Using Selfies to Increase Student Engagement

Connecticut College hosts many events (panels, lectures, shows, concert, etc.) that help students engage more deeply in the curriculum and community. In the Music Department, we host dozens of concerts a year and require students to attend a certain number of them as we believe that being in the audience and listening to live music is an essential element of one’s music education.

In the recent past, we collected signed hard copies of the programs as evidence of attending, and those programs would end up in the recycle bin in my office. This process of reporting concert attendance is standard practice across the country. Using this system, I found that sometimes concert venues ran out of programs. At other times, students might forget to get a program or would lose them, or students would take a program without attending the concert. However, it dawned on me that one of the goals was for the students to have a keepsake/souvenir or to have a reference for future repertoire possibilities. So, to facilitate these goals, I started using the selfie system. (Thanks to Jessica McCullough for this idea!)

Last term, I piloted this new method of checking concert attendance. My students were given two options: 1) obtaining and signing a program or 2) taking a selfie of themselves in the hall and send it to me via email by midnight. I lightheartedly mentioned that they would get extra points for posing with an artist. I had an overwhelmingly positive response to the new option.  When I opened my email the next morning, I had the pleasure of seeing almost all of my students’ smiling faces in my email inbox. Only one student chose to turn in a hard copy of the program. (Note, while I asked the students to submit their photos through email, you could also have them submit them through Moodle. However, this means one more extra step for them in sending you the file.)

In the future, I will augment this assignment by having students send their selfies to a closed Facebook group and ask them to post comments about their concert experience as it relates to the material we are covering in class. I will also have them comment on other people’s comments to create discussion. I hope this additional element will help further bridge the experience between the event attended and the concepts being discussed in class.

Bringing Experts into Class to Increase Student Engagement

How do we increase student engagement in a topic that is new to them? How do we promote collaboration between a class and an  invited guest/speaker?

Lecture hall with projected imageThese were the questions that I faced last term in preparing for the Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble to be in residence at Connecticut College as part of the Ammerman Center’s Colloquia Series focused on the “Body and Technology.” The Quince Ensemble uses technology to enhance or accompany their voices in performance. Our students would learn about these ideas by learning a new piece prior to their visit, rehearsing with the Quince Ensemble in a short rehearsal, and then performing it in concert together.

Since we would only have one rehearsal together for about 2 hours before the concert, we needed to find a way to make a connection with the new music and Quince well before the residency. We decided to web conference our choir rehearsal with the Quince Artistic Director, Kayleigh, who lived in New York City. The goals of the session were to receive feedback about our work on the choral piece, facilitate a connection between our students and the Quince Ensemble, and learn more about the work itself from Kayleigh. The resulting experience was very positive! Our students felt more connected to the experimental work which involved non-traditional singing techniques. Since they became more excited for the residency and worked even harder to prepare for it in the weeks ahead.

Do you have a guest speaker that will be coming into your class to share about their work or perhaps evaluate a class project? Why not create interest and “buy-in” by having them meet your students via a web conference before the visit? This maximizes their time at CC and students will be more prepared for their visit. Below is my advice for creating a successful web conferencing session between your students and a guest speaker.

  1. Set up a time with your speaker taking into consideration time zones. Suggest that they have a headset, microphone (the one attached to the earbuds is OK) and hard-wire ethernet connection, if possible.
  2. Prepare your speaker by providing background information on the course and the students involved. Establish an outline/agenda for the conversation.
  3. Prepare your students ahead of time. What questions would be appropriate to ask? What is the background of the speaker? What are the goals of the session? Remind them that they will be on camera, too and to look engaged.
  4. Find a room with a hardwire ethernet connection with quiet surroundings that will not interrupt the conversation. Contact Mike Dreimiller, Instructional Digital Media Specialist in the Instructional Technology Department for assistance.
  5. Borrow a web-conferencing kit from Mike Dreimiller.
  6. BEFORE the session, download Skype or Zoom (if you want to record it.) Create a login and add your guest as a contact.
  7. Do a dry-run without students. Find a colleague with a remote connection or someone in Instructional Technology Department to help test your connection, camera, mic, and lighting.
  8. Have a backup plan. If all else fails, can you do a conference call over the phone?
  9. After the session, ask your students what they gained from the conversation and how it will help prepare them for their future project or meeting.
  10. Take a selfie or screenshot and share it on social media. Share with the greater community the lessons or connections gained from this experience!

Using a Course Website to Recruit Incoming Students and Promote Community Engagement

CC Choir WebsiteI have the happy challenge of needing to communicate with students over the summer.  Most of them are incoming first-year students or transfer students who are trying to decide how they will spend their time at Connecticut College. This means quite a few questions regarding the types of choral ensembles that we offer, how often the ensembles meet, the types of literature we study, and audition requirements/times. During my first summer teaching at Connecticut College, this meant writing pretty much the same response over and over. I got into the habit of keeping several stock responses in a separate Word document so I could cut and paste the details. I am happy to say that I found a more efficient way to keep in contact with these incoming students!

I created a choir website in WordPress during the Tempel Summer Institute. For incoming students, it describes our choral program, the audition process, and a way to sign up for an audition slot via SignUpGenius. For the current students, it describes volunteer opportunities and how to contact the choir council. For the greater community, it contains information about participating in our high school choral festival, attending upcoming performances, bringing a choir to an event, and joining the Chorale (open to students, faculty, staff and community members.) For the greater community, there is a media page with YouTube videos and Livestream videos of past choral performances. I am currently working to build an audio portfolio that will feature audio clips via SoundCloud.

During the month of July, I have the email vacation autoresponder tell all incoming messages that I will get back to them shortly and to visit the choir website for more information about our program. My incoming students now have a better idea of the philosophy and scope of the choral program (and I get my month of July back). Prospective students can also visit this website to see what musical opportunities we have to offer before they apply. Lastly, this website is a storehouse of information regarding community engagement events that I can easily share via social media (Twitter, Facebook).  While time intensive in the beginning, a course website can help you communicate more effectively and also build a community presence. I highly recommend it!

Beyond Pencil and Paper: Audio Assignments Via Moodle

Image of microphone

My choir students expressed that they wanted to be assessed more often so that they would be more motivated to practice. At that time, I was having students sign up in small groups for “check in” meetings. While this was valuable, it was difficult to give individual feedback to all 40 students and could not logistically happen very week.

With the help of Jessica McCullough, we devised a way for my students to record short audio assignments and upload them to Moodle. One such assignment was an assessment of the pronunciation of Zulu song text. Jessica came into my class and demonstrated how to record and upload the files with their smartphones. (iPads are available to check out in the library if students do not have a phone or computer with audio recording capabilities.) The students could record the audio as many times as they liked before submitting their assignment, which encouraged deeper engagement in class and individual practicing. To help those who were struggling, choir tutors through the Academic Resource Center could help them prepare for the assignments.

With the Moodle interface, I was able to monitor which students turned in their assignments (as opposed to scrolling through emails with attachments), listen to the files without opening another audio application, and respond with typed comments (see Karen Gonzalez Rice’s post for making audio comments).

As a result of this “new” method, I could assess more often, get a clearer picture of how individual students were faring in my class,  and further refine my teaching to meet the diverse needs of the students. A variation of this assignment is having the students digitally videotape themselves individually or in groups. A video assignment provides a more complete picture of how my students are performing and it also gives visual confirmation of who is taking the test when it is a group assignment. While this post is regard to an assignment that I give in my choral classroom, it has potential applications in other academic settings in which students need to demonstrate their knowledge in ways beyond  traditional “paper and pencil” assignments.

Image credit: flickr photo by lincolnblues shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license