Creating Learning Environments

**This is part of the requirements of the Certificate in College Teaching Competency 2, details about the program can be read here**

Workshop: Inside Teaching Lounge- Creating Inclusive Classrooms

Completed: September 11, 2014

Description: The “Creating Learning Environments” competency helps graduate students to develop skills and strategies to make effective learning environments. In this workshop led by Erik Skogsberg, we focused on different tools and methods that could help us create more inclusive and active learning environments for undergraduate students. We learned a number of digital and analog methods that could allow us to connect with students, whether this be in a small senior seminar, or a large introductory course. The workshop primarily focused around a number of questions that we as teachers can ask ourselves throughout our courses to ensure that we are creating the best possible learning environment.

Within my discipline of Anthropology, having a highly active and inclusive classroom is key to success. Anthropology is a discipline that challenges misconceptions, promotes diversity, and benefits from open discussion of issues. In order to create an environment that supports students in this discipline, we as educators need to set a tone that our classrooms will be open for discussion, allows students to have a number of outlets to share their stories and perspectives, and is applicable to both large and small classroom sizes. In addition, Anthropology courses are increasingly taught online, so finding ways to create a digital classroom communities is a paramount issue. This workshop allow me to learn and discuss some potential methods for improving education of Anthropology undergraduate and graduate students.

Artifacts and Rationale: 

Artifact: Storify Story of the Workshop

Rationale: In order to organize my own notes, as well as keep track of fruitful online discussions occurring online during the workshop, I created a Storify of the event using twitter and text. Storify is a digital tool that allows you to document discussions on social media as well as include your own notes throughout. In this Storify, you will see not only my notes from the event, but also Twitter discussions and links to external resources that we learned about during the event.

This artifact demonstrates that I have engaged with the community to discuss creating learning environments, and also serves as a bookmark for when I want to retrieve information about this topic quickly. In addition to this, we discussed the use of Storify as a way to engage with students. My use of the tool to document the event shows that I have engaged with the tools we discussed in order to determine whether they would be valuable for my own teaching. I believe that Storify would be a good tool for students to create stories about themselves to improve classroom community, and that it would give them a way to discuss complex topics by allowing them to link to external material and include their own notes.

Integration: I integrated what I learned from this workshop into my teaching in a number of ways. One of the primary tools I used was the question method known as ‘Think-Pair-Share’. In this method, you ask a question to the students, they discuss it with a partner, and then share their responses to the class. This is a collaborative teaching method that builds community between the students. An important aspect of this method is that as the teacher, I allow for a variety of answers and try to determine whether incorrect answers come from misconceptions that I might need to correct. Also, this method allows for students to debate answers and come to a correct answer as a course. The teacher acts as a guide through learning rather than a grader.

ArtifactThink-Pair-Share Presentation, used Decoding the Past p 11-12 for the illustrated artifacts.

Rationale: For the first activity of the class, I had students work through a mock archaeological dig, and discuss with various partners in order to form an interpretation of what occurred at the site. This activity was highly successful, and created a sense of community at the start of the course. By having a fun and educational activity that allowed for multiple viewpoints and open discussion, I was able to set a good tone for the class as a whole. The presentation linked above was used to guide the discussion, and two activity sheets from Decoding the Past, a free educational tool provided by the Smithsonian Museum, were used for the artifact illustrations.


From this workshop I was able to learn a suite of techniques and tools for building community in the classroom. There are a few primary ways to build this community- have clear goals and expectations, involve students in the process of creating and meeting expectations, understand that it is a two-way discussion between student and teacher, and have activities connect back to the larger course goals. The goal is creating a community that facilitates learning and discussion inside and outside of the classroom. An important part of this is that the community begins building from before the course even begins- just setting expectations and making introductions can be important for setting the tone of how this community is going to work.

In order to become a more effective educator, I will definitely apply methods I learned from this workshop. The questions we were provided with, such as “Do students understand the goals and expectations for your course?” and “How do your activities and assessment practices help to build the community you hope for?”, will provide a good set of checks to ensure that I’m creating a community in the classroom that is effective, appropriate for the class style and size, and fulfills the content requirements. In particular, I have questioned how to create online classroom communities as you do not get the opportunity to see students face to face. Learning about some digital tools, such as  Photopeach and Popplet was helpful in that it provided me with ideas and methods to allow students to engage and learn about one another (as well as learn about myself) online.

One of the most important aspects of building a community that I learned at this workshop, is that it is not a singular event at the beginning of the course, but rather has to be something that we integrate across the span of the course. I would integrate what I learned here into my classroom by letting students be part of the process of structuring the course, connecting individual classes to the larger course objectives and goals, and foster a sense of community. At the beginning of the course, I would provide opportunities for students to introduce themselves and have group discussion about what the large goals of the course will be. Throughout the classes, I could have students determine how daily learning objectives related to the bigger picture, provide them with different types of interactive lessons and activities, create activities that allow for peer instruction and interaction, and provide constructive feedback throughout. I would hope that by following some of the tips, using these tools, and checking my own work with the questions provided, that I could create an environment where students are invested in their own learning.

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