Monday, August 14, 2017

As we enter the last week of planning for our fall semester, I wanted to share just a few tips for the first day of class/semester. A great way to start a class and semester is having your students write a letter to their future selves. Have them list the things they want to learn and accomplish in your class. You should have them turn them in so that you can use the pre-feedback (is there a better word for that?) to shape your class throughout the semester. Be sure and return it to them at or near the end of the term so that they can reflect and use that experience for their next course (or life in general). Why not give the final exam on the first day? I have advocated in the past for this idea. It really provides a road map to guide your students throughout the term. It also identifies very clearly what they can expect to know by the end of the course. Give a low-stakes quiz on the course syllabus during which students can use their mobile devices to access a Canvas quiz. Alternatively, begin an interactive poll that involves students using their classroom response device after which they can see their results. Follow the poll with a classroom discussion before having students retake the poll to improve on their initial answer (Poll everywhere works well for this type of learning experience). Create an inclusive classroom that values all students, their perspectives, and contributions to the community of learners. There are several ways to create inclusive classrooms including using icebreakers, incorporating meaningful and worthy classroom policies, helping students contribute to the learning process, and using teaching strategies that engage students and motivate them to learn. Calling students by name helps to engage with them and shows them that they are important to the class. Establish a culture of feedback where you encourage students to share their classroom experiences. Explain that the feedback you give to students is as meaningful as the feedback they share with you about the course and that you will listen and consider all suggestions. Got more ideas? Please share them in the comments section or forward them to me and I will post there here. Have a great semester!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The beginning of a new semester is always an exciting time. Instructors are excited about new learning experiences they want to try. Students are excited about moving one step closer to graduating but many of them are anxious about what the semester will bring. I like to start the first class by sharing the journey ahead with my students. It puts them at ease, excites them about the possibilities, and motivates them to learn. It also takes care of the number one expectation of current students, "How is this going to be relevant to my life?" Another topic I spend some time on is the typical misconceptions new students have about college. Dr. Stephen Chew has a classic article about this very topic. He notes there are four things that students typically are misinformed about. He writes, "Students think that learning can happen a lot faster than it does. Take, for example, the way many students handle assigned readings. They think they can get what they need out of a chapter with one quick read through (electronic devices at the ready, snacks in hand, and ears flooded with music). Or, they don’t think it’s a problem to wait until the night before the exam and do all the assigned readings at once. 'Students must learn that there are no shortcuts to reading comprehension.' Teachers need to design activities that regularly require students to interact with course text materials." You can read the rest of his short and concise article here.

Monday, July 17, 2017

If an instructor delivers a lecture and no one learns anything, did teaching really take place? Is this one of your recurring nightmares? I know I spend a lot of time assessing the effectiveness of my teaching and this question really resonates with me. I just finished a good article by Alla Kushniryk and Kenneth J. Levine about multitasking (or switch-tasking as some of the literature describes it). It validates what others have discovered as well; basically that it is very difficult for anyone to listen well and write good notes that will allow them to learn. They write, "It was found that multitasking significantly decreased performances on both the listening and writing tasks. The experiment also uncovered that the degree of social presence did not affect students’ performances on the listening or writing tasks in the learning environment. The perceived degree of social presence was the same in the virtual- and live-presenter groups." The social presence portion of their findings is crucial information for our eLearning colleagues. Teaching in an online or hybrid environment presents its own challenges but this research notes that learning can be done well even when the mode of delivery isn't in the traditional face-to-face version. The scientists did add, "In the virtual-presenter condition, the participants of the study might consider the listening task as being secondary and the writing task as being the most important." Understanding how learners perform in different settings is crucial if we are to deepen our understanding of effective teaching. This study certainly helps but more should be done to discover what works best in 21st century learning environments.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

While we often talk about moving from lectures to more active learning methods, we sometimes forget an important component. Student feedback can be very useful when we are transitioning. That is why Dr. Grant Wiggins post about engaging lessons caught my attention. His results are from high schoolers but so many of the comments could be put to good use in our college classrooms as well. One student wrote, "I thought that making your own nation in politics was extremely interesting and fun. It was interesting because it gave us students the ability to design our perfect environment." How many different discussions can you see coming from this type of learning experience based on that response? In a time when students are becoming hyper-interested in the political system, assigning this type of learning experience could really allow students to develop critical thinking skills. Another student wrote, "For our AP French class we had to construct a resume and cover letter for a foreign French related career opportunity that we found. This is interesting as we learned a highly useful life skill that should’ve been taught in another class but also because we got to explore opportunities around the world." This illustrates the very critical need to make lessons as relevant as possible. It is one of the most repeated complaints that many students share about their classroom experience. How many times have you heard the question, "Why do we have to know this?" Luckily, active learning lends itself to these types of lessons. So as you begin thinking about increasing the amount of active learning you have in your classes, take a look at your student rating comments and use them to help shape your teaching.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The story about Dr. Carl Wieman in Inside Higher Ed is terrific. It begins, "As a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Carl Wieman could probably get away with being a mediocre teacher. Yet he’s devoted much of his career to improving the ways colleges and universities teach science, in his own classrooms and in one of the grandest experiments of his life: the multicampus Science Education Initiative. Wieman’s new book chronicles the latter effort and makes a strong, evidence-based case for pursuing broad changes in science instruction: out with lectures and in with active learning. It’s also an easily digested how-to guide for interested parties, including deans, department chairs and other faculty members. The project has major implications for administrators, too." I am looking forward to reading the book. As a proponent of active learning I am glad to see additional evidence-based results that prove its worth. You can read the entire article here. If you are interested in active learning, there is an abundance of information on this blog.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What skills did you possess as an undergraduate that made you successful? Who taught you about the methods you used to navigate college? Were you lucky enough to have a mentor? A recent discussion about our undergraduate experience made me take a new look at the current research about student mentoring. As expected, having a mentor increases a students chance to persist and graduate under the right circumstances. In Buffy Smith's Mentoring At-risk Students through the Hidden Curriculum of Higher Education, she notes three actions that mentors should do in order to help students including: (1) telling students what they should do (advising), (2) advocacy, defined as motivating and connecting students with individuals on campus, and (3) showing and empowering students how to acquire the highest degree of capital from the mentoring relationship (academic apprenticeship). Many institutions include mentoring as part of their first-generation programs. Joya Misra and Jennifer Lundquist provide a really nice overview of mentoring in their article for Inside Higher Ed. The article focuses on what faculty can do in the form of mentoring to help students succeed. One of the points they make is about the relationship itself as they note, "Individual faculty mentors also should recognize the backgrounds, resources and needs of their students, rather than assuming that students are all the same and have all of the resources they need. Students benefit from faculty mentors who see them as whole people. By recognizing who a student is beyond their role as a student, faculty members can develop trusting relationships with them."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A recent conversation with a colleague about problem-based learning (PBL) prompted me to take a look at the latest research on the topic. What I found is there is a lot of material and the research studies are very often giving what looks like conflicting results. A closer look however led me to understand that very often the context has a lot to do with whether PBL is beneficial to learners or not. If you are just jumping into PBL, John R. Savery has a nice overview with definitions that are helpful. One of the areas I am always interested in looking at is how to help learners develop their critical thinking abilities. It is one of the many topics we teach in the College Success Skills course and I often share with students that people who can solve problems will always find a job. Agnes Tiwari, Patrick Lai, Mike So, and Kwan Yuen tackle this issue in their study and found that PBL did aid in the development of critical thinking skills versus students who only received traditional lectures. Serkan Sendağa and H. Ferhan Odabas also found that using PBL in an online environment increases learners critical thinking skills. Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver found that using PBL methods can also improve learners collaboration skills and intrinsic motivation. Now you should be really intrigued and want to learn more about how you can implement PBL into your courses. Look for a follow-up post soon that will share some tips on how you can do just that. By the way, if you are already using PBL, be sure and post your comments so that we can all learn from your experiences.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Before adult learners will learn something, they often need to know why they need to learn it. That sounds really easy right? Just like you and me, understanding the relevance to our lives will cause us to focus more deeply on something. So translating that to our classroom makes great sense. Just develop and deliver learning experiences that have direct applicability and relevance to our student's lives. The other important concept to remember as we develop our curriculum is that adult learners are autonomous and self-directed. Now this may be where some of our student persistence issues begin to occur. If most of your students are first-timers and recent high school graduates, they are very much set in something we like to call the 80/20 model. Eighty percent of everything that happened to them in high school was delivered by their teachers. Books are free. The bell rings to change classes. The bus picks you up and takes you home. You get a study guide for all tests. So it is understandable that many of our students are expecting the same thing from us. But college is not high school in so many ways. So getting our students to not resist the college experience begins with that simple statement. Turn 80/20 on its ear and tell your students that it is time for them to begin to write their own future. Asking them questions like "what do you want to do with your life or what type of job are you hoping to find once you earn your academic credential" (degree/certificate/etc.) can begin to help them understand that college is the beginning of their adult life. Then have them create goals for themselves. Suggest they do this for each class, for the semester as a whole, and for the next 5 years of their lives. You should also remind them to revise them as the semester progresses. It is a subtle thing but it helps them to begin to understand that becoming a self-guided learner is the optimal goal. After all, once they complete college, they will still need to continue to build their knowledge base on their own. Holding this type of conversation during the first class session will certainly help our students to begin the semester moving in the right direction and should also improve our student persistence rates.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Our summer session starts on June 5 and as veterans will tell you, it moves quickly. Students accustomed to the (somewhat) more leisurely pace of fall and spring, usually underestimate the time they now have to stay current and fully prepare for assessments. This is an area where you as an instructor can really help. Spend some time in the first class session allowing your students to create a semester calendar. Remind them to mark off all of the dates when the big projects, tests, and presentations are due. Their calendar should also include the other events that require a lot of their time like jobs, possibly travel time, etc. In this way, they can begin to see the times when they are free to read, study, consolidate notes, or meet with a study group. Getting off to a quick start is paramount in semesters that have limited sessions. Please remind your students that there will be a sign-up table to join Study Groups for the summer in the Magnolia Building during the June 5-8 week from 9 am until 3 pm each day. If you need more information, please contact Academic Support Specialist Barbara Linder ( or 216.8228). Study groups can really provide that needed support during abbreviated semesters. Good luck on the upcoming semester.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

David Gooblar has a new post that represents what many of us are feeling right now. He writes, "It’s been a long semester. We’ve all worked hard, tried out new things, adapted on the fly, managed to keep our heads above an ocean of work while still being present for our students. We’ve made it through the mid-semester doldrums. Depending on how much grading we’ve got left, we’re now within sight of the end. If you’re anything like me, to say that you’re looking forward to the end is an understatement. Does anyone else visualize entering that last grade, closing your folder of class notes, and then throwing that folder into the sea? Today I’d like to suggest that you not be so quick to move on from this term, no matter how desperately you long for a summer away from teaching. So this year, maybe when your students are filling out their evaluation forms, take a little time to evaluate yourself. What worked well? What didn’t? What would you change if you could teach the course over again? Answering even these few questions will pay dividends well worth that slight delay in getting you to your much-deserved summer break." Continue reading here.