Branching Paths: Student Driven Content

This semester I’ve taken a different approach to my initial branching path lecture. The one I did last semester made use of personalization, user feedback, and problem solving video game strategies. While it was a good effort, it paled in comparison to the complexity of the later attempts that semester.

Given the scope of the content I covered for this semester (Mexico, Caribbean, Central America, and South America) I wanted to take some of the knowledge off my shoulders and put it back onto the students. The goal of these lectures is to help students generate topic ideas for their research papers. My belief was that student would gain more from actively taking part in the content exploration (not a revolutionary idea I know).

To this end, I still created a branching path that allowed the students choice and personalization. The lecture used two layers of paths, one on the country and one on the subject to explore further. The students voted as a class using Turning Point on what country and discipline they wanted to focus on. Individually they conducted a quick web search on the selected categories and then reported back to the group as a whole. The structure provided more a broader scope on a given subject than I would have. This presented the students with more potential topics and ways to approach ideas. The lecture used a second round of branching to allow the students to run a search on the country of their choice. While the branching lecture choice was artificial since the students branched and looked up their choices rather than searching as a class on the same topic. The choice and the public commitment to that choice through voting created an environment where the students were ready and interested in exploring the region and provided enough of a structure to make them accountable for what they found.

The classes (8 in 2 days) all went extremely well. Only about 10% - 20% of students entered with an idea for a topic, but the classes left with an average of 85% of the class having research topics. Not a bad place to start for the second day of class.