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This is an activity I observed and assisted with, but it was so interesting I wanted to write about it anyway.  Last night in our master’s level class, Trends and Principles of the Counseling Profession, we were slated to cover multiculturalism.  Now, the topic itself is very interesting, but the powerpoint slides that came with our textbook were very long and very, very dry.

So we decided to play cards.  We split the class into 3 groups of 4-5 students.  You can do slightly bigger groups, or increase the number if you have a large class.  Each group was given a deck of cards and rules of the game. What the students didn’t know is that each set of rules was slightly different!  They  had 5 minutes to practice and learn the rules, then we took all the rules away and instructed them to play without speaking.  They could gesture and draw, but not spell out or otherwise indicate numbers.  Once they had finished that hand, the winner was told to move to another group.  The next round was played with one new member.

What happened next was very interesting.  We heard and saw several frustrated, confused, and wildly gesturing players.  Others did not seem fazed.  After that round completed, we again moved the winners and played again.  This time they seemed more resigned.  We suspected they had picked up on the fact that they were given different rules, and had seemed to adjust to it, so we stopped the game.

We took about an hour to process it.  Many students knew immediately what had happened, but it was very interesting to hear how they responded to the silent misunderstandings.  We talked about what it was like to be the “new person” who “didn’t know the rules,” and how some felt suspicious of the majority, frustrated or just plain out of place.  We also talked about the efforts made by the majority players to make the new player feel welcome.  We talked about implicit rules of a culture, and how that affects group dynamics.  Adjectives used by the students to describe the activity included “insightful”, and “clever.”


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Statistics, Pink Balls and Buzzers

When planning for our next class, master’s level Trends and Principles of the Counseling Profession, the professor of record told me that she just couldn’t see delivering a straight lecture on such dry material.  (We had planned to cover research and assessment that evening).  She also told me she was not feeling very creative…but I was.  I remembered an activity I had done previously where I placed the students in a circle, had them throw a ball to a classmate, then the classmate would have to answer the question.  Then that person would throw the ball to the next person, and so on.

On the day of class we show up with a deck of flashcards with research terminology, a pink ball and a buzzer.  We weren’t sure exactly how we were going to use all of these things, but the professor felt pretty strongly about using the buzzer.  And I was still feeling creative…

So, I put the students in a circle, handed one of the the ball and asked them to pick a card.  Then, they threw the ball and the classmate who caught it had to define the term on the card.  If not, then that person was to describe one thing they had learned from the chapter on research, but they couldn’t repeat anything that had already been said.  If they still couldn’t answer, they got buzzed, they threw the ball to someone else and the game continued.

Students’ reaction.  Up until this point, we had never done a class activity.  Needless to say, the students were a bit anxious and confused at first, but then were smiling and laughing as they started the activity.  One student said at the end of the evening that it was a class they would never forget.  Nobody was bored, and they all learned their terminology.  Unfortunately, part way through the game it became evident that over half the class did not complete the reading assignment!  While some may argue that it was unfair to put the students on the spot like that, and I do think the first student to admit it was a bit embarrassed, I think it was a valuable lesson to all of them.  Come to class prepared, because you never know if you may catch a pink ball!

What I would do differently.  Since I was co-teaching the class, although I had initiated the activity I did not have complete control over it.  The instructor of record is a very knowledgeable and talented teacher, who likes to explain things in a lot of detail and process student’s reactions.  This equated to a lot of time of students sort of standing around restlessly.  For this to work properly, it has to be FAST.

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Job Search Jeopardy!

The regular professor in the graduate class I am T.A. for, Career Development, allowed me to teach the entire four hour job searching class by myself. I was very excited, as I had never taught an entire class by myself before.

I really enjoyed formatting the entire class by myself.  I included elements I thought were important to teach the students about job searching that aren’t a usual part of the curriculum, such as: general business etiquette, including how to shake hands properly, and proper interview attire.  They also had the “usual and customary” lessons about how to create effective resumes and cover letters, how to prepare for a job interview, etc.  For the resume portion, I had them split up into teams to critique each others resumes using the resume rubric from our career center.

Now, onto the activity I want to highlight.  The students were required to research a “little known job search fact” and email it to me a few days before the class, along with the article citation.  I used this information in a question/answer format to create a Jeopardy! game.  I split the class up into 4 teams and played the theme music.  The particular website I used,, kept score automatically.

Results: The students were actively engaged, perhaps a little too much so.  The teams were really competitive with each other, arguing between themselves and me about how they should have gotten credit for the right answer, etc., getting upset that I was “favoring” one team over another, etc, etc, etc.  Other than the griping, which the professor said was “mild” compared to what she has experienced, the game was really fun!  It was an active way to process the information the students had researched and it was edifying to see them get many of the answers correct, even though they weren’t the ones who provided the fact.  I would definitely do this activity again.  With roughly 15 items, it took about a half-hour of classroom time.

What I would do differently: Make sure you print out the question/answer sheet and bring it with you.  In the heat of the moment, it is unlikely you will remember the exact correct answer.  And exactness is key in this game!  If there is behind-the-scenes information, such as an article quote, summary or citation, you may want to bring that as well or at least hang onto it for reference.  Finally, I think I would state in the beginning that only EXACT answers will be accepted, and adjust the answers ahead of time to make them a little more inclusive; rather than having exact answers on the screen and then making a judgment call in the moment if the student was close enough.  I think this would greatly reduce the aforementioned griping, which was the only annoying thing about the activity.  Back to the positive side, I heard a few students say “cool” when I told the class we were going to play Jeopardy!

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I just attended a 3 hour workshop on “educasting.”  Podcasts are a surprisingly simple and convenient way to deliver content to students.  For example, if you wanted to clarify something that was discussed in class, or provide deeper information on a topic.

The way it works: You create the podcast, record a mini-lecture using software like Audacity (for PCs) or Garage Band (for Macs), then broadcast the episode to your students by creating a podcast episode using the mini-lecture.  Recommended length is 2-10 minutes, recommended format is m4a, and you can also add video by using software such as ProfCast.  In the beginning of the semester you create the podcast, then each time you want to deliver some course content  you simply record an episode.  Students will receive it automatically by “subscribing” to the podcast.

Audacity is recording software that is surprisingly easy to use.  You can add music to fade in and out, remove noise, adjust volume, etc.  So…you can produce some fairly professional sounding podcasts with equipment you probably already have.  If your computer doesn’t have a built in microphone, you may need to purchase one.   You may also want to purchase a portable recording device in the event you are lucky enough to interview someone prominent in your field, and want to share that interview with the students.  What better way than by creating a podcast episode?

Although it is too late this semester for me to utilize the subscription feature, I may decide to create a single episode for my last online lecture.  I’ll keep you posted.

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Multicultural Panel

Last night, in a master’s level Career Development class, rather than just lecture the students on multicultural issues for hours on end, I had the idea of creating a panel.  By asking “real” people from various cultures questions, students would have a unique opportunity to apply the information they have been researching, rather than just discussing it with themselves or their professors.  I thought it would be a great way to have the information “come alive”, plus I figured students must be curious about lots of things that only someone from that culture would know.

I invited several people I knew (outside academia) that were of a minority culture.  This took some effort, since some people didn’t want to drive to a strange place at night, struggle with parking only to enter a classroom where students are going to ask you all sorts of personal questions.  However, despite all this, I did find five people, which I figured was a good number.  Three were going to come in person and two were going to use Skype or iChat, since they were not local.  Unfortunately one member backed out at the last minute, and we had technical issues with the iChat connection, so we ended up with three people on the panel (two live and one on Skype).

Two weeks prior to the panel, I sent an email to the students outlining who would be on the panel and what their cultural background was.  I instructed the students to provide one question they would like to ask one or more panel members based upon the multicultural career development article they researched, or just something they have always wanted to know.  I gave them a due date of about 5 days prior to the panel, to give me an opportunity to read the questions to make sure they were relevant, appropriate and clearly-worded.  A few days prior to the panel, I emailed the questions to the panel, so they would know what was going to be asked of them.  (I used a Google document for this, which made this process very easy).

Other logistics: I snail-mailed the panel participants parking passes and maps, and gave them a thank-you gift afterward.

The results: Overall, the activity was a great success.  With a few exceptions, the students asked some very relevant and interesting questions.  A few examples:

1.  “What is one stereotype you’ve witness multiple times from people who are not familiar with your culture? Basically, if you could change/stop one stereotype, what would it be?”

2.  “Was there anything that a teacher/counselor (elementary, middle or high) did that had a positive impact on your cultural identity?  What do you wish your teachers/school counselors would have done differently?”

3. “What has been the biggest challenge that you have encountered while on the job due to your cultural differences or due to cultural differences of another person involved?”

The panel members spoke freely and appeared to feel very comfortable in front of the students.  The panel members were concise in their answers, yet thorough.  (I was afraid they might ramble on, but they didn’t).  The students appeared to be engaged, as there was silence when the panel members were speaking, all eyes were on them, with minimal fidgeting and no yawns, and several of the students asked follow-up questions.  The main professor even got involved, asking a few questions of her own.  The panel members appeared relaxed throughout, smiling, and were quite willing to address all of the students’ questions.

After the panel members left, we took a few minutes to process the activity.  The students told me that they really enjoyed it and thought it was good.  The only negative thing the students had to say was that they could not hear the person using Skype very well.  It helped that I summarized some of her responses, but it would have been much better if the students could have heard her more clearly.

Lessons learned: I probably would not choose to use Skype again.  For some reason Skype would not work when my laptop was connected to the overhead projector.  As a result, I spent the first 10 minutes of the panel fidgeting with the equipment, and texting the Skype panel person to try to figure out what went wrong.  When I finally did get Skype working, it was very difficult to hear that panel member, possibly due to her microphone.  Also, we couldn’t see her because she was on my tiny netbook laptop instead of projected on the screen as originally intended.

The fourth member, who we were supposed to connect with using iChat, never appeared.  I still don’t understand what happened.  I sent him texts that he never got.  He said he was on iChat, but we couldn’t see him.

At any rate, it was far too distracting to try to deal with all of those technical issues and run the panel at the same time!

What I would do differently:

1.  Have an assistant help me with technical issues so that I can run the panel.  No assistant, no Skype.

2. If I using Skype, do a sound check with panel members the day prior, and make sure they have my id as well.

3. If using Skype, have those on Skype sign in 15 minutes early so that any last-minute technical problems can be addressed.

4. If possible, get to the classroom the day prior and try using Skype on the projector.  This way there will be time to call technical support if there are any issues.

5. If there is no projector, don’t use Skype or iChat unless the sound is clear.  Not having a video image is OK, but the sound must be clear.

6. When inviting participants, make it clear that they are not expected to be the “expert” on their culture or ethnicity, that we are just curious about their personal experiences.

Conclusion: I would definitely do this activity again.  The students benefited greatly.  Although it requires a lot of advance planning, it is worth it.  I wouldn’t bother with Skype again, however.  The risk of technical issues isn’t worth the benefit of having that additional panel member that can’t be there in person.

Update on 12/17/12: The use of Skype in the classroom appears to be problematic in general. Besides the technical issues, students seem to complain when I have guest speakers over Skype.

*This activity has also been published:

LoFrisco, B. M. Multicultural Panel. (2012). In T. M. Laura, M. Pope, & C. W. Minor (Eds.), Experiential activities for teaching career counseling and for facilitating career groups (Volume III).  Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.

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Mid-semester Feedback

Because we use a paper system, instructors do not receive student feedback until well past the end of the semester.  At this point it is too late to address any issues.  So, I decided to create a mid-semester survey and upload it to Blackboard.  Student participation was voluntary and anonymous.  I asked general questions, as well as questions centered around the goals from my Teaching Philosophy statement: creating a safe learning environment and helping students to learn to think critically.

Results: With all but a handful participating, my ratings were really good in almost all areas.  Not nearly as many students as I expected thought I taught them critical thinking.  Either they do not understand the concept in the same way I do, or my portrayal of it is too subtle.  Perhaps I need to be more covert.  Another consideration is that perhaps in some courses critical thinking is less important than in others.  But, in a career development course, it is of some  importance.  Students praised me for my timely responses, and reported that my energy made the classes fun.  I was not surprised about the timely feedback comment, as I am somewhat obsessive about checking and returning emails.  But, the energy comment surprised me a little bit.  People say that I am energetic, but I do not feel energetic.  I just feel like me.  A little less of me, actually, since this is a night class and I am NOT a night person.

Another comment that surprised me was that not all of them gave me top marks in being prepared.  Most of them did, but some rated me as less than 100% prepared.  This puzzles me.  And I completely disagree.  I pride myself on being both on-time and prepared.  Perhaps it is because career counseling is not my domain, and so sometimes during lectures I would need to refer to my notes, or I may pause at certain points trying to think of what I wanted to say.  I should have added a free-form comment area on this question so I would understand why they felt that way.  Actually, there were a few questions I wish I had added a free-form area so that students could explain their answer.

The students also reported that they did not like having feedback about their sessions public.  My initial idea was to email them privately, but the professor of record wanted them to be posted publicly so that others could benefit.  Therefore, I felt a bit validated by the student’s comments.  Next time, I will provide feedback privately, and more general feedback publicly.  I did create a YouTube of general feedback, but I need to check the views on it to see how many watched it.

I highly recommend doing some sort of mid-semester evaluation, even if it is as simple as having students spend the last 5 minutes of class writing a paragraph about what they like and don’t like.  You’ll have time to correct things that aren’t working, and you’ll get confirmation about what you think is working.

Update on 12/18/12: I continue to do mid-semester evaluations in all of my classes, with the exception of the last class I co-taught, Trends and Principles of the Counseling Profession, because the professor of record believed in processing student’s reactions in class, so having a separate forum was unnecessary. 

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Going Old School

Tonight I went retro.  Tired of PowerPoint slides, I took to the board with my dry erase markers.  I was a little anxious about this, because for the first time the students would not have lecture notes posted to Blackboard, and, (horrors!) they will HAVE TO TAKE NOTES.  And, worse, this is right on the tail of receiving their mid-semester feedback, which included a few comments to the affect of wanting MORE text in the presentation, not LESS.  But, I listened to my gut instead of my head, because I knew that the type of information I was presenting was better suited to a more interactive, explanatory style.  I was going to explain basic statistical concepts to career counseling students.  I just didn’t see how a zen PowerPoint was going to cut it.

So they wouldn’t think I had ignored their feedback, I made sure to explain before my lecture that this material would be better explained verbally.

Results: The statistical and math concepts went well.  I was able to draw, stop, talk, ask, explain and draw again.  Once I filled up the board, rather than erase and write again I decided to present the rest of the information verbally.  Unfortunately students kept asking “is that under #1?”  See, I was describing the steps for deciding on an instrument.  Because I knew the material well, and a lot of it is common sense to me, I didn’t focus on the organizational level of the information, but rather presented it in order and connected the ideas.  I think part of the problem here is that because of my experience, I don’t see this information as strictly linear, but since my students are new at this, they do.  Lesson learned.  Next time I will either use a transparency or outline it in the board.  And I will not assume my students share my conceptual background.

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Feedback on the Feedback

In the graduate level career development course I am co-teaching we provided feedback on the students’ counseling sessions.  Some feedback was provided individually (when requested), face-to-face in a group format, online (via Elluminate) in a group format, and online via discussion board posts.  I wanted to know two things: 1) which format was preferred; and 2) what specific feedback they received that was most helpful.  Rather than just call on people, we had a bag of lollipops, each with a student name attached.  A student selected a lollipop out of the bag, then read the student’s name that was attached.  Then, that student shared their feedback.  When they were done, that student then selected another lollipop, and so on.  In addition to making sure each student shared feedback, we were also able to take attendance (the lollipops still in the bag were the absent students), and finish learning student names (with a student calling the name, it didn’t look like we were searching for the student ourselves).

Results: The activity went very well, and the students were engaged and interested.  One student didn’t want to take a lollipop, which threw me off for a moment because I wasn’t expecting that.  So instead I just had her pick one, read the name, and give it back.  The students seemed very comfortable because they shared feedback that made them seem more vulnerable, personal feedback about a bad habit they had, ie. a nervous stutter, as opposed to more general feedback such as “I got new ideas about which instruments to use.”  We praised the students for taking risks, and explained to them that these were all areas for improvement, rather than an indication that they were terrible career counselors.

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The PowerPoint dilemma

I just finished reading a book called “presentationzen.”  Basically the idea is to have little or no text, but to include a picture or graphic that communicates your ideas.  Reading a lot of text on a slide can be very distracting when the presenter is talking.  The “zen” idea was to eliminate all that so that your audience can just focus on what you are saying, using the picture as an aid.  Well.  Students aren’t so crazy about this.  Despite me posting a separate document with all of my lecture notes they are still saying there isn’t enough detail on the slides.  I can understand wanting more detail in the slides because it is easier to put the information into context.  Yet…what is wrong with making them take notes?  Why can’t they just write down what they are hearing?  One student suggested adding notes to each slide, so I may try that.

Update on 12/18/12: After teaching several classes, the style I have settled on is part Zen, part not.  Generally, I have minimum bullet points, and I add visuals to enhance the information.  The bullet points serve both to outline the important concepts, as well as trigger my own memory as to what might be important but obscure pieces of data.  This also means I no longer need lecture notes, so I don’t have to look down and read anything while I am talking.  Because my style is to walk around a lot when I am teaching, this allows for better flow, since I’m not fumbling with paper as I am teaching.

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Ball Toss Activity

This semester, in our master’s level Career Development class, rather than use a textbook, we are having the students research articles on various topics.   The students like it, because they can research what they find to be of interest.  The challenge has been how to discuss their findings in class.  We started out by allowing them to share, and although we specified “briefly,” it was anything but.  Then, I came up with two ideas:

1.  Do a “ball toss” activity.  The students form a circle, then toss a ball to each other.  Whomever has the ball shares one sentence from their article.  They then toss the ball to another classmate who hasn’t shared yet.

Reaction: The activity went really well, although the students struggled to come up with just one sentence.  Discussed next time allowing them two or three sentences.

2. Allow them to interrupt me in my lecture to share the findings of their article.

Reaction: This also went well.  The positives were that their sharing was relevant to the current discussion, so it flowed better.  The negatives were that there is  no elegant way to figure out who has shared and who hasn’t.


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