The Eberly Center is featuring Aisling Kelliher’s work in their Fall 2014 Spotlight Series: Innovative CMU Faculty Teaching. Aisling will be one of two presenters discussing "Enhancing Teaching and Student Engagement with Online Collaboration Tools” where she will share her experiences using Google Docs in design courses to foster student reflection, dialogue and critique. The faculty presentations will be followed by roundtable discussions with university colleagues.
The opportunity to present came about after Aisling met Chad Hershock, Associate Director and Coordinator of Faculty Programs at the Eberly Center, at a research meeting in her Visible Process Lab in the School of Design. Chad was visiting another research scientist in the lab and over a casual discussion, Aisling and Chad began to discuss the variety of tools both online and offline used to support the critique process.
Utilizing tools for online critique is not a new phenomenon. We see the need for this in large classes where the central discussion can move quickly before someone is able to bring up a valid point, or before students that feel shyer speaking in front of their peers can join in. Thus, Aisling asks the peers of the student presenting to type out their thoughts as the student is discussing their project. Students making references to outside materials are able to put in links to the Google Docs immediately (combating the “I forgot to send it” phenomenon), which also creates a more complete record of the entire critique. In a previous class, Aisling reported creating 11 pages of critique material in the course of 2 hours, which is used to both instigate discussion in class, and sustain it over time.
While using Google Docs during critiques has the potential to be unstructured and repetitive, she asks the students to look back on the critique they received and directly address 3-4 points made. Aisling also on occasion runs the document through a sentiment analysis tool, in order to determine the overall positive or negative attitude of the students. Here, she has found that the comments can be overwhelmingly positive and while this indicates kind support of peers, there is also an opportunity for the students to consider adopting a more nuanced stance. She also found that students can overuse certain words and phrases such as “interesting”, which can stand out very obviously in the written document when first utilized. Drawing attention to this encourages students to more deeply consider the meaning of their written feedback.
The Eberly Center Spotlight series is part of a larger campus wide initiative in finding effective ways of studying instruction and critique. Aisling is interested both in experimenting with novel and custom-designed systems (e.g. Piazza) as well as in adopting pre-existing and familiar tools that can be quickly deployed and tailored for specific kinds of critiques and instruction. This series presents a dynamic opportunity for faculty across the campus to share experiences and insights about the use of diverse teaching tools in a variety of disciplines and contexts.