My Plan for TEL Practice Improvement

The following is a blog post that I completed for the Navitas Module: Reflecting on Technology-Enhanced Learning Practices. In it, I reflect on how we can enhance learning practices with the use of technology in a school like SAE Institute Paris, which exclusively aims to train students to become future professionals in the creative media industry, necessitating technology at every step of the way.

At SAE Institute Paris, we are lucky that the disciplines we specialize in already demand technology-enhanced learning practices. Clearly, it is impossible to teach a student to become an audio engineer, filmmaker, or video game creator without covering certain fundamental software and equipment. Therefore, despite typical resistance to more active learning practices, our courses are by nature interactive, project-based, and technology-enhanced.

That said, there is always room for improvement. As the Academic Coordinator, I’ve often found it ironic that our teaching staff of industry professionals, while technologically proficient, has been particularly resistant to making better use of our LMS (Canvas). Indeed, it was one of my first goals to implement this at a very basic level, by making sure students had an essential repository of information including pedagogical materials related to their coursework and their summative assessment guidelines. Now that this has been implemented, I intend to move beyond such basic measures and develop and implement a real LMS strategy for the school.

Based on Bennett’s Digital Practitioner Framework pyramid, our campus is somewhere between “Skills” and “Practices” in that we apply technology to learning, but not consistently and teachers are not currently making informed choices about how to use technologies. They use the technologies as necessary, but need to develop strategies to properly incorporate them into classes so that our students see the value in these pedagogical methods.

Through insights gained from participating in this course and from my interactions with fellow participants (which were unfortunately not as prolonged as I would have liked, given my delay in accessing the Moodle), I have seen that there is no “one size fits all” model for TEL practice improvement. Indeed, since the situation at SAE Institute is quite different from more traditional academic settings, I will need to be equally innovative in the TEL practices I try to promote. Given my own relatively “traditional” background, I’m hoping that by developing and implementing a proper LMS strategy for SAE Paris, I will be able to learn which types of TEL practices are most successful in various academic context and thereby be better prepared in my own teaching, curriculum design, and EdTech work outside of SAE.

McGraw Teaching Seminar: Putting it Together: Integrated Course Design


For this final meeting, we prepped by finding what we found were “model” syllabi in our fields — either good or bad. As I was searching for Princeton-specific syllabi for the introductory French literature courses, I noticed that syllabi were difficult to find! We had all agreed in the previous seminar that syllabi represent a contract between students and the professor and were therefore a fundamental part of integrated course design. So, I found it odd that without actually attending the first lecture at Princeton, it was impossible to see a syllabus in advance. In the end, I dug up my old Hopkins syllabi, which were underwhelming. Each focused more on what texts we were reading and administrative details than course goals and details about assessment. The second half of the assignment was to draft a lesson plan using a template. I designed one based on 17th century French classical theater and the notion of rules.


Our final discussion consisted of our reactions to the course in the form of a timeline recap. The calendar of the course had been posted on the main wall, and we were instructed to put two post-its on specific days: first for our favorite moment and second for our least favorite. Seeing how everyone else reacted to various parts of the course and discussing what we wish we had had more of or less of led to great reflections on the topic as a whole. How do we integrate all that we learned into innovative course design?

My main takeaway from this course is that course design can and must be broken up into its constituent parts. In the future, I will always begin from a student’s perspective. What do I want them to learn and how can I get them there? What do they know already and how can we build? From there, you can design pointed assignments and have the class be driven by what the students will do, rather than a series of texts. For these assignments, designing a rubric can help me as the teacher understand what I expect of the students. But I am still unsure of how to make use of them in the classroom. Overall, I am excited to synthesize all of this and create my first syllabus! I hope to design the introduction to French literature class that I wish I had.


McGraw Teaching Seminar: Connecting Online and Classroom Environments / Writing Teaching Statements

For introducing us to the subtle art of writing teaching statements, the McGraw staff “flipped” the classroom, giving us an extremely structured online lesson to introduce us to the expectations that lie behind this essential pedagogical document. While I found the experience to be productive, the concept of the flipped lecture as it was presented to us raised a series of questions to me that were unrelated to the teaching statement.

  1. While the online lecture they provided was professionally recorded and expertly designed, I failed to see exactly how this “flipped” lecture was actually flipped. This was not ordinarily a lecture-based class, but had always functioned as some form of individual readings or homework as well as outside group activities in order to prepare us for an extremely interactive discussion-based class. While the “flipped” lecture here did not assign us mandatory readings as usual, how was the video lecture fundamentally different from assigning readings? We watched the video, carried out the mini assignments along the way, and came to class with drafts and ideas to further discussion.
  2. This question had a simple answer that only raised more questions: the difference between this video lecture and the readings we had formerly been assigned was that this video was extremely structured. We watched a certain segment of the lecture, and then had a focused activity that helped us to put into action what we had just absorbed passively.
  3. I began to wonder, are humanities classes already flipped? This teaching seminar was not a “humanities” class in the strict sense, but it seemed to be already flipped. The only major difference between the flipped lecture and a traditional one is that the video provided immediate and structured activities for us to do.
  4. What if, rather than focusing on flipping classes in the sense that students watch a video at home, we could instead focus on structuring the work they do at home as well as structuring what is done in the classroom. In my experience teaching French language classes, I focused far less on what I assigned students outside of the classroom than what I hoped to accomplish in the classroom, as those 50 minutes represented their only real chance at an immersion experience. When I assign a film to watch, I focus on preparing them in the classroom before they watch it, arming them with the cultural background and specific vocabulary that will allow them to make the most of the 2-3 hours as well as bring back a productive conversation in the classroom.
  5. I thought back to my study abroad experience. The French university system, I had been told, encourages autonomy. Very little was done in the classroom, but very little was assigned. Students were implicitly aware that they either needed to structure their work on their own, or they would just squeeze by in the classroom. The American system is quite different. Everything is explicitly stated, and students as a result do not structure their own work.
  6. When designing my syllabus for the seminar, I attempted (and am still refining) how to best structure the work outside of the classroom to encourage students who are just making the jump from French language coursework to more advanced classes conducted entirely in French to structure their own work productively. I am hoping to continue to nuance this idea, enriching my pedagogy by structuring work both in and out of the classroom.

French Theater

The Princeton Department of French and Italian has a fantastic French theater program, L’Avant-Scène, organized by Professor Florent Masse who also directs all the plays and teaches theater classes in our curriculum. A few years ago, I had the honor of playing the lead role in my department’s first Italian play, Gl’innamorati by Carlo Goldoni.

This year, I had the opportunity to act in a French play, playing the father (surprised?), Géronte, in Le Menteur by Pierre Corneille. While I do not study 17th century theater, I have always felt an affinity for the rules that govern it, and a particular love for the rhythm and melodic rhyming of expertly-crafted alexandrines. While I had read Le Menteur in French literature classes before, I found that acting in the play proved to be a new way to “read” it, perhaps even more productive than in the context of a course. There were several aspects to the work we did in rehearsals that contribute in interesting and practical ways to a French language university education:

  1. Staging: While stage directions are indeed written into the script, in a literature class, I am afraid most students probably skip over them. Being forced to imagine these scenes acted out was an excellent way to reflect on the spatial realities of the play — not only in the sense of the rule of three unities (the single action of a 17th century French play must take place in only one day and one place), but also in terms of the relative locations of the characters, who speaks to whom and where, and artificial gender and societal divisions.
  2. Poetry: Reading a play silently and quickly in order to make it to class on time with something to say is reductive. Reading these lines out loud helped me get a real sense of not only the poetry, but the emotional reason behind every line spoken in the play. The repetition and memorization of my lines sensitized me to the motivations of the characters. In short, it brought the play to life even though I would have thought memorizing and repeating the same lines over and over would be a mindless task.
  3. Collaboration: Often, literature classes can feel isolating. Of course, ideally you want to foster productive conversation in every class, but in my experiences in literature classes, often students can be very reluctant to speak. Every rehearsal we had, we were not only speaking French when reciting lines, but receiving stage directions and instructions in French from Professor Masse, and finally speaking in French together about our own interpretations of a particular scene. Not only did the literature come to life when read aloud, but reading out loud with other students built up a camaraderie that I have rarely seen in humanities classes.

McGraw Teaching Seminar: A Deeper Look into the Classroom

Course Observation

For this session, we needed to observe at least one class at Princeton taught by one of our colleagues in the seminar and one online course. I observed a molecular biology course, since I was curious what techniques are used to teach large lectures. Although the class was large, the instructors consistently broke the large group of students into smaller groups that still interacted with the overall class. Tables were given individual assignments and had to discuss smaller aspects of larger problems, which were then combined in a discussion with all the groups. While similar to techniques I have to use in French language classes, seeing it implemented on a larger scale and with more complex problems was useful. The final stage in each activity was particularly impressive — a representative from every group had to explain that group’s reasoning, and the instructors would then tie it all together.

My first year of college, I had taken physics 101, which was a large lecture class that required absolutely no engagement and just expected students to absorb lectures passively. The content of these lectures was often divorced from the homework and exam problems that served as our primary means of assessment. My classmates and I realized that if we wanted to succeed, we needed to do the majority of the “teaching” on our own, and viewed the lecture as an inconvenience. The professor began grading us on our “participation” in lecture given our clicker responses, but only gave us points if we answered questions, indicating that we were merely present.


The Princeton biology course restored my faith in science classes, and reminded me how important pedagogy is in the reception of the material for students. Whereas I had assumed I would love physics, the actual physics class gave me a drastically different impression of the discipline: I did not want to waste a huge part of my college years in anonymous lecture halls not learning, and then be forced to teach myself everything on my own; I did not want to take tests that were designed to be impossible, with average grades between 30 and 50%; finally, I definitely did not want to feel like I was in competition with my classmates, aiming to beat out my neighbors for those those rare A grades. The Princeton class, however, was collaborative. As an outsider, I felt as though I had a real understanding of what microbiology research might be like, what collaborations would look and sound like, and what the bigger picture was.

These issues are analogous to those found in online classes. How do you elicit active learning from students whom you will never meet? How do you encourage collaboration between classmates who have different schedules, different levels of engagement, and possibly live on different continents? Finally, how do you harmonize what is learned and set reasonable learning goals knowing that the majority of the students will not actually pursue the course to the end?

I do not know the answer to these questions, but attending classes from the perspective of an educator made me reconsider my own experiences as a student, which I believe is valuable. It also forced me to consider new strategies to implement in my own humanities classes. While reading is often considered a solitary activity, how do you make the classroom experience productive, collaborative, and structured?

McGraw Teaching Seminar: Intellectual Acts and Social Practices

Our assignment for this seminar was to create an assignment and a rubric. These were then reviewed by our peers in the seminar, a process that was helpful in our understanding of what intellectual acts were actually going on in the classroom.

Assignment: Explication de Texte

Read the poem “Le dormeur du val” by Arthur Rimbaud and write a traditional “explication de texte” in French about it. The “explication de texte” is a common French assignment that has the student engage with the text in a quasi-scientific manner, explicating it terms of content, form, and rhetoric, in a structured essay that can be broken down as follows:

Introduction: In this part, the student situates the text, describes its main attributes, what happens in it, and its main themes. Details often mentioned in the introduction include (but are not limited to):

Primary information: author’s name, title, the date of publication, pertinent historical context
The form: genre, type of verses, rhyme scheme, fixed form poetry, variations
The subject: what is the topic of the passage? What is the function of the passage within the larger text (if an excerpt)?
Outline: Generally within an introduction to a French explication de texte, the student writes an outline at the end of the introduction, explaining the order of what will come next. Often, students will choose to analyze the text in order, with each major section of the text discussed in individual paragraphs; sometimes, students choose to write thematically.

Analysis: Here, the student describes the structure of the passage, the development, and the different parts of the text. The analysis depends on the text in question, and often deals with some of the following questions:

• Does the author move from a general idea to a specific one or vice versa?
• What is the tone?
• Who is speaking?
• What sort of language does the author use?
• What tense is the passage in, and what is the significance of the changing of tenses?
• Why does the author use this particular diction or syntax?
• What are the stylistic choices: images, metaphors, comparisons, paraphrasing, repetition of words or syntactical structures, historical or literary allusions, personification, etc.?
• What is the effect produced by such techniques?

Conclusion: Finally, the student should summarize the preceding study of the passage, with the main emphasis being on the main themes and their relationship to the form. Finally, he/she should give a personal evaluation of the text and your reactions. The purpose of an explication de texte is to deepen your understanding of the text and appreciation of the poetic and literary qualities of the author.

Rubric for Evaluation

Structure: ___ / 5

• Does the overall structure of the essay contain the introduction, analysis, and conclusion?
• Introduction: Does the introduction properly situate the text, give pertinent information about its historical/cultural context, the author, and the nature of the passage? Is there a clear thesis in the introduction? Does it include an outline?
• Analysis: Does the analysis follow the text in a logical manner? Is the text cited within the analysis section to support points made in the introduction? Does the analysis develop the claims made in the introduction? Does the structure of the analysis follow the outline presented in the introduction?
• Conclusion: Does the conclusion both summarize the preceding summary and provide a personal evaluation?
• Is the structure clearly defined throughout the essay and easy to recognize while reading?

Style: ___ / 5

• Is the essay well-written? Ex) Varied sentence structure, not too much repetition, precise word choice, consistent tense (explications de texte dealing with literature are always written in the present tense when describing the text, but past when describing the historical context), etc.
• Is the writing interesting? Does the introduction pull the reader in? Is the reader constantly engaged in the analysis?

Analysis: ___ / 5

• Language: Can student effectively identify types of literary language and explain how such language is important to the passage and its overall meaning?
• Theme: Can student expand the analysis of the language of the text to discuss the broader theme of the passage or novel? Perhaps even to other literature?
• Thesis: Can student maintain his thesis throughout the analysis?
• Examples: Does student give detailed examples from the text to substantiate his/her claims? Are examples presented logically and critically?
• Relationship to classroom discussions: Does the student expand beyond the classroom discussions in his/her analysis? Can he/she identify the text given the author and date of publication as well as situate it more profoundly within the larger literary history we have discussed?

French: ___ / 5

• Student is able to express him/herself in French with minimal comprehension errors.
• The grammatical points of the writing are representative of successful completion of required language prerequisite courses.
• The vocabulary the student uses in French is rich and varied.
• The spelling and accents are accurate with minimal errors.
• The student is able to maintain a formal, academic register of language throughout the essay.

McGraw Teaching Seminar: Course Assessment and Grading

Learning Goals

For this new session of the McGraw Teaching Seminar, we had to refine the novice learning goals we had drafted in November and come up with some sort of an assessment that would allow us to see if students met those goals. Our novice learning goals were originally: “Learn to construct an argument about literary texts through contextualization (historical, cultural). Language is a main problematic in teaching both.” Reflecting, we decided that our learning goals could be divided into three specific aspects:

  1. Contextualization: the student should be able to contextualize the text within historical, cultural, linguistic frames
  2. Text: the student should sympathetically engage with the text and understand it on multiple levels
  3. Argument: the student should interpret, appreciate, and evaluate

With this in mind, we refined our novice learning goals to the following short sentence: “Students will contextualize, engage with, and interpret texts.”


For the evaluation half of the assignment, rather than discussing an essay or final exam, we decided to develop a general rubric for a post/short response in the LMS in three parts:

  1. Identify the main problems the text deals with, with possible recourse to the historical and cultural context.
  2. Focus on a section of the text, looking specifically at language and rhetoric and the tools the author uses to accomplish what was said in part 1.
  3. Analyze the implications for the time in which the text was written and today.

When discussing what success would look like, we decided that the student should be able to use textual evidence in combination with analysis, persuasively arguing these three points, making cases for significance and fostering connections.

Our conversation also touched upon the difficulty of having a final exam in classes such as these. We decided that having the students carry out short, structured thinking exercises like these would allow for greater discussion in seminar-style classes. Furthermore, with such preparation, it would be possible to give an exercise like this as a final exam in addition to a final essay.

Seminar Discussion

Unsurprisingly, the seminar was about rubrics. When I was in school, rubrics were the bane of my existence. While based on good intentions, they often seemed reductive ways to understand assignments. In college and beyond, I rarely had rubrics and when I did, found that they often turned my experience of the assignment into a dry, uninteresting exercise that was a basic formality of the course.

That is why I was skeptical of this particular meeting, for which the follow-up assignment would be to create our own assignments and rubrics, which would be evaluated by my peers using a rubric for rubrics. That said, designing my assignment and rubric did force me to think more critically about my course goals and the purpose of the assignment itself. However, once I had designed an assignment that I thought was consistent with my course goals, I found that the rubric itself was almost superfluous.

In the end, perhaps rubrics are a useful exercise for teachers, but I am still not convinced that they bring out the best in our students. In the seminar, we had a heated discussion on the use of rubrics and everyone else seemed about as divided as I was. The readings for that session took the form of pseudo-scientific studies that raised more questions than they answered, and left many unimpressed. While I might steer clear of rubrics when I design and teach my first course, it is true that I learned a lot writing one.

McGraw Teaching Seminar: Course Goals

Humanities Course Goals

After participating in the breakout groups and reflecting individually on what it means to be a novice and an expert in our disciplines, our seminar meeting today dealt primarily with course goals. Rather than being grouped with people in different disciplines as we were for the previous assignment, in this seminar we sat with other participants from similar disciplines. I was paired with two classicists and together, we developed succinct course goals that we could write on a poster and hang on the board. This is what we came up with:


Once we had seen the course goals for each disciplinary group, we identified their strengths and weaknesses. At the core, every discipline wanted their students to learn critical reasoning and interpretation skills. Problem solving was also popular for science and engineering. In many cases, learning to speak properly about what is at stake in a discipline and communicate results was also important. In all disciplines, the subject was the student, and course goals best translated into strong, action verbs.

I appreciated the main takeaway from this seminar, which was that our goals as educators don’t differ too much from discipline to discipline. In each, we just want students to be able to think deeply about a particular topic and develop the skills and competencies necessary to understand the discipline. Specifically within the humanities, the goals are so similar that the division into departments seems almost redundant. Look for yourself. Below, you’ll find the course goals each group defined.


McGraw Teaching Seminar: Disciplinary Knowledge and Practices

The Preliminary Assignment

Our second meeting of the McGraw Teaching Seminar focused on disciplinary knowledge and practices. To prepare, we were assigned to groups composed of participants in drastically different disciplines. I was paired with a chemist, a political scientist, and a classicist. The assignment was to meet and discuss, learning about our own disciplines through the eyes of “novices.” Our assigned discussion questions were as follows:

  1. If you were to take an introductory course in my field, what would you expect to learn?
  2. What would you want to learn more about?
  3. What particular challenges do you think you would confront?

We then had to answer the following two main questions:

  1. Write a paragraph or two that reflects on the various novice responses toward your introductory course that you received from members of your breakout group.
  2. Write one course goal and a lesson for a class of novices in your field that addresses how you would respond to one of the perspectives you received from your breakout conversation. What would your goal be? And how would you design a class meeting around advancing students toward the goal?

My Responses

1. The first question that arose was: what is an introductory course in French? Language or literature or culture? In other words, is the focus teaching language as a tool or is it to help students read literature? There is an implicit answer to these questions in the way language and literature departments are structured: introductory courses tend to be language classes, with the goal to get students to more advanced courses in literature or culture. For the purposes of our discussion, we restricted talk to an introductory French language course.

We decided that a novice in an introductory language class would expect to attain basic competency in terms of communication. There was some discussion about which competencies were most important: oral or written. This conversation evolved into a more important one: how much of a language class consists of basic exercises in grammar and conversation? Language is a tool, determined by how students need to use it. This is true for any language: for instance, in academia, scientists speak a different “English” than that of a literary scholar or historian. In an introductory language course, how do you integrate how students will eventually use the language — elements of culture, literature, politics, history, etc.?

2. One course goal that should be necessary in an introductory French language class should be promoting a broad understanding of the history, culture, and literature of the French and francophone world. While spending class time on larger cultural discussions might seem antithetical to teaching a language or worse — a waste of precious class time — I believe that activities based on authentic cultural documents can promote discussion-based classes that leave a greater impression on students. Rather than isolating grammar points, such activities allow students to see grammar in action and participate in a culture that is not their own, promoting cultural understanding. There are two main dangers associated with this method: first, preparation takes much longer; second, these activities risk to discourage students if not properly scaffolded.

Activity based on Current Events

In light of recent events, an appropriate activity might take the form of discussion about last Friday’s terrorist attacks throughout Paris. This could involve “reading” some of the Twitter hashtags and images that have sprung up in support of Paris. Using Twitter hashtags as authentic documents is not only politically relevant, but is also a level-appropriate pedagogical tools since they consist of very few words and images linked to a specific context.

A hypothetical activity might have students look at the descriptions and images that people were posting to find their loved ones, have them discuss what they were doing at the time of the attack (this would be an excellent way to practice the two types of past tenses — the passé composé and the imparfait) and then to move it to a larger discussion of the greater significance of the attacks. To target the conditional tense, one could have students debate the French political response and its potential repercussions. Such an activity would also be a good moment to reflect on France’s colonial history and relationship with former colonies, many of which are Muslim-majority.

While some might criticize such an activity as impossible given the language level in an introductory class, as long as the objectives are clear and the activity is properly scaffolded, students will likely be more invested in current events than in a rudimentary discussion of how they got dressed in the morning. Indeed, French teachers have the obligation to discuss this tragic event at any level, as some of these students might hope to study abroad in France one day. Activities of this nature contribute not only to a more complete understanding of the French language (which is inseparable from the culture), but to the greater goals of a university education — to create well-rounded and engaged citizens.