A few years ago, the editorial board at LSE hatched the idea of “choose your own adventure” guides to literature on high-interest teaching topics, such as group work and writing test questions. The idea was to provide LSE readers—who are a mix of people who teach biology and related sciences, people who do discipline-based education research, and people who do both—easy access to papers that address questions about common teaching practices.
The journal put out a call for applications for people who wanted to create the feature. I thought it sounded like a great idea and applied, and a few months later was lucky enough to learn that I got to partner with Kristy Wilson in this venture. Since then, we’ve created three guides, with a fourth almost ready to go. We made some really intentional design decisions about that I think are worth sharing and getting feedback on:
- Each guide has a concept map-like landing page that identifies the core elements of the topic (as least as we define it, which is definitely one of the challenges of constructing the guides). For example, the guide on Group Work has “nodes” labeled Benefits, Definitions, and Underpinnings; Choosing Group Characteristics; Task Structure; etc (see the picture above). We think that this way of displaying the core elements is a readily digestible entrée into the topic—if I’m interested in what the literature says about group size, then I can immediately find and click on this node.
- When readers click on a given node, they see two things: bulleted statements that summarize what the literature says about that topic, and summaries of papers that support those statements. There are a several design decisions that Kristy and I made here. First, we thought the bulleted statements would give busy instructors the take-home messages that we think can be taken from the literature. Second, we decided to write the summaries of the articles to include the kind of information that we think readers would need to know whether the study matched their context, such as the size of the study, the students that were included, and the analysis that was done. Third, and very importantly, we included links to the articles themselves. Although we know our readers are busy, we also think they like to make judgements for themselves about what research says! Fourth, we decided to favor papers that focus on college-age students, but we have included papers from a variety of disciplines (not just biology, and not even just science).
- On each guide, one of the nodes links to an Instructor Checklist pdf. We thought that readers might value being able to easily print a summary of the guide for quick reference.
- Each guide is accompanied by a short introductory paper that appears in LSE. These papers not only describe the guide and serve as a way to announce that it is available to LSE readers, they also include what we see as open research questions related to the guide topic.
So far, we have completed guides on Group Work (with Peggy Brickman; introductory paper), Peer Instruction (with Jenny Knight; introductory paper), and Inclusive Teaching (with Bryan Dewsbury; introductory paper), and Kristy’s guide on Modeling in the Classroom (with Tammy Long, Jennifer Momsen, Elena Bray Speth, and Sara Wyse) is under review.
We’ve gotten some love for the guides—each one has had 1500-6000 unique page views, and Google Analytics suggest that people find the elements that are most directly related to teaching to be the most useful. They are a lot of work to put together, though, and I think it’s worth considering whether this is a different and useful way to share literature on teaching and learning. And if so, which of our design decisions are helpful, and which should we reconsider? And what other guides would be valuable?
We’d love to hear what you think.