Faculty Perspectives: Digital Teaching Tools and Platforms
The use of digital teaching tools and platforms in your course shows your ability to integrate different ways for students to engage with the content, one another, and you as the instructor. It is also a great way to showcase your students’ course engagement and learning, as well as how you as an instructor structure, enact, and assess your student learning outcomes in practice. This guide serves as a way to reflect on how you can position, document, and display your use of different types of digital teaching tools and platforms for your promotion and tenure dossier.
The Purpose of Documenting Digital Tool Use
Digital teaching tools and platforms can serve a course’s student learning objectives or outcomes in a variety of ways, depending on how often students are utilizing the tool or platform and how you prepare and use the tool. Therefore, when describing digital tools and platforms in your dossier, you will want to be clear on several aspects of their use: how exactly you are using them, your level of proficiency with the tool, and how you, as an instructor, prepare the students to use the tool and inform them on how it supports their engagement and learning.
Guiding Questions for Developing Your Documentation
Clear documentation of digital tool usage can help dossier reviewers understand how you are accomplishing your course learning outcomes and how you are structuring and modifying your digital tool’s use throughout your teaching. Here are some guiding questions below to help you think about what information might be meaningful for teaching documentation purposes:
What are some of the considerations made when selecting this digital tool/platform?
What led you to find it or adopt it?
What alternatives were previously used or considered?
Were there considerations made based on course modality: in-person, hybrid, or online (synchronous or asynchronous)?
Is there a cost associated with using the platform? Is there a limited free trial period or a freemium version that you could pilot first?
Does UD have an institutional membership? Is the tool supported at UD (see here https://sites.udel.edu/canvas/third-party-tool-integration/)?
How do you use the digital tool/platform to have students achieve and demonstrate their achievement of a student learning outcome?
How did you structure the use of the digital tool/platform?
How do you prepare students for using the digital tool/platform to get the most out of its use?
How often was the tool used?
When was the tool used (e.g., inside or outside of class time)?
How does its use connect to other student activities or assessments within the course?
What assignment(s) did you connect with the digital tool/platform’s use?
Did the tool serve as the assessment itself, or was it a part of an assessment (e.g., served as preparation for another assignment, class attendance, or presentation visual)?
What rubric(s) did you establish to assess student learning using the tool?
How have students reacted to the use of the platform?
How have students spoken about the tool in mid-semester feedback or in the end-of-semester evaluations?
What have been some of the adjustments made when using the digital tool/platform over time?
Did you change when or how it was used?
Did you alter an assessment or rubric after use?
Did you change the frequency of its use?
Did you change the course grading distribution based on the tool’s use?
If applicable, how have you supported other instructors to use the digital tool/platform in their classrooms?
Have you trained or conversed with faculty on how to use the tool?
Have you given workshops or conference presentations about the use of the tool?
Have you written any articles or white papers on using the tool?
Have you interacted with the tool/platform’s company to provide feedback on its application/use in practice?
Examples of Documentation using Different Digital Tools and Platforms
This section provides specific examples of faculty using the guidelines above when considering specific types of digital tools and platforms and how they expressed their use in a teaching dossier. Their narratives include visual examples taken from the digital platforms they have used, as well as first-person reflections that contributed to the development of sections of their dossiers.
Student Engagement Forums/Social Interaction Platforms (e.g., Yellowdig)
Designing classroom experiences that foster student-led discussions is a common pedagogical approach, and there are many ways to do so. To supplement in-person discussions, an online discussion board is helpful for several reasons:
- In a large course, it can be difficult to include hesitant students because the more vocal students were using up most of the class meeting time.
- In both small and large courses, an online platform allows students to share their created content with the class as a whole.
- In both small and large courses, an online platform allows students to continue conversations that had started in a classroom session.
Teaching challenge addressed: Improving student engagement with discussion
Cost to students: $14
Integration with Canvas: Yes
Course: HLPR/UAPP 211 Introduction to Public Health
Course Delivery: In-Person
Instructor: Elizabeth Fournier
Most recent semester taught: Spring 2023
Context narrative within the teaching section of the dossier:
Yellowdig is one of the external tools accessible through Canvas. I adopted Yellowdig for the second iteration of a large undergraduate course that is part of the public health minor, but also is used by a variety of students to fulfill a general education requirement. The course is taught in person with an 80-seat capacity. Students earn points for their engagements in the Yellowdig community for each of 10 periods during the semester; and their final score therefore reflects both quality and consistency of engagement.
I first adopted Yellowdig as an experiment to supplement or replace the discussion board tool offered in Canvas.Yellowdig helps to overcome some shortcomings with the discussion tool in Canvas:
- Responding to instructor-designed prompts changed the nature of conversations that had begun organically in the classroom.
- Despite several redesigns of instructions and guidelines, it remained difficult to foster online discussions that felt inclusive of diverse perspectives.
- The instructor-centered nature of the discussion board also gave rise to a student focus/expectation on instructor feedback – again distracting from the goal of hearing student perspectives.
The Yellowdig platform designers claim to use evidence-based pedagogy in the design of their default settings. I followed many of those default settings. However, I did make small modifications. For example, I used the default weekly setting for scoring periods, but by merging some periods, I was able to create a total of ten scoring periods for the semester.
When we begin using Yellowdig in Week 2 of the semester, I use some in-class time to discuss its purpose and to allow everyone to make their first contributions. The first Yellowdig topic is “Classroom Learning Environment” and the in-class activity invites students to develop a suggestion for encouraging each other to support a collaborative experience. (This is part of the class “onboarding” process described elsewhere in the dossier.) In addition, Yellowdig contains embedded instructions and troubleshooting links for student reference throughout the term. The Yellowdig interface also provides each student with an ongoing tally of points earned.
In the Canvas portal linking Yellowdig as an assignment, I provide the following instruction. “This is an online discussion tool that works differently than the formal discussion boards. Here you earn points by generating discussions on course topics without having to wait for the instructor to pose a specific question. Just choose from the list of topics and you can start a conversation with the question or comment that you want to talk about!”
By the time midterm student feedback was collected, 95% of students reported being comfortable using the platform. I believe they became very quickly comfortable engaging with the platform because the interface is similar to mainstream social media sites.
In the second half of the semester, the integration of Yellowdig participation with class participation was robust and almost entirely student-led. My guidance began to look more like suggestions offered to students wishing to improve their performance as a contributor (instead of focusing on points for a graded assignment) . For example, during a series of student-led in-person discussions (with assigned leader roles, including topics generated by course content), I suggested discussion leaders use Yellowdig to share with students details (and citations) for the content they presented in the class session. In this way, discussion leaders were able to focus classroom time on encouraging analysis of the topic.
Social Annotation Tools and Enhanced Feedback Tools (e.g., Perusall, Google Assignment)
Social annotation tools allow students and instructors to take notes and provide feedback collaboratively and in real time. These types of tools are more versatile than you might initially think. When creating student learning objectives and outcomes, you should reflect on the social annotation tool’s role in your course:
- Is the content preparation for a live class activity or discussion?
- Is the content a course submission through which students are to review and reflect upon their classmates’ learning and perspectives?
- Is the tool used as a feedback tool between students and the instructor?
- Are students annotating content to demonstrate their expertise or ability to recognize or apply course concepts?
Teaching challenge addressed: Students needing (1) deeper engagement with readings, audio, and content; (2) more ability to engage with one another; (3) greater ability for faculty to view and document student conversation, engagement, and questions; and (4) standardizing and automating grading
Cost to students: Free (OER) or cost of Perusall textbook (if integrating textbook material)
Integration with Canvas: Yes
Course: ENTR 420/620 Social Entrepreneurship
Course Delivery: Online, Asynchronous
Instructor: Stephanie Raible
Most recent semester taught: Spring 2023
Course context narrative within the Teaching section of the dossier.
Students were responsible for weekly engagements with their embedded course textbook, starting on Week 2 and ending on Week 12. Students were provided instructor videos on how to (1) navigate and use the platform and (2) understand the assessment expectation through reviewing the rubric (see below). A Canvas page with FAQs and troubleshooting links was also included for student reference throughout the term. In addition, the students were provided with a zero-point, non-textbook, text-based sample Perusall assignment in Week 1 of the course, which allowed students to practice making annotations and doing comments and reactions to classmates within the platform before a graded assignment was due. This practice assignment was available through the end of the drop-add period, which was also when the first three-point Week 2 and 3 submissions were due for all students. In addition to this initial grace period for assignment submissions, students were told that their lowest of the eleven assignments submissions would be dropped to account for a learning curve with the system.
To get full credit, the Perusall grading algorithm determines the quality of the response relative to the rubric. Typically, it was around seven posts to receive full credit based on the quality of, or substance behind, a response. Students can also get points for upvoting (green check) another student’s comment that they feel is substantive, interesting, or thought-provoking.
Image: Perusall- Sample Rubric Breakdown from ENTR 420/620
The left-hand side of each screenshot is the textbook page, with highlighting done by students in each section (note-students can only view student comments in their section, due to FERPA regulations). The pink highlight is the specific thread of comments connected to that portion of the text. Students have the choice to create an original comment or respond to a classmate. Textbook content was grayed out for copyright purposes and student names/photos have been removed.
To provide a glimpse of this weekly work students are engaging in, please see the screenshots below from Spring 2023:
Image: Perusall- Sample Student Discussion
Example: Google Assignments
Teaching challenge addressed: Providing more detailed and engaging feedback/revision for written assignments; plagiarism detection
Cost to students: Free (Canvas LTI plug-in)
Course: BUAD306 (Introduction to Service and Operations Management)
Course Delivery: In-person, synchronous; Online, asynchronous
Instructor: Caroline Swift
Most recent semester taught: Spring 2023
Course context narrative within teaching section of the dossier.
Throughout the year, I teach numerous sections of a course required for all business majors and minors (BUAD 306). In this course, I assign all students a short analysis paper on a current topic or trend. I believe that the writing and analysis skills practiced in this assignment are important, but organizing and grading the work of 200-300 students per year can be overwhelming. In order to make this a more manageable task, I started using Google Assignments, an LTI tool available through Canvas. This tool allows assignments to be submitted and graded in Google Doc form, with seamless integration with Canvas for assignment administration and grading. It also has built-in plagiarism detection for all of Google’s accessible public domain as well as institutional repositories.
On the instructor side, the use of this tool made my own feedback process more timely, streamlined, and detailed. Some benefits I found using Google Assignments are
- Feedback and editing are much more precise as you can directly alter and make suggestions on student writing (because all feedback and editing is through Google Docs). This makes it easier for students to engage with feedback and more clearly approach revisions.
- The rubric tool and comment bank are dynamic and easy to implement, which made grading quicker, resulting in numerous student benefits.
- Grading written assignments becomes more fair, as it’s easier to keep the same objectivity and rigor in grading from student to student.
- Grading is completed and returned to students more quickly, which helps them with revising as the assignment is still front of mind.
After switching from the default Canvas assignment tool to Google Assignments, I also noticed numerous changes in student engagement and performance:
- More students were willing to revise their papers to earn back lost points. I make revisions an optional exercise for students to improve their grades. With traditional Canvas grading, I have had very few students opting for revisions. In the semester I switched to Google Assignments, I saw a 500% increase in the number of students opting for revisions from the previous semester. While some of this might be attributable to other factors (e.g., different mix of students), I believe the ability to provide more detailed and timely feedback was a big motivator for additional student engagement in the writing process.
- I also found that plagiarism was reduced to nearly zero using Google Assignments. Before the first semester using this platform, I uploaded three previous years of student assignment into its University of Delaware document repository. This means that if a student copies something from another submitted assignment, it will be flagged. A review of these past assignments revealed about 10% of each class committing significant plagiarism (either from another student or, more commonly, from any number of internet resources).
However, in the first semester I used Google Assignments, I had NO instances of detectable plagiarism (note: this tool does not currently address AI-generated writing). I believe this is due to the feature that allows students to assess their work for plagiarism before submitting it. This additional step engages students in the academic integrity process by helping them see instances of plagiarism, even when it was not intended.
Overall, the integration of Google Assignments into Canvas grading is easy and can be implemented and mastered almost immediately. I found that it made the grading process quicker and more detailed, and student experience in the writing process to be more positive and engaged.