From Learning from Home and planning virtual events, faculty and staff at the University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Information Science and Technology spent the last year working hard to create safe and engaging learning environments for all. Faculty like Briana Morrison, Ph.D., were working double-time: teaching in IS&T's Computer Science and Computer Science Teacher Education programs, and volunteering for the Advanced Placement (AP) College Board.
Morrison, an assistant professor, has a long history with the College Board. She was an admittedly reluctant recruit to be an AP “reader,” a professional who grades AP Exams. She said while being a reader was grueling, eight hours of straight grading for multiple days, it also made her a better instructor.
“It changed the way that I taught, and it changed how I designed and graded assessments. It made me much more efficient,” she said. After a few years, she made friends and expanded her network at these grading events – leading to an eventual invitation to join the development committee for the AP Exams. This last year, she helped ensure that everyone could take their AP Exams during the pandemic, which included helping to create over 40 different versions of the AP Computer Science Exam. Usually, the group produces two.
“AP courses allow students to see what they will do when they do get to college. For the intellectually curious, they get to dig deeper into a subject matter, and allows them to be challenged and not coast. I think all these things are really valuable, whether or not they get college credit, it prepares them for that next step,” Morrison said.
Flexible learning, engaging lessons
Another need arose while the pandemic trudged on: how could the AP College Board encourage high-quality learning when everyone’s school district was a mix of in-person classes, virtual learning, or a mix of both? The College Board knew that students needed flexibility, and the ability to get feedback and ask questions. Thus, “AP Daily,” a series of video lectures from college professors who focus on AP subjects, was born. Morrison filmed a faculty lecture on “Arrays vs. ArrayLists: the When, Why, and How,” a subject that many AP high school teachers might not be able to fully flush out in class, but something students should understand.
“[The AP College Board] wanted to bring in the higher education perspective,” Morrison said. “In my classes, I tend to use a lot more active learning – polls, chats, I have my bell for when they get [a question] right, I do all sorts of goofy little stuff to try and make it fun. For [the AP video], it’s more self-reflection than it is active."
The goal of the classes is to expand on the lessons a student may receive in their AP classes at their current high school. The videos might be assigned as additional learning materials by an AP teacher, but not necessarily designed to be a stand-alone class. Morrison noted that anyone could watch the videos to learn more about any given subject, however.
Morrison added that one of the best parts of taking part in this project was connecting to others who were taking part in this video series. They were able to talk about each of their goals, their plans for the videos, and make sure the videos build upon each other.
“I’m always amazed at how much I learn, especially from the high school teachers. They have the most inventive ideas for ways to teach things,” Morrison said. Morrison is always looking for ways she can bring back ideas to her teacher education classes and give them real-world examples of what works in classes across the country.
At the end of the day, Morrison hopes that although learning looked differently for a lot of students this last year, innovations like these videos helped students dive deeper into subjects they might not have had the opportunity to better understand. She said she was continuously inspired by her peers, who put a lot of thought and energy into making these videos approachable and useful.
“All of these lessons – without computing, where would we be?” Morrison asked.