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Unnatural texts, completed.

Time issues meant I couldn’t discuss the student-generated digital products from my Biol 009, Biology of Drugs & People course, in the Tuesday afternoon session, Student-Generated Digital Products: Unnatural Texts in the Natural Sciences. I promised to post a blog entry instead in which I would discuss my project and post my example of student work.  First though I can’t help but summarize the session as a whole!

Of the three faculty presenting, we each had different goals in mind and thus, different assignments.

Sarah Vittone from NHS was pushing her students in the area of content in her NURS 042/ HEST 042 Human Growth and Development class.  In addition to the students writing a scholarly paper on Growth and Development with application for clinical practice they were required to produce a short multimedia project that, like the paper, represented and integrated the material of the semester.  The project Sarah shared with us was called A Father’s Role.

In Sarah’s NURS 256 Senior Nursing Practicum class, she typically requires the students to write a paper as their final but this year modified that assignment to a multimedia project.  The students, who are about to be practicing nurses are asked to use the medium of video to translate clinical information to other nurses, patients and/or families of patients.  Sarah showed us student examples that included some very insightful videos such as one that focused on patient/family education, Orientation of Patient Families to the ICU.  And one that focused on staff education, Assessing Pain in Spanish Speaking Patients.

Heidi Elmendorf from biology had quite a different assignment for her Biology of Global Health class BIOL-194.  Her students produced 60 second public service announcements.  Heidi had formal learning goals for this assignment that ranged from communication to analytical thinking pertaining to both diseases and populations.  But it seemed the goal that most profoundly stimulated quality student work was the one that pushed students “…a little outside of your comfort zone by having you work with images and sound – as well as text – to convey a scientific message.”   With only 60 seconds and such a big task the students surprised even themselves with their hard work.  From one of the student reflection pieces on the assignment:

I thoroughly enjoyed this project because it was a deviation from the normal assignments we encounter. It also opened my eyes to the amount of work that goes into such a small production. Not even a minute of video required hours of research, collaboration, and editing. The challenge of realizing your audience, researching and presenting the information, and generating the precise visuals and audio is a skill that I will not overlook in the future. The importance of details, and their impact, cannot be forgotten.

In my own class, Biol-009:  Biology of Drugs and People, in lieu of the final paper each student prepared a short (3-5 minute) NPR-like radio blurb connected to the topic their class group had presented on in class (topics include Laws and penalties, Personal drug testing, Alcohol, Marijuana, Barbiturates, The Pill/female reproductive cycle, Major & minor tranquilizers, and Where drugs come from).

I chose the NPR-like blurb as the model for a few reasons.  One, the stories are well-sourced, pertinent, and entertaining in the best sense (compelling and of interest and worth).  Second, it was as close as I could get to giving the students the role of drug treatment advocate—or, as Wesch suggested in his TLISI talks, a “real” problem.  The role of advocate is a goal because at the heart of our class is the idea of “responsible patient-hood.  So this assignment though not allowing the student to be a health advocate mimics enough of the tasks students would have to perform in such a role.  Some folks like to call this “authentic assessment.”  I’m still not sure that I can sign on to that definition but I think you can get the gist of what they mean to say.  The assignment mimics the role of advocate because students had to find pertinent scientific sources that aligned with one another and with their topic and communicate that relationship quickly, compelling, and correctly to a broad (and somewhat unknown) audience.  Hopefully, they might recall these experiences down the road when they really are facing a touch health decision.  Finally, I count NPR-like stories a good model because they allow me to draw on a rich well of source material to guide the students.  I posted examples of NPR science blurbs on Bb for students to listen to and matched the blurbs with the transcripts of those blurbs, and the primary, secondary, and popular articles upon which the blurbs were based.  A gold mine of guidance!

The final student product, just like its NPR model, includes an annotated bib of all source materials, a transcript, and the blurb itself.

I also support the students with a pretty extensive rubric, a timeline which includes drafts of bib and transcript, training with the library for researching their topics, and training from our new media center (Gelardin).

Gregg Re, a Biol 009 student agreed to my sharing his blurb, my critique of his blurb, and his critique of the project.

Gregg’s blurb: multimedia-presentation-radio-blurb1

Some of the reasons I think this is a stellar blurb:

Hysterical—I mean come on this is FUNNY! I have listened to it again and again.  Walk by my office and I’ll pull you in and play it so we can laugh together.  Soon it will top Ben Affleck impersonating Keith Olbermann on my most played list.
Good science—Gregg nails the science…from the crazy commercial (infomercial?) to the current science about the effects of crack on fetuses
Good on his topic—Gregg was in the Laws and Penalties group and does a nice job of teasing out the legal aspects of this issue (implications of harming a fetus, the distinctions between federal and state law, and the tie-in with abortion law).
Fun touches like the commercial where you essentially get a science textbook (on placental toxicology) distilled but you can remember the highlights b/c it is so funny—especially the holiday inn bit!
Uses references well—one of the criteria on the rubric is to insert at least some of the references so if a listener wanted to track down info they could.  Gregg does this well with the authors of the citations he uses appearing as characters in the blurb.
Cultural and media critique—the intro bit about using the internet to “radically misdiagnose your children…” and the bit about the fund raiser—spot on and hysterical!  And the host, Niles Standish, pushing hard at the end for the simple story—is the myth busted or not!!!???
Science critique—Big science seems to have panicked along with the media about the alleged crack epidemic (i.e. how objective is science?) and that is indicated in the blurb.  And I think there is a critique of methods here too in the way Gregg describes the research on this topic (some of it apparently going on *during* the radio show itself!).  “Armed with a supply of babies, some crack, legal experts, and scientific studies…” we’ll solve the mystery before the show is over!  It’s as if Gregg is using the science to support his blurb but at the same time showing us how thin some of this research is and how tenuous our understanding of any of these deeply complicated processes really has to be because of the research underpinning that understanding.
Timely topic—we’re still sorting out all kinds of stuff around crack and cocaine.
Self critique—the alien baby sounds seems to indicate that Gregg is not taking himself too too seriously…

Gregg’s comments on the assignment, particularly contrasting it with a traditional paper assignment

Gregg Re, biol 009 student.

Gregg Re, biol 009 student.

Gregg says…
I think the paper definitely = more work, but then again  I had to write several papers for my other class this semester in lieu of finals, so if I had to do another for this class I’d have put myself on autopilot and slugged through it.

Making bio interesting for non-majors without an interest in biology seems to have been a major goal of the class … the blurb take(s) a load off of the up front effort … in the case of the blurb you can goof off for a minute or two instead of getting down to the science. The benefit of this is it helps a lot w/ retention. Having fun–or at least doing something unusual while working –helps the class material stand out. … In that sense I think the blurb also required less science leg work and replaced it with increased retention AND also let us hear others’ blurbs, so we learned about a variety of topics that would not have been possible with a paper.

The TLISI session ended with the last two presenters, Laurie Davidson and Beth Marhanka, representing the library and Gelardin New Media Center, respectively. They briefly described the sorts of work they do with classes to support such projects and gave tips on how to more smoothly add research and multimedia projects into a curriculum.  My own project would not be possible in any meaningful way without these groups.

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