Tuesday, November 24, 2015

As I began to put together this week's blog post, I received an email that a colleague had died. Shereen Marx, librarian, teacher, wife, mother, grandmother, all-around exceptional person, died this morning at 4:55 am according to her husband Max. To know Shereen was to see courage in action. A cancer survivor, she was not surprised or depressed when the terrible disease reappeared. Shereen and I were neighbors as her office and mine were around the corner from each other. After the reappearance of her cancer, I marked good days as the ones when I saw Shereen working in her office. I would stop because she drew you in. I would ask her how she was feeling and she would smile that smile and say "I am alive!" Lately, you could tell that when you hugged her, it was painful for her but she never refused a hug. What first drew me to a friendship with Shereen was having my brother diagnosed with cancer. She immediately provided me with information, advice, and support. She always asked how he was doing and marked his treatment progress along with me. She did what she did because that is who she was. A life well lived is a blessing and Shereen proved that everyday. I know this is a strange post on a blog dedicated to teaching and learning enhancement but I think it is appropriate because of Shereen's example. She was engaging, caring and emphatic. Those three things are the traits of a good teacher that matter most in the academic success of students. So I challenge you to honor our friend Shereen by using her example to make a difference in all of the lives you touch at BRCC. I feel confident that is what she would have expected us to do. RIP Shereen Marx.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

While we continue to offer a college success skills course, many of the students who would benefit most are not enrolling in the class. If you are advising a student who has struggled with time management, test anxiety, metacognition issues, critical thinking or any other issues that prevent their academic progress, it may be time to suggest they enroll in a CSSK 102 class. In the absence of taking that class, you should strongly encourage them to take advantage of the various workshops offered by the Academic Learning Center. Karp and Bork, of the Community College Research Center, have written a working paper on the topic. They note "While low college success rates are typically linked to students’ lack of academic preparation for college and their subsequent need for developmental or remedial instruction, research suggests that even many students who are deemed “college-ready” by virtue of their placement test scores or completion of developmental coursework still do not earn a credential." Their paper builds on previous work arguing that community college success is dependent not only upon academic preparation but also upon a host of important skills, attitudes, and behaviors that are often left unspoken. The paper  clarifies the role of the community college student and the components of that role that must be enacted for students to be successful. They provide a concrete, actionable description of the community college student role and present a framework that practitioners can use to help students learn how to be successful community college students.

As our students begin to complete their ratings of their experiences in our classes, it is a good time to take a look at how we as faculty can use the data and what the current research says about the process.  Safavi and Bakar, et al. suggest that faculty may want to add some additional questions to the ratings in order to gather information more specific to their subject matter and teaching approach. In research performed by Slocombe, Miller, and Hite, they note that students tended to give higher evaluations to professors who used humor and to professors they liked but the difficulty of the class did not impact students' ratings of faculty. Ronald A. Berk's research revealed that students' expectations about how the results will be used are also critical to future response rates. Chen and Hoshower found that students’ motivation to participate in  the  rating  system  hinged  on  the following semi-observable outcomes (in order  of decreasing importance): (1) improvements in teaching, (2) improvements in course content and format, and (3) faculty personnel decisions (promotion, tenure, salary increase).

Dr. James Lang has written a column for The Chronicle of Higher Education about some of the small decisions he has made that had a big impact on his classes. He writes, "When I first started teaching, the open space of a 50- or 75-minute class period seemed an eternity. Like many a new faculty member, I worried about having enough material. I wanted to ensure that, if discussion faltered or if I rushed through the lecture too quickly, I would have options to fill the remaining time. My greatest fear was using up everything I had and finding 30 minutes still left on the clock. Twenty years later I seem to have the opposite problem: not enough time in the class period to accomplish everything I have planned. It seems so difficult to me now to do much of substance in 50 minutes. I don’t know whether to blame that shift in perspective on the fact that I have more teaching experience or that I’m just older. I suppose those two possibilities don’t untangle very easily." Continue reading here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

CUMULATIVE EXAMS HELP LEARNING RETENTION Now is a great time to begin revising your final exam. If you are like me, your finals are cumulative and that means it is time to remind our students (again) that the material they learned at the beginning of the semester will be needed again soon. Dr. Maryellen Weimer tells us, "The evidence that students retain content longer and can apply it better when exams and finals are cumulative is compelling. When I pointed to the evidence in a recent workshop, a faculty member responded, “But I can’t use cumulative exams. My students would revolt.” Students don’t like cumulative exams for the very reason we should be using them: they force regular, repeated encounters with the content. And it’s those multiple interactions with the material that move learning from memorization to understanding." You can read more here.

There are some exciting faculty development opportunities planned for November. First up is the The Millennial Learner: Greatest Generation or Generation Me? workshop being held at 9:30 AM in room 100 at BRCC-Frazier. Registration is now open. The Canvas Series continues on November 19 with Creating Reports Using Gradebook. That workshop starts at 1:00 PM in 311 Magnolia Building at BRCC-Mid City. You can register here. Our final event in November occurs on Friday the 20th beginning at 2:00 PM. Copyrighted Materials: How to Analyze Any Copyright Question in Five Steps will be facilitated by Ms. Peggy Hoon, J.D., Director of Copyright Policy and Education for the LSU Libraries.  Ms. Hoon serves as a campus-wide copyright resource for LSU faculty, staff, and students, providing education, information, and assistance for both the lawful use of copyrighted materials as well as the responsible management of authors’ rights in their works. This event is co-sponsored by the BRCC Magnolia Library and the Teaching+Learning Center. You can register here.

At this point in the semester, Dr. Maryellen Weimer reminds us that caring for our students is very important for their success and their drive to complete their studies towards a degree or certificate. She writes, "Good teachers care about their students. We all know that, but sometimes over the course of a long semester, it’s easy to forget just how important it is to show our students we care about them. I was reminded of this importance by two recent studies, which I read and highlighted for the December issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. In terms of research design, the studies couldn’t have been more different. In terms of results, they both came to the same conclusion. The interactions students have with their teachers and the kind of relationships that teachers establish with students profoundly affect students’ learning experiences. And it’s a finding that’s been established in study after study." Continue reading

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Matt Read writes a blog titled Confessions of a Community College Dean. His most recent post provokes us to think about technology versus innovation, specifically as it relates to teaching. "My grandmother collected absurd kitchen technology, which made visits fun. There wasn’t an inside-the-egg-scrambler or fry baby on the market that she didn’t have. She had a microwave oven back when nobody did; I remember watching her “nuke” a hot dog, and both of us enjoying its twisty death throes. As an adult, I realize that I inherited the gadget gene from her. My platform agnosticism -- I’ve had phones that ran Android, iOS, and even webOS -- is only partially about comparison shopping or avoiding cultism; it’s largely an excuse to try all sorts of new stuff. PC at work, Chromebook on the road?  Why not?  On Wednesday, though, I had two separate conversations about innovation on campus that I realized later had a common theme: tech and innovation aren’t the same thing." Read more here.

Feedback that is both affirming and corrective is necessary for people to learn. Defined as information on the results of one’s efforts, feedback that is clear, specific and timely motivates students to improve. Since feedback is most often connected to grading that follows assigned work or assessment activities, Walvoord and Anderson say that grading “…encompasses tailoring the test or assignment to the learning goals of the course…offering feedback so students can develop as thinkers and writers, communicating about students’ learning to appropriate audiences, and using results to plan improvements in the classroom…”. Thus assessment provides feedback for both learners and teachers. Read more here

The battle to stop our students from using online resources like Wikipedia is long over. What we must do now is help our students to understand how best to use Wikipedia. Matthew Vetter, an academic specializing in digital rhetoric and humanities, has a nice post about his efforts in this area. He writes, "Working with Wiki Ed opens up possibilities for how we teach, how that teaching engages the world, what our students accomplish in the classroom, and what kinds of conversations we can have about critical issues related to humanities and digital culture." Read more here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In last weekend’s New York Times opinion section, UNC–Chapel Hill professor Molly Worthen set the academic Internet ablaze with a paean to the unappreciated perfection of the old-fashioned “sage on stage” format, also known as the lecture. Rebecca Schuman has written a rebuttal that is posted on the Slate website. She writes, "I will grant that nothing about the lecture format as Worthen describes it is inherently bad. But Worthen’s elegy to a format that bores so many students reminds me of a bad habit that too many professors have: building their teaching philosophies around younger versions of themselves, who were often more conscientious, more interested in learning, and more patient than the student staring at his phone in the back of their classrooms." Read more here.

Engaging students in class conversation is not always an easy task. Even though we may make class participation part of their final grade, stress its importance in the syllabus, and give subtle (and not so subtle) reminders of this throughout the semester, there are always days when students simply do not want to participate in the class discussions. There are many reasons why students might not participate in class. Here are four situations where students remain silent, and strategies to positively engage them in conversation.

Join us for what promises to be an energetic and informative faculty development session, Teaching as Performance: Learning to Get the Most Out of Your Voice, on November 5 from 1:00 to 2:30 PM. Dr. Tony Medlin, assistant professor of Theatre Arts, will facilitate this session. The workshop will cover simple and easy techniques to improve projection, articulation, and preserve your chops, based on Lessac speech production. The workshop will be held in 311 Magnolia and is sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center. You can register now. You can also view all of the Teaching+Learning Center's upcoming events here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Boredom may be the largest pedagogical obstacle to teaching (Smith, 2007), and many believe it is up to teachers to spark students’ interest in classes. One way to ignite students’ enthusiasm is by using humor. In the classroom, humor can create a cheerful learning climate, enhance social bonding through increased student-instructor interaction, add variety to lectures, decrease test anxiety, and provide enjoyment and laughter. In addition to the social benefits, humor is cognitively and pedagogically important. For instance, instructional humor has been touted as an excellent way for students to learn
vocabulary, increase critical thinking, practice semantics, and remember more information. Because humor often plays with meaning, it helps individuals change their current mental perspective by visualizing problems in an alternate way, as well as engaging their critical thinking. In a study by Jana Hackathorn, Amy M. Garczynski, Katheryn Blankmeyer, Rachel D. Tennial, and Erin D. Solomon, results indicated that using humor to teach material significantly increased students’ overall performance on exams, particularly on knowledge and comprehension level quiz items, but not application level items. Moreover, learning a construct through the use of humor was most effective for comprehension level quiz items. Continue reading this article here.

Have you heard about the move afoot to turn high schools into college? Usually called early college high schools, they are growing in numbers due mainly to their success rates. Nationwide, 90 percent of early college students graduate from high school, 10 percentage points above the national average, and 30 percent of students get either an associate’s degree or a certificate, according to Jobs for the Future, the Boston-based nonprofit that runs the national Early College Designs program. Now, there are 280 early college schools nationwide – nearly 50 of which are in Texas. So far, the model has proven largely successful in graduating students from high school and introducing them to college courses. Most function like magnet schools, though, with students choosing to attend or even needing to apply. Continue reading this story here.

The BRCC Mentoring Program hosted the second meeting of the semester for the group of 14 Mentor/Mentee pairs yesterday. Our new faculty are reporting that having a mentor has improved their acclimation to teaching at BRCC and has greatly reduced their stress level. Topics during yesterday's session included student motivation, critical self-reflection, classroom management, and student retention. Participants also shared stories of what they have learned through their teaching experiences and how this continues to change and shape how they respond to their students. New faculty for fall 2015 include: Jennifer Bernard (Nursing), Matthew Buras (Mathematics), Danielle Burns (Art), Alexandra Cavazos (English), Tim Dykes (Construction Management), Zach Gasior (English), Darren Jones (Philosophy), Felecia McGhee (Surgical Technology), Lisa Namikas (History),  Gregory Otto (Aviation), Priya Pathak (Chemistry), Pam Potter (Nursing), Jose Taj (Spanish), and Shena Williams (Nursing).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

If you missed the recent faculty development workshop on Supporting the Mental Health Needs of Community College Students, you are in luck. We will have a repeat performance on October 21 from 2:00 - 3:30 PM in room 210 at the Acadian Campus. Attendees will learn about common warning signs of mental health problems in this population. Session facilitators Dr. Bridget Sonnier-Hillis and Wendy Devall will provide information about how to respond to students who are experiencing significant stressors or who have suspected mental health issues. This will include information about on-campus and community resources to which faculty may refer these students. Attendees also will learn basic, practical skills for dealing with behaviorally challenging students. Register

Nicki Monahan writes, "With access to a world of information as close as our phones, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all there is to teach. New material continues to emerge in every academic discipline, and teachers feel a tremendous responsibility not only to stay current themselves, but to ensure that their learners are up to date on the most recent findings. Add to this information explosion the passionate desire by faculty members to share their particular areas of expertise and it’s easy to see why content continues to grow like the mythical Hydra of Greek legend. And like Hercules, who with each effort to cut off one of Hydra’s nine heads only to have two more grow in its place, faculty struggle to tame their content monsters. The two most common strategies for managing course content rarely yield positive results. Cutting back or trimming content leads to agonizing decisions but does not produce substantive changes." Continue reading here.

Barry Schwartz and Ken Sharpe ask the question "Do giving grades work as incentives?" In response they offer the following, "There is no question that we can use grades to get students to change their behavior, but are we getting them to learn more? One danger is that grade-focused teaching corrodes the very meaning of learning. The purpose of learning becomes merely the achievement of grades. Not the mastery of the material. Not finding innovative and imaginative solutions to tough problems. Not joining with fellow students to run with an idea and see how much each can learn from the others. It becomes instead what former Harvard dean Harry Lewis calls "an empty game of score maximization." It makes the work seem pointless." Continue reading here.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Join us for what promises to be an energetic and informative faculty development session, Teaching as Performance: Learning to Get the Most Out of Your Voice, on October 15 from 1:00 to 2:30 PM. Dr. Tony Medlin, assistant professor of Theatre Arts, will facilitate this session. The workshop will cover simple and easy techniques to improve projection, articulation, and preserve your chops, based on Lessac speech production. The workshop will be held in 311 Magnolia and is sponsored by the Teaching+Learning Center. You can register now. You can also view all of the Teaching+Learning Center's upcoming events here.

If you are noticing that a student is struggling in your course, reaching out to them is always a good thing. Perhaps sending an email or catching them at the end of class and asking how things are going may be enough to get the student to open up. After talking with them about their study habits, you discover that is the area that is probably causing them the most trouble. So then what? I can suggest three things that you can offer. The first is suggesting that they enroll in the College Success Skills class offered each semester. The knowledge shared in this class is great not only for their academic progress but very valuable to their life post-college. The second is to suggest they take advantage of the workshops offered by the Academic Learning Center. The third is using your personal experience to illustrate how you were a successful student and Dr. Lisa Lawmaster Hess offers some great ideas in this Faculty Focus article that can be used to supplement your own suggestions. What has become more apparent to me over the last few years is under-prepared students don't want to stay that way. Talking with them honestly about what is required in order to be successful in college can really turn the tide for many of them. Finally, I would remind you to follow up with them in about a week to see if they have implemented the study strategies you suggested. If you have any suggestions on this topic, feel free to share them here or send them to me so that I can share them.

In our most recent faculty development session on The Millennial Learner: Greatest Generation or Generation Me, we discussed how imperative it is for students to learn digital literacy. While many of us do not have time to teach on this topic for an entire class period, dropping bits of knowledge throughout your classes may be an option. To help you do that, Dr. Lauren Arend has posted an informative piece on the topic.  Here is a small sample of her article. "While students enter our programs with limited background on what they know about content in their respective fields, they come to us with some preconceptions about what it feels like and looks like to be a professional in that field.  Students come to us with a history of interactions with news media, film, television, music, literature, and advertisements that have shaped their understanding of who teachers are, what a doctor is like, or what it means to work in criminal justice. Without framing, it is highly unlikely that students were examining those decades worth of images through a critical lens.  This is where critical media literacy pedagogy becomes crucial."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Teaching+Learning Center (T+LC) will be offering a workshop focused on mental health for the first time tomorrow at 1:00 PM. Dr. Bridget Sonnier-Hillis, a psychology instructor, and Wendy Devall, director of disability services for BRCC, will co-present on this important topic. There is still time to register. Then on October 6 from 1:00 to 2:30 PM, T+LC will be presenting a workshop about the millennial learner in response to your ranked requests at the fall faculty development kickoff. We will spend some time looking at the characteristics of this group of student and how we can tailor our teaching to their specific needs. The session will conclude with an open discussion session and registration is now open.

Dr. Lolita Paff believes that that policies we put in place in our classes may not be garnering the response we hoped for. She writes, "Policies are necessary. They serve as a warning to students: this is what will happen if you are absent, miss an exam, turn work in late, text or surf the Web during class, and the like. Policies don’t teach students why these behaviors hurt their effort to learn. Despite extensive evidence to the contrary, many students believe their learning is unaffected by technology distractions. 'No screens' policies are aimed, at least in part, to minimize distractions that hurt learning (their own and peers’). But policies aren’t nearly as powerful as an activity that demonstrates the effects of distraction." Keep reading... 

Does online learning impede degree completion? That is the problem that Drs. Peter Shea and Temi Bidjerano sought to resolve in their research. What they found is just the opposite. They report, "Contrary to expectations, the study found that controlling for relevant background characteristics; students who take some of their early courses online or at a distance have a significantly better chance of attaining a community college credential than do their classroom only counterparts. These results imply that a new model of student retention in the age of the Internet, one that assumes transactional adaptation, may be warranted. Keep reading.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Adding a discussion component to your face-to-face or eLearning class is a great way to measure learning. The depth of a question can tell you plenty about where your students are along the learning spectrum. Having peer-to-peer discussions is also a great way to illustrate that students are part of the learning process and should not expect all of the answers to come directly from you. If you are thinking of adding discussions to your class, there are a few areas of concern that you should be prepared for and Anastasia Salter has written an article to help you out. She writes, "I’ve been teaching a large online class for the first time this semester, and as the course involves looking at a number of challenge interactive works and games I put a lot of emphasis on discussion forums and critical debate. However, discussion forums of this kind present a lot of potential problems in an online class. We only have to read the comments anywhere on the web (pro tip: don’t actually read the comments) to see that the online medium offers huge potential for miscommunication, personal attacks, trolling, and harassment–even when in the space of a virtual classroom." To see her tips click here. 

Dr. Kenneth L. Parker, Steber Professor in Theological Studies at St. Louis University, has an interesting post today about asking students questions. He writes, "At the beginning of each academic year, I have to relearn the same lesson: enduring the awkward silence after a question has been asked. At the start of my career this “skill” seemed unendurable. It felt far easier to fill the empty void of fifty or seventy-five minutes—or God forbid, two and a half hours—with the sound of my own voice and well chosen words recorded on paper. After all, students are conditioned to expect that of my guild. Yet as I began to take more seriously the need to create learner-centered classroom experiences, one of the first steps to achieve that goal proved to be silencing my own voice, and waiting for students to find theirs. Continue reading

Some of your students may be falling behind because they suffer from a negative disposition. Dr. Travis Bradberry provides us with interventions that can help create student success through positivity. He writes, "When faced with setbacks and challenges, we’ve all received the well-meaning advice to “stay positive.” The greater the challenge, the more this glass-half-full wisdom can come across as Pollyannaish and unrealistic. It’s hard to find the motivation to focus on the positive when positivity seems like nothing more than wishful thinking. The real obstacle to positivity is that our brains are hard-wired to look for and focus on threats. This survival mechanism served humankind well back when we were hunters and gatherers, living each day with the very real threat of being killed by someone or something in our immediate surroundings." Continue reading