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Learning Style with Clickers

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Activity name: Learning Style with Clickers: a modifiable any-time activity

Class: PWR 1/PWR 2

Activity brief description: This activity provides a fast and fun way to raise student self-awareness about patterns of error in their writing and the relationship between correct style and clear content.

Schedule: This activity can be used anytime during the quarter of either PWR 1 or 2, or even a WIM or advanced PWR class.  I used it during week 3 of a WIM class, but it could actually be adapted for any time, including the first/second week of the quarter or before/after submission of first drafts or before the final RBA.

Activity length: The activity might take around 20 minutes.  Plan also on 10 minutes for distributing and collecting clickers; 30 minutes total.

Activity goals:

  • To raise students’ self-awareness about common patterns of error in their writing
  • to emphasize the importance of careful proofreading to maintain ethos
  • to generate discussion on clarity and correctness of style
  • to learn appropriate style for the discipline, field, or course
  • raise students’ awareness of their writing practices
  • have a class conversation about writing itself
  • make class and quizzes fun
  • help students avoid sloppy errors in future writing.

Activity description:

Request and reserve a set of clickers from our Academic Technology Specialist, Jenae Cohn.  She can give you a very quick and effective training in how they work.  I used 40 clickers, but you will only need 15 for a PWR class.  Jenae can also teach you how to create the slides to use with the clickers, run the test, save the data, and generate reports with the data.

Design your slides with your purpose in mind.  My purpose in generating this activity for the Public Policy WIM class as the Writing Specialist was threefold:

  • First, to remind students how much they DO know about writing correctly and therefore to stress the importance of proofreading to make sure they don’t have unintended errors in their writing (and only for some, to teach a rule).
  • Second, to emphasize to students how unintended errors will dramatically lower a writer’s ethos (or as one student quipped, “stupid errors make people look stupid”); in the process, I shared with students the article on Ethos & Error by Beason (attached as annotated PDF below) and I even included some slides from the article in my slide deck.
  • Third, to demonstrate the essential connection between clear writing and clear thinking on a subject (i.e. there are several “trick” questions in my PubpPol slide deck in which the grammar is correct but the content is wrong)

After designing and testing your slides, carry all the gear to the classroom. Set up your laptop and open the application.  Distribute clickers. Give a brief explanation /demo of how to use the clickers, following Megan’s instructions.  Then, run through the activities on the slides.  You can either run through all the questions at once, collecting data, then go back and discuss each one at a time, or you can run one slide at a time, collecting data on that one slide, showing the results and then the correct answer, and then discussing the answer (or alternative answers) along with the rationale for a given answer.  I used the second method (see my slides, attached).

Just as with MLA style rules, when students learn the "rationale" for a given style rule, they will be more likely to both remember it and comply.

Activity details:

See 3 additional handouts

  1. Powerpoint slides
    • The deck includes cartoons and photos to make life more fun.
    • The deck opens with a really obvious error slide to get students to test the clickers and to lighten the mood of the class.
    • All examples are taken from reputable sources: Strunk & White, Joseph Williams, the course syllabus, relevant course texts.  See explanations of modifications (for course content) and source attributions in slide “notes” section beneath each slide.
    • You can modify the slides to fit your own content, course, or theme.
    • The “notes” of the slides also explain the rule or purpose of the slide question, including the trick questions.  When I run this, we take time to discuss the rule, purpose, or complexity of each question.
    • Note that as your questions get either harder or more ridiculous, students will start clicking on nonexistent choices (e.g. D, E).  This has happened in our PWR meetings too, so it’s ok. It’s a subtle form of self-empowerment in the face of absurdity.
    • When you are done, you can generate reports (ask Megan for instructions). The report can be helpful for assessing the status of the class as a whole.  If you want to assign numbers of clickers to people then you can be like the panopticon and see who made which errors. I didn’t do that in the WIM class. I have attached the report from when I ran this activity in January 2014.
  2. PDF of article, annotated for the important parts: Larry Beason, “Ethos and Error: How Business People React to Errors,” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Sep., 2001), pp. 33-64
  3. Summary report from clicker activity in WIM class, January 2014.

Additional notes: This activity was originally published as an Activity of the Week in spring 2014.