting experience and to learn ways to incorporate innovative practices into your classroom. 

1. What innovative practice did you incorporate into your classroom?

This was my first attempt at teaching a fully online course, so I was pleasantly surprised to be nominated for an innovative teaching practice spotlight. I am not sure if it is innovation or purely building the plane as I am flying it. Nonetheless, I was nominated for my use of micro-lessons and chunking in my online Introduction to Psychology (PSYC 100) course.

In my face-to-face classes, I strive to use as many high-impact student engagement practices as possible to ensure students are interested, engaged, and most importantly retaining the information. I try to incorporate a high degree of opportunities to respond so that I can conduct formative assessment to determine if students are receiving the material as intended, and to provide meaningful elaborative rehearsal of the information. To be honest, I was unsure how to do this in a fully online class.

For my first attempt, the way I structured each online class is by creating a Weekly Overview page for each week. This landing page is where the students get all their information on what to do for the week. The page always has the same structure from week to week:

  • Module Topic - this is where I list the big questions for the week (e.g., my 'hook')
  • Module Objectives - the specific learning outcomes that will answer the big questions of the week
  • Module Activities - this is where I list each activity for the week that the students are assigned to accomplish and demonstrate those objectives. 

The activities then directly align with the objectives and big questions. Each activity has a formative assessment tied to it. There is a summative mastery quiz assessment at the end of each week.

I use a variety of activities for each big question and set of objectives. I always start with a didactic component where the students are directed to read the section of their text that relates to the objectives and watch a brief Crash Course video (highly engaging psychology brief lectures available on You Tube) that also directly relates to the specific objectives. Then, I embed short video examples (e.g. news stories, sample videos from classic research studies, interviews) to help students develop a stronger conceptual understanding of the topics. To demonstrate their understanding, there will always be some sort of formative assessment activity tied to that content. These activities usually include a discussion board topic, an online lab experiential activity or survey (the textbook I use has awesome mini-psychology experiments for students to try at relatively low cost!), or a brief reflection paper. I try to vary the type of formative assessment depending on the objective. For instance, in psychology, some topics are ripe for discussion (e.g., social psychology-conformity, bystander effect, prejudice), while others are better for personal insight (e.g., self and personality, some aspects of human development). Students may feel comfortable making meaningful connections to the content if they know they can do it in private with an instructor they trust versus the whole class. I choose my formative assessment and activity based on the objectives and degree to which it should be public or private reflection.

From week to week, I was concerned that there were a lot of videos and activities for the students and noticed that the students often logged in to do it all in one sitting, which is not conducive to long-term memory storage and retention. To chunk this even further for them, I would post a weekly announcement on the landing page with my tips for how to ‘chunk’ their week or organize their time. Here is an excerpt:

  • We have a ton of excellent videos this week. To 'chunk' the learning, try this schedule:

2. When did you implement the new practice into your classroom?

As I mentioned above, this has been a standard part of my face-to-face teaching, but this was my first time implementing this fully online. I noticed how my face-to-face students really needed the concrete examples that the videos and in-class discussions provided. They also greatly benefitted from tight planning around objectives for each class period in the week, to help reduce their cognitive load at any one point in time. I began to worry that my online students would not have the same benefit unless I was strategic in how I provided them the same type of activities and structure by which to chunk information. As I quickly realized this, I planned more explicitly for each objective of the online course to include the components that I know keep my face-to-face students engaged and allow me to see what they are learning.

3. Did the students willingly accept the use of the new practice? What were the reactions of the students?

I will not have a representative sample of reactions, until I get my course evaluation feedback. Based on the discussion responses and my “exit ticket” activities, the students seem to be highly interested in the content and felt it was helpful in their learning. In one of our last exit tickets, a student comment that I felt was the best testament to this approach was:

“I would just like to personally thank you for an exciting and hands on course.  I was talking to my roommate the other day about how I was always interested in psychology but would have a hard time remembering definitions and words until I took this course.  Now, I constantly catch myself saying “oh that is cognitive dissonance” or “that child is at their sensorimotor stage” at work.  The ZAPS activities were also very educational and I enjoyed being able to participate in an experiment which I think also helped.  Again, thank you for a wonderful class!”

This sentiment was shared by several others in their exit tickets, which is promising initial feedback.

4. How has the use of the new practice positively affected the classroom learning environment?

Another theme that I noticed in my end of course exit ticket discussion, was how many students mentioned that they appreciated the student-to-student interactions that the course provided through our weekly discussions. A few students mentioned that they increased their interest in psychology or learned more through watching their classmates presentations. One student described our class as a “friendly environment.” Another student replied to her and said, “I also loved getting other peoples comments, that was one of my favorite parts!” I was particularly interested in those comments because it is hard to tell how students feel in an online class. In my own research on school and classroom climate, I know how to quickly assess class climate through observation, but in an online space, this is a difficult construct to assess. I was relieved to hear that the students felt this way in our virtual space. I often wondered if the discussion activities felt meaningful to them, so this was helpful to know that it was not only meaningful, but a preferred part of the course that conveyed positive feedback and support.

5. How has the use of the new practice affected student engagement in the classroom and the level of participation?

I am still in the process of analyzing the online course statistics in terms of use of each of the content components and also comparing the assessment scores between my face-to-face and online classes, so I don’t have any hard data to report at the time of this nomination. Anecdotally, I felt as though engagement increased the more I started embedding engaging and well-connected activities into the weekly assignments. The student’s comments appeared to demonstrate increased genuine interest into the topic discussions as opposed to more general comments. I can see from brief visual inspection of my online course content statistics, that my students appeared to spend more time on the activities as the semester progressed, which is an indicator of increased engagement in an online course.

6. What challenges did you encounter when you were implementing the new practice?

Time! It takes a lot of time in the creation and to meaningfully respond to all the discussion posts or mini-formative assessment tasks that I assign. I am still working through the best strategies for how to manage the work load of this teaching practice. I am interested in hearing how others approach this challenge!

7. How did attending Camp IDEA or a CAE Professional Development session contribute to your learning and use of the innovative practice?

I could not have done any of this without participating in Camp IDEA. It was invaluable in terms of knowing all the tools available on D2L. Camp IDEA merged training on best practices in educational technology with high impact teaching practices. The trainers provided ample time to reflect on how to pick the tools that would fit best with your teaching objectives and style of pedagogy. Additionally, I sought out the consultation support of Marie Firestone at least weekly in the beginning of the semester. Marie helped me think through how to connect objectives with activities and assessment, as well as how to make it happen on D2L. Her mentorship, vision, and expertise were invaluable in the weeks that followed Camp IDEA where I had questions about how to actually apply what we had learned. Camp IDEA with the combination of embedded job coaching like Marie is able to provide is an exemplar of how professional development should look in schools and higher education!