A few weeks ago I gave a presentation at the American Association of Physics Teachers summer conference in a session about accessible technology. I talked about how I make use of student assessment videos, but I tried something new in this presentation. It worked well, for the most part, and I wanted to get down some of the details.
Because it was about accessible technology, I wanted to focus on how seeing students work through a problem helps me identify student needs that aren’t apparent in the final product (of a homework assignment or exam, for example). I wanted to show how watching a student work, through a video, can really show things that you, as an instructor, can give useful feedback on. The problem that I faced as I prepared the talk was that often, when showing such videos in a presentation, audience members don’t focus on the pedagogical question but rather they focus on the physics problem and try to solve it along with the student. Because I really wanted my audience to focus on the process, I was trying to think about how to change that dynamic.
I had an idea, but I thought it might not go very well. I wondered if an analogy might help, something that got the process point across but didn’t have a physics problem for them to get caught up in. I was concerned that folks would be frustrated with a non-physics example. I was worried the analogy wouldn’t be strong enough. But I thought I’d give it a try.
The analogy I used was art, specifically drawing. I have a great app on my phone that captures all the pen strokes during the creation of an image. I’ve been trying to get better at drawing over the last few years, so I use the app a lot. The video creation part is something I hadn’t really paid attention to, but I realized it might work well for this analogy. Essentially I planned to have a conversation about the difference between looking at a final product and watching its creation. I hoped to then talk about how those differences manifest when talking about physics. It actually went pretty well!
Here’s the final product I showed (I drew it for a friend’s birthday who’s a big soccer fan):
Yes, I know, I suck, get past it. I showed them this and asked them to critique it. One said they liked how I used color to indicate motion (something I hadn’t done consciously!), another talked about the perspective involved. Then I showed them this:
(clicking through takes you to a public google photo video page, hopefully that’ll work for folks)
I asked what they noticed. One commented on how I used fundamental shapes to block things to begin. I pointed out how I spent a ton of time on one hand, but very little on another and how I put likely way too much time and effort into the detail of the soccer player. We talked about how you get a much better sense of me as a practitioner (and maybe as an artist, but that was secondary for this) by watching the video than by looking at just the final product.
We talked about the shapes comment is like watching a student use good fundamental approaches in a physics video. We also talked about what it means when a student spends too much time on a particular detail (something you don’t see in the final product). I shared how I had a student who was frustrated that her videos weren’t getting the same high scores as her colleagues, pointing out that she had the same work and talked about the same things. I told her that she spent equal time on everything; an indication to me that she didn’t have a firm grasp on what the important concepts were.
My favorite comment, that really connected to the accessibility focus of the session, was when someone said that in the final product they thought the goal netting looked funny but only when they saw the video did they see that it was right on the edge of the image. The final product was a white-background image placed on a white screen (just like above), but the video, during the part when I zoomed in, indicated where the boundary was. This led to a great conversation about not always being able to see the barriers that students face, especially when you only see their final product.
So, all in all, I think it went pretty well. I then pivoted to talking about physics examples and we were able to use the art analogy vocabulary throughout the conversation.
Your thoughts? Here are some starters for you:
- This is cool, but why didn’t you also . . .
- This is dumb, art is not physics. What you should have done instead is . . .
- Another great analogy would be . . .
- Did you give the finished product or the video to the birthday boy?
- You kind of suck at drawing, why in the world would you show the world that?
- I thought you were all about hearing student voices, this is just a silent video. How is that the same?
- I hate it when audience members just focus on a tangential thing in presentations. My favorite example is . . .
- You really don’t know how to use semi-colons.