Monday, February 27, 2012

Revised Collaborative Activity - "Ask the Expert" regarding Cancer Research

First, I have to apologize - I thought that had I posted my collaborative activity from the Fall I semester, but apparently not!

Since the one I had decided on from Fall I is long ago in memory (as I taught in Fall II), I would like to post about a different collaborative activity I did in my ESL099 class in Fall II, based on the common reading, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

The class blog can be found here:


As we read the "HeLa" book in class, I tried to scaffold the reading with a lot of vocabulary work, discussions about major issues in the book, and many Internet research projects about cancer research in the 1950s and more recently, issues in ethics and informed consent.  We also researched segregation, Jim Crow laws, and issues in race in the United States from the 1940s through the present.

Near the end of the term, I invited a guest expert to our blog - my mother - who had a long career as a cancer researcher in a branch clinic of the well-known Mayo Clinic.  I had students write questions (as comments) about cancer, modern cancer research, informed consent, and any other related questions for my mother to answer.  My mother answered all of their questions, and students told me in class that they really appreciated her answers and time and then they wrote thank you messages to her.

Here is the post/assignment with student questions and the "expert's" answers:

I think that this type of collaboration is very important for students using blogs - seeing that someone else out there is reading what they post and interacting with them through the blogs.


At the end of this activity, students will be able to:
 *  (Synthesis Level) compose critical questions based on the content from the book
 *  (Synthesis Level) integrate common themes from the book into their queries
 *  (Analysis Level) connect the things they have been reading and discussing to a real-life interactive situation
 *  (Analysis Level)* select appropriate and relevant questions

Revision for the Future

To do such an activity again, here are my thoughts (based on the Effective Connections Checklist):

I think the students need more support in formulating good questions.  To scaffold the activity, in the future, I think that I will need to discuss the formation of good questions and how to succinctly include a lot of information in one question.  In addition, there should be a discussion about interesting and critical questions rather than simple questions.

To be more collaborative, perhaps students should work in small groups to formulate good and interesting questions.

I believe that it is good for students to connect with people outside the class, particularly for my ESL students, who need input and interaction from native English speakers.

To expand this, perhaps students could write questions for other classes for discussion or in place of a quiz one week.  For something like the common reading, there should be many other courses also reading the same book.  This could be done prior to the interaction with the expert.

I assess the activity verbally in class to students by going through some questions and pointing out some things, but there was no individual feedback.  Perhaps a more rigid rubric for assessing the questions should be used, so that students have clear expectations laid out and also a clear way to then assess the questions formulated.

I also had the students discuss and give me a verbal reflection on the activity in the class, but a written reflection could best round out the activity.

While setting up an activity with this attention to detail in the description before, collaborative work during, and assessment and reflection after the activity is the best possible way to do such an activity, the reality is that it is not feasible to set up every activity in class with all these steps.  However, I will try to incorporate more of these elements into all future activities in my courses!

I think that for a variety of class topics, experts could be asked to respond or participate.  I want to consider who I could ask to be the "expert" in future classes and how to minimize the time they need to spend on it, but yet build an activity that the expert also enjoys participating in.


1 comment:

  1. What a great activity.

    And I think you are right: incorporating a further step where students share their questions (for instance, via a Google Docs with "Comments" on for the responding students) before they post them is a wonderful idea.