Thursday, March 26, 2015

The excitement is building for the College's transition to new LMS Canvas. Two members of the BRCC Implementation Team, eLearning Program Manager Susan Nealy and LMS Administrator Lenora White, are attending a two day train-the-trainer session now. In addition, we have developed our training plans to accommodate  you as we move for full integration beginning in the summer semester. You can register for various sessions now. The face-to-face sessions will be held on various dates and times (including evening sessions) in the Teaching+Learning Center (311 Magnolia Bldg.) on the Mid City Campus. We will also have sessions at the Acadian Campus (location TBD). Project Canvas: A Transition Primer is session 1 and will provide an overview of the tool and discussion of a course blueprint in a one hour format. Registrants are asked to bring a copy of their course syllabus. Project Canvas: The Basics is session 2 and will cover the various Canvas functions in a hands-on two hour format. Project Canvas: Superusers is session 3 (a three hour format) and will be targeted at the eLearning faculty (online and hybrid) and anyone else who wants to fully integrate this technology tool into their course. A self-paced option is also being offered by Canvas. Please check your email for an invitation to enroll in this course on Monday, March 30 (checking your junk folder is encouraged as the email may end up there). This optional training consists of six modules including a quiz at the conclusion of each module. Credit can be earned for completing this course with at least a 70% score on all six modules. Send questions or comments to any of the BRCC Implementation Team including Susan, Lenora, Chief Information Officer Ron Solomon, or Dean of Innovative Learning and Academic Support Todd Pourciau.

Are you finding it harder than ever to attract and keep your student's attention during class? Have you noticed that your students are more easily distracted than in the past? Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) may be the culprit. First introduced by Dr. Edward Hallowell as a very real but under-recognized neurological phenomenon, the core symptoms are distractability, inner frenzy, and impatience. ADT sufferers have trouble staying organized, setting priorities, managing time, and staying focused. We have continued to research the effects of ADT and have uncovered interventions that have produced positive results in the classroom. This topic was previously discussed in an Academic Minute podcast by McGill University's Julio Martinez-Trujillo post that highlighted the idea of switching in the brain (what many have described as multi-tasking). The research begins with the assumption that you cannot change something if you are unaware of its existence. In this case, many students are unaware that forcing their brain to switch very quickly between many tasks is actually "training" this behavior. Obviously this type of habit is not conducive to deep learning that is required for complex tasks in a college setting. Dr. Joe Kraus contends that we are creating and encouraging a culture of distraction mostly linked to the plethora of technology available to everyone. This phenomena illustrates that teaching is a complex process that requires its practitioners to continuously learn and practice and the Teaching+Learning Center is here to help on that front.

Dr. Naomi Eisenberger argues that the brain reacts to social pain much as we react to physical pain. She lists five social rewards and threats that are deeply important to the brain: autonomy, certainty, fairness, relatedness, and status. It explains why people receive feedback in a negative way because it is an attack on a person's status. This aligns with research by Dr. Barbara Gross Davis that grades are a sigh of approval or disapproval and can be taken very personally. She says, "If you devise clear guidelines from which to assess performance, you will find the grading process more efficient, and the essential function of grades–communicating the student's level of knowledge–will be easier. Further, if you grade carefully and consistently, you can reduce the number of students who complain and ask you to defend a grade."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rob Jenkins, who writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote a provocative article recently focusing on what he feels are the four properties powerful teachers need to have or develop. He begins the article noting that we are in a teaching renaissance period where a "renewed interest and commitment to the subject [has occurred] across academe. He writes, "As a faculty member for almost 30 years, I have been inspired and motivated by all of the online chatter. Those experiences have led me to conclude that, when we boil down all the metrics, we’re left with four qualities that all powerful teachers possess. I’m not just talking about adequate, effective, or even good teachers. I’m talking about the ones who most move us, who have made the most difference in our lives, and whom we most wish to emulate. Perhaps we can’t all be that kind of teacher, but I suspect many of us at least aspire to be. So what makes those teachers so great?" Read more here.

Casey Fabris posted a blog article focused on the prevalence of the use of videos in our classrooms. Fabris quotes a new study that found that 68 percent of students watch videos in class, and 79 percent watch them on their own time, outside of class, to assist in their learning. Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that students do not like videos with speakers who are monotonous, appear nervous, or do not make eye contact with the camera. Videos with animations, real-world examples, and new material were well received. The ideal length of a video ranged from five to 20 minutes. Most students, according to the study, go to YouTube to look for educational videos. They also use Google and frequent course websites. Very few students rely on the library for such materials, with only 32 percent of respondents saying they had searched for videos on their library’s website.

As you know, we will begin using the Canvas LMS during the summer term at the College. Several of you are participating in the eLearning faculty certification spring institute which is being delivered using Canvas. We will be offering several informational sessions about Canvas at our campuses and sites in the coming weeks. Those will be followed by more hands-on sessions designed to help you build your courses. You can start acclimating yourself with the new LMS in a few ways. The first is by using Canvas to build your course content. The second is to join Canvas Community 2.0 which is being offered as a sneak peek now. The Canvas Community is home to all the resources that Instructure provides to help Canvas users succeed (the Canvas Guides, Video Tutorials, Sample Courses, etc.) Users can find answers to questions about Canvas through these resources and from one another in the community forums.The Canvas Community 2.0 will also be a place where Canvas users can connect and interact with Instructure and with each other to discuss and share best practices, ideas for new Canvas features, and even coalesce into community groups of practice and interest including institutions, geographies, roles (e.g. teachers, instructional designers) and other common interests (e.g. all business schools, schools with unique needs).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The latest inductees to be recognized by the Teaching+Learning Center for student engagement excellence are Dr. Marcella Hackney and Jamie Gurt, Esq. Dr. Hackney is an associate professor of science in the STEM Division. Mrs. Gurt is Paralegal Program Manager and an instructor for the program, part of the Business, Social Sciences, and History Division.  Both faculty are big proponents of active learning methods and use the full teaching toolkit to get the most out of their students. As we made the presentation of the coveted green t-shirts to them during class, their students were very excited. Many of their students came up to us to validate the honor as they spoke of ways in which each of these teachers created strong relationships that nurtured learning. Congratulations to Jamie and Marcella who join Paul Guidry, Sandra Guzman, Wes Harris, Mary Miller, and Amy Pinero as examples of faculty who not only believe in the power of engagement as a retention strategy but creatively introduce methods that promote student success.
Dr. Marcella Hackney
Paul Guidry and Jamie Gurt

I received a number of positive comments on the Tech Tuesday Tip sent this week. I wanted to follow that with a new article by Dr. Maryellen Weimer about the online learning conversation. She notes, "Is it time to change the online learning conversation? The debate about whether online courses are a good idea continues with most people still on one side or the other. Who’s right or wrong is overshadowed by what the flexibility and convenience of online education has offered institutions and students. Those features opened the door, and online learning has come inside and is making itself at home in most of our institutions. No doubt the debate over the value of online learning will continue, but perhaps it’s being judged by the wrong criteria." Read more here.

Carlos Sanchez, Silvia Rivas, and Sonia Moral, in their article Collaborative Learning Supported by Rubrics Improves Critical Thinking, report that critical thinking can be improved by paying attention to instructional design. If you are looking to redesign your course with learning experiences aimed at improving the critical thinking abilities of your students, this article is a good start. The authors write, "In previous works we developed and assessed a teaching program with which we aimed to improve the fundamental skills of critical thinking. The results obtained were positive, but modest. After analyzing the limitations of the program we introduced certain modifications and assessed the new version. The changes involved designing the activities programmed by means of rubrics and making the students perform them with less direct orientation from the instructor. In sum specificity and initiative proved to be the key variables in the improved program, ARDESOS v.2. The data collected pointed to a significant improvement of the new version over the old one in the following aspects: a) version 2 improved all the fundamental dimensions, mainly in the pre- and post-test measurements, to a significant extent; b) the effect size was significantly higher, and finally c) these improvements in the program elicited better performance. Accordingly, an improvement in critical thinking can be achieved via an instruction design that attends to the factors that really induce change. Currently, these results have allowed us to successfully add a new improvement to the instruction, which we have re-evaluated." You can read more here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Rachel Toor has written a humorous piece published in The Chronicle of Higher Education about creating the perfect lecture. In her perfect version, she explains that she would read the entire carefully written speech and it would bring down the house. But she returns us to reality and explains how this process led her to take a closer look at her classroom presentations that historically used PowerPoint slides to keep it moving. In the end, she concludes that it is important to grab and retain our audience's attention (for most of us that is students). Take a look yourself and let me know what you think.

Each time I enter my classroom in the Governors Building, I spend some time (usually with help from the early-arrivers) moving the tables and chairs around. Creating a space that promotes collaborative learning is important to me and makes using active learning methods much easier. At the beginning of the semester, some students ask if we are going to do this all the time and say things like "I don't want to stare at the other people in the room." By the second or third class, those "people" have become colleagues and the synergy begins to emerge. By making small changes in how my classroom is arranged, I am able to create a learner-centered environment. This process also makes me think about what my perfect classroom would look like. Combination chair-desks that roll are high on my list. I would also like floor-to-ceiling white boards all around the room. Two smart boards would be terrific. I would love to have some individual white boards at each desk for the students to use. Okay, let me show what I mean. Take a look at the Collaborative Learning Studio that the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at Indiana University has created. The video wall might make you drool. So what would your ideal classroom look like?

Hopefully most of you received Associate Professor of Mathematics Jeffrey Weaver's email about Pi Day of the Century (which occurs on March 14, 2015) to be celebrated at the College on Thursday, March 12. The Division of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in cooperation with the Math Club will celebrate Pi Day by distributing pie in the Cypress Building from 12:00 to 2:00 pm and from 4:00 to 6:00 pm. The Cypress building will be decorated with displays created by Jeffrey's Math 167 and Math 168 students. There are two ways you can join in the fun. The first is by supplying the pie to be distributed. That can be delivered to Jeffrey's office (222 Cypress Bldg.). You can also stop by on that day between the hours mentioned above to receive your piece of the pie. By the way, it is Pi Day of the Century according to Jeffrey, "because March 14, 2015 at 9:26:53 translates into 3. 14 15 926 53 which is Pi represented to 9 decimal places. This event happens only once every 100 years…Pi Day of the Century!"

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tomorrow's professional development workshop "Interpreting Your Student Ratings and Using Them for Professional Development" will be your opportunity to have a frank and open discussion about the student rating currently being used at BRCC. I encourage you to bring your ratings with you so that we can focus our time and energy on the issues you find most important or most in need of improving. You can register now for the workshop set to begin at 1:00 pm in 311 Magnolia Building. This professional development event is sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center.

Inside Higher Ed reports that most research on the payoff of attending community college actually doesn’t measure the effect of attending, but rather what happens for those who graduate. Yet when the majority of students who enroll in community colleges don’t complete their programs, the financial benefit should be adjusted given the likelihood of failure. That’s the philosophy driving a recently published report that tries to measure the economic benefit of two-year college for the mass of dropouts. The report was published by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment at Columbia University’s Teachers College. The report also compares the outcomes of completers and non-completers based on the students’ stated intent or goal. The algorithm, intent and goal models delivered different outcomes, demonstrating that students often don’t pursue the path they intended. (Sometimes there’s a deliberate change of paths, but often this reflects students’ confusion about what courses they need to take, the study said.)

Students nowadays can be pretty demanding about wanting the teacher’s PowerPoints, lecture notes, and other written forms of the content presented in class. And a lot of teachers are supplying those, in part trying to be responsive to students but also because many students now lack note-taking skills. Maryellen Weimer writes in an article on this topic, "If they can’t take good notes, why not help them succeed by supplying them with notes?" She answers her own question by noting that providing the notes denies students the chance to improve their critical thinking skills. We know that once students hear new information they should spend some time writing and talking about it and then forming questions in their own words about the knowledge.  She concludes, "Students should find out in college (as they will in life) that they don’t always get what they want. They need to take their own notes and not think they are excused from doing so because they’ve got the teacher’s notes."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What role does faculty organization play in student ratings? How can you better illustrate concern for your student's success in your courses? How many ways can you state the course objectives? Can you increase rigor without hurting your student rating scores? These are some of the questions we will discuss at the upcoming professional development session, Interpreting Your Student Ratings and Using Them for Professional Development, on Thursday, February 26. The session begins at 1:00 pm in 311 Magnolia Building. If you have specific issues that have cropped up in your student rating feedback, now if a great time to send me an email ( I will include it in the anonymous list and provide suggestions for improvement at the workshop. You can register now for this event being sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center.

One of the more common complaints we hear is that students rarely take advantage of our office hours. Having a student visit you is not only a proven method to improve student success but provides us with a wonderful opportunity to provide some career advice for our students. So how do we get them to make a purposeful trip to our offices? The latest blog from Faculty Focus offers several suggestions. One of the more straight-forward is requiring your students to visit. It is suggested that you require this visit to occur early in the semester. The post suggests, "If the visit is to discuss some course issue, say possible term paper topics, that conversation can show students the value of meeting with the prof. They get good feedback on the topic they’re considering, get ideas about other options, and can ask questions about assignment details." The post also suggests using course centers which consist of scheduled one- or two-hour time blocks in unoccupied classrooms.

Most of us have heard of (and hopefully are using) Bloom's Taxonomy to increase rigor in our classrooms. The Teaching+Learning Center has been distributing a Quick Flip Question booklet for the past several years. If you have not received one of these handy resources, contact me and we will get one to you. Another good resource to help you increase rigor in your classes is Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DoK) Levels.  Many instructors are using the DoK scale to improve instruction leading to better learning by their students. Take a look at this site which provides an overview and some videos to help you understand how to use DoK properly.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

As you know LCTCS has asked for bids for a LMS to be used for all of the system's colleges. Canvas was the LMS selected and the contract was supposed to be signed yesterday. It appears that we will be moving to the new LMS for the Fall 2015 semester. If you visit the Canvas website, they describe themselves as an educational revolution with an industry-pushing platform and millions of satisfied users. I know that our eLearning Program Manager Susan Nealy has begun to share some resources with you including a free version of Canvas that will allow you to begin to build your course. I would encourage you to begin to become familiar with the product over the next several months. Take a look at this page which contains free webinars about the Canvas product and look for some professional development opportunities down the road as we move closer to implementation.

Last week a number of you attended a professional development workshop on the topic of engagement. We discussed four types of engagement including faculty-student, student-student, interpersonal, and institutional. Using the research literature from Chickering and Gamson, Bransford and colleagues, and Ambrose and colleagues (who's book How Learning Works was used in a Faculty Learning Community last semester at BRCC), we were able to discern what areas of engagement would best help us to improve our student success rates. Some of your colleagues wondered about the role of motivation and we were able to watch a TEDx talk from Dr. Scott Geller of Virginia Tech called the psychology of self-motivation. The brief fifteen minute YouTube video delivers a powerful punch that you can begin to use in your classrooms immediately. We also came to the conclusion that there should be a consistent institutional approach to engagement which will take a commitment on the part of all educators and academic support staff to achieve. If we as a community are committed to being flexible, attentive, and empathetic to our student's needs, we believe that our students will begin to succeed in greater numbers.

As you begin to plan for your Mardi Gras break, take some time to plan for the next faculty development opportunity to be held on Thursday, February 26 at 1:00 pm. Interpreting Your Student Ratings and Using Them for Professional Development is the title of the workshop that has been developed in response to your requests. Come and learn how to address student comments about how to address concepts more clearly, how to interpret what is most, more or less important, setting out clear objectives, pacing the class properly, and more. You can register now. For more information, please contact me at or 216.8534. This workshop is sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Join us tomorrow for the professional development workshop "Do You Know Who I Am? Creating a Culture of Engagement in your Classes." The session starts at 1:00 pm, is sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center, and will be held in 311 Magnolia Building (Mid City Campus). You can register here but feel free to come tomorrow if your schedule changes. We will be discussing the various forms of engagement, which research proves is one of the best methods to enhance student retention and is very effective for creating a sense of community for institutions. If you are looking to add a few new tools to your teaching toolkit, this is a great opportunity for you.

Although it’s important to understand effective practices from peer institutions, each institution has a unique culture that needs to be understood in order to help students succeed. At the outset, “most people really couldn’t characterize our student population. We might have had some sense of gender distribution, maybe a little bit about ethnicity, but not a whole lot. So part of it was plodding along, trying to ask very simple questions about our students and adding that to our dataset,” says Margaret Martin, Title III director and sociology professor at Eastern Connecticut State University. Higher education institutions generate a wealth of data that can be used to improve student success, but often the volume of data and lack of analysis prevent this data from having the impact it could have. “I think it’s hard for the general faculty population or administrator population to really have a handle on the data that is really driving decisions,” says Martin. “They don’t get a chance to see it or they just get very infrequent information about it. So there may be too much data, but it’s often not communicated effectively to people in ways that are both understandable and useful to them.” You can continue reading about this topic here.

Retention is a very important issue in higher education right now. It is not difficult to understand why, when you look at the budget constraints facing colleges like BRCC. The new thinking is that institutions have a responsibility to promote and support student learning and that they should measure their success as institutions based upon how well their students learned. Certainly, students have a great deal of responsibility for their own success, but so does the institution and, by implication, the faculty members. The shift from “teaching” to “learning,” then, is really a shift away from measuring the success of a college or university based upon resources and processes to measuring success based upon outcomes. These imperatives are behind the current drive to collect student success data and to help faculty and staff develop strategies to raise success rates. In short, institutions are turning to their faculties for help in improving upon dismal retention numbers. Want to see what your student retention IQ is? Take the quiz here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

We do not see things as they are or hear things as they are said. Instead, we catch bits and pieces, work them over, and reassemble what registers on our senses. To use the metaphors that currently dominate discussion of learning, we process information and construct meaning, and apparently we do so in stages (Erickson, Peters, & Strommer, 2006). We store this information in our short-term memory, which has limited capacity (seven plus or minus two bits of information), and cannot be stored there for long. Which brings us to long-term memory. If the new information is meaningful, it can be transferred to long-term memory, which is like a filing system. So how do we make the new information meaningful so that it will connect to one of the long-term files in our student's brains? There is another factor that comes into play. Students, especially first-year students, use a surface processing approach to learning. Frequently they memorize and then purge once they use it. To discourage this, we need to remind our students why the information is important now and how they will need to use it in the future. The deeper learning that we want is a product of active learning: reading, writing, talking, thinking, and applying the new information.

Since I have received a few requests for dealing with larger classes, I wanted to share some new information I found. Of course you can take a look at my previous posts on the subject. Deb Wingert and Tom Molitor with the University of Minnesota feel that "the difficulties of involving students in large classes can be overcome." They suggest a few approaches including interactive lectures, cooperative learning groups, jigsaws, games, constructive controversies, and group tests in their article Actively Engaging Large Classes in the Sciences. Daniel J. Klionsky with the University of California-Davis offers some ideas of his own in the article Tips for using Questioning in Large Classes. He suggests "setting the tone seems to be critical. In a general sense, I find that students will accept almost any rules for how I run a class, as long as I make them clear at the outset and am consistent in their application. This includes how I want the class to interact with me as an instructor. I want the students to be an active part of the class, to be thinking while they are sitting there and not simply writing down every word I say. On the very first day I make it clear that I want them to ask questions and interact with me during lecture.

"Do You Know Who I Am? Creating a Culture of Engagement in Your Classes" is the title of the next professional development workshop to be held on Thursday, February 5 at 1:00 pm. We will discuss why engagement is important for student success. We will also be discussing what engagement looks like, the standard, pedagogies, and tools of engagement, and some of the methods you can use in your classes. This interactive workshop requires that you bring your questions and ideas so that we as a community of scholars can increase the overall level of student-faculty engagement. You can register now. The workshop is sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center and will be held in 311 Magnolia Building (Mid City Campus). For more information, feel free to contact me (

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The first week of class is always filled with possibilities. Motivating students to create the life that they wish for begins during the initial class sessions, whether it be face-to-face or online. The aim during this time is to create that engaged relationship that will pay dividends throughout the semester. Dr. Mary Clement, who visited BRCC in the past and shared her best practices, suggests that we find out what type of high school experience our students had before we explain our expectations. Sharing the major differences between high school and college is vital for our first-time students. She notes, "How do we change this mindset going from high school into college? The number one way is to put your policy in writing in the syllabus. If the paper is due Monday, and the student is not in class that day, will the paper be accepted after Monday? Will it be accepted after Monday at all? If the answer is yes, until when and with what penalty?” Further, because there’s so much variation across different high schools in terms of homework, attendance requirements and making up for missed work, and grading practices, Clement recommends creating an interest inventory to give students during the first week of class. If it is anonymous, students may feel more comfortable answering the questions. You can find more suggestions here.

Are you looking to increase the amount of peer-review experiences in your courses but are afraid that some of your students may not be ready? Here is an interesting learning experience you can use that will provide good feedback to students, allow students to practice this skill, and alleviate some of the worry you may have. Dr. Trent Batson shares the following, "I used the following technique that worked well in my writing classes:  the writer and the peer reviewer both have a copy of the paper in print. They are both sitting at computers and communicating via chat or some other real-time tool. As the reviewer reads the paper, starting with the first paragraph, she types her immediate reactions and thoughts -- almost like a think-aloud protocol -- thereby providing a strong sense of what any reader might be wondering or reacting to as the reader goes through the paper. I found that using chat made the communication more neutral and helped the reviewing student "speak" (through typing) more freely and off-the-cuff.  The writer of the paper gets a strong lesson in reader-based writing and also gets good advice about where confusion arises or where good points are made. I didn't ask the reviewer to evaluate the paper, just provide that think-aloud response." Dr. Robert Danberg recommends the book Beat Not the Poor Desk by Marie Ponsot as a useful resource for this active learning technique.

As you look over the professional development opportunities listed on the spring 2015 calendar that we distributed at the kickoff event last Wednesday, please note that the first Faculty Learning Community (FLC) is set to begin on February 6 at noon. We still have a few slots open for the FLC which will be using the common reader Inspired College Teaching by Dr. Maryellen Weimer. The book has been praised by new teachers and those with lots of experience. Some of the topics to be covered include maintaining instructional vitality (the midcareer challenge), feedback for teachers that improves learning for students, and reflection for growth and change. If you would like to join the FLC, please send an email to