Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Drs. Bob Bjork, Tim Lee, and Dick Schmidt partnered together to see if they could use their repetitive drill research results culled from the sports world to good use in their classrooms. Schmidt explains that repetitive drilling on the same task is called “block practice.” You do the same thing, over and over, in one block of activity. He argues that a better way to learn is to practice several new things in succession, a technique called “variable practice” or “interleaving.” So a golfer would interleave her exercises at the range by aiming at different targets each time, by mixing up the kinds of shots she takes or switching the clubs she uses. Researchers say that the problem with “drill and kill” and other kinds of blocked study isn’t just that they’re boring. They also stunt student learning. “There are always two steps to solving a problem: identify the solving strategy, and then execute it,” Dr. Doug Rohrer said. “In blocked study, [students] know that this is a unit on, say, the Pythagorean theorem, so they don’t need to choose a strategy. All they have to do is execute, over and over.” When instructors give homework sets made up of only one kind of problem, they deny their students the chance to practice choosing a solving strategy. Later, when students are faced with a mix of types of problems on an exam, they’re unprepared. Read more here. You can listen to a vlog post about some of the big ideas coming out of brain science here.

That is the question being asked by Suzie Boss in her blog post about Project-based learning. She writes, we don't have a crystal ball, but there's ample evidence to suggest that we're at a PBL inflection point. Increasing numbers of schools and entire districts are adopting project-based learning for at least part of their students' learning experience. Some districts that have had success with PBL at the high school level are starting to introduce this instructional strategy earlier, creating a pipeline that starts in the elementary years. These systemic shifts are happening in public schools, charters, and independent schools. We expect the phrase "deeper learning" will continue to gain traction to describe the multifaceted outcomes of project-based learning. Deeper learning gets at the increased academic rigor called for in the Common Core State Standards, but it doesn't stop there. It's also about preparing young people to be good citizens, developing their sense of agency. What's more, deeper learning involves the habits of mind, dispositions, and skills like collaboration that are reinforced through PBL.

Flipped learning is more than just an efficient way to teach. It is also an opportunity to take students to deeper levels of comprehension and engagement. One of the most important benefits of flipped learning is that it takes the instructor away from the front of the room. No longer is class focused on information dissemination, but instead, time can be spent helping students with difficult concepts and extending the learning to deeper levels. Perhaps the greatest benefit of flipped learning is that it gives instructors more time to interact with students one-to-one and in small groups. Instructors are using the time that was once used for direct instruction in a variety of ways to deepen student learning. Jon Bergmann offers three tips on how you can use the extra time you create in classrooms by using a flipped active learning method to enhance deeper learning.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In the research article Promoting Persistence and Success of Underrepresented Students: Lessons for Teaching and Learning by Kinzie, Gonyea, Shoup, and Kuh, the authors note that new students tend to benefit from early interventions and sustained attention during the first year in terms of their academic performance. They go on to say that it is wise to send clear messages to students through precollege mentoring programs and sustained interactions with faculty and staff through out the first year about the value of engagement and what students who succeed do on this particular campus. All educators need to coach students in the development of expected study habits. Experiences early in the first year set in place patterns of behavior that will endure over students' years in college. Many of you have spoken to me about the problem of not having students come to your office for advice. This article suggests that we build in advising and teaching study skills as part of our class time. Offering general advising tips at the beginning and end of each class can have a profound impact on student persistence and retention. You can find the complete article here or in New Directions for Teaching and Learning (#115) fall 2008 which includes other articles about student retention.

Professional development opportunities for October include today's Blackboard Series and next Thursday's Active Learning and Engagement workshop. Yesterday's Mid-Day Musings gathering was filled with lively discussion on the topic of civility. Using several recent articles about the topic, which is trending nationally, helped to set the tone for our local discussion. Turning our own experiences into teachable opportunities was one of the outcomes that the participants seemed to rally around. Many of the participants discussed how they use the topic of civility in their classes in hopes of helping their students become critical thinkers and active participants in the community. One of the best active learning methods is the use of debate to expose your students to complex issues. There are still a few spots for today's Blackboard session and registration is ongoing for the workshop on October 30. All of these events are sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center.

Have you heard about the Ability to Benefit rule? It allowed students who lacked either a high school diploma or its equivalent (usually a GED) to get into college if they could demonstrate the ability to benefit through a test score. But the rule was repealed by the U.S. Congress. Now, there is a move to bring it back. Matt Read's blog which appears on the Inside Higher Ed website provides more details about this additional pathway.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For many of us, using Blackboard for the basics (posting grades, attendance, syllabus) is about all we do. But there are so many other ways to exploit the great tools on Blackboard to make our teaching less stressful. The Blackboard Professional Development Series continues with a workshop on October 23. We will gather at 1:00 pm in the Teaching+Learning Center (311 Magnolia Building/Mid City Campus) to learn from eLearning Program Manager Susan Nealy about the wonders of Blackboard. Reserve your spot now before you leave for your fall holidays. Then bring your questions to the workshop next Thursday and get ready to be amazed.

Sometimes we need some inspiration to keep our energy levels high for our students. This story by Jessica Lahey in the Atlantic does just that for me. She has written about Dr. Steven Strogatz, Professor of Mathematics at Cornell, and his quest to right the wrongs of bad math teachers in your past. She asked him why a veteran professor of higher math choose to spend a semester in the company of undergraduates, many of whom would rather visit the dentist than spend two hours a week exploring mathematical concepts. The short answer is that Strogatz has discovered a certain thrill in rectifying the crimes and misdemeanors of math education. Strogatz asks his students, more than half of them seniors, to provide a “mathematical biography.” Their stories reveal unpleasant experiences with math along the way. Rather than question the quality of the teaching they received, they blamed math itself—or worse, their own intelligence or lack of innate talent. Strogatz loves the challenge, “There's something remarkable about working with a group of students who think they hate math or find it boring, and then turning them around, even just a little bit.”

An article by Drs. J. Nestojko, D. Bui, N. Kornell, and E. Bjork that recently appeared in the journal Memory and Cognition, declares that students learn things better when they think they are going to have to teach the material. The research paper reports that fifty-six undergrads were split into two groups. One group were told that they had 10 minutes to study a 1500-word passage about fictional depictions of The Charge of The Light Brigade, and that they would be tested on it afterwards. The other group were similarly given 10 minutes to study the text, but they were told that afterwards they would have to teach the content to another student. Neither group was allowed to take notes. In fact, 25 minutes after the study period was over, both groups were tested on the passage. Specifically they had to recall as much information as possible from the article, and then they faced specific questions about the content. The students who thought they were going to teach the material recalled more facts from the text, and they did so more quickly. They showed a specific advantage for the main points in the text, and their recall was also better organized, tending to reflect the structure of the original text. This active learning method could be adapted to almost any course at BRCC. Let me know if you try it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Academic advising discussions are probably still occurring after the past two days of professional development opportunities. Tuesday we heard from the professional development workshop panel that included Dr. Mary Boudreaux, Wendy Devall, Vinetta Frie, Brandy Gros, Lisa Hibner, and Jeanne Stacy. Each panelist brought a different aspect of expertise to the academic advising discussion held in the Teaching+Learning Center. The participants included academic advising staff, senior and new faculty who were more than willing to engage in serious discussions about the need for better advising as a deterrent for low retention rates. One of the main takeaways was agreement that a cohesive, consistent approach to academic advising would improve our persistence and graduation rates. The conversation continued on Wednesday at the Mid-Day Musings in the faculty and staff dining room of the Bienvenue Building. A different group gathered to discuss the merits of engaging students in conversation about their future. Many of the participants found the pre-session short video interview with Dr. Daniel Chambliss, who wrote How Colleges Work, to be very useful. The main takeaway from Wednesday's session was the importance of being engaged and making connections with our students regardless of your position. Research indicates that often a connection with anyone at the college, not just instructors or counselors, leads to student success and greater persistence rates. The advising handbook is close to being completed and will be distributed shortly. We also plan to post a list of some of the questions and answers from Tuesday's session on the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Faculty Development Community discussion board.

Dr. James A. Griesemer has written an interesting article about the use of active, cooperative learning and how it can enhance student success. He writes, "Incorporating active, cooperative quality learning exercises in a course requires instructors to modify their teaching strategy in a number of important ways but the most critical is their roles as educator, mentor, and facilitator. Research confirms the effectiveness of active, cooperative learning. Compared to students taught with conventional methods, cooperatively taught students tend to exhibit better grades as well as better analytical, creative, and critical thinking skills among other traits. Both instructors and students reported numerous benefits of incorporating active, cooperative learning quality exercises into an undergraduate operations/supply chain management course." Read more.

As the nation becomes increasingly focused on improving college completion rates, policy makers, practitioners, and scholars are calling for renewed efforts to help students succeed (e.g., Lumina Foundation, 2009). Central to these plans is the promotion of postsecondary access and opportunity, as well as the improvement of persistence and completion rates. College student persistence, in particular, is a necessary condition for social mobility, bridging access and attainment. We are well aware of a renewed focus on persistence and completion at BRCC and we have implemented interventions intended to improve our rates in both categories. Drs. Gregory C. Wolniak, Matthew J. Mayhew, and Mark E. Engberg have written a paper based on their research in this area and published in the Journal of Higher Education. They note, "Several key areas inform our understanding of students’ likelihood of persisting after the first year of college. These areas consist of student demographics and socioeconomic status, precollege academics, college choice and financial aid, institutional characteristics, the role of academic and social integration, and college grades. Persisting students reported higher levels of academic and social integration during their first year of college in areas related to exposure to quality teaching, frequency of faculty contact, peer interactions, and cocurricular involvement, while also demonstrating greater average scores on three of the five measures of assessed student learning (leadership, need for cognition, and content mastery). Alternatively, compared to nonpersisting students, a smaller share of persisters obtained financial aid in the form of federal grants."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Drs. Ned Zepke and Linda Leach offer us some great engagement approaches in their article Improving Student Engagement: Ten Proposals for Action that appeared in Active Learning in Higher Education. The authors propose definitions broad enough to include more specific descriptions. For example: engagement is “students’ cognitive investment in, active participation in, and emotional commitment to their learning.” Or, engagement is “students’ involvement with activities and conditions likely to generate high-quality learning.” Two of their top ten ideas include the following. Enable students to work autonomously, enjoy learning relationships with others, and feel they are competent to achieve their own objectives — “When institutions provide opportunities for students to learn both autonomously and with others, and to develop their sense of competence, students are more likely to be motivated, to engage and succeed.” Maryellen Weimer says that the focus here is on cultivating intrinsic motivation, which fosters the self-determination that leads to engagement. Zepke and Leach also suggest that we recognize that teaching and teachers are central to engagement — Much research places teachers at the heart of engagement. For example, one study found that “if the teacher is perceived to be approachable, well prepared, and sensitive to student needs, students are committed to work harder, get more out of the session, and are more willing to express their opinion.” You can take a look at the full article here.

Many of you have asked that we offer a faculty professional development workshop on academic advising and here it is. Join us for Focus on Academic Advising: Bring on the Questions on Tuesday, October 7 at 1:00 pm. The workshop will include a panel of discussants led by CSSK Assistant Professor Vinetta Frie and Career Center Director Lisa Hibner and will be held in room 311 Magnolia Building (Mid City Campus). This workshop is sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center. Registration is now open.

As the How Learning Works Faculty Learning Community enters its sixth week, they wanted to share a retention tip related to what types of practice and feedback enhance student learning. FLC members include Jo Dale Ales, Gabriel Aluko, Pearce Cinman, Gery Frie, Vinetta Frie, Wes Harris, Steven Keeten, Jennifer Linscott, Divina Miranda, Todd Pourciau, and Kate Schexnayder. Research has shown that learning and performance are best fostered when students engage in practice that focuses on a specific goal or criterion for performance, targets an appropriate level of challenge relative to students' current performance, and is of sufficient quantity and frequency to meet the performance criteria. The book's authors (including Susan Amrose, et. al.) suggest that we be very specific about our goals in our course material. They note without specific goals for the course as a whole or for individual assignments, students often rely on their assumptions to decide how they should spend their time. This makes it all the more important to articulate your goals clearly (in your course syllabus and with each specific assignment), so students know what your expectations are and can use them to guide their practice. Students are more likely to use the goals to guide their practice when the goals are stated in terms of what students should be able to do at the end of an assignment or the course. The next Faculty Learning Community will use Ken Bain's book What the Best College Teachers Do and begins on October 24. If you would like to participate, please contact Academic Support Specialist Barbara Linder at or 216.8228.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Mid-Day Musings gathering today was wonderful, filled with terrific insight and words of wisdom. As we began to grapple with the idea of race relations and social movements, an idea emerged about BRCC being the agent of change in our community. Because of the racial and economic diversity at our college, we have a unique opportunity to effect change. The participants discussed and suggested methods that could be used in the classroom to start the process. One of the main ideas was that each of us as faculty should do something that asks our students to confront their racial and cultural biases. We should cause them to think about the baggage they arrive with and how that effects their lives and their community. Another idea that found support concerned the mission of BRCC. Many of the participants have embraced the idea that we are here to build a viable middle-class. There was also discussion about the concept of what middle-class means in this time. The participants spent a considerable amount of time on the issue that class has become just as important as race in many of our social experiences. At the end of the gathering, many of the participants felt that this topic should be revisited. Mid-Day Musings is one of the many faculty development programs sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center. The next Mid-Day Musings will take place on Wednesday, October 8 at noon. Look for the topic in your email on October 6 and feel free to send your ideas for topics to In case you missed it, here are some of the articles we used to frame our discussion (Diversity Matters, Pronoun Preference, College Presidents, Colorblind Notion)

Join us tomorrow for Writing Center Specialist Natalie Smith's faculty development workshop on writing across the curriculum. Based on your requests, she will present her approaches that lead to student success. She will also share information about the student success resources offered by the Writing Center and the Academic Learning Center. There is still time to register for the workshop that begins at 1:00 p.m. in 311 Magnolia. This faculty development workshop is sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center. For more information, contact Natalie Smith at or Academic Support Specialist Barbara Linder at

If you enjoyed the Tech Tuesday Tip you received in your email yesterday, you will want to register for the faculty development workshop set for Tuesday, September 30. eLearning Program Manager Susan Nealy will be joined by Innovative Learning and Academic Support Dean Todd Pourciau and a representative from Blackboard to share what is coming in the next version. We will also be discussing more active learning interventions like the tip from yesterday. This professional development workshop is sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center and will be held in the Louisiana Building's Boardroom. Registration is open now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Have you ever struggled with determining what student participation looks like and how to assign a grade for it? Carolyn Ives, Curriculum Planning and Development Coordinator at the Centre for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence at MacEwan University, has written an informative article that may clarify things for you. She writes, "So, then, how can instructors facilitate student engagement and helpful participation? There are a few strategies that can help such as the creation of a supportive classroom environment that is skillfully facilitated and discussion-based, the creation of clear expectations around student preparation and student roles in the classroom, and creating student buy-in. All of these strategies are helpful, but the most useful method I have found to evaluate student participation is the inclusion of formative assessment techniques in my classes. Formative assessment may take a variety of forms (such as practice quizzes, one-minute papers, clearest/muddiest point exercises, various kinds of group work in the class, etc.), but it provides students with opportunities to practice skills or test knowledge in a “safe” way.

The next faculty development workshop sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center occurs on Thursday, September 15 at 1:00 pm. Natalie Smith, writing center specialist, will present an interactive session focused on how you can help your students improve their writing even if you don't happen to teach an English course. She is also interested in hearing from you about other issues that may occur in your classes related to student success and writing impediments. There is still time to register. This event will be held in the T+LC (room 311 Magnolia Building).

Louisiana hasn’t made much progress in the past seven years in a national assessment of educational achievement, according to an article in the Shreveport Times. In its “Leaders and Laggards” report, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Louisiana as the second-worst laggard, at the bottom of all 50 states but ahead of the District of Columbia. Louisiana has grades of F in 5 of 11 categories. The most damning are Fs in academic achievement and academic achievement for low-income and minority students in its 2014 report. The state received a D for its efforts to improve overall academic achievement in 2007 and a B for its efforts to improve academic achievement for low-income and minority students. The academic scores are based on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a standardized exam administered across the nation on which Louisiana students traditionally perform poorly. The study used 2011 results.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The first Mid-Day Musings attracted a nice group and the conversation was rich and filled with great ideas. The question of the day was "What Should We Be Telling Our Students At Orientation?" The focus was on having consistency between what the students hear in the orientation sessions and what they are hearing, seeing and experiencing in their classes. Part of the conversation was about how we present ourselves as an institution. "It is important that we share the benefits of attending a community college as opposed to entering a 4-year school right out of high school. We need to compliment our students on making a good choice. Share the data that shows them that students who start here do very well when they transfer," said one participant. Most of the participants agreed that orientation would be very impactful if it was presented by our students. "Having student testimonials would be powerful. Having a student talk about the top ten insider tips of how to succeed at BRCC would be great as well," said another participant. We also spent some time talking about how we can attract more students who have spent some time working or raising a family and now want to return to college. "What they care about is very different from what a typical 18 year old cares about. Catering to this group of students could prove beneficial as I have found them to be very motivated and focused and their presence can help some of the younger students in the class," said another participant. We will gather again on September 24 at noon in the Bienvenue faculty dining room. Please plan to join us then and watch your email for the next topic.

Dr. Angi Thompson has written an interesting article on how you can encourage student participation in large classes. She writes, "If you’re interested in approaches that encourage students to participate in class and develop their public-speaking skills, as well as techniques that help you learn student names, then my “daily experts” strategy may be of use to you. What are daily experts? I list five or six students’ names on a PowerPoint slide at the beginning of my classes (which are typically 65-150 students). These individuals, assuming they are in class that day, then become my daily experts—the first ones I ask questions to or opinions of before opening discussion to the whole class. The approach provides for one-on-one dialogue in the midst of a larger class creating an environment that encourages interaction." She goes on to explain the benefits of using this active learning method for the students, faculty and the rest of the class.

Did you know that liberal arts is the single most popular major at community colleges in the United States? Take a look at Dr. Matt Reeds blog post about this fascinating fact. He notes, "I mention this because it’s almost entirely absent from national discussions of higher education. In the popular press, 'liberal arts' are assumed to be the exclusive province of the affluent, particularly at older small colleges that are full of people who use words like 'problematize.' (I attended one myself, so I know whereof I write.)  When higher ed policy types talk about liberal arts, they usually have in mind literature majors at places like Sarah Lawrence. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but it’s only a part of the picture." It is also the largest major at BRCC but some of that is because of things that Reed writes about in his blog. With the recent completion of "Concentration Week" it will be interesting to see if things have changed for us.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Many of us have more students in our classes this semester. That provides us with a great opportunity to try some different active learning methods that we might not have been able to use with smaller groups. One method, team-based learning (TBL), is a natural for larger classes because it breaks students down into small groups for learning. The key components for TBL include permanent teams, readiness assurance, application activities, and peer evaluation. The University of Texas faculty development center has a great video explaining the concepts although you need to remember that a large class for them is a lot bigger than us and usually starts at 150 students. TBL teachers report high levels of student attendance, preparation, participation and critical thinking. TBL students report being more motivated and enjoying class more, even when the subject is not in their major. Please visit the online resource library posted in the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Faculty Development community for more resources about active learning and managing large classes. You can also make suggestions to help your colleagues on the community discussion board. As always, let us know how the Teaching+Learning Center can help.

Based on suggestions from you, we are offering a new faculty development opportunity. It is called Mid-Day Musings and will meet on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at noon. We plan to gather in the faculty dining room of the Bienvenue Building, which allows you to grab lunch and bring it with you. The Monday before the gathering, we will send an email announcing the topic for the week. Again, we are looking to you for ideas so if you have something that you think will generate an inspiring discussion, please send it to Registration is now open. We hope to see you this coming Wednesday for the first Mid-Day Musings gathering.

The next faculty development workshop will be held on September 25 and the topic is Writing Across the Curriculum. Writing Specialist Natalie Smith, who directs the Academic Learning Center's student support services for writing, will deliver a powerful, informative workshop building on her teaser presentation at the Faculty Development Kickoff last month. She will cover a number of topics including how you can integrate writing into your classes and the different types of writing used in our courses. Since she is also an adjunct faculty member who teaches English, she will offer valuable insights about the BRCC student profile. Be one of the first to register for this workshop and look for more details as the date approaches.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If it is the beginning of the fall semester, then it is time for Beloit College to issue its annual "Mind Set" list to "remind professors and administrators that their experiences are very different from those of the students who are starting off in higher ed (at least those who are coming straight from high school)." One item on the list that really stood out for me is "During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center." That sounds like a great teachable moment. I am certainly going to try to create a learning experience around this event. If nothing else, I think it is a great conversation starter to enhance my engagement with them. Another that caught my eye is "Women have always been dribbling, and occasionally dunking, in the WNBA." As the father of three daughters, I have to admit this made me feel somewhat better about our society. Now let's take a look at the salary inequity between our WNBA and NBA stars. As I enter my thirty-third year in higher education, I have seen a lot of change as well. Remember when there wasn't even an IT person, much less an IT department? Do you remember how protective you were of the font balls for the IBM typewriters and how we could never seem to part with the last one just in case? I also remember sitting in the LSU Assembly Center (now known as the Pete Maravich Assembly Center or PMAC) trying to convince students to take one of my computer punch cards for biochemistry. Most of them didn't even know what biochemistry was and they did not see it as an elective option. No problem; they came around when everything else was full. While nostalgia is fun, I am glad that we have seen such great inventions as the personal computer, cell phone, and Wi-Fi. It has certainly made our lives easier as faculty and made it simpler for our students to get the information they need. What do you think?

Do you use games to teach in your courses or have you ever wanted to learn how? James Lang has written an interesting article about just that for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Lang tells us about Reacting to the Past, a teaching methodology pioneered by Mark Carnes at Barnard College in the 1990’s, and now spreading rapidly across higher education RTTP assigns students roles in historical-simulation games in order to encourage intensive reading of complex texts, help students develop core intellectual skills (writing, speaking, thinking), and motivate them to take a deep approach to their learning. Although these games were initially developed for history courses, they now span the disciplines, in fields as varied as political science and chemistry. Faculty members and students play simulation games at institutions of every type, from community colleges to research universities. To learn more visit the RTTP website for information about existing games and those in development.

Thank you to all of the faculty who participated in the Faculty Development Kickoff on August 21. I have tried to tailor that event to your specifications and always appreciate feedback on how we can better meet your needs. At your suggestion, we moved the event up a day from last year to give you more time to implement changes in your courses. I hope that you were able to add a few new tools to your teaching toolkit and I appreciate the enthusiasm and participation that many of you displayed that day. The Mentoring Program Kickoff will occur on Thursday, August 28 at 1:00 pm in the Teaching+Learning Center (T+LC). All mentors and mentees should have received an invitation for this meeting. On Friday at noon, we begin the first of two faculty learning communities planned for this semester. The How Learning Works FLC still has room for one or two more participants. Contact Academic Support Specialist Barbara Linder ( or at 216.8228) to sign up. In addition, the first faculty development workshop of the semester takes place on Tuesday, September 2 at 1:00 pm in the T+LC (311 Magnolia). The topic is Designing Assessment That Measures Learning and will focus on testing, assessment, alignment, and more. Join the conversation by registering now.