Columbia faculty kick off the semester with innovative assignment development

by | Jan 19, 2016 | Announcements, For Faculty

Columbia faculty members based in schools across the University gathered at the new Innovative Teaching Winter Institute, launched this January by the Center for Teaching and Learning, to design learning activities for upcoming classes. At the Institute, which ran January 14-15, faculty worked closely with CTL staff and with each other to develop innovative assignments for their students. These assignments included simulations, case studies, data visualizations, multimedia analysis, and collaborative research.

After a competitive application process, 23 instructors were selected to participate, based on their preliminary proposals for assignments to develop at the Institute. Faculty from Arts and Sciences, Columbia University Medical Center, The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Barnard College, the School of International and Public Affairs, the School of Professional Studies, and Teachers College worked in interdisciplinary groups during the Institute.

Each participant was seated at a table with peers from other disciplines who had similar initial ideas about an assignment to develop. CTL staff members at each table facilitated planning and discussion across the two days, as the instructors worked to clarify and refine learning objectives, develop assessment strategies, chart sequences of class activities and interactions, and plan strategic use of digital technologies.

The Institute culminated in a poster session, during which participants presented their revised assignment plans to each other, and continued to trade suggestions and observations. After intensive discussions at each table, faculty selected “standout” assignments for particular acknowledgement. These included the study of cognitive linguistics on a collaborative, multimedia platform; an unfolding sequence of role-play activities in an international development planning simulation; and hands-on activities to help students studying organic chemistry to visualize three-dimensional structures and represent them in two dimensions.

Noting benefits of the Institute, faculty cited the Backward Learning design model that the Institute helped them apply – an “important and essential” process, said one participant. Another described “dramatic changes to my class” as a result.  The opportunity to engage in a series of small group discussions with faculty in other disciplines and with CTL staff was celebrated by many participants. As one put it, “It is so refreshing to discuss teaching and assignment design with colleagues outside your field. This forced me to explain the goals and design in clear, jargon­-free language.” “Traditionally we are isolated and alone in our teaching,” yet another participant observed, celebrating the Institute’s “sense of collaboration and solidarity.”

As Institute participants run the assignments they’ve designed in their courses, CTL staff who participated in the design process will continue consultations and provide implementation and technology support. We look forward to helping these instructors to assess results and plan future iterations of the innovative learning experiences they are bringing to Columbia students this semester

In addition running to a range of workshops this semester, the CTL is currently accepting applications for another institute for faculty that will take place on March 14-15, the Flipped Classroom Institute. The FCI will offer hands-on assistance to faculty interested in developing participatory, engaged learning activities. More information about the Flipped Classroom Institute is available on the CTL website.

To keep informed about the full range of CTL programs for Columbia faculty this semester, please join our mailing list.